Saturday, October 30, 2021

Review of "Blackballed by History: True Tales of History’s Most Demonized Characters," compiled by Paul T. Angel

 Review of

Blackballed by History: True Tales of History’s Most Demonized Characters, compiled by Paul T. Angel ISBN 9780988199750

One out of five stars

Pathetic attempts to rewrite history

 As a longtime student of history, I have read many history books, both popular and academic. This one has to rank close to the bottom in terms of enjoyable reading and accurate content. It was clear to me that this was such a book when I encountered the following in the foreword: “ Establishment historians – the court historians, as we in the authentic history movement call them – have a way of twisting things, like your daily paper and the talking heads on TV do.” In other words, we are right because we declare we are right, and all the other professional students of history are wrong.

 Nothing could be further from the truth. The articles collected in this book contain the usual nonsensical distortions, comments such as “the war of Northern aggression” and in the article about Quantrill and his raiders: “They were no different than the patriots of the American Revolution, and the only line of defense left in Missouri against Socialist Marxists who were doing the bidding of Abraham Lincoln.” Given that “Das Kapital” was first published in 1867, two years after the war ended, it is ridiculous to claim that Abraham Lincoln was operating on Marxist principles.

 The worst article by far is by Waffen SS General Leon Degrelle, who was a Belgian that volunteered for service in the German military in World War II. He venerates Hitler and Mussolini, assigning them attributes they simply did not have. The worst claim is that Hitler made German science even greater, when in fact his persecutions gutted the German scientific community. Many of the scientists that built the atomic bomb in America fled Europe when Hitler came to power.

 One of the most worthless books ever written, it is everything from a big lie to an anti-Semitic diatribe.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Review of "Chelsey and the Green-haired Kid," by Carol Gorman

 Review of

Chelsey and the Green-haired Kid, by Carol Gorman ISBN 0671787136

Four out of five stars

Modern YA mystery story

 Chelsey is a thirteen-year-old girl that has been confined to a wheelchair for years as a consequence of a car accident. Jack is a recent arrival at her school, and he comes with a reputation as consistently being in serious trouble and he sports a head of green hair. Chelsey is on the ground floor of a gymnasium when she witnesses (out of the corner of her eye) a boy being pushed from the top of the bleachers. He lands on the floor and his injuries prove fatal. Although she is convinced that the boy was pushed, making it a murder, Chelsey did not get a really good look at the person that she believes did the pushing.

 Circumstances, including some clear danger, drive Chelsey and Jack into an investigative partnership. The first moves are quite tentative due to Jack’s reputation, yet Chelsey quickly finds herself falling into significant liking of Jack. They prove to be a good team, with very complementary mental processes as they identify the likely suspect and pursue some rather obvious clues.

 A police detective proves to be very helpful, and Chelsey’s parents are very supportive. Jack has no engaged father, and his mother is characterized as a drunk. Together, they track down the culprits after a climactic escape that involves a wheelchair trek down Suicide Hill.

 This is a good story, easily understood and involving characters that the YA readership can relate to.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Review of "Throwback: A Big-league Catcher Tells How the Game is Really Played," by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge

 Review of

Throwback: A Big-league Catcher Tells How the Game is Really Played, by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge ISBN 9781250031839

Five out of five stars

An honest look inside major league baseball

 Many people complain that baseball is boring compared to other sports such as football and basketball. In one sense it is true, other sports have a time clock and there is a great deal more physical movement. However, if you truly understand the game, it will keep you riveted as you watch for all the subtle changes in strategy that take place as the game progresses and even from pitch to pitch. Defensive players will move a short distance from left to right depending on what pitch is coming, what the count is and how the batter is behaving at the plate.

 It is a truism that the catcher is the field general when their team is on defense. They not only call the pitch, they also direct the movement of the players as well as where the ball should be thrown. They have to know about how their pitcher is performing as well as how the opposing batters handle specific situations. It has been said that when Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey met a former opponent, he said, “I don’t recall your name, but you were a sucker for a high inside curve.”

 Kendall is a former catcher that played in the major leagues for over a decade and was a hard-nosed player. In this book he expresses those sentiments as well as giving the reader an inside look at how players conduct themselves. This includes a long list of the unwritten rules and how you should respond when they are broken. Short and long-term strategies for getting simple and crucial outs are also discussed. It is an excellent look into how players approach the game in general and Kendall in particular.

