Friday, July 31, 2020

Review of "Human Interest Stories of the Three Days Battles at Gettysburg with Pictures"

Review of
Human Interest Stories of the Three Days Battles at Gettysburg with Pictures

Five out of five stars
 This book is one of the pamphlets that can be purchased at the Gettysburg Memorial site that explains the monuments, the organizational structure of the battlefield and the terrain that was most fought over. It is surprising to hear that despite all of the bombs and bullets that were flying around, there were almost no civilian casualties. It is ironic that this most costly of all American Wars was one of the most chivalrous ever fought.
 As is mentioned in the book, the Confederate goal was to launch an invasion of the Union states, demonstrate their power to take Union territory and force a negotiated end to the war. Thousands died in the mass charges that were a prelude to the even greater slaughter that took place in World War I. While neither side won a decisive victory, the Union won on points, for the Confederate forces were forced to retreat back to their territory.
 This book is a reminder that even though the men killed each other with abandon, they never thoroughly hated and demonized the opposition. Many families had men fighting on both sides and there were instances when soldiers that knew each other on the opposite sides would meet. Once instance is of two men courting the same woman. When you read accounts of the civil wars in Spain and Russia and how ruthless the two sides were to each other, it is clear from this book and others, that the American Civil War was different in many respects.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review of "A Guy Goes Into A Bar," by Albert Tapper & Peter Press

Review of
A Guy Goes Into A Bar, by Albert Tapper & Peter Press, ISBN 156731418x

Five out of five stars
 The phrase, “A guy goes into a bar . . .” has got to be the most widely used lead-in to a joke and punch line. As the title implies, the jokes in this collection start with this phrase and use it to set the context. Most of the jokes involve alcohol consumption, but some of them are just about the social context and environment. Typical of books that are collections of jokes, there is a wide variety of quality, much of which is based on personal taste. Some have references to sex but are rather tame in the modern environment.
 If you are a fan of humor in general and the bar joke in particular, this collection will amuse you and maybe at times cause you to lose yourself in mirth.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Review of "The Other Coast: Road Rage in Beverly Hills," by Adrian Raeside

Review of
The Other Coast: Road Rage in Beverly Hills, by Adrian Raeside, ISBN 0740746685

Four out of five stars
Excellent cartoons that often satirize environmentalists
 Since I am a fan of the editorial, satirical cartoon, when I spotted this book in a used bookstore, I had to buy it. Before that, I had never heard of the strip. It features a short man (Toulose) that is an aspiring and failed writer and his wife (Vicky) that is much taller. Vicky is an avid environmentalist, yet her environmental actions often lead to more environmental damage than if she had not done them.
 I am a committed environmentalist, but I always perform carbon-cost research in order to determine the best course of action. One of my greatest frustrations is when I encounter someone that claims to be an environmentalist, but often will produce 20 pounds of carbon in order to save 10. Vicky reminded me of them.
 Many of the frustrations of life are expressed in a sideways and sometimes outsized manner. Everything from dropping a tree the wrong way to contacting an insurance agent when something goes wrong are the topics of specific strips. This is a fun book to read through, the kind that should be available when you have a few minutes to kill and need a distraction.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review of "Oregon Trail: The Road to Destiny," a graphic novel by Frank Young and David Lasky

Review of
Oregon Trail: The Road to Destiny, a graphic novel by Frank Young and David Lasky ISBN 9781570616495

