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Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead, by David Casarett

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-12-19 00:01

“Witty” and “entertaining” are not words I would expect to use to describe a book mainly about resuscitation, but Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead is definitely both. Author David Casarett manages to be droll even about death: “I’m watching his respirations (nil), heart rate (zero), blood pressure (zip), and EKG tracing (flat). It’s a textbook case of someone who is undeniably and incontrovertibly deceased.”

Casarett is a medical doctor who explored historical resuscitation techniques (good and bad) and interviewed doctors, researchers, and cryogenics enthusiasts among others to bring us up to date on modern research and techniques. Laugh-aloud moments include when he tries an old resuscitation technique of lying face down on a trotting horse and nearly suffocates himself.

The book tells stories about many individual people who have been brought back for a second chance at life after being resuscitated, such as “The Ice Woman” who was submerged under ice for eighty minutes in Norway but survived. For those interested in the idea of never dying there is a section on cryogenics. Casarett’s verdict is mostly negative, because the problem with freezing a living thing is that ice damages the cells. Some animals, such as wood frogs, can manage to survive a type of freezing but “science has yet to adequately preserve anything much bigger than an acorn.”

The book is at times hilarious even as it imparts solid scientific information about things like the electrical rhythms of a beating heart. It also raises important philosophical, ethical, and even religious questions about dying and end-of-life care. Casarett concludes that resuscitation techniques have changed all of medical practice because: “The most exciting thing about this safety net is that most of us have been affected by it. If you’ve undergone any procedure as an outpatient, for instance, that procedure was possible because of advances in life-saving technology. Procedures like wisdom tooth extractions or endoscopy or even hernia repairs that used to be conducted in the operating room can now be conducted in an outpatient surgical suite.”

Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead will be a hit with readers who enjoy quirky science books like Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars or Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, or What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe.

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The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger

Read This! - Fri, 2014-12-19 00:01

Jennifer D. shares this review:

Yoda was wise beyond his 900 years, but how wise is Origami Yoda?  Or, perhaps more importantly, how wise is Dwight, the boy who wears the origami Yoda finger puppet and gives him his voice?  Because, socially speaking, Dwight seems to be pretty inept.  He is known for making a fool of himself, especially with girls, yet, when he speaks in Yoda’s voice, genius advice comes out.  Could Yoda really be speaking through the puppet, or is Dwight actually a genius?  Tommy and his friends are determined to thoroughly investigate the matter.

What follows is a diary entry formatted story, similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  We get stories and drawings from Tommy and his friends explaining how they have benefited from the advice of Origami Yoda.  By the end of the book, you may be just as surprised with their findings as Tommy is.    Don’t miss the final section of the book, where you, too, can learn how to make an Origami Yoda!

Check the WRL catalog for The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

 


Categories: Read This

The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience, by Kent A. Kiehl

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-12-18 00:01

Yesterday’s book, What If?, claims in its subtitle that it will provide answers to “Absurd Hypothetical Questions.” Science is all about hypothetical questions because scientists are always asking “Why?” about all aspects of nature and life, and then asking “What would happen if I change something?” Sometimes a question may seem absurd on the surface but the answer may provide a an interesting, profound or counter-intuitive glimpse into the nature of reality. Scientist and author Kent A. Kiehl seems to have asked, “Are psychopath’s brains different from normal people’s brains?” Being a clever scientist (and apparently a man of great persuasive powers) he took fMRI machines into prisons and concluded that “Yes, psychopath’s brain structures and functions definitely differ from normal brains.”

Kiehl has published many scientific papers, and one published a few months ago says that the abnormal brain structures associated with psychopathy can be detected in adolescence. It is not ethically clear what society can do with this information. “Psychopath” is a word used popularly to describe mentally ill people–often people the speaker doesn’t like! Before I read this book I didn’t realize that psychopathy is measured by a standardized test used by psychiatrists and psychologists with a fair degree of consistent results. Psychopaths are estimated to be less than 1% of the general population, but they may constitute up to 35% of the prison population. Obviously, not all psychopaths are criminals but a lot of criminals are psychopaths. Psychopaths can be the very bad people of popular myth and culture. Kiehl gives numerous examples of murderers and rapists who simply could not understand why their actions were bad and elicited horror and condemnation from other people (and society at large).

In the past it was very difficult to measure the internal and real-time workings of a brain. Electrical activity could give researchers an idea of what was going on but mostly functions and structures could only be measured when the brain wasn’t working, that is, after the person was dead. An fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine can measure the blood flow in real time within a living subject, and increased blood flow means that the person is using that part of their brain. Kiehl uses this to examine how psychopath’s brains react differently to normal people’s under certain stimuli.

