Friday, January 31, 2020

Review of "Dugout Rivals," by Fred Bowen

Review of

Dugout Rivals, by Fred Bowen ISBN 9781561455157

Four out of five stars

 The author has written an entire series of books in adolescent sports fiction that cover many different sports. As the title implies, this one is about baseball. Jake Daley loves playing baseball and after a few seasons where his playing chances were limited, he anticipates being a regular and a star in the upcoming season. His team is the Red Sox and the team is in the Woodside Baseball League. His position is shortstop and he practices and plays hard.

 The tryouts for new players are taking place before the season starts and one new player quickly catches Jake’s eye. His name is Adam and he is a complete player, superior to Jake in all aspects of the game, running, hitting, fielding and pitching. Adam is their best pitcher, but due to league rules that limit mound time, Adam often plays shortstop while Jake is shifted to second base.

 This leads to a lot of resentment on the part of Jake and he must work through it, for Adam does not flaunt his superior skills and is always friendly. While Jake’s parents are together, Adam’s are divorced and apparently in a state of constant acrimony, which helps Jake gain some empathy for Adam, helping him to cope with his feelings. There is a big game at the end where Jake comes to understand that it takes a team to win.

 This is a good story about the life and emotions of an adolescent, where sports are important but where the other aspects of life are also highlighted. It is very modern, in that the left fielder’s name is Hannah and one of the featured players has divorced parents.

Review of "Romeo and Juliet: A Shakespeare Story," by Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross

Review of

Romeo and Juliet: A Shakespeare Story, by Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross, ISBN 9781841213361

Five out of five stars

 While it lacks the power and rhythm of the words composed by Shakespeare, this short adaptation of what is likely his most famous play does effectively present the fundamentals of the plot. It is a tragedy of the first magnitude, and based on the two most powerful human emotions, hatred of another group and deep love of another.

 Written at the level of the child in the middle years of elementary school, this is an introduction to the classic tale that will be understood by those readers and hopefully spark an interest in the original work. Given the complexity of the play, this is a version that does the best that can be hoped for, tells the story at a level that can be understood.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Review of "Silly Stories," by Andy Charman

Review of

Silly Stories, by Andy Charman et. al. ISBN 075255672x

Five out of five stars

 This is a wonderful collection of stories that do justice to the title. Since they require some knowledge of the world and how it works in order for the reader to understand where the silliness applies, they are primarily for children to read rather than have them read to them. Yet, that would work as well, and the stories are naturals to have the adult reader include intonation changes for emphasis.

 While a few of the stories use some of the previously used themes, most of them are quite different from the familiar style of fairy tales. If you are looking for a set of fairy tales with a bit of imagination that bounces a bit sideways, then this is a book that will satisfy that craving.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Review of "Touchdown Trouble," by Fred Bowen

Review of

Touchdown Trouble, by Fred Bowen ISBN 9781561454976

Four out of five stars

Great example of true sportsmanship

Sam Danza is a star player on the offensive side of his youth football team called the Cowboys. They are a very good team and are contending for the championship. The stars are confident without being arrogant and they play as a team with no swelled heads or demanding of special treatment. They regularly meet for pizza and soda and to watch and study the film of their last game.

 When watching the film of their last key victory against their main rivals, the Giants, they discover that the referees made an error and gave them a fifth down on their game-winning drive. The issue then becomes, “What do we do about this?” There is significant debate among the teammates whether they will report the error to league officials or not.

 This situation has appeared at least twice in the historical records of NCAA football. In 1940, Cornell had the most powerful football team in the nation, and they were playing Dartmouth in their second-to-last game of the season. As a consequence of an error by the officials, Cornell was given a fifth down on their drive that supposedly won the game. When the error was discovered, the Cornell players voted nearly unanimously to give Dartmouth the victory. This action of pure sportsmanship cost Cornell the national title. The second case was a game between Colorado and Missouri where Colorado was given a fifth down on their game-winning drive. In that case, Colorado elected to keep their victory on the books.

 This is a good sports book made even better when the conundrum is presented to the Cowboys and the explanation that the situation has in fact happened. Sports stories based on actual events are some of the best.

Review of "Hardcourt Comeback," by Fred Bowen

Review of

Hardcourt Comeback, by Fred Bowen ISBN 9781561455164

Four out of five stars

Brett Carter is a star on his youth basketball team, called the Wildcats. However, when he misses a simple layup shot at a critical time, his confidence on the court largely disappears. Furthermore, when he is at his best friend’s birthday party that is held at a location where there is a climbing wall, he freezes in panic on the wall and has to be rescued.

 The main plot thread is how Brett manages to come back from his loss of confidence to once again be a star of his team. There is a big game at the end where Brett is involved in a climactic moment. To his credit, Bowen does not follow the usual path to the conclusion of the Wildcats’ season. The action keeps your interest and it is easy to empathize with Brett as he struggles to overcome his unexpected and complicated fears.

