Monday, January 31, 2022

Review of "The Pros," by Robert Liston

 Review of

The Pros, by Robert Liston

Four out of five stars

Thoughts from pro athletes from several sports

 Published in 1968, this book appeared before the salaries of professional athletes soared to their current heights. The highest paid athletes were golfers and even then the prize money for the entire pro tour was $4.5 million. Baseball, football and basketball players routinely took other jobs in the off season in order to make ends meet.

 Therefore, when these athletes talk about their games, they are generally talking about a sport they love. It is interesting that Liston includes an interview with Daniel F. Reeves, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams professional football team. When Reeves offered to buy out his fellow owners, the price was under ten million dollars. While this was big money in the sixties, it is nothing compared to the billions sports franchises are worth today.

 The most interesting person interviewed for this book is Joe Don Looney, a football player with incredible physical talent and nothing to psychologically match it. Looney bounced around the NFL with a deserved reputation for being an unsolvable problem. His career never came close to what it could have been. Once, when his head coach told him to go in on offence and give the quarterback the play, his response was, “If you want a messenger boy, call Western Union.”

 The players profiled in this book were just as serious and dedicated as those that play today. The only real differences are the vast amounts of money in the modern game and how that alters the approach all involved in the sport have.

Review of "Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane No. 57"

 Review of

Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane No. 57

Two out of five stars

Incredibly sexist and stereotypical

 The lead story of this comic is one of the worst of all time. The premise is that shortly after Superman tells Lois Lane and Lana Lang that he is flying off to engage in youth-restoring experiments, a superpowered infant appears wearing the same suit as Superman. Both women immediately assume that the experiment was successful, and the infant is in fact Superman. They also believe that the infant will be restored to adult form in a short time.

 Both women try to take advantage of their opportunity to hypnotize the infant and plant a suggestion so that when he regains his adult form he will ask them to marry them. Their rivalry and methods are as sexist and stereotypical as they could possibly be. Neither one wins in this in this case and their solution to misbehavior is to try to spank the superpowered child.

 The other two stories are just as silly, the second involves a monster from another dimension that is madly in love with Lois and the third involves an invisible genie from another planet that helps Lois capture criminals. Of course, Lois has no clue as to what is happening until Superman tells her.

 Reading this comic and noting the publication date of 1965, it is a bit amazing that this passed for entertainment at the time. Comic characters have evolved a great deal over the years, none more than Lois Lane.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Review of "The Double-Cross System: In the War of 1939 to 1945," by J. C. Masterman

 Review of

The Double-Cross System: In the War of 1939 to 1945, by J. C. Masterman

Five out of five stars

The wartime double agent spy system

 It is a fact of the world that nations spy on each other. In peacetime, it is lower key in the sense that there is little in the way of urgency or violence. That changes when nations are at war, the stakes are higher, and the consequences of success and failure magnified. No area of spying is more challenging that that of the double agent, a person that is recruited by one side but ends up working for the other. Sometimes, when they are the best, they work for both sides.

 This book is about some of the double agents that the British ran during World War II. It is not full of wild and dangerous exploits, the author lists many of the more prominent agents based on their code names and their operations. Running a double agent working for your side is very much a difficult operation. It is necessary for the agent to send useful information on occasion so their handlers on the other side don’t get suspicious that they have turned.

 Furthermore, there are times when elaborate ruses have to be organized and executed. In World War II, the most significant such operation was when the Allies worked to confuse the Germans regarding where the Allies would land when they invaded Europe in 1944. The landings were so problematic that even the movement of a German division, specifically an armored one, away from the landing point could make the difference between success or failure.

 While it is not loaded with wild spy action, this book is nevertheless fascinating. For it shows the double-cross spy game for what it is, a duplicitous game where it is necessary to pass along some truth in order to maintain the credibility of your spies. All the while saving your main actions of deception for when it is really needed.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Review of "How To Talk Midwestern," by Robert Thomas

 Review of

How To Talk Midwestern, by Robert Thomas ISBN 187848821x

Four out of five stars

Phrases that are twists of others

 As someone that has lived in Iowa all his life, I recognize most of the phrase modifications in this book. I have heard them from relatives, friends, people I have met in public and uttered a few myself. The author steps through the alphabet from A to Z and states phrases beginning with the current letter.

 Some of the example phrases are:

Inna tizzy – in an agitated state.
Key bosh – to put a stop to.
Squat – the equivalent of zero or nothing.
Tard – equivalent of tired.
Your peein – euphemism for European.

