Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Review of "The Pacific War 1931-1945." by Saburo Ienaga

 Review of

The Pacific War 1931-1945. by Saburo Ienaga ISBN 0394734963

Five out of five stars

Japanese academic history of Japanese society

 In the Western academic world, the overwhelming majority of analysis of how a society can be molded into a total war machine is concentrated on Nazi Germany. How the people of Germany could be quickly molded into a society that supported a brutal war with genocidal traits.  Comparatively little scholarship has been done regarding how Japanese society was molded by militarists into one that was willing to go to war with literally half the world. This book is an attempt to explain how Japanese society went from one with a constitution, a nearly independent judiciary and political parties into one where the merest hint of opposition to the wars being launched by Japan could lead to arrest and even death.

 Ienaga starts with describing the liberal elements that were a fundamental component of Japanese society in the 1920’s and how they were slowly eroded over time. There was a small, but significant Communist movement in the country as well as many intellectuals that argued forcefully for Japan to adopt a course of cooperation with other nations, including China. He describes how all aspects of the society, down to elementary school instruction, were changed into means whereby racist slurs were leveled against the Chinese. The Chinese were dehumanized to the point where their killing was a noble, honorable task to be conducted.

 Ienaga is open about describing the behavior of Japanese troops when they occupied other countries. While making statements about liberation from the Western colonial forces, the people of the occupied countries learned very quickly that the Japanese occupation was a more brutal and exploitative force than the Western countries executed.

 This is one of the best books about Japanese society and how it changed so that the war that started in China in 1931 and lasted until 1945 could take place. Unlike many other Japanese authors that deny what the Japanese military did to others, Ienaga is honest, forceful and spares no fact.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Review of "Cats, Cats, Cats: A Collection of Great Cat Cartoons," edited by Sam Gross

 Review of

Cats, Cats, Cats: A Collection of Great Cat Cartoons, edited by Sam Gross

Five out of five stars

Human/feline interaction captured in cartoons

 As the “owner” of at least one cat nearly all of my adult life, I appreciate and enjoy the reciprocal ownership relationship. This book of cartoons captures the dual relationship between the two species. Everything from the human with many cats to solitary cats doing unusual things are the topics covered.

 My favorite is on page 99 and has three males and one female at a table, clearly discussing a book manuscript. The woman is saying, “I tell you, the book has everything – sex, history, consciousness, and cats!” In the minds of many, the ingredients of a sure bestseller.

 If you fall anywhere from the deep lover of felines to someone that just likes them on occasion, this is a book that you will find amusing and full of facts about how cats and humans interact.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Review of "Siege Avengers: The Initiative," by Christos N. Gage

 Review of

Siege Avengers: The Initiative, by Christos N. Gage et. al. ISBN 9780785148173

Five out of five stars

Norman Osborn has been appointed the authority over every aspect of the American security apparatus. Determined to expand and assert his power, he establishes “the Initiative,” an organization of superhumans that are present in all 50 states and personally loyal to him. Led by the Taskmaster, the decision has been made to invade and conquer Asgard. The forces of the Initiative are so powerful they are able to emerge victorious in their fight against the Asgardians.

 The Avengers Resistance then comes together to join the fight against the Initiative. They have a chance to defeat the Initiative if they can manage to keep their internal divisions and relationships under control. The battle is depicted in the manner commonly used in the modern comics, hard blows to the face with blood and sweat flying off the face of the one that was hit. Furthermore, in keeping with the modern trend, some of the captions overflow with action. As many as twenty antagonists are packed into full-page scenes. Reminders of which character is which are also included on many occasions.

 The superhero comic books have changed along with society, with diversity in gender and race part of the fundamentals. The facial expressions of both heroes and villains are extreme and the females are depicted as just as tough and hard as the males. With lots of action from all players, this is a graphic novel where you often stop and take significant time to mentally absorb everything that is on the page.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Review of "The Mighty Avengers: The Unspoken," by Dan Slott et. al.

