Friday, December 31, 2021

Review of "They Fought Under the Sea," by the Editors of the Navy Times

 Review of

They Fought Under the Sea, by the Editors of the Navy Times

Five out of five stars

A history of the submarine and its use in war

 Devices that can be used to explore the floor of the ocean have been around a long time. There are even stories that Alexander the Great himself explored the ocean floor in an inverted shell that was reasonably airtight. Such devices were used for exploration as well as recovering treasure from sunken ships.

 This book starts at roughly that point in history and proceeds through the history of the submarine as a weapon of war. There was an attempt to attack British ships during the American Revolutionary War, but likely the first effective use of a submarine to attack and sink a surface ship was during the American Civil War. Unfortunately, while the target was destroyed, the submarine was also lost with all hands.

 What I found the most interesting was the number of submarines that the Imperial German Navy had when the First World War broke out in 1914 and Nazi Germany had when the Second World War broke out in Europe in 1939. Since the submarines were the most effective weapon both regimes had against Great Britain, it is baffling why they did not have many more submarines when those wars started. Especially when the Second World War started. Had Germany had a much larger fleet of submarines, they likely could have starved Britain out. Another gruesome fact is the casualty rate among the German submariners, something close to 90% did not survive the war.  

 Submarine warfare was the most ruthless and unforgiving aspect of both world wars. When a surface ship was hit and went down, no aid could be provided to the enemy. Many submarines were damaged by depth charges and the men went to watery graves on the floor of the ocean.

 This book is an excellent story about a weapon that was far too unappreciated by the decision makers in Germany. Which is fortunate, for it is one of the few things that could have led to a German victory in both World Wars.

Review of "The Black Widow: Creating the Avenging Super-Spy, The Complete Comics History," by Michael Mallory

 Review of

The Black Widow: Creating the Avenging Super-Spy, The Complete Comics History, by Michael Mallory ISBN 9781608879823

Five out of five stars

Needed history on this complex figure

 Over the course of her history as a Marvel character, the Black Widow has undergone a great deal of transformation. Born as a trained super-spy/assassin in the Soviet Union when the Cold War was “raging,” she has undergone many iterations. While she was injected with a super serum analogous to what made Captain America, she does not have his full power and strength.

 Through her history, she has been a villain, a member of the Avengers, girlfriend of both Bruce Banner and Alexei Shostakov and involved with SHIELD. This complex history is difficult to follow and really does need a book of this size in order to comprehend it.

 If you are a fan of the Black Widow and were like me in being unsure regarding the various aspects of her life history, then this is the book for you. It explains in detail her origins, transformations and experiences, both within and without the Avengers and SHIELD.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Review of "First Stop Honolulu," by Frankin W. Dixon

 Review of

First Stop Honolulu, by Frankin W. Dixon

Four out of five stars

A Ted Scott flying story

 To most people, the name Franklin W. Dixon is the pen name used by various authors writing books in the Hardy Boys series for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. However, there was another series written under that name, the Ted Scott Flying Stories. As the name implies, Ted Scott was a young aviator in the days when aviation was in its infancy. There were 20 books in the series that spanned the years 1927 to 1943 and this is the second book in that series.

 The first book had Ted Scott flying from the United States to Paris, it was published in 1927, the very year that Lindbergh made his famous flight. In this book, Ted is flying nonstop from the continental United States to Honolulu. This is a bit more difficult, in the sense that when flying west to east it is impossible to miss Europe, but when going to Hawaii, the target is comparatively small.

 This adventure has much more than just a plane flight over the ocean, Ted Scott is also trying to clear the name of his father. When there was the murder of a bank executive, Ted’s father was charged based on flimsy evidence and died in prison before the  trial could take place. Although it happened many years ago and the trail is cold, Ted is determined to follow all possible leads.

 There are a few close calls, including the rescuing of a man alone on a raft in the Pacific without landing and having to patch a wing while in flight. There are some significant stretches of the coincidence plot device, to the point that it really does not work.

 While this is a good juvenile adventure story for the era of the 1920’s when aviation was in its’ infancy, it has not aged well. Some of the coincidental events could have been left out with no real impact on the fundamental plot of a daring young man in his flying machine.

Review of "Tales for Alyonushka," by D. Mamin-Sibiryak

 Review of

Tales for Alyonushka, by D. Mamin-Sibiryak

Four out of five stars

Russian fairy tales for an American readership

 This book was printed in the USSR in 1978 by Progress Publishers. The purpose was to make Soviet stories and books available to an American audience. The premise is that writer Dimitry Mamin-Sibiryak has a daughter Alyonushka and she will not go to sleep until her dad tells her a story. They are generally modifications of classic Russian fairy tales and none of those modifications appear to have been done to appeal to an American audience. Therefore, they retain their distinctive Russian format.