 Fortunately, this is not a book containing the dirty laundry, where the author spends a lot of ink pointing out the flaws and failures of teammates, umpires, coaches and managers. While those books appeal to the crud-loving fan, they don’t really tell you much about how players really do things to maximize their chances of winning. This one does.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Review of "John D. Rockefeller: Robber Baron or Industrial Statesman?, Problems in American Civilization," edited by Earl Latham

 Review of

John D. Rockefeller: Robber Baron or Industrial Statesman?, Problems in American Civilization, edited by Earl Latham

Four out of five stars

Reasonably balanced look at an industrial titan

 In a recent news report, it was stated that the net worth of Elon Musk is now greater than that of the entire Exxon Mobile company. As a student of technological advances, I have followed the career of Musk almost from the first time he appeared in a news report. The news report made me think of the life of John D. Rockefeller, a man whose role in the business world matches the title of this book.

 In many ways Rockefeller was an incredible businessman, seeing opportunities for consolidation and the associated elimination of inefficiencies. One hears similar statements in the modern world of the form, “ economy of scale,” where it is claimed that scaling up production will lower the per unit cost. To others, he was a ruthless businessman that did not hesitate to undercut the competition and even engaging in the hire of thuggish elements to help convince his competition to sell out to him.

 Composed of a collection of articles by various authors, this book presents both aspects of the life of John D. Rockefeller, from the tough businessman to the philanthropist that gave away money when he really did not have that much. What he did was reach a level of success so high that the political leadership felt the need to break up his company. In 1913, his personal wealth was equal to 3% of the US GDP.

The level of consolidation in the oil business that Rockefeller achieved is similar to what has happened in the technological arena. Pundits now talk about the power of the major technology companies and argue that they must be broken up. Yet, Elon Musk has also been the driving force for some of the major technical advancements in space exploration and electrical vehicles.

 The best segment of text in the book is on page 104 and was written by Allan Nevins. “The rise of the Standard Oil men to great wealth was not from poverty. It was not meteor-like but accomplished over a quarter of a century by courageous venturing in a field so risky that most large capitalists avoided it, by arduous labors, and by more sagacious and farsighted planning than had been applied to any other American industry.” As a reader of biographies of people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, this paragraph sounds like all of them. Each of them took a nascent industry and did a great deal to make it a an economic superpower. Just like Rockefeller in oil.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Review of "From Sarajevo to Potsdam," by A. J. P. Taylor

 Review of

From Sarajevo to Potsdam, by A. J. P. Taylor

Five out of five stars

Brief, tight history of a tumultuous time

British historian A. J. P. Taylor is known for academic rigor as well as at times going against what is the consensus. At 199 pages and covering the four decades from the start of the First World War to the end of the Second World War, this book is naturally shallow. Yet, there is a thoroughness that few can match when writing overviews.

 He sets the stage for his explanations of the First World War by pointing out that shortly before it happened, the consensus was that a general European war was very unlikely. While there would no doubt be fringe wars elsewhere and occasional minor clashes in Europe, there was too much civilization for it to be threatened. Taylor also points out how popular the war was among the masses once it began, a fact that made it very difficult to end.

 In contrast, in the runup to the Second World War, there was no mass support for another war, yet all countries were preparing for it. There was the hope that the development of armaments would deter the other side from starting a conflict.

 Some of Taylor’s comments go against what is commonly held. He states that the man executed for the Reichstag fire, a man named Marinus van der Lubbe likely did in fact do it. Taylor also states that Hitler didn’t really have a master plan for his conquests in Europe, he made it up as the opportunities presented themselves. While Britain and France made a lot of bellicose noise, there was no stomach for a devastating war. It was only when their hand was forced by Polish resistance to German demands that they declared war. Even then, it was very half-hearted.

 This book can be considered as a work of popular history was well as one that can be used in advanced courses of European history. Taylor is one of the best at describing and explaining events that are known, but not understood.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Review of "Notable Black Americans," by Virgil S. Powell

 Review of

Notable Black Americans, by Virgil S. Powell

Five out of five stars

Snippets of black history in personal achievements

 As a lifelong resident of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area, I am familiar with the WMT radio station, the work of Powell as well as the artist that designed the book. These short biographies of the black Americans were first aired on WMT. Given that the book was published in 1971, this is a demonstration of how forward-looking the generally conservative WMT was at the time.

 While some of the people featured are generally well known, for example George Washington Carver, most have been generally lost to history. Yet, their actions led to significant changes to the flow of history. There was the black girl (Phoebe Frauncis) that prevented George Washington from being poisoned, the wealthy man (Samuel Frauncis) that made substantial contributions in financing the American Revolutionary War and a mention of the free and slave blacks that fought well under General George Washington and were freed by an act of the Virginia State government.