 Review of

The Mighty Avengers: The Unspoken, by Dan Slott et. al. ISBN 9780785138167

Four out of five stars

Inhuman and a new group of Avengers plot tracks

The current king of the inhumans has a name that is redacted in the text, hence unspoken. He is a powerful and feared man, yet some of the inhumans led by Prince Black Bolt dare challenge his position. The issue is the ownership of the slave engine, a device of great power that is traditionally the property of all the inhumans. After a battle, the unspoken is evicted from the realm of the inhumans and ends up in Tibet.

 Location then shifts to Hank Pym’s lab, where a collection of Avengers is being assembled. The building is the Infinite Avengers Mansion and after some oohs and aahs, they begin settling in. This is followed by a shift back to Tibet, where the People’s Defense Force group of superpowered beings has encountered the unspoken.

 There are many battles between groups with powers as well as against the unspoken. There is a lot of “PZOW,” “KTAM,” “VOMP” and SHAKKAASSHH” action, even to the extent of being overdone. There is a victory at the end, but the dialog is not among the best of the Marvel genre. One of the most compelling aspects of the Marvel comics has always been the snappy and often irreverent dialog between the characters. That is somewhat lacking in this story.

 While it is a good story, there is too much verbal sound effect action and not enough verbal embellishment interaction between the characters.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Review of "Vampire Tales: Volume 1," edited by Mark D. Beazley

 Review of

Vampire Tales: Volume 1, edited by Mark D. Beazley ISBN 9780785146445

Five out of five stars

Stories of one of the most popular classes of villains

 Vampires and zombies have great appeal and staying power as villains as they go up against normal people. Many stories have been written about vampires from the classic novel by Bram Stoker. Like many of the greatest fiction stories of all time, there is a bit of fact backing up the fiction. There is in fact a condition known as clinical vampirism, or an obsession with drinking blood.

 The stories in this collection all appeared in comic form under the Marvel label. Some are basic vampire stories involving mysterious men wearing capes, yet in other stories the vampires are female. Some of the best stories involve Morbius, a man of science that was suffering from a deadly blood disease. He was able to cure that affliction, but in a manner where the cure was worse than the disease. He was turned into a vampire with an uncontrollable blood lust that must be quenched. In an unusual twist, he experiences great remorse after he has drained the lifeblood from his latest victim. In a form of compensation, he becomes a bit of a vigilante, protecting the weak from the “normal” human predators.

 Frightening, yet titillating, vampires are monsters that arouse odd passions in humans. They love them yet are often terrified when they see them doing what they do on a screen. In this case, they are in comic and fine form.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Review of "The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Volume 3," by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

 Review of

The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Volume 3, by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley ISBN 9781563898723

Five out of five stars

It is indeed a dark time, the Dark Knight is fighting back

The good heroes are rallying, and some progress has been made against the oppressive forces. Among other things, the Dark Knight has been captured by Lex Luthor, in this case he is drawn to match the image of the obese, ugly brutal executioners of medieval times. Lex is torturing the Dark Knight, yet he seems undisturbed, saying that his only goal is to see that Lex dies.

 The forces controlling the country are so powerful that the Congress votes unanimously to authorize the President to use whatever force is needed to subdue the country. Including the possible use of nuclear weapons. Just when Lex thinks he has the Dark Knight at his mercy, other forces arrive to turn the tables. There are heroes on both sides of the battle, so the good side does not have a monopoly on the ability to do great feats.

 There is some humor within the dark treatment of a very dystopic world. There are cameos by several famous people, including Elvis Presley, Pope John Paul II, columnist George F. Will, Attorney General John Ashcroft, a religious fanatic, what I believe is talk show host John McLaughlin as well as Bat-Mite.

 This is a wild and dark tale of a dystopic world where America has been taken over by totalitarian forces. Within all of this there is some wild dialog, where even an adult movie actress is presented as a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Review of "The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Volume 1," by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

 Review of

The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Volume 1, by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley ISBN  1563898705

Five out of five stars

The dark knight works in dark times

 There have been many changes in the United States. It is now ruled as a ruthless dictatorship where dissent is not tolerated. Nearly all of the superheroes have been either captured or controlled, only a few remain free to try to overturn the oppressive social order.

