Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Review of "The Cat That Was Nothing But Trouble," by Anne Toole

 Review of

The Cat That Was Nothing But Trouble, by Anne Toole ISBN 9781478797432

Five out of five stars

How the old pet views the new one

 Lee is a small white puppy that is living an idyllic life. He has his toys, food and all the attention of the adults in the house. His world is uprooted when his Mom encountered what she thought was a stray cat while she was out walking. Feeling sorry for it, she brought it home and began feeding it. Intimidated by the new “beast,” Lee is uncertain as to what to do.

 When the cat engages in mischief and damages things, Lee is the one that gets the blame, which sends him into a depressive state. Things continue to go downhill until the joyous day when a man knocks on the door and tells Mom that he is looking for his cat named Sweetie Pie. He calls her the best cat in the world and wonders if she has seen it. When the cat hears the man’s voice it runs to him with joy and the last sight Lee has of the cat is when it is being carried away and out of his life.

 The story is expressed in rhyming form with the general pattern being the even lines rhyme with the line preceding it. The level of the prose is that of the middle of elementary school. It is a solid story that contains a valuable lesson to children regarding the acquisition of a second pet. While the children may be excited about getting the new pet, the one with seniority may have a contrary opinion.

Review of "Classics Illustrated: Twenty Years After," by Alexandre Dumas

 Review of

Classics Illustrated: Twenty Years After, by Alexandre Dumas

Five out of five stars

Synopsis of a novel not widely known

 Nearly everyone has heard of the novel, “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas, but few know that there were in fact six novels featuring the D'Artagnan character. They form a chronology and the second novel in the series after “The Three Musketeers” is “Twenty Years After.”

 Much has changed in the lives of D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis in the twenty years since the events chronicled in the first novel. Athos has returned to his estate, Porthos has married the widow of a lawyer and Aramis is now a priest. When D'Artagnan becomes involved with political intrigue, he seeks the aid of his friends with the goal being to serve the queen currently acting as regent, Queen Anne of Austria.

 The plot is complex, with former friends and enemies joining forces and splitting. It is a great story of adventure and intrigue over the French throne. The four main characters are once again fighting on the same side and are honorable men that keep their word.

 This comic is a synopsis of the novel and covers the essentials of the story. It is a good introduction, complete enough that it could serve as a primer in a high school English or literature class. While some deride the use of comic books as educational tools, I am one that is in favor of any way that can possibly entice young people to study the classics. This comic is an excellent tool to be used in that endeavor.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Review of "True Tales of Animal Heroes," by Allan Zullo

 Review of

True Tales of Animal Heroes, by Allan Zullo, ISBN 9780439662130

Five out of five stars

Admittedly, embellished for drama, still great true stories

There are eight stories in this collection, and each deals with an animal that intervened to either warn or save a human from grave danger. The creatures are dogs, cats, a horse, dolphins and a talking parrot. My favorite is when dolphins intervene to save a girl from being attacked by a shark. There is mention of the famous dolphin known as Pelorus Jack. It was a Risso’s dolphin that roamed in the French Pass, a very dangerous stretch of water. Jack was known as an accurate guide for ships to traverse the pass, as it would swim with the ship and guide it through the pass. It was so well known that if a ship arrived to go through the pass and Jack was not there, the ship would stop and wait. No ship escorted by Jack was ever lost.

 Some of the stories are those that have been repeated, the animal that wakes humans when there is a fire, dogs that dive in water to save a drowning human and a cat that defended a fellow pet dog from the attack of a vicious dog. They are heartwarming stories that will release moisture from your tear ducts.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Review of "Miss Caroline," by Gerald Gardner

 Review of

Miss Caroline, by Gerald Gardner

Four out of five stars

Very dated humor, some history is needed to appreciate

 Caroline Kennedy was three years old when her father John F. Kennedy was elected president and was nearly six years old when he was assassinated. This book of cartoons depicts her dealing with situations concerning her father, his position and where he lived from the perspective of a young child. Since many of the references in the cartoon are to political figures and events of the time, a great deal of knowledge of history is required if the reader is to understand all the cartoons.

 For example, there is the one of Caroline walking into a room where a man has a smoking cigarette in his hand. If you know history, you will recognize famed journalist Edward R. Murrow. There is another where Caroline is asking a man, “Who lived in the nursery when you were here?” This will make sense only if you recognize the figure as that of former president Harry Truman. Finally, there is the one where Caroline looks up at a priest and says, “How do you feel about federal aid to parochial schools?”

 Although dated, these cartoons are an excellent look back to a time when the presidency of a young man was referred to as “Camelot.” While there were great tensions in the world, polite humor could still be generated featuring the child of a president.

