Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Review of "An Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments," by Claire Llewellyn

 Review of

An Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments, by Claire Llewellyn ISBN 0763567426

Five out of five stars

A great introduction to the various types of musical instruments

At 20.5 inches by 14.5 inches, this book would be difficult for the youngest of readers to manipulate well enough to read it by themselves. However, it would be an excellent choice for a large reading circle where one person is reading it to a large group of children. The text is large enough so that it could easily be read by children several feet away.

 This is an excellent book for children in the early years of elementary school when they are beginning to learn about music and how it is made. The text is large, and the images are in color and very well defined. It is ideal for an instructor to read to the entire class and so teach them the names of the most common instruments as well as some that are not as well known. For each type of instrument, there is an explanation of the mechanism whereby the music is made.

 This is an inexpensive and effective way to teach children about musical instruments and how they work.

Review of "Greetings From Route 66," by Patrick, Michael and Matthew Dahl

 Review of

Greetings From Route 66, by Patrick, Michael and Matthew Dahl ISBN 0763567507

Five out of five stars

A delightful big book for the beginning reader(listener)

This review is of the larger version

 At 20.5 inches by 14.5 inches, this book would be difficult for the youngest of readers to manipulate well enough to read it by themselves. However, it would be an excellent choice for a large reading circle where one person is reading it to a large group of children. The text is large enough so that it could easily be read by children several feet away.

 The story is a lesson in the history of travel in the United States. Before the interstate highway system was developed, a main east-west road in the southern section of the United States was Route 66. Starting at Chicago, it passed through eight states before terminating in Santa Monica, California. It was even made famous in a song called “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” and a television show called “Route 66.”

 The premise is that a father and his three boys are traveling on Route 66 from California to Chicago. The format is a series of images of places they visit as well as short letters that the boys write to their mother describing their adventures of the day. The trip took 12 days and they saw everything from near ghost towns and deserts to major cities.

 While Route 66 is no longer the main national thoroughfare that it once was, it is still very much an historical tourist attraction. With colorful images that demonstrate some of what can still be seen on the road, this is a fun book that imparts a bit of history.  

 It is highly recommended for all situations where an adult will be reading to one or more children.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Review of "How To Make Masks," by Jane Shuter and Jo Brooker

 Review of

How To Make Masks, by Jane Shuter and Jo Brooker ISBN 076356740x

Five out of five stars

Ideal for school art projects or scout troops

 This large book contains a template for the making of a wide variety of masks. It is an egg-shaped figure with eyes, nose and a place to insert ribbons for tying it on. From this, detailed instructions for making four specific types of masks are given.

 Those masks are: Venetian carnival, stage masks, Noh stage and Iroquois seasons mask. The steps are completely illustrated and are easy to follow. All of the raw materials are inexpensive and easy to obtain. This book is ideal for school art projects as well as group projects for scout troops.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Review of "World War II Infantry in Color Photographs," by Laurent Mirouze

 Review of

World War II Infantry in Color Photographs, by Laurent Mirouze, ISBN 1872004156

Five out of five stars

Complete description of the personal effects of the ground troops

 When a soldier in the major nations fighting in World War II were outfitted, they were given a standard uniform for their type of unit as well as other personal equipment such as a mess kit, tools, weapons, ammunition, water bottle and gasmask.

 This book contains front and back photos of infantrymen outfitted in their full personal gear. The nations represented are Poland, Germany, France, Scottish, Belgium, Italian, Britain, Soviet Union, Japan and United States. When the soldiers for a nation were in different climates or roles, different images are used. For example, for the Germans there are the infantryman in the initial campaign in France, in the Libyan campaign, the light machine gunner on the Soviet front, the Waffen-SS infantryman on the Soviet front, the mountain soldier on the Italian front, the infantryman in Normandy in 1944, the Waffen-SS NCO in Normandy, the Waffen-SS soldier in the Ardennes in December 1944 and the German infantryman in Berlin in April-May 1945.

 In all cases, each of the items in their attire is numbered and described. It is very thorough, with the explanations including the reasons for the changes in uniform due to different battle conditions such as weather and terrain. They are nearly complete explanations of what each type of infantryman for each country carried into battle. This includes their weapons and how much ammunition they carried.

 If you have an interest in this data, this is a book that will bring you up to speed very quickly.

Review of "Magnus Robot Fighter Issue one"

 Review of

Magnus Robot Fighter Issue one

Three out of five stars

Hard to suspend disbelief with this character

I was an avid reader of comics in my youth, devouring all that featured superheroes. However, one that I found uninteresting was Magnus, Robot Fighter. The context premise is a very good one, robots have become ubiquitous, and humanity has gone dependent and soft. The robots are literally running the world and there are many detrimental consequences.

 Magnus has been raised from a toddler to be a superb fighter, capable of fighting and destroying robots by hand. His parent/mentor/tutor is itself a robot, one that believes that humans need a champion to fight the robot takeover. The problem that I have is that when humans are far outnumbered by robots, fighting them in a hand-to-hand manner cannot lead to anything other than a temporary, local victory. Destroying an entire army of mechanical foes using only your hands always seemed ludicrous to me.

