Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cybils Nominations Start October 1st

Nominations open tomorrow! 

Rules are roughly as follows (the official version is here): 
  • Anybody (real people only!) can nominate a book.
  • You may nominate one book per category.
  • If you have more than one book you’d like to nominate, enlist a friend or co-worker to help you out. (Real human friends only - no imaginary friends or pets or anything like that.)
  • Nominated books must’ve been published in the US or Canada between Oct. 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014. 
  • Additional information can be found here
The categories are:
  • Easy Reader/Short Chapter Books
    These books for beginning readers, covering an age range from preschool to grade 3.

  • Graphics covering everything from wordless picture books appealing to the very young to intense, issue-based young adult novels–telling their stories through serial artwork. There will be an award for both the younger graphics and for the young adult graphics.
  • Fiction Picture Books books that are fictional with pictures,  typically 32 to 48 pages long - this category contains titles for toddlers and third graders. From funny stories and moving tales to history, fantasy, education and entertainment. 

  • Elementary/Middle Grade Non-fiction from history, biography and sports to art, nature and science. Titles with factual content and informational titles, roughly 50% or more of the book should be narrative nonfiction (as opposed to experiments or activities) and books should be directed generally at ages 3-12.

  • Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Inventive, wild, and wonderful– speculative fiction for kids includes the obvious wizards and aliens, as well as talking animals, time-travel, ghosts, and paranormal abilities ... any books that push past the boundaries of daily life into the realm of the almost certainly impossible written for ages 8-12.

  • Middle Grade Fiction This category encompasses a wide range of stories that do not have magical elements like mysteries, histories, humor, sports, adventure and other tales set in the real world that are geared to the 8 to 12 year old age group.

  • Book Apps combine the interactive elements of tablet computers with literature and storytelling. Readers experience the story by interacting with the book.

  • Poetry Anthologies and poetry collections written by various authors or a single author.

  • Young Adult Fiction realistic fiction, contemporary or historical, funny or mysterious, romantic or adventurous. Books that are set in the real world of the past and present with all of its flaws and pain and humor and beauty published for young adults ages 12-18.

  • Young Adult Speculative Fiction Stories from the realms of the imagination - magic, aliens, ghosts, alternate universes, time travel, space travel, high fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic futures, horror, and sentient animals. The age range for this category is approximately 12-18.

  • Young Adult Non-fiction books in this category take readers on amazing journeys with the added benefit with knowing that they are true. Narrative nonfiction that bring history alive, introduces you to complex topics or transports you into another culture. For grades 7 - 12. No textbooks please.

Once you have narrowed your choices down to one book in each category (eek that's hard!) here is the link to the Cybils nomination form (it goes live at midnight). If you have questions about what qualifies or which category would be best there are links on the Cybils website to the chair of each category.

Nominations close October 15th!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Midnight Blue-Light Special and Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special (the second InCryptid novel)
by Seanan McGuire

Format: ebook

Publisher: DAW (March 5, 2013)
Copyright: 2013
Pages:  368

Genre: Adult - Urban fantasy

Source: purchased

Summary from Amazon:
The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity—and to protect humanity from them. Verity Price is just trying to do her job, keeping the native cryptid population of Manhattan from getting into trouble, and doing a little ballroom dancing on the side. Enter Dominic De Luca, an operative for the Covenant of St. George, and Verity's on-again, off-again boyfriend. When he tells her that the Covenant is sending a full team to assess how ready the city is for a purge, Verity finds herself between a rock and a hard place. Stay, and risk her almost-certain death, or flee, and leave the cryptids of New York with nothing between them and the Covenant.

With allies and enemies on every side, and no safe way to turn, it's going to take some quickstepping for Verity to waltz out of this one. There's just one question on everyone's mind: Is this the last dance for Verity Price?

So ... I enjoyed the first book enough that I purchased both the second and third in one optimistic go. But this time around I ran into problems right away. Anyone paying any sort of attention has known since the last book that there was going to be a conflict between the Covenant and Verity Price, this was telegraphed from almost the beginning of the first book.  Also telegraphed was the fact that Dominic was either going to have to choose sides (or opt to flee from both sides, which actually seems to be a semi-reasonable option). So why were Dominic and Verity acting like this was a surprise? Worse - a surprise with getting into forty snit-fits over?  I could understand them avoiding thinking about it, but you would have to be all kinds of stupid to think that this conflict wasn't coming.  So the way things were laid out at the beginning felt awkward, author-manipulated and frankly dumb.

