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Archive for July, 2011

Meteors: Magnificent Marvels at Midnight

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

by James L. (JimiJam)

 

 

The cosmos is filled with awe-inspiring spectacles on the most massive of scales: supernovas and nebulae, galactic collisions, radiant stars that easily dwarf our own, faraway planets only recently brought within reach of the astronomer’s sight.  For most of us, the opportunities to see such

(photo by Nick Ares)

wonders for ourselves are of course pitiably few; those of us who live in and around cities are accustomed not to a night sky full of fascinating displays unfold in slow motion, but rather the moon and only the brightest of stars, and glimpses of a few of our neighboring planets within the solar system.  So consistent are these extraterrestrial entities that we all too easily take them for granted.  Aside from the occasional lunar or solar eclipse, dazzling celestial events are, sadly, the exception, rather than the rule.  And yet, the universe has seen fit to grant us regularly scheduled viewings of one of the closest, most simple, and yet not so easily dismissed phenomena:  Meteors.

 

Approximately 1,000 tons of dust and rock enter the Earth’s atmosphere on a daily basis.  Particles no larger than a grain of sand comprise the majority of meteors as these specks skip across the outer reaches of the atmosphere.  While those who live well away from the bright nighttime

Meteor Burst courtesy of NASA

lights of the city may occasionally catch sight of shooting stars throughout the year, there are certain times of year in which the number and size of meteors increase to such an extent that even the city dweller stands a chance of observing a fleeting glimpse of a meteor’s path across the gaseous dome of the Earth.  As the Earth makes its way around the Sun, like clockwork its orbital path leads it through the lingering debris of comets, sometimes decades after their most recent passage, encountering these dust trails at the same point each year.  Several such phases, commonly known as meteor showers, pass with little notice; their source comets having been either too small to leave a significant supply of meteoroids, or having passed so long ago that far less material remains to noticeably increase the average nightly number of meteors.  However, there are a few meteor showers still productive enough to be worthy of note.  Of these, one of the best examples is the Perseid meteor shower, which takes place between the middle of July and the middle of August, peaking this year on the 13th of August.

 

NASA Science (photo by Peter Lawrence)

The Perseids, so named because the meteors are seen from Earth as radiating from the constellation of Perseus in the northeastern sky, are the result of the comet Swift-Tuttle, a massive object nearly 17 miles wide and traveling at an astonishing 134,000 miles per hour.  Swift-Tuttle last traveled past the Earth in 1992.  In recent years, the occurrence of meteors produced by the Perseid shower has been as frequent as an average of over 170 observable meteors per hour.  Sadly, this year’s shower is not predicted to present quite so grand a display.  The expected average at its peak is only to be 100 meteors per hour.  Confounding the skygazer’s view even further is the unfortunate coincidence of a full Moon occurring very near to the day on which the Perseid shower will peak.  For those willing to play the waiting game the evenings of the 12th or 13th, the Moon should set with enough pre-dawn darkness remaining to allow for a higher chance of seeing a few of those spectacular fireballs streaking across the sky.

 

While the peak day of Perseid activity may seem like a disappointment waiting to happen, all is not lost.  A new Moon on the 31st of July allows for a window of opportunity to see not only the pre-peak days of the Perseids, but the remaining days of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower as well.  So, if you happen to find yourselves out in the evening during the next few weeks, take a moment to gaze skyward.  You might just get a chance to see what the universe can do with something as small and seemingly insignificant as a grain of sand, as it sets the sky alight for the briefest of moments, glancing across the ceiling of the world.

 

 

Comets Meteors and Asteroids by  Seymour Simon

 

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

 

Meteor by Edmund H. North, Franklin Coen, Stanley Mann

 

Cosmic Phenomena: Comets, Meteor Showers, Eclipses by Gabriele Vanin

 

Comets and Meteor Showers by Paul P. Sipiera

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Darling Strumpet

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

 

The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell


Review by Jerelyn (I-F-Letty)

 

I really liked The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell. I am no expert on the Restoration period, but I read my first book about Charles II and Nell Gwynn when I was a teenager, and I’ll admit it I had a bit of a crush on him. I have read many books about the Restoration since that time, so I know the facts. Nell has been portrayed in so many ways. Ms. Bagwell has portrayed her not differently, but more completely.

Sure Nell was a prostitute at a young age Bagwell doesn’t gloss over it. She has thoughtfully researched this unfortunate state through modern eyes but it is the world’s oldest profession, unfortunately little has changed. Becoming a prostitute is rarely a first choice, now or in 1660. People are driven to it for same reasons. In her version Bagwell’s Nell Gwynn’s reasons are as old as the profession. A fathers absence (through death), an alcoholic abusive mother, poverty and hunger, with no other choices open to her. She has Nell working alongside her elder sister Mary who does her best to guide and protect Nell. But Nell has dreams of escaping this life for something better.