 The story opens with a man battling with primitive tools against a powerful aquatic monster. He is victorious and then is welcomed by Caroline Keene Kelley in a leopard outfit. The man is Professor Palmer, also known as The Atom. He has been held prisoner by the oppressors that used his own technology against him.

 The rescue is a challenging one, some of the heroes have banded together in an attempt to retake the country from the despotic forces now in control. The rescue is being orchestrated by Batman, a.k.a. the Black Knight. Superman is compromised, now essentially an ally of the ruthless leaders that will not hesitate to kill to maintain power.

 While the heroes do make progress, it is a very dark time for the world, for the battle is an uphill one. Although Superman is now aged, so are the other heroes and he is still a formidable opponent. It is clear that the despotic forces cannot be defeated as long as Superman is a viable tool for them to use.

 This story ends on a hero-vs-hero note. The good ones are on an uphill trajectory against the evil ones and those that control them, but the slope is steep with many hazards.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Review of "The Speckled Band: A Sherlock Holmes Drama," original story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by Alan Lance Andersen

 Review of

The Speckled Band: A Sherlock Holmes Drama, original story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by Alan Lance Andersen

Four out of five stars

A play based on the Sherlock Holmes short story

 While nearly everyone knows of the Sherlock Holmes character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, few know that he was also a playwright. This play was originally written by Doyle for the stage and had a very successful run. It is of course based on the short story by the same name. This version has been modified by the editor to make it more in conformance to the original story and to incorporate elements of other adaptations. It retains the basic flair of Holmes, a man of many skills and a serious drug habit.

 The play has a strong, ruthless villain that plays the role of a caring stepfather. While he thinks he is a match for Holmes, it is clear very soon that Holmes remains several steps ahead of him. Like all plays, much of the enjoyment is in the execution by the actors. Facial expressions and intonation do a great deal in imparting the emotional drama of attempted murder and mayhem. Therefore, while it reads well, one reserves a bit of judgement until it is seen in action.

Review of "Managing With Carrots: Using Recognition to Attract and Retain the Best People," by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

 Review of

Managing With Carrots: Using Recognition to Attract and Retain the Best People, by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton ISBN 1586850776

Five out of five stars

What really works to please quality employees

 This book is not unique in presenting the main theme, that beyond a basic point, additional monetary rewards are not the most powerful force keeping employees happy. That point has been made in many books and articles about the art of people management. What the employees want is challenging, meaningful work and being told that they did it well. Hence the main title of this book.

 Most of the standard, yet simple actions to used to inform people of a job well done are stated, as well as how not to do them. Nearly all are monetarily inexpensive yet require some effort and at times humility by a manager. Some managers are reluctant, even to the point of refusal, to acknowledge that the success of the team is due to the actions of underlings.

 Short, but effective, this is a book that should be read and intellectually digested by all managers.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Review of "Bird: The Tattoo," by Carlos Trillo and Juan Bobillo

 Review of

Bird: The Tattoo, by Carlos Trillo and Juan Bobillo ISBN 1569716315

Four out of five stars

An unusual and depressing graphic novel

 The title character is an often naked, bald and skinny female that is also heavy into pills. Targeted for assassination by a very large and powerful man, she greets him by asking that he allow her to take her pills first. Agreeable, the potential assassin gives her the opportunity to explain her life.

 Her story begins in some form of asylum where she manages to escape nearly naked out into a severe snowstorm. The adventures continue in the building of some form of an alliance of the most bizarre form. A skinny, naked woman and a massive man with a mandate to kill her. Fortunately, there is no precise instructions on the how and the means.

 I was so puzzled by this book that I read it twice. There are twists and turns to the story, yet at the end there is a resolution and an unlikely hero. Unlike many graphic novels, there is very little in the way of violence, it is there, but contained and generally threatened rather than actual. If you are a fan of the bizarre, you will like this book.

Review of "Offensive Conduct: My Life on the Line," by John “Hog” Hannah

 Review of

Offensive Conduct: My Life on the Line, by John “Hog” Hannah ISBN 9781600788604

Four out of five stars

An honest rendition of Hannah’s life

 John Hannah was a superb football player, making his name as an offensive lineman. There is no doubt that he was one of the best, “Sports Illustrated” ran an article stating that he was the best. While a good deal of what he experienced is similar to what others have reported, his experiences are unique.