 A collection of puns that are parts of speech, this book is a simple read full of amusement and an occasional significant chuckle.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Review of "Out of My League," by George Plimpton

 Review of

Out of My League, by George Plimpton ISBN 9780316284547

Five out of five stars

Plimpton tries pitching baseballs

 While he might not be the greatest sportswriter in history, George Plimpton certainly is among the best. He also was willing to put himself on the line and get on the field with the pros. In this book, he recounts his first such exploit, pitching to major league all-stars from both leagues in Yankee Stadium. This event took place in 1958, well before his more celebrated football exploit chronicled in “Paper Lion.”

 As is always the case with Plimpton, the writing is superb. Note that while the financial reward was only $1000 for the team that hit the best against Plimpton, at the time it was relatively significant cash. Therefore, the players truly tried to do well and win. Plimpton was scheduled to pitch against all eight position players of the American and National leagues, but he was tiring so quickly that he was relieved by coach Ralph Houk.

 Plimpton’s exploits on the mound are amusing, he describes talking to himself in a reasonable manner as he struggles to maintain literal and figurative control as a pitcher. Given an opportunity to do something that others can only dream about, Plimpton was able to go against batters such as Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Ernie Banks. He was also able to sit in a dugout next to Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin.

 This book is so good that I read it in a short afternoon, stopping only to perform the physical necessities. If you enjoyed Plimpton’s other exploits, then this book will keep your attention from beginning to end.

Review of "Rorke’s Drift 1879," by Ian Knight

 Review of

Rorke’s Drift 1879, by Ian Knight ISBN 1855325063

Five out of five stars

A small battle with major consequences

 As the British influence and control was creeping northward from the southern tip of Africa, there was an inevitable collision between the encroaching Europeans and the native communities. One of the most powerful opponents of further incursion was the Zulu nation. Like similar classes between Native Americans and European invaders, it was a case of a well-armed and disciplined force against a weakly armed more numerous enemy.

 One of the most famous battles in the Anglo-Zulu War took place at an outpost called Rorke’s Drift. It was there that approximately 150 Imperial soldiers fought off an army of approximately 3,000 Zulu soldiers. It ended with a large number of casualties and at best could be considered a draw.

 Yet, it was not. The large number of losses with no clear victory had a demoralizing effect on the Zulu nation. From that point on it was clear that the Zulu army could not stand against the disciplined troops of the British Empire.

 Like so many battles of this type, it was a spontaneous event and not planned. Knight is very even-handed in his descriptions of the battle in the sense he praises the valor and courage exhibited by both sides. It is also made clear that the inferior nature of the Zulu weapons was the key factor in their “defeat.” Handheld spears are of little value against an enemy that can shoot accurately for several hundred yards.

 A battle far more significant than the number of combatants would imply, the battle of Rorke’s Drift was a turning point. The British forces were awarded 11 Victoria Crosses and at the end it was clear to all that Zulu power could not stand against the might of the British soldier armed with modern weapons.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Review of "Warped Factors," by Walter Koenig

 Review of

Warped Factors, by Walter Koenig ISBN 0878339914

Four out of five stars

As much about his neurotic behavior as Star Trek

 Walter Koenig is of course best known for his portrayal of Ensign Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek original series. It is impossible to dispute that even though it was a supporting character, the role made him very well known and guaranteed significant attention for the rest of his life. Therefore, his place in the Star Trek universe alone would make a book about himself interesting.

  Unfortunately, this book is more about the extreme neuroses that Koenig deals with. In some instances, it is surprising that he managed to fill the acting roles that he has performed. Nervous tics, occasionally an almost complete inability to speak and similar issues constantly recur. While it is of course the life of Koenig, it is nowhere near as interesting as his life within Star Trek. In many ways it comes across as his personal catharsis.

 Fans of Star Trek will find some nice morsels about his involvement in the genre from the original series through the six feature films featuring the original cast. Much of it, specifically the dominance of Shatner in setting up the scenes, has been stated many times. Koenig revels in the times when Shatner tried to take over the direction to put greater emphasis on himself, only to have the director stand their ground and overrule Shatner.

 I enjoyed this book, but tired of reading of yet another personal difficulty. Koenig was handed the acting role of a lifetime when cast as Chekov yet seems determined to emphasize the difficulties rather than the personal and lifetime accolades that have come his way.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Review of "Decision at Leyte," by Stanley L. Falk

 Review of

Decision at Leyte, by Stanley L. Falk

Five out of five stars

The last chance for the Japanese Empire

 With the catastrophic Japanese defeat at Midway and the subsequent death of Admiral Yamamoto, the Japanese military was both fragmented and severely weakened. However, it was still powerful and capable of mounting significant resistance to any Allied action that was an attempt to take back the Philippines.