Review of "A Power Boys Adventure: The Mystery of the Burning Ocean," by Mel Lyle

 Review of

A Power Boys Adventure: The Mystery of the Burning Ocean, by Mel Lyle

Four out of five stars

Solid adventure involving teenage boys

 Like all solid books written for the YA market that has teen boys as the central characters, the plot features the boys doing something that most want to do. In this case it is scuba diving. Jack and Chip Power are in the Caribbean with their widowed father. He is a photographer that travels around to the get the best shots. The boys were scheduled to go back to their home base of New York City, but when their father decides to pursue another option, he allows the boys to stay for some additional time. Their father admonishes them to be careful when diving before boarding his flight.

 The Power Boys adventure literally falls down in front of them when another teen boy that is heavily sunburned collapses in front of them. His name is Bob, and his goal is to recover a figurine that was sunk in his father’s yacht. In his will, Bob’s father had made the stipulation that Bob must recover the figurine before he could inherit from his father’s estate. When he learns that Jack and Chip know how to dive, Bob asks them to teach him so that he can recover the figurine.

The now allied trio knows that there is a protagonist, but there are two candidates for the opposition. Clues are put forward pointing towards two different men, but this is not resolved until the end. There is adventure with a hint of danger, both from the act of diving around a shipwreck to that from their opposition. None of it is extremely serious, mostly just threats.

 Since the story is based on two standard adventure concepts of diving and exploring sunken ships, this is a good one. It keeps the reader’s interest at a level that is high enough that you want to keep the pages turning.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Review of "Spock Must Die!," by James Blish

 Review of

Spock Must Die!, by James Blish

Four out of five stars

A significant first, although not great

 While this novel does not have a stellar plot, it occupies a significant role in the Star Trek saga. After the original series was over, Blish wrote a series of paperback adaptations of the episodes of the original series. This was the first original novel in what was to become a major series of books starring the characters of the original series. It was also the first step in several lines of original material in the Star Trek genre.

 The plot is based on a continuation of the original series episode, “Errand of Mercy.” It introduced the Organians, powerful creatures that put a stop to the war between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. It also was the first episode where the Klingons appeared.

 In this case, the Klingons have somehow managed to neutralize the Organians and launched a war against the Federation. It is a brutal conflict, so in an attempt to stop it quickly, the crew of the Enterprise tries to overcome that neutralization so that the Organians can out a stop to the war. There is an attempt to beam Spock through the interference to planet of Organia. What happens is that Spock is duplicated, but not a complete good twin/bad twin split like that in the original series episode “The Enemy Within.” The duplicate in this case retains Spock’s full intellect while plotting to do evil.

 Kirk and the other members of the crew must continue to press their attempt to defeat the Klingons while simultaneously relying on Spock for his aid while making sure that neither one is given the opportunity to commit malfeasance.

 The plot is weak, other than the first one (The Enemy Within), plots based on transporter accidents must be very good or they fail. It is hard to believe that such errors could take place in a device so heavily used. While this is not a great novel, the fact that it started something great will forever place it on the pedestal of breakthroughs.

Review of "Tom Corbett Space Cadet: On the Trail of the Space Pirates," by Carey Rockwell

Review of

Tom Corbett Space Cadet: On the Trail of the Space Pirates, by Carey Rockwell

Four out of five stars

Dated, but entertaining

 Published in 1953 before there was a detailed understanding of the environments of the other planets and satellites in the solar system, there are some major scientific holes in the plot. Venus is depicted as a habitable planet and there are rather Earthlike colonies on Mars and some of the satellites of Jupiter. Humans have extended their range of habitat all the way to Pluto.

 Yet, this is fundamentally an adventure written for the YA market and it is basically a good guy versus outlaw story. Tom Corbett is a cadet in the Solar Guard, the military/police force of the Solar Alliance. He is the command cadet of a three-member unit. They serve under Captain Steve Strong and they come into direct opposition with a powerful interplanetary pirate force led by the ruthless Bull Coxine.  

 The action is somewhat formulaic, their position relative to the pirates rises and falls until there is a tense moment in the end with a climactic battle. They battle with modern stun weapons and powerful laser cannons, but at times it comes down to a one-on-one battle with their fists.

 This book is very typical of YA science fiction of the fifties. Although it is scientifically very dated, it is still entertaining, replace the spaceships with sailing ships and the basic story is hundreds of years old.

Review of "Childproof: Cartoons About Parents & Children," by Roz Chast

 Review of

Childproof: Cartoons About Parents & Children, by Roz Chast ISBN 9780786862443

Five out of five stars

The challenges of parenthood from both perspectives

 For nearly all adults, the most significant thing they will do in their life is to have children and raise them to adulthood. It is an extremely challenging profession, at time filling you with the greatest joy and at other times frustrating you to the point of literal madness. It takes the twisted mind of a genius to find humor in these situations, Roz Chast satisfies that job description.

 The cartoons depict common scenarios that take place between parents and children as well as between children. Sometimes they are siblings while at other times they are playmates or classmates. The cartoons are amusing because they are so true. Life’s challenges are hard, and parenting is a daily hard, balancing everything from earning a living to feeding them to simply sharing the same household.