 This comic contains the first issue of a reboot of the Magnus character as well as the original Magnus story. The reboot does nothing to eliminate my skepticism regarding the character. Magnus is still karate chopping robot foes into scrap metal with no real plan to tackle the real issue, human dependence on robots. The reality is that one man cannot change a society by punching out robots.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Review of "Marvel Triple Action: When the Commissar Commands," Marvel Comics

 Review of

Marvel Triple Action: When the Commissar Commands, Marvel Comics

Four out of five stars

An example of Cold War propaganda

 At this point in time the Avengers consist of Captain America, Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. The story opens with the four members each engaged in a form of thoughtful reflection unique to their skills and temperament. Location then shifts to the dictator-ruled state of Sin-Cong, where the people are being taxed even more so that their rulers can protect them from the imperialists.

 Chief among the oppressors is a massive man that is called the Commissar. Radio free Sin-Cong then sends a message to the Avengers asking for help in overthrowing the forces of the Commissar. After the Avengers assemble, they debate whether it is in their charter to serve as agents of political change. Eventually, it is decided that they will travel to Sin-Cong and confront the Commissar. The common soldiers are easily dealt with, but that puts them in conflict with the powerful Commissar. After initial failure, Captain America learns the secret and after that it is easy for the Avengers to win.

 This comic was published in 1973, so it was written when the United States was in the process of disengaging from the Vietnam War. It is very much a thinly disguised item of Cold War propaganda, as the villains are of course the Asian communists. The Avengers serve as foreign liberators and once the Commissar is defeated, the villagers hail them as heroes. This is followed by a statement by Captain America that could have been written by an American political speechwriter.

Review of "Wednesday Comics Number 3, July 22, 2009"

 Review of

Wednesday Comics Number 3, July 22, 2009

Four out of five stars

Very much like the Sunday supplement comics

 While this publication features well-known comic book characters, it has the fundamental form of a Sunday comic supplement. The fold is along the long axis and each particular story takes up one full page, so it is of necessity a brief segment of a more lengthy story.

 The characters featured are Batman, Kamandi, Superman, Deadman, Green Lantern, Metamorpho, Teen Titans, Supergirl, Metal Men, Wonder Woman, Sgt. Rock. Flash, Catwoman, and Hawkman. Reading them reminded me of my younger years when the story line in the Sunday newspaper comics were different from what appeared in the dailies. It was frustrating to read only a short segment and then have to wait a week to see the next installment.

 The stories are interesting, which is what generates the frustration. For if they were uninteresting, you would not experience the impatience of longing for more.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Review of "Shark in the Park," by Nick Sharratt

 Review of

Shark in the Park, by Nick Sharratt ISBN 0763567329

Five out of five stars

A delightful big book for the beginning reader(listener)

This review is of the larger version

 At 20.5 inches by 14.5 inches, this book would be difficult for the youngest of readers to manipulate well enough to read it by themselves. However, it would be an excellent choice for a large reading circle where one person is reading it to a large group of children. The text is large enough so that it could easily be read by children several feet away.

 The story is humorous and is about a little boy in the park with his new toy, a telescope. Through it, he sees several optical illusions, all of which make him think that there is a shark in the park. In each case, it turns out to be something simple and a case of imagination going too far. It is constructed so that pages have a circular opening that mimics what the boy would see in the telescope, then when the page is turned, the reality is revealed. In the hands of a gifted presenter that would pause at the proper time and show what would be seen, this book will keep children riveted.

 It is highly recommended for all situations where an adult will be reading to one or more children.

Review of "The Red Army of the Great Patriotic War 1941-5," by Steven J. Zaloga

 Review of

The Red Army of the Great Patriotic War 1941-5, by Steven J. Zaloga ISBN 0850459397

Four out of five stars

Uniforms and arms of the Red Army ground troops

 There are many types of history books of the Second World War in Europe, in this one the emphasis is on the uniforms and equipment of the ground troops of the Soviet Red Army. While there is some actual history of how the war was conducted, most of the text deals with the specifics, even down to a list of the various rank insignias.

 This is not a book for the person interested in battle tactics or what the military leaders did. However, if you are interested in what the Red Army soldiers wore and the weapons they used, then this is a book that you will find very valuable.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Review of "TV or Not TV, episode 1 of The Honeymooners," classic television starring Jackie Gleason

 Review of

TV or Not TV, episode 1 of The Honeymooners, classic television starring Jackie Gleason

Five out of five stars

The opening episode of what is one of the original classic sitcoms

 This is episode 1 of season 1 of “The Honeymooners” what is truly classic television. First aired in 1955, it set the stage for a short run of the original show. In many ways, much of the comedy is overdone. Jackie Gleason plays bus driver Ralph Kramden and the way he yells at everyone, especially his wife Alice, and threatens to send her to the moon are an anachronism today.

 In this episode, the Kramdens are discussing getting a television set. The Nortons already have one but want to get a better one and can’t afford it. The solution is to pool their money and jointly purchase one. After a bit of chicanery on the part of Ralph, they agree to put the new set in the Kramden residence. This leads to problems of who gets to watch what and when.

 Even though the material is dated, many aspects remain timeless. Both men work at steady jobs, yet do not bring home enough to buy a simple television set. Working for a living, yet not living very well is a condition that is still far too common today.

 If you watch this with a modern mentality of viewing every shout as an instance of verbal abuse, then you will dislike this episode and the entire show. However, if you accept that it was a different time and the fact that Ralph is all bluff and bluster, then you can sit back and enjoy television history and principles being made.

 It is also conceded that the sixties animated show “The Flintstones” was loosely based on the Honeymooners.

Review of "Painted Ladies," by Robert B. Parker

 Review of

Painted Ladies, by Robert B. Parker, ISBN 9781594134784

Four out of five stars

This is the second to last Spenser novel written by Robert B. Parker and it has Spenser working on his own. While he is in grave danger, in this case Spenser chooses to go it alone rather than request the assistance of one of his many backups.

