Category Archives: Review

Astronomers in Action

Astronomers in Action – another science book by Anne Rooney – has brought the action much closer to home than what I’ve found in general astronomy books. I kept recognising concepts and words that have surrounded me for the last eight years, and I still found it fascinating. I hope the book will inspire many young people, either to read more books like this one, or to take things a step further and study astronomy.

Anne Rooney, Astronomers in Action

The thing about writers like Anne is that they are good at explaining complicated stuff in a way that makes the reader understand. She is no astronomer, so perhaps that is why I suddenly ‘got’ the difference between Kepler and K2. Both have been mentioned almost daily in the Bookwitch household, but I was never entirely certain exactly what was what. (Sorry!) Or possibly I merely forgot.

This short, picture book-length volume shows us the people who work with astronomy. There are several ‘From the Field:’ pieces, telling us what normal people get up to when they work in this kind of area. There is the chap who turned up in Big Bang Theory, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who I gather is famous. And there is, well, Daughter, who has chased exoplanets for some years now.

Anne Rooney, Astronomers in Action

And others. Let’s just say I felt right at home with these people, their computers and their telescopes. I’d like to think that this good feeling will reach many readers. It’d be good for budding scientists, curious to discover more. They, too, might find an unknown planet rattling around in space one day. (The temporary working name for the ‘Bookwitch planet’ was Helen’s World. It has now been given a boring long-digit name instead. Now that it’s real.)

Anne Rooney, Astronomers in Action

You will know why I wanted to read Astronomers in Action, but I was surprised by quite how much fun it turned out to be. Short enough to be an easy read, and interesting enough to capture your attention.

Advertisements

Home Ground

Home Ground is a short, but necessary, story. Alan Gibbons has written this for Barrington Stoke, and like most of his books it is very much a book for boys.

Alan Gibbons and Chris Chalik, Home Ground

It’s got football at its heart, and would appeal to all football fans out there. And the other thing that matters is friendship. Fairness. Understanding that not everyone is the same, but that we are equal in our own way, and that we all matter.

Even refugees. Some of the boys in this story don’t like outsiders, or change. Not even if it helps their team win. Or at least, not come last.

So here is a story that shows the reader why people are the way they are, and how it can be good for everyone to include newcomers, who might look and speak different. But they’re all football players.

Alan has included short pieces on refugees, what they are, and why. He mentions what might have happened to them before they came here, and what their lives can be like. This could seem too obvious, but for the target readers in this case – boys between eight and twelve – it may well be necessary. There is also some information on famous, refugee, footballers.

I hope this book will both entertain and inform, and change.

(Illustrations by Chris Chalik)

Mapping the Universe

You like art, don’t you? And you like space too? Then you’ll like this book by Anne Rooney.

Yes, it’s Anne again. She can do books on so many subjects, and subjects in so many ways. This is astronomy again, looking at countless old images – art – showing us space.

Anne Rooney, Mapping the Universe

You could easily just look at these pictures, treating them like so much art. You probably already have, in many cases.

In Mapping the Universe Anne tells us a bit about the old men of science. You know, old Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler. Yes, I’m afraid it is mainly men.

This fairly large book is full of old space art. It’s the kind of thing you can look at again and again. Cosmos for the coffee table.

Remembering Amritsar

Ten – or a hundred – years on and it’s not as if the world has suddenly got a lot better. On Saturday it was 100 years since the massacre at Amritsar. Ten years ago I read Bali Rai’s historical novel City of Ghosts and was shocked. Because I didn’t know nearly enough about this. I blame my non-UK background, but of course, lots of people here don’t know much either. There was an interesting piece in the Guardian the other day. Seemingly British people don’t realise that what happened that day in 1919 didn’t endear them to the Indian population. Or that they haven’t forgotten.

Bali Rai, City of Ghosts

Below is my review from 2009:

Did you know about all the Indian soldiers fighting for England in World War I? I didn’t, other than knowing that soldiers did come from other countries to fight. The sheer number is horrifying. It’s one thing – just about – to send ‘your own’ to die for your country. To send Indian soldiers to their deaths because you have a quarrel with your German neighbour is awful beyond belief.

This novel has a number of sub-plots, which together build a picture of India in the years before 1920. There is Bissen, the soldier who fought in France. There are Gurdial and Jeevan, two teenagers from the local orphanage in Amritsar.

We learn of what happened to Bissen in Europe, and how it affects his life in India after the war. He is an older and wiser influence on the two boys. Gurdial is in love, and Jeevan picks the wrong friends.

And then we have the time and place; Amritsar in 1919. You can tell it’s not all going to end well.

Bali has written a very Indian story from almost a century ago. You can smell the place, and you can see all the colours. You can taste the food, and you can almost feel what happened on that fateful day in April in Amritsar. There is a ghostly element, which although impossible to explain, fits in perfectly with the plot.

It’s very romantic, and it’s very sad and very violent.