 As is traditional in Russia, there is a great deal about the harshness of the winter and the great awakening and rebirth when spring arrives. Most of the stories feature animals behaving in a manner similar to that of humans. They exhibit emotions, posturing and self-centeredness that are all too human. For example, in the story, “The Last of the Flies,” the common flies believe that everything is done for them. In the summer, when the humans open the windows, they believe that it is done so that they can fly in and out of the house.

 While these stories can be enjoyed by all, it will help a bit if the reader has some familiarity with the Russian climate and culture.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Review of "Amazing Animals," by David Drew

 Review of

Amazing Animals, by David Drew, ISBN 0763567302

Five out of five stars

A few of the unusual characteristics of animals

 Six animals with unusual characteristics are featured in this book. The animals and their specific characteristic are:

*) The tongue of a frog

*) The (back) feet of a kangaroo

*) The eyes of a hawk

*) The wings of an albatross

*) The trunk of an elephant

*) The arms of an octopus.

 The specialization of these organs of these specific animals is an excellent, albeit brief introduction to how specialized some animals are. Each of them has developed a specific characteristic that allows it to live in their specific environmental niche.

 This book was written so that it can be read to large groups of children. The text and images are large, so they can be seen from some distance. It is also very educational children have a natural interest in animals and this book will satisfy and amplify that interest.

Review of "Elizabeth Blackwell: First Woman M. D.," by Ephraim Fischoff

 Review of

Elizabeth Blackwell: First Woman M. D., by Ephraim Fischoff

Five out of five stars

A true pioneer in medicine and equal rights

 Raised in a liberal environment where her father was a member of the progressive socialist movement, Elizabeth Blackwell was determined to become a physician. However, she faced enormous obstacles put up by both conservative and liberal members of the (then all male) medical profession. Even those that treated her kindly  and in a supportive manner expressed reluctance in allowing her to attend medical school and enter practice.

 Ironically, it was a cynical move by Dean Charles A. Lee of Geneva Medical College that allowed her to attend medical school. Since Blackwell was so highly recommended by a respected physician in her application, Lee was reluctant to reject her on his authority. In an attempt to pass the responsibility on, he put the issue of her acceptance to the medical student body.

 To his surprise, they voted unanimously to allow her admittance, after which Lee could not deny her entry. However, they were not as magnanimous in their coursework, creating additional difficulties for her. Upon graduation, Blackwell continued to face significant opposition to engaging in additional education, starting a practice and acquiring patients. Yet, with the help of several people, especially Quaker women, she managed to open a hospital and treat many patients, especially the poor.

 Blackwell was also a pioneer in the new movement in medicine to engage in the highest possible hygienic practices. It is hard to believe that this was once a radical idea in medicine, it of course won out because of the science behind it.

 One of the people that struggled and suffered because they were a pioneer for change in society, Elizabeth Blackwell deserves to be treated as a hero that changed the world. This short book will generate an interest in you in learning more about this remarkable woman.  

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Review of "The Battle for North Africa," by John Strawson

 Review of

The Battle for North Africa, by John Strawson

Five out of five stars

The first Allied victory of World War II

 The battle for North Africa in the early years of the Second World War involved long and dramatic movements of mass amounts of men and equipment. Given those long distances that the armies moved, in many cases it came down to which side had the most available gasoline. It also featured the only German general that captured the admiration of the west, Erwin Rommel. Popularly known as “The Desert Fox,” he managed to do more with less than any other commander. He was also known for uttering the phrase, “war without hate,” and there is little doubt that the war in North Africa was the cleanest, most chivalrous campaign in World War II.

 While this book does present both sides, including excerpts from reports and diaries, there is a slight tilt towards the Allies. The history of the campaign is well done, including what was the decisive factor of the battle, the failure of the Axis forces to take the island of Malta. At one point, Malta was effectively neutralized and down to the last vestiges of their supplies, but the Allies were able to keep it in the fight. Forces based in Malta were then able to attack Axis shipping and severely reduce the supply of war material available to Rommel.

 What is made clear is that Rommel was aware of this problem, as were the Allied commanders. If Rommel had received anywhere near the resources available to the Allies, he likely would have taken Egypt before the Americans could effectively intervene. The loss of the Suez canal would have been a serious blow to the Allies, their shipping would have been forced to go all the way around Africa.

 North Africa was the only possible place where significant American and Axis forces could have met on the ground in 1942. Therefore, it was the first time in the war that an American army faced off against a German one. While the Americans emerged victorious, it was against a resource starved opponent. It is well stated here that had the Axis high command made North Africa a priority, Malta would have been taken at any cost and the fight to clear the Axis forces from Africa would have been a longer and much bloodier one.

 Montgomery is also portrayed as an extremely methodical general, always making sure to build up his forces and deploy them in ways that were designed to maintain pressure and never outrun all of the support structure. He is described as anything but dashing.

 Another very positive aspect of this book is how the Italian forces are described. Many books about the Second World War are derisive about the fighting abilities of the Italian soldier, in this one they are often praised for their bravery and effectiveness in the battles. Once they were no longer being led by incompetents.

Review of "Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer 2," by Max Allan Collins et. al.

