Friday, July 30, 2021

Review of "Super Joe: The Joe Namath Story," by Larry Bortstein

 Review of

Super Joe: The Joe Namath Story, by Larry Bortstein

Three out of five stars

Was Namath really a superstar?

 Published in 1969 shortly after the Jets won Super Bowl III, this book is very laudatory about Joe Namath. He was brash, predicting a Jets victory when almost everyone else thought it would be another NFL rout. The Jets and Namath were decisive victors in a game that is considered the turning point in equality between the NFL and AFL.

 Namath is put forward as a rebel and a star, along with his reputation as a big-time ladies man and swinger. While the Jets did in fact win their division the following year, they lost the playoff to the Chiefs and the following year they started a streak of eight seasons without a winning record. It is clear from this book that Joe Namath was the beneficiary of the media hype that playing in New York meant.

 Granted, this book was read in retrospect, but if a comparison is done of Namath with other Hall of Fame quarterbacks, his stats are significantly weaker, specifically the number of interceptions versus touchdown passes. He flashed brightly, but then faded fast. This book was written during the flash and before the fade.

Review of "The Shocking Origin of Jonah Hex," by Gray, Palmiotti and Bernet

 Review of

The Shocking Origin of Jonah Hex, by Gray, Palmiotti and Bernet

Five out of five stars

Scarred in more ways than visual

 Jonah Hex is a western character that is both a hero and a bit of a villain. Severely scarred, he projects a persona of not being a person to mess with, albeit he does exhibit a streak of kindness and willingness to aid others.  This comic describes the manner whereby he acquired the deep seated scarring of his personality.

He was a soldier in the Confederate Army of the American Civil War and his favored weapon was a hatchet. Severely wounded in an attack on a Union fort, Hex is tied to an x-cross and severely whipped. Left for dead on a floating raft, he is discovered by a Confederate family that treats his wounds and provides for his recovery. When marauding bandits attack the household, Hex fights them off and lives to exact revenge against those that wronged him.

 Origin stories always have a charm that others don’t have, for it is generally more interesting to learn how the main character came into being. This is no exception, Hex is a violent man, yet unlike the others, his violence serves a positive purpose.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Review of "Transmetropolitan: Back On the Street," by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson

 Review of

Transmetropolitan: Back On the Street, by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson ISBN 9781401220846

Five out of five stars

An amusing, yet dark anti-hero

 The story opens with famed and extremely talented journalist Spider Jerusalem holed up in a mountain retreat where he has gone to escape from the world. Yet, he has phone contact with the world, and he is contacted by a publisher to remind him that he received a massive advance to write two books. Threatened with legal action, Spider loads up his car and goes back to the “real world.”

 Not happy about it, he holds a grudge against everything, yet after he removes his massive growth of hair on his head, he gets back into the game. It is a world that is filthy, trashy and split into wild factions. Yet, he proves almost immediately that there is no one better at the art of expose journalism. His methods are rough, crude and just right for his job in this environment.

 One of the darkest of graphic novels, it is based on a dystopia, both in the overall environment as well as the internal structure of Jerusalem. He thinks nothing of being on either side of the getting beat up environment. Followers of the news will find several nuggets of truth in his wild and unpredictable exploits. The authors have created and produced a great character.

Review of "Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan’s Soul," compiled by Jack Canfield et. al.

 Review of

Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan’s Soul, compiled by Jack Canfield et. al. ISBN 1558749659

Five out of five stars

Some stories will put tears in your eyes

 These short stories are implausible to the point where they are plausible under the “truth is stranger than fiction” criteria. Some are by people whose profession is baseball, most are by people that enjoy the game. A few will put tears in your eyes.

 Some of the best are based on fans experiences with players and they are positive. The events took place before the explosion in the commercialization of the baseball autograph business. In them, the players are cordial, polite and cooperative, often going out of their way to do something positive for a fan.

 All levels of baseball, from the basics of tee ball to some of the greatest players ever are covered. The emphasis is on the positive influence baseball has on our lives, again from tee ball on up. If you are in a mental and emotional valley, this book will invert that particular curve.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Review of "Buffalo Bill’s Boyhood," by Elmer Sherwood

 Review of

Buffalo Bill’s Boyhood, by Elmer Sherwood

Four out of five stars

Great adventure story, even if embellished

 While William (Buffalo Bill) Cody was a real person that was engaged in adult actions at a young age, there is little to no evidence that some of the exploits in this book actually happened. Yet, they are exciting to read, they will stir the imagination of boys that follow the genre of the western.