Five out of five stars
May not be pure history, but it is correct history
 This graphic novel presents history as it was for so many people that made the slightly over 2,000 mile journey from St. Louis, Missouri to Salem, Oregon. History refers to the path as the Oregon Trail and an estimated 350,000 people made the trek by wagon in search of land and a new life. So many wagons followed the same path that there are places where the ruts made by the wagon wheels are still visible today.
 This graphic novel is narrated by Rebecca Weston, and she is eleven years old when her father, John Weston, sold nearly all they owned to pay for the equipment the family needed to travel by wagon from St. Louis, Missouri to Salem, Oregon. John worked at a newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland before they made the trip, so they literally went from coast to coast. John had sent a printing press ahead by ship and his plan is to start his own newspaper in their new home.
 Aspects of their journey not commonly covered in the history are mentioned. Such as the fact that they could not start their journey until there was enough grass to provide fodder for the draft animals. Another fact mentioned here that I was unaware of until I crossed the state of Oregon is that most of the eastern part of the state is near waterless desert.
 The story is a good one, mentioning the monotonous movement and food, occasionally relieved by trading with the friendly native Americans for fresh meat and vegetables. There is the almost inevitable death of some of the travelers from disease, for they did not always treat their water properly before drinking it. A few die from accidents.
 Despite the sadness and hardship, the family perseveres, and they establish their new home in Salem and publish a paper called the Guardian-Post. They live the dream that drove so many people to risk their lives and fortunes in a perilous trek halfway across the continent.
This book is an excellent way to introduce the facts of the Oregon trail to young people. While the precise events may not have taken place for a family named Weston, similar events took place in the lives of many families.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Review of "A Hero All His Life: A Memoir by the Mantle Family," by Merlyn, Mickey Jr., David, and Dan Mantle

Review of
A Hero All His Life: A Memoir by the Mantle Family, by Merlyn, Mickey Jr., David, and Dan Mantle ISBN 0060183632

Five out of five stars
The side of Mickey Mantle hidden for so long
 One of the most gifted athletes of his generation, the other side of Mickey Mantle was rarely mentioned until the bombshell book, “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton. For the first time, that book publicly revealed the drinking, womanizing, and partying until late hours by Mickey Mantle and his friends. In this book, his family reveals his absence from their world and how it affected them. Mickey, his wife and all four of their boys spent time in the Betty Ford Clinic to receive treatment for substance abuse.
 His wife Merlyn, Mickey Jr., David, and Dan Mantle all write sections about Mickey and their personal experiences with drugs and alcohol. It is a very frank expression of their lives and relationships with Mickey. In many ways they support what was a fundamental premise of the Bouton book, that as good as he was, Mantle possibly could have been the best of all time had he taken care of himself and drank less.
 If Mantle had not suffered the leg injury that hobbled him, it is likely that he would have been the best of all time, even with the drinking. When batting left-handed, he was once clocked at going from home to first in 3.1 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded. An amazing athlete, Mantle was correct when he said in a press conference to announce his medical condition that he is a role model on what not to do. Leading your children down a path of substance abuse is a tragic event, this book details this issue, even though the Mantle boys go to great lengths not to blame their father for their issues with chemical dependency.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Review of "Readers’ Favorite Graffiti," by Marina N. Haan, Richard B. Hammerstrom

Review of
Readers’ Favorite Graffiti, by Marina N. Haan, Richard B. Hammerstrom, ISBN 0960453423

Five out of five stars
 The premise of this book is that the contents were gleaned from bathroom stalls, nearly all were discovered somewhere in university buildings. They are short and often witty snippets, sometimes to the point of being hilarious. A wide variety of aspects of the human condition are covered, from being gay, to academic angst to just being frustrated and even mad at the world. In other words, a microcosm of human frailties and emotions.
 Since many were transcribed from bathroom walls, it is fitting that one of the best uses for this book is as bathroom reading. For it is easy to relax the mind and hence the digestive muscles by reading a few pages from this book, making the flow smoother and easier.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Review of "The Boys’ War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk About the Civil War," by Jim Murphy

Review of
The Boys’ War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk About the Civil War, by Jim Murphy ISBN 0395664128