 The story opens with art expert Dr. Ashton Prince entering Spenser’s office requesting his assistance. A famous painting has been stolen and is being held for ransom. Since the thieves have said that they will destroy the painting if the police are involved, Prince wants Spenser to go along to the payoff as protection. When Prince is killed by a bomb, Spenser decides to continue on the case in order to atone for his failure.

 The story proceeds along the usual lines of a Spenser novel, at first he knows nothing, and he simply pushes and prods until something happens. When two assassins try to kill him, he realizes that he is on the proper track. The story stretches all the way back to World War II and the artwork that the Germans stole from wealthy Jews. There is an organization that is trying to recover the artworks and return them to the rightful owners. Their methods are not always on the right side of the legal and ethical ledgers.

 It is a good story, yet I found myself missing Hawk. Unlike many of the other stories, there is no mention of the gangland bosses that were so integral a part of so many plots. In this case, the sidekick role is played by a combination of Quirk and Belsen. Since the plot deeply involves the Holocaust and Jewish survivors and Susan is of course Jewish, there is a great deal of references to actions of World War II. While these aspects are well explained, those unfamiliar with those times may find themselves a bit puzzled.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Review of "The Adventures of Superman 6, The Longest Night, Part One"

 Review of

The Adventures of Superman 6, The Longest Night, Part One

Five out of five stars

 The world has the usual complement of superheroes when a race that calls themselves “Malazza-Rem” arrived on a mission of conquest. Humans quickly began referring to them as “The Horde” and they were completely ruthless. The leader of the Horde broadcast a statement that 1,000 humans would be killed each time a hero was sighted and 5,000 more if that hero tried to fight back. There was a ferocious battle with over seven million humans killed in Coast City.

 With this level of slaughter as a threat, the humans turned against the heroes, killing some and driving others into hiding. The military forces of the human governments assisted in the roundup and execution of the heroes. Humanity is at its’ lowest point with the few remaining heroes in hiding after the last significant human resistance fighters were defeated.

 Jimmy Olsen is huddled around a fire talking to others about continuing resistance when he is accosted by a member of the Horde army and he avoids death when Councillor Lana Lang intervenes. She is acting as an agent for the Horde, trusted by them, she gives help to the humans when she can.

 After Jimmy and Lana visit Superman in a prison where he is hiding as a regular human, he is convinced to get back into the fight. It is not long before additional heroes show up and there is the beginning of a powerful resistance to the Horde. When Lex Luthor as Metallo joins the resistance, there are seven heroes ready to take on the Horde.

 This is an excellent story, based on the most likely premise of alien contact, occupation and exploitation. With their superior technology, if they are ruthless enough to wipe out millions of humans in a single city, humans likely would decide to turn on the heroes in order to survive the occupation. It ends on an optimistic note as there may once again be hope that the oppression can be overthrown.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Review of "The Betty White Show Volume 1: 4 Full-length episodes," DVD

 Review of

The Betty White Show Volume 1: 4 Full-length episodes, DVD

Four out of five stars

Early television when it was live

 While everyone concedes that Betty White is a television icon, few realize the extent of her achievements. The very low budget sitcom called “Life With Elizabeth” (labeled here as “The Betty White Show”) starred White and was produced in 1951. It was filmed live at KLAC-TV in Los Angeles. She was the first woman to produce a sitcom and she retained full control when the show was syndicated.

 The premise of the show is that White as Elizabeth and Del Moore as her husband Alvin live in the suburbs and get into situations. An episode is split into short eight to ten minute segments with announcer Jack Narz popping in with brief explanations, openings and closings.

 When watching these shows, the modern viewer must keep in mind that they are viewing history being made. Comedy on television was very much in its infancy and the players had no historical record to consult. Furthermore, the allowable situations were much more limited at the time. Laughter was genuine and the entire scene had to be concluded once begun. All of this combined to make the action appear a bit stiff at times.

 A trailblazer for both women and comedy on television, White deserves her status as an icon many times over. In this DVD, you see her in her television comedic infancy as all players were creating something that had never existed before.

Review of "Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon," by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton

 Review of

Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon, by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton ISBN 1878685546

Five out of five stars

What a ride they had!

 While this is a history of the American program to put humans in space and ultimately on the moon, the focus is on the authors. Alan Shepard and Donald “Deke” Slayton were two of the original seven Mercury astronauts. Shepard was the first American into space while Slayton was grounded for many years before he was able to fly in the Apollo-Soyuz mission.

 As members of the original seven, the authors were extremely talented pilots, highly intelligent and willing to gamble. All qualities needed if you are to put yourself into a small enclosed cannister on top of a powerful rocket and travel over a half-million miles. In this book, they put down their experiences surrounded by the context of the US space program from the beginnings to Apollo-Soyuz.

 The story is a fascinating one, where skills and technology largely had to be built from the very beginning. In many cases, before it was done, it was not known if it could be done. There were fears that humans simply could not work and operate in free-fall conditions before Yuri Gagarin made his historic flight.

