Saturday, May 25, 2019

Review of "The Power of Iron Man," presented by Stan Lee

Review of

The Power of Iron Man, presented by Stan Lee ISBN 0939766973

Five out of five stars

 This graphic novel goes where no writer/artist/comic book had ever gone before, an honest treatment of heavy drinking to the point of alcoholism. While drunks have been presented as jokes in other forms of entertainment, recall the character of Otis in the Andy Griffith Show, nothing of the serious from had ever appeared in comics. The rigid and unrelenting Comics Code Authority prevented a great deal of real life outside of the comic books.

 Tony Stark, the body within Iron Man, is a genius inventor like no other on Earth. He is very rich, is primary owner of one of the greatest industrial companies on Earth and has the coolest costume on the planet. Yet, he is still a man and suffers from inner turmoil common to geniuses. Like so many others, he finds some form of solace in bottles of alcoholic beverages.

 Many threads are covered, from the origin of Iron Man in a communist prison camp to Tony hitting bottom and an intervention by a female friend that pulls Tony out of the bottle and back to a functioning man and hero. While comic books are of course based on impossible fiction, the heroes are still people and have strengths, weaknesses and human flaws. The fact that this graphic novel operates on that premise and presents some harsh realities of life makes it a historic breakthrough in the world of comics.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Review of "The Wolf and the Raven: Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska," by Viola E. Garfield and Linn A. Forrest

Review of

The Wolf and the Raven: Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska, by Viola E. Garfield and Linn A. Forrest ISBN 0295739983

Five out of five stars

 The totem poles of the natives of British Columbia and Alaska are literally story poles in the sense that they are a physical representation of legends, myths and folklore. After many years of neglect, there was a concerted effort by the United States Forest Service starting in 1938 to preserve and restore the remaining poles. Unfortunately, for many of the poles, the preservation effort came too late.

 The physical structure of some of the most prominent poles along with the legends they represent is presented here. The stories are what one would expect from a hunter people, they are based on the animals in their world such as the wolf and raven. There are many images of the higher quality poles, they are an impressive art form, for they are majestic. The various tribes and their styles are also described.

 There is a depressing recounting on page 10 of a native carver that turned against the craft and his people. John Wallace was the son of a prominent carver who became a lay worker for the local church. He renounced a career in woodcarving, and he encouraged his people to cut down and destroy totem poles, personally destroying some of them. It is another unfortunate incident of a person finding one religion only to try to destroy the heritage of another.

  One of the items we studied in elementary school was the totem poles in Alaska. I still remember seeing the pictures and hearing the legends, some of which no doubt appears in this book. It is fortunate that this aspect of native culture is being preserved.

Review of "Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery," by John Feinstein

Review of

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery, by John Feinstein, ISBN 0553494600

Five out of five stars

 This is a plausible mystery involving teens interacting with adults on roughly an equal basis. Steven Thomas and Susan Carol are in their early teen years and they are the co-winners of a sports writing contest and their reward is to attend the NCAA Final Four series in New Orleans and write about it. While they will be showcased to some extent, they are expected to submit stories regarding the events inside the Final Four atmosphere.  Therefore, they are issued press credentials. One of the teams in the Final Four is Minnesota State University (MSU) and their star player is Chip Graber.  

 By accident, Steven and Susan overhear Chip speaking with a man that is making threats to Chip, promising dire consequences of Chip does not throw the final game to Duke if MSU and Duke are to play for the championship. This is the first step in an adventure worthy of reading about. While Steven is a bit more cautious, Susan is completely comfortable in making up stories and relationships in order to investigate the attempted blackmail.

 As a consequence of an incredible shot by Chip at the end of overtime in the semi-final game, MSU and Duke play for the championship. Facing great pressure to succeed due to betrayal and danger to Susan and Steven, Chip plays poorly in the first half. However, things right themselves and there is a dramatic ending in the “big game at the end.”

 The story is structured where Steven and Susan must think very fast and create plausible stories on the fly in order to pursue the case. One very good feature is that Susan generally takes the lead in creating their cover stories, eventually Steven sits back and lets her lead. It is great sports story that all can relate to, for the focus is on the people that watch the games rather than those that play them.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Review of "Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor," by Russell Freedman

Review of

Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor, by Russell Freedman, ISBN 978-0395797266

Five out of five stars

 One of the threads that has run through modern industrial societies since the industrial revolution began has been that liberal ideas start slowly, face opposition from conservative elements and eventually take hold and become an integral component of society. Child labor laws are one such idea. One of the most astounding facts I have ever encountered appears on page 16. It references a three-year-old girl named Angelica that made 540 artificial flowers a day in the tenement apartment where her family lives. Her wages for that day are five cents with no other benefits.