In the brothel Nell meets the actors of the King’s Theater Company, and sees her first plays. When she gets the chance to work as an Orange Girl she jumps at it. This leads her to the first significant love of her life Charles Hart. Bagwell comes from the theater and that back ground is evident. She is knowledgeable and imparts this aspect of Nell’s life beautifully.

Much Ado About Nothing…. I have heard so much about the sex! Yes there is sex, not a peek at it but sex in full and graphic detail. Which would have been natural for this time period, and true to the story. The Restoration was a bawdy hedonistic time. Also true to the time period is the often crude language, people spoke this way then, especially these people. It was the swinging 60’s the roaring 20’s rolled into one. It was a a time of lush excess and decadence, and on the other hand epic tragedy. Her scene set after the fire brought tears to my eyes. In fact I was touched deeply more than once.

If I have any complaints it is with a few modernism that pop into the dialogue, but they were very few, and not so bad as to be jarring and slow down the story. So I give 4 stars to this wonderful story about Nell Gwynn and Charles Stuart, I call him that instead of Charles II for I truly believe that Nell came to love the man not the King. Solid 4 stars I highly recommend it.

 

Non-Fiction Review – The Secret Lives of Hoarders

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

 

The Secret Lives of Hoarders: True Stories of Tackling Extreme Clutter

by Matt Paxton with Phaedra Hise


Review by McGuffyAnn M. (nightprose)

 

 

This is a very interesting book, based on the cable TV show “Hoarders”, which airs on

A & E. The book is written by the owner of Clutter Cleaners, Matt Paxton, who also is an expert and speaker on issues of hoarding.

 

The book is full of case studies of hoarders, including how it begins, causes, and then recognition and resolution. There are reasons explained as to why some people begin to hoard. Also discussed are odd items people have been known to hoard. The psychology of hoarding is sorted out with sensitivity and sensibility, as Matt offers plans of action that work. Sorting this all out with the hoarder is part of breaking the cycle of hoarding, and ultimately healing.

 

The book is hard to read at times because of the content, the ways in which people are affected, and the reasons behind it. However, never does Matt judge the hoarder, choosing rather to explain the cycle and how to break it. He allows them dignity and hope, as well as help.

 

This is an important book, as this is a problem that many people have as a hidden source of shame. Only by facing it and sorting it out can one ever clean up their homes and their lives.

Fantasy Friday – Escapement

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Escapement by Jay Lake

Review by Bowden P. (Trey)

Mainspring by Jay Lake disappointed me. Then I read Green, which caught my attention in a good way. Which caused me to wonder if my memories of Escapement and Pinion were accurate, so I decided to re-read both. Its good that I did, because the two books are good.

Notably better than Mainspring in my eyes. And besides, its more fun to write review of a good book.

Escapement picks up two years after the events of Mainspring in 1902, with incidental characters from Mainspring being our viewpoints, plus one new one. Our viewpoints are Paolina Barthes (the new one), Librarian Childress and Chief Threadgill al-Wazir. Paolina is a young woman from a lost Portuguese colony on the Wall. She’s brilliant, easily surpassing Newton, who’s developed possibly the greatest innovation the world has known – the gleam. A ‘simple’ watch that allows her to set it to the rhythm of things in the world and then change them. She’s determined to go to England to meet the sorcerers there that created airships and allowed Britain to master the Northern Earth.

Chief al-Wazir survived the events of Mainspring and made his way home, only to be court martialled for the trouble. He’s given a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the Navy by providing security for an expedition to the Wall – one that would burrow through the wall itself. Complicating matters is the head of the expedition, Doktor Ottweill, who is obsessed to the point of madness, and worse, the madness is catching…

Librarian Childress is taken far from her domain of the Yale Divinity School  by her secret society, the White Birds. From there she goes very far afield and rises very, very high.

The book weaves these three stories together, giving us a better look at the world as a whole, and portions of the Wall in particular. We get to see portions of Chinese dominated East Asia, British ruled Europe and the capitol of the Brass Men, Ophir as well. And I found the looks at these pieces worth the journey.

The ending of Escapement isn’t entirely to my taste – its a bit abrupt like the publisher split the book in two. Still, it does lead right into Pinion and the action resumes from there.

Likes: More and varied characters; Better view of Clockwork Earth than before; Able to see similarities and differences; Sorcery is powerful and dangerous; Childress seizing an opportunity out of danger; Boaz; Cities on the wall.

Dislikes: I occasionally felt like Paolina lead a charmed life – people forgave her her sharp tongue a bit too quickly.