 If you are a fan of space flight and exploration, this is a book that you will enjoy. The authors not only express their thrills in being astronauts, but also their frustrations at being grounded for years due to medical conditions.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Review of "Candide Revealed," by Yaco and Voltaire

 Review of

Candide Revealed, by Yaco and Voltaire

Five out of five stars

A parody of one of the best social satires ever written

 To mathematicians, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is the independent creator of the differential and integral calculus. He was also a philosopher best known for his optimism and statements about this being the best of all possible worlds. Given the state of the world, there have been many that disagreed with this position, one of the most vocal was the French writer Voltaire. “Candide” is considered by many to be Voltaire’s best work and is a running satire on the optimism of Leibniz.

 This comic is a parody of the classic work by Voltaire and features the worst aspects of life when he lived. You know the comic is going to be good in the third caption. Doctor Pangloss is in the process of seducing a young woman and he says, “Yes my little maid, philosophically speakin’, we live in the best of all possible worlds. Why, everything happens for a reason, and a good one at that.” The woman responds with, “Oh, Doc! You’re just too much! You know that intellectual jazz gets me all hot!”

 While the dialogue in this comic is not in the realm of literary greatness, it is very funny and makes the point of the story. In terms of delivering the message that Voltaire wanted to put forward, it hits the mark. The cover says that it is for adults only and that is for good reason. If you are not familiar with the original story and the purpose behind it, it will be difficult to appreciate this comic.

Review of "The ‘Nam: The Death of Joe Hallen, part one of five"

 Review of

The ‘Nam: The Death of Joe Hallen, part one of five

Five out of five stars

Problems of civilian life after serving in war

 Joe Hallen is a black man from Baltimore that served a tour of duty in Vietnam during the war. Discharged, he hops a flight back home and he travels in uniform. During the flight, the people on the airline make disparaging comments. Not because of the color of his skin, but the color of his clothing. To them, Vietnam veterans are all messed up.

 When he gets back home, he finds that he retains a bit of his military attitude and finds it difficult to relate to his surroundings, including his relationships with family members. The low point is when a child asks him if he killed any babies. He tries to find a job, but traces of anger and frustration with how he views his environment make that difficult. Finally, with few options, he ends up back in Vietnam as part of a combat strike team.

 While I am not a Vietnam veteran, I knew several that were and to a man they all talked about how they felt out of place when they came back. This is also consistent with what I have read in books written by veterans of all wars. They all felt out of place when they returned and reached the point where they believed that they had more in common with the men shooting at them than the people at home.

 This is a solid lead-in to the continuing story, the producers managed to create the complete context for a story that was biographical for too many men.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Review of "The All-New Wonder Woman 602"

 Review of

The All-New Wonder Woman 602

Four out of five stars

Amazons versus a human army unit

 This story opens with a male military force engaged in a siege against a small group of Amazons holed up in a temple. There appears no way out for the Amazons until Wonder Woman shows up and breaks through the military lines and enters the temple. After consultation with her fellow Amazons and a mysterious deity, Wonder Woman decides to distract the soldiers with a rear guard action while the other Amazons sneak out the back way.

 Using Greek fire (the original flame thrower) as an ally, she is able to keep the soldiers on the defensive until her compatriots are free and safe. It is a brutal battle with no quarter even considered, much less executed. This is a far different story from the traditional Wonder Woman stories in that she is very much a vicious Amazon warrior that will wipe out her enemies with nary a second thought.

 The story was a little too brutal for me, it came down to nearly senseless death and destruction rather than any nuanced interaction between the Amazons and male soldiers.

Review of "In Which We Serve," DVD

 Review of

In Which We Serve, DVD

Four out of five stars

Wartime British propaganda film

 Produced in 1942 at the height of World War II, this British film is understated for a propaganda film. In 1942, the British had been at war with Germany for almost three years and with Japan for less than a year. The British Empire had suffered massive losses in Europe and the loss of Hong Kong and Singapore in Asia. The Japanese were still a threat to India and the Soviet Union was barely hanging on against Germany and her European allies.

 The story is about the British destroyer HMS Torrin, from the time that it was constructed in a shipyard to when it was sunk in battle off the coast of Crete. That battle took place in early summer of 1941. In many ways it starts at the end, where the ship is sunk by a German attack and few of the crew survive. A small number manage to locate a floating life raft and hang on until being rescued, even when strafed from the air.

 Most of the movie consists of flashbacks the men on the raft have. They think back to events such as meeting their wives, getting married, interacting with the friends and family and just being a sailor on duty and on leave. These events are meant to show that even though the British are in an existential war, the British lifestyle continues. People support the war and while they are fearful for their loved ones in combat, they proudly send them along to do their duty.

 There is almost nothing jingoistic about this movie, it is based on the true story of the HMS Kelly, commanded by Lord Lewis Montbatten and sunk by the Germans in the battle for Crete. The British are shown as stoic and determined in their resolve to fight on. The Torrin is depicted as being in on the battle of Narvik in Norway, active in convoy duty in the Atlantic, participating in the evacuation from Dunkirk and then in the battle for Greece. Pretty much all of the British naval action in the war up to the time of production.

 There is nothing in the way of super soldier in this movie, just men that accept and carry out their responsibility to fight for their country and the people back home that support them. It shows a nation united and determined.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Review of "Elseworlds: Superman, the Man of Steel, annual 3"

 Review of

Elseworlds: Superman, the Man of Steel, annual 3

Five out of five stars

An alternate, yet a bit more plausible scenario

 Throughout human history, any tribe or nation that had technical, numerical or physical superiority has conquered those who don’t. Many people that consider there to be intelligent life on other worlds, think that humans will suffer the same fate if such life were to find us and have the capability of making an interstellar journey.