 Even people experienced in history in general and black history in particular will learn from this book. It is a demonstration of how blacks contributed so much to the growth of the nation above and beyond their basic labor as slaves.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Review of "Double Deuce," by Robert B. Parker

 Review of

Double Deuce, by Robert B. Parker ISBN 0399137211

Five out of five stars

Hawk seeks the professional help of Spenser

Spenser and Hawk are both noble, honorable men of the highest caliber. They are the best of friends, willing to join the other in the deadliest of fights, all the other has to do is ask. In this story, some people in a ghetto neighborhood are desperate to rid their neighborhood of the scourge of gangs and drugs. They turn to Hawk to help them but are unable to offer him anything in return. Hawk agrees and then asks Spenser to assist him at the same rate of pay.
While we learn a great deal about Spenser’s past in the Spenser series of books, Hawk is an enigma. In this book, we learn a little bit about him, but he remains circumspect about his past. All we learn is that he probably grew up in a very dangerous environment and through unusual circumstances managed to survive to adulthood. Hawk uses those skills to probe the neighborhood and deal with the members of a violent youth gang. A teen mother and her new baby have been ruthlessly gunned down and the prime suspect is a gang led by a very tough kid named Major Johnson. They proclaim their innocence, although they are coy about it, as they enjoy the attention from Hawk, someone they respect.
There is a subplot as well. Spenser and Susan agree to live together, so Spenser moves in with Susan. Although they “get along”, there is a great deal of underlying tension. Susan eats healthy and Spenser eats hearty. Finally, they agree that they love each other and will stay together, but they dissolve their cohabitation union. Hawk also has a love interest, a beautiful black woman who tries to get inside him but fails. When Hawk shoots past her to wound a man threatening to kill her, she decides that her interest in Hawk is not that strong.
As always, the dialog in this Spenser novel is entertaining and would uplift even the weakest plot, which this one is not. There are strong supporting minor characters, including an ex-nun who works with gang members. She drinks whiskey with Spenser and he even takes note of her in a non-professional way. This is one of the better Spenser novels.

Review of "Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling’s Disgustingly Dirty Joke Book," by Jackie Martling

 Review of

Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling’s Disgustingly Dirty Joke Book, by Jackie Martling ISBN 068485533x

Five out of five stars

Hard dirty jokes from a master

The so-called dirty joke, generally one that explicitly mentions sexual activity, has evolved over the years. Jokes that were considered risqué decades ago are not even considered dirty today. Some comedians, such as Eddie Murphy and Redd Foxx, built their careers in this field. Martling is another in this category.

 Like all books that are collections, there is a wide range of humorous level in this book. Some are in essence old, having been around in some form for a long time. Others will generate little more than a smile in most readers, yet others will cause you to laugh out loud. If you are a fan of the dirty joke, you will love this book. If you enjoy passing such jokes on to others, then this is a treasure trove of raw material.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Review of "A Pictorial History of the Slave Trade," by Isabelle Aguet

 Review of

A Pictorial History of the Slave Trade, by Isabelle Aguet

Five out of five stars

Images of a great abomination

 Like the Holocaust, there are people that deny that slavery was horrible. There were many eyewitness accounts that were put down in pen and ink and  this book contains a collection of images of locations and events. Some of them are in photos, while others are drawings.

 Since slaves were simply property in the eyes of the law, there were few restrictions as to how they could be treated. Whippings were common, sometimes to the point of death. Subject to the whims of their owners, their treatment varied widely, based on the personality of their masters.

 This book demonstrates slavery in its most negative and brutal form. Horrific punishments such as being buried alive, being torn apart by dogs and being starved to death are three of those depicted. It is a difficult book to read, for it shows quite clearly how inhuman humans can be. At the time, one of the arguments in favor of slavery was that it civilized the displaced Africans. As nearly all of the arguments put forward in favor of slavery they were lofty words that were complete nonsense. Slavery developed and thrived for centuries because of one simple fact; it was financially lucrative. Coating it in pseudo-morality did not change that and the abomination that was slavery cannot be denied.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Review of "big Nate In Your Face," by Lincoln Pierce

 Review of

big Nate In Your Face, by Lincoln Pierce ISBN 9781524864774

Five out of five stars

Trials and tribulations of a modern boy

 Growing up in any era has always been tough, but many people believe it is even harder now than it has ever been. Nate is a boy in that has magnified trouble with most things that boys his age must deal with. He struggles in school he has difficulties interacting with the other gender, making friends and playing in sports are challenges.