 What is well known now in retrospect is how ruthlessly authoritarian college football coaches were. Hannah played for the University of Alabama under the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant. Bryant’s treatment of his players was often cruel in the physical and psychological sense. Words of praise were extremely rare; players were motivated by fear and intimidation. Such reporting was simply not done decades ago.

 Hannah describes his focus on football to the general exclusion of all other things as well as how the growth of his ego sometimes overwhelmed him. Again, this is a common trait among  athletes at the highest level. He also details his physical problems as the battering his body took on the gridiron had a cumulative effect. With the growing honesty about brain damage and other injuries in the NFL, Hannah’s experiences are also quite common.

 As sports autobiographies go, this one is better than most. It is honest, there is little in the way of self-promotion or excuses, and he explains but does not dwell on his poor treatment by Patriots management.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Review of "Mary and Her Little Lamb," by Will Moses

 Review of

Mary and Her Little Lamb, by Will Moses ISBN 9780399251542

Five out of five stars

Great origin story

 Many of the verses considered nursery rhymes have a factual basis of origin and the classic “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is one of them. A girl by the name of Mary Elizabeth Sawyer attended the Redstone School in Sudbury, Massachusetts and when she was young a very small and sickly lamb was born. Concerned that it would die, Mary took it into their house and carefully nursed it to health.

 As it grew older, the lamb and Mary played together as the lamb was Mary’s only playmate. She dressed it up and they played games together. When Mary went to school, the lamb literally followed her and walked in to lay down under her desk. A man named John Roulstone was visiting the school that day and witnessed the lamb following Mary in the building. He came back the next day and handed Mary a poem that he had written about the event. It was eight lines long and was the basis for the song and verse we know today. Over the years, the basic poem has been expanded and the music has been added to construct the modern song.

 This story is one that children will relate to and enjoy. Everyone knows some of the song and verse and it is a joy to learn how one of the simplest and most popular songs was created. It is the first thing that I played when I was learning to play the saxophone.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Review of "Dog Man and Cat Kid" by Dav Pilkey

 Review of

Dog Man and Cat Kid by Dav Pilkey ISBN 9780545935180

Five out of five stars

Unusual in that a classic novel is mentioned in a graphic novel

 The opening premise is that when a male cop and a police dog are injured in an explosion, the body of the dog and the head of the cop are destroyed. In an unusual attempt to salvage something, the head of the dog is grafted onto the body of the cop. Hence is born Dog Man. More dog than man or cop, he also is a crime fighter known as Barkman.

 In this story, which opens with a mention of the Steinbeck classic, “East of Eden,” Dogman acquires a sidekick called Cat Kid. He is the clone of the evil Petey, an adult cat that plays the role of the villain. The story is disjointed, yet understandable, and excellent graphic novel for the late elementary school reader.

 Because the events are so incongruous and follow no real plot of sequential events, while the humor is juvenile, it also appeals to adults. It was a fun book to read, it takes little time and is a specific example of light reading.

Review of "40 Fabulous Math Mysteries Kids Can’t Resist," by Martin Lee and Marcia Miller

 Review of

40 Fabulous Math Mysteries Kids Can’t Resist, by Martin Lee and Marcia Miller ISBN 9780439175401

Five out of five stars

Great math/logic puzzles suitable for grades 4-8

 These puzzles are very well done and are just the right mix of difficulty. They feature the 13-year-old twins Emma and Will that are faced with challenging circumstances that they must resolve. Some of them are very easy to resolve if you know some basic facts of the world. For example, the solution to one is based on the fact that the page number on the left of an open book is even. Others require slightly deeper knowledge while some will likely require a bit of writing down of the various possibilities so that they can be cross-referenced.