 A fact of sports history is used to emphasize the point that one mistake or missed shot will only make or break a career if the player making the error lets it happen. In the last seconds of the 1993 NCAA championship game, All-American Chris Webber tried to call a timeout when his team had none left. The resultant technical foul all but sealed his team’s defeat. Yet, Webber went on to star for many years in the NBA because he refused to let that mistake define him. This is a good example to use in the education of young players.

Review of "Tom Clancy: Power and Empire," by Marc Cameron

Review of

Tom Clancy: Power and Empire, by Marc Cameron ISBN 9780735215894

Five out of five stars

 There are two largely distinct threads in this novel featuring Jack Ryan Senior as President of the United States and Jack Ryan Junior as a major player in the shadowy special ops realm. The first is based on a major power play unfolding within the leadership of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the second is based on a shadowy network of human traffickers that prey on early teen girls from Central America.

 A faction of the PRC leadership engages in a series of terrorist style actions that are seemingly easily traced to the current PRC leader; a man named Zhao. They are designed to push the PRC and the United States under the leadership of Jack Ryan to the brink of war. The faction demonstrates that they are completely ruthless in the achievement of their goals.

 The network of human traffickers are even more ruthless, they use agents to acquire girls in their early teens by making the usual promises of a better life via high-paying work. Sometimes, their parents simply sell the girl. The work they do in the United States results in a lot of money changing hands, but as a beaten and terrified sex worker, they get nothing. One of the traffickers is a man that conducts an online auction of the girls and if they do not bring enough money, they are the “star” of a film where they are brutally and slowly killed.

 The action and dialog is complicated and fast, and the two threads do have some intersection, although most of the players are isolated on their track. Of the two threads, the one about human trafficking is the most engaging, largely because it is based on the most truth. The high promises used to lure girls out of their misery of poverty is a real thing, as is the reality of where so many end up. Even those that survive long enough to get out of their situation are generally broken and no better off than if they had never left their childhood location.

 This is a book worthy of the Tom Clancy genre; it keeps your attention and I never really put it down. It fell out of my hands when I fell asleep while reading it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Review of "Dorm Daze," DVD version

Review of

Dorm Daze, DVD version

Two out of five stars

 This movie is the simple and the lame piled on the stupid. The environment is a co-ed college dorm and when it opens an older brother hires a prostitute for his nerd younger brother that is already studying for the next term immediately after final exams. Her name is Dominique and has the same name as a foreign-exchange student that speaks little English. They are of course mistaken for each other. There are also two incredibly annoying bimbo female roommates, a purse full of money that is identical in appearance to an heirloom purse owned by one of the women, a tattooed and pierced man, a criminal after the money in the purse and assorted other players. There is foolish misunderstanding piled on foolish misunderstanding with a great deal of amateurish slapstick humor.

 The dialogue is poor even for a frat boy movie and most of the performances are exaggerated.  After all the female characters have been introduced, the viewer knows that there will be at least one pair of female breasts exposed at some point. The only unknown is which pair(s). This is a movie where you and your buddies down a few before it starts and then make a drinking game out of the foolishness.

Review of "Bumperhead," by Gilbert Hernandez

Review of

Bumperhead, by Gilbert Hernandez, ISBN 9781770461659

Four out of five stars

 All of us that are decades out of the teen years know or are themselves a person that seemed to languish in school and then continued that pattern long after high school ended. The teen years are filled with high passions of many forms intermixed with lows that seem devastating. Yet, the majority not only manage to survive the teen years, but also move on to successes of various forms, which often includes producing and raising children.

 The title character is a boy named Bobby that has been given the nickname “Bumperhead.” He is not one of the “cool kids” that always are present and dominate the high school experience for all. He is of Mexican extraction and his detached mother dies when he is a preteen, after that he lives with his father. Even though his father has lived in the United States for years, there are adult “cool kids” that look down on him for being Hispanic. Their relationship is not a close one, Bobby has a great deal of hostility towards his father and the rest of the world He engages in rebellious actions of drug and alcohol use, doing as little as possible otherwise.

This story in graphic novel form follows Bobby through a life of janitorial work, drinking, rather bizarre girlfriends and basically just getting by. It is not an uplifting story by any means, in fact it is a downer. Midway through the story, I felt an uncharacteristic urge to take one of the upper pills that Bobby’s friend is addicted to. Life is hard for most people and Bobby is no exception. You find yourself rooting for him at first, but then resign yourself to the reality that he really is not going to make a great deal of himself.

Review of "I Said No!," by Zack and Kimberly King

Review of

I Said No!, by Zack and Kimberly King ISBN 9781878076496

Five out of five stars

 This is a book that should be read by all children and their quality caregivers. Together and not separately so the caregiver can engage the child in a conversation about any physical contact that strays into the area of sexual. One of the most positive aspects of the book is that people at all levels are covered, from the stranger to the friend to close relatives such as an aunt, uncle, brother, sister to grandparent. When I was in elementary school, the emphasis was on “the boogeyman” and “Mr. Stranger Danger.” Females were never mentioned as a threat.