 Two very important points are made in this book. The first is that the two main divisions of the Japanese military, the army and the navy, were at odds on how to best fight the war. The second is that at the time of the battle collectively known as Leyte, it was still possible for Japan to defeat the American forces. While their air forces were degraded, Japan still had many serviceable planes, the will to use them in suicidal attacks as well as significant numbers of fighting surface ships.

 There was also the reality that the attack would have to be an amphibious one, and such forces had to have a significant numerical superiority. A strong and effective counterattack backed by air power could have driven the Allied forces back into the sea.

 The detailed explanations of how close the battle of Leyte really was is very eye-opening. With the consistent Allied victories in places such as New Guinea and Tarawa, it is easy to believe that Allied victory was inevitable. Yet, as Falk points out, a bit of luck, such as a fortuitous fog bank and a few Allied errors could have had the Japanese surface fleet pounding away at weaker American ships. As it turned out, it was bad Japanese gunnery rather than effective tactics that kept the Japanese from destroying a fleet of American light carriers that they managed to tackle in isolation.

 There was also very poor communications between the various groups of the Japanese military. It is here where the prestige and leadership ability of Admiral Yamamoto was missed. If the Japanese military could have coordinated their attacks between the kamikaze planes, ordinary aerial attacks, submarine and surface attacks, it is at least possible that the battle of Leyte could have been a narrow Japanese victory.

 For these reasons, I strongly recommend this book to all people interested in the history of the Pacific theater of the Second World War.

Review of "Fort Hays: Keeping Peace on the Plains," by Leo E. Oliva

Review of

Fort Hays: Keeping Peace on the Plains, by Leo E. Oliva ISBN 9780877260202

Five out of five stars

 Brief history of a key strong point

 As the people of European extraction moved westward, the Native Americans recognized the consequences and often fought back. Although it was an unequal fight, the Native Americans were able to do significant damage to the encroachers. Particularly vulnerable were the work crews that were laying down additional railroad track. The Native Americans clearly understood that when the railroad came, the number of people of European extraction that would follow would be overwhelming.

 As a consequence, many of the forts built for U. S. Army units were along the rail lines. Fort Hays was such a fort and for some time it was the major strong point in that area of Kansas. The soldiers were generally understrength and had to do other tasks such as building the structures of the fort. Some very well known names of the west were at some time stationed at Fort Hays. People such as George Custer. James Hickok, Philip Sheridan and William Cody were there at some point in their careers.

 Although brief, this is an excellent summary of a critical component of the process of the people of European extraction taking control of the western lands. While violent and with occasional local victories by the Native Americans, the ultimate victory was never in doubt.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Review of "Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa," by Joseph H. Alexander

 Review of

Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa, by Joseph H. Alexander ISBN 9781591140030

Five out of five stars

A report of the ultimate killing ground

 The naval battle of Midway in June 1942 meant that Japan no longer had a chance to win the war in the Pacific. With four carriers and their valuable air crews lost, Japan could no longer be aggressive in sending naval forces to oppose American advances. The question for American military planners then became, what to do about the powerful Japanese ground forces dug in on Pacific islands.

 One of the toughest was the Japanese garrison in the Gilbert Islands, specifically on the island of Betio in Tarawa. The Japanese defenders were determined to fight to the death and were supported by very sound fortifications. The American planners decided to storm the island and overpower the defenders. It was the first time that American forces would engage in an amphibious operation against extreme opposition.

 The American invasion of Betio started on November 20, 1943 and the battle lasted three days. With the size of Betio only 381 acres and with approximately 5,000 Japanese defenders on the island, it was little more than a killing ground. Despite the massive casualty rate among the attacking Americans, they pressed forward and cleared the island.

 This book is by a retired Colonel in the United States Marine Corps. It is a history of incredible bravery, valor and determination on both sides to fight to the finish. Only seventeen of the Japanese soldiers on the island became prisoners of war. Alexander is very explicit in describing the failures of American planning and the lack of communication between units once the battle started. While there were some recriminations after the fact, the American forces were effective in applying the lessons learned. Specifically, the realization that massive preliminary bombardments were needed before the troops went ashore.