 If you are a teacher of mathematics or want to give your children the opportunity to engage in reasonable mental challenges, then this is a book you should examine. None of the math is hard and couched in the form of a simple mystery some of the math is a bit disguised.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Review of "Stadium Stories: Iowa Hawkeyes," by Buck Turnbull

 Review of

Stadium Stories: Iowa Hawkeyes, by Buck Turnbull, ISBN 0762738197

Five out of five stars

Many fond memories revisited

As a lifelong resident of Eastern Iowa, I grew up and have spent my adult life following the Iowa football team. The games were always on the radio and the announcers were familiar. There were many down years of poor performance, yet there have been many spectacular plays, some of which won the game in the last seconds. I was fortunate enough to have seen most of them live, this book is a combination general history as well as a revisitation of those great moments.

 As I read this book I went online so that I could relive the great moments. Chuck Long on a bootleg to defeat Michigan State in the final seconds, Rob Houghtlin’s last second field goal to defeat Michigan, Marv Cook catching a last-second touchdown pass to beat Ohio State and the best of all, Drew Tate to Warren Holloway in a 56-yard touchdown pass in the last play of the game. I vividly remember where I was when these events happened.

 Reliving those great moments online and in print still sends tingles through my body, it simply doesn’t get any better than that.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Review of "Killer Ants," by Nicholas Nirgiotis

 Review of

Killer Ants, by Nicholas Nirgiotis ISBN 9780823420346

Five out of five stars

Five out of five stars

Yes, they really are killers

 There have been several movies where colonies of ants were encountered and led to the deaths of one or more of the players. This is one example of the dangers of nature that are not exaggerated. There are species of ants where even the largest and mightiest of animals cannot stand against them, for they devour everything in their path. Fortunately, when they are on the move, they are easy to avoid, as they generally follow a narrow path and don’t travel very fast.

 The deadliest of ant species are featured in this book. They are the army ants, driver ants, fire ants and bulldog ants. As the final section states, ants are one of nature’s most successful life forms. Where the killers live, they are at the apex of the predator chain, keeping insects and other species they prey on in check.

 Written at the level of the middle school student, this is an excellent book about one of the most fascinating of creatures. In many ways they are a demonstration of the superior nature of the hive society.

Review of "The Jim Wilson Story," by George F. Day

 Review of

The Jim Wilson Story, by George F. Day

Five out of five stars

A short story about survival with assistance

 Jim Wilson was an Iowa boy that joined the military in World War II and served aboard an American bomber that flew over Germany. When the plane was hit and severely damaged, the pilot gave the crew the option of bailing out or staying with the plane until it crash landed. Wilson was one that chose to bail out. He landed in Dutch territory and was hidden by the underground until the Allies retook the part of western Europe where he was hidden. His family had received word that he was missing an action and they did not know he was alive until he was interviewed by a reporter from WHO-TV in Des Moines that was touring the camps interviewing people from Iowa.

 The story is short, but it packs a lot of courage and resolve. Hiding from the Germans was both difficult and hazardous. Death could come at any time for both the members of the underground and the people they were hiding. It is a story with a happy ending, Wilson returned to the United States, resumed his life and did a good deal of work for and with veterans.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Review of "Don Winslow Breaks the Spy Net," by Frank V. Martinek

 Review of

Don Winslow Breaks the Spy Net, by Frank V. Martinek

Four out of five stars

The battle against the Scorpion continues

 Published in 1941, this book predates the direct involvement of the United States in World War II. However, it was raging in Europe and China at the time, so there are references to what was to come. Don Winslow and his buddy Red Pennington are operatives of U. S. naval intelligence and once again do battle against the forces of the international spymaster known as the Scorpion. He is a worthy adversary, having the guile, financial resources and ruthlessness of a Bond villain.

 In this case, national secrets regarding new devices have been stolen along with a list of agents. The Scorpion’s operatives are clearly responsible, and they lead Don and Red into a recurring fight that leaves people on both sides of the fight injured or dead. Even innocents such as medical people are killed without remorse.

 While it is very formulaic in the sense that it is one story in a series featuring the main adversaries, this story is still a good one. It is an example of the YA adventure stories for boys that slightly predate the U. S. involvement in World War II. Even though the Scorpion loses a round, he lives to fight another day and with the resources of a Bond villain, the setback will only be temporary.