 This story takes that idea and insert it into the Krypton is a doomed planet scenario for the origin of Superman. In this case, when Jor-el sounded the alarm, it was heeded and 100,000 Kryptonians were able to board rocket ships and make the journey to Earth. Once they arrived, they all had the powers of the traditional Superman and quickly took control of Earth.

 There are pockets of resistance, one singular point of opposition is Batman. He had made repeated attempts to sabotage the Kryptonian machinery and ironically, when he failed, it was Kryptonian technology that put him back together.

 Lex Luthor is of course involved and even though Kal-el’s parents still live, Martha and Jonathan Kent are Kal-el’s loving parents. Kryptonian parents are depicted as avoiding all expressions of affection to their children. For example, calling the male parent “Pa” is forbidden.

 Due to his interaction with loving human parents, Jor-el keeps a close eye on Kal-el, suspecting him of harboring sympathies for humans. Eventually, Kal-el uses his powers and has a physical showdown with Jor-el as he fights for the human cause.

 This is an engaging story, for it is more realistic regarding how super beings would react to humans. Although supreme intelligence is a virtue, it would also be easy for them to take over in the best interest of the undisciplined and weaker humans. Idealism is wonderful, but the real universe is a tough and unyielding place. All beings will play rough when the survival of their species is at stake. Fiction is best when it has some grounding in reality.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Review of "We Stand On Guard #1," comic written by Brian K. Vaughan

 Review of

We Stand On Guard #1, comic written by Brian K. Vaughan

Five out of five stars

Great opening to a brutal adventure

It is the year 2112 and the story opens with a drone strike against the White House in Washington, D. C. In response, the United States launches a massive drone strike against Canada, followed by an invasion and military occupation. There is a family of four staying in a high rise apartment or condo in Ottawa when the strike takes place. The mother and father are killed, and in his last breath the father tells preteen boy Tommy to look after his baby sister.

 The action jumps forward to 2124 near Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and it is winter. A solitary woman is hunting a caribou with a crossbow. A mechanical American war machine accosts her and demands her identity card. Angered, she fires her crossbow, which of course does no damage. The reaction is to unleash the equivalent of a mechanical dog to kill her.

 Right before the dog kills her, it is destroyed by a small group of Canadian freedom fighters. The fighters are skeptical about her and are doing a recon when a massive American war machine much like the Imperial walkers of Star Wars arrives. The freedom fighters prove to be very capable, and the stage is set for furtherance of what is the classic battle between a mighty occupying power and a small band of effective guerrilla fighters.

 This story is in many ways a look to the future of warfare, where few humans are on the actual battlefield and the death and destruction is carried out by automated drones. Which may or may not be under direct human control. The only reason given for the American attack of Canada is that the U. S. needed their water. Which hints of significant drought due to climate change. It is a great story, and the reader is left with a desire to read subsequent issues.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Review of "Hans Christian Andersen Animated Classics: The Nightingale," DVD version

 Review of

Hans Christian Andersen Animated Classics: The Nightingale, DVD version

Five out of five stars

Beautiful tale set in China

 Like so many of the fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, this one is nonviolent and has a happy ending. It features the Chinese Emperor and includes some lackeys in the imperial court as well. However, the main human character is a young female that fishes with her grandfather and works as a cleaner in an inn frequented by arrogant male members of the imperial court.

 Word reaches the Emperor about a nightingale whose song is so beautiful that it will bring tears to your eyes. The court lackeys are ordered to find the nightingale, but they have no idea what it is or where to look.

 When they are at an inn, their laments are overheard by the young female cleaner and she speaks up, which is against the hierarchical protocol. She then takes them to the nightingale, and it agrees to sing for the Emperor. He is so stricken by the song that he elects to keep the nightingale in what is essentially a caged existence.

 After some time, the Japanese Emperor sends the Chinese Emperor a mechanical nightingale that also has a wonderful sound. Having that device, the Chinese Emperor ignores the live nightingale, and it flies away.

 A significant amount of time passes and suddenly the mechanical nightingale breaks down and cannot be repaired. The Emperor is on the verge of death when the young female goes and asks the live nightingale to come sing for the Emperor and it agrees. It has a strong restorative affect, and the Emperor recovers and promises the nightingale its’ freedom if it will sing on occasion.

 There are many different moral undercurrents in this story, the live versus mechanical, captive versus free and royal versus common people. All of them are resolved in favor of what is right, making this a joyous story for children.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Review of "Last Tango In Paris," VHS version

 Review of

Last Tango In Paris, VHS version

Five out of five stars

Groundbreaking and scandalous at the time (1972)

 While the censorship bounds were coming down when this film premiered, many were still in place. The basic plot devices of semi-willing sexual violence and what were then considered aberrant sexual practices caused a lot of sensation among the film industry and public.

 The basic premise of the plot is a simple one that has been used many times. Marlon Brando plays Paul, an American middle-aged man in Paris that is still in deep mourning over the death of his wife. When he tours an apartment, he meets Jeanne, played by Maria Schneider, also interested in the apartment. Even though Jeanne is engaged, she finds Paul fascinating and they begin a sexual affair. Paul has rented the apartment, so they have a place to meet. However, Paul is emphatic that their relationship be completely anonymous, he insists that they do not even tell each other their names.

 The relationship remains on sizzle for a while, until Jeanne arrives at the apartment and finds that Paul has packed and left with no warning. Later, they have a street meeting where Paul states that he wants to rekindle the relationship and learn more about each other. The exchange of the personal data destroys the thrill of anonymity for Jeanne, and she wants Paul out of her life. However, Paul does not want that, and the film ends in tragedy.