 While there was no true turning point battle on land in the Pacific like the action at Midway, the fight for Tarawa comes closest. One fact that is rarely noted but pointed out here is that the invasion could have easily failed. The combination of a lucky shot that killed the Japanese commander and his key staff and the lack of a Japanese counterattack on the first night helped seal the American victory. Alexander points out that such a counterattack could have succeeded, and the American forces could have been defeated. While the ultimate American victory was assured, it would have required a second invasion or at minimum a long-term siege.

 This is a great book about one of the most brutal battles of World War II, one where two forces simply went at it until one was dead. To their credit, the Japanese had transported all civilians off of Tarawa, so it was strictly between the two armed forces.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Review of "Second to Home: Ryne Sandberg Opens Up," by Ryne Sandberg

 Review of

Second to Home: Ryne Sandberg Opens Up, by Ryne Sandberg ISBN 1566250404

Five out of five stars

A legend speaks plainly

 On June 13, 1994, Ryne Sandberg stunned the baseball world when he suddenly announced his retirement in the early part of the season. He was not injured and was still at the top of his game at the age of 34. Although he came back to play in the 1996 and 1997 seasons, this book was published during his first retirement and those years are not part of this rendition of his career.

 Sandberg was truly a superstar, his fielding records at second base were incredible. While his fielding percentage was very high, so were his fielding chances, so he was not one of those that stuck to making the simple plays. He was a man that led by example, he was not a yeller, he simply did it right for others to see.

 While justified, it is a bit unfortunate that his career will forever be remembered by what is known as “the Sandberg game.” It took place on June 231984 at Wrigley field. Sandberg hit home runs in the ninth and tenth innings to tie the game both times against then bullpen ace Bruce Sutter. I watched that game live and was stunned at the achievement. For at the time, Sutter was practically unhittable.

 This is a great book written by a humble man, there is no embellishment in his achievements or bravado in his tone. Therefore, when Sandberg describes the actions of Larry Himes, general manager of the Cubs during the early 1990’s in rings true. Sandberg is blunt in talking about him as a man of gross incompetence and inability to truly run a baseball team. It is difficult to question this assertion, given that Himes allowed a veritable all-star team of players to leave the Cubs. Arguably the best pitcher in the major leagues in the 1990’s, Maddux wanted to stay a Cub but was really not wanted by Himes.

 There is much insight into the collapse of the Cubs in the early nineties when they could have been a contender. Ryne Sandberg is also honest about himself, his team, players in general and why the Cubs failed to succeed. One of the most interesting insights was about Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. He was known for performing repeated fake pickoff moves while on the mound. Watching it at home, it seemed absurd, for it never fooled anyone. As Sandberg states it, Sutcliffe was pitching in pain and on guts, so those fake moves were designed to give time for the ache in his arm to subside.

 This is a great sports book. Sandberg has told a story about why it is sometimes time to quit before the skills really begin to fade.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Review of "The Artist Behind Superman: The Joe Shuster Story," by Julian Voloj and Thomas Campi

 Review of

The Artist Behind Superman: The Joe Shuster Story, by Julian Voloj and Thomas Campi ISBN 9781629917771

Five out of five stars

A tale of struggle to get the proper credit

 One of the greatest comic book characters ever created is Superman, the character alone is a billion dollar enterprise. This icon was created by two young men named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, with Siegel doing the storylines and Shuster the artwork. Their original work was done during the depth of the Depression in the United States and at first they struggled to get the character published. Almost unknown is how much the Superman character evolved until they finally arrived on the origin from the planet Krypton.

 For decades, Siegel and Shuster received very little compensation for their creation of Superman, not even an acknowledgement that they created the character. It was only in the 1970’s that they began getting credit, both textual and financial for their creation of Superman. The success of the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve was the impetus for Warner Brothers to finally acknowledge that Siegel and Shuster deserved additional compensation for their creation.

 As the title suggests, this graphic novel is largely about Joe Shuster and his struggles, although there is much about Siegel as well. It is a story of the creative energy of youth, being forced to sell for what was a pittance, being denied credit and finally receiving acknowledgement of their achievement.

 This graphic novel should be read by all people interested in the history of comics, including those that are considering making it a career. There is an enormous amount of talent in the comic book industry, yet, as this book shows, that is not enough in order to succeed. It takes a bit of business cynicism as well and in some cases, decades of persistence.