 Actions are coded with red and green flags for inappropriate vs. appropriate touching. The only point that should be more fully explained is the natural curiosity that boys and girls have for each other’s bodies. For example, when I was four, the neighbor girl and I played what we called “pull down pants.” We were both curious and fascinated with the physical differences and wondered why we were different. This was not sexual and should not be considered criminal or somehow damaging. It could only be that if the adults overreact to what the children were doing.

Review of "Hansel and Gretel," retold by Rika Lesser

Review of

Hansel and Gretel, retold by Rika Lesser ISBN 0590316729

Four out of five stars

 People that have read the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm understand that great care must be taken when some of them are read to young children. Hansel and Gretel is one such tale, for it deals with deliberate parental abandonment and the enticement with sweets where the goal is to be thrown in an oven and used as food.

 In this rendition, the children overhear their parents making plans to take Hansel and Gretel deep into the woods and leave them there. The mother is the one most in favor of the plan, with the father only reluctantly acquiescing. The illustrations are a bit understated in their coloration, they appear a bit washed out, yet solidly support the text.

  Although I read hundreds of books to my daughter when she was young, this was not one of them. While the story is an old one and it does have a happy ending, it takes the death of two women to make it happen. One point of interest is that in this story it is the father that is the good parent while the mother is the bad one.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Review of "Deep Zone," by Tim Green

Review of

Deep Zone, by Tim Green ISBN 9780062012456

Four out of five stars

 Although this book also features the football genius Troy White, he has another co-star in this story. He is Ty Lewis, a wide receiver with incredible speed. Both boys are stars on a 7-on-7 team that is trying to reach the finals in a tournament that will be played in the Super Bowl in Miami. Troy’s skills at predicting what play a team will run has helped the Atlanta Falcons reach the Super Bowl.

 However, now that Troy’s role in aiding the Falcons in reaching the Super Bowl has been revealed, he is now a valued commodity, for both other NFL teams and people who want to win their bets on the big game. Tough criminal elements are determined to do what they can to keep Troy away from his position with the Falcons during the Super Bowl and they will not stop at kidnapping in order to achieve their aims.

 The action is interesting and entertaining, but the dark forces weaken the story. Rather than being one about two very talented boys working towards playing for the championship, it takes the turn of being a dark one where the boys are in danger from unscrupulous elements. Sports fiction is better when it contains a movement towards a “big game at the end” and not when it is about people that will do anything to win their bets on that big game.

Review of "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: My Best Friend’s Squirrel," by Ryan North

Review of

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: My Best Friend’s Squirrel, by Ryan North, ISBN 9781302910761

Four out of five stars

 This graphic novel is clearly written for a female audience, while there are creatures with superpowers, there is almost nothing of the “Bam” and “Kablam” type of action. This is best illustrated on the page where the Silver Surfer like character is going to punch the confessed scam artists and she is talked out of it in a lengthy “violence will beget violence” argument.

 Comic book veterans will be surprised at the reference to the mighty planet-eater Galactus being dissuaded by a conversation with a squirrel. “How Galactus seemed to defer to the squirrel and her pet human, returned them home unharmed, and at the end even gave them a present?” This is certainly not the mighty and ravenous Galactus of previous appearances.

 This was the first time I have read anything in the squirrel girl series, and I found it unusual and difficult to process at first. Yet, it has a quirky, unusual set of characters and new views of old characters that will grow on you as you read through the stories.

Review of "Julius Caesar: A Shakespeare Story," by Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross

Review of

Julius Caesar: A Shakespeare Story, by Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross ISBN 9781626866966

Five out of five stars

 While this is not the full rendition of the classic Shakespearean play, it does present what is the fundamentals of the events depicted in that work. It also provides a bit of the history of what became the Roman Empire. The men that killed Julius Caesar believed that they were saving their republican form of government, yet their act led to the establishment of the rule of an Emperor that lasted for centuries.

 The level of the language used is fitting for the middle school reader, the book could serve as a solid, effective primer on the play, although it is arguably not a complete substitute. With some proper direction, the typical middle school student is capable of understanding the full play. Following the principle of “education by all means available,” this book is a worthy addition to the tactics used to introduce the classics of literature to the next generation.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Review of "Brutality: A Fina Ludlow Novel," by Ingrid Thoft

Review of

Brutality: A Fina Ludlow Novel, by Ingrid Thoft ISBN 9780399171185

Four out of five stars

 Fina Ludlow is a private investigator that among other things works with and for her father. The relationship between Fina and her parents is not a loving one by any means, her father treats her as a lowly employee whose only reason for existence is to bring business, revenue and profits to his law firm. Fina has siblings and their relationships to the parents are similar to hers.