 If you want to see truth expressed in the funny papers, this is the book for you.

Review of "Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City," by Janet Schulman

 Review of

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City, by Janet Schulman ISBN 9780375945588

Five out of five stars

Great nature tale set in an urban setting

Pale Male was a male hawk that set up residence in New York City within sight of Central Park. With plenty of small game to feed on in the park, he became a major attraction to many New Yorkers and tourists. He soared with ease over the high buildings, making him easy to see from the ground. Taking a mate, the couple raised several broods of chicks, nesting near the top of a local building.

 When there were some major objections to the natural mess caused down below, there was a movement to remove their nesting habitat. However, there was significant opposition to this move, some of which was based on the endangered species act. As a consequence, it was decided that the hawks would be left alone to live out their lives in that area.

 This is a true story, which makes it all the more appealing. It demonstrates that there is popular interest and support for nature in urban areas. Pale Male became a significant attraction for the people of New York as they watched the hawks fly and followed the progress of their chicks. Written for children, this book is also a delight for adults.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Review of "Five-Minute Whodunits," by Stan Smith

 Review of

Five-Minute Whodunits, by Stan Smith, ISBN 0806994029

Five out of five stars

Basic logic puzzles or key fact lead to solution

 Approximately two pages of text and an illustration of one-half a page are all that the reader is given regarding a puzzling situation, almost always a crime. In some cases, the presentation is in the form of a logic puzzle, where there are a small number of people, and you are given specific characteristics about them. By applying that data, it is always possible to discern the answer, as is usually the case with such puzzles, the answer is obvious after the fact.

 Some of the mysteries are solved by recognizing the one key fact in the description. Since there are few facts in the description, this type is generally easier to solve than those where you must go through and eliminate scenarios.

 This is a book that will challenge your powers of logical deduction. Generally speaking, it is better to only read and solve a few at each setting. For me, after two or three, the urge to peek ahead at the solution became very strong.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Review of "Blue-Eyed Devil," by Robert B. Parker

 Review of

Blue-Eyed Devil, by Robert B. Parker ISBN 9780399156489

Five out of five

Virgil and Everett are no longer the law

 The town of Appaloosa has changed, and Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are no longer the law. There is a chief of police named Amos Callico and he has a large police force backing him up. Callico is a bit of a dandy, complete down to the pearl-handled Colt that he carries. While Callico is very ambitious regarding his political future, he is also a greedy man. He insists that the local business owners pay him protection money to guarantee that his officers will respond in a timely manner to trouble.

 Unwilling to pay the fees, some of the owners meet with Cole and Hitch and ask them if they would be willing to serve as enforcers of the peace in their establishments. They agree, putting them on the opposite sides of the law, as stated by Callico. At first, he tries to enlist Cole and Hitch, but they decline.

 Former Confederate General Horatio Laird is a significant area landowner, and his son is a significantly spoiled brat, which in this case means he is eager to draw his gun. When the son makes the mistake of drawing on Virgil, he is easily killed, setting up a three-cornered struggle for power. Laird then imports a powerful hired gun for the express purpose of taking on Virgil in a fair fight. A small group of Apaches go on the rampage with their goal to torture and kill as many whites as possible To do this, their plan is to lure the law out of Appaloosa and then enter and burn it to the ground.

 The dialog and action is up to Parker’s usual high standards. Virgil and Everett generally speak few words yet manage to speak volumes. Even though he is likely the best gun in the west, Virgil keeps it low-key, quiet and deadly. The major players form unusual alliances when necessary, particularly General Laird, who remains a man of integrity, even through his grief over the death of his son.

 This is a great story; the conflict comes down to the side of honesty and integrity against the other that has little to none.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Review of "Love & Death: A Study in Censorship," by G. Legman

 Review of

Love & Death: A Study in Censorship, by G. Legman

Four out of five stars

 While correct, the repetition becomes tedious

 Written in 1963, the comments regarding the absurd nature of censorship at the time are accurate. While it was perfectly acceptable to depict murders, torture and other severe damage to human bodies, anything resembling the bare human form was unacceptable in all but the most restrictive of publications. There could be no reference of any kind to sexual activity, even the mildest of sexual innuendo was forbidden.

 The absurd nature of this system is stated and ridiculed over and over in this book. Any mention of the act of creating new human life is disallowed while all manner of ways in which a human can be damaged or killed is the means to a bestseller. The problem is that this statement is repeatedly made to the point that the reader becomes bored with it. Even the best of positions can be overdone.

 This book is one of many mentions in the literature of how absurd the censorship rules were before the walls came down with an incredible swiftness in the late sixties and early seventies. With the arrival of explicit sex came even more bloody depictions of violence against humans, some of them depict both. It was a good book for its time, now it is of value only for the historical context it provides.