 Review of

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer 2, by Max Allan Collins et. al.

Five out of five stars

Captures the essence of Spillane’s Hammer

 On the back cover of this comic is an advertisement of a newly published novel by Spillane. In keeping with the tradition of Spillane, the cover of the novel has a scantily clad woman with strategically located shadows. This comic also holds with the persona and actions of Spillane’s rendition of his most famous character.

 The dialog is right out of the novels, when the damsel in distress is about to leave Hammer’s office, he tells her that his secretary Velda will accompany her and “She packs a .38.” To which the damsel replies, “At least.” If you are a fan of the hard-bitten private eye story in general and Mike Hammer in particular, this is a comic that you will enjoy.

Review of "All About the World: Poems and Rhymes," selected by Sylvia Karavis

 Review of

All About the World: Poems and Rhymes, selected by Sylvia Karavis ISBN 0763567388

Five out of five stars

Simple poems easily understood

 This book is a collection of short poems about basic things in the world, some real and some utilizing stretches of the imagination. There is one about a mighty sneeze, another about a crocodile lying in wait for prey, there is one about life on a sampan and the one titled, “Who Has Seen the Wind?”

 The prose is simple and in large size and each is at most two pages in size, which is at most 16 lines. The images are also large, so all aspects of the poem can be seen from some distance away. This is an excellent book to be read to groups of children, for there will be no need for them to bunch up tight so that all can see.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Review of "Marvel: The Amazing 1000 Dot-to-Dot Book," by Thomas Pavitte

 Review of

Marvel: The Amazing 1000 Dot-to-Dot Book, by Thomas Pavitte ISBN 9781781573501

Five out of five stars

Amazing test of the steady hands of an artist

All of us have at one point in our lives worked a simple dot-to-dot drawing, where, by connecting the dots, we have created a basic image. However, these are several levels of magnitude beyond those exercises. Twenty of the Marvel comic book characters appear in these very detailed and minutely constructed images to be created by the reader.

 The numbers on the dots are so small that I found it necessary to use a magnifying glass in order to find the start position. It will also be necessary to use an extremely fine-pointed pen to connect the dots, as the distance between them is generally very short.

 This book contains a great set of exercises for the budding artist, whether their interest is in comic books or something else. Using a steady hand and some significant patience, it is possible to create very detailed images of famous Marvel comic book characters.

Review of "Abandonings: Photographs of Otter Tail County, Minnesota," by Maxwell Mackenzie

 Review of

Abandonings: Photographs of Otter Tail County, Minnesota, by Maxwell Mackenzie ISBN 1880216345

Five out of five stars

Otter Tail County is in the western area of Minnesota, roughly in the middle of the state going north-south. It is very close to the border with North Dakota and the early white settlers were primarily Norwegian, Swedish, German and English. The winter climate is generally severe, and the overall weather can be harsh during the other months. It was difficult for the homesteading farmers to make a long-term living on their land, so many simply left it, leaving their decaying buildings behind.

 This book contains a series of pictures of those buildings that are rapidly falling into misshapen piles of rubble. They should be interpreted as the skeletons of the hopes and dreams of people that took a chance on the frontier, managed to hold on for a while and then were forced to accept the reality that they could not make a living on their farm.

 Otter Tail County is hardly unique in this characteristic, the rural populations of all states in the upper Midwest have been declining dramatically in the past few decades. Any drive along roads will reveal houses, barns and other buildings that are clearly abandoned and looking like what you see in this book. It is the modern reality of the world, all that can be done is preserve the remnants in pictures, for the buildings are rapidly disappearing. This book is a preservation of a small amount of history in one county.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Review of "Playing for Pizza," by John Grisham

 Review of

Playing for Pizza, by John Grisham ISBN 9780385525008

Four out of five stars

Very different approach to a classic sports plot

 Rick Dockery had a very successful college football career and since then has bounced around in the NFL. Generally relegated to the third string or emergency quarterback, he has a powerful arm but is inconsistent. He is playing for the Cleveland Browns, and they are in the AFC Championship against the Denver Broncos. When the first and second-string quarterbacks are both knocked out of action, Rick enters the game in the final minutes and with the Browns having a 17-point lead.

 Rick then proceeds to have what is arguably the worst few minutes of any quarterback in NFL history and the Broncos win the game. The backlash is immediate and vicious, even though Rick ended up in the hospital after the game. There was so much anger that his life was threatened, and he needed a police guard while he recovered.

 Not wanting to give up the only life he knew, Rick asked his agent Arnie to find him another spot as a quarterback. Obliging beyond the call of duty, Arnie finds him a spot as the quarterback of a team in Parma, Italy known as the Panthers. While American football is a niche sport in Italy, those who play it do so with a passion. Each team in the league can have at most three American players, most of which were fringe players in the United States. The Italian players are generally not paid, although they are extremely well fed in the Italian style.

 After some thought, Rick agrees to go to Parma and be the starting quarterback. There is significant culture shock, yet nearly everyone goes out of their way to make him feel comfortable. The playbook is extremely simple compared to the NFL, but when he calls the play in the huddle, one of the Italian players must translate for the others.