 Liz Barone is a former soccer player at New England University, and she is in the process of suing the university for what she is claiming is cognitive decline due to repeated head injuries she suffered while playing for the university. She is attacked in her kitchen and suffers serious injuries, which ultimately prove fatal. Not happy with the actions of the police, Liz’s mother hires Fina to dig into the circumstances of Liz’s death and hopefully uncover the culprit(s).

 Fina’s tactics are simple, interview, re-interview and politely harass all people where their name has popped up in her inquiries. There is little text devoted to deep thought on the part of Fina, she openly admits to having an “annoy with questions” style of investigation. Even if she has to interrupt the course of their lives and inject conflict. It reached the point where I found her tactics annoying, developing empathy for all the people she harassed.

 There is no gunplay or significant physical conflict in this story, so if you enjoy that style of detective novel, you will be disappointed. Fina ultimately solves the case, so if you are a fan of the female detective that restricts herself to being a pain in the sit-down to almost all players, this is a book for you.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Review of Tom Swift and His Sky Racer, by Victor Appleton

Review of

Tom Swift and His Sky Racer, by Victor Appleton

Four out of five stars

 Written in 1911, this book is a member of the series of books about the original Tom Swift. That series was the start of a set of series starring a teen inventor called Tom Swift. The second series featured Tom Swift junior, with more modern adventures. To present day readers accustomed to more sophisticated technologies, the inventions in the original series seem rather quaint.

 Yet, like all of the Tom Swift books, they planted a seed in in the minds of many adolescent boys, some of which were hopelessly bitten by the science and technology bug and went on to build later technologies. For this reason, these books had a magnifying effect on society.

 This book features a plane that is designed to go at the incredible speed of over 100 miles-per-hour. Given that modern autos are capable of exceeding that speed, it is necessary to adopt a mindset of time and technology past. If you can do this, then you can enjoy this book. It is also possible to see a bit of the later Hardy Boys genre in this book, specifically when Tom gets knocked unconscious, a regular feature of the Hardy adventures. I very much enjoyed the look back to the time when incredible speeds were nothing like what they are now.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Review of "Spider-Man Versus Doc Ock," by Acton Figueroa

Review of

Spider-Man Versus Doc Ock, by Acton Figueroa ISBN 0060573643

Five out of five stars

 When it comes to education, I have long been of the opinion that it should be by “any means possible,” including comic books. Consequently, I am a big fan of the comic books that present the classics of literature. With all the movies featuring comic book characters coming out, it is natural that books tied to those movies would be attractive to beginning readers. This book features Spider-Man and his most popular adversary, Doc Ock.

 The book is composed of large images with a few brief sentences associated with the caption. The reading level is that of early elementary school children and contains a simple story that is tied to the movie featuring the same two characters. I highly recommend this book for the beginning reader that needs a bit of entertaining motivation in order to read.

Review of "Thor," DVD version

Review of

Thor, DVD version

Four out of five stars

 While the special effects representing the abode of the Norse gods known as Asgard and the Bifrost bridge are extremely impressive, the storyline is less so. At the start of the story, Thor is depicted as an impulsive, emotional god that must be reigned in by the reigning god, the wise Odin. Thor’s behavior is so out of line that Odin banishes him to New Mexico with no godlike powers and without the ability to control his mighty hammer known as Mjolnir,. Although he is still tough as nails and capable of physically defeating nearly all human males, he can still be whipped up on.

 When a small team of astronomical researchers encounter the deposed Thor when he is hit by their van, a relationship between them is begun. Thor’s mighty hammer also lands near where Thor did, and it defies all attempts by humans to move it. There is a great cameo by Stan Lee in that sequence of actions. A massive team of U. S. government agents (S. H. I. E. L. D.) swarms in and begins the study of the hammer, yet despite the highest of technologies at their disposal, they learn very little about it.

 Meanwhile, Thor’s brother Loki learns that while Thor is Odin’s true offspring, he was in fact adopted by Odin. This leads to a great deal of resentment and Loki engaging in a great deal of underhanded machinations in trying to ascend to the Asgardian throne. Since Thor rekindled the hostilities between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants and they are plotting to recover the source of their power from Asgard, Thor’s absence gives the Frost Giants an advantage. Since he is the spawn of the Frost Giants and the Asgardian throne is at stake, Loki does not hesitate to align himself with the leader of the Frost Giants.

 The weakness of the movie is that the events on Earth sometimes come across as forced and uncertain. The S. H. I. E. L. D. agents are arrogant, ignoring the laws regarding search and seizure and some of the action scenes are played with needless destruction by the killer robot known as Destroyer. It is a fun movie, but the dialog does not have the charming Shakespearean quality of the comic book character.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Review of "The King’s Speech," DVD

Review of

The King’s Speech, DVD

Five out of five stars

 While I enjoy movies involving superheroes and science fiction such as Star Wars and Star Trek, there is a place in my heart for the intelligent movie with no violence. Especially those that require some knowledge of the history of the topic in order to fully understand them. This is such a movie and I could not have enjoyed the backdrop of history more than I did.