Review of "The War Myth in United States History," by C. H. Hamlin

 Review of

The War Myth in United States History, by C. H. Hamlin

Five out of five stars

How U. S. wars really started

 Written in 1927, the coverage of this book ends with the First World War. Yet, the explanations of the how and why of how the United States went to war from the Revolutionary War through the First World War still have a great deal of validity. The American led invasion of Iraq known as the Second Gulf War fits right into Hamlin’s recitation of historical facts.

 The wars covered are the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the War with Mexico, the American Civil War, the War with Spain and the First World War. In each case, the author explains that a specific minority of thought leaders drove the nation into the war. It starts with the Revolutionary War, where the consensus is that only one-third of the population wanted independence from Great Britain, one-third wanted to remain with Britain and one-third simply did not care.

 The War of 1812 was a colossal blunder, driven by a few people that were convinced that the U. S. could invade Canada and make it part of the United States. The War with Mexico was also driven by only a few people who were convinced that the United States should expand westward and given the weakness of Mexico, the time was right. The potential for the expansion of slavery westward also was a significant factor in the goal of expanding the U. S. westward.

 Almost completely lost to history is the origins of the American Civil War. Hotheads on both sides, but especially in the south, the most prominent were known as the fire-eaters, drove what was a minority sentiment into secession and a very costly internal war.

 Another fact that is important, but also largely lost to history is the long-term American desire for Cuba. The Ostend Amendment was written in 1854 and advocated that the United States either purchase Cuba from Spain or go to war to acquire it. A majority of politicians in the slave states were in favor of it, as they wanted Cuba to enter the union as another slave state. Some in the north were also supportive. Therefore, the launching of the Spanish-American War in 1898 was an event over forty years in the development.

 The reader should not consider this book a rendition of an alternate view of how the wars of the United States were entered into. It is a more accurate historical explanation of how small numbers of people were able to convince the masses that their particular pet war was a good thing for the country.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Review of "The Life of Saint Nicholas," by R. O. Blechman

 Review of

The Life of Saint Nicholas, by R. O. Blechman, ISBN 9781556705069

Five out of five stars

Not historically accurate, but still a fun read

 There was indeed an actual Saint Nicholas. He lived from 270 to 343 CE and generally resided in Asia Minor. Very little historical facts are known about his life other than he was a Christian bishop and was known for giving gifts. There are many legends of his purported miracles, such as calming a stormy sea, the resurrection of murdered children and saving innocent soldiers from being punished. These stories first appeared in print long after his death, so it is likely that they were significantly embellished years after his death.

 Knowing this, reading this book and the supposed miracles of Saint Nicholas must be done with a heavy tilt towards the belief that it is fiction. Blechman is well known as a cartoonist for “The New Yorker” magazine and he has a distinctive, minimalist style. He is also a talented purveyor of puns and wordplay, which emphasizes the fictional nature of the story.

 As long as you don’t take the listed actions of Nicholas too seriously, this is a fun book of mythology about a real man that has inspired great legends that are acted on once a year with great exuberance and joy, especially for children.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Review of "Normandy: Utah Beach, St Mere Eclise," by Carl Shilleto

 Review of

Normandy: Utah Beach, St Mere Eclise, by Carl Shilleto, ISBN 0850527368

Five out of five stars

An account of one sector of the Normandy landings

 The invasion of continental Europe by the Allied forces on June 6, 1944 was the most complicated and massive seaborne invasion ever performed. Over 150,000 Allied soldiers departed from ships and landed on a 50 mile front. The Navies and Air Forces engaged in massive bombardments of the German defensive positions and thousands of troops were dropped behind the beaches, either by parachute or via glider.

 On some of the five landing points there was relatively light opposition, yet on others, there were massive Allied casualties. Therefore, no one book can truly cover all aspects of what was in many ways five separate operations, at least initially.

 As the name implies, this book is about the landings on Utah Beach, which were conducted by U.S. Army soldiers. St. Mere Eglise is a town near where the Utah Beach landings took place and the main road through it was where any German reinforcements would almost certainly have to travel on. Therefore, it was the target of a large number of paratrooper drops.

 While there were many commanders in the Allied chain of command, one that had the most significance on the day of the invasion was Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr, the son of the former President. He was the first senior officer to hit the dirt and he personally scouted the immediate area. Understanding the circumstances, he ordered further landings to be rerouted to his location, which was some distance from the target.

 Focusing on the area known as Utah Beach of the Normandy landings, this book is a detailed description of what went right, what went wrong and how the invading Allied forces were able to overcome the wrong and take the first steps that ended with the defeat of Germany and the end of the Second World War in Europe. It is an excellent history of one sector of the major battle that took place on the shores of occupied France.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Review of "Young Australia Series: Ned Kelly," by Frank Clune

 Review of

Young Australia Series: Ned Kelly, by Frank Clune ISBN 0207120285

Five out of five stars

Australian outlaw that is romanticized

 The American public tends to romanticize and be fascinated by the major outlaws in her history. Names like Jesse James,  Billy the Kid, John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde are household names. Movies have been made, some cases multiple, about all of these historical figures. In many cases it is very hard to separate fact from fiction in their lives.