 While the Italian backdrop is unusual for sports fiction, the sports action segment of the story is standard fare. After difficulties and setbacks, the Panthers play and win in the big game at the end and Rick emerges as one of the major instruments of the victory. In a nice twist, he also gets the girl at the end, so there is a double happy ending.

 The setting and description of the Italian environment for Rick is what makes this story work. It is amusing, from the actions of the police to the seriousness of the dining and drinking to the enormous number of historical places that Rick and the girl visit. There is also the Italian passion for opera. It would be possible to replace the sports aspect with many other plotlines and the story would still be interesting and entertaining.

Review of "See You Again in Pyongyang: A Journey Into Kim Jong Un’s North Korea," by Travis Jeppesen

 Review of

See You Again in Pyongyang: A Journey Into Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, by Travis Jeppesen, ISBN 9780316509152

Five out of five stars

 An almost unique perspective on the DPRK

 The author has one of the most unusual perspectives on North Korea since Kim Jong Un came to power. He is an American that was accepted into a Korean language program at a North Korean University, the first ever to do so. Not surprisingly, he was the only American student in the program. It was not Jeppesen’s first trip into the country, so he had some familiarity with the way things are done in what is rightly referred to as “the Hermit Kingdom.” Given how little is known about the country and how their social structures function, his experiences provide valuable information about that mysterious land. Of course, it must be kept foremost in mind that he was almost constantly accompanied by government minders.

 Yet, Jeppesen found that there is a dynamic society that manages to largely function, albeit with some enormous internal contradictions. Nearly all citizens are in a constant state of uncertainty and fear, which dictates much of their actions. Like all societies, there are the privileged, a group that seems to be growing over time. Jeppesen even found many instances of “creeping capitalism,” where people created some modestly functioning free markets for goods not otherwise available.

 This is one of the most fascinating books about the mystery known as North Korea. Unlike most of the other books written by experts that are remote from the country, this one is by a person that actually lived in the country for some time and was allowed some travel to locations other than the capital of Pyongyang.

 One sad feature of the book is the rendition of how defectors from North Korea are treated after they manage to escape. When housed together, some are brutal to the others, and they are discriminated against when they take up residence in South Korea. Rather than being readily assimilated, they are isolated into an uncomfortable social niche.

Review of "The Goddamned: Before the Flood, Issue One," by Jason Aaron et. al.

 Review of

The Goddamned: Before the Flood, Issue One, by Jason Aaron et. al.

Five out of five stars

Dark rendition of Genesis tales

 In this story about early human life on Earth, everything is dark and disturbing. While the Earth has a significant human population, there is nothing that could be considered civilization. It opens in a location on the edge of the desert 1600 years after Eden. A man has been robbed by a group called the Bone Boys, they cut his throat and threw him in a cesspool. To the astonishment of a one-armed ragamuffin boy, the man rises out of the pool and appears to be perfectly healthy.

 All the man wants to know is where he can find the Bone Boys, for his goal is revenge. Naked, he walks through some of the most forbidding of all human settlements. Ramshackle is a word far to good to describe the housing units and the Bone Boys are having a party where they have roasted an animal over an open fire. After a battle where the seemingly indestructible man defeats the entire Bone Boys group, he calmly recovers his stolen possessions and walks away eating a hunk of their cooked meat. The one-armed boy wants to go with him, but the man tells him no.

 After some wanderings where he reminisces over his life, the reader learns that he is Cain, son of Adam and the man that invented the act of murder. Not long after Cain leaves the camp of the Bone Boys, a caravan arrives, and the members appear to be just as brutal as the Bone Boys. They are slavers and their leader is a man called Noah. It is before the great flood and there are massive flesh eating animals that resemble dinosaurs.

 This is a very dark tale, not pleasant to read, yet there is a strong compulsion to acquire and read the subsequent installments. However, there is little belief that there will be any improvement in the state of the world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Review of "Fox, Beware!," by Judy Waite

 Review of

Fox, Beware!, by Judy Waite ISBN 0763567469

Three out of five stars

No closure weakens it

 This book is about a fox that watches the encroachment of human development on its’ habitat. First there are the surveyors, then the loggers/clearers, the diggers of infrastructure and at the end there are 100 houses near where the fox lives. Children can look out their windows and see the remaining forest area.  At the end, after several instances of “Fox Beware!”, the last caption has the fox sleeping peacefully with her pups.

 This is of course an artificial peace, for it will not be long and there will be more development and the fox will have to move again. The real point of this book is that the secluded spot of nature is forever altered to allow for human habitation with all the consequences. While the book is visually pleasing and the text is large enough to be read from some distance, the message is not a happy one.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Review of "The Nazi Drawings," by Mauricio Lasansky

 Review of

The Nazi Drawings, by Mauricio Lasansky

Five out of five stars

Haunting images of death by Nazi

 While Mauricio Lasansky was never in a Nazi camp, he was the son of East European Jews and was born and raised in Argentina where there was strong German sympathies in World War II. He began winning prizes for his art when in his teen years and at the age of 22, became the director of the Free Fine Arts School in Villa María, Argentina. He held this position until he relocated to New York City in 1943. Two years later he took his first position at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, established the school of printmaking and stayed there until he retired in 1984.