 While his father (Isaac Cody) died from the stab wounds of an attack by a pro-slavery advocate, the real story is more involved. His father lived for some time after the attack, his death was largely due to a respiratory infection. Cody’s claim that he was a rider for the Pony Express and experienced great danger is also disputed.

 Cody was a great showman he was not above engaging in creative exaggeration. That is the case with this author as well, still it is a fun and easy book to read.

Review of "Star Trek Fotonovel #1 City on the Edge of Forever," created by Gene Roddenberry

 Review of

Star Trek Fotonovel #1 City on the Edge of Forever, created by Gene Roddenberry ISBN 9780553113457

Five out of five stars

Captures the charm and sadness of the original series episode

 No episode of the Star Trek original series captures the enormous burden of responsibility that the captain of a starship must bear. With many dangers in the universe and the ship constantly moving into unknown and uncertain territories, disaster with the loss of millions or billions of lives are always a potential consequence of the captain’s actions.

 This episode also introduces an incredible, even godlike, entity. The Guardian of Forever is the most powerful object to ever appear in Star Trek, yet it is neither machine nor living being. Yet, it is eternal, capable of displaying all that has happened in the universe since it’s creation. It reminded me of the Akashic records of theosophy. It is the equivalent of a god, capable of providing access without actually altering the events.

 The Enterprise encounters massive waves of time and space distortion and in an accident, Dr. McCoy is injected with an overdose of a drug that leads to wild paranoia and psychosis. He beams down to the surface and jumps through the Guardian, going back into the past and fundamentally altering the present. Only the Enterprise landing party is spared the changes. Determined to restore the world as they know it Kirk and Spock go back in time.

They land on Earth in the 1930’s at the peak of the Depression. They are in a city in the United States and must somehow use Spock’s tricorder to determine what it is they must do. Overcoming enormous technical hurdles, Spock manages to learn that in order for their world to live, one person, a good-hearted woman and Kirk’s love, must die.

 This is one of the best written and acted episodes of the original series. The viewer feels Kirk’s anguish at what he must do. Never has it been more clear that Captain Kirk is fundamentally an island in his position as commander of a starship. It is also an expression of the phrase to appear later in the Star Trek franchise, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

 This presentation of the episode in the form of the fotonovel, equivalent to a graphic novel where the images are stills from the episode, is very well done. The humor and dead serious goals of Captain Kirk and Spock are captured. It is a book you keep on the shelf as you know you will reading it again. An urge similar to rewatching the episodes of the original series.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Review of "Kingsman: The Red Diamond 1 of 6," by Rob Williams and Simon Fraser

 Review of

Kingsman: The Red Diamond 1 of 6, by Rob Williams and Simon Fraser

Four out of five stars

Introduction of a James Bond familiar

 This comic is the first of a six part series featuring a snappy dressing Englishman called Eggsy. In keeping with the Bond character, the opening captions have him in a car with a sexy woman and the discussion is hot with promise of sexual action. The setting is London and Eggsy is an agent for the British government. He receives a call on the videophone in a public cash machine informing him that a member of the Greek royal family has been kidnapped and threatened with death. Eggsy is to drop everything and attempt a rescue.

 While the agent is talented, that skill set is dwarfed by that of his car. It flies, exudes bombs and Eggsy uses it to rescue the Greek prince. In true Q fashion, he also has some rather effective gadgets on his person, and he exhibits some incredible athletic ability during the rescue. At the end, when the Greek prince is unappreciative of his acts, Eggsy does something that leads to the threat of his being fired.

 The story then takes a different turn, where Eggsy meets his mother, and the British class-conscious social mores are in full view. When Eggsy visits a bar in the area of his youth, he meets people he knew and is reminded of where he came from. When he asks a woman to go with him to another place, he is rebuffed with the standard comment, “You think you are better than us.”

 What makes this story resonate is that the private life of the hero agent is that of an ordinary man. He has been successful and is wealthy yet cannot escape his roots. Wearing the sharpest clothing leads to resentment rather than respect. It ends with an event that no one could envision James Bond experiencing.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Review of "Rough Weather," by Robert B. Parker

 Review of

Rough Weather, by Robert B. Parker ISBN 9780399155192

Five out of five stars

Wedding crashed by the gray man, unusual ending

The extremely wealthy and several times divorced Heidi Bradshaw comes to Spenser’s office and asks him to attend the wedding of her daughter Adelaide. Many rich and famous people will be in attendance and even though there will be a significant security detail present, Heidi also wants Spenser to attend as an item of her personal emotional support. Spenser agrees when told that he can bring Susan as well.