So - not a fun run this time.  Instead we get teenaged angst and pouty foot stomping. Things finally start hitting their stride when - well I can't tell you what happened since that would be a spoiler. I will just say that my suspension of disbelief was broken beyond repair - it was just completely unbelievable. Plus Verity turns into a naked Terminator type for a while. I just kept thinking a) you have got to be kidding me and b) well that was gratuitous.

Finally, the resolution was very, um ..., unsatisfying. All that buildup, all that angst, all that drama and this is how it falls out ??? Hrumph. 

So - disappointing for me. The first book was fun and silly. The second book takes itself way too seriously.  Obviously YMMV - I know that several people liked this better than the first one, but I don't understand why.  

However ... since I already had the next book and I knew that it didn't feature Verity but her brother Alex... I read it anyhow. (I am not sure that I would have purchased it if I had finished this one first.) 

Half-Off Ragnarok (the third InCryptid novel) 
by Seanan McGuire 

Format: ebook
Publisher: DAW; 1 edition (March 4, 2014)
Copyright: 2014
Pages: 368

Genre: Adult - Urban fantasy

Source: purchased  

Summary from Amazon:
What do gorgons, basilisks, and frogs with feathers all have in common? They're all considered mythological by modern science, and some people are working very hard to keep them that way. Alexander Price is a member of a cryptozoological lineage that spans generations, and it's his job to act as a buffer between the human and cryptid worlds—not an easy task when you're dealing with women who has snakes in place of hair, little girls who may actually be cobras, and brilliant, beautiful Australian zookeepers. And then there's the matter of the murders... 

Alex thought he was choosing the easier career when he decided to specialize in non-urban cryptids, leaving the cities to his little sister, Verity. He had no idea what he was letting himself in for. It's a family affair, and everyone—from his reanimated grandfather to his slightly broken telepathic cousin—is going to find themselves drawn in before things get any better. 

So - this time the lead character is Verity's older brother Alex. He is, well the best analogy I can come up with is that he is Clark Kent - down to the glasses and wardrobe. Vanilla all the way down. The problem is that we seem to be missing the Supercryptozoologist side. His secret identity as part of the amazing Price family was distinctly lacking - well with the exception of just blowing into dangerous situations with the sum total plan of "I'm gonna do something dangerous and possibly even suicidal because I have too 'cause I am a Price and there really is no need to think it through or have any sort of plan" - which Verity does too. This is really too bad because as far as I know there are not a lot of urban fantasy books out there that star a male character.

We also have the obligate pairing of characters - suddenly and for no really believable reason Alex discovers he is in looove. Sigh. This was annoying with Verity and occasionally boarders on insufferable here.

On the plus side, I did enjoy the book more than the second one - it had more of the lighter fun feeling like the first book, but mostly I was - well - bored.  It just okay.  The only reason I might read the next book is to find out what happens to one particular character.  

I am really bummed here - I love the world building, the cryptids and the idea of Indiana Jones style
cryptozoologists. Anyone remember The Secret Saturdays cartoon ? That was kinda the vibe I got from the first book and I was hoping it would keep going in that direction. I wanted to love these books and instead, well - nope - it isn't thrilling me. Like I said - I still might get book four too see what happens to a character that has been in all the books and took a hit in book two that is still unresolved but I am deeply suspicious that the only 'resolution' we are going to get is who they are going to hook up with. Sigh.


Friday, September 26, 2014

A peak into The Forest Unseen

I have just spent the past week frantically working on a conference abstract that was due today.  I think my brains have leaked out of my ears at this point.

Since last week was fiction, here is a nice fiction book that has absolutely nothing to do with clay mineralogy or recalcitrant instruments ...

The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature by David George Haskell (which strikes me as three first names - told you my brains have leaked out.)

For Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader it starts ...

The New Year starts with a thaw, and the fat, wet smell of the woods fills my nose. Moisture has plumped the mat of fallen leaves that covers the forest floor, and the air is suffused with succulent leafy aromas. I leave the foot of the trail that winds down the forest slope and scramble around a house-sized piece of mossy, eroded rock. Across a shallow bowl on the mountainside I see my landmark: a long boulder, cresting out of the leaf litter like a small whale. The block of sandstone defines one edge of the mandala. 

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice something from page of The Forest Unseen ...

The bright burning lives of the ephemerals ignite the rest of the forest. Their growing roots reinvigorating the dark life of the soil, absorbing and holding the nutrients that would otherwise be flushed out of the forest by the spring rains. Each root secretes a nutritious gel, creating a sheath of life around its hairy tip. Bacteria, fungi, and protists are a hundred times more abundant in this narrow halo, and these single-celled creatures provide food for nematodes, mites, and microscopic insects. The grazers are preyed upon by even larger soil-dwellers such as the bright orange centipede that shimmers back and forth over the mandala as I sit watching. 

