“Round About the Earth” by Joyce E. Chaplin (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Round About the Earth
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There have been many books written about the notorious explorers from history, like Columbus, Magellan, Cook and even Darwin.  There are also now a fair number of people who can make the claim that they have circumnavigated this globe.  Joyce E. Chaplin presents readers with the first full history on those who have traveled around the world and told their story.

Divided into sections, Chaplin presents the series of historical tales starting with Magellan, giving the ups and downs of the journey.  She points out that it wasn’t until the twentieth century that these round-the-world trips actually returned to their starting point with most of the crew still alive.  All the greats make it into this book, such as Francis Drake, William Dampier, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, and James Cook.  When sea travel became safer, people like Charles Darwin made the journey, as well as some notable women like Lady Brassey.

With the advent of encompassing railroad travel and exotic cruise ships, round the world journeys became much more achievable and common for a lot of people.  And with the advent of the space race, a new concept of circumnavigating the globe came into play, with an elite few achieving it.  Chaplin has fun exploring these many journeys and why people seem driven to accomplish it.  While her writing can get a little dry and long-winded at points, Round About the Earth still represents an interesting foray into this unique group of travelers.

Originally written on February 11, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Round About the Earth from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

Book Report: Overstock Match, Remembering Dutch, Get Off Listening To Dickens & More

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Recommended scifi and fantasy reads for fall from IO9.
Eleven redesigned children’s book covers that reflect the dark stories within.

BabyBanter: The First Two Weeks

BabyBanter

1. ARRIVAL  2. SLEEP  3. HARLEQUIN SYNDROME  4. THE STUMP

1. ARRIVAL

Our baby Owen arrived a week late, as we’d expected, weighing in at 8 lbs even, and while labor lasted about fifteen hours, only the last three were spent at the hospital with the delivery. Everything happened pretty fast and was really intense and before we knew it, my wife was being taken in a wheelchair to the recovery room, while I was wheeling a little crib with my newborn son in it.

It was really surreal.

We ended up spending two nights in the hospital which proved invaluable and vital in hindsight. My wife needed time for recovery from the accelerated delivery and we needed time to get breastfeeding down.

When we were discharged from the hospital, we were still using a nipple shield to facilitate breastfeeding and continue to do so. One of the worries of the nipple shield is that the baby doesn’t get enough milk. But working through our third week now, Owen has already surpassed his birth weight and I predict is about a pound over now. So that isn’t an issue.

But being able to spend a couple days and nights at the hospital were so important to get into the schedule of feeding and dealing with a newborn. And always having a trained nurse at our beck and call and bringing us food helped so much in getting us going with being parents.

There’s a fascinating article on postpartum practices around the world and how the US has the worse ones. In China, the mother gets to stay in a sort of hotel for a month and is looked after so all she has to focus on is her baby. In other countries help is always available, and often both parents are supported to be at home and raising their newborn.

In the US it’s all about getting you out of the hospital ASAP and then it’s usually just mom stuck at home having to do everything, while dad is back at work. After two weeks of living with a newborn, getting up every 2-3 hours for feeding, diaper changing, cleaning, making time for us to eat, and getting sleep where we can, we don’t really know how moms on their own do it. We know we’re incredibly fortunate to have both of us at home with Owen, and it’s certainly paying off, as we work together on everything, and tag team chores and jobs so that the other person gets a break and rest where possible.

We also know that while Owen is still very much a newborn who doesn’t really know what’s going on with everything, we have done plenty of skin to skin bonding, and he now knows who his mommy is, and who his daddy is.

2. SLEEP

The first week was really tough. The first night we got about three hours sleep, Then four on the second. Then five to six on the third. We now average about six to seven hours a night, if possible, even if it means sleeping in late and taking naps.

Now, to anyone, five hours and up sounds pretty decent for sleep, but it’s a whole different diaper pail of diapers when you’re getting up every 2-3 hours for feedings. These feedings can last anywhere from twenty minutes to over an hour. Then it’s getting Owen back to sleep: sometimes he crashes out pretty quickly, other times I have to walk with him and rock him to sleep which can take up to half an hour, and then I get to go back to sleep. And then it’s maybe two hours until the alarm goes off again or he wakes up and it’s time to do it all over again.

We’ve got our routine down pretty well now. We started with an alarm, but now Owen wakes up and starts fussing, and if that doesn’t wake us up, he’ll start crying. So I’ll unswaddle him and get him up and wide awake while my wife prepares for feeding. Then he feeds for as long as he wants, I take him and change him, and then he does another bout of feeding. Hopefully after that he’s feeling pretty tired and I swaddle him up again and put him down to sleep.

But newborns will be newborns, and often have problems getting themselves to sleep. So he’ll be breathing away in slumber land for five to ten minutes, and then shake himself awake and start crying. That’s my cue to pick him up and rock him and stroke him and do whatever I can to get him sleeping again. Usually he’ll drop into REM sleep pretty quickly, but I know this is light sleep for him that he can easily be woken (by himself) from, so it’s necessary to sit with him, continuing to rock and keep him sleeping, until he sleeps into a deeper sleep and that’s when I can put him back down in his crib to sleep until he wakes up hungry once more.