 Spenser’s old adversary the Gray Man breaks in immediately after the pronouncement of the marriage and kidnaps Adelaide. He shoots and kills some people in the process and the men with the Gray Man have eliminated all members of the security detail. The presence of Susan keeps Spenser from acting, for the Gray Man makes it clear that if he were to try anything, Susan would be his first target.

 Fired by Heidi after the event is completed, Spenser refuses to drop the case and begins prodding everyone that may have an interest in the lives of Heidi and Adelaide. He learns that Heidi married several men, all for their money and was nearly always sexually involved with more than one at a time. With Hawk at his side and with help from his friends in law enforcement, Spenser stirs the pot and foils one attempt to kill him. Which he finds odd, for the attempt was not in the style of the Gray Man. There is also no ransom note, odd for the kidnapping of the daughter of very wealthy parents.

 The reasons for the bizarre situation are not revealed until the very end, with a meeting between the Gray Man, Spenser and Hawk where all is finally revealed. The ending is unexpected and for a Spenser story against his most powerful adversaries, surprising in both the reasons and the lack of violence.

 The dialog is crisp and some of the best you will find in a Spenser novel. There are no wasted words, people talk only when they need to. This is arguably the best Spenser novel ever written.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Review of "Abraham Stone: Country Mouse, City Rat," by Joe Kubert

 Review of

Abraham Stone: Country Mouse, City Rat, by Joe Kubert ISBN 156398010x

Four out of five stars

Displaced farm boy seeks revenge in city

 Abraham Stone was a young man that has experienced several significant setbacks. His family moved to the frontier and carved a farm out of sixty acres in Pennsylvania. He was twelve and the oldest when his father died, so he was suddenly the man of the family, plowing the fields like all other adult males. When he was seventeen, agents of the railroad wanted their land. His mother and brother are killed after she signs the deed over and Abraham is also shot and left for dead. Still alive, he crawls out of the shallow grave and vows revenge. The boss of the killers is a man named Pullman

 That quest takes him into the city, and he encounters two men in a bar that taunt him. Totally underestimating Abraham’s capability, the two men are thoroughly thrashed in the presence of a powerful crime lord. This impresses the crime boss and Abraham is “recruited” to join his team. Given little choice, he joins the crime group and discovers the dark side of the business.

 However, this allows him to encounter Pullman at a social event. After some dangerous confrontations with the crime boss’s enforcers, the crime boss and then Pullman, Abraham emerges victorious. He is aided by a woman that is pursuing her own agenda, which coincides with his desire to destroy Pullman.

 This is a fairly standard person severely wronged seeking and achieving revenge story. The graphic novel format allows the author to express the anguish and turmoil of Abraham as he struggles to cope with his loss as well as fend his way through the city and plot his revenge against the evil forces he encounters. It is very well done.

Review of "Ros Hackney Halfback," by Charles Lawton

 Review of

Ros Hackney Halfback, by Charles Lawton

Four out of five stars

 Fits the formula of the thirties

 Ros Hackney is a powerfully built young man that plays in the backfield of the Clarksville football team. The football season is about to start, and Ros and his friends are attending the opening season campus rally with bonfire. This sets the stage for a difficult season where Ros not only has to battle his gridiron opponents, but also some of his jealous and resentful teammates.

This story fits into the basic formula of action/adventure stories written for young males in the nineteen thirties. There are no female characters of any kind, there is a constant struggle by the main character against a wide variety of opponents, many of Ros’ actions are quite noble and there is a victory in the big game at the end.

 Modern readers may find the story far too simplistic and somewhat bland in tone and structure. The main characters, all male, study and play football. Much of the football terminology will be confusing to people that follow the modern game. Yet, it is an interesting look back to a time when adventure stories did not include females and always had to end in a major victory at the end. Often with last second heroics by the main character. If you do not read it in possession of a historical frame of mind, you likely will find it dull.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Review of "Don Winslow Saves the Secret Formula," by Frank V. Martinek

 Review of

Don Winslow Saves the Secret Formula, by Frank V. Martinek

Four out of five stars

Action/adventure story of the early forties

 Written while Word War II was raging in Europe, but the United States was not yet involved, this is a story must stick to conventional non-alien villains. The basic premise is that the United States is in possession of chemical formulas for extremely deadly new gases that could be used to wipe out entire populations. The two heroes are U. S. Navy Commander Don Winslow and his faithful sidekick Lieutenant Red Pennington. Their main adversary is known as Scorpion and his sidekick is his daughter, known as the Mask.