The Psychopath Whisperer is a great book for readers who like to explore the emerging physical and psychological reasons why people act the ways they do such as Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom. Fans of Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia or Hallucinations will appreciate that Kent Kiehl also uses profiles of real people. It will be interesting if you like reading true crime books like Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham. Also try it if you like fiction exploring the idea of inherited criminality, such as Defending Jacob by William Landay or The Dinner by Herman Koch.

Check the WRL catalog for The Psychopath Whisperer


May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2014-12-17 00:02

Although the limited number of colors used in the illustrations gives this title a dated look, it is a delightful story with distinctively stylized, amusing pictures done in heavy pen and ink. The equally amusing rhyming text describes the activities of a little boy who is good friends with the king and queen. The royal couple is constantly inviting him to join them for special occasions. His first response each time is to ask if he may bring a friend. The king and queen always graciously assure him that his friends are welcome, and so are called upon to entertain a giraffe, monkeys, lions, and other zoo animals. A similar story is Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo. For a silly story time about animals in unusual situations for preschool children, pair this with Mercer Mayer’s There’s an Alligator Under My Bed and sing “Down by the Bay.” The illustrator, Beni Montresor, was a renowned Italian artist who received a knighthood for his work.

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Categories: Pied Piper Pics

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-12-17 00:01

In the introduction to his unexpected bestseller, author, scientist and web-comic guru Randall Munroe says “They say there are no stupid questions. That’s obviously wrong.” Working in a public library we don’t encounter stupid questions, a more accurate description may be tiring questions. What If’s questions (and answers) turn out to be neither stupid nor tiring, rather they are witty, thought provoking and often very, very funny.

Even the inside of the dust jacket is entertaining (certainly the first time I’ve ever encountered this in a book!). Munroe has drawn a map of the world, but the familiar shapes are not quite right. The key tells us it is “The World: After a portal to Mars opened at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, draining most the Oceans (sorry about that).” After the portal to Mars event there is, of course, a lot less water. There is now a West Atlantic and an East Atlantic, separated by dry land with mountains called (what else?) Atlantis. The mountainous island nation of New Zealand got a lot bigger with an entire new section labeled “Newer Zealand.”

The “Serious Scientific Answers” from the subtitle really are serious. Munroe attempts to answer questions using the best scientific knowledge currently available, and lots of scary looking math. He has a quirky style that he uses to answer some very quirky questions, such as: “How many Lego bricks would it take to build a bridge capable of carrying traffic from London to New York?” This is the sort of question my sons asked all the time growing up, but they didn’t expect (well, I didn’t give) a serious answer. For this question, Munroe gives six pages of Serious Answer, including his famous stick-figure diagrams. (You’ll have to read the book to learn how many Legos you’ll have to acquire to avoid a transatlantic plane fare).

The Absurd Hypothetical Questions can be submitted by anyone through Munroe’s extremely funny, science-based web comic xkcd. I often enjoy the comic, but I admit that some of it goes whoosh straight over my head (these seem to be the ones that my nerdy children laugh hardest at). xkcd are purported to be the only letters in the English language that can’t be pronounced as a word (although I don’t see what’s wrong with saying “Ex, Kay, See, Dee”). Even Munroe finds some of the questions so bizarre that he doesn’t answer them. Some of these get their own sections called “Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox,” including examples such as, “What is the total nutritional value (calories, fat, vitamins, minerals, etc.) of the average human body?” or “Would it be possible to get your teeth to such a cold temperature that they would shatter upon drinking a hot cup of coffee?” These are not things to try at home. As Munroe says, “I like it when things catch fire and explode, which means I do not have your best interests in mind.”

What If? is a great book for science fans and is fun to browse when you’re feeling like something lighter after plowing through six-hundred page scientific behemoths like The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee or Spillover by David Quammen. The questions may be absurd as the subtitle claims, but the answers are scientific and who knows, if you buy a copy for the stocking of your family nerd, it may spark (or rekindle) a lifelong interest in science.

Check the WRL catalog for What If? 


The Pinhoe Egg, by Diana Wynne Jones

Read This! - Wed, 2014-12-17 00:01

Jan shares this review:

I have decided to take a risk and recommend one of my favorite books ever. It has a satisfying story, strong characters who are learning about themselves, magic and magical creatures, a magnificent horse, evil elderly relatives, a castle, and children who are better people than the adults around them. How could any book need more? In fact, my enduring ambition is to live in Chrestomanci Castle.