 Okay - I stand corrected, or sit corrected rather, we have gotten perilously close to clay minerals - I have been processing soil samples all week. I am glad he is looking at the biological stuff instead.  Right now, though, picture books might be more my speed.

The author has some beautiful photographs up at http://theforestunseen.com/gallery/

Photo by David George Haskell - from his website.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Work is crazy so ...

in loo of a real post ... I give you the bird !

To be specific, here is a sightly blurry photo of a suspicious Scarlet Ibis shortly before it decided it didn't like me there and flew away.

Ibis are medium to large sized wading and terrestrial birds that have a somewhat long neck and legs. They are related to storks and very closely related to spoonbills. The males are generally larger than the females and have longer bills.

According the Wikipedia:
The scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber) is a species of ibis in the bird family Threskiornithidae. It inhabits tropical South America and islands of the Caribbean. In form it resembles most of the other twenty-seven extant species of ibis, but its remarkably brilliant scarlet coloration makes it unmistakable. This medium-sized wader is a hardy, numerous, and prolific bird, and it has protected status around the world. Its IUCN status is Least Concern." 
 This particular ibis is an inhabitant of an aviary in Niagara Falls, Canada.  

And this is my wild leopard, also in the same aviary ... she is trying to make a break for it  :-)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Trilby verses Fedora - Wonderous Words Wednesday 26

Usually this would be the sort of thing I would save until Wednesdays Wondrous Words post, but I already know this week is going to be a mess, so I will do this now ...

(and as expected today I am quietly going mad trying to do three things at once so this is going to sub in as my Wednesdays Wondrous Words post. Sorry Kathy and everyone - I will try not to be this lame next week.)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!" 

There is a difference between a fedora, the favored fashion accessory of hardboiled detectives and adventurous archaeologists, and a trilby preferred by blues men and ersatz rich man's hat.

So ... A fedora is a hat that typically has a crease lengthwise down an ovalish or tear-drop shaped crown. The crown has two "pinched" areas near the front - one on each side that are usually just dimples but can be fancier shapes. There is often a ribbon or leather band around the base of the crown. The other distinctive thing about a fedora is that the brim is wide - at least 2 to 2.5 inches though usually more - and pretty flat.

Indiana Jones and the Amazing Fedora

A trilby is very similar to a fedora, but the brim is much narrower, the front of the brim is angled down and the back is curled up. The crown of a trilby is also usually shorter than that of a fedora.

The Blues Brothers wore trilby hats

So why did this come up ?  Stores are selling Hello Kitty "fedoras" that are actually trilby hats...

and my daughter knows the difference, so she was very irritated about this.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Whispering Skull Lockwood & Co Book 2 by Jonathan Stroud

The Whispering Skull
Lockwood & Co Book 2
by Jonathan Stroud 

Format: hardback
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (September 16, 2014)
Copyright: 2014
Pages: 448

Genre: middle grade fantasy-horror-mystery

Source: purchased  

Summary from the book cover:
In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn't made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood's investigations, which is creating a bit of tension back home at Portland Row.

Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who, in Victorian times, reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George's curiosity attracts a horrible phantom. (There is a bit more, but I am going to cut this off here.)

I just finished reading this book today and it was a ton of fun. If you liked the last book, this one does not disappoint. I don't want to say too much because it would be too easy to slip into spoilers territory. Suffice it to say, there is a satisfying adventure that does pick up the threads left hanging from the last book, though with a larger time delay than I expected. I was also somewhat expecting the overall story arc of The Problem to play a larger role.

While the story was great fun, I still have the same reservations I had before about Lucy being the only female character that is good/normal and always taking umbrage at any other girl that appears. That is getting tiresome and it happens way too often in books. This whole there can be only one thing really needs to go the way of dinosaur. This spoils an otherwise fantastic adventure story.

The worldbuilding is also still rather odd - the combination of the old-fashion attitudes and gas-light with flip-flops and Coke is sometimes quite jarring. I am still having trouble picturing what the wider daylight world would look like.  And Tourists? How many tourists would there really be in a world were everyone pretty much goes into hiding at sundown. It sounds like travel would be really problematic. Also - how many generations of children have given up their childhood to be nightwatch and the like. I would think that would have a profound effect on society.  I can forgive some of this to the extent that the main characters are living a third-shift life, awake while the rest of the city sleeps - so I can understand some of the disconnect. But - I am hoping in the next book that we get more glimpses of the functioning of the wider world. Mostly this is quibbling though. The stories are delightfully atmospheric and satisfying as long as you don't start to think too terribly deeply about them.