Five out of five stars
A recognition that child soldiers is not a new thing
 The American Civil War was a brutal event, where Americans killed other Americans in large numbers. One largely ignored fact is that some of those in harms way were in their early teens. Some were as young as twelve. Officially, boys in that age range were not to carry weapons and fight, many were given assignments as musicians, specifically drummers. In the noise and chaos of battle, the sound of a drum could generally still be heard, so they were used to communicate messages to the troops. Of course, this required that the drummer be embedded in the fighting.
 This book contains the war memoirs of some of the boys on both sides of the fight. There were many reasons why these boys volunteered, most of which have not changed. The desire for excitement and adventure, a release from the labor and boredom of farm life and sometimes just to be contrary to their relatives and leave home. Like all others in the ranks, these boys experienced the brutality of war, where men were sliced and diced to pieces and some of them were killed.
 There have been many stories in the media about how modern warlords have used child soldiers in their battles against their enemies. This book is a reminder that this is not new and when the ranks needed to be filled out, the American armies did the same thing.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Review of "The Case of the Missing Message: A Brains Benton Mystery," by Charles Spain Verral

Review of

The Case of the Missing Message: A Brains Benton Mystery, by Charles Spain Verral

Five out of five stars

 Jimmy Carson (Operative 3) and Barclay (Brains) Benton, also known as “X” together form the Benton and Carson International Detective Agency. Both are adolescent boys and as his name implies, Brains is very smart. Using spare parts and scavenged junk, Brains has turned part of his parents’ garage into a true secret agent lair. There is an electronic alarm, secret doors and hideaways and Brains has made things to battle the bad ones. For example, he has a flashlight that will shoot out itching powder.

 Given the age of the boys and the gadgets at their disposal, this is a story that fills the fantasy sections of boys of their age. There were many times when my friends and I would put things together and call them gadgets that did cool things. Of course, none of them worked beyond the limits of our imagination. Here they do.

 This story involves a former clown and fortune teller that used to work at a circus. The son of the deceased former owners is known as Skeets and the man that now owns the circus is looking for him. There are documents that will show that the current owner is a very bad sort, which is the missing message of the title.

 With a talking parrot, a small elephant, and evil men with foreign accents, this is a story to liven the imagination of the adolescent boy. Although the context is now dated, the action is still that of boys with vivid imaginations and a desire to solve crimes.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Review of "Coins and Currency," by Paul J. Gelinas

Review of

Coins and Currency, by Paul J. Gelinas

Five out of five stars

 Money, or a generally accepted medium of exchange, has taken several forms across time and cultures. Everything from live animals to large stones has been used as money. Yet, for it to be most effectively used in commerce, it must be durable and portable. Therefore, currency was quickly stabilized as being primarily in the form of metal coinage.

 However, as the amounts needed for transactions went up, large numbers of coins were replaced by a paper letter of credit. This shielded the traders from being robbed of their coinage, for the letter of credit had no value to a thief, possessing it would identify them as being a criminal. This, along with the need for more currency in circulation, led to the creation of paper money, which at first was nothing more than a paper certificate for a certain amount of precious metal.

 This book describes the need for and creation of several forms of currency and how it has been modified over time before being standardized as being primarily in paper form. It is an excellent introduction to what is critical to modern commerce, a fast and efficient way to buy and sell goods without having to carry the base metals. In the modern world of credit cards and e-commerce, some of it is obsolete. Yet it retains enough historical relevance to consider it a primer on currency for middle school students.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Review of "Puss In Boots," retold and illustrated by Federico Santin

Review of

Puss In Boots, retold and illustrated by Federico Santin

Five out of five stars

 The basic story of the very clever cat that uses trickery and deceit in order to turn his penniless “owner” into a wealthy man married to the daughter of the king is very old. The first known rendition of the tale appears in the book “The Facetious Nights of Straparola,” by Italian author Giovanni Francesco Straparola, which was published around 1550. Therefore, the tale is a classic that has appeared in many forms.

 This version is very good, the illustrations are of high quality and accurately represent the plot of the story. The cat is drawn to look like a cat yet have the mannerisms of a human. Specifically, the face always remains that of a cat, while the tilt of the head, the body posture in the presence of the King and how it is different when the cat is in the presence of laborers or the wicked troll are all human.

 A story that all children should be familiar with, this hardbound version of “Puss in Boots” is a delight to read and look through. Adults should read it to children every chance they get.