The Pinhoe Egg is shelved in the children’s section and is certainly enjoyed by children, but it is also a marvelous book for teens and adults to relish. If you guiltily enjoyed the early Harry Potter books for their humor, magic, and “Englishness” you will probably love The Pinhoe Egg and the rest of the Chrestomanci Series.

Marianne Pinhoe lives in a quiet English country village. The school holidays are starting and she is looking forward to having free time and working on her story about romantic Princess Irene. Unfortunately for Marianne, her family has other plans. Marianne is to run errands for her ailing grandmother, Gamma, while her older brother Joe is to go to work as a boot boy at nearby Chrestomanci Castle and report back what he learns (to spy, in other words!). On Marianne’s very first morning at Gamma’s house things start to fall apart as the old woman is visited by members of the Farley family from the next village and Marianne’s Gamma appears to go mad. The entire, overwhelming, extended family gather round to look after the old woman and decide that they need to clear out her house to sell. The attics are forgotten, and one day in search of Gamma’s constantly straying cat, Nutcase, Marianne discovers a strange spherical object covered with strong “don’t notice” spells. Thinking that it is useless, Marianne gives it to Eric Chant (or Cat) from the Castle, unknowingly betraying her family’s Sacred Trust. What is the spherical object? Could it be an egg? And what is the Sacred Trust and has Marianne done a bad thing in breaking it, as her father says, or a good thing as the people at the Castle claim?

(Note that the object is clearly described as round and mauve with speckles, and not gold and hen’s-egg shaped as it is shown on this cover.)

This book can be enjoyed on its own, but readers of Diana Wynne Jone’s other Chrestomanci books will recognize plenty of characters. I enjoy series like this which include the same characters, but are told each time from a different person’s perspective. We get to see how our favorite characters are seen by other people in other situations–sort of like seeing your teacher in their tatty track pants in the supermarket during the weekend.

Although I have read The Pinhoe Egg several times, I have just listened to it on CD during my commute. Diana Wynne Jone’s wry humor and Gerard Doyle’s engaging narration have seen me looking like a fool and laughing out loud.

Check the WRL Catalog for The Pinhoe Egg

 


Categories: Read This

Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus, by David Quammen

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-12-16 00:01

“The current scientific understanding of Ebola viruses constitutes pinpricks of light against a dark background.”

Knowing that David Quammen was such a great science writer I wanted to read his timely update about Ebola. In the introduction, Quammen acknowledges that this book is adapted from his 2012 book Spillover that I blogged about yesterday but Ebola is a much quicker read. It is still well worth reading even if you have read Spillover because of the updates. In early December as I write this, the current Ebola outbreak has killed over 6000 people (CDC – 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa – Case Counts). This means that this outbreak has killed more people than all previous outbreaks combined. Quammen’s expert and readable style is very matter of fact and it paints Ebola as a terrifying and largely unknown disease, even if it doesn’t spread much to countries outside the continent of Africa. It has “a case fatality rate ranging from 60 to 75 percent. Sixty percent is extremely high for any infectious disease (except rabies); it’s probably higher, for instance, than fatalities from Bubonic plague in medieval France at the worst moments of the Black Death.”

Ebola is currently being studied furiously but there is still much that scientists don’t know. For one, they are not sure what causes “the transitory nature of the disease within human populations. It disappears entirely for years at a time. This is a mercy for public health but a constraint for science” and why “Ebola viruses barely showed themselves anywhere in Africa for fifteen years (1976-early 1980s).” Quammen concludes that “We don’t even know if the past is a reliable guide to the future–that is, to what degree history and science can illuminate the Ebola events of 2014.”

There is sobering information like, “The higher the case count goes, the greater the likelihood that Ebola virus as we know it might evolve into something better adapted to pass from human to human, something that presently exists only in our nightmares.” This is terrifying when coupled with information like “the virus was mutating prolifically and accumulating a fair degree of genetic variation as it replicated within each human case and passed from one human to another.” We can only fervently hope that Quammen’s apt metaphor doesn’t come to pass: “Every spillover is like a sweepstakes ticket… Sometimes the bettor wins big.”

Oddly, even Ebola has facts that I found quirky: apparently when an Ebola patient develops the commonly annoying but harmless condition of hiccups, it usually means death is near.

Try reading Ebola if you like the history of science and history of disease books that I mentioned yesterday. If you previously read the bestseller The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston, Ebola is a good update. Sadly, for the 6000 victims of this dread disease who have already died, and those yet to die, you may also be interested in reading Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus if you want to read about the scientific background of large events in the news.

Check the WRL catalog for Ebola.