 Some of the captions are very good and you can recognize some classic moves in them. When Nate is tasked with writing a report with one of the bright kids in class, Nate is told that if he claims to be a genius, he should assist in writing the report. Nate’s response is, “Do you really want your grade on this project to depend on my research?” The response in the thought balloon of the clever kid is, “He’s a genius, but an evil genius.”

 Dee Dee is female and the president of the drama club. When she is given the job of rushing the passer in a football game, she fakes a fainting spell, causing the quarterback to drop the ball. She immediately yells “Fumble!,” picks up the ball and runs for a touchdown. One of the boys says, “Never again will I doubt that the president of the drama club can play football.” Another boy comments that she has the best touchdown dance in the business. Very funny.

 Since Nate is not a great achiever, he is a character that most children can relate to. He takes a soccer ball to the face, struggles to answer questions in class and has a rough time doing things, including when he is having fun.

Review of "The Perils of an Air-ship or Boy Scouts in the Sky," by Capt. V. T. Sherman

 Review of

The Perils of an Air-ship or Boy Scouts in the Sky, by Capt. V. T. Sherman

Four out of five stars

A bit of science and technological fiction

 Published in 1912, the plot devices in this book were developed less than a decade after the Wright brothers performed their first flight of a mere three-and-a-half seconds. Therefore, when the main characters fly their plane they call the Nelson over the Andes mountains and nearly all the way across South America, the author is engaging in some in significant extrapolation. Of course, it turned out to be correct.

 While several countries in South America are visited, the main focus is on Paraguay, An American than owns a large cattle ranch is on the verge of having it taken away from him. Tasked by the American government to go to Paraguay and get him released, the main characters use what would then be a super airplane to fly down and rescue him.

 Most of the adventure/action is typical of YA stories of the time. Some of them spend time on the Amazon being hunted by cannibals, there is another super plane piloted by the opposition and the government officials of Paraguay are depicted as being hopelessly corrupt.

 If this story is read as a historical retrospective of adventure stories of the time, then it can be enjoyed. Like many of the stories in this category, there are words and allusions that will offend those that demand modern purity of the language.

Review of "A Brief Trigonometry," by Robert R. Christian

 Review of

A Brief Trigonometry, by Robert R. Christian

Five out of five stars

Excellent synopsis of the field

 Trigonometry is one of the areas of mathematics that is fairly easy to understand. In the many years that I taught college mathematics, there were many students that struggled with the algebraic components but sailed through the trigonometry. The primary reason that was cited was that it could be reduced to the visual, and “I am a visual learner” was the common refrain.

 This book is an excellent synopsis of the field, there is no wasted text. Published in 1965, there is also no technological component, all functional values used are presented in tables. This eliminates the occasional student that has a sophisticated calculator but does not know how to use it. Therefore, over fifty years after it was published, it is a book that can still be used to effectively teach the basics of trigonometry.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Review of "Painting as a Pastime," by Winston S. Churchill

 Review of

Painting as a Pastime, by Winston S. Churchill

Four out of five stars

Churchill taking up an unusual hobby

 Given his lengthy career in public life and as an author, adventurer and commentator on the world, Winston Churchill has written about many things. I have read many of his works on politics, specifically his six-volume series on the Second World War, which is a classic. So much of his writing is insightful, clever and worthy of being read multiple times. Not so with this short book.

 Churchill opens with an explanation of why people that face a great deal of strain need to find other things that are challenging, yet in a far different way. No one faced greater challenges than he did when he was leading England when she stood essentially alone against the apparent German military juggernaut.

 For Churchill, he settled on taking up painting and this is an explanation of the why and how. He was over forty before he ever put paint to canvas and the samples of his work show that he was reasonably proficient with a paintbrush.

 An explanation of why he took up painting when he was older, Winston Churchill has penned a simple explanation and example of why people should try new and challenging things when they are older. Simply stated and easy to read, this is a book for older people.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Review of "Why We Are At War: Messages to the Congress January to April, 1917," by Woodrow Wilson

 Review of

Why We Are At War: Messages to the Congress January to April, 1917, by Woodrow Wilson

Five out of five stars

No president was better at expressing idealism

 From January 1917 to April 1917 when there was a declaration of war by the United States Congress against Imperial Germany, American President Woodrow Wilson made seven major addresses to the Congress. They were expressions of idealism surrounded by the realism that war between the United States and Germany was now almost inevitable.

