Now that summer has ended, I’m staring at a stack of books that I’ve finished at various times and need to share with GeekDad readers. I read a LOT more books this summer, but not all of them grabbed my attention or were even finished. One of the problems I have reviewing books for GeekDad is the sheer volume of books that show up in my box. I wish I had time to read them all. I wish all of them appealed to me. And I certainly wish I could devote lengthier discussions to all of them. But I’m a geek dad… meaning I have two boys who are now putting a much higher demand on my time. This means less time for me to read MY books, and even less time to write them up in a timely fashion.
Some of the books below have been out for a month or two. Or six. My apologies to some of the publishers who put these in my hands and have waited anxiously for my review. Rest assured… if the book is on this list, it made my cut and was absolutely enjoyed or found earning a high degree of respect. I’ve broken my pile into two… meaning I’ve got another stack to share with you in the next few weeks — a few of those books are parts of series that I just had to go back and re-read from the beginning because memory and failed AND I had enjoyed them so much that I felt like spending time refreshing my memory.
So, without further ado… and in no particular order… may I present Part I of what would probably be a great novel given the title — My Summer 2014 Eclectic Reading List.
Defenders by Will McIntosh
I’ve always enjoyed alien invasion stories — movies, books, TV shows, and the king of them all, Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds 1938 radio broadcast. Most fiction authors find a way to bring a unique element to their invasion stories, and Hugo Award-winner Will McIntosh mixes up two in his Defenders novel. The aliens are called the Luyten, but humans call them fish because of their resemblance to starfish. They’re extremely fast, bring exotic weapons to the war, and worst of all… they can read a human mind within eight miles. You can imagine how difficult this would make fighting an enemy who knows when you’re within eight miles of their position AND knows your attack plan. The humans are losing this fight, and they’re desperate for a solution. Any solution.
The first third of the book involves the human-Luyten war, and introduces readers to the human’s solution to fighting this mind-reading enemy — the defenders. Seventeen feet tall. Three legs and arms. Fast, deadly, and extremely strategic due to their genetically engineered intellect and bodies. They’re a match for the Luyten, but they may be more than a match for the human race that begins to recognize that if the Luyten are defeated, they’ll have to share a planet with seventeen-foot-tall beings who may view humans as the next enemy to defeat. If you’re looking for a lightning-paced tale that will have you questioning what defines humanity and how do we differentiate between friend and foe, you’ll enjoy Defenders and the questions it raises about our scientific advances, our morals, and ultimately the lengths we might go to win and survive.
Tape It & Wear It by Richela Fabian Morgan
This is the third book from Richela Fabian Morgan that provides full-color instructions for creating a variety of objects using duct tape. The book came at a very opportune moment because my son’s school asked me to teach an after-school Maker’s Camp one hour each week. I needed to come up with ten projects, one project per week, and a duct tape project was already on my radar.
This new book has 60 projects that are divided into four chapters:
Chapter 1 — Bracelets, Rings & Things
Chapter 2 — Head and Neck Gear
Chapter 3 — Beautiful Belts
Chapter 4 — Crazy Clothes
As with the other books, Morgan provides instructions for cutting duct tape as well as creating various patterns and mixes of tap that include one-sided layered fabric, double-sided layered fabric, and woven fabric. (Fabric here still means duct tape.) For the right age group, most of the projects can be accomplished on their own. For younger kids, adult supervision will be needed for using the scissors and knives needed for some of the more intricate cuts. While many of the projects focus on items that are traditionally female-oriented, there are still a number of projects that young boys will find of interest. My goal is to take this book and the other two, Tape It & Make It and Tape It & Make More (each with 101 projects inside), and give the kids some inspiration for the duct tape designs.
American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle
I’m a big fan of HP Lovecraft, and over the years I’ve collected a number of novels and short story collections that take Lovecraft’s ideas and creatures and bring them forward to the current timeframe. One of the latest to come out has just blown me away — Tom Doyle’s American Craftsmen. Imagine if the military had a secret organization tucked into its ranks that was involved in fighting dark magic and those things best left unseen and unnamed. These are the craftsmen, soldiers trained in both modern weaponry and tactics, but also possessing skills in magic. In this world, families that can trace their roots back to the American Revolution not only fight the darkness, but sometimes one another.
Captain Dale Morton is a descendant of one of the most dangerous and most reviled magic families, but he’s an American… and he’s a patriot. So when his loyalties come into question after a mission gone bad, he finds himself being chased by a fellow craftsman across the country side as he tries to unravel a conspiracy that is hundreds of years old and has gained power quietly and infiltrated Dale’s organization.
This was one cool story. I like mashups, and Doyle delivered a great one with his mix of magic and military. From a Civil War battlefield where a never-ending battle between good and evil to the real reasons for the Pentagon’s existence, American Craftsmen offers up a unique world that is filled with opportunities… I hope a sequel isn’t too far away.
The Sketchnote Workbook by Mike Rohde
If you’re not familiar with Rohde’s earlier book, The Sketchnote Handbook, you’ve got to grab a copy. (Read my earlier review here.) I take a lot of notes for various events I attend, and I’m still doing my best to try and convert text notes to more of a mix of graphics elements to convey meaning. Plus it just looks a lot cooler when you share it with others.