 When British King George V died, at first the succession went smoothly, he was succeeded by his eldest son, who became King Edward VIII. However, Edward became infatuated with the divorced Mrs. Wallis Simpson and wanted to marry her. With the British government and those of the Dominions vehemently opposed to such an event, Edward chose abdication over the throne. This meant that his younger brother Albert, known as Bertie, ascended to the throne as George VI. A nearly lifelong stutterer, George VI found it nearly impossible to deliver a coherent speech.

 Fortunately, Bertie had sought the assistance of speech therapist Lionel Logue and this is the story of their relationship and the time when Britain faced the existential crisis of war with Nazi Germany and her allies. It is a great story, for it gives insight into the history of the time. Edward VIII had many sympathies for Germany, in fact, the Nazis tried to use him as a pawn in their battle to defeat England. Meanwhile, George VI proved to be a powerful rallying symbol for the British nation as well as the Dominions.

 One aspect that I really enjoyed was the depiction of Depression era England, where the people (even members of the Royal family) wore very thick winter clothing indoors due to the poor heating. To modern people, the crisis over Wallis Simpson seems overblown, but it is very well explained in this movie. The performances are all first rate and the relationships of all British subjects to their king is well done.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Review of "Gallop! A Scanimation Picture Book," by Rufus Butler Seder

Review of

Gallop! A Scanimation Picture Book, by Rufus Butler Seder ISBN 9780761147633

Five out of five stars

 This is an amazing book, when you open the pages, there is a brief animation of an animal in movement. The image on the front cover is a horse and like all the other images of a chicken, dog, cat and eagle among other things, the movement is very realistic. The text is very simple, at a level that can be understood by a very young child. This book is truly a pack of fun for young children and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Review of "Beverly Hills Cop III," DVD version

Review of

Beverly Hills Cop III, DVD version

Two out of five stars

 This movie demonstrates how hard it is to do a threepeat in a successful movie series. Eddie Murphy reprises his role as Detroit police detective Axel Foley, only this time he and all those around him fall flat. Even the jokes are lame and never even rise to the level of a chuckle.

 The premise is that a ruthless gang of criminals steal a load of the official paper the government uses to make fifty dollar bills. The gang members kill all of the mechanics in a chop shop where the paper is located right before Axel and his fellow officers arrive. Expecting to deal with some mechanics, they are startled to encounter men with machine guns willing to use them. During the gun battle, Axel’s superior is shot and killed.

 The trail leads Axel back to Beverly Hills and a theme park for children called Wonder World. Judge Reinhold is back as Billy Rosewood, only now he is a high level supervisor with an alphabet soup of jurisdictions. The guns seem to have incredible capacity to hold ammunition and no one, even the ones with machine guns, seem to be able to hit a target. Although their bullets are superb at blasting things to pieces.

 The acting by all the players seems forced and amateurish, there are attempts to compensate using humor and an incredible stunt on a Ferris wheel. To me, the high point of the movie was a cameo appearance by George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars.” This was a boring movie.

Review of "Classic Starts: Arabian Nights"

Review of

Classic Starts: Arabian Nights ISBN 9781402745737

Five out of five stars

 Even though nearly all American children have been exposed to some of the stories in the collection of Arabic folk tales called “A Thousand and One Nights” or simply “Arabian Nights,” the vast majority are unaware of the origin. The movies and cartoons about Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the Forty thieves are all stories from this great work. This book contains some of the stories from that collection and is written at the level of the young adult.

 This is a great introduction to one of the most underappreciated works of fiction ever created. In my opinion, “A Thousand and One Nights” is one of the few works of fiction that can top “Alice in Wonderland” in terms of the sheer creativity and imagination contained in the pages. I have read the full editions of both and strongly recommend that all forms, from cartoon, to comic book to complete edition be read or viewed. Even the simplest of exposures will improve the mental state of the person doing the reading.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Review of "Buchanan Takes Over," by Jonas Ward

Review of

Buchanan Takes Over, by Jonas Ward

Four out of five stars

This book is a sequel to an earlier one that featured the Apache chief Juju and young Billy Button and his bride Nora. They live in the frontier town of Encinal and it has grown and tamed quite a bit since Tom Buchanan was there last. The story opens with Buchanan traveling to Encinal to see Billy, Nora and their infant son when he is attacked by Jo-san, the son of Juju. It is a very amateurish one, Buchanan easily defeats him and sends him back to his father.