 The Scorpion is a strong villain, suitable as an adversary of James Bond. His goal is world domination and the purpose of his acquiring the formulas for the extremely deadly gases is to pursue that aim. The Scorpion’s agents are everywhere, and the story opens with Don and Red in possession of the formulas on the way to a secluded lab where a expert chemist is conducting research.

 A major snowstorm intervenes on their way to the lab and their adventure becomes one of determining who can they trust. The Scorpion has a massive underground facility for residence and operations much like the Bond villains. There is no mention of the Scorpion having any international affiliation or backing.

 There are two women on the Winslow side of the battle, the daughter of a high-ranking naval officer and a large black woman that fits the stereotype used in the forties. The daughter provides some expansion of the plot, the black woman does not.

 This adventure is right out of the serials, the adventure moves along with miniature cliff hangers, failures that allow the story to move along. The Scorpion proves to be very elusive, very well financed and willing to allow his workers to be killed in order to advance his cause. Of course, the formulas are recovered, yet a great deal of room is left to continue the adventures of Don Winslow.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Review of "Joe Maddon: Hallelujah! We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1908," by Rich Wolfe

 Review of

Joe Maddon: Hallelujah! We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1908, by Rich Wolfe ISBN 9780692782729

Three out of five stars

Contains over the top accolades for Maddon

 As a longtime Cub fan, I deeply appreciate the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016, 108 years after their last one. That appreciation also extends to Joe Maddon, the genius that managed the Cubs to that title. This book is not a biography in the normal use of the term, it is a series of short segments written by people that have known Joe Maddon. Some know him through his work in baseball, others have encountered him in other walks of life.

 I found this book to be one of the most boring baseball books that I have ever read. The accolades read more like extreme marketing hype rather than actual descriptions of the man. For example, on page 138, Art Fischetti writes: “I’m not a fun guy, I’m a sports guy. Fun to me is fundamentals. Joe Maddon would be the Pope for me. I love the Pope. We all love the Pope. Joe Maddon is bigger than the Pope.”

 While accolades and praise are fine, there is a point where reading text like that over and over again causes you to reach the point where you just want to declare that you have read enough. He is also compared to John Wooden and Knute Rockne. Wooden won 10 NCAA basketball championships in 12 years and Rockne has the highest winning percentage of any coach in the history of NCAA football. While managing the Cubs to a World Series victory is a major achievement, longevity as a winner is what makes greatness. I found it difficult to read significant segments at one sitting.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Review of "More Misery," by Suzanne Heller

 Review of

More Misery, by Suzanne Heller

Basic truths of embarrassing situations

 This is a great book constructed from a series of events that are embarrassing and that all can understand. Furthermore, it is a near certainty that all readers will have experienced at least one of the situations. Each situation is presented with an image and short caption.

 For example:

“Misery is having soft bread and hard butter.”

“Misery is when you’re playing jump rope and you have loose underpants.”

“Misery is when everybody wears sneakers to school, and you have to wear Buster Browns.”

Life is full of small miseries that must be tolerated and overcome. It helps when you can laugh at them, the service provided by this book.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Review of "Barbarians: A Handbook for Aspiring Savages," by Dr. Byron Clavicle

 Review of

Barbarians: A Handbook for Aspiring Savages, by Dr. Byron Clavicle ISBN 9781608870240

Five out of five stars

Parody and pun parade

 This is an unusual book, designed to make fun of the barbarian genre, there are puns throughout along with some unusual and funny sight gags. For example, there is a series of six images with the caption “Sword-fighting practice: Alone.” The barbarian featured in the images of swordplay is seated on a toilet. Of course, no barbarian would ever use such a device.

 For example, there is a race of barbarians known as “the Atarians.” “The Atarians were an unusual , heavily magical race that vanished in the mid-1990s, taking much of their history with them.” Of course, this is a reference to the Atari game system that was so popular in that era. The “bible” of one sect of barbarians is called “the Moran” The “Holy Barbarella” of another sect of barbarians has “I, the Lord Am Your Rugburn” on the front cover.

 Wacky, sometimes hilarious and other times very subtly amusing, this is a fun book to read. In many ways the best part is appendix C, “A Barbarian Film Guide.” It has some very honest. albeit short reviews of the primary movies in the barbarian genre. It is alone worth the price of the book.

Review of "The Big Book of Superpowers," by Morris Katz

 Review of

The Big Book of Superpowers, by Morris Katz ISBN 9781941367247

Five out of five stars

How some superheroes were made

 Written at the level of the elementary school student, this book explains how some of the most popular DC comic book superheroes acquired their powers. Some, such as Superman and Supergirl, acquired them via natural processes, while Batman and Green Arrow became powerful through intense work and determination.