To sum up - lots of fun.  If you liked the last book, you will almost certainly like this book too. Now I have the hard job of waiting for the next one. Once again the book ends like a shoe hitting the floor - this next shoe should be a doozy.

Drink Coffee ...


Do Stupid 
with More 

'cause what I really need to be doing is finishing the prep on the last samples - so I am finding silly pictures I took at a restaurant instead.  Sigh.

A peak into The Whispering Skull Lockwood & Co 2

This week I am reading The Whispering Skull the second Lockwood & Co book. I suppose I should have saved it for next month, but it is too much fun!

For Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader this is how the story starts ...

"Don't look now," Lockwood said. "There's two of them." 

I snatched a glance behind me and saw that he was right. Not far off, on the other side of the glade, a second ghost had risen from the earth. Like the first, it was a pale, man-shaped curtain of mist that hovered above the dark, wet grass. 

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice something from page of The Whispering Skull ...

"We're hoping you might be able to give us some assistance this evening," Saunders went on. "'Course, I've got a good day team working under me already: spadesmen, backhoe drivers, corpse wranglers, light technicians . . . plus the usual night squad. But tonight we need some proper agency firepower as well." 

He winked at us, as if that settled the matter, and took a loud slurp of tea. Lockwood's polite smile remained fixed, as if nailed in position. "Indeed. And what exactly would you want us to do? And where ?" 

The non-fiction stuff I am reading this week is all about clay mineralogy and x-ray diffraction, so I will spare you that.  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014 Cybils Awards - I'm a judge!

I have been doing a quiet happy penguin dance in my house the last few days and now I am really thrilled to be able to announce that I have been chosen to be a Round 1 Elementary/Middle Grade Non-Fiction Judge !  This is a great honor and I am so excited! I love nonfiction books and I love kids books - this is a double love! Yay!

Nominations open October 1st and close on the 15th. The guidelines are here. The mission of these awards is as follows ... "The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious." So - have you read anything good in picture books, early readers, chapter books, or middle grade or young adult novels, graphic novels, poetry or nonfiction this past year ? Nominate them!

The Elementary/Middle Grade Non-Fiction Chair is Jennifer Wharton Jean Little Library

The First Round Judges are:

The Second Round Judges are:


Wonderous Words Wednesday 25

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!

Well - I pretty much dropped everything when my copy of Lockwood & Co. 2: The Whispering Skull showed up in my mailbox. Squee!

The good news it it has a couple cool words for this week ...

"Yes, that's a catafalque, girlie," Saunders said. 

catafalque \ˈkatəˌfô(l)k, -ˌfalk\   (sounded more like cat-a-felk to me)
1: a decorated wooden framework supporting the coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral or while lying in state.
2:  a pall-covered coffin-shaped structure used at requiem masses celebrated after burial 
Italian catafalco, from Vulgar Latin *catafalicum scaffold, from cata- + Latin fala siege tower
First Known Use: 1641
So something like this ... 
Abraham Lincoln's Coffin (under that is the catafalque-with the flowers and drapery)
Library of Congress
Which is all well and good, except that the book also says "An old Victorian lift for transporting coffins to the catacombs below."

Cool!  I just found this at http://www.subbrit.org.uk/sb-sites/sites/w/west_norwood_cemetery/index.shtml

So really we are looking for something like this ... except this is the view from the catacombs, not from inside the chapel ...
The catafalque in the central aisle with the hydraulic mechanism at the end
                                                                                  Photo by Nick Catford
Quoting from the site ...

"The coffin lift made Bramah & Robinson was installed [at West Norwood Cemetery] in 1839. It was worked by hydraulics, which made its operation silent, which was a distinct advantage considering its use. Only the top of the catafalque on which the coffin was placed was moveable and could be swivelled to allow easy removal of the coffin in the catacombs. The system used a single pump.

Bramah & Robinson, also installed a similar coffin lift at Kensal Green Cemetery Catacombs [emphasis mine] in 1844. The main difference is that the whole structure can be raised and lowered and incorporates 2 pumps.

At Kensal Green the box on which the pumps are mounted contains the hydraulic fluid (water). The rams are of 2 in diameter and 5.5 in stroke. The cylinder in which the ram fits extends into the reservoir and is terminated by a non-return ball valve.