 When Buchanan reaches Encinal he finds Billy is now a frequent player at the gambling tables of a hotel/saloon owned by a woman named Heloise. She is not what she appears to be, she has a collection of henchmen prepared to assist her in robbing the bank. One of the them is a towering man named McMillan and when Coco Bean arrives in town, there is immediate pressure to have a prizefight. The merchants in town understand how it will draw people into town and that they will spend a lot of money. Since the fight will be taking place outside of the town and the local law will be there to keep order, it will be a prime time to engage in criminal activity.

 Buchanan is of course the standard character, so much of the action is fairy predictable. There is gunplay and unfortunate killing, even though he believes in peace, Buchanan never hesitates to kill another when it appears to be necessary. The best auxiliary character is the tall woman dressed in very tight dresses named Bea Johnson. She is a woman that fights alongside Buchanan, covering him when the fight is with his fists. It is clear that she is someone with a shot at keeping Buchanan in one place for an extended period of time. This is a good, not great story.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Review of "Black Swan" DVD version

Review of

Black Swan DVD version

Five out of five stars

 On the cover, this is called a “psychosexual thriller.” It is far more psycho than sexual, I found it difficult to watch in time units greater than 20 minutes. Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a ballerina that is extremely talented, but even more unstable. She tries out for the lead role in “Swan Lake” to be performed by the New York Ballet company. Vincent Cassel plays the intense, hard-driving artistic director, pushing Nina hard. He even engages in what is clearly sexual harassment in his attempts to get Nina to rise to the level of a star. It is clear that sex is not his goal, his mind is on the ballet. Nina lands the role, yet she has not a moment of peace from that point on.

 It is clear early in the film that Nina suffers from a serious case of mental illness, she lives with her mother and her mother is not the most stable of individuals. There are many times in the movie where there is action where the viewer is uncertain whether it is real or a wild vision in Nina’s mind. All are resolved, but they are very intense and really creepy. At one point, it seems likely that Nina is going to murder her mother. It has been some time since I watched a movie that gave me cold chills, there were many in this one. It is a movie that will make nightmares and it is about ballet, which is somewhat of an odd thought.

Review of "The Game of Baseball," by Gil Hodges

Review of

The Game of Baseball, by Gil Hodges 

Four out of five stars

 In the 1968 season, the record of the New York Mets was 73-89 and they finished ninth in the ten-team National League, twenty-four games behind the pennant winning St. Louis Cardinals. Gil Hodges was in his first year as the manager and it was the best record in the history of the club. Most of this book was written at the end of that season.

 The next year their regular season record was 100-62 and they won their division, swept the division series with the Atlanta Braves and then defeated the Baltimore Orioles four games to one in the World Series. A fifteen-page addendum was added after their victory in the World Series.

 While there is some autobiography and recollection of events in Hodges’ baseball career, most of the text is used to describe his philosophy regarding playing baseball. It is sound advice and it must be kept in mind that when it was written Hodges had just completed his first season as manager of a ninth-place team. Given what happened the next year, what may have sounded questionable at the time then came across as the words of a baseball genius. Few teams have improved 27 games from one season to another.

 Hodges was the main architect of one of the most amazing teams in baseball history and his thoughts expressed in this book should still be taken seriously.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Review of "Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation," by Cokie Roberts

Review of

Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation, by Cokie Roberts ISBN 9780060780050

Five out of five stars

 As the title indicates, this is a book about ten of the women that played major roles in the early years of the English settlement of the east coast of North America up through the presidency of John Quincy Adams. Three of the women were able to make a difference due to their being related to American presidents, specifically Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. Another woman that is featured is the Native American woman Sacagawea. She joined the Lewis and Clark expedition and despite giving birth on the journey, did a great deal to ensure its’ success.

 The rest are generally not mentioned in the history books. For example, there is Lucy Terry Prince, a black woman poet and former slave. Judith Sargent Murray wrote a series of essays about the equality of the sexes under the pen name “The Gleaner.” Not even her husband knew that she was writing the material. When they were to be put into a book, she sought and was given assistance from President George Washington and Vice President John Adams. Isabella Graham was instrumental in forming organizations for the care of widows with children and orphans. She herself became a widow with seven children.

 While some of the women in this book achieved their success due to the men in their lives, most of them were able to make a difference on their own drive and initiative. Generally, against great odds and social resistance. This is a good book for young people, as they will learn about women of substance that generally are not mentioned in the history books.

Review of "Ball-Shy Pitcher," by Richard Summers

Review of

Ball-Shy Pitcher, by Richard Summers

Four out of five stars

 While the title and cover indicate that this is a book about youth baseball, it is in fact a baseball story embedded in one about race relations. Kenneth Patterson is a lover and collector of snakes and lizards and his family recently moved to a town on the edge of the American Desert. It is a city with whites, blacks and Hispanics, not always intermingled. Kenneth is white and his family has moved frequently for his father’s job and they recently moved to their current residence. Harold is black and arrived at roughly the same time.

 The town is largely self-segregated based on income, which generally places the whites on one side and the blacks and Hispanics on the other. Kenneth’s family live on the poorer side with the blacks and Hispanics.