Review of "Stories From Africa," retold by Shirley Goulden

Review of

Stories From Africa, retold by Shirley Goulden

Five out of five stars

 This collection of six longer fairy tales from Africa are a glimpse into the folk culture of the continent., specifically the regions south of the Sahara Desert. While they do have a distinctly African theme, much of the plotlines of adventures, animals with human traits, royals seeking a mate and the evil that people do are similar to those of Western Europe.  

 Published in 1960 when most of the area south of the Sahara was still under colonial rule, this book is a look into the literature of Africa specifically created for young people. Each of the stories would be a worthy one for courses in comparative literature in the middle school grades.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Review of "Inside the Soviet Army Today," by Steven J. Zaloga

Review of

Inside the Soviet Army Today, by Steven J. Zaloga ISBN 0850457416

Four out of five stars

This book is primarily a peek inside the acquisition of personnel through conscription, the organization of the Soviet Army at the level of the conscript, how a soldier’s day is commonly organized during peacetime and what the soldiers wear. There is little in the way of battle tactics other than the principle of massive fire in battle. Other than snipers, Soviet soldiers did very little target practice, their battle tactic has changed little from World War II. Spray the enemy with ordinance and rely on numbers rather than accuracy. The argument is that the soldier under fire is unlikely to stop and take careful aim at the enemy. A great deal of text is devoted to the many ethnic groups in the Soviet Army and how is it fundamentally segmented so that non-Russians are discriminated against.

 There are many images of soldiers in the field. The captions of those images generally give a detailed description of specific aspects of their uniform.  There are 12 color centerpieces in the middle that show the standard uniforms of soldiers in many different branches of the Soviet Army.  If your interest is in the basic structure of the Soviet military at the levels of the conscript and in what the soldiers wear, then this is the book for you. If you are interested in battle planning and tactics, then you will have to look elsewhere.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Review of "Star Trek: Star Fleet Academy, The Return of Charlie X," comic

Review of

Star Trek: Star Fleet Academy, The Return of Charlie X

Five out of five stars

 The episode of the Star Trek original series called “Charlie X” was one of the best episodes. It featured bizarre aliens and a human male adolescent with the personality defects common to such people. A ship filled with humans crashed on a remote planet and Charlie was the only human that survived. The local creatures, Thasians, gave him great powers to affect the area around him so that he could survive. However, they could not or did not give him the discipline to properly manage such powers.

 Charlie was rescued by humans when he was a teen and eventually landed on the Enterprise. Captain Kirk was able to control him for a time, but it finally reached the point where Charlie was going to take control. At that point, the Thasians intervened and took him away.

 It is much later in the Star Trek universe when a crew of young Star Fleet cadets encounter a crashed ship with only one survivor, Charlie Evans (X). The Ferengi Nog is one of the cadets and it turns out that Charlie is the honeypot bait for a nefarious plot against the Federation. Charlie retains his powers as well as his lack of self-control. Fortunately, one member of the human crew possesses strong telepathic powers, enough to influence Charlie’s mind and help the Star Fleet people learn the truth about what is happening.

 This is a good story, Charlie X was a great character, a mortal danger to the Enterprise and her crew, yet not inherently evil. Just a boy in what could be called a monster’s body, able to do incredible things with a mere thought. It was a story with a powerful lesson, when very different species encounter each other, even the best of intentions can have dire unforeseen consequences. 

Review of "Peter Parker Spider-Man: The New Beginning," 1st Spectacular Issue

Review of

Peter Parker Spider-Man: The New Beginning, 1st Spectacular Issue

A true new thread in the Spider-Man saga

 This is most definitely a new plotline in the story of Spider-Man. Married to supermodel Mary Jane, Peter Parker has hung up his web-shooters and is now a full-time news photographer. Yet, his powers remain intact, so if danger suddenly appears, his spider sense will inform him, he can use his strength and if necessary, still crawl up a wall. All of this allows him to get action shots that no one else could possibly acquire.

 There is a new menace that is called Ranger. The story opens with Peter taking pictures of men in mechanical suits that are breaking the Ranger out of a secure police van. Suddenly, another Spider-Man arrives and defeats the men in suits, but the Ranger escapes.