 Brando and Schneider turn in high quality performances, for Brando, he demonstrates that it can often be harder to play an unemotionally rigid person than someone whose emotions bubble over. While the story appears to be based on the “finding love again” premise, in fact it is nothing of the kind. Personal relationships take many forms, some healthy and fulfilling, others that are simply space filling thrills. Not only was there controversary about the movie, but even the actors engaged in significant spats with each other.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Review of "Prairie Memories: An 1891 Iowa Album in Painting and Verse," by Izanna L. Chamberlain

 Review of

Prairie Memories: An 1891 Iowa Album in Painting and Verse, by Izanna L. Chamberlain ISBN 0945213042

Five out of five stars

Paintings by an Iowa woman of the nineteenth century

 Iowa became a state in 1846 and Izanna Chamberlain was born in 1854. She grew up on a farm in Linn County Iowa on the banks of Otter Creek. Her father died when she was three, but her mother Rachel managed to keep the farm and raise her six children. This book is a brief history of Izanna’s life as well as a series of her paintings of what she witnessed.

 This book was published in 1891, when Izanna was 37. At the urging of her brother, she attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa where she took classes in art.  She enrolled at Cornell when she was 16, so it is interesting to note that Cornell accepted women at that time. The paintings show rural scenes that I, as someone that grew up in Iowa, can relate to. In fact, my grandmother lived in Toddville, Iowa and Otter Creek ran less than a half-mile of her residence. My uncles, friends and I would swim in the creek in the summer.

 Therefore, with the exception of the few images that have period dating aspects, these images were a memory for me as well. They are simple yet elegant, showing rural Iowa for what it was and is to those that take the time to look at it.

Review of "The Great Quarterback Switch," by Matt Christopher

 Review of

The Great Quarterback Switch, by Matt Christopher, ISBN 0316140775

Three out of five stars

More fiction than the usual sports fiction book

 Michael and Tom Curtis are identical twins and both love football. Tom is an athlete and the quarterback of the Eagles football team. Due to an accident, Michael is confined to a wheelchair, so he is limited to watching and yelling encouragement.

 However, they have an adult friend named Ollie Pruitt that believes that believes in transmigration of bodies and personalities. It turns out that if both boys wish it very hard, their bodies can be interchanged to the extent that Michael becomes the ambulatory one while Tom is the one confided to a wheelchair.

 This trick is used to give Tom respites in the games, for when he gets tired or banged up Michael can go in for him. It works very well, for Michael has memorized all the plays, has an excellent understanding of football and is also athletic.

 The season moves forward and there are a couple of girls that go out of their way to interact with Michael and Tom. Unlike many other adolescent sports fiction, there is no dramatic last second win at the end, which is positive, for such things rarely happen.

 If it were not for the fantasy aspects of partial physical transmigration, this would have been a good story. The only characteristic that is swapped between the two boys is the ability to be ambulatory. Other than that, their bodies swap. Which is more along the line of magic rather than fantasy.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Review of "Classics Illustrated Clumsy Hans," comic story by Hans Christian Andersen

 Review of

Classics Illustrated Clumsy Hans, comic story by Hans Christian Andersen

Five out of five stars

Classic fairy tale meme of the unlikely winning the prize

 This story by Hans Christian Andersen was originally called, “Blockhead Hans” and repeats the often used idea that the apparently lesser light emerges victorious in a competition for a valuable prize. In this case, the prize is the hand of the princess. Hans is the third son and an intellectual third fiddle to his highly educated two older brothers.

The princess has publicly stated that she will marry the man that chooses his words best, so the two older brothers study hard, memorizing words and phrases. When it comes time to go before the princess, the two older brothers don the finest of clothing and ride the most attractive of horses. The third brother is left to wear what he has and to ride a goat to the palace.

 When the time comes for each of the older brothers to go before the princess, both of them get tongue-tied and fail. However, being simpler of mind, Hans gives what appear to be quippy answers and the princess is impressed. So much so that she accepts Hans as a suitor and he becomes king, ruling for a long time.

 This story is designed to give the less fortunate in life the belief that they too may have a chance at the big prize and the associated success. Tales of accidental rather than planned and programmed success have an appeal to all, even those that cannot plan and program.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Review of "Classics Illustrated Junior: The Emperor’s New Clothes," by Hans Christian Andersen

 Review of

Classics Illustrated Junior: The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen

Five out of five stars

One of the best fairy tales of all time

 This is one of the best fairy tales of all time and my personal favorite. It is one of the best demonstrations of mass human folly, where no one is willing to state the truth, even when it is as visually real as possible.

 The premise is that there is a kingdom ruled by a very vain Emperor that always wants to wear the finest of clothes. Two con artists convince him that they will make a suit so spectacular, that only a fool will not be able to see it. Pretending to weave invisible thread into cloth and then pretending to cut that cloth into clothing, the supposed end result is the finest garments ever created.

 Although there are supposed viewings of the garments before they are presented to the public in a big parade, no one, including the Emperor, is willing to admit that they cannot see them. The parade takes place, and the Emperor walks the streets in his underwear. Finally, a na├»ve child blurts out the obvious, there is a pause, and then everyone talks about the Emperor’s lack of clothing.

 This tale has ramifications in many areas of human endeavor, any activity where there is peer pressure to conform. It is a wonderful story, told in the form of a comic book that is accessible to the early elementary school child.