 Lewis Hine was a crusader with a camera that traveled the United States taking pictures of children at work, often in the most dirty and dangerous of conditions. From the factories spinning cotton, to picking cotton in the fields to the coal mines, children were utilized as labor because their labor was cheap. Desperate parents needed every penny their family could earn when there was little in the way of social support.

 Despite their being children and prone to having a sunny disposition, you can generally see the fatigue and despair in their faces. Hine’s pictures did a great deal to advance the movement against child labor, particularly in dangerous occupations. The text explains the images as well as a history of National Child Labor Committee and the legal steps that were taken. Congress passed child labor laws in 1916 and 1918, but they were struck down as unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court.

 The struggle to keep children in school and out of the factories did not succeed until the Great Depression, when the lack of jobs led to pressures to have adults with families fill them. The two-track social movements of compulsory education of children and preventing the youngest from working combined to largely eliminate child labor. As this book recounts, this humane action was not without a bitter struggle against conservative forces.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review of "Sports Heroes and Legends Hank Aaron," by Serena Kappes

Review of

Sports Heroes and Legends Hank Aaron, by Serena Kappes ISBN 0760769044

Five out of five stars

 Now that Barry Bonds has eclipsed Hank Aaron’s record for career home runs, Aaron’s other hitting achievements seem to have devolved out of mind. Yet, Aaron is third all-time in the number of hits, had a higher career batting average than Bonds and drove in 300 more runs. He is arguably the best overall hitter of all time.

 This book was published thirty years after Aaron retired and is an excellent modern introduction to his life on and off the field. When he started playing professional baseball, segregation was still the norm in the south and Aaron was one of the first African American players in the Sally League while still a teenager. It was a hard life at the beginning, yet with the help of others, Aaron could focus on baseball and win the fans with his play on the field.

 A story about skills and perseverance, Aaron was present through much of the struggles for equality and civil rights on and off the playing field. He was a great player, arguably the best hitter of all time and this book makes that very clear to the young reader.

Review of "The Big Wave," by Pearl S. Buck

Review of

The Big Wave, by Pearl S. Buck ISBN 0440840554

Five out of five stars

 This short story about life on the seacoast of Japan features the heritage of a people that choose to simply accept the reality of the natural disasters along the Japanese ocean shore. Kino is a farm boy that lives on the side of a mountain with a view of the ocean far below. His best friend Jiya is the son of a fisherman and their house is on the edge of the sea. There is also mention of the centuries old stone terraces that allow the side of the mountain to be farmed.

 Both professions are necessary so that they can eat their staple meal, which is fish with rice. Life is generally good, but Kino is puzzled when he sees that none of the houses on the shore have windows that face the ocean. When he inquires, Kino learns it is because of the recurring history of the sea becoming angry with great waves coming in, wiping out the village.

 The nearby volcano erupts, and a tsunami comes in, wiping out the village, leaving only a few stone posts. All of the people that did not seek shelter die, including all the other people in Jiya’s family. Over time, the village is built once again, despite the knowledge that there could be another giant wave.

 This story is about tradition and how the Japanese live their lives joyously, knowing that the sea could become angry and destructive at any time. It is a great introduction to an aspect of Japanese culture, how they face danger, yet live their lives in the traditional way. Eventually, rebuilding what was lost in the same location and using the same construction materials.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Review of "Working the Plate: The Eric Gregg Story," by Eric Gregg and Marty Appel

Review of

Working the Plate: The Eric Gregg Story, by Eric Gregg and Marty Appel ISBN 0688090893

Four out of five stars

 While he was not the first black umpire in the major leagues, Eric Gregg was the first to have a lengthy career. Known for his disarming personality and large size, Gregg brought a distinctive style to the ballpark. He was one of the early umpires to insert some secondary entertainment into the game.

 He was not without a bit of controversy, promoted to the majors at the age of 24, there is reason to believe that his appointment was an affirmative action move by major league baseball. He also made some very controversial calls that were branded as some of the worst decisions of the decade.

 This is his story and I found myself wishing he had spent more ink describing some of the on-field situations that he was a part of. Some of them are very funny and certainly more entertaining than the more routine descriptions of where he lived and his daily life outside baseball.