 There is nothing more interesting than learning the origins of superheroes, so this is a great book for young people. It can be used to explain and introduce some of the superheroes.

Review of "The Zen of Zim: Baseballs, Beanballs and Bosses," by Don Zimmer and Bill Madden

 Review of

The Zen of Zim: Baseballs, Beanballs and Bosses, by Don Zimmer and Bill Madden ISBN 0312334303

Five out of five stars

A grand old man of baseball speaks

 With a career in baseball that spanned portions of 8 decades, Zimmer witnessed dramatic changes in the game. From the integration of major league baseball to the dramatic rise in salaries, Astroturf and new stadiums, he was a part of it all. He was a marginal player that became a coach and manager once his playing days were over.

 This book is not an autobiography, although it has some of the elements of such works. It is a nonlinear expression of some of the events he was a part of. As a baseball name dropper, he mentions most of the great ones of over a half-century of major league baseball. Not only a mention, but specific events where they were involved. There is also mention of encounters with major political leaders.

There is little in the way of dirt, although when necessary he mentions the specific circumstances. Zimmer was also nearly became the second baseball fatality due to being hit by a pitch. His description of that event is more matter-of-fact than what you would expect.

 A baseball man to the core, Zimmer was a fixture in baseball for decades and one that belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Review of "Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson," by Barry Denenberg


Review of

Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson, by Barry Denenberg ISBN 0590425609

Five out of five stars

A successful struggle for equal opportunity

 While the United States now has a federal holiday celebrating the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he is arguably not the most important person in the civil rights movement in the U. S. There are many reasons to believe that the key role was played by Jackie Robinson.

 When he was signed and developed by Branch Rickey, there was a lot of opposition to the black Robinson playing in major league baseball. Ironically, some of the opposition was not racial, but economic. The owners of the stadiums where major league teams played believed that the Negro leagues would fold if black players were allowed in the major leagues. Those owners made a great deal of money leasing the stadiums for Negro league games. Even the owners of the teams in the Negro League were concerned, they (correctly) thought that black players in the major leagues would doom the Negro Leagues. There was also the fact that if blacks were allowed in the major leagues, many white players would lose their jobs. After all, it was no secret that many of the players in the Negro Leagues were superior to most white players.

 This book describes all of these economic issues without sacrificing coverage of the explicit and implicit racism within and surrounding baseball that Jackie had to overcome. Unlike others, Jackie had to simply endure all the verbal and occasional physical abuse. Once he proved to be successful, other teams were generally quick to sign and play black players. Had Robinson not prevailed, it is hard to see how the opportunities for other blacks to enter the major leagues would have opened up.

 Written at the YA level, all sides of the issue of Jackie Robinson’s entry into the major leagues are covered. In the end, not only did Jackie Robinson succeed on the field, but the owners also discovered that his presence did a great deal to improve their receipts at the box office.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Review of "Ten Days in a Mad-House," by Nellie Bly

 Review of

Ten Days in a Mad-House, by Nellie Bly ISBN 9781519649263

Five out of five stars

Act of a tough female investigative reporter

Elizabeth Jane Cochrane took the pen name Nellie Bly when she took a job with a newspaper. At first she was assigned only stories that dealt with women’s issues, but she pressed forward and was a pioneer in the creation of the field of investigative journalism. In order to learn how women deemed mentally ill were being treated, she feigned madness so that she could spend ten days in an asylum. This book is her report of her experiences.

 Sadistic nurses, indifferent physicians, cold baths, horrible food and inadequate clothing were her main reports. Bly found some of her fellow patients to be friendly, and when her story appeared in the “New York World” it was one of the first and most influential columns. As a consequence, more money was allocated for the asylum and there was more oversight that led to better treatment.

 It took a true act of courage for Bly to enter such a facility. Before she went in there were reports that the patients were dangerous and the conditions horrid. No one inside knew her true identity, so she was treated like all the others.

 A pioneer in her profession and for her gender, Nellie Bly will forever be remembered as a quality journalist.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Review of "The Beginnings of New York: Kingston, the First State Capital," by Mary Isabella Forsyth

 Review of

The Beginnings of New York: Kingston, the First State Capital, by Mary Isabella Forsyth

Five out of five stars

The Dutch origin of what became the state of New York

 Often lost in history is the fact that the state of New York began as the Dutch colony of New Netherland. What was to become New York city was originally called New Amsterdam. Since the Dutch state was at the time a republic that tolerated religious differences, many people went to the Dutch colony in order to be free to practice their brand of religion. Largely unmentioned in the history books is that the destination of the famous pilgrims of the Mayflower was the Dutch colony. They landed at Cape Cod and decided to stay there rather than travel to new Netherland.

