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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mammoth Cave National Park

Product Details"Mammoth Cave National Park" by Ruth Radlauer
Reviewed by Gerti

I have never been in a cave, but was recently contemplating a trip south to visit either Boone Caverns in Indiana or Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. Therefore, I read this book as a form of research before deciding which cave system to make the focus of my planned vacation.

"Mammoth Cave National Park" by Ruth Radlauer is a quick introduction to the hundreds of miles of caves found south of Louisville. While I didn't care much for the chapters on caves were initially formed, or why watering the soil above is important to cave dwellers, I was pleased by the many pictures in the book and her use of large print. There is also a pretty cool map that shows the national park to be just off of I-65, which is pretty handy for those of us who live in Northwest Indiana! It also mentions the hiking and camping opportunities available for outdoorsy families and their young ones.

The history of the cave was more interesting to me, and I especially enjoyed hearing about Stephen Bishop, who began life as a slave of the owner of the cave, but would eventually make the first fairly accurate map of many underground miles there, and discovered many of the cave's unique features. Also fascinating is the fact that there were building down below, and even a hospital had been built there, despite the dark and damp that exist so far below the surface. hard to believe a doctor actually thought the place might cure tuberculosis and had people live there...

For children, this book would be perfect introduction to this nearby national treasure. For me, I was hoping for more specifics on the various underground rooms the author mentions, and possibly a map of the cave system. While I did enjoy learning the quick tricks the author used so kids could distinguish between stalactites (spelled with a "c" as in ceiling) and stalagmites (spelled with a "g" as in ground), I still don't think I could recall what a troglobite is. I did like her pictures of the white crayfish and blindfish who live in the very lowest level of the caves, but was pretty grossed out because many of the creatures who live their entire lives in these caves are millipedes, beetles and flatworms.

In summary, the book made me decide that visiting Mammoth Caves was not for me, mainly because of Raudlauer's realistic descriptions of many of those slimy cave dwellers! But hopefully younger readers would not be as grossed out by those things, and this slim volume would spark their interest in the topic of spelunking.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mary, Queen of Scots... And All That

Product DetailsGerti's Review of “Mary, Queen of Scots… And All That”by Allan Burnett

Author Allan Burnett is a citizen of the United Kingdom. I gathered that from his language choice (no one in the US would call someone a “nutter”) and his ability to put an irreverent spin on the iconic tale of Mary, Queen of Scots. I’ve heard her story since I was a small child, and my son recently did a school report on her, which is why I requested the book. But since it came all the way from Missouri, his report was already done by the time the book arrived, and hence, I’m the one to read it!

For those who are unfamiliar, Mary was the only child of the King of Scotland, James V, but was sent to France as a child to be the bride of a Prince there, who later became King Francis II. Sadly, he was no more hardy than her father, and died about a year after the couple were married, sending her back to Scotland to reclaim her crown there. If you think that’s unlucky, Mary’s life really hits the skids after returning home. While there, she married a couple of jerks, including the royally related Lord Darnley, with whom she had a son named James. Then (does this begin to sound familiar?) Darnley died in a suspicious castle explosion, and Mary quickly got married to the Earl of Bothwell, who unfortunately for her was one of the fellows suspected of planting explosives under Darnley’s castle. Whoops!

Her countrymen turned against her after all this questionable behavior, and rather than remain imprisoned in Scotland, Mary fled across the border to England, which was ruled by her cousin Elizabeth I. Sadly, Elizabeth had her own problems – her country had been torn apart by religious quarrels, and about half the citizens (and nobles!) wanted to be Catholic, and the other half preferred their queen Protestant. Elizabeth was a Protestant, but Mary was a Catholic, and that was the rub. To let Mary run free meant risking her own throne, and Elizabeth was far too clever a girl to let that happen. She kept Mary imprisoned in various castles, but eventually Mary was implicated in a plot to take the English throne, and Elizabeth was forced to cut off her head.

Now that you’ve seen some of the highlights, this book is a much better introduction than I had to Mary, which was the classic work by Antonio Fraser (not child friendly!) Burnett covers all the factual bases, and makes this an accessible intro to Scottish and British history. It is even peppered with cartoons children would find amusing, which makes this text seem contemporary, like a graphic novel. For adults like me, it’s pretty amusing to see John Knox and other historical heavy’s in cartoon form, although I imagine there are those who might be offended. Still, I think children and young teens would find this a quick but comically interesting look at a cultish Queen from way back when.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Just As Long As We're Together

Just as long as we're togetherGerti's Review of Judy Blume’s “Just As Long As We’re Together”

Judy Blume is an author that I found irresistible when I was a teenager, many, many years ago! I recently picked up one of her books at a library book sale, and realized that she kept writing even after I went to college! Her books are still designed to appeal to her traditional target audience – tweens and teens.

In this book, “Just As Long As We’re Together,” a young girl named Stephanie is getting ready to go back to school. Her best friend since second grade, Rachel, is scared about the new school year, but excited, too. Then a new girl named Alison shows up in their neighborhood, and the longtime best friends begin to drift apart. Add to that social complication the fact that Stephanie’s parents are separating, which they of course hide from her, and you’ve got a story of typically modern teenaged angst. Stephanie hates her dad’s new girlfriend, and works hard to break them up and re-introduce her mom into the love equation. Rachel has a hard time accepting Alison as Stephanie’s new friend, and the two girls have a huge fight that their parents try to mitigate. And of course, all three girls are starting to notice boys, which leads to its own problems! Oh, the drama!