3. HARLEQUIN SYNDROME

This is a rare condition that occurs in less than 10% of newborns and is completely harmless but extremely alarming if you don’t know about it. In our case, we had no clue and were scared out of our wits when we first saw it, but fortunately the internet put our fears to rest.

Owen was born with jaundice, which is very common and occurs in about 70% of newborns, and is usually cured and cleared out of the baby system within a month, so long as he’s regular feeding and regularly pooping. But because of this, his skin color was an unhealthy-looking yellow.

During one of his feedings on our first night at home we saw that when he would be laid down on his side feeding, the complete bottom half of him — as if someone had drawn a line from the top of his head straight down his back along his spine to his bottom — was a deep red, while his top half was that jaundice yellow. And we naturally freaked, thinking something was horribly wrong with him. But when we stood him up it would eventually clear, but as soon as he was laid down again, the condition would repeat exactly down the half of his body that was touching a surface.

After a panicked call to an advice nurse and some online research, we learned about harlequin syndrome in newborns, which is to do with a not completely developed and formed circulatory system that causes no harm to the baby, and eventually goes away within a couple of weeks.

This has been the case with Owen and he doesn’t harlequin anymore.

Still, it was really freaky.

4. The Stump

One piece of information I really wished I would’ve known having a newborn is that the leftover bit of stump really stinks. Considering it is a piece of decaying tissue, that’s not really surprising.

But in that first week, we kept wiping him down with a cloth and keeping him as clean as possible, with plenty of diaper changes, wondering why he kept smelling so bad, and it was all because of that rotting stump.

Owen’s fell off after five days, at least part of it did, which is pretty early. But he still had a piece deeper in his belly button that eventually got pushed out after two weeks and now he has a perfectly normal looking bellybutton, stump free.

But as soon as that initial piece of stump fell off, he started smelling a lot better, much to our delight.

Today’s surprising fact brought to you by . . .

On our birth plan, I had nominated to cut the umbilical cord. And once Owen was out and in my wife’s arms, after the cord had ceased pumping its important nutrients into him, the midwife handed me a tough pair of surgical scissors and showed me the spot between the two clamps to cut the umbilical cord.

From what I’d seen in movies I was expecting it to be a quick and easy snip and that would be it.

But no. It certainly wasn’t. It was like cutting through inch-thick rope, hacking through the tendrils of tissues that were like thick cord, and took a surprising amount of strength and scissoring before it was fully cut through.

It was an incredible experience I will never forget.

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, 2013)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
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In the first novel from bestseller Neil Gaiman since 2005’s Anansi Boys, he creates a magic tale that straddles between a short story and novella that feels like a wonderful fairytale, possessing the magic and feel of The Graveyard Book with the wonder and beauty of Stardust. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is for adults what The Graveyard Book was for kids and teens; though both can be read and enjoyed by anyone ages 5 to 95. Gaiman wrote this as a gift and semi-biographical explanation to his wife; if this is your first Neil Gaiman book, it’s a great place to start.

The story centers around a seven year-old boy who is an unusual and eccentric and misunderstood by his parents, especially his father, but discovers down the road some neighbors – a girl, her mother and grandmother – who aren’t the sweet ladies they appear, but part of something immortal that has been around for a very long time. Soon he is whisked away on an unforgettable journey to take care of a little problem and ends up bringing something alien back into this world, and then everything starts to go wrong.

The story is sweet and small, but also large and complex; it feels too short to be told fully, but by the end the reader is left feeling satisfied and complete. It is classic Gaiman, mixing his unique blend of fairytale and mythology with real emotions and life choices that stick with the reader long after they have finished the book. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an innocent-looking little story that soon sucks you in and shows its claws as well as its soft, warm spots; leaving you left full of thought and wonder.

Originally written on July 30, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“NOS4A2” by Joe Hill (William Morrow, 2013)

NOS4A2
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Joe Hill should have a fairly good idea what it means to be an author, with a couple of books under his belt — Heart-Shaped Box and Horns — as well as a short story collection — 20th Century Ghosts — plus a successful ongoing graphic novel series called Lock & Key; but his latest novel, NOS4A2 puts him on a stage of developed storytelling with his father, Stephen King. The book has an epic complexity and depth in both character and story, with a villain that will haunt your nightmares for a long time to come, akin to King’s It or The Talisman.

Our hero is Victoria McQueen, a young girl with extraordinary dreams and one very powerful ability. When she is given the Raleigh Tuff Burner bike as a birthday gift, she knows it’s a little too big but very powerful, and when she rides it as fast as she can towards that old bridge across the creek that crashed and disintegrated years ago, she can see the bridge rebuilt and she can cross it to just about wherever she wants. Crossing that bridge lets her find things, like a missing bracelet or photograph, or what happened to her cat, as well as answers to questions she might not want to know. She just has to believe, and she is magically taken there, whether it’s Massachusetts or across the country. She is a girl with a gift that only few others have.