 These drawings depict the depth of depravity and destruction perpetrated by the Nazis against their fellow humans. There are 30 drawings in this collection, the last is one of Hitler himself using a knife to castrate himself. Most of the images have deeper meanings that are often pointed out in the introduction. Drawing 29 shows two priests standing over a pile of corpses of children, no doubt meant to emphasize the general silence of the continental European churches over what was being done to helpless populations.

 These images are complex, yet the messages are easy to understand, albeit difficult to contemplate. Many of them remind the viewer of the classic Picasso portrait “Guernica.”

Review of "The Secret of the Lost Tunnel," by Franklin W. Dixon

 Review of

The Secret of the Lost Tunnel, by Franklin W. Dixon

Four out of five stars

Secrets from the Confederacy and the war

 In this story, Frank and Joe are giving aid to a General friend of their father Fenton Hardy. The general is on the trail of some gold that disappeared around the time of a major battle between the Union and Confederate forces called the Battle of Rocky Run. Clues to the location of the gold were supposedly place in a bandoleer and that item is missing.

 Since Fenton is tied up doing other things, Frank, Joe, Chet Morton and General Smith go to the site of the southern plantation where the gold was supposedly lost. Their foes are a mysterious gang that appears to be willing to do anything to stop the Hardy forces and acquire the gold for themselves. The action moves forward at a modest pace, the Hardy’s get knocked unconscious once again and Chet proves to be a bit more cowardly than normal. His fad in this episode is photography, where he proves a bit inept, even though he does manage to capture a few helpful clues.

 As the title implies, there is a tunnel where the valuable items are. One of the interesting aspects of this story is the inclusion of black people. They are largely depicted as normal people with one man in particular showing great loyalty to General Smith. That was significant in 1950, when black people rarely appeared in juvenile fiction. In summary, this is one of the better Hardy Boys stories of the era.

Review of "Superman: The Wedding Album," by Superman writers and artists past and present

 Review of

Superman: The Wedding Album, by Superman writers and artists past and present

Five out of five stars

Clark (Superman) and Lois get married at last

 This giant comic opens with Lois in a wedding gown, but it is a great surprise how that gambit plays out. Lois demonstrates that she is a woman of action and adventure in her own right. Lois and Clark had broken off their relationship earlier, but they both found that their love was festering into major unhappiness for both of them.

 Reunited at the Daily Planet building where Clark is filling in for the ill Perry White, the act of seeing each other rekindles their desire for each other and it is not long before they are planning a wedding. Clark is no longer Superman in the real sense, for he has lost his powers. Yet, he finds himself still playing the role of hero, even though a bullet would not emit a “Zing!” sound when it ricocheted off his body.

 There are many difficulties inherent in the planning as most of Clark’s old friends show up in their adult roles. Lex Luthor is also surprisingly quiescent during this challenging time. Superman’s superhero friends show up to cover for his lack of powers so he can concentrate on this major event in his life.

 The only non-normal hitch in the wedding is when Mr. Mxyzptlk shows up. Yet even he will not disrupt the wedding, although he promises to be a major annoyance later in their lives. The wedding goes off well and the last pages have Lois and Clark (Superman) enjoying the post pronouncement kiss.

 This is a great comic, most of the difficulties surrounding the wedding are those of humans being difficult, demanding and obnoxious. Kind of like the way it goes in normal life. Although Lois and Clark are anything but normal, the creators have made their wedding surprisingly normal.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Review of "Yum ! Yuck!," by Michaela Morgan

 Review of

Yum ! Yuck!, by Michaela Morgan ISBN 0763567353

Five out of five stars

Many parents face this situation

 Baby and Mommy Grizzle are bears with Baby in a high-chair and Mommy serving Baby a large cheesy pizza that is hot out of the oven. However, Baby says, “Yuck! That’s what I want, That’s what I want, That’s what I want, up there!” pointing to the cupboard. On the shelves of the cupboard are jars of toppings. Some of them are bits of bats, fishy tails, slimy snails and fat flies.  Mommy takes several of them down, but in each case, Baby repeats the same phrase. Frustrated, Mommy finally reaches for the bottle of ketchup, which leads baby to say “Yum! Yum!”

 Like so many children, my daughter loved having ketchup on many things. When we had hamburger, she filled a spoon with ketchup before putting a small piece of hamburger in it. Many other parents have related similar experiences. Therefore, the events are familiar to many that have been tasked with feeding a young child.

 The story has just enough grossness in it to make it entertaining for the child. The rejected toppings all have a high yuck factor. The images are large and very well done. Children will love having this book read to them or reading it themselves. It is also a story with audience participation where a few emphatic  “Yucks!” are stated is appropriate.