Suggested For: Fans of Jay Lake, people who like interesting world building and steampunk fans.

 

Women’s Fiction Review – Life’s a Beach 7/27

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

 

Life’s a Beach by Claire Cook

Review by Kristin D. (kdurham2813

 

A story with a woman who is trying to find her true passion while figuring out what her future will hold.

The cast of characters was hilarious and entertaining – her family made the book even more enjoyable.

I have a sister and I enjoy reading about sister relationships – these two made me laugh out loud because I saw me and my sister a few years down the road in their shoes.

As the sister obsessed about her upcoming birthday, I giggled as I may obsess about things in my life.

A love triangle, which I always enjoy, made this book a page turner.

Sometimes I was sure which guy I want her to end up with and then I would flip a few pages and I was stumped – I had no clue which one would be the best in the end.  Between the artsy glassblower and the methodical electrician from the movie set, I just couldn’t decide who best fit her.

As the story unfolded, I am glad the end came as it did and how it happened.

It may have “beach” in the title, but that isn’t the only reason why I put this book into my beach read list.  A light and easy great read that I would recommend to pack in your beach bag.

NOTE – I don’t have a clue why it was titled as such, it didn’t quite fit the story.

Romance Review – Night Season

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

 

Night Season by  Eileen Wilks

Review by Susan R. (Sue-in-AZ)

Synopsis

This is the fourth book in the World of the Lupi fantasy series.  In this book, the author departs from the main characters (Lily and Rule) and focuses on two of the supporting characters Cullen Seaborne and Cynna Weaver.

There are several interwoven stories.  The first is the building romance between Cullen and Cynna.  Previously in the series, Cullen and Cynna had a romantic encounter that left Cynna pregnant.  As the book opens, Cynna is not quite coming to terms with this pregnancy.  As the story progresses, Cullen and Cynna deal with both their relationship and their impending parenthood.

The second story line, and the main plot of the book, revolves around another realm (called Edge) where a magical medallion has been stolen.   Travelers from Edge want Cynna to “Find” the medallion – a task that she alone is suited for. Through trickery, the travelers manage to trap Cullen, Cynna and a small group of people in Edge.  There is no way to return to Earth until the medallion is restored to its correct place.

Also interwoven in the story is Cynna’s discovery that her long-lost father has been living in Edge for many years. She thought he had abandoned her and her mother – but it’s possible that he’s been trapped for a long time.  And we follow Gan’s evolution from demon into something else entirely. She appears to be growing a soul  – and an insatiable love of chocolate!

While trying to find the medallion, Cullen and Cynna interact with various factions from Edge. Some are out right hostile, others appear to be friends but aren’t trustworthy.  There is also a small parallel group who are tracking Cullen and Cynna’s every move – a man, a woman and a giant cat.  This parallel group is on their own mission and it’s impossible to tell if they mean to help or harm Cullen and Cynna.

 

My Review

I loved getting a deeper look into Cullen and Cynna’s relationship.  As much as I enjoy the main characters from this series, it was great to spend some time with the supporting characters. Gan, the former demon from earlier in the series also plays a major role in this story. She’s great comic relief.

I really enjoy the writing in this series. This book could stand on its own, but the continuing story lines would make more sense if read in order with the other books from the series.

Lots of tension among the characters, and between the various factions in the story. And with “secondary” characters, you can’t be certain that everyone will make it to the end of the book alive!

 

Review of Rescuing Sprite: A Dog Lover’s Story of Joy and Anguish

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

 

Rescuing Sprite: A Dog Lover’s Story of Joy and Anguish by Mark L. Levin


Review by McGuffyAnn M. (nightprose)

 

This is a love story of a family and their dogs. Written by national talk show host and attorney Mark R. Levin, he shares his love of dogs, particularly his rescue dog, Sprite.

Already sharing their home with Pepsi, a 6 year old mixed breed, the family decides to adopt a second dog from the local shelter. They fall in love with the adorable Sprite, believing him to be between 3-6 years old. He fits right in with the family, he and Pepsi becoming inseparable.

Weeks after adopting Sprite, he has an emergency and must be rushed to the animal hospital. This is followed by another incident shortly thereafter. The Levin family realizes Sprite is much older than originally believed, perhaps ten years or more! But this does not matter; he is family, and he needs them.

The next few years are spent loving Sprite and caring for him. The Levin family, including Pepsi, is forever changed by Sprite and his gentle spirit. Friends and listeners of Mark Levin’s show are touched by Sprite’s life and struggle.

We are reminded by the Levin family’s story with Sprite of how much animals add to our lives, and how much we can learn from them, from their simple wisdom. This is a beautiful story that will stay with you, especially if you have had the joy and anguish of rescuing an elderly dog, as I have.  It is indeed special.