 Ned Kelly was an Australian outlaw that has also been romanticized by the Australian public. He was born in Australia to an Irish father that was a convict transported to Australia. When Ned was 12, his father died, making him the male head of the household. His family was poor and not well treated by the local police and many of the upper echelons of their society. Partly in order to survive and also to tweak the ruling class, Ned began associating with bushrangers, outlaws that live in the bush areas of Australia.

 Ned served several short sentences, when there was a violent confrontation between the Kelly family and the police, Ned and his gang killed three police officers and became formal outlaws. For two years the Kelly gang evaded police before there was a final shootout where the only survivor of the gang was Ned Kelly. He was tried, convicted and then hanged, despite widespread support for some form of clemency.

 Like the American outlaws, Ned Kelly then became an Australian cultural icon, the subject of many works, including more biographies than any other Australian. This book recapitulates his life and actions without adding to his iconic status. It was interesting and entertaining to read this story of an Australian outlaw and realize that he has reached an Australian status on the level of the most famous outlaws in American history.


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Review of "The Invasion Before Normandy: The Secret Battle of Slapton Sands," by Edwin P. Hoyt

 Review of

The Invasion Before Normandy: The Secret Battle of Slapton Sands, by Edwin P. Hoyt ISBN 0812885627

Four out of five stars

An accidental battle that could have been worse

 In the early months of 1944, the Allies were gearing up for what would be the greatest seaborne assault in the history of warfare. The plan was to land on the beaches of Normandy and one of the major parts of the plan was to keep the German leadership guessing as to the exact location. To do this, they created an elaborate sequence of deceptions, hoping to split the Axis forces and weaken the defenses.

 Extensive training of the assault forces was also part of the planning, and the beaches of Slapton Sands on the English coast were very similar to those of Normandy. Therefore, in April of 1944, there was a massive exercise where Allied troops were transported to the area and engaged in a realistic storming of the Slapton Sands beaches.

 By accident, a collection of German E-boats, small, fast attack craft armed with torpedoes, were patrolling the area before the troops disembarked their transport ships. The E-boats attacked, damaging and destroying some of the troop transports and leading to somewhere in the area of 750 deaths. Although that number still seems to be uncertain.

 Knowing that secrecy of the landing site must be maintained at all costs, the American and British leaders did all they could to prevent the knowledge of the success of the E-boats from reaching the German leadership. Even the location was kept secret for fear that the Germans would realize that the location and terrain of the exercise would indicate that the landings would be in Normandy.

 This book is an extensive description of the battle and the aftermath. While the description of the background and the actual battle are thorough, there is a bit of a dispute over the level of the suppression of the facts of the battle. Two months later, after the Normandy landings were a military reality, there was no need to keep the facts of Slapton Sands secret. On the back cover, it is stated that, “… the results of this failed mission were hidden for the next forty years.” That is really not the case, the basic events were known by many in 1946.

 Like so many chance military disasters, Slapton Sands led to changes in the plans that were positive. Given the destruction wrought by the German E-boats, the Allied commanders realized that they had to be neutralized if the Normandy invasion was to be successful.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Review of "Next Men #0," by John Byrne

 Review of

Next Men #0, by John Byrne

Four out of five stars

Routine premise, solid context establishment

 While the producers of this first installment of a comic adventure series do a good job in setting the basic context for the characters and end with a solid cliffhanger, the premise is well worn. A group of five people are in some form of stasis tanks as a part of a decades long super-secret government project to create beings with superpowers. They are the remaining subjects of the experimentation, while not explicitly stated, it appears that many other failures have preceded them.

 The project is run by an unscrupulous, ruthless Senator and the people running the project are trying to shut it down quickly as a government inspector is due to arrive soon. However, the action of shutting it down causes the people to emerge from their stasis and try to determine what their situation really is. The government inspector arrives a few days early and there is some hostility to the point of a gunfight. When the inspector defends the five with powers, she is shot and seriously wounded, leading to an unorthodox team-up.

 The secret government project run by ruthless government agents that is designed to create superpowered beings has been used so often in so many forms that it is growing stale. The creators manage to rise a bit above that and create an interesting comic, even with those limitations.

Review of "Nuts," by Grahan Wilson

 Review of

Nuts, by Grahan Wilson ISBN 0399900624

Five out of five stars

Elaborate cartoons from the perspective of a child

 When you are young and under the dubious control of adults, what they say and do often seems incomprehensible. Multi-panel cartoons depicting some of the most common situations are collected in this book. Most open with a text caption explaining a situation that children encounter.

 For example, there is the caption “Remember the first time you began to suspect that there would never be an end to getting because no matter what you got there was always something else waiting to be gotten next?” No wisdom. just a fact and a statement of the basic economic principle of unlimited wants.