Review of "Koko’s Kitten," by Dr. Francine Patterson

 Review of

Koko’s Kitten, by Dr. Francine Patterson ISBN 0590338129

Five out of five stars

Great interspecies story

 Koko is a female gorilla that was raised with humans and has learned a great deal of sign language. When working with the humans she interacts with, Koko expressed the desire to have a cat. The humans relented over time and started bringing a tailless cat that Koko named “All Ball.” Koko was very affectionate in a gentle way with the cat. Unfortunately, the cat was hit by a car and killed.

 After that, Koku expressed a desire to have another cat companion and after some trial and error another tailless kitten was found and became Koko’s second feline companion. At the time this book was written, the two wildly different mammals were friends and affectionate companions.

 Heavily illustrated, this is a great book for children, who generally have a natural affinity for animal stories. The images are large, making it an excellent book for reading to a large group of children. There is also a happy ending that will warm your heart.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Review of "The Runaway Pizza," by Brenda Parkes

 Review of

The Runaway Pizza, by Brenda Parkes ISBN 0763567361

Five out of five stars

Retelling of a classic tale

 This story is a delightful modification of the classic fairy tale “The Gingerbread Man.” In this case the object being chased is a runaway pizza. Like the original tale, several other entities join in the chase, all of which are taken from other fairy tales.

 The original chasers are a husband and wife that have ordered a pizza. When that pizza leaves the box and begins rolling like a wheel on the ground they give chase. They are joined by the three bears from the story of Goldilocks, then Little Miss Muffet enters the chase, Little Jack Horner leaves his plums to join and finally Little Red Riding Hood hops off her skateboard and gives chase. The pizza finally runs into the greedy paws of the hungry wolf and is eaten by the wolf and his family.

 While the classic fairy tales have a long social shelf life, modern modifications of them can be extremely entertaining. That is the case here. Given the size of the book and the text, it is an excellent choice for reading to small and large groups of children in early elementary school.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Review of "The Zero Patrol, Number 1," by Esteban Maroto et. al.

 Review of

The Zero Patrol, Number 1, by Esteban Maroto et. al.

Four out of five stars

Diverse Challengers of the Unknown

 This comic introduces a new group of heroes without superpowers and they are similar to the Challengers of the Unknown. There are five players, two women and three men. Their names and talents are as follows:

*) Altair Lane male astronomer and nuclear physicist

*) Heather Curtis, a female actress that is sexy and physically fit

*) Orion Smith, movie stunt man

*) Bruce Lewis, bodyguard and Rhodes scholar and a very large man

*) Lanie Dark, doctor of psychiatry and also physically fit.

 A spaceship lands near each of them and extends an invitation for them to enter. Once in the ship they are recruited by a space alien called Zero. He recounts the history of his civilization where the robot workers grew self-aware and attacked the living creatures that made them. It is Zero’s goal to have the recruits destroy the energy stations that power the robots.

 They all agree and split into teams to accomplish their tasks. While they do have their difficulties, the newly named Zero Patrol is successful and at the end they agree to continue working for their mentor Zero.

 As the first installment in an action/adventure series, it is necessary for the story to contain enough information regarding origin and the nature of other main characters. The developers of this comic have succeeded in that and have set the stage for whatever subsequent challenges the group will face.


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Review of "The Animals’ Wishes," by Dovie Thompson

 Review of

The Animals’ Wishes, by Dovie Thompson ISBN 0763567442

Five out of five stars

Traditional Native American tale about the rabbit and the owl

 In Native American folklore, the Maker was the one that made all of the living creatures, starting with somewhat amorphous tufts of protoplasm. Since the Maker was kind, he allowed each of the creatures to give input as to what their final features would be.

 The story opens with the Maker interacting with the precursor to the rabbit. As the rabbit tells the maker what characteristics he would like, the precursor to the owl lands and interrupts with demands rather than requests. Even though the Maker tells the owl to leave, it persists to the point where the Maker leaves the rabbit incomplete in structure. The request was for strong forelegs and an expansive tail, but the Maker becomes frustrated with the owl and leaves the development task incomplete.

 Furthermore, the owl does not get very much of what it wants. Rather than a long neck like a swan, it has no neck. The owl requested the ability to make a complex birdsong, but all the Maker allowed it to do was utter the single word of “Who.”

 There are many Native American tales of how the creatures had their characteristics developed, this is typical, with many such tales designed to explain species-specific oddities.  The large size of the book and the text will allow it to be read to large groups of children, where they can see the pictures and read the text from a distance.

 With the multi-cultural aspect of a Native American myth and the structure of the book, this is an ideal for reading to small and large groups of children.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Review of "What Do I Eat?," by Jason Amber

 Review of

What Do I Eat?, by Jason Amber ISBN 0763567418

Five out of five stars

Novel method of teaching science

 This book is a primer on the eating habits of several creatures. From pure herbivores to omnivores to carnivores. There are birds, insects, reptiles, mammals on land and in the sea and spiders. The pages are split, so the various panels can be flipped separately so the animal on the top can be matched with their diet appearing in the panel on the bottom. Distinct icons representing herbivores, carnivores and omnivores appear with the living creatures.