Review of "Goodnight Obama," by Jerome Corsi

 Review of

Goodnight Obama, by Jerome Corsi ISBN 9781682611326

One out of five stars

Harsh and incorrect parody of President Obama

 This sequence of images and statements about the presidency of Barack Obama is written from an extreme right-wing perspective. It is also often wrong, both numerically and contextually. For example, there is the page with caption “Goodnight 10 trillion in new record-breaking national debt.” The fact is that the new debt under Obama was $8.6 trillion, which was a 74% increase. Yet, the percentage increase under President George W. Bush was 101% and under President Ronald Reagan was an enormous 186%. Expressed in percentage terms, what Obama did was nowhere near a record.

 There is a page with the caption, “Goodnight jobs, without any remorse,” with a sign that says, “Moved to Mexico.” There is a consensus in the data that the majority of the jobs “lost to Mexico” occurred long before Obama assumed the presidency. More manufacturing jobs were lost under George W. Bush than under Obama. Finally, there is the obligatory reference to the “birth certificate of unknown source.”

 There are many legitimate criticisms that can be leveled against the Presidency of Barack Obama, yet none of them appear in this book. The few items that have some legitimacy are improperly surrounded by context.

Review of "The Night Flyers," by Elizabeth McDavid Jones

 Review of

The Night Flyers, by Elizabeth McDavid Jones, ISBN 0439389461

Five out of five stars

Raising and training pigeons for the war effort

 Pam Lowder is a young girl living on the coast of North Carolina in 1918. Together with her father, they raise very high quality homing pigeons. Her father has been drafted into the American Army and he is now somewhere on the Western Front in Europe. Using special training skills, Pam and her father have trained their pigeons to fly at night, something extremely valuable when pigeons are to be used to send important battlefield messages. Such pigeons are called “night flyers.”

 A strange man by the name of Arminger comes to town and he has a German accent. He expresses a high interest in Pam’s pigeons, offering her the equivalent of a fortune for them. Since there is a war scare over Germans, many in town think that Arminger is a German spy. When a few of Pam’s pigeons disappear, she becomes convinced that Arminger has taken them, so she goes off to investigate by herself.

 This is an YA novel where some historical context is necessary, and that is supplied in a 6-page supplement at the end. While it is well done, it is also after the fact. Such a primer would have been better placed at the beginning of the book, that way some of the actions will make much more sense. Not only the anti-German hysteria in the United States, but also the fact that most Americans at the time stayed in their small local communities and knew little about other people and their backgrounds. That explains a great deal of the ways in which the people act towards each other. Despite that, it is still an entertaining story that teaches a bit of history.

Review of "Shazam!: The Junior Novel," by Henry Gayden & Darren Lemke

 Review of

Shazam!: The Junior Novel, by Henry Gayden & Darren Lemke, ISBN 9780062884176

Five out of five stars

Classic DC character rebooted

 The word Shazam is one of the all-time greatest single statements in the history of pop culture. Spoken with emphasis, it can serve many purposes, from astonishment to wonder to joy. In the context of being uttered by young Billy Batson, it will transform him to and from the superhero known as Shazam. The character was originally known as Captain Marvel, and this is a novelization of the film reboot/modification of that character.

 The story moves swiftly from Billy’s history of being in foster care and essentially a waif of the streets. When he is selected to be the hero by an aged wizard, his life changes dramatically. The main villain was selected before Billy, but while that person received powers, they proved unworthy of taking on the role of the hero.

 What is different about this story is that Billy is in a foster home with many other children and while at first he is skeptical of them, they quickly become his family and together they face the villain. Even though his foster siblings have no powers. That makes it an excellent story as they help Shazam learn about and cope with his newfound powers and how to control them in order to do good.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Review of "Our Whale-watching Trip," by Sylvia Karavis and Gill Matthews

 Review of

Our Whale-watching Trip, by Sylvia Karavis and Gill Matthews ISBN 0763567299

Five out of five stars

Great primer on whales

 This book is a great introduction to whales in general and the humpback whale in particular. It describes the trip of a family on a whale watch excursion on a boat. The whales they see are humpbacks and each of their defining characteristics are explained in image and text. The reader learns why they are called humpbacks and how distinctive their tail patterns are among other things.

 The images and text are large enough to be seen from some distance away, making this an ideal book for reading to large groups of children. An excellent and fun science lesson, this is a book that should be in every elementary school.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Review of "Yesteryear," episode 2 of the Star Trek Animated Series

 Review of

Yesteryear, episode 2 of the Star Trek Animated Series

Four out of five stars

Uses a bad plot device

 While “City on the Edge of Forever” is one of my favorite episodes of the Star Trek original series, the use of the Guardian in subsequent stories is not. The sheer power that the use of the time-traveling device would give to the user would mean that it would be necessary to have all use forbidden. For even the smallest modification to the past could have massive changes in the future. That premise was of course evident in “City on the Edge of Forever.”