Spillover, by David Quammen

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-12-15 00:01

Zoonotic diseases are in the news and the news is not good. Sixty percent of human diseases are zoonotic–that is they are spread to humans from animals (at least at first). This includes terrifying rabies that everyone knows comes from the bite of an infected animal to diseases like flu that we think of as human. The evocative title of this book, “Spillover” is the actual scientific term used by disease ecologists for the moment when a pathogen passes from members of one species into another. I like books about animals. I’m all over cute and fluffy and I’m fascinated about the role that we play in animals’ lives. Spillover is a book about the role animals play in human lives and you may not sleep peacefully after reading it.

David Quammen spent almost a decade gallivanting around the world, interviewing hundreds of scientists, doctors and disease survivors as well as researching and writing Spillover. It is almost 600 pages, but I was unable to put it down as he talked about the SARS outbreak in 2003, and the origins of AIDS and ebola. I learned an enormous amount about virology, natural history and epidemiology. And if you are obsessed and super-nerdy (like me) you will enjoy Spillover’s 25-page bibliography of scientific studies that you can look up in PubMed.

Quammen has a gift for making the scientifically complicated understandable to the everyday reader. He has a poetic turn of phrase about viruses–“They can’t run, they can’t walk, they can’t swim, they can’t crawl. They ride”–that just highlights how scary they can be. I learned odd facts for instance that certain types of moths and tent caterpillars have outbreaks on trees some years. The caterpillars die back because they are killed by viruses that cause them to ‘melt’ onto leaves, and then the other caterpillars just eat them (yuk!) Thankfully, unlike the insects, we can change our behavior to protect ourselves from viruses!

I think the best quote from Spillover sums up human knowledge and control over zoonotic diseases in general. We think we’re ahead but we might not be. When asked a lot of questions about the Hendra virus in Australia, scientists answered: “We don’t know but we’re working on it.”

Spillover is a sure bet for readers who are fascinated by the role of diseases in human history. For nonfiction readers who have tried The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson,  or Rabid: a Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus, by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. Or for fans of fiction such as Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks.

Check the WRL catalog for Spillover


Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan, illus. by Pamela Lofts

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-12-15 00:01

In this tale of trickery in the Outback, Dingo catches a wombat to put in a stew. Other animals (including a platypus, an emu, and a kookaburra) hear him exulting over his prize and set out to ruin the stew before the wombat can be put in. Dingo, gleeful and clueless, readily agrees to all the suggestions for ingredients: mud, flies, gumnuts, etc. The illustrations depict these animals (who are rarely seen in picture books) fairly realistically, except for their anthropomorphized facial expressions and body language, Platypus’ hat, and Emu’s long, curly eyelashes. For storytime teach the song that Dingo repeats throughout the story: “Wombat stew,/ Wombat stew,/Gooey, brewy,/Yummy, chewy,/Wombat stew!” The simple tune is included on the final page of the book. It’s a crowd pleaser for ages four to eight and could be used with a large group. Marcia Vaughan lives on an island in Puget Sound (Washington). Pamela Lofts, an Australian author and illustrator, lived in Alice Springs, in the midst of the Australian Outback.

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Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Meridian, by Amber Kizer

Read This! - Mon, 2014-12-15 00:01

Jennifer D. shares this review:

Strange things happen to Meridian Sozu. Her biggest problem does not come from boys, homework, or an unhappy family life. Her biggest problem is the fact that animals tend to drop dead around her. She believes she is causing their deaths, but in truth they just seem to find her when it is their time. Her problem was limited to animals until her sixteenth birthday. On her way home from the bus stop, a car crash occurs that kills many of her classmates. She is uninjured, but has a painful physical reaction to the event. As the strange pains send her to the brink of unconsciousness, Meridian is swept up by her parents and rushed to the bus station. This is not exactly a typical parental reaction, and it becomes clear that her mom and dad have not been entirely honest with her. They send her to live under the care of her aunt, saying that they love her, but that they will probably never see her again. Not the happiest of birthdays. But this significant birthday is the key to her new life. She is beginning to come into her powers as a Fenestra.

Your next question is bound to be the same one Meridian posed when she first heard the term…what is a Fenestra? A Fenestra is a half-angel, half-human hybrid, whose job it is to help souls cross over for the Creator. She must learn how to control her ability, or the pain she felt after the car crash will eventually kill her. Her aunt, who also happens to be a Fenestra, will train her with the assistance of a young man named Tens, who has been somehow cosmically chosen to be Meridian’s protector.