 Isolated from the sea by the British naval blockade, the German high command made the decision to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare against Britain and France in the hope to starve them of food and other raw materials. Since many of those items were coming from the United States, this meant that U. S. ships and goods were being sent to the bottom of the sea and American citizens on those ships were being killed.

 This book contains those seven major addresses and in reading them, one can see the incremental movement from a neutral power to a form of armed neutrality to a declaration of war. No U. S. president was better than Wilson in expressing an idealism about being above the war and then once entered, explaining how it happened and how future wars could be prevented.

 To Europeans with a long history of fighting wars right on schedule, Wilson’s proclamations no doubt sounded simple and naïve. As history demonstrates, Wilson’s ideal of no punishment by the victor over the defeated simply did not take place when World War I ended. In fact, Germany thought that they were surrendering under the basis of Wilson’s proclamations. The treaty of Versailles ended that notion.

 Fortunately, when the Second World War ended, the United States understood that a more humane treatment of the defeated was appropriate. So, in most ways followed the idealistic stance that Wilson put forward.

Review of "The First Book Edition of The Man Without a Country," by Edward Everett Hale

 Review of

The First Book Edition of The Man Without a Country, by Edward Everett Hale

Five out of five stars

A classic short story of America

 Like many other children growing up in the United States, I read this fictional book when I was in grade school. It has many human themes, from patriotism to regrets to punishment for indiscretion. The main character is Philip Nolan, an army officer that fought well and became involved with former vice President Aaron Burr. At the time of this association, Burr was engaged in potentially treasonous activities against the United States.

 When a military tribunal was trying Nolan, he exclaimed that he wished he had never heard of the United States. As punishment, he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life aboard military ships on the oceans and no shipmate was ever allowed to mention anything about the events or subsequent history of the United States.

 It is a story of regret and courage, for the ships Nolan was on were warships that engaged in fights. As an experienced artilleryman, Nolan once took charge of a cannon and kept it firing when many of the crew were killed or wounded.

 One of the best short stories ever published, this is a story of patriotism expressed quietly. There was no reason for Nolan’s sentence not to be commuted, yet the fact that it wasn’t makes this a tragedy as well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Review of "The Best of H. T. Webster: A Memorial Collection," introduction by Robert E. Sherwood

 Review of

The Best of H. T. Webster: A Memorial Collection, introduction by Robert E. Sherwood

Five out of five stars

A bit dated, bit still great cartoons by a master

 In many ways, no group of people are better at expressing opinions about the human condition in general and their specific environment in particular than the cartoonist. Harold Tucker Webster, with a career that spanned approximately forty years, was one of the best of his time. His most memorable character was the extremely wimpy Caspar Milquetoast, derived from the two words “milk toast.” He died of a sudden heart attack in 1952.

 This book is a collection of his best cartoons and covers many of the social mores of the United States in the twenties through the forties. There are scenes of people playing bridge, golf and other activities with a boss, and married couples engaged in speech laden with understood inner meanings. This was an expression of public marital discord suitable for the times.

 Other cartoons express some of the issues that children faced. For example, there is the one where a boy brings his mother a bouquet of wildflowers that is goldenrod, a plant she is highly allergic to. Some of the cartoons have a serious political bite. None more expressive than the one that has a KKK member in full regalia and blood on his “dress” throwing a coiled rope to two children and telling them, “Souvenir kiddies.” This points out something that has been mentioned in other writings, that the KKK members that killed the undesirables at night generally went home to their families and thought nothing of their vile deeds.

 Part a history lesson of cartooning and a look back at the nation during Webster’s peak years, this is a book that will entertain and make you think a little different about the world.

Review of "The World’s Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept and Dangerous People, Places and Things On Earth," by Mark Frauenfelder

 Review of

The World’s Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept and Dangerous People, Places and Things On Earth, by Mark Frauenfelder, ISBN 0811846067

Five out of five stars

The wild and bizarre in many categories

 This book is an entertaining and at times disturbing read. For many, the most frightening is the potential of being bitten by a brown recluse spider. While this particular spider is timid, if disturbed, it will bite, and the consequences can be severe. In the most extreme cases, severe tissue necrosis can result. Furthermore, the symptoms can continue to recur much later, after it appears the worst is over.

 The categories cover everything from the most inept dictator of all time to the most noxious weed in the world, the worst car ever made to the worst self-inflicted health measure. The last one is literally where a person drills a hole in their head as a medical treatment.