 The Dutch settlers also developed very peaceful relations with the Native Americans. They engaged in a mutually beneficial trade, with one of the main commodities being furs. It was a Dutchman that bought Manhattan from the Native Americans.

 Kingston is a city some distance up the Hudson River that was also originally settled by the Dutch. Being more centrally located along trade  routes, it was the first capital of the state of New York and was a hotbed of anti-British sentiment in the American War of independence. As a consequence, the British burned the city during the war.

 While it is short, this pamphlet contains a lot of history that is not commonly reported. From it, the reader learns some details about the development of New York and why there is still a residue of the initial Dutch presence.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Review of "World’s Finite Cerebus Number 1," comic

 Review of

World’s Finite Cerebus Number 1, comic

Five out of five stars

Very clever use of mythological references

 I love the Cerebus comics, they are composed of classic images from mythological art modified with clever dialog balloons and the insertion of the Cerebus characters. For example, there is the page based on four instances of the classic image where Charon is ferrying Dante and Virgil across the river Styx to their destiny in the underworld. There are many bodies in the water, and it is clear that Cerebus has asked Charon what about the contents of the river.

Charon’s response: “Oh, it’s a pretty basic mixture of sputem, vomit, feces, snot, blood, hydrochloric acid and Mountain Dew.”

Cerebus: “Who did you say these people were? Heretics? Lunatics? Terrorists?”

Charon: “People who urinate in public pools.”

 Other classic images are used on the other pages, but all have the same clever and entertaining takes on life and looking at it in the most skewed possible manner. Readers unfamiliar with mythology will have some difficulty totally appreciating this comic, but if that is the case, I encourage you to do the necessary research.

Review of "Who is Shadowhawk 1," Comic by Image Comics published in August 1992

 Review of

Who is Shadowhawk 1, Comic by Image Comics published in August 1992

Four out of five stars

Sets a great deal of context for a questionable hero

 This is the first issue in a series of 4 featuring a vigilante called Shadow Hawk. Violent crime is rampant in the city and an individual dons an armored costume and lures the baddest of the bad into confrontations. This is not a gentle reaction; blood flows and the spines of the assailants are snapped. The police are frustrated and aggressively trying to prevent the character known as Shadowhawk from claiming more victims.

 On the confirmed bad side is a character that calls himself Arson. He wears a fireproof suit and armed with two powerful flame throwers, burns things down. It is clear that the storyline is headed for a confrontation between these two characters.

 A female reporter named Anthonette is screaming at her editor boss for permission to cover the actions of Shadowhawk, but he flat out refuses, citing a directive from the mayor’s office. Frustrated, Anthonette goes to the owner of the newspaper to plead her case. This helps introduce a beautiful and seductive villainess that exudes sexuality directed at both genders.

 As the first in a series of four issues that together describe a story, this comic manages to cover all of the preliminary issues regarding the heroes, villains and those that may go both ways.

Review of "The Weil Conjectures: On Math and the Pursuit of the Unknown," by Karen Olsson

 Review of

The Weil Conjectures: On Math and the Pursuit of the Unknown, by Karen Olsson ISBN 9781250619570

Five out of five stars

Three-way look at issues

 As a mathematician, I was familiar with the work of Andre Weil. He was a founder and early leader of the Bourbaki group, mathematicians that worked together and published under the name Nicolas Bourbaki. Weil also developed many significant results on his own, some of his conjectures, statements of belief that were at that time unproven, led others to make significant advancements in mathematics. Hence, the origin of the title.

 Weil also had a brilliant sister named Simone, she was a first-rate philosopher known for her approaches often based on mysticism. She was also a very left-wing political radical, promoting Marxism and even joining the forces of the Spanish Republic during the Civil War. While she used a gun, her eyesight was so poor that her fellow soldiers did not let her participate. Very early in the thirties, she concluded that the fascists would rise to power in Germany. The author is a novelist that graduated from Harvard University with a degree in mathematics.

 The book takes a disjointed three-track approach to explaining the lives and achievements of three people, Andre and Simone Weil as well as herself. Structurally, there is a segment on one person, shifting to a segment about another and then to the third. The only real connections are the sibling relationship between the Weils as well as when the author studied their work.