More “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” than “Forever”, “Just As Long As We’re Together” is a book for young teens who may be going through the same sort of social upheavals. The lessons are softballs - it’s hard to insert new friends into old alliances, and it’s even harder to figure out the opposite sex! While I like the book’s well-defined main character, Stephanie, her friends seem like caricatures. Rachel is the prototypical “smart girl,” and Alison, the foreign, worldly one. Her mom is a famous actress, and as a result Alison has travelled the world and was even born abroad, which is pretty sophisticated for her group of friends.

Each girl has to solve her own crisis, but in Judy Blume world, it all turns out all right. JALAWT has little content that could be objectionable to parents. And while it still amazes me that middle-aged Judy Blume still knows about the silly things that worry teenagers, I guess that’s the nature of her creativity. It was amusing, as a parent, to spy on the pubescent conversations she presents here, and perhaps more than when I was young, this text shows me exactly how talented a writer Blume is. This book won’t change anybody’s life, but it is an entertaining and well-written effort by one of America’s favorite writers of teen fiction.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Horizontal Life

My horizontal life : a collection of one-night standsGerti’s Review of "My Horizontal Life" by Chelsea Handler

My Horitzontal Life” is a book you can read and feel guilty about in the morning. Was it funny? Yes, occasionally Chelsea Handler’s collection of stories about her one-night stands was funny. But I’d have to say my enjoyment at her occasionally humorous turns of phrase was mitigated at my being appalled at her lack of a moral center. I am a middle-aged woman, and perhaps that is why I should not have been reading a book called “My Horizontal Life” at all. I just wanted to know who Chelsea Handler was since I’d never watched her comedy show, and the title was just ambiguous enough to lure me into buying the book.

Well, now I feel I know all too well who she is. But the problem with the book is that I don’t care. I really don’t want to know whether someone Chelsea went to bed with had large or small pudenda. I don’t really want to know whether she is turned on by midgets or black men. It’s the reason I don’t go into bars and get into conversations with boozy whores, because I don’t care what they’re doing with their nights, either. This book falls into the category of “too much information”, and like comic Ron White’s written account of how often he takes drugs and has oral sex, sometimes the amount I’m disgusted by a person’s behavior outweighs my enjoyment of how cleverly they can express themselves.

I would recommend this book only for people whose comical leanings are highly voyeuristic. Not suitable for young teens, or for anyone, really. I think I’ve finally found a book that legally qualifies to be called obscene, as this is smut lit with no redeeming social value.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Monster : a novelGerti’s Review of Jonathon Kellerman’s “Monster”

The Detroit Free Press review says on the jacket, that John Kellerman owns the genre of psychological thrillers. While that may be true, it was certainly not based on his writing in “Monster”, the only book of his I have ever read. While I like protagonist Dr. Alex Delaware, who is apparently featured in a number of Kellerman books, I found this book long (396 pages) and unnecessarily confusing. Delaware is partnered here with Detective Milo Sturgis, and together the two are trying to a series of odd murders in the LA area.

Perhaps I have been spoiled by reading the police thrillers written by Michael Connelly, but that man can spin a yarn that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the last few pages. On the other hand, Kellerman proved predictable, and it was obvious by about the halfway point that the character called “The Monster” was physically and psychologically incapable of killing anyone, let alone a family, and that he had been set up by someone else to take the fall for the murders.

Like so many murder mysteries, it was just a question of finding out who had the most to gain from the deaths of a young family, and the Detective and Doctor seemed to spend a lot of time finding clues, but not much time putting them together. While the book enabled me to see step by step how a police investigation into murder might actually work, I much prefer Connelly’s detectives, who figure things out with a little more speed and brain power.

Yes, I was charmed by Dr. Delaware and his relationship with his wife, but I have the feeling that has more to do with Jonathon Kellerman’s relationship with his own wife than with any fictional character he has created. “The Monster,” Ardis Peake, may have been abused and mistreated as a youngster, but I as the reader feel more sympathy for him than for either of the two victims that Kellerman cooks up early in the book. Peake allegedly “predicted” their deaths, and it’s pretty obvious that the mostly mute Peake is being set up as some kind of oracle by someone involved in the crimes. It’s just a question of by whom.

Yes, it is nice when some of the bad guys are finally brought to justice and the magnitude of their crimes revealed. It’s also satisfying when the boss of the mental hospital gets fired. But ultimately there is no justice for Peake, as he never committed the crimes of which he was accused, yet with no one else out in the real world to care for him, the powers that be decide he is best left in the mental institution for the criminally insane where he has spent most of his adult life. And that to me is another kind of crime. I as the reader wanted a distant relative to come and take this blameless “Monster” to a happier life, too. I feel stuck in solitary with him, and am too empathetic to think that that kind of “what else can you do?” resolution is satisfactory. It’s like reading “Beauty and the Beast”, but with Kellerman, the Beast never turns into a prince. “Monster” is a sad fairytale which leaves me less likely to read Kellerman again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the sorcerer's stone Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Children's Fiction
Reviewed by Alicia

When my mom suggested reading the Harry Potter books, I didn't want to. I thought they'd be boring. My mom wanted to read just a few chapters together to see what I'd think, though. I decided that I could put up with it.

Mom read the first chapter and asked if she should return the book to the library the next day. "NO!" I shouted. I was hooked. We couldn't read through the book fast enough. Even my little sister was interested. We're about 100 pages into the 2nd book and I can't wait to find out what happens!

Monday, September 29, 2014

I Hunt Killers

I hunt killersI Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
Teen Fiction

Meet Jasper "Jazz" Dent. His claim to fame in his hometown of Lobo's Nod is being the son of serial killer Billy Dent. Billy is safely in prison, but a string of recent murders is casting doubt on Jazz. Could the son be following in the father's footsteps? Join Jazz as he starts his own investigation, hoping to clear his name and answer some of the questions in his own mind.

And then read Game and Blood of my Blood to see the series through to its surprising conclusion!