 In reading this book the reader will experience a wide variety of emotions, from being amused to disgusted to disbelief. However, as the baseball great Casey Stengel is quoted as saying, “You can look it up.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Review of "Phyllis Diller’s Marriage Manual," by Phyllis Diller

 Review of

Phyllis Diller’s Marriage Manual, by Phyllis Diller

Five out of five stars

Jokes from a comedy pioneer

 Phyllis Diller should be hailed as not only a comedy legend, but also as a pioneer. Many modern female comedians openly give her credit for being a role model and paving the way for their careers. She was the first female comedian to become a household name with her exaggerated act features of her wild hair, unusual clothing, a laugh that was more of a cackle and her self-deprecating style of humor. She was also open about the many incidents of cosmetic surgery she underwent. She also wrote all of her own material and was an icon in the gay community.

 As the title implies, the jokes in this book deal with marriage. Presented as from personal experience, they are the self-deprecating Diller at her best. She pans herself as much as her “husband,” the mythical “Fang.” They are somewhat dated, as in her heyday jokes that are critical of relatives such as a spouse or in-laws were common, well-used material. It can be argued that Diller would not have been the national success she was if she did not operate with this subject matter. At that time, strong female personalities did not play well with a great deal of the public.

 If this book is read with this contextual aspect in mind, then it will be enjoyed. If you are someone buried in the modern mindset of very narrow comedy, then you likely will not find most of the jokes funny.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Review of "Ceremony," by Robert B. Parker

 Review of

Ceremony, by Robert B. Parker, ISBN 0440109930

Five out of five stars

Spenser and Hawk figurative white knights doing what they can

 This story demonstrates Spenser at his best, doing what he perceives he can, even when Susan does not agree. The premise is that April Kyle, a young woman from what appears to be a fine suburban home has gone missing and Spenser is asked to find her. It turns out that April has entered the world of prostitution and she was not forced.

 Spenser digs deep into the background of April and learns that her action is under the control of tough crime boss Tony Marcus. The soldiers in Marcus’ crime army make the mistake of threatening Susan Silverman, causing the police to come to Spenser’s aid. With the help of Hawk, Spenser makes a dirty deal with Marcus to allow April to leave his stable and shut down the man that is feeding young women to Marcus for prostitution.

 This then allows Spenser to make a deal where April does not have to leave the life of prostitution if she does not want to, just relocate to a higher rung in the ladder of the profession. It is a decision that Susan does not like, yet she can think of no other viable option that will benefit April.

 The reader gets a valuable look into the relationship between Spenser and Hawk, as elucidated by Susan. It is a powerful bromance of two men capable of using violence and deadly force in order to meet their objectives. It establishes much of what is to come in the lives of these two men that fit the hero/sidekick genre, but only to a light approximation, for they are very different men in their outlook on life.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Review of "Dogman: Lord of the Fleas," by Dav Pilkey

 Review of

Dogman: Lord of the Fleas, by Dav Pilkey ISBN 9780545935173

Five out of five stars

Unlikely creature and hero Dogman in action again

 When a police officer and a dog were both dying of different injuries, the head of the dog was transplanted to the body of the officer to form what is called Dogman. While he does carry out police functions, he is still very much a dog. He has adopted Li’l Petey, a young cat that is a clone of the major villain Petey. With the robot 80-HD, the three of them form an ersatz crime fighting team. They are called the Supa Buddies.  

 The action features large robotic machines that are controlled by the heroes and villains and it is generally a spoof of the comics featuring heroes and villains. The plot is simple, although it wavers considerably down a meandering path. Throw in some of the world’s worst “knock-knock” jokes and you have a graphic novel designed for young children. They will enjoy the incongruity of the plotlines that sometimes seem unable to go anywhere but sideways.

 There is an ending where the villain goes back to prison a changed cat, at least that is the claim. This makes a conclusion that is an old-fashioned moral to the story.

Review of "Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones," by Ann Head

 Review of

Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, by  Ann Head ISBN 978-0451163196

Five out of five stars

Although dated, great love story

 This book made the rounds of the girls when I was in high school and my girlfriend at the time insisted that I read it. It was an excellent request. The background is one that has been used many times before. The male and female are from different sides of the social tracks, Bo Jo is a football player from the wrong side and the narrator, July Jones is from a wealthy family and is clearly bound for college.

 July gets pregnant when they are both in high school, since this was a southern town in the sixties, abortion was not an option, and she was required to quit school. Even though both of them are underage and face a difficult path, they respond with a maturity beyond their years and get married. While their reactions are a stretch for two people so young, the quality of the writing makes it plausible and of course at the time, there were few other options. When the girl got pregnant and the father was known, they either got married or the child was put up for adoption.