 In his own way, Eric Gregg was a pioneer for blacks in major league baseball, his 22 years in blue and early “retirement” make him an underappreciated individual that helped expand opportunities for minorities in positions of authority in baseball. He also openly praises and criticizes the players, coaches and managers that he had to deal with on a daily basis.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The "Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer," by Jimmy Carter

The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer, by Jimmy Carter ISBN 0812927311

Five out of five stars

In this book, ex-president Jimmy Carter once again demonstrates his versatility as a writer, creating a delightful book for children. It is a variant of a classic plot of the disadvantaged youth encountering a strange creature, (a Snoogle-Fleejer) that others consider a monster. The creature is in fact a gentle entity, working to aid the boy when his family is in dire straits.
It is a simple tale, written well so that the message is easy for young readers to understand. The book is illustrated by Carter’s daughter Amy with blurry, watercolor-like details. While not spectacular, they are worthy enough to combine with the text to make a book that I would have read to my daughter when she was young.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Review of "Fairy Tale Comics," edited by Chris Duffy

Review of

Fairy Tale Comics, edited by Chris Duffy ISBN 9781626725065

Five out of five stars

 In this book, highly rated cartoonists retell some of the classic fairy tales. Many will be familiar to the general audience, for example there are expressions of “Hansel and Gretel,” “Puss in Boots,” “Snow White,” and “Rapunzel.” Lesser known tales such as the Japanese, “The Boy Who Drew Cats,” the Russian “Baba Yaga,” and the Italian “Azzolino’s Story Without End” are also included.

 Since a different artist drew each story, the artwork varies widely. However, while the differences are clear, the fundamental structure of the stories comes through. It is interesting to compare artistic styles from one story to the next.

 This is a book to be recommended for several features. The primary one is that it contains graphic renditions of several international fairy tale stories. They are educational, as one can learn a great deal about a culture by reading their ancient fairy tales. Presenting them in graphic form makes it much easier for the reader to read and comprehend the stories.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review of "Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings," by Douglas Florian

Review of

Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings, by Douglas Florian ISBN 0152013067

Five out of five stars

 The structure of this book is a collection of short pieces of prose on one side and a caricature-style image on the other. Both relate to a specific type of insect, from spiders to moths to ticks and mayflies. The pictures appear to be watercolors, and while there is no precise detail, there is enough for the experienced reader to recognize the insect.

 Some of the insects have facial expressions, which will delight the young reader that pays close attention. The text rhymes and is written at the level of the late elementary school student. A fun book that is also educational, it is a worthy addition to personal and educational libraries.

Review of "Discovering Nature’s Alphabets," by Krystina Castella and Brian Boyl

Review of

Discovering Nature’s Alphabets, by Krystina Castella and Brian Boyl ISBN 159714021x

Five out of five stars

 This book is a primer on what is a great hiking game, looking for the letters of the Latin alphabet in natural formations. The letters can be made from rocks, trees, animals, sticks or anything else one could see while hiking a nature trail.

 At least one image of every letter in the alphabet appears in the book. While all are clear to see, there are some that require a little bit of imagination to discern. After reading this book, I spent a few minutes looking out the window at the trees budding out for the Spring. I found a few letters, it is necessary to keep your imagination in check a little bit, for it is easy to be a little too creative in spotting patterns when they are only hinted.

 A great primer for a scout hike or any other excursion in the wild, this book is a great way to prepare before you take your first steps.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Review of "Tuva or Bust!" By Ralph Leighton

Review of
Tuva or Bust! By Ralph Leighton
ISBN 0393029530

Three out of five stars

 I have read some of the books written by physicist Richard Feynman and he is an entertaining writer. A Nobel Laurette in physics, he was always willing to explore new things, from playing the bongo drums to doing artwork to attempting to raise his consciousness. He truly was a curious character, always willing to try new things.

 His most shining moment was when he served on the Rogers Commission investigating why the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. He single-handedly drove the commission to the truth by performing a single, public experiment with a glass of ice water and a gasket of the type that failed on the shuttle.

 This book is about a lengthy attempt by a group of scientists to visit the former country of Tannu Tuva. When he was young, Feynman collected stamps and he acquired some from Tannu Tuva. It was between Mongolia and the Soviet Union and disappeared after the Second World War, becoming another province of the USSR.

There is unfortunately not much of the impish Feynman in this book, it is a chronicle of navigating the bureaucracy of several countries as the group tries to find a way to visit Kyzl, the capital of Tannu Tuva. That makes this a dull book, it is generally impossible to make fighting with slow and intransigent government officials interesting.

 It is too bad that Richard Feynman succumbed to cancer before he was able to travel to Tannu Tuva. It would have been an adventure to read about. It is guaranteed that Feynman would have done something unusual and worthy of a classic adventure story.  