 Having stated that, this episode is very good, for it gives the viewer a look back into the childhood of Spock on Vulcan. When Captain Kirk and Spock return from a trip back in time, Doctor McCoy does not recognize Spock. No one else recognizes him and the Enterprise has a different first officer.

 Upon investigation, Spock and Kirk learn that Spock’s life has dramatically changed. It turns out that the older Spock had saved the life of the younger Spock and since the older Spock was elsewhere when the event took place, he could not save the younger Spock. Therefore, the older Spock must use the Guardian to go back to the proper time and “repair” the damage.

 This is our first look back into the boyhood of Spock, the difficulties of being of mixed-species on Vulcan as well as his home life and his best friend pet. A large bearlike creature with long fangs. Young Spock is able to relate well to the old Spock that is posing as a cousin. The look into the life of Spock makes this an exceptional episode despite the somewhat absurd premise.

Review of "A Fistful of Rebuttals," by Ron Young and Jeff LeBlanc

 Review of

A Fistful of Rebuttals, by Ron Young and Jeff LeBlanc

Five out of five stars

Great parody of the western genre

 The classic plot of the showdown in western stories is the bad man and lawman that can’t stand each other. One or both of them reaches the point where they utter the classic phrase, “This town isn’t big enough for both of us.” That is the premise of this story as well, albeit with a deadpan ending.

 There is a speaking platform set up with tables on each end. There is a sign proclaiming, “Big Debate Today” and Off-White Ike is at one table and Marshal Mick Luhan at the other. The moderator moves back and forth between the two adversaries asking for their statements, most of the time their responses are limited to either “Yup” or “Nope.” Significant facial expressions are also part of the interplay. Finally, the confrontation comes to the inevitable climax of such stories, only to be defused by a logical question that is acted on. The final lines are another shot at a western movie cliché.

 Simple in image and dialog, if you are familiar with the western theme, then you will find this comic funny.

Review of “But I Can’t Do Anything Else!”: The Art of Rob Schrab!,

 Review of

“But I Can’t Do Anything Else!”: The Art of Rob Schrab!, ISBN 9781607063629

Five out of five stars

A bit of demented entertainment

Most of the artwork in this book depicts wild robots capable of maiming almost anything. What isn’t a robot is most often a vicious lizard monster with tentacles and huge teeth. The images also have a short caption of text to emphasize the point.

 My two favorites are the robot dog with the caption, “My dog can eat your dog,” and the robot with the head of a lamprey and whirling slicers for hands. The caption there is, “Allow me to introduce my hemoglobin extracting androids … or as I prefer to call them … hemo-roids.”

 Often gross and certainly not meant to be viewed by anyone that cannot tolerate the sick and twisted, this is some entertaining artwork.

Review of "Food Alphabet," by David Drew

 Review of

Food Alphabet, by David Drew ISBN13: 9780433037286

Five out of five stars

Alphabet and food education combined

 This is an excellent book for the child in the early years of elementary school. It is a combination of science lesson and learning the alphabet. For each letter of the alphabet there is an image of a type of food where the first letter of the food is that specific letter. While the explanations of the foods are short, they contain enough information so that the reader will acquire a basic understanding of that specific item.

 While many staples like rice and bread are covered, items that the reader may not have experienced before also appear. For example, there is the avocado, veggieburger and quesadilla. Most children will be interested in learning the ingredients in peanut butter.

 Large enough to be seen from some distance, the images and text in this book make it ideal for being read to groups of children. Very educational.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Review of "Buchanan’s Big Fight," by Jonas Ward

 Review of

Buchanan’s Big Fight, by Jonas Ward

Five out of five stars

Coco fights for the western championship

 Buchanan is known for not having ties to many people, he has his “adopted” children and the prizefighter Coco Bean and nothing else. In this story, he is smitten by not one, but two women. One of which is a member of the British aristocracy and the other runs a gambling hall in Denver.

 Fight promoter Charlie Emory is trying to set up a fight between Coco Bean and Dan Ford, a giant fighter considered the best in the east. The fight is to take place in Denver and the expectations for interest and revenue are enormous. A group of British aristocrats are in the area with their goal being observers of the fight. The Duke of Cumberland is himself a reasonably talented fighter and is an avid photographer. He is accompanied by his wife the Duchess and his sister Lady Caroline. Despite being of royal vintage, the three British are very down-to-earth, and Buchanan and Lady Caroline hit it off very well.