 The images are large, so they can be seen from a distance. making this an excellent book for an elementary school reading group. It is also a solid primer on the basic science topic of the various diets that different creatures, from the large to small have.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Review of "Problems in European Civilization: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," edited by Donald Kagan

 Review of

Problems in European Civilization: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, edited by Donald Kagan

Three out of five stars

Articles by experts that are too short

 From a historical perspective, it appears that empires age to the point where they end, often dramatically due to conquest. Sometimes, like the Soviet Empire of the twentieth century, they simply just end. Down through history, there was no empire that was more powerful and long lived than the Roman Empire. Unlike the Soviet Empire that lasted only fifty years, the Roman political entity lasted over 1,000 years. There were three distinct forms, the time of kings, the time of the Republic and then Imperial Rome.

 There is still a great deal of debate regarding the primary cause(es) of the collapse of the Roman Empire. The articles in this collection do not advance the debate a great deal. There was a problem of taxation, there was a dilution of the Roman nature of the citizenry and the armies became increasingly hired foreign mercenaries rather than people from Italy. Several causes are put forward, yet the best evidence is the growing hostility between the people from the cities and those from rural areas. The rank-and-file of the army was largely drawn from the rural regions and the animosity was so great that the army occasionally sacked the cities they were supposed to defend.

 I read this book and cannot say that I emerged knowing anything more about the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire than I knew before. It was at best a basic refresher on some of the reasons the greatest Empire of all time ended.

Review of "Asha in the Attic," by Chris Powling

 Review of

Asha in the Attic, by Chris Powling ISBN 0763567930

Five out of five stars

The magic of storytelling

 Asha is a young girl and she and her grandfather regularly go up into her grandfather’s attic and she finds something tucked away. At that time, her grandfather then tells her the story behind the object. One was a bag that he used to take his pet rat to school, and another was a military medal he received when he saved a  buddy when they were under fire. Her mother’s clothes are there, which leads to another story about her mother.

 Asha wants one of the stories to be about her, but her grandfather tells her that all the objects in the attic are older than her, so it will be some time before there is a story where she is featured. Wanting to be the focal point of a story, when her grandfather is asleep, Asha goes into the attic with her stuffed owl. Her goal is to place the owl in the attic so that it can be found, and grandfather will tell the story.

 However, it is scary being alone in the attic, so Asha decides to leave. Unfortunately, the door is jammed, and she cannot open it. Growing more frightened over time she huddles down until she sees a shape outlined in the skylight. She is overjoyed when she realizes it is her grandfather, there to rescue her. He has brought tools, so in a short time he has the door opened and they are back in the main section of the house. Bringing a good story with them.

 This is a great story about grandparents and a grandchild. Children love stories, especially those that feature close family members. Given the size of the book and the quality of the illustrations, this is a great book for reading to large groups of young children. The text is also large, so it can be read from some distance.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Review of "My Dear Mr. Churchill," by Walter Graebner

 Review of

My Dear Mr. Churchill, by Walter Graebner

Three out of five stars

Extremely laudatory

 The author is obviously smitten with Winston Churchill, to his credit, he admits it in the foreword. The lead sentence in the second-to-the-last paragraph is, “The story is about a man so great that I suppose another like him will not live in the next century, a man that no one could know without loving.” When a biographer utters a statement like that, it is clear that one must read with a bit of caution.

 The author knew Churchill well, he describes many events that he shared with Churchill, both public and private. There is a bit of insight into the private life of Churchill, although most of what is related is common knowledge. Despite the weight Churchill had in the path of history, most of the text deals with what Churchill did in private. He was a dog lover, a fairly talented painter and did a great deal of the work on his estates himself.

 If you read this book while keeping the perspective of the author in mind, this isn’t a bad book. Otherwise, you may find yourself wondering if the other renditions of Churchill as a bit of a gruff drunk weren’t quite true.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Review of "Wiggly Squiggly," by Jeanne Willis

 Review of

Wiggly Squiggly, by Jeanne Willis ISBN 0763567434

Five out of five stars

Different perspective on the spider in the house

The narrator is the grandchild of a man that was once an intrepid mountaineer. One day the grandfather sets out on a solitary mission to climb a very difficult mountain. Unknown to him, there is a valley on the other side of the peak that is the home of a family of monsters. There is the father, mother and children, all comfortable in their dwelling and extremely large.

 When the grandfather enters their valley, he is mistaken for a spider-like creature with his rope and ability to dangle on it. The children react the way human children often do where there is the sudden appearance of a spider. Fortunately, their cries of “Smash it!” are not acted on. Eventually, the grandfather manages to parachute back down off the mountain, when he does the monsters consider him a butterfly and let him go.