Review of "Betty Page Confidential," by Bunny Yeager

Review of

Betty Page Confidential, by Bunny Yeager ISBN 0312109407

Five out of five stars

 One of the most incredible statistics I have ever read is about Betty Page and is “As estimated half a million pictures were taken of her by almost every professional and amateur photographer in New York.” This was not over the course of a lifetime but done in less than a decade.  One universal comment about Page was that she was tireless in front of the camera, never losing that sexy glow, even after hours of being relentlessly photographed. She was a true professional that never lost her poise, even when naked or engaged in the production of media featuring bondage.

 She was truly the queen of the pinup, and this book describes her professional life, very little is known of what she did after she quit the model business. The photographer that worked with her most was Bunny Yeager and she took the photos in this book. From those images it is clear why Betty was so popular. Her body and skin were as perfect as it can get and her face and smile dazzle, even when she is holding a fishing rod. Her sensuality never wavers based on the amount of clothing she has on.

 Although Betty Page was a voluntary flame out in the area of fame, her legacy remains as one of the most beautiful women ever and one that was a true professional in front of the camera. Some of these photos had to have been taken after she spent hours on camera and yet she never seems to have wilted a bit.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Review of "Bettie Page: Queen of the Nile," by Jim Silke

Review of

Bettie Page: Queen of the Nile, by Jim Silke ISBN 1569714738

Five out of five stars

 To appreciate this graphic novel, you must know some history of the subject matter, specifically Bettie Page. In the fifties, she was the undisputed queen of the pinup image, often appearing semi-naked in now classic T & A style. She had both the face and the body for it. After falling into a hole of obscurity, she enjoyed a resurgence of interest in her later years, this book is one of the consequences.

 The story involves a machine that transports Bettie to another time and place on Earth, quite naturally when it acts on her, it strips her naked. She first lands in a primitive culture where she is a slave and then ends up in ancient Egypt in the time of Caesar and Cleopatra. Since she is packed with feminine charm and generally scantily dressed, Bettie competes for the power of royalty. In a twist of modernity, Bettie is assisted by a personal rocket pack and a powerful sidearm. The most amusing caption is when she gives Cleopatra a powerful spanking on her bare butt for trying to kill her.

 This is an odd, yet entertaining graphic novel. Bettie Page was the queen of the nude pinup and this story follows that tradition. There is bondage, nudity and an absurd story that provides the context and means for those features.

Review of "Pro Coach," by Joe Archibald

Review of

Pro Coach, by Joe Archibald

Four out of five stars

 The opening premise of this book shows that some aspects of sports have stayed constant for many decades. Walt Harper is a football coach and when the story opens, he is coaching college football powerhouse Southern Tech. His teams have been very successful over the years and Harper is often criticized that his success causes the best players to come to Southern Tech, the standard argument of success breeding success. Furthermore, some of his players openly admit that they are at Southern Tech to play football, classwork is generally secondary. Finally, there is a scandal where it is revealed that some of the players were given illegal assistance by wealthy alumni. All of this is familiar to modern followers of college football.

 Even though Harper is absolved of any blame in the scandal, he leaves his position as coach of Southern Tech. He then accepts the head coach position of the Boston Pilgrims professional football team in the AFL. The performance of the team has been dismal of late, so it is Harper’s chance to prove that he can mold a team from players not of the highest caliber.

 The story progresses in a predictable manner, after several initial problems, the team starts to solidify, and the Pilgrims begin winning. Their season ends when the book does, but there is genuine confidence when the members of the Pilgrim organization state the old sports refrain, “What till next year!”

 In typical Archibald style, the story is a solid one. However, there is no scene that one would be tempted to read several times in order to re-experience the tenseness and excitement of the moment. There is also no underlying theme of a deep moral to the story.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Review of "My Ups and Downs in Baseball," by Orlando Cepeda

Review of

My Ups and Downs in Baseball, by Orlando Cepeda

Three out of five stars

 Published in 1968, this is a book that was written before the game-changing “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton. Breaking the unwritten norms of not airing dirty laundry in print, Bouton made a permanent impact in that it was thereafter acceptable to criticize everyone in print. There is some criticism of managers, coaches and teammates in this book, but it is tepid at best.

 Cepeda was born and raised in Puerto Rico and so English was not his primary language. From this book it appears that he never really mastered it and his editor struggled to understand how to put Cepeda’s thoughts into a logical and coherent order. There are many times when the text has the appearance of something written by a non-native speaker of English.