 The wheel controls the descent by operating a valve, which bypasses both pump, and valves, feeding water directly from the ram cylinder to the reservoir. One stroke of the pump will raise the catafalque by one inch; therefore 180 strokes are required to raise it to the fully elevated position, a distance of approximately 15 feet. The effort is halved by the two pumps. The coffin lift at Kensal Green has recently been fully restored [in May 1997] and is available for use for transporting coffins from the Anglican Mortuary Chapel Above. That at West Norwood while still largely intact is derelict and unusable."

See, this is amazingly cool because the text I quote from the book, well the characters are at Kensal Green Cemetery!  So this really is pretty much exactly what we are looking for!

The coffin lift or 'catafalque' stands in the central isle. The blocked aperture in the ceiling led to the now demolished Episcopal Chapel above. The stairs on the right
(now blocked) also led up to the chapel.
Photo by Nick Catford

This is a photo of the restored Anglican Chapel Catafalque at Kensal Green Cemetery...

From https://www.flickr.com/photos/30120216@N07/3757659671/
So this would be pretty much exactly what they are discussing, except that the chapel would be in a more dilapidated state and is being used as a temporary office. 


And there went my lunch hour.  Oops - I only got one word done this time. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


This weekend I made a chocolate sponge cake in our new rice maker.  I am very proud of it. 

I have to say that I had serious doubts about cooking a cake in a steamer, but wow!  It turned out wonderfully. Nice and fluffy and light.  Yum!

I just had to show it off.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Journey and Quest - two books by Aaron Becker

by Aaron Becker

Format: Hardback

Publisher: Candlewick
Published: 2013

Pages: 40

Genre: children's picture book, fantasy 

A 2014 Caldecott Honor Book

Source: purchased

by Aaron Becker

Format: Hardback

Publisher: Candlewick
Published: 2014

Pages: 40

Genre: children's picture book, fantasy 

Source: purchased

So - how do you feel about picture books without words?  My daughter is still a little unsure about the concept, but I have fallen in love with these beautiful books.

In the first, a bored girl finds a red crayon that allows her to enter a colorful and magical world. The story is reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon but where Harold relies on text to illuminate the spare illustrations, this story is purely visual - each picture is lovely and contains a myriad of fine details. So far I have found new things to think about each time I have 'read' the story.

The story continues in the second book, where the girl and her new friend - who possesses a purple magic crayon - find themselves on a quest to locate the rest of the magic crayons. Again, the illustrations are amazing.

There is also going to be a third book, which I eagerly wait.

If you have any interest in picture books or intricate illustrations - these books should enter your collection.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A peak into Beneath the Sands of Egypt

So last week Friday snuck up on me and now this week I missed it entirely. In my defense, all of my major lab instruments decided to crash, so work was a total mess.

I have been reading Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist by Donald Ryan, and since I did fiction last week, it seems fair to feature a nonfiction book - so for this weeks Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader I will tell you how it starts ...

The haunting melody of a Beethoven piano sonata played softly in the background as I gazed into the slit of darkness evolving before my eyes. I handed another small stone to Achmed, who in turn handed it up the ancient white steps to be added to the growing pile of rubble. Beethoven would no doubt have been incredulous that his Appassionata served as the sound track for such a remarkable scene: the opening of an ancient Egyptian tomb, in the famed Valley of the Kings.

The tomb he is opening is KV60 - the entrance is actually under the entrance to 19 so you can't see it on this map. This is from the Wikipedia page on the Valley of the Kings.

Oh - this is cool ! http://www.thebanmappingproject.com/atlas/index_kv.asp?tombID=874

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice something from page of Beneath the Sands of Egypt

As I learned from many subsequent visits, the ascent though the galleries to the burial of "King's" chamber can be relatively simple or quite hellish, depending on the number of tourists. The interior can be sweltering from the humidity brought on by the accumulation of human breath and perspiration, and certain passageways require one to bend over while descending groups pass by. The uncomfortable and variable climes mean that few people stay in the [Great] pyramid for long. 

FYI - The Kings Chamber measures 10.45 meters by 5.20 meters, and is 5.80 meters high and is made entirely of pink granite. (That would be 34.28 feet by 17.1 feet, and 19 feet high.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Nice visualization of terrible drought

Courtesy of xkcd (and of course I got his book !)

While the technical term is exceptional I think ludicrous is pretty apt at this point. 

September 9, 2014 Drought Map (source)

This drought is pretty unbelievable - unfortunately it is real as well.

Wonderous Words Wednesday 24

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!

I have been reading Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist by Donald Ryan [too much about him so far and not enough Egypt! I hope the balance improves soon!] 

So here are some random words ... 

A gaffir is a guardian - like a watchman or, in this context,  they are tomb guards.  