 Senator Stewart Ward is contemplating a run for the presidency of the United States when some form of electrical phenomenon accuses him of being responsible for the deaths of many people. The Ranger is not bent on being a super-criminal, his goal is to prevent the development of a President Ward. Spider-Man the second arrives to accept battle once again with the Ranger, he succeeds, but only with the assistance of Parker.

 This is an opening story in the classic sense. While it has a conclusion, the storyline and the end result create something of a cliffhanger in that it puts forward many direct and indirect questions.

Review of "The American Indian Wars 1860-1890," by Philip Katcher

Review of

The American Indian Wars 1860-1890, by Philip Katcher ISBN 0850450497

Four out of five stars

A history of personal dress

 While the title suggests that this book is a history of the fighting between the U. S. Army and the Native Americans, that is not the case. The emphasis is on the personal outfitting of the individual soldier, what was worn, the accoutrements of their dress and their personal weapons of battle. There are many photos of individuals as well as groups, with explicit descriptions of what they are wearing, explaining what is according to regulation and what is not. Some of the regulations are quoted in the text.

 The author is clearly an expert in this subject matter, so if you have an interest in what the soldiers at this time and place were wearing, this is the book you should consult.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Review of "Classics Illustrated: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," by Samuel L. Clemens

Review of

Classics Illustrated: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Samuel L. Clemens

Five out of five stars

 The author, better known as Mark Twain, openly stated that the namesake character in this classic story is based on an amalgamation of himself and other boys. Their adventures, some of which were imaginary and others that were quite real, make excellent reading when rendered in the classic Twain style.

 This comic book version of the classic story of Tom Sawyer presents a different form, one that still gets the substance of the story across. I am a proponent of the, “by any means possible,” theory of education, especially of the classics. It is likely that by reading this comic, there will be people introduced to the story of Tom Sawyer that would otherwise never encounter it. Therefore, this is an excellent book, a gateway to one of the classic American stories that should be required reading in the K-12 curriculum.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Review of "Fantastic Voyage: Special Edition," DVD

Review of

Fantastic Voyage: Special Edition, DVD

Five out of five stars

Special effects have stood the test of time

 To some people, this movie was the first where Raquel Welch had a starring role. However, to others it is one of the first where the special effects dominated the storyline. It is a science fiction movie based on the premise that a brilliant scientist has a blood clot in his brain and the only way to remove it is to shrink a submarine and crew, inject them into his bloodstream and travel to the clot, destroying it with a powerful laser.

 Even though the beautiful Raquel Welch plays the only significant female role, this movie predates her position as a sex symbol. She plays a talented scientist, even though she is an assistant. I remember being awed by the special effects when I saw it for the first time, where the bodily fluids and functions are expressed very well. Even though it has been over forty years since the movie was made, the special effects are still impressive. Furthermore, the reader is exposed to some genuine science regarding the human body, a rare feat in a science fiction movie of the sixties. This remains a great movie, time has not passed it by.

Review of "Secrets of the Past: The Fascinating World of Archeology," by Eva Knox Evans

Review of

Secrets of the Past: The Fascinating World of Archeology, by Eva Knox Evans

Four out of five stars

 It is likely that the concept of what archeologists do in the minds of many people has been shaped by the Indiana Jones series of movies. The reality is much duller than that adventure series indicates. Archeologists generally conduct very slow and painstaking digs, often removing the dirt millimeters at a time. Once the dirt is removed, it is carefully filtered to remove the tiniest of artifacts.

 While this book is dated, it is still a sound primer on the science of studying ancient and often extinct civilizations. Many modern people are unaware of how little is known about even the major civilizations of a few thousand years ago. It was not until the early years of the nineteenth century that cuneiform writing was successfully translated. One of the greatest archeological finds of all time is the Rosetta Stone, the artifact that allowed for ancient languages to be translated, because one of the languages used on the stone was understood by modern scholars.

 It is likely that there will be young readers that will have an interest in making archeology their career path after they read this book. There is certainly enough information to pique an interest.