 It is written in a style that matches what one would write in a personal journal. There is little in the way of tensions rising as a big game is on the line. This book lacks real excitement, even though the author played in several dramatic World Series games.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Review of "An Old-Fashioned Christmas in Illustration & Decoration," edited by Clarence P. Hornung

Review of

An Old-Fashioned Christmas in Illustration & Decoration, edited by Clarence P. Hornung

Five out of five stars

 This book simultaneously illustrates how the extensive celebration of Christmas is a recent phenomenon and how the depiction of Santa Claus has changed over time. The first known instance of a Christmas card is dated 1843, so this extensive custom of celebration is less than two centuries old. Father Christmas and St. Nicholas are the two names that were given to the giver of gifts and he is generally depicted as a man with a very long beard, dressed in what looks like a raggedy, thick and long coat. Most of the time he has a smoking pipe in his mouth.

 The images are from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and depict Christmas scenes from those eras. While the drawings are from several magazines, the depictions of Santa are very consistent, pointing out that conformity is what the readers expect when thinking about Santa Claus.

 This is a look back to a time when Christmas was much less commercialized than it is now. It was a family event that was often weeks in preparation, yet there was little of the pressure to buy and sell the latest and hottest toys on the market. It was also far more secular than many modern people want you to believe.

Review of "Jovial Bob’s Computer Joke Book," by R. L. Stine

Review of

Jovial Bob’s Computer Joke Book, by R. L. Stine ISBN 059033204x

Four out of five stars

 The jokes in this book are generally what you would expect in a book written for the early adolescent. They are corny and based on simple wordplay, life situations and puns. While most are based on a computer, for some, the computer is a prop and could be replaced by other objects.

 The first one in the collection is typical, “What do computers eat? A bit here, a bit there!” Humorous for the adolescent, these jokes will cause some giggles, but nothing side-splitting.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review of "Sword of the Atom Special"

Review of

Sword of the Atom Special

Five out of five stars

 The temporal position of this story in the saga of the Atom superhero is after his adventures in the four-part series with the little people in the South American jungle. While there, Ray Palmer (the Atom) was bombarded with white dwarf radiation so that his body has changed to the point where engaging in either a shrinking or growing event is extremely painful to the point that he is rendered unconscious. 

 The story is presented as a book called “The Atom’s Farewell,” by Ray Palmer and his wife Jean Loring as told to Norman Brawler. It describes Ray Palmer’s courtship of Jean Loring and how their marriage collapsed, leading to his trip to the city of Morlaidh, where the people were all six inches high and he was trapped at that height. He is restored to normal height by the blast of radiation and after difficulties in his old life decides to go back to look for his new love, Queen Laethwen. Norman Brawler is his sidekick in this quest.

 It is an adventure the likes of which is rarely seen in the comics, where the superhero loses his powers and must somehow live the life of a normal person. In this case, it works very well and does have a happy ending. While Ray Palmer is trapped at the height of six inches, he is among his own kind and can live the fairy tale ending. This makes it a very good story, emphasizing the human syllable of the superhuman.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review of "Birdscapes: A Pop-Up Celebration of Bird Songs in Stereo Sound," by Miyoko Chu

Review of
Birdscapes: A Pop-Up Celebration of Bird Songs in Stereo Sound, by Miyoko Chu ISBN 9780811864282

Five out of five stars
 This book is amazing, the pop-up images of the various habitats are incredibly detailed, giving the reader many different features to examine and explore. A different sound track plays when each scene is opened, so the reader can hear what it would sound like if they were to be in that specific ecosystem.
 This is a book that will educate and entertain readers of all ages. I strongly recommend it for all people that want to learn or teach the basics of birds in specific habitats.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Review of "Sword of the Atom," a four-part comic miniseries

Review of
Sword of the Atom, a four-part comic miniseries

Four out of five stars
 The story opens with Ray Palmer (the superhero Atom) at home late at night during a storm, wondering where his wife Jean Loring is. She is a top-notch attorney, hired by the most demanding and well-paying clients. The power is off, so when Ray thinks he sees headlights that go off he walks down the driveway to a parked car where he sees Jean kissing another man.
 Stunned, Ray decides to go to South America on a research project, where he will be scanning the jungle looking for pieces of a white dwarf. When the plane is damaged and goes down, he turns into the Atom and survives the crash. His size control units are damaged, so he is forced to remain the size of the Atom and he encounters a race of people that are his size.
 There are many political and social problems in their society and the Atom is forced to battle many different dangers in order to survive in his new environment. From this point, the story follows a fairly predictable plotline that has been used many times before (think John Carter of Mars). A modern man suddenly thrust into a primitive society doing battle with swords, spears and bows and arrows.
 What I like about this story is the opening premise, it is hardly surprising that a superhero would suffer from marital problems. Fighting evil and risking your life is challenging enough for police officers, much less those that battle the super villains. Problems like this make them appear much more human and hence relatable.