A gaffir at the Kushite tomb at El-Khurru from Source

howagas (apparently) means foreigners - I have seen one suggestion it come from 'hat-wearers' but I can't verify that. I am also having a heck of a time getting any kind of etymology for this word. Hummm...  (it seems to really mean idiot in some cases though.) Anyone know Arabic ?

aish baladi roughly translates as 'peasant bread' according to Ryan. Aish baladi is a form of pita bread that is unique to Egypt and is a staple of most meals. 

Egyptian woman baking aish in a traditional clay oven. SOURCE They have posted a recipe.

They have a kid friendly recipe here with photos
koshari (Egyptian Arabic: كشرى, [ˈkoʃæɾi]) is rice, pasta (like macaroni or vermicelli) and lentils (and/or chickpeas) mixed with tomato sauce. It originated in the mid-19th centrality. It started out as an end-of-the-week throw in everything that is left over sort of dish. It is a ubiquitous street food in Egypt.
koushari Photo Copyright Lean Droid at Flickr
and last but not least we have ...

shawarma (Arabic: شاورما‎ / ALA-LC: shāwarmā; Urdu: شاورما‎) which is more of a preparation than a specific food.  Meat (lamb, turkey, beef, chicken, whatever) is put on a spit and slow roasted all day. The meat is shaved off from the outside and served on a plate or more commonly in a sandwich. The accompaniments depend on where buy it. Again a ubiquitous street food. 

Which totally means that I have to throw in a still from that bit at the end of the Avengers movie where they are eating shawarma because Tony wants to try it ...

Maybe next week I will actually remember which day of the week is Wednesday (doesn't seem likely though the way things are going). 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Top Ten Underrated Authors in the Mystery genre

Hosted by the Broke and Bookish the topic for September 9: September 9: Top Ten Underrated Authors or Books in X genre.

I haven't been able to participate in TTT in ages but this one sounds fun so I wanted to put together a short list for "underrated" mystery authors.  I am not sure how much each of them count as underrated as much as currently under the radar or once rated but now disappeared? Something like that.

1. Janet Neel  (Janet Neel Cohen, Baroness Cohen of Pimlico) a a British lawyer who wrote seven mystery novels staring Francesca Wilson and John McLeish, plus a few stand alone mysteries. Very British, contemporary and I found them to be very well done. My favorite was Death Among the Dons (which to me has something of the feel of Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night. 

2. Sarah Caldwell (Sarah Cockburn) also a British Barrister, like Janet Neel, wrote four mysteries stories that centered around the lives of a group of young barristers practicing in Lincoln’s Inn and were narrated by a Hilary Tamar, a Professor of Medieval Law - an odd combination of mentor and hanger-on. One hook for the books is that the gender of the narrator is unknown. She passed away in 2000.

3. Kate Ross (Katherine Jean Ross) is an American mystery author who wrote four books set in Regency-era England about an enigmatic, poor, and superficially foppish dandy named Julian Kestrel. She passed away in 1998, way too young.  The first book is entitled Cut to the Quick.

4. Diana Killian is the author of two mystery series that I know of - one is called the Poetic Death series, starting with and stars a vacationing American school teacher and a reformed British jewel thief. They take rather a high level of suspension of disbelief but are great fun. I also like that the relationship between Grace and Peter developed throughout the four books. It takes time. Killian also has a Yoga mystery series, but I haven't read those yet. 

5. Edith Skom is the author of three detective novels featuring Professor Beth Austen, who specializes in nineteenth-century literature. The first book is The Mark Twain Murders. I found these when I was looking to fill the hole left by Amanda Cross (also books starting a female professor and the best of them all had an academic setting) when she stopped writing.

6. Sparkle Hayter is a Canadian author and journalist. She wrote a series of mysteries (six of them I believe) starting Robin Hudson and some stand alone books as well. I am not entirely sure how to explain her books -  The first one is entitled What's A Girl Gotta Do? and Robin is a journalist for a, well, trashy television news channel. The cover to the first book both helps and isn't right at all.

To give you an idea of our protagonist, she thinks her apartment may have been burglarized because it seems tidier than when she left it. I started reading these at the same time as the early Stephanie Plum books came out. I thought these were funnier.  But then I am considered strange. 

7. Katy Munger (who also wrote books under the pseudonyms Gallagher Gray and Chaz Mee) is an American author - the books that I enjoyed were her Casey Jones series, starting with Legwork. They are very hardboiled detective stuff staring a female detective - kinda if the femme fatale were the detective instead of Sam Spade. It is an interesting take and also stands in stark contrast to Stephanie Plum in terms of competence.

BTW - I never heard of Tart Noir until today. Wished I had heard about it at the time. 