Review of "Hans Christian Andersen Animated Classics: The Traveling Companion," DVD

 Review of

Hans Christian Andersen Animated Classics: The Traveling Companion, DVD

Five out of five stars

Deviates significantly from the original, but still very good

 John is saddened by the death of his father, and he has a dream shortly after his father died. In that dream, he is told that everything will come out right. Setting off on a journey to see the world, John is caught in a heavy rainstorm and takes refuge in a small church. Exhausted, he falls asleep. He is awakened by the actions of two grave robbers there to steal what they can from the coffin. In order to make them stop, John gives them all his money.

 They leave and now John must continue with no food or water and no money with which to buy any. He comes across a man playing a flute that is full of energy and surprises. After healing a woman’s broken leg, the mystery man accompanies John to the city where he literally sees the woman of his dreams. She is a princess with a wicked streak. To win her hand in marriage, a suitor must answer three questions, each of which has the form: “What am I thinking now?” If the suitor fails to answer any of the questions, he is put to death.

 With the help of the traveling companion, John is able to answer all three questions and break the spell that a wicked troll has on the princess. When their wedding is announced, John learns that his traveling companion was the man whose grave robbery he prevented.

 This is an example of the fairy tale genre where to get rich, one first become poor. For if a person allows another to suffer, then fortune will not favor them. A good lesson about the enlightened self-interest of doing good.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Review of "City of Light, City of Dark: A Comic Book Novel," by Avi

 Review of

City of Light, City of Dark: A Comic Book Novel, by Avi ISBN 0590208586

Three out of five stars

Nebulous reasons for many things

 This story is based on the existence of beings called the Kurbs, they possess great power and owned an island as well as the sky above. The Kurbs thrived in darkness, drawn to it like moths to light. When humans first came to the island of the Kurbs, they had to get permission from them to construct a city there.

 A pact is drawn up between the humans and the Kurbs, there is a ritual involving the power of the Kurbs. Every year on the 21st of June, the Kurbs will hide their power and from that point on, there will be less light each day. The humans must find that power and return it to the place of safekeeping on December 21, at which time the days will begin to lengthen again. Of course, this coincides with the natural changing of the seasons. If the power is not returned on December 21, then the daily amount of daylight will continue to decrease.

 A woman is designated by the humans as the searcher for the power. She herself is capable of donning several different disguises, making her task of searching easier, for she can more easily gain the trust of different groups.

 However, the plot device of the Kurbs is secondary to the primary one, which is dealing with a family where the father is extremely embarrassed by his actions. So much so that he takes his daughter away from her mother and the two of them assume other identities. An evil man knows the truth and continues to blackmail the father into feeble submission. Much of the storyline involves this complex interaction.

 I found the story to be difficult to follow, the presence of the Kurbs could have been rendered superfluous as the reader never really receives an explanation of what they are or what they do. It is as if the writer needed a foil to get started on a story about family separation with an eventual reuniting.

Review of "The Tick Omnibus Volume 2, Sixth Edition" graphic novel

 Review of

The Tick Omnibus Volume 2, Sixth Edition graphic novel

Five out of five stars

Wacky characters and even whackier dialog

 The main character is seven foot tall, packed with muscles, has a jut jaw, wears a blue body costume, defeats criminals and yells “Spoon!” when he does so. This story also features the almost necessary sidekick called Arthur that also wears a costume and has what looks like bunny ears.

 What really distinguishes this graphic novel is the incredibly wacky dialog with puns galore and references to the superheroes in comics. For example, when a scientist questions the origins of a rock that Arthur claims is a meteor, the scientist says to Arthur: “. . . You’re playing let’s pretend with a seven foot tall idiot in his long johns.” The scientist then turns to the Tick and says, “No offense intended.” The Tick’s reply is,” None comprehended.” Very funny and typical of the content.

 A parody of just about every male superhero in the genre, the Tick is as the name applies, an amusing annoyance that sucks value from others.  

Review of "Superman in Action Comics 32 Bloodsport," DC comics

 Review of

Superman in Action Comics 32 Bloodsport, DC comics

Four out of five stars

A more realistic and brutal Superman tale

 This story is a demonstration of how far in terms of content the former mainstream comics have gone since the downfall of the comics code authority. A white clad man packing extremely powerful weapons with an agenda that all non-whites are to be exterminated is rampaging through Metropolis. He calls himself Bloodsport and his weapons are powerful enough to challenge and perhaps even defeat Superman. He considers whites that aid the “coloreds” to be “race traitors.”

 Bloodsport also is able to teleport new weapons into his hands when those he has are exhausted. Therefore, there are no real reloading interludes in this fight. With the help of a very brave man, Superman is given the opening he needs to take Bloodsport down.

 Published in 1994, this comic is a brutal rendition of the extremes of white supremacy and depicts violence at a level that was unheard of in the era of the comics code authority.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Review of "Runaway Slave: The Story of Harriet Tubman," by Ann McGovern

 Review of

Runaway Slave: The Story of Harriet Tubman, by Ann McGovern

Five out of five stars

Why Tubman deserves to be on the $20 bill

 In response to the public outcry to have a female in the American $20 bill, there was a survey, and the consensus was that Harriet Tubman should be on the new form of that currency. Yet, many people do not know the significant role that Tubman played in the removal of slavery from the American society.

 She was born a slave and lived for many years under significant oppression until she was able to escape. Once she was free, rather than simply settle in one spot and agitate against slavery, Tubman risked her freedom and even her life in going back into slave states. Guiding runaway slaves back into the free states and often all the way to Canada. She was very much a wanted person, yet that did not deter her from her life’s mission.