 Another example is, “Remember the first time you had to wait for something you really wanted, maybe because you had to save up for it, and how you wanted it more and more?” In this case, the basic principle of delayed gratification.

 Although the messages are presented in the form of cartoons, there is a great deal of wisdom in this book. In many ways it is a basic primer on what life has in store for you as you age into an adult.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Review of "School Days," by Robert B. Parker

 Review of

School Days, by Robert B. Parker ISBN 1842431722

Five out of five stars

Case taken from the current headlines

 The premise of this Spenser novel is unfortunately all too common, students at a high school engage in a mass shooting. What is different about this case is that it seems to be a completely closed case, the two boys have confessed, and all involved seem eager to wrap it up and put the boys away. There is not the slightest effort among everyone from the local police to the parents of the boys to question what made them do it or even who pulled the triggers.

 The ending of the shooting spree was rather odd, Wendall Grant surrendered to the police and his supposed accomplice was Jared Clark. Yet, he was not found at the scene. When he was apprehended, Clark confessed to being part of the crime without stating specifics.

 Lily Ellsworth is an extremely wealthy woman and the grandmother of Jared. Unsatisfied with the way the case is being handled, Lily hires Spenser to investigate the situation. While there is no evidence to suggest that Clark is innocent, Spenser finds opposition from everyone, starting with the local police that try to persuade him from doing anything. It is clear that they did not handle the active shooter event well. Even Clark wants no part of Spenser’s investigation.

 Spenser also learns that the attorney hired to defend Clark is hopelessly in over his head, a fact known to all yet not really considered relevant by everyone. As he continues to dig and prod, he encounters a criminal gang with a leader called Animal that is the local tough. He also unearths a great deal of dirt as he begins to understand how sad and twisted the life of Jared Clark is.

 Hawk is not a part of this case and Susan is attending a conference on a long-term basis. Therefore, Spenser has only Pearl as a companion as he works his way through a case where no one but the grandmother seems interested in Jared Clark, what made him what he is and what will happen to him.

 Spenser is once again a bulldog in pursuing a case, not easily dissuaded, he discovers the seedy truth about the life of Jared Clark and does what he can to mitigate his difficulties. It is Spenser as his best, prodding, poking and pushing until the truth emerges.

Review of "Young Edison: The True Story of Edison’s Boyhood," by W. E. Wise

 Review of

Young Edison: The True Story of Edison’s Boyhood, by W. E. Wise

Four out of five stars

Early life of the American inventor superstar

 Like so many people that created an incredible business enterprise when they were in early adulthood, Thomas Edison did not do well in school. Which is understandable, for it is easy to see how such a mentally talented person would be bored by a rote system designed for the lowest level of student.

 This book describes his early life, how he left home at the age of twelve to work a job on the railroad and how he worked at many jobs and long hours. Yet, he also managed to perform experiments and read books, so he was self-educated at a very high level.

 Many inventors have developed their creations in the United States, yet despite the impressiveness of the people on that list, Edison still heads the list and laps the field. He developed the research lab and not a day can go by without using his inventions. It is also clear that he was an integral part of the invention process at his labs.

 Edison’s early life was one of incredible inquisitiveness and constant exploration. As long as such children manage to survive to adulthood, they tend to be very successful. Edison barely survived, being rescued from almost falling for a train, he was saved by being pulled up by his ears. Which led to his near deafness, a trait that never slowed him down.

 This is a fun book to read, while targeted at the YA market, adults can enjoy it as well. Especially the parents of extremely inquisitive children.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Review of "Once-Told Tales of Old New England," from the Berkshire Traveler

 Review of

Once-Told Tales of Old New England, from the Berkshire Traveler

Four out of five stars

Some ghost stories with a couple that are true

 All regions have their specific ghost stories, in the United States there are those of the Native Americans as well as those of the people of European ancestry. There are six short stories in this collection. The first three are basic ghost stories that are similar to those of other locations. There is the murdered traveler that is never identified, the mysterious horse-drawn carriage that never reaches its destination and a ghost boat with a literal skeleton crew.

 The fourth story adjusts the mythical story of Pocahontas to what is more historically accurate. Story number five is a brief history of Sgt. Robert Shurtleff, a brave soldier in the American revolutionary army. That soldier was in fact Deborah Sampson, a woman that fought well and was honored for her gallant actions. The last story is a letter from Philip Ashton to his grandson. In that letter he described his experiences that were similar to those depicted in the book “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe.

 These stories are good ones, with three fiction and three fact, there is a good balance. Quite frankly, the factual stories were the best of the six.

Review of "How to Remove the Cotton From a Bottle of Aspirin," by Rube Goldberg

 Review of

How to Remove the Cotton From a Bottle of Aspirin, by Rube Goldberg

Five out of five stars

Goldberg at his wacky best

 Rube Goldberg was known for his cartoons where he creates extremely elaborate mechanisms to perform simple tasks. Those mechanisms are constructed using a sequence of incongruous and wacky steps, few of which are even possible. This book contains two of the wildest.