8. Joanne Dobson is an American mystery author whose books feature Karen Pelletier, an English professor at the fictional Enfield College in ritzy Enfield, Massachusetts. I see that I have missed a couple will have to catch up. The first book was Quieter Than Sleep: A Modern Mystery of Emily Dickinson. The books do have some unfortunate tropes in them, but they were still quite enjoyable.

9. Victoria Thompson - author of the Gaslight Mystery series set in turn-of-the-century New York, staring midwife Sarah Brandt. Not underrated I suppose, but her books have been hard to find in the bookstore.  I have to start over and get caught up. I see that she is up to 15 or 16 books now. 

10. Donna Andrews - author of the Meg Langslow mysteries, starting with Murder with Peacocks, that I have already talked up several times. I guess she really doesn't count as underrated but I think she is a bit under-appreciated.   

11.  Carola Dunn - she has bunch of Daisy Dalrymple mystery series is set in England between the wars (I wonder if she is running out of time here and will have to introduce WWII ? We are on book 21 now). I haven't read any of her Cornish mysteries yet. Also not really underrated, but her books are a nice change of pace from most of the things I see out there, so I wanted to give her some blog love too.  

Happy Tuesday ! 

Monday, September 8, 2014

"Routine experiment" or accident waiting to happen?

The world seems to be supplying material for next summers HAZWOPER course a little early this year.  Or at least forcing it to my attention.

Last Wednesday at the Discovery Museum in Reno, Nevada, 13 people, including 8 children, were injured by a chemical explosion during a "routine" fire tornado simulation (so they have been doing this, roughly this way, for years). All of the children and one (or two - the news reports conflict on this) adults were transported to the hospital with smoke inhalation and chemical and/or acid burns (this is from the news reports - though as far as I can work out basically we are talking about burns caused by exposure to flames - not chemical burns and it shouldn't be acid burns either). All but one child was released the same day. The children suffered 1st and 2nd degree burns.

This picture gives you an idea of how close the children are to the demonstration table.

As you can see, the children were sitting on the floor approximately six to 10 feet away from the demonstration table. The Washington Post reports that the museum runs the experiment as a simulation of a dust devil or tornado, using methyl alcohol and boric acid.

According to the Washington Post article Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said, "the order of the chemicals got switched and caused a two- to four-second chemical flash." Then we have Reno City spokesman Matthew Brown telling the Associated Press "that the demonstration was more of a chemical flash than an explosion, “similar to if someone threw gasoline on a fire.” ??? Novel definition of the terms chemical flash and explosion here. ???

The chemical reaction they are discussing is:

H3BO3 (boric acid) + 3CH3OH (methanol) --> B(OCH3)3 (trimethyl borate) + 3H2O (water)

and commonly used to make "green fire" or "spirit fire." Basically you put some amount of alcohol into a safe container, add a teaspoon or so of boron and then use a lighter to ignite it. The resulting flame is green and very smokey. 

So the idea here is to put this whole thing on a Lazy Susan or spinning table, surround it with a mesh screen (commonly a metal trash can) and then spin it to create a 'fire tornado.'

Here is one a really nice video showing you the experiment and also how to create different colors of flames.

(DISCLAIMER HERE - This is FIRE and ALCOHOL. The typical disclaimer here is - Don't try this at home. If you are one of our HAZWOPER people - you are still on your own and if you burn anything, it is your own fault!)

Anyhow, um, I have no idea what Mr. Hernandez or Mr. Brown are thinking but no - we call already tell that their explanation of what happened is not correct. The order of adding the alcohol and the boric acid has nothing to do with what happened (you can watch demonstration videos of people adding boric acid to alcohol and vice versa). This is not some exothermic reaction run amok. The problem lies elsewhere. 

You find out from the video that the demonstrator has forgotten to add the alcohol (you can clearly hear her say that). So she reaches to the end of the table, grabs and opens a gallon bottle of methanol that is only partly filled, thus full of alcohol vapor, and then pours the alcohol onto what appears to be a hot burner (the video in the news report is out of sequence, but it looks like there was a flame on that burner then the demonstrator put the flame out, and removed that mesh screen you can see in the back).

Here you can see the flammable symbol on the REALLY BIG bottle
of alcohol. Plus the bottle is only about a quarter or so full.

This happens almost immediately when she starts pouring. Looking at the angle
 of her hand, lots of that alcohol got poured out over the table towards the left. 
It is hard to see but it appears that the bottle rockets out of the demonstrators
hand, flying off to the right with flames shooting out of the bottle.

The flames go along the table then start to spread along the floor.