Our villain is one Charles Talent Manx who has the same ability as Victoria, except his mode of transportation is a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity license plate . . . yep, you guessed it: NOS4A2; this black demon car from hell is of course referred to as “The Wraith.” It is with this aged car that Manx takes children who he believes are destined to have traumatic, horrible lives, to his manufactured tinsel town known as “Christmasland,” where every day is Christmas and the children get to go on the rides, and eat candy canes, have snowball fights, and meet Santa; but there is also a cost for these children; something is being taken from them. And they never come back.

But because she is our hero, Victoria will have a meeting and battle with Manx and get him put away for a long time, not for all the missing children, but for something else. But then, many years later, Manx will return, because there’s one thing that’s certain: he’s not human. And this time he’ll be taking Victoria’s child up to Christmasland, and it’s up to her to get him back, before he becomes lost forever.

NOS4A2 shows that Joe Hill has the talent, skill and ability to write a truly great horror novel that puts him right at the top with other greats. NOS4A2 is a novel about many things: our wants and desires in life and that we don’t always get them; how sometimes our nightmares aren’t gone for good; how the love of the child will always supersede anything else, no matter the cost. It is also a fantastic horror novel that will make you simultaneously terrified of it and in love with it, unable to put it down.

Originally written on June 14, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of NOS4A2 from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Book Report: Amazon Goes To War, YA Novels For Adults, Danielle Steel Gets Questioned & More!

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Words of Radiance Cover
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Life Update Redux

Funny how week one of raising a newborn can be  a complete time suck and before you know it’s the end of the day and you’re still tired from not getting enough sleep the night before and you haven’t eaten enough . . . and he needs to be changed and fed again.

So the Saturday post didn’t happen due to the time just not being there, but I think we’re a little more settled going into week two and I’m shooting for two new posts a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with my plan to schedule one every week, so if I run out of time to actually write a post, I will at least have the one that was already scheduled to go up. And there will be at least one book review every week, on Thursdays, and the other post will be the surprise.

And here we go, week two . . .

“No Way Out” by Alan Jacobson (Premier Digital Publishing, 2013)

No Way Out
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In the fifth Karen Vail installment, the great FBI profiler gets to take a trip across the pond and enjoy some bangers and mash, visit Big Ben and help out some bobbies . . . no, actually, it’s much more cooler than that. Vail finds herself on orders to help out New Scotland Yard with a special kind of case that soon turns into something much more complex and terrifying, dragging her from the world of profiling and tracking to outright black ops. But if there’s anyone who can handle it, it’s the awesome Karen Vail.

No Way Out opens with Vail teaching a class at a conference in Madrid, Spain and soon finds herself in hot water and on the wrong side of the policía. Before things can get too heated, Vail gets dispatched to jolly old England for the first time in her life to help out New Scotland Yard with an explosion at a private collector’s gallery. But constables are not expecting much from a “profiler,” even when Vail starts doing her detective work and putting the pieces together.

At the heart of the explosion appears to be an attack against the supposed discovery of an original folio of one William Shakespeare, penned in his own hand. What’s more startling is its possible link to a theory that Shakespeare’s works were in fact originally written by a “dark-skinned” Italian Jewish woman, one Amelia Bassano Lanier. Since England is more synonymous with Shakespeare than the Beatles, it would come as a shocking, thermonuclear blow to the Brit population as a whole.

But as Vail continues to dig deeper, everything is not as it seems, and the case is far more complex and sinister and has ties deep within the British government. Plus one of the guys involved in solving everything turns out to be an old friend of Vail’s, Desantos, who’s working undercover and will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of these terrorist attacks. Because the guy behind it all is on the world’s most wanted list, Desantos has a score to settle, both on an international and a personal level.

No Way Out is the best Karen Vail novel yet, because Alan Jacobson has outdone himself with the research. As someone with a British parent and friends in Britain and having taken a number of vacations to London and the surrounding areas, I take a perverse joy in nitpicking and critiquing novels set in Britain that aren’t always accurate. No Way Out whisked me away to London and planted me firmly there with the culture, the language, the vocabulary . . . Jacobson did a fantastic job.

As for the detail with the British police service, MI5, British military, and even a US aircraft carrier, Jacobson has again done the work and immerses the reader seamlessly into this world. There are also a number of scenes involving the unusual British aircraft the Osprey, culminating in a final action scene that may be one of the best you will read.

What makes a Karen Vail novel so enjoyable is that Jacobson makes them as real as possible. The characters try hunches and ideas and risky plans, but unlike most thrillers, they don’t all work. There are failures and the characters have to go back to the drawing board and start again. It makes for more interesting and believable conflict in the story and keeps that reader reading.

No Way Out goes beyond being a great summer read, and may be one of if not the best thriller of 2013. Fans will love it, and brand new readers will also. Jacobson explains any necessary back-story, escorting the reader along on one wild ride that the reader wishes partly to never end, but at the same time want to find out how it all ends.

Originally written on July 24, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Now Way Out from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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