 In the midst of their first meeting, they are robbed by the ruthless Cutler gang, they take all their money and the jewels from the ladies. The gang is made up a group of unrepentant Confederates that believe that they can rob their way back to prominence in the south. While they are willing to kill, they do have standards and do not commit any violence or rudeness that is not necessary.

 All of this takes place in the first few pages, opening a novel that is full of suspense and ends with a climactic battle. During that time, Coco trains for the fight with Buchanan’s help and they meet Madame Velvet, the owner/proprietor of a gambling hall/saloon in Denver. It is said that she runs the most honest house in the city.

 The action and dialog is generally standard Buchanan, although he is much more attentive to the ladies than usual. Being a woman of the west, Madame Velvet is more his style, and he responds to her. Therefore, this is an unusual Buchanan story, while you certainly expect Coco to win the fight, until the end, you do not know if Buchanan is going to get the girl and if so, which one.

Review of "Three Friends Together," by Hiawyn Oram

 Review of

Three Friends Together, by Hiawyn Oram ISBN 0763567396

Five out of five stars

The value of always inclusive friendship

 Little Penguin, Wally the Whale and Slippy the Seal are friends that often play together. However, when this story opens Little Penguin encounters Slippy and they decide to play together. Wally sees them and feels very sad at being left out. The next day it is Penguin encountering Wally while swimming and Slippy is left sitting on the rocks feeling left out. Finally, on the third day Slippy had joined Wally in swimming and diving together in the water, leaving Penguin alone on the ice flow feeling sad.

 Finally, there is a meeting and all three realize that it is far more fun when they all play together, and they apologize to each other for leaving one out. From that point on, they always make sure that all three friends were part of the play group.

 This is a simple but important lesson about how it feels to be left out of a playgroup of friends. It demonstrates that if you can be in it can also be your turn to be out. With the large size of the text as well as the images, this is a book that can be understood from some distance. Making it ideal for readings to large groups of students. The level of the text is that of the early elementary school student.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Review of "Over the Rockies With the Air Mail," by Franklin W. Dixon

 Review of

Over the Rockies With the Air Mail, by Franklin W. Dixon

Four out of five stars

Very much an early century YA adventure

 First published in 1927, this book is very much in the vernacular of adventure stories of the early quarter of the twentieth century. The dangers posed to the hero, aviation pioneer Ted Scott are constant and way over the top. It opens in the midst of a massive blizzard with white-out conditions. Scott is approached by a physician that is desperate to fly to a medical emergency and the only way there is by air. At first, Scott refuses, considering it suicide. Yet, when he learns that a life is in danger, he relents and flies over rough country where there are peaks and visibility almost non-existent.

 In true heroic adventure style, when it is discovered that he must land immediately due to lack of fuel, Scott conducts a semi-crash landing. He ends up colliding with a haystack that cushions their landing. By following a fence, Scott and his passenger find assistance and the life is saved.

 In the standard style of stories by the house name Franklin W. Dixon, Scott is knocked out a couple of times and ends up crashing another plane, this time in the wilderness of the Rockies. While he and his passenger manage to survive uninjured and even maintain control of their weapons, the coincidences pile up to the point of absurdity. They survive an attack by a grizzly bear by of all things running it off a cliff, shoot the head off a rattlesnake in mid-strike and are rescued by a wilderness expedition led by a romantic rival.

 If you read this book with any other mindset than one of analyzing it outside the context of the YA adventures of the time, you will likely utter a few derisive ha-has. However, if you can keep the proper historical context, it can be enjoyed.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Review of "The Medic: Life and Death in the Last Days of WWII," by Leo Litwak

 Review of

The Medic: Life and Death in the Last Days of WWII, by Leo Litwak, ISBN 1565123050

Five out of five stars

War from the perspective of the frontline medic

 Litwak taught English literature at San Francisco State University for over thirty years, which explains the high quality of the prose in this book. During World War II he was a medic in the U. S. Army, in the front lines during the move into Germany until his unit met with Russian forces coming from the East.

 The recounting of his experiences demonstrate that there were truly all kinds of personalities in the Army. Everything from a man that fought on the side of the International Brigades in the Civil War in Spain to men that simply didn’t care about much of anything. Concerned only with moving towards the war ending with the least possible inconvenience. If that meant shooting surrendering Germans, then so be it.