 While this book is short, it is complete in the sense that the reader is able to learn why she was so important in the movement to overturn the slave trade. Young people will come away understanding why she deserves the honor of being on one of the most widely used items of paper currency.

Review of "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Infinities," Dark Horse Comics

 Review of

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Infinities, Dark Horse Comics

Four out of five stars

Alternate Star Wars story

 There seems to be a strongly emerging principle in the entertainment industry, if you are not making enough money or have run out of ideas along the original plotline, create an alternate history. In this storyline, Luke is presumed dead, and Leia is being trained by Yoda in the ways of the force on Dagobah. However, Darth Vader still believes that Luke is alive, refusing to believe that he died on Hoth.

 Han and Chewie end up on Tatooine and are in the clutches of Jabba the Hut. Angry at Solo dumping his valuable cargo, Jabba refuses to listen to all attempts by Han to bargain. The only value they have for Jabba is as entertainment in a battle with murderous creatures. Vader is sparing no effort in his search for Skywalker, all of the Empire resources at his command are being utilized.

 While the story is entertaining, there is always something disquieting about alternate storylines in a well established fiction story. When you know how it turns out, any attempt at doing otherwise has to be done even better than before. This does not quite get to that level.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Review of "My Inventions," Nikola Tesla

 Review of

My Inventions, Nikola Tesla ISBN 9781789500783

Four out of five stars

Short description of an incredible inventor

 When people talk about great American inventors, the name Thomas Edison always emerges first, and rightfully so. Yet, there was one man that could have challenged Edison if he would have had significant financial backing. That person was Nikola Tesla, not only was he an incredible inventor he was also a futurist. This book is a brief autobiography of his life and work.

 For example, in 1898, Tesla demonstrated a remote controlled boat and tried to sell it to the U. S. military in order to remotely control torpedoes. They showed little interest, once again illustrating that the military is rarely futuristic in thought. One can engage in fascinating speculation about an attack of enemy trenches in the western front in Europe being carried out by remote controlled bombs. Such as attack being carried out by machines instead of waves of men attacking machine guns could have led to major victories.

 Tesla used the term “telautomata” to refer to the machines he envisioned, including the ability to launch the equivalent of guided missiles against an enemy. This is the subject of the last pages of the book. Tesla was subject to periodic bouts of major illness and he chronicles those episodes. He does spend time describing his inventions, but the reader is left wanting far more. One key omission is the personal animosity between Edison and Tesla.

 Tesla, while he was a futurist, was also a first-rate electrical and mechanical engineer, so he had some idea as to how the telautomata machines would be constructed. One never knows how far he could have gone or what the consequences for history would have been if Tesla would have been given more support.

 This is a good, but far too short book about the life of Nikola Tesla, one of the most talented inventors the world has ever seen.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Review of "The World of Metropolis 4, Suicide Watch," DC comic

 Review of

The World of Metropolis 4, Suicide Watch, DC comic

Five out of five stars

The comics begin to cover social issues

 The history of comics can be split into three eras: before Wertham, the time after Wertham and the establishment of the Comics Code Authority and then after the comics code authority was disbanded. Before Wertham published his book, “Seduction of the Innocent,” the content of comics was pretty free-wheeling, with violence and bloody monsters standard fare. After that, there was a dramatic change, the famous Comics Code Authority was established, and the content became very vanilla with little to nothing in the way of controversial content.

 There was a landmark change in 1971 and it was in response to a request from the administration of Richard Nixon of all people. In 1970, Stan Lee at Marvel Comics was asked by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to publish an anti-drug message. The issue was a Spider-Man that appeared in 1971 and did not have the Comics Code seal of approval. This was a landmark publication that helped pave the way for real issues to be addressed in the comics. It can be argued that it was a major step in the abolition of the Comics Code Authority.

 In this issue seventeen years later, DC addresses another major issue plaguing the United States, the act of teen suicide. Jimmy Olsen is an unpaid copy boy at The Daily Planet and he has a young female friend. She has problems at home with her parents, so one day she swallows a whole bottle of pills and somehow makes it to Jimmy’s house. Since this is before Jimmy has his Superman signal watch, he must create a way to summon Superman if the girl is to survive.

 While this story is very generic in terms of the actions of Superman and the other main characters, the fact that it deals with an attempted suicide makes it groundbreaking in the comics area. The title is also a pun on the events in the story.

Review of "G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero, The Silent Issue!"

 Review of

G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero, The Silent Issue!

Two out of five stars

Difficult story to follow

 Since there is no dialog and I am not very familiar with the specific characters in this issue, I found the action very confusing. There is not even the familiar “Kablam!” style textual sound effects. There is a ferocious battle to what appears to be the death between two extremely skilled small teams of fighters. Yet, it ends with a seemingly, “OK, we are done.” action. Leaving a completely unresolved result. This is not a comic that I would recommend.

Review of "Stars," by Isaac Asimov

 Review of

Stars, by Isaac Asimov

Five out of five stars

Very thorough for a short book

 In this book, Asimov proves once again that he is capable of writing understandable, yet intelligent science books for very young readers. This book is targeted for the eight-year-old reader, and there are many illustrations.

 In only 30 pages, Asimov explains what stars are, how they vary and how their patterns appear in the sky. If you want to introduce your children to quality science books, this is the best one on the bright lights in the sky.