In their efforts to train Meridian, her aunt and Tens are up against a few deadlines. In addition to avoiding her own death, Meridian must learn to wield her new powers quickly to fight a new threat that is looming in town. If there are angels around to help souls cross for the Creator, there are also those whose job it is to send souls to the Destroyer, called Aternocti. They are hoping to destroy Meridian before she can fully control her powers.

A battle is looming between the Fenestra and Aternocti, and Meridian is caught in the middle. Author Amber Kizer has clearly spent much time developing the story of Meridian’s world. Meridian and the reader both learn about her abilities and the history of the Fenestra together as the story unfolds. The story is continued in the sequel, Wildcat Fireflies.

Check the WRL catalog for Meridian.


Categories: Read This

Will It Waffle?, by Daniel Shumski

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-12-12 00:01

I was up late, reading The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, and needed a snack before turning out the light. Lovecraft is heavy going, so I wanted something to restore my spirit:  a grilled cheese sandwich. I found some Cabot’s Extra Sharp, bread, and butter, and fired up our trusty SuperLectric waffle iron. A few minutes later, the hideous excrescences of Lovecraft’s imagination were forgotten as I ate my hot, crispy, perfectly melted, dimpled grilled cheese.

Will it Waffle? has rocked my world. The waffle maker, which I used to haul out of storage on rare Sunday mornings, now lives in the middle of the kitchen counter, an essential part of my batterie de cuisine. It glorifies sandwiches, hash browns, fruit, and other things that I’d never thought to use it for. Right this very minute, I am thinking about trying waffleized churros for breakfast tomorrow.

Daniel Shumski is the genius who thought to ask, “What can I cook in a waffle iron besides waffles?” For several years, he has been blogging about his experiments in waffling, and Will It Waffle continues the project with a collection of 53 recipes.  Any dish that is meant to be hot and crisp is better when cooked in a waffle iron — thanks to all that additional surface area. Ergo, waffled bacon, falafel, leftover mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and stuffing. These are actually some of Shumski’s less daring dishes. If you’re a thrill seeker, try throwing a soft-shelled crab or cookie dough into your waffle maker and see what happens. The book includes a short list of foods that won’t waffle, such as soup and drinks. Beyond these liquids, almost anything goes. There’s even a section where readers are encouraged to document their own waffle experiments. The message is clear: play with your food.

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This is the Van that Daddy Cleaned by Lisa Campbell Ernst

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2014-12-12 00:01

The family car; one day it’s clean and the next, the sparkle is gone. But isn’t that part of the fun? Ernst has created an entertaining tale about the family car and all that it experiences. The story starts with the father who has just finished cleaning the family van. And each following page introduces a new dynamic to the car and to the travels it takes. All too soon, the car is once again ready to be cleaned. Though, this time it is the kids turn to help.
The story is framed in a rhyme that builds on itself making each page a fun memory game. Children will be able to follow the story and repeat everything that has already happened. This allows for the reading dynamic to change into a fun sing-song activity. Those reading the story aloud are able to create a game out of the book to see what the listeners can remember, which means this book is perfect for large group reading. In a smaller setting, this book is wonderful as well. Families can read the book and enjoy parallels to their own lives and family car. Even better, children can learn how important it is to help clean up messes they make, the importance of working as a group, and most importantly how fun it can be to accomplish a goal and help their parents!
This is the Van that Dad Cleaned is great for lower elementary and preschool students who are ready for a humorous, charming, and very relatable rhyming tale.

Check the WRL catalog for This is the Van that Daddy Cleaned.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford

Read This! - Fri, 2014-12-12 00:01

Jennifer D. shares this review:

It’s the first day of holiday break and Milo Pine and his parents are all but snowed in. They operate Greenglass House, an old inn known for being a smugglers haunt.  Milo is excited to spend his break in the empty inn, with no guests to please and only his parents for company.   Until the doorbell rings – repeatedly.  Suddenly, Greenglass House is full of guests who have braved the weather to reach its halls.  And they are quite the cast of characters.  The Pines are accustomed to the occasional shady customer, but each of these guests is hiding something.  They all claim a strange connection to Greenglass House and a desire to uncover its secrets.

As the guests settle in, several literary tropes typical of mysteries are unveiled.  Valuables go missing, a treasure map is found, the power goes out, an attic of antiquities is explored, stories are told by the fire, and several guests are revealed to be in possession of a very special set of skills.  For his part, Milo takes it upon himself to figure out what brought each guest to Greenglass House.  These might be mystery novel standards, but they are traditional for a reason.  They add to the classic feel of the novel, and give it a timeless quality.

Greenglass House is a well-crafted mystery that held great appeal for this fan of The Westing Game and Clue.  Your suspicions will change as often as the doorbell rings, and this page-turner will keep you guessing until the end.  Read it on a snowy winter day to feel even more immersed in the world Milford has created.