 Kenneth wears very thick glasses and has never played baseball although he can run fast and has an accurate cannon for a throwing arm due to years of throwing rocks at targets. He is very timid and has an extreme tendency to duck and cover when a ball is thrown near him. Harold convinces Kenneth to try out for the Little League program and he manages to make the team and rapidly improves through the season to become a star player for a very successful team.

 However, the most interesting aspect of the book are the features regarding relations between the blacks, whites and Hispanics. Specifically, the comments by the adults of the three races. All of them are reluctant to have their children playing on mixed race teams, even though the boys want to win and consider it irrelevant. When players are heckled on the field for their race, it is the adults in the stands that do it rather than the players.

 This is a good story about overcoming your physical limitations, but it is even better as a story about overcoming racial bias in order to learn to work with people that look and sound different from you. However, it is dated with the use of words now considered offensive if they were to appear in this review.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Review of "Sea Change," by Robert B. Parker

Review of

Sea Change, by Robert B. Parker ISBN 0399152679

Five out of five stars

 This Jesse Stone novel starts out with what initially appears to be an accident, but then turns out to have been a murder. When the body washes up on shore after having been in the ocean for several days, it takes Jesse and his crew some time to identify the body. It is Race Week in Paradise, where ships of all types come from many places to race, party and consume mind-altering substances. Therefore, there is reason to believe that the woman fell off one of the boats, but no one comes forward with a report of a missing person.

 Jesse’s ex-wife Jenn is also in town doing a newscast and she is staying with Jesse, rekindling their relationship. Although things go well, there is an undercurrent of doubt and uncertainty, they both wonder what will happen in the long and short-term future. At this time, Jesse has not consumed alcohol for some time.

 Using sound investigative procedures and going a bit outside the law, Jesse and his team are able to expose some very seedy characters that make up a sex ring. Sexual assault is really not an issue, all the of-age women involved were willing and eager participants in the sexual fun and games.

 Rita Fiore makes a few cameo appearances and does what Rita does, makes sexual advances to Jesse and gives him sound advice even when he declines. There is a brief mention of Spenser and Hawk, but not by name. Jesse also communicates with Kelly Cruz, a female officer in the area of Florida where the deceased woman is from. Their conversations are loaded with sexual hints, but it goes nowhere. Although there is the distinct hint that if Jenn was not in Jesse’s life, there would have been some action.

 The dialog is crisp, often brief, yet clever and effective, which is one of Parker’s trademarks. This is a joy to read even though the fundamental crime is as seedy as they can get. The main criminal is as remorseless a person as any character written by Parker or any other writer.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Review of "The Runaway Robot," by Lester Del Rey

Review of

The Runaway Robot, by Lester Del Rey

Four out of five stars

 This book was published in 1965, so it is necessary to forgive most of the descriptions of the surface conditions and the presence of life on the other planets of the solar system. In this book, there is even life on Mercury and Pluto. Paul is a sixteen-year-old boy that lives on the moon Ganymede. The story is narrated by Rex, his personal robot. On Ganymede as is the case on the other planets, much of the tedious and dangerous manual labor is performed by robots. Rex has been a companion to Paul since he was three.

 When Paul’s father is recalled to Earth, Rex cannot go with them, so he is sold to a farmer on Ganymede. Paul objects, but it has no affect on the situation. Robots are designed to be subservient and follow human orders, while they are not explicitly stated, the rules generally follow Asimov’s three laws of robotics.

 Before his transport takes off, Paul jumps ship and Rex and Paul go into hiding. Whenever a robot significantly deviates from what the human expectations of their programming is, it is declared a “mad robot” and can be vaporized on sight. Furthermore, even though Paul is willingly with Rex, there is the belief that any human that sides with a robot in those circumstances has been hypnotized, so their statements are not taken seriously.

 Paul and Rex then must find a way to safely travel from Ganymede to Earth and most of the story is about their machinations. There is a happy ending, even though there are many close calls and Rex is transformed into what would have been considered a mad robot to one that is considered extraordinary. Although the science is dated, the fundamentals of the interaction between a human and a robot are likely prescient.

Review of "A Boy At War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor," by Harry Mazer

Review of

A Boy At War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor, by Harry Mazer ISBN 0689841612

Five out of five stars

 Adam is the son of a lifer in the American Navy and as a consequence he has attended many schools. His father’s most recent deployment was to Pearl Harbor and it is early in the month of December 1941. His father is often at sea, but his household is always run as if it was a ship and the father is the commander. There are many comments about always acting so that the navy would be proud of you. At this time the father is stationed on the battleship Arizona. 

 Since he is in a new school, Adam is in the process of making new friends, in this case it is a bit difficult as most of the boys his age are not white. They also use slang expressions where Adam has no idea what they mean. The other boys also often engage in insult contests, an alien environment for the son of a man that runs a tight ship.