 It is a sad story at the end, for they face a tragedy that compounds their circumstances. Yet, they face that with the same forward-looking perspective that was exhibited when they discovered that July was pregnant. This is a story that will stay with you for a long time. Raging hormones got them there, their minds will see them through it.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Review of "Hateful Thoughts for Happy Occasions: A Collection of Sick Greetings for Healthy People," by Herman Klopfinger III

 Review of

Hateful Thoughts for Happy Occasions: A Collection of Sick Greetings for Healthy People, by Herman Klopfinger III

Four out of five stars

 The entries in this collection bear a close resemblance to some of the content of “Mad Magazine.” Each one is constructed of two pages, the first has a nice saying and the second has an image with a negative textual caption. While they are amusing, none of them will put you into hysterics.

For example, for one the first page has the caption, “You’ve got everything a man wants …” and the following page has an image of a scantily clad woman with the caption “A moustache, a beard, and MUSCLES!” Another has the initial caption, “I’d like to keep in touch with you…” where the second page has the image of a fireman landing on the floor and the caption, “ But I’ve misplaced my 10-foot pole!”

 A fun book to read, we all have experienced occasions when there is the strong urge to make a statement similar to those that appear here.

Review of "Flash Issue #1," from Tangent Comics, by Todd Dezago, Gary Frank and Cam Smith

Review of

Flash Issue #1, from Tangent Comics, by Todd Dezago, Gary Frank and Cam Smith

Three out of five stars

Incongruous incompetent villain with high-tech gadgets

 While the writers of this comic deserve praise for establishing the context for the superpowers of the heroine, the storyline is very poor. When the hero has great powers, their adversaries must be powerful and competent. Superman had Lex Luthor and Mr. Mxyzptlk and Spider-Man had the Green Goblin and Doc Oc.

In this case the main villain is a bumbling incompetent that always manages to find a way to fail each time he has the heroine in his sights. Even though he is using very sophisticated technology. The mother of the heroine is very much a tiger mom, using every possible angle to get and keep her daughter in the spotlight. Even to the point of increasing her danger. I understand that these features are meant to be amusing, but to me they simply fall flat. Make the danger a real one, or otherwise it is hard to keep your interest.

The heroine is able to manipulate light, which is the source of the title. She is capable of coming and going in a flash of light. Nice concept, and she will no doubt appeal to girls. However, the overbearing mother will wear on readers of both genders.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Review of "Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints," by Phyllis Diller

 Review of

Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints, by Phyllis Diller

Five out of five stars

Jokes from a legend and a trailblazer

 Very underappreciated by most people other than the female comics that came after her, Phyllis Diller was nothing like her stage persona. She characterized herself as a dingbat, klutz and all around incompetent, yet she was a comedic genius. She wrote her own jokes, and her timing could be used as an educational tool. She always appeared holding a cigarette holder, even though she did not smoke. The cigarette in the holder was actually wooden. Her cackle laugh was also a signature feature.

 Phyllis Diller was the first female comic to make it as a national star and the female comics that came after do not hesitate to pay tribute to her. The jokes in this book demonstrate her comedic acumen, for they appeal to women who find the role of neat and tidy homemaker to be frustrating. The jokes are all at the level of the sixties clean, all could have, and some did, appear on network television of the sixties.

 A true comedic genius, Diller demonstrates in this book that she was an excellent writer of jokes about the lazy and incompetent housewife.

Review of Rover Red Charlie #5," by Garth Ennis and Michael Dipascale Five out of five stars

 Review of

Rover Red Charlie #5, by Garth Ennis and Michael Dipascale

Five out of five stars

Post human apocalypse from a dog’s perspective

 An incredible plague of some kind has rapidly infected humans, driving them all mad in a very short time. This led to mass suicides, murder and to overpowering indifference that led to starvation. The main characters are three sentient dogs that are traveling across the United States in order to arrive at the Big Splash, their term for the ocean. They are also looking for any surviving feeders, which is their term for humans.

 While intelligent, they are still dogs, so they occasionally frolic and play, sniffing appropriately when they encounter strange dogs. Along their travels, they encounter many human skeletons along with what appears to be senseless destruction. Eventually, they reach the ocean and splash away in joy. Yet, they discover that their joy at arriving may be very premature.

 Since this is number five in the sequence, there is nothing in the way of explanation as to precisely what happened. It is a very creative rendition of a post-apocalyptic world, the perspective of dogs and how they are surviving without humans is very well structured. Once I had finished reading this issue, I started a search for other issues as there was an urge to learn how the context was created as well as what happens after the issue-ending cliffhanger.