 This book is an unusual expression of the sudden appearance of a bug-like creature that is considered frightful. In this case it is the human that fills the role of the bug and the monsters the role of the human.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Review of "Fractured Fables," by Image Comics

 Review of

Fractured Fables, by Image Comics

Five out of five stars

Five classic tales reclassified

 Most people are very familiar with the classic fairy tales. So much so, that they can grow a little stale after having been read many times. In this comic, five of those tales are reimaged into another form. In “Little Red Riding Hood,” the wolf does his typical chase of the girl only to encounter her grandmother, a martial arts instructor. Needless to say, the wolf howling at the end.

The next one is a modification of “Rumplestiltskin,” where he does his thing in making gold, from straw. The little imp asks for the woman’s newborn son, but when he arrives he finds the mother so stupid that he self-destructs in frustration. My favorite is a takeoff on “Rapunzel” called “Raponsel.” It is a case of mistaken identity that involves some very silly misunderstandings, including the fundamental mispronunciation of a name. The last is a wordless cartoon version of “Hey Diddle Diddle” that takes place in front of some storefronts.

 Enjoyable for the twisted, yet humorous way some classics are bent, this is a quick, fun read.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Review of "The Underground Dance," by Tony Mitton

 Review of

The Underground Dance, by Tony Mitton ISBN 0763567345

Three out of five stars

Could have been a great book

 This book could have been an excellent book for children, the problem is one great flaw. The basic premise is to describe creatures and their actions that take place underground. From the human miner to the mole to the subway train and the human attendants to worms, seeds and rabbits. All of that is educational and entertaining.

 However, many of the pages have collections of bones, specifically human femurs and others of appendages. They are collected in small piles and due to the numbers in those collections, the indication is that are from more than one human. There is no reference to the bones in the text, so there appears to be no explicit reason for their inclusion. Specifically in a book for children. Other than that, this book would be very suitable for reading to children. If that is done, the reader will have to be able to explain the purpose of the bones.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Review of "The Wolf’s Story," by Brenda Parkes

 Review of

The Wolf’s Story, by Brenda Parkes ISBN 0763567477

Five out of five stars

Great modification of the classic story

 The story of the wolf and the three little pigs is a classic story for children, yet the main point of the story is often lost. The pigs that built their houses out of straw and sticks were in fact lazy and it was the pig that built his out of bricks that was the responsible one. When danger threatens, the first two run to the third for the protection of his solidly built house. This is an important lesson in building well and for the future.

 This book is an entertaining modification of that basic story. In this case, the wolf is the owner of a home improvement company and when he destroys the houses of straw and sticks, he is simply demonstrating the flaws in their construction techniques. Character witnesses from other fairy tales also give their testimony on behalf of the wolf.

 The large size of the book makes this an excellent choice for reading circles where someone reads the book to a group of young children. The images and the text can be seen for some distance. The form of the text is that of groups of four lines with basic rhyming of at least the second and fourth lines. If you are looking for books that are entertaining and catch the eye, this one is an excellent choice.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Review of "Tales of the Hoofengoofers!" by Alan Lance Andersen

 Review of

Tales of the Hoofengoofers! by Alan Lance Andersen

Five out of five stars

Stories of little people of the forests and meadows

 Hoofengoofers are like fairies and elves, in that they live in the wild, are very small (about 17 inches tall) and the men have long beards. They are also magical, capable of delivering valuable items to the humans that they like or take pity on. The author is a native of Iowa, so the location context is rural Iowa. As a lifelong resident of Iowa, I found the references to familiar locations pleasant.

 Given the powers of the Hoofengoofers, the stories are very similar to those of European vintage featuring faeries and elves. They appear in dreams and reveal their presence when needed. These stories will enthrall children, they can be considered very lengthy bedtime stories as there is always a happy ending for the good people.

 It you are looking for some stories of little magical people that are a little bit different, then this is the book for you.

Review of "The Katzenjammer Kids: Early Strips in Full Color," by Rudolph Dirks

 Review of

The Katzenjammer Kids: Early Strips in Full Color, by Rudolph Dirks ISBN 0486230058

Three out of five stars

Exaggerated behavior, exaggerated punishment

 The Katzenjammer Kids was a comic strip that started in December of 1897 and featured two very unruly children named Hans and Fritz. The dialog was a form of pidgin English. For example, on page 14 there is the dialog balloon, “Dot’s just like a woman! She had to go und tell!” Hans and Fritz are very bad, doing things like cutting the bottom off a hot air balloon so only the sides of the basket go up, cutting the legs of a chair so that it collapses and putting a cat in a large bowl of dough.

 They never get away with it and their punishment is extreme. They are frequently kicked by an adult in their backsides and most of the two-page short stories end with them getting a major spanking that sometimes includes a stout board.

 This is definitely humor that is based on an ethnic cliché and is very dated. From the name and the dialog, it is clear that the family is German, and the cliché was that German parents were extremely strict and quick to implement strong corporal punishment. Therefore, this book must be read as a history lesson regarding what was considered acceptable humor at the start of the twentieth century.