Check the WRL catalog for Greenglass House.


Categories: Read This

Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up To Biotech’s Brave New Beasts, by Emily Anthes

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-12-11 00:01

Emily Anthes is a journalist who has written for many science journals including Wired, Discover, and Scientific American and also has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.  In this book, she explores the many ways in which animals are involved with the latest advances in biotechnology. She has a breezy, easy-to-understand writing style, and I was impressed with the breadth of her knowledge and research (includes over 40 pages of footnotes).  I enjoyed reading about the specific contributions to this science that many animals like Jonathan Sealwart, an elephant seal, and Artemis the goat are making, and her visits to some of them were often quite humorous.

The production of genetically altered (transgenic) animals is perhaps the most controversial use of biotech. I was very interested in learning how some pretty-colored tropical fish won over a skeptical public in the U.S. to become the first and only transgenic animals sold in this country. These fish are called GloFish and they are derived from 2 types of tropical fish that are commonly sold in the US, zebra fish and white skirt tetras. What makes them unique is that they have an added dose of DNA from sea anemone or sea coral that make them glow in red, green and purple colors.  I have enjoyed the aquarium hobby for years, and if GloFish can bring new people in to the hobby (like the author) all the better.  I have also had my eye on one of the purple tetra GloFish and would like to add it to one of my aquariums. I just hope my 4 large angelfish don’t think he is a brightly colored dinner treat.

A much more promising use of these new animals is in “pharming,” where their DNA is manipulated so that their bodies can create medicinal properties. Transgenic goats can produce milk with elevated levels of lysozyme, which has been found to be an effective treatment for diarrhea, a deadly disease that kills over 2 million children every year. These goats have also been used to produce antithrombin, an anticoagulant that can successfully treat life threatening blood clots. It is unfortunate that none of these pharming techniques have been approved in the United States, though other countries like Brazil are taking the lead in this type of biotech.

I appreciated the author’s thorough review of the many ethical considerations in the use of transgenic animals and other types of biotech. She discounts the “Are we playing God” notion with these new animals by arguing that we have already tried to play God for thousands of years by manipulating the various types of animals through selective breeding.  The results have not always been good, as is the case with canis lupus familiaris, the common dog, where we’ve created hundreds of unique breeds of dogs, many of which are saddled with crippling genetic diseases and conditions.

One of the most important factors to consider is how the biotech affects the livelihood of the animals  involved. Bernard Rollin, a philosopher at Colorado State University considers their fate with his “conservation of welfare” ethic: “If you’re going to modify a line of animals, the resultant animals should be no worse off from a welfare point of view – and preferably better.” The author thinks that most pharming animals would be able to pass this test, since studies show that genetic alteration does little to curtail their longevity and overall health. But she gives numerous examples of transgenic animals that would fail this test, including transgenic mice produced in Chinese labs with thousands of different kinds of deformities caused by messing with one strand of their DNA.

If you read the book you will learn of other unique ways biotech is being used in the world of animals. You will learn why cats are far superior to dogs in the process of cloning. You will learn about a group of volunteers who helped design a prosthetic tail for a baby bottlenose dolphin after it got trapped and nearly died in a crab trap. And finally you will want to learn how a poor, lonely elephant seal got a name and got hundreds of friends on Facebook all through a sophisticated process of wildlife tracking.

Check the WRL catalog for Frankenstein’s Cat


Great Ghost Stories, ed. Barry Moser

Read This! - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:01

Barry shares this review:

This collection starts with the chilling classic “The Monkey’s Paw.” I remember reading this story as a child and it still sends a shiver up my spine now just thinking on it. Be careful what you wish for is the theme here. Moser includes stories from classic writers, among them, Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “How it Happened,” the story of a car accident and its aftermath and the old, ghostly ballad of Polly Vaughn, retold by Moser himself. But there are more contemporary tales as well. Madeline L’Engle’s “Poor Little Saturday” is an excellent story of how a lonely boy finds some surcease of sorrow as he explores a haunted mansion. Joyce Carol Oates, known for her dark adult fiction, contributes a story here, “The Others,” that in its lack of resolution is a great addition to the ghost story canon. Also of note, and both related to music, are “Samantha and the Ghost,” by Philippa Pearce, where a young girl frees her grandparents’ cottage from a ghostly visitor and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann.”

None of the stories here is overly scary (well, maybe “The Monkey’s Paw” is for me), and a couple of them are pretty mild as far as ghost stories go by modern standards. But they are fun stories to read, and perhaps to read aloud. Moser’s illustrations add an extra frisson to the general eeriness.