 For example, on page 48 there is the step:

“The fisherman hits a well-padded surface, causing only a minor dent in his skull. The impact brings two sticks of uranium together thereby setting up an atomic reaction in a series of steel balls containing a mixture of plutonium and bad night club air. The resulting explosions propel a boxing glove into space with great force.”

 The nonsensical nature of these contraptions is what makes them amusing. There is no seriousness to what is meant to be satire of the modern complex world. As always, Goldberg succeeds in achieving his goals.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Review of "Moonshine #1," by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

 Review of

Moonshine #1, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

Five out of five stars

Excellent setting of the context

 The timeframe is America during Prohibition with several forces at play. There is the expert creator of moonshine in very rural West Virginia and the big city gangster that samples the product and wants a lot more. He sends his reluctant agent. a man name Lou Pirlo, down to West Virginia in order to convince the maker, a man named Hiram Holt, to sell all his production to the gangster.

 The story opens with agents of the FBI in the process of raiding one of Hiram’s stills, only to encounter violent and deadly opposition. It is strongly hinted that the opposition is in the form of a powerful wild animal.

 Lou goes to West Virginia and after encountering many scenes based on cliches regarding the rural folk, Lou manages to come face-to-face with Hiram. Hiram proves to be a very hard sell, while he values money, there are other factors that he will weigh. When Hiram is informed about the mess made of the FBI agents at his still, he takes Lou along in order to show him what he and his boss is facing.

 When he is leaving, Lou has a flat tire and when he is walking to seek assistance he comes across a wild dance gathering in a clearing around a raging bonfire. All of the people there appear to be black. There is the hint of some form of voodoo in action and the story ends there.

 With at least three forces in conflict, Hiram’s, the gangsters and the federal agents, there is sure to be more violence. Neither of the three appears to have any willingness to back off from their position, more federal agents will appear when the first group goes missing, the gangster will not take anything other than an enthusiastic yes for an answer and Hiram seems capable of defending himself against the forces of the other two.

 Prohibition was a wild time in the United States, the incredible profits to be made led to the rise of powerful criminal forces as well as a strong federal response in federal law enforcement. From this first round, it is clear that this is going to be a great story, there is a powerful trio of opposing forces with little incentive to back down.

Review of "Pride of Baghdad," by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon

 Review of

Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon ISBN 9781401203153

Five out of five stars

Consequences of bombing from the captive feline perspective

 When the United States bombed Baghdad in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Baghdad zoo was bombed, freeing many of the animals. Among them was a group of four lions that were eventually shot and killed by U. S. forces. When that happened, the animals were in a state of starvation.

 This graphic novel tells that story from the perspective of the lions, which are sentient and can communicate verbally. To each other as well as to other animals in the zoo. Being subject to captivity for varying periods of time, the oldest lion remembers roaming wild and witnessing the sunset. The youngest have known only being fed on a daily basis without having to engage in any hunting style activity.

 As they roam free within the bombed city, they encounter other animals as well as human victims of the bombing. Their perspective is very well represented, while they can comprehend what they experience, they have no idea about the concept of human war. They argue between themselves, not really enjoying their freedom to roam among the death and destruction. At the end, they are shot by U. S. soldiers and their time out of the zoo was short and not very enjoyable.

 This is one of the most unusual anti-war graphic novels that you will ever encounter. It shows some collateral damage of war that is rarely considered, that of the animals that for whatever reason are in the care of humans.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Review of "The Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg: A Short Guide," by Alexander Schmidt and Markus Urban

 Review of

The Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg: A Short Guide, by Alexander Schmidt and Markus Urban ISBN 3930699478

Four out of five stars

Brief history of what was planned for Nuremberg

 Nuremberg was the site of the massive rallies conducted by the Nazi Party in Germany before the start of World War II. As part of this program, the Germans developed a massive building program of structures that could house incredible numbers of participants. While few of those structures were ever completed, the sheer grandiosity of their construction plans have few rivals throughout history.

 This book is a brief explanation of those plans with descriptions of how large the structures were to be, how many people they could accommodate and what they were to be made of. The explanations are constructed from pictures of models, what was constructed and a textual description of the building.

 Governments from ancient times have built massive structures designed to be both functional and long-term monuments to their power. The Egyptians succeeded, the Nazis did not. Books like this and a few relics are all that is left of their grandiose plans.

Review of "Isaac Asimov’s Library of the Universe: Rockets, Probes and Satellites," by Isaac Asimov

 Review of

Isaac Asimov’s Library of the Universe: Rockets, Probes and Satellites, by Isaac Asimov ISBN 1555323669

Five out of five stars

Nobody explains science better than Asimov

 Written for the reader in late elementary or early middle school, this book explains how rockets have been used to explore the universe. It opens with a brief explanation of how rockets work and the early pioneers in their development. In this area, the focus is on Robert Goddard. There is a mention of the German rockets carrying bombs to London, but no mention of Werner von Braun, either working for Germany or his later work in the United States.