 Within Litwak’s wartime experiences, there are two that stand out and are repeated several times. One is a German rocket attack that eviscerates one and blows the leg off another of his buddies. Both are killed. He comes back to that event several times. The other is about an experience when he is on leave in Paris. While there, he meets an apparently shy young woman named Marishka. After a bit of hard-to-get maneuvering, they do end up in a pay-for-play arrangement. She is mentioned several times after that and when the war is over and Litwak is being discharged, he goes back to Paris to search for her.

 The war in Europe was brutal and it changed the people dramatically. Yet, even within the carnage and inhumanity, many aspects of humanity remain. There is the need to remain human, to some that need is little more than carnal, yet to many others, it means basic acts of kindness shown to people that may not survive without it. Both are present in this book.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Review of "Stonewall Jackson’s Elbow," by John Billheimer

 Review of

Stonewall Jackson’s Elbow, by John Billheimer, ISBN 1594144621

Five out of five stars

A mystery surrounding genuine fakes

  Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was born in West Virginia and is still considered one of the best generals the United States ever produced. He was accidentally shot by his own troops, which led to the amputation of his left arm. He died eight days later, and his left arm was not part of the burial.

 The main premise of this book is that J. Burton Caldwell was the president of the First National Bank of Contrary, West Virginia and after his death, auditors discovered that three-quarters of a billion dollars was missing. Since Caldwell lived frugally, there are no clues as to what he might have done with the missing money. Caldwell was a bit of a joker, so he had funded a Museum of Fakes and Frauds in Contrary. One of the attractions was what was supposedly the left elbow of General Jackson. That is really the only mention of this particular item, and it has nothing to do with the fundamental plot.

 Owen Allison is a civil engineer that has moved back to West Virginia from the west coast after his divorce. He works on a consultant basis evaluating traffic accidents for the county and he is friends with the sheriff Thad Reader. Allison is also the pseudo guardian of a boy named Jeb Stuart and the story opens with the two of them attending an FDIC liquidation auction of the items in the museum. Their interest is in the boxes of baseball trading cards.

 When one of the winning bidders is found dead at a traffic accident, Reader calls Allison to consult. Her purchases were not found and as the investigation continues, they discover that even some of the forgeries have value and that some that are labeled as forgeries are not. The plot thickens mightily when it turns out that some of the major players are not what they claim to be.

 There is also significant mention of the Oxycontin drug epidemic in West Virginia, it forms the basis for a significant sub-plot to the story. When there are attempts on Allison’s life, it is clear to all that there are very high stakes, much greater than the several thousand dollars of what appears to be the value of the items in the museum.

 The story is very entertaining, with some unusual supporting characters. Of special interest is a man named Underdunck, he makes his living forging signatures on items such as baseball cards. He is of course an expert at spotting forgeries done by others. He does provide valuable assistance in the effort to identify fakes and creates some to be used as distractors of the opposition.

 This is a convoluted mystery with several distractors along the way. The villains turn out to be well hidden in plain sight, eventually exposed, but not after some complex pursuit of the facts and fiction. It is an enjoyable story.

Review of "Black Panther: The Ultimate Guide," by Stephen Wiacek

 Review of

Black Panther: The Ultimate Guide, by Stephen Wiacek, ISBN 9780241300817

Five out of five stars

Detailed history of a changeable character

 Marvel broke significant new ground in comic book history in 1966 when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby  introduced the new character of Black Panther. He had black skin and was from the fictional country known as Wakanda in Africa. Furthermore, he was the ruler of that country and it possessed advanced technology that the European based countries did not. He was also a physically powerful and extremely intelligent man. Characteristics of a black person that were not often found in popular fiction at the time.

 From the original context of the character, there have been many changes in Black Panther’s position as well as in his country of Wakanda. He has been a member of many groups of heroes, fighting off the villains and on occasion fighting those that have taken over Wakanda by force. Black Panther has married a superhuman, only to have that marriage annulled and there have been many instances of multiple universes and the questionable necessity of the deaths of entire planet Earths.

 With so much that has changed over time, it is extremely difficult to follow the multiple storylines. Therefore, this book is extremely valuable in filling that void. As the subtitle implies, it is a definitive guide to all of the plot machinations that have taken place in the evolution of the Black Panther storylines. If you were like me and confused concerning the complications of the character’s role in the Marvel Universe, this book will clear up nearly all of your uncertainty.