 Despite this seeming convolution, Olsson pulls off an excellent rendition of a popular work on mathematics. The reader learns many things about Simone, a dynamic woman of strong opinions that did not hesitate to express them forcefully. She is said to be one of the few people that was ever able to hold their own in a debate with Leon Trotsky.

 This is a great book, there is some mathematics, but the real topic is how three people worked their way through complicated issues in their pursuit of personal and professional goals.

Review of The Treeless Plain, by Glen Rounds

 Review of

The Treeless Plain, by Glen Rounds

Four out of five stars

Making do with what’s available

 When the people of the United States engaged in their inexorable push westward, in the states east of the Mississippi river there were plenty of trees for building homes and outbuildings. However, when the great plains were reached, the first thought was that it was uninhabitable by settlers. The first response was for the people moving west to travel all the way to Oregon rather than attempt to live in the plains.

 Yet, the desire for land was so great that people began homesteading on the prairie and were forced to use what was available for shelter. The first dwellings were nothing more than dugouts, dirt caves dug into the sides of small hills. Because there was little in the way of solid structure, the elements quickly led to their falling apart.

 An upgrade to this was the house made of sod. People discovered that blocks of sod made from the native prairie grass were easily stacked into walls and provided shelter from the heat and cold. The first houses had canvas sheets for doors and window, but the first improvements were a wooden door and a window made of waxed fabric.

 These advancements in the construction of homes are described in this book and is an illustration of human ingenuity. Wherever, humans establish permanent residence, the first dwellings are built from whatever is available at little to no cost. It is a good book about the westward movement of the American frontier, in that it demonstrates how one of the fundamental hurdles was overcome.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Review of "The Sixth Man," by John Feinstein

 Review of

The Sixth Man, by John Feinstein ISBN 9780385753500

Five out of five stars

Great modern example of YA sports fiction

 While this story adheres to the “winning the big game at the end in dramatic fashion” form of the YA sports fiction genre, it is very modern in the context. First off, it has females other than mothers in lead roles. So many of the classics of adolescent sports fiction have limited to no female characters. The main female character here is a strong personality named Christine and she is a no-nonsense reporter for the high school newspaper.

 Alex is a multi-sport star at his high school and the story opens with the start of the basketball season right after the end of the football season. Alex was almost able to lead his football team to the state title. In this case, there is dissension on the team, for at the first few practices, it is clear that Alex and his friend Jonas are much more skilled than their counterpart senior starters.

 The team does well, but really takes off when the golden boy Max arrives as a transfer. Like Alex, Max’s parents are separated/divorced and he lives with his mother. Both boys have strained to non-existent relationships with their fathers. This is also one aspect of the story that makes it very modern. Finally, it is not long after he arrives that Max reveals that he is gay. This sets off a dual confrontation, where the basketball team must stick together when they are to play for the championship and have to deal with anti-gay violence and smears.

 This is a great story, there is a lot of tension built up to the dramatic finish, Feinstein packs a lot of subtle and explicit action and social commentary into a sports story.

Review of "Snow Treasure," by Marie McSwigan

 Review of

Snow Treasure, by Marie McSwigan

Five out of five stars

Not the claimed true story, but still a great adventure

 There is no disputing the fact that the Norwegian gold reserves were somehow smuggled out of the country after the Germans invaded and occupied Norway in 1940. The gold ended up in the United States, where it was kept in storage until Germans were defeated. According to some accounts that have not truly been verified, the gold was transported in Norway from the storage vault to the transport ship by children on their sleds. While this seems unlikely, it does make for a great plot that is expressed in this book.

 After the Germans took control of Norway, most people did as little as possible to aid the Germans, although there were a few collaborators. Peter Lundstrom and the other children of the town of Riswyk are approached with a plan to load gold bars hidden in the bank aboard their sleds and transport it to a cave where men can then load it on a fishing boat that will sail to America. They are brave young teens, for all know that if they are discovered, the Germans will likely have the people doing the smuggling shot.

 All know that some of the Norwegians will betray their country to the Germans, so all must be careful when speaking. The Germans are depicted as posting harsh decrees yet are presented as having some vestige of politeness toward the Norwegian population.