When Adam starts making friends with a Japanese boy, his father objects, even though they employ a Japanese governess. His father basically says that it is all right to hire them as help, but you do not fraternize with them.

 The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and Adam and the two boys with him narrowly avoid being killed, one of the boys is seriously wounded and Adam is grazed by a bullet. During the battle, a soldier organizes Adam and some other boys/men into a unit that is issued rifles and shoots back. Once the planes are gone, he assists in doing what they can to help the injured.   

 This is a story of having to grow up very quickly when circumstance get very nasty very quickly. It also points out the bias against the Japanese before the attack and how quickly it got much worse, even though there was no evidence that the Japanese on the Hawaiian islands ever did anything to aid the attack. That is a historical fact that should receive more emphasis in the education of young people. This is even more significant given the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Review of "The Secret Little Leaguer," by Don Creighton

Review of

The Secret Little Leaguer, by Don Creighton 

Four out of five stars

 Charley Baker is eleven years old and is an oddball in his family. His parents are both professionals and his siblings are extremely scholarly. Charley struggles in school and he loves to run, throw things and climb trees. Conversations among the family deal with intellectual issues and a regular comment is that sports are not for people like them.

 When Charley’s friend Butch tries to talk him into trying out for the little league teams, he resists at first, for he has never even put on a glove or held a bat. Eventually, Charley decides to attend the tryouts and his speed afoot, the power of his throwing arm and his willingness to be coached convinces a manager to put him on a team. However, Charlie hides that fact from all the members of his family, although there are occasional questions as to what he is doing.

 Now that he must attend practices and games, indifferent student Charley becomes a focused doer of homework. He also begins reading adolescent sports fiction, a change from his unwillingness to open books that he does not have to. The season progresses and Charley improves dramatically, moving from a bench fixture into someone that has a positive impact on the team’s success.

 It all works out in the end; Charlie discovers that his secret was not that secret. The moral of this story is that the love for a sport can be the incentive for a child to work hard in all aspects of life. It is a good one, for it is easy for people in sports to lose track of things like being successful in school. Some parents also believe that sports are a distraction from academics.

Review of "Travel Team: The Prospect," by Jason Glaser

Review of

Travel Team: The Prospect, by Jason Glaser ISBN 9780761383253

Four out of five stars

 This entry in the “Travel Team” series features Nick Cosimo, the catcher of the Las Vegas Roadrunners traveling baseball team. Nick is the de facto leader of the team, on occasion he even flashes signs that override the wishes of the coach. Nick is a true modern baseball man, he is a carbon unit container of baseball analytics. Nick is also an openly gay teen boy, yet that is largely an incidental fact in this story.

 Like nearly all players in the highly competitive traveling team circuit, Nick’s goal is to get drafted by a major league team and eventually play in the big leagues. When a scout is spotted in the stands, Nick begins thinking more about impressing the scout rather than improving his team’s chances of winning. This alienates everyone from the players to the coaches and Nick must learn a hard lesson before righting his attitude.

 The moral of this story is clear, and it is interesting that the knowledge that Nick is gay is incidental and generally irrelevant. If that had been left out the rendition would not have been altered in any way. Therefore, it is almost exclusively a book about sports and the challenges of playing in a highly competitive environment.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Review of "Robert B. Parker’s Debt to Pay," by Reed Farrel Coleman

Review of

Robert B. Parker’s Debt to Pay, by Reed Farrel Coleman ISBN 9780399171437

Five out of five stars

 This is one of the best novels in the Jesse Stone series, Coleman truly captures the style and rhythm of Parker in this book. It features the return of the contract killer Mr. Peepers and he is on a mission of revenge for being wounded by Suitcase (Suit) Simpson. The fact that he shot and nearly killed Suit is of no consequence to him. The killer has been given that name because he looks like the actor Wally Cox whose first major role was the television character Mr. Peepers. He hates that name and will kill anyone who uses it.

 The killer also seeks revenge against everyone that aided in the process that got him shot, including the mobster Gino Fish. He begins the process by attacking Fish and his receptionist, this gets Vinnie Morris involved. When Jesse talks with Morris, he learns that Morris is afraid of Mr. Peepers, for he is known for killing via slow and brutal torture.

 Jenn is scheduled to be married to a very wealthy man in Texas and they invite Jesse and his girlfriend Diane to the wedding. Diane is a former FBI field agent and tough as nails. When Jesse concludes that Mr. Peepers is targeting Jenn, he informs the groom and starts interacting with the groom’s security apparatus. They are some very tough and efficient individuals, confident that they can handle even Mr. Peepers.

 The action is powerful, and misdirection abounds, Mr. Peepers is one of the most formidable villains to ever appear in print. He is so good at what he does that he would make a credible and challenging bond villain. The best way to describe the ending is a quote from the Star Trek movie, “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” When the old Spock is asked if they were able to defeat Khan Singh he replies, “Yes, but at great cost.”