Check the WRL catalog for Great Ghost Stories


Categories: Read This

The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio, illus. by Roger Duvoisin

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:01

This classic tale, brought to life by husband-wife duo, was inspired by a true story from the 1950s. The happy lion of the story has been a part of children’s literature for more than 50 years and it is clear why. This is an endearing tale of a lion that has many friends when he is in his home at the zoo, yet finds his friends react differently when he takes an adventure outside of the comfort of his zoo home. Children will enjoy the wonderful images of story that feature a simple color palette and wonderful style of sketch illustrations.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the story is the great lesson children can take away from the story; to not be afraid of those who are different. The town learns to not fear the lion when a little boy approaches him and shows that the furry creature was simply looking for company and friendship. Happiness can come from the most curiously different situations and Fatio has created a story that will show readers just that.
This book is wonderful for lower and middle elementary school students. The story is simple and easy to understand with great big illustrations that are good for large or small group reading. Children will have a roaring good time with The Happy Lion!

Check the WRL catalog for The Happy Lion.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Virtue Falls, by Christina Dodd

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:01

Looking for some fast-paced suspense?  Pick up the latest from best-selling author Christina Dodd.

Elizabeth Banner has returned to her hometown of Virtue Falls to study the geology of the area.  It was difficult for her to return home, what with everyone’s conviction that her father, once a respected scientist-now a convicted felon, murdered her mother 20 years ago in a jealous rage. Elizabeth copes with the whispers and speculation by relying on logic and facts, both in her work and her personal life.

The everyday routine of life in Virtue Falls is literally shaken up when a large-scale earthquake hits the area.  Lives are lost; secrets are uncovered. And Elizabeth finds herself investigating her mother’s murder with the help of her ex-husband, Garik, a suspended FBI agent.

The book has short chapters, a lot of action, and plenty of secondary characters to keep it interesting. I particularly liked how Elizabeth developed a relationship with her father, and through his descriptions began to understand the truth about her parents’ relationship. I’m also a sucker for a love story, and I enjoyed seeing Elizabeth and her ex-husband rekindle their romance.

Fans of James Patterson or Nora Roberts should pick up Virtue Falls.  Looks like this is the first in a new series–can’t wait for the next story!

Check the WRL catalog for Virtue Falls


Mayday! Air, Land and Sea Disasters (2011)

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-12-09 00:01

These intriguing disaster films are reviewed by Bud:

Aviation disasters have been much in the news this past year with the most prominent stories being the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 over the Gulf of Thailand and the loss of Malaysia Flight 17 over the Ukraine. The media made much of these tragic events and the public avidly followed the articles because, despite their grievous nature, stories of airplane accidents are inherently gripping. Air disasters occur rarely but when they do the destruction is usually so large scale and dreadful that our attention is just drawn to them.

The non-fiction DVD series, Mayday! Air Disasters shows just how riveting these occurrences can be. This documentary program, which also aired under the title, Air Emergency, profiles twenty-nine different disasters, most, but not all, aviation accidents. Some of the events covered are:

Unlocking Disaster During United Flight 811 from Honolulu to New Zealand, the door to the cargo hold spontaneously opened tearing off a piece of the fuselage in the process and sucking several passengers out of the plane. The parents of one of the lost passengers worked tirelessly to identify the cause of the accident and hold the aviation industry responsible.

Hanging By A Thread Aloha Airlines Flight 243 was flying 24,000 feet over the Hawaiian Islands when suddenly thirty-five feet of the plane’s upper fuselage peeled off, completely exposing the first five rows of passengers to the open sky. Can a passenger jet remain airborne with this much damage?

Out of Control Twelve minutes into a flight from Tokyo to Osaka Japan, JAL Flight 123 mysteriously malfunctions and for over thirty agonizing minutes plunges up and down as the anguished crew fight to regain control of the plane.

Fight For Your Life A suicidal company employee hitches a ride on FedEx Flight 705. Mid-flight he attacks the crew with hammers and a spear gun. The badly injured pilot looks for a place to land while his co-pilot, also seriously wounded, engages in desperate fisticuffs with their crazed passenger.

Falling From the Sky While flying from Kuala Lumpur to Perth, Australia, British Airlines Flight 009 begins experiencing very unusual phenomena. A strange haze drifts into the passenger compartment. A “brilliant, white shimmering light” appears to be clinging to the plane and 20-foot long flames start shooting from the engines which then proceed to shut down one by one.