 It is a great example of YA fiction, the children are depicted as heroes, but not in an exaggerated manner. While it likely did not happen, the story is depicted in a manner that presents it as a plausible happenstance.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Review of "The Case of the Fugitive Nurse," by Erle Stanley Gardner

 Review of

The Case of the Fugitive Nurse, by Erle Stanley Gardner

Four out of five stars

Follows the formula, yet unique

 The Perry Mason novels by Erle Stanley Gardner follow a basic formula. An unusual client comes in and presents a case that is clearly not what they claim. Intrigued, Mason agrees to take the case and suddenly unusual twists pop out everywhere. Mason is suddenly in a bind with the law and his old foe Hamilton Burger is out to even the score, willing to stretch the prosecutorial bounds if necessary. The case then reaches the point where there is apparently an impossible dead end. However, as only Gardner can, he has Mason dig out the truth and the guilty parties are all identified.

 In this case, the client is the wife of a very successful physician that has supposedly recently died in a plane crash. She suspects her husband of siphoning off revenues from his practice and the IRS also has their suspicions. She hires Mason to find what she thinks is $100,000 in missing money.

 Yet, almost immediately, it is clear that the client has set Mason up. There is an opened and empty safe, the head nurse for the doctor that is also the keeper of the books is also missing and a mysterious best friend of the doctor of unknown whereabouts.

 The only flaw in the plot is that the police and the prosecutor act like fools, never even trying to determine if the corpse in the plane is in fact the missing doctor. One of the key witnesses vanishes from under the supervision of the police and through it all Mason’s arch-foe Hamilton Burger fumes and arrogantly postures.

 It is a good story, one that keeps you gripped through the last pages as the scenario has been laid for what is the climactic courtroom scene where Mason lays it all down in logical sequence.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Review of "MacArthur’s Undercover War: Spies, Saboteurs, Guerrillas and Secret Missions," by William B. Breuer

 Review of

MacArthur’s Undercover War: Spies, Saboteurs, Guerrillas and Secret Missions, by William B. Breuer ISBN 9780785820482

Five out of five stars

A story of incredible heroism

 When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, they appeared to be unstoppable and there was concern that all of Asia would be added to their domain. Yet, in the darkest of times immediately after the American forces in Bataan and Corregidor surrendered, there were those that remained in the Philippines and continued the fight. Some were given orders to become part of the Japanese designated native officials while engaged in espionage while others took to the jungles and engaged in guerrilla warfare against the superior Japanese forces.

 The Japanese were ruthless in their treatment of enemy POWs and the native populations. Therefore, to resist the Japanese in any way and to be discovered meant torture and death. Sometimes, even the mere suspicion was enough to be killed. Therefore, the people that fought back were very courageous. Some of the bravest were the men that volunteered to be transported into enemy territory in order to gather intelligence. Although most survived, as they were being planned, they were openly considered suicide missions.

 This is a fascinating book in that it describes a side of the Pacific war rarely mentioned. Specifically, the ways that the native people resisted the Japanese rule and how they suffered for it. Most of the historical coverage is about the major battles, this book describes the background intelligence gathering that reduced Allied casualties. They had the right stuff needed to win wars.

MacArthur is described as incredibly brave, going into and remaining upright in combat zones as the bombs and bullets were flying. There is little to no criticism of his tactics, as he moved his forces from island to island destroying the enemy or bypassing them and letting them rot away.

Review of "Focusing on Davis County’s Past: A Pictorial History of Davis County," edited by Gary Spurgeon

 Review of

Focusing on Davis County’s Past: A Pictorial History of Davis County, edited by Gary Spurgeon

Five out of five stars

Example of the same only different

 This collection of images taken in Davis County, Iowa show scenes that are of course unique in specifics, yet very similar to what could be collected in most other counties in the Midwest. Herds of Holstein cattle, sheep, horses pulling wagons and machinery are common. From that, there is the transition to motorized transportation and machinery.

 There is also a transition in the buildings used for education. Images of the one-room local schoolhouses, to larger buildings as consolidation took place until the buildings are large and made of brick.

 The reader can clearly see the towns change as they expand and modernize. In an early image of Bloomfield, a large herd of sheep is being herded across town from one pasture to another. Later images have paved streets with large numbers of parked cars.

 Most people find it interesting to look through collections of images that demonstrate how things in a region have changed over time. This collection will not disappoint.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Review of "Comical Confessions of Clever Comedians," by P. F. Pitzer

 Review of

Comical Confessions of Clever Comedians, by P. F. Pitzer

Four out of five stars

Reads like a series of vaudeville acts

 Published in 1904, the authors of the comedic routines in this book were almost certainly vaudeville performers. They sound like bits that would have been delivered on a small stage to a live audience. The humor is largely based on puns that are simple and based on subjects that would be well known to almost all audiences.

 Many topics are used as background material, from baseball to the military to the circus. This book is an interesting look back at what was popular humor at the beginning of the twentieth century.