Looking at this still, you can see there are actually two flames there - one is yellow-orange and is from the spilled alcohol, the other is green and would be the remains of the 'flame tornado' demonstration. The green flame disappears pretty quickly as the boric acid was used up ...

And now you can see that the flames are all basically yellow-orange.

So - how many issues can you pick out here ?  This one is a perfect example for the HAZWOPER class - it combines classroom chemistry with emergency response. Everyone who did the 8-hour should be able to pick out several things that need to be re-thought here. What do you think?

Admittedly, I am basing my analysis on obsessive re-watching of the video clips that are available and what has been reported in the news, so I could be wrong about what caused the accident - but I think my version is much more plausible than that of the Fire Chief, which is clearly incorrect (maybe he is thinking of the whole add acid to water not water to acid thing?). 

I wonder if the CSB (Chemical Safety Board) is going to weigh in on this one. There are routinely accidents in classrooms involving methanol and fire so, sadly, this is just the latest variation on a theme.

Oh, geeze there are YouTube videos of kids doing this experiment in their garage! With no safety gear! And other videos suggesting you use charcoal lighter fluid for this.

P.S. all of the images were cut from this NBC news report

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ursula Vernon for the win

My sentiments exactly !

Lockwood & Co. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud mini review

The Screaming Staircase Lockwood & Co. Book 1 
by Jonathan Stroud

Format: paperback (finally!) 
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (Reprint edition August 26, 2014)
Copyright: 2013
Pages: 416

Genre: middle grade fantasy-horror-mystery

Source: purchased  

Summary from the back of the paperback:
A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren't exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see-and eradicate-these supernatural foes. 

In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky [I hate the way they use this word!] and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a psychic detection agency that handles the dangerous work. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall's legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day?

I have been waiting impatiently for this book to come out in paperback ever since I saw the hardback in the bookstore. Now that it has - squee! - I devoured it in just a couple of days. I would have read it faster but silly things like work and feeding the kids interfered. I believe that I can even go so far as to call it a rollicking good read - the pages just flew past. Since The Screaming Staircase won the 2013 Cybil Award for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, I am sure that lots of people are already aware of it, but just in case you are not - if you have any interest in the book based on the description get it !  What fun!

The main characters are distinctive and realistic feeling - as long as you accept the premise that has been laid out to explain why children/teenagers would have to be acting as the front line here the story holds together very neatly (as long as you don't start thinking too deeply about it). The book is written so well that it is pretty easy to suspend your disbelief and start adventuring.

The plot uses several common tropes - for example the authorities being against our heroes and not as good (the classic Sherlock Holmes - Lestrade dynamic) - but uses them well enough to skirt becoming trite. For a middle school reader, this is a good introduction to the gas-light horror/mystery genre. Adult readers of mysteries will probably know where things are going but will still enjoy the ride. It does have ghosts, murder, and some scary descriptions but it is handled well so that the horror doesn't overwhelm the story and shouldn't put off an interested middle school reader.  (My son is not interested in horror books at all, so at the moment I won't be trying to get him to read it. I will try in a couple of years.)

The worldbuilding was for the most part really, really evocative. In fact, it worked so well in conjuring up the classic foggy streets of Sherlock Holmes' London that references to modern items were sometimes quite jarring. This is the one thing that was off kilter for me - I wasn't able to quite pin down the 'when' of the story. You have donuts and electricity along with gaslight and fireplaces. I get the idea that the Problem slowed down human advancements, but it was still all somewhat willy-nilly.

I also don't understand why Lucy wore skirts so often. Given the job description the disconnect between her 'work clothing' which included a parka and the references to times she was wearing a skirt started to really get on my nerves. In fact the whole girls are more sensitive, less threatening and normally wear skirts subtext felt totally archaic given the rest of the story. This was one of the reasons the time period felt more like the 1800's than the more modern world. The fact that Lucy was pretty fearless, competent and effective helped make up for these anacronistic attitudes but they were still annoying. It would helped if there more female characters (ghosts don't count) but there really weren't. They exist - there are important women mentioned - but other than eyeballing the Fitt's girl we don't meet any.

I really liked that one of the stray thoughts I had while reading - something like "if those things work against ghosts, why don't they try ..." - and then the book took me up on it and introduced something like what I was thinking about towards the end. Cool! Sorry to be vague but otherwise it would be a spoiler.

I loved it so much that I have already pre-ordered the next book - yes, sigh, in hardback. The first book doesn't end in a cliff hanger per say, but with a shoe that drops with a resounding thud.  I need that next shoe!  So I will be waiting impatiently until the 16th, when the next book comes out.