“The Elements of Grammar for Writers” Review

3-star rating
"The Elements of Grammar for Writers" book cover

This little book is outdated in some ways, yet it has certain charms and retains some value.

Written in 8 BG (“Before Google”)—that is, in 1990, when BG still referred to the Brothers Gibb, personal computers were a new thing, and the internet was mostly a gleam in technologists’ eyes—it’s amusing to see references to hand-written student papers and reminders to make sure you use a new typewriter ribbon when getting a paper ready to turn in.

It was also clearly written primarily for college student writers facing the near-future prospect of having to write papers for employers, not just professors...

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“A Heap o’ Livin’” Review

3-star rating
"A Heap o' Livin'" book cover

This 1916 book could just have easily have been titled “A Heap o’ Preachin’” or “A Heap o’ Homilies,” given its content. But author Edgar A. Guest knew his audience, and wrote for them.

His readers from over 100 years ago expected the simple ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump rhythm patterns of the poems they may have read as children, and Guest delivered. They expected the simple rhyme patterns (such as ababcdcd or aabbccdd) of those same poems, and Guest used them.

They expected poems on the themes that resonated with them—honesty; integrity; humility; generosity; the values of hard work and work for its own sake; the joys of boyhood, manhood, and fatherhood; faith in a Creator and His ultimate plan; patriotism; bearing up without complaint in the face of life’s tr...

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“Notes from Bisbee” Review

4.5 star rating
Notes from Bisbee cover

Bisbee, Arizona, is one of those towns—every state has one—that gets called “unique.” Or “colorful.” Or “quirky.” Which can be a polite replacements for other terms. As it turns out, Arizona is blessed with two such communities: Bisbee, in the southeastern part of the state, and Jerome, half-way between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. Both are former mining towns that had to reinvent themselves when the mines closed. Both became havens for artists and folks who didn’t quite fit anywhere else.

Of course, no town would function if all the residents fit that description, so there are plenty of people in Bisbee who are simply more flexible and forgiving of the quirks of the more unusual residents. Debrah Strait is one of that latter group.

A friend of a friend re...

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“De/Compositions” Review

3.5 star rating
De/Compositions cover

I first encountered De/Compositions: 101 Good Poems Gone Wrong as a text book for an undergraduate English course I had to take to build up my humanities credits before I could be accepted into a Master’s Degree program in English at the University of Central Oklahoma. Author W. D. Snodgrass’s idea, to take 101 highly-regarded poems, from Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare to Donald Hall’s 1990 “The Man in the Dead Machine,” and turn them into something less than great, is an interesting one, particularly as an academic exercise. He groups the poems into five general categories—abstract and general versus concrete and specific; undercurrents; the singular voice; metrics and music; and structure and climax—and focuses his “de/composition” work in these areas.

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“Walk Quietly the Beautiful Trail” Review

3.5 star rating

It’s important to keep in mind what this little book (barely 60 pages long) is, and what it is not.

Walk Quietly the Beautiful Trail book cover

What it is: a Hallmark gift book with a 1973 copyright date; a slim collection of Native American song lyrics, poetry, legends, and reproductions of paintings. The translations date as far back as 1923.

What it is not: an in-depth or representative study of Native American culture, art, or literature.

What this book reveals should not be a surprise: that Native Americans experience the same feelings of love and desire for, and devotion to others; that they use song to prepare themselves for battle; and that their songs reflect the important times, activities, and events in their lives...

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“Balfor’s Salvation” Review

3-star rating

Middle books in a series can be hard to write. Ask me how I know. Balfor’s Salvation is the second book in Susan Trombley’s Shadows in Sanctuary series.

Balfor's Salvation cover

In Lilith’s Fall, the first book in the series, Stacia Dornan is part of a human team that joins with a band of umbrose to rescue the umbrose’s Prince Balfor, who’d been captured by the umbrose’s enemies, the adurians, and was being tortured. During the rescue, Stacia is seriously injured but she and Balfor are placed together so that, despite being barely conscious as well as in great pain, they make a tenuous connection by briefly holding hands.

Balfor’s Salvation begins some years later...

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“From The Top Down” Review

From the Top Down cover

The subtitle to this book by Susan J. Ellis is “The Executive Role in Successful Volunteer Involvement,” and that’s true as far as it goes. For executives in businesses or organizations in which volunteers make up only a small fraction of the total workforce, this book is an excellent resource. Ellis devotes full chapters to budgeting for volunteers, the impact and financial value of volunteer contributions, understanding the volunteer/employee relationship (especially how it can go wrong and what to do to prevent or fix it), legal issues, and managing volunteers at all levels, from those performing basic tasks to those supporting the executive suite...

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Genes, Behaviors, and the Gaps in Our Knowledge

If you thought the nature/nurture debate was settled, think again. Far from it, even within the scientific community. Are genes the primary determiner of who will get fat over time, is it the sum of their behaviors, or both?

An article this week in Science News reports on a study done by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute (yes, really) in Boston. They looked at over 2 million genetic variants from thousands of people and came up with a way to predict, they said, a person’s likelihood of becoming “obese” (having a Body Mass Index of 30 to 39.9) or “severely obese” (BMIs of 40 or higher). OK, that sounds useful.

OK, maybe you didn’t need to see this. Photo by Poznyakov via Dreamstime.com

But hold on, other researchers said...

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Measles, the Anti-Vax Movement, and the Moral Imperative

I’m ticked off this week. No getting around it; I am. But I’m also sad and frustrated.

As of April 11th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there have been 555 confirmed cases of measles so far this year. That’s more than in all of 2018 (372) and the highest number since 2014 (667). Measles was declared “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000, but that means the disease isn’t present all the time (or “endemic”), not that it doesn’t exist at all.

Little boy in hospital
© Suthisa Kaewkajang | Dreamstime.com

Travelers from countries where measles is still endemic bring cases into the U.S. every year. Usually, there are enough people who’ve been vaccinated around them that no one else catches the disease, or a few do, and then no one else does...

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A Formula for the Science in Science Fiction

The fundamental element of my Eternity Plague series—The Eternity Plague (book 1), Chrysalis (book 2), and Wild Spread (book 3, currently in draft)—is that five naturally-mutated viruses have infected all of humanity and are doing all sorts of strange and not necessarily wonderful things to everyone. My heroine, Dr. Janet Hogan, discovers the viruses and has to try to stop them before they do too many awful things. Good luck with that: so far the viruses are doing more things faster than Janet and her team can respond to them. How will the series end? Sorry, no spoilers here.

But because these books are science fiction, I wanted to ground them in science, and good science at that...

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