Review of "I’ve Got Tears in My Ears from Lyin’ on My Back in My Bed While I Cry Over You …," compiled by Paula Schwed

 Review of

I’ve Got Tears in My Ears from Lyin’ on My Back in My Bed While I Cry Over You …, compiled by Paula Schwed ISBN 0836279999

Four out of five stars

(Un)usual lyrics from country songs

 Country songs generally follow a few themes, yet each song is usually unique. This book contains lyric snippets from country songs that the compiler considered unusual. Most are very good and focus on aspects of love relationships.

For example, two of them are “My tears have washed ‘I love you’ from the blackboard of my heart” and “You’d make an angel want to cheat.” In the not so great, there is, “If I don’t love you, grits ain’t groceries.”

 Even if you are not a fan of country music, which describes me, you can still appreciate the creative metaphors for life found in these lyrics.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Review of 'More “Who’s In Charge Here?”' by Gerald Gardner

 Review of

More “Who’s In Charge Here?” by Gerald Gardner

Three out of five stars

Public figures with inserted gag lines

 This book takes photos of public figures and inserts gag dialog balloons. While a few of them are admittedly funny, others are very lame, even for the early sixties. There is a famous photo of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy, and the dialog balloon emanates from Khrushchev, and he is saying, “Same to you fella.” There is another with Richard Nixon and a black man with a dual dialog balloon where they are saying, “Swa-nee, how I love ya-“

 This book was no doubt considered funny when it was published, but the humor simply has not aged well. In most cases it is also necessary for the reader to recognize the primary personalities in the images. Without that, there is little opportunity for the image plus caption to be considered funny.

Review of "Pink and Say," by Patricia Polacco

 Review of

Pink and Say, by Patricia Polacco ISBN 0590542109

5 out of five stars

True story of boyhood heroism

 It is not commonly known that boys in their mid-teens served in both armies during the American Civil War. Sheldon Russell Curtis was fifteen when he was wounded in battle and separated from his unit of the Union Army. He laid on the ground for two days, moving in and out of consciousness. He was found by Pinkus Aylee of the Forty-eighth Colored of the Union Army. Pinkus then was able to carry Sheldon until they managed to get to safety at the home of Pinkus’ mother, Moe Moe Bay, a slave.

 She was able to nurse Russell back to health, it was his first experience with black people. When he was billeted near Washington D. C., Sheldon was able to shake hands with President Lincoln, so there was a transitive handshake relationship between all people that shook Russell’s hand after that.

Marauders were running wild in what was slave territory, and they eventually came and killed Moe Moe and took Pinkus and Sheldon prisoner. They were transported to the most vile of POW camps in the Confederacy, Andersonville. Approximately 13,000 Union prisoners died there. While Sheldon survived his ordeal, Pinkus died in the camp.

 This story is true and was handed down through the generations in the Curtis family. Sheldon told his daughter Rosa, who told it to her daughter Estella, who told it to her son William, who told it to his daughter Patricia, the author of the book. It is a sad story of the difficult times when a great war was fought over what differences in skin color meant to social structure.

Review of "Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon History of Hiroshima, Volume One," by Keiji Nakazawa

 Review of

Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon History of Hiroshima, Volume One, by Keiji Nakazawa, ISBN 9780867196023

Five out of five stars

Riveting tale of the most horrific of events

 The author was six years old and present when the atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima. Fortunately, there was a concrete wall between him and the explosion, so he was spared the devastating effects of the heat of the flash. Therefore, he was an eyewitness to the horror of people walking around where their flesh was literally melted from their bodies. His family dwelling collapsed and some of his family members trapped, later killed by the firestorm that engulfed the city.

 This graphic novel is a graphic depiction of those events that were literally seared into the city and into his memory. It depicts a family (the author’s) that did not follow the official line of Japanese greatness with inevitable victory in what was becoming more and more a suicidal war. His portrayal of their struggles to find sufficient food and overcome the ostracism of others is a bit of fresh air in the usual depiction of the Japanese people blindly following their leaders. Willing to die for the Emperor without questioning the purpose.

 One negative aspect is the depictions of people being brutally punched by neighbors, parents and siblings. Not simple slaps but punched powerful enough to bounce them off the walls. It is puzzling why the author decided to include these scenes.

 This is one of the best graphic novels ever written. The anti-war message is powerful, specifically the reality of the consequences of an atomic war and what it does to living beings. Based on one of the most significant and destructive events of all time, this book could serve as a resource in the teaching of history.