Well, Rohde has released a companion book, The Sketchnote Workbook, that offers readers more of a hands-on training course for improving sketchnote creation. From lettering to figure drawing to layout, the workbook will give you plenty of practice time. And, frankly… the stuff inside is just too cool to ignore. There are plenty of guest sketch noters who offer up samples of their own work, and the examples are sure to be inspirational to you. After finishing the workbook, all I want to do now is give up plain note taking and switch to sketchnoting.
The workbook comes with two hours of video, too — you’ve got to check it out. Rohde actually shows you his process for a variety of note taking topics and locales … it’s fascinating. The videos are high quality… almost documentary in nature with music and narration. I can’t decide whether I want to re-read the book or watch the nine videos again.
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka (Illus. by Brian Biggs)
I have a 7-year-old who is quickly becoming a maker likes his dad. He’s in the one-hour-a-week Maker Club I teach at his school, and I’m fascinated watching that little mind grow and absorb anything and everything. Just yesterday we made a Marshmallow Blaster from PVC, and he’s already talking upgrading it to a more powerful version — two barrels instead of one, and a larger initial tube followed by a thinner diameter tube to increase the velocity. That’s my boy. Now if I could just get him to enjoy reading as much as he enjoys the hands-on stuff…
Jon Scieszka has just released a new book that is addressing my concern — Frank Einstein is a young inventor who wants to build his own AI robot. The story jumps right into Frank raising his robot creation into the sky using the garage door motor during a lightning storm. The book gets a bit crazier from there. Scattered throughout the story, however, are great bits of real science and learning opportunities. Such as? How about a diagram for a nuclear chain reaction? A look inside an atom? The chemical equation for baking soda and vinegar mixing? A side view of the eyeball? Lightwaves moving through the atmosphere?
Yeah, it’s a kid’s book, but it’s sure to be enjoyable and inspirational to young scientists and makers. The story is fun, the real science is presented in a creative manner, and best of all… my son is reading AND developing ideas for his own creations. Thanks, Frank!
The Robot Book by Bobby Mercer
It’s not always easy to find a project book for young designers that contains activities that don’t end up with the parents doing all the work. That’s not the case here… The Robot Book offers up 20 “gizmos, moving machines, and hacked toys” that offer up a number of amazing experiences for the young maker.
Every project is featured with large detailed images and a complete list of parts needed to duplicate a project. Many of the projects and be made from simple household objects like electric toothbrushes, small fans from old computers, and even old remote control vehicles that no longer get any attention. What parents end up with are a series of projects that increase in complexity… but start simple. Starting with the always-popular BrushBot, Mercer provides step-by-step instructions in clear language and with very little technical knowledge needed. Most designs can be wired up using electrical tape instead of soldering — connections might not be the strongest or most long-lasting, but if your child built it… they’ll know how to fix it. (That said, the book would make for a great transition from electrical tape to soldering iron, so be prepared to offer it up as a new skill if you are able.)
For my Maker Club after school, I’ve even selected one of the gizmos from the book for one of the ten projects we will do this semester. I was able to order 40 of the 40mm cooling fans from eBay at a great price (free shipping helped!) of $1.00 each. We’ll break off a few fan blades to give the thing a nice shake/vibration when powered up and duct tape markers to the sides. The randomness of the shaking will allow for some unique artwork!
What a cool book! First, it’s shaped like an app — the edges of the book are rounded! If you’re not a fan of Temple Run or Temple Run 2, you should really give them a try. Both my boys love the game, and it’s one of the few apps that I actually enjoy playing with them. (I’ve collected all the masks, rings, hats, etc… including the seasonal items.) If there were a professional circuit of Temple Run 2 players, I’d be up there. Honest. And now my boys enjoy playing it, too.
The book is an interesting take on the digital game — it provides puzzles like word searches, sudoku, mazes, and more… there’s even a board game tucked in there. There are pages for sketching, codes to break, and find-the-difference puzzles. Now here’s the thing — probably half or more of the puzzles DO require a working knowledge of Temple Run and Temple Run 2. Knowledge of the various character’s professions and even the subtle differences between Temple Run (1) and Temple Run 2 will help out. Some of the answers to questions and puzzles can be found by reading through the entire book, especially in the Runner Profiles. But still… if you’re a fan of the games, you’ll find many of the puzzles fun. Especially if you’re a 7-year-old!
Temple Run: Run For Your Life – Jungle Trek by Chase Wilder
Yes, another Temple Run book… but this one is like the old Choose Your Own Adventure-style book. And it’s really quite good! (I’m a huge fan of CYOA, and still own the first six books ever put out in the series.)
Guy Dangerous and Scarlett Fox (two runners from the app game) are your companions as you join them and some friends for an all-expenses-paid birthday trip. But when the airplane you’re on crashes, you’ll be asked to help out Guy and Scarlett navigate some major hazards, meet up with some familiar runner friends, and even encounter one big bad monkey that is intent on catching you and keeping you in the jungle forever.
With 152 pages of action, young readers will enjoy this updated take on the CYOA format. The sections of the story are a bit longer (3-5 pages of text before decisions must be made versus the older one page of text followed by a quick decision), allowing for a deeper tale to be told. And if you or your child enjoys this tale, there’s a second book in the series called Doom Lagoon.