 There is a focus on what satellites show us about Earth and then some of the results from the probes sent to other planets and moons in the Solar System. It closes with a brief explanation of what is planned in the future as well as a list of the countries that have launched space probes and satellites.

 This book is designed as a primer only, and in that respect the author had been very successful.

Review of "Tom Swift and His Wizard Camera," by Victor Appleton

 Review of

Tom Swift and His Wizard Camera, by Victor Appleton

Four out of five stars

Classic Tom Swift as adventurer rather than inventor

 In this book, Tom invents a new camera for taking motion pictures. He does so after being approached by named James Period, called Spotty by his friends. Spotty is a businessman that has grandiose ideas about action movies that he wants created to be shown in theaters. He wants action from natural events such as volcanoes, earthquakes to wars, nature films of wild animals battling each other and being herded to encountering storms at sea. Therefore, his proposal to Tom is that Tom invent a camera that can capture such action and then use his airship to fly around the world to film the events.

 Ned, Mr. Damon, Koku and Mr. Nestor accompany Tom on his adventures and in this case, there is an unusual twist. Mr. Nestor has a major financial stake in the business ventures of Spotty, and he will face significant financial hardship if Tom does not agree to deal with Spotty. This overcomes Tom’s initial reluctance to travel the world in search of action/adventure to film.

 Very little ink is used in the actions leading up to the successful creation of the camera, most of the text deals with the travels of the group as well as the action that they experience and film. Spotty learns of events that are taking place and sends Tom messages concerning where he is to go. As would be expected in such an adventure story, members of Tom’s group often narrowly escape death or injury in their quest to get the best camera shots.

 Far more an adventure story than one about an invention, this one has Tom being more of an entrepreneur than a genius inventor. His goal in this case is to make money for himself and his associates.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Review of "The Better Taylors," by Richard Taylor

 Review of

The Better Taylors, by Richard Taylor

Five out of five stars

These cartoons were originally published in the magazines “The New Yorker,” “Esquire,” “The Saturday Evening Post,” and “Collier’s” and this collection was first published in 1944. Therefore, the humor is well within the bounds set by those two contexts. Many of the featured characters are those of the high upper class, with the appropriate dress, facial expressions and dialog.

 Yet the cartoons have worn very well with age, for the themes are situations that remain constant in modern western societies. The incongruity of the situations keeps the humor intact, even if the situation is something that the reader will never encounter. For example, there is the one where there is a chorus line composed of tall skinny women with one exception, a short plump woman. The caption is, “Did you put the producer’s cousin in the chorus line like I told you to?” Another one has the gentleman of the manor tied up where the room has been ransacked. The butler walks in and says, “Did you ring, sir?” Great combinations of sight and textual gags.

 Some humor wears out quickly, other will last as long as humans are what they are. This collection is in the latter group.

Review of "The Story of Wheatland," by Philip Shriver Klein

 Review of

The Story of Wheatland, by Philip Shriver Klein

Four out of five stars

Brief history of the estate of President Buchanan

 Wheatland is the name given to the country residence of the fifteenth president of the United States, James Buchanan. It was located in Lancaster County Pennsylvania and by the standards of the times was a mansion.

 The house was built before Buchanan took ownership, so very few of the characteristics were by his design. Given that he was the last president before the Civil War, Buchanan’s record of effective government service is often lost to history. He was elected to five terms in the House of Representatives, served as American minister to Russia and Great Britain, Secretary of State under James Polk, and was in the Senate for approximately 10 years. Very little of that oversight is corrected here.

 The focus in this book is on the history of Wheatland rather than that of Buchanan. Written as an explanation of what is now a tourist attraction, there is very little about the life and actions of Buchanan when they do not directly apply to Wheatland. Yet, it is a short and entertaining read, one that piqued my interest in visiting it in the future.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Review of "No Dessert Until You’ve Finished Your Mashed Potatoes," by William O’Brien

 Review of

No Dessert Until You’ve Finished Your Mashed Potatoes, by William O’Brien

Five out of five stars

Cartoons based on exaggerated perspectives

 This book is a collection of cartoons based on the imagination of children when faced with situations in their lives. The situations are exaggerated yet contain a degree of reality based on the perspective of the child.

 For example, there is the cartoon with the caption, “She just adores her baby brother.” Yet, the image is that of an ape in a bassinette with a baby bottle in its mouth. There is the one with the caption, “Bedtime dear. Whatever you’re doing can wait until tomorrow.” The image is that of a child in a space capsule with hands on the controls. Finally, there is the one with the caption, “Why can’t you behave like your cousin Margery?” The image has a girl stirring a witch’s cauldron while an angel flies overhead.

 Capturing the perspective of a child when an adult is telling them things that nearly all children hear, this is an amusing book based on facts as they are perceived by the young mind.