It’s a story that needed telling.

It’s a story you need to read.

Double Whammy

When I remembered I had a few unread novels by Carl Hiaasen, I knew I had to pick one of them to come with me on my recent travels. I knew it’d be good, and unlike children’s books that can be too short, Double Whammy is just over 400 pages so I could be sure it would last a while.

I might have chosen Double Whammy anyway, for being the first of the Hiaasens on my shelf, but having looked through all the books, I couldn’t help noticing this one had Skink in it, and that rather clinched the deal. I like Skink. Well, within reason, and it is easier to like him in a book than it might be in real life. If he was real.

Carl Hiaasen, Double Whammy

Double Whammy turned out to be the first Skink novel, so that was an added bonus. (If you don’t know Skink, you can read about him here.) He used to be that totally unlikely creature; a Florida Governor who was honest and decent and couldn’t be bribed. So that’s obviously fiction.

Double Whammy is about the fishy stuff that goes on in the world of bass fishing in Florida. If you think it’s weird that men sit for hours in silence, fishing, it’s even weirder that people will watch these men fishing on television, but there you have it. And if you read Double Whammy you are reading about people watching people fishing…

Some fishermen are cheating, because there is much money at stake in bass fishing competitions. And then they start dying, and someone needs to find out about both the cheating and the murders. Private Eye R J Decker gets the job, and he soon teams up with Skink, despite being slightly scared of this wild man who lives off roadkill.

It’s funny. It’s quite disgusting at times. But it’s also reassuring to read about people who want to do the right thing, both for the environment and against cheating. And say what you want about Carl Hiaasen’s usually very attractive and often scantily clad women characters, but they are feisty and brave.

And all this without any mobile phones or decent clothes, since this was 1987. It’s amazing how far we haven’t come in some respects.

(It’s probably for the best if you are not a dog lover.)

Astronomy

This is the book I’d have wanted as my course book in Astronomy at school. That is, if I’d been able to take Astronomy, which I wasn’t. In my day this was the subject of the last chapter of the Physics book, and we never got to it.

Anne Rooney, Astronomy

I don’t actually know who the book is aimed at, except for the 14-year-old witch. How The World Works – Astronomy, From plotting the stars to pulsars and black holes, by Anne Rooney, is an excellent book. It seems to do what that front page description suggests, and according to the Resident IT Consultant it could well cover 80% of the GCSE Astronomy course.

That’s presumably why I am itching to read the book with a view to learning all of it, and then maybe sitting the exam.

It’s mostly words, so we get descriptions of everything astronomical, from historical backgrounds to what we know now. There is [mostly] none of those scary equations or difficult diagrams and things that would have turned the young witch off. Well, not off so much, as just making it incomprehensible.

Beautifully illustrated, this is simply a very attractive book. In fact, it’s quite goldilocks-ey in that it’s neither too much, nor too little. I like authors who can introduce a subject for those of us who’ll never be specialists, and make it seem quite normal.

Towards the very end of its 200 pages there is a ‘recipe’ for how to find exoplanets. I discovered I sort of already knew most of that.

While this strikes me as being most suitable for the secondary school student, I imagine that it can be more than readable for the really keen, and much younger, space nerd. If they’re interested, try it early, and before you know it you could have a little astrophysicist on your hands.

Space on Earth

All right, I admit it! Even though I am very keen on space and astronomy and all that, I have entertained thoughts like maybe it’s a waste of money to send men to the Moon. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the Apollo programme, and I have a certain fondness for astrophysics. A witch can still be frugal and ask if it makes sense to spend quite so much money on this kind of science.

It seems it does. And I’m so glad to know why.

It seems the space industry doesn’t use up as much money as we believe. Also that the money spent on stuff to do with space returns to us here on Earth in the shape of lots of very important inventions and discoveries.

Sheila Kanani and Del Thorpe, Space on Earth

Sheila Kanani has written this short book called Space on Earth, and it wasn’t until I read it that I realised why it’s called that. Science for space has turned out to be very useful for normal life on Earth, too. Just think, we wouldn’t be able to take selfies without an invention originally intended for space.

The same goes for satnav and cordless drills. Obviously. Our speakers are a lot smaller nowadays, thanks to space. And let’s not forget solar panels. They are from space too.

Space blankets for premature babies, and baby foods (for that long journey to Mars), cochlear implants and cancer detection, all come from space technology. And for more lighthearted science, we have sunglasses and the right clothes for skiing. Swimsuits for swimming faster, and cycle helmets.

This is fascinating stuff, and it’s such a relief to know that space science hasn’t been just for the nerds among us. For each chapter Sheila also introduces the reader to the scientists who worked long and hard at finding the best solution to a problem. And I do like the illustrations by Del Thorpe. I want to believe that reading a book like this will tempt many more children to go into science, and especially girls. Sheila herself is an excellent role model. In fact, I’d like to think of her as a mentor.