Ghost Plane En route over Greece, tourist flight Helios 522 with 100 passengers on board cannot be contacted by anyone on the ground. Army jets sent to check on it find something very strange. The plane is flying normally but no one on board is moving. The plane’s occupants all appear to be unconscious or dead. What is going on?

These are just a few of the many intriguing stories covered in a series that totals 12 discs. The first part of each episode uses film footage of the actual incidents, interviews with the people involved and recreations to show what happened. The second part explains why it happened. The accident investigation process is fascinating as scientists and aviation experts try to determine exactly what went wrong.

You learn a lot about avionics, the airline industry and human behavior under extreme conditions. You also pick up some memorable, if occasionally creepy, factoids. Did you know that if you are unfortunate enough to somehow exit an airplane at 23,000 feet it will take you approximately four minutes to hit the ground?

This show proved to be compulsively watchable. It’s the best kind of reality TV because it’s both educational and entertaining and despite the potential for being lurid, is not exploitative or overtly gory. However, if you have a fear of flying, you may find it disquieting.

I’d recommend it for anyone with an interest in aviation, science or human drama.

Check the WRL catalog for Mayday! Air, Land and Sea Disasters and Mayday!:Air Disasters


Going Bovine, by Libba Bray

Read This! - Mon, 2014-12-08 00:01

 

Charlotte shares this review:

First, a caveat. To those of you who know this author only from her Gemma Doyle historical fantasies: this is not the Libba Bray you’re looking for. This is her psycho alternate-universe twin.

Cameron Smith, the narrator of this young adult novel, is an unmotivated loner who sneers at his family, mocks his peers, and blows off his responsibilities. We have met this teenager before, in many a young adult novel. Then he gets mad cow disease and goes on a road trip with a dwarf and a yard gnome.

OK, that’s new.

Plot isn’t really the selling point of this stream-of-consciousness dark comedy, but here goes: It turns out his clumsiness and intermittent hallucinations aren’t the result of casual drug use after all. Cameron has Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a neurological disorder that will kill him within weeks. He is visited in hospital by a punk rock angel in combat boots, Dulcie, who promises a cure if Cameron can find and stop Dr. X, a quantum physicist intent on releasing dark matter into the galaxy. OK so far? Find the physicist; save the world. Cameron escapes the hospital in the company of Gonzo, a germ-phobic gamer dwarf from his high school, and they embark on a road trip that starts in a New Orleans jazz club and goes a long, long crazy way. On the road, they acquire a Cadillac Rocinante and the yard gnome, who is actually the Norse god Balder. (Go ahead and say it: that’s Wyrd.)

Yes, progressive dementia is one of the symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

And Going Bovine is progressively demented, a jazz riff on life, death, love, sex, alternate realities, reality TV, and the Meaning of It All. Where do you look for answers? Churches, philosophies, shopping malls, string theory? Or can music save your mortal soul? Maybe all you need is love. No, wait, that’s the Beatles. But somewhere along the way, even diehard smart-aleck Cameron begins to experience emotions other than scorn and derision. (And somewhere in Valhalla, a yard gnome gets his wings.)

Full disclosure: Going Bovine is a kind of wacky that I do not usually care for. Its main characters are 16-year-old boys: their humor is, by definition, sophomoric. I rolled my eyes a lot. Then I got to CESSNAB, the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack’n’Bowl, and inadvertently started to snort out loud. I have to give props to a writer who samples Cervantes and Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons on the same page, makes jokes about string theory, and re-envisions Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride as the river Styx.

Check the WRL catalog for Going Bovine.


Categories: Read This

What Happens When… by Delphine Chedru

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-12-08 00:01

We all have those moments when we wonder “what would happen, if…” Delphine Chedru has done a wonderful job of illustrating the after effect of silly situations in which kids find themselves and those that families experience in everyday life. From balloons floating away from a hand and a lonely bucket left on a beach, to what a teacher does for summer vacation, this book provides entertaining answers.
One wonderful quality about this book is the opportunity it provides for interaction. The pages are cleverly designed to conceal Chedru’s answer to her “What If…” questions until the reader flips open the opposite page’s fold-out. Readers can create their own solutions and fantastic tales to answer the questions the author poses before or after seeing the solution the author provides herself. The scenarios are all so relatable and even provide comfort for children who have experienced things like losing a balloon or leaving a toy behind.
This book is ideal for a group setting because it can spark wonderful, creative discussions among children listening and can easily be used for lower elementary and preschool groups who are learning to stretch their imaginations. Similarly, this book is great for one-on-one or personal reading where the same kind of imagination and creativity can be used.

Check the WRL catalog for What Happens When…


Categories: Pied Piper Pics