Thursday, March 31, 2022

Review of "Stitches: A Handbook On Meaning, Hope and Repair," by Anne Lamott

 Review of

Stitches: A Handbook On Meaning, Hope and Repair, by Anne Lamott ISBN 9781594632587

Four out of five stars

Making the best of time passages

 While time goes slow when you are young, it seems to fly when you are a busy adult. To nearly everyone, it seems that decades pass before you realize it. This book is about taking a few pauses in your life in order to properly process what has taken place.

 One specific item mentioned several times is a top worn by a dear friend of the author. It was an attractive top that the author began wearing when the friend grew seriously ill, and she kept it after the friend died. Since she wore it frequently, it began to wear out and rather than throw it away, she stitched it up. Hence, the name of the book. There is also mention of the curtains that the author’s dog managed to rip up with its claws.

 This is a fast, yet purposeful book. It is about dealing with loss, how we manage or fail to cope with the consequences of the expression of mortality in the people around us. It would be incorrect to call it uplifting, the best word is that it is a sturdy prop as you continue to live through what are the normal crises of life.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Review of "A Season of Comebacks," by Kathy Mackel

 Review of

A Season of Comebacks, by Kathy Mackel ISBN 0698116372

Four out of five stars

Sibling rivalry when one is the best

 Allie Burrows is the best softball pitcher in the state and her team is expected to win the state championship in their division. Allie is twelve and her sister Molly is ten and a good player in her own right. They play on teams in different divisions, so at the start there is no direct on-field rivalry. Yet, from Molly’s perspective, Allie gets all the attention, from paternal to the news media.

 Their father is the coach of Allie’s team and is demanding of Allie and her teammates. While the other members of Allie’s team are themselves high quality players, the focus is always on Allie. Molly is of course jealous, but she has her best friend Christopher, who keeps  Molly as level as possible.

 Things decline when Allie gets braces and is very self-conscious of that fact. The situation continues to get worse when players are injured, and Allie’s team cannot find a catcher capable of handling Allie’s deliveries. The solution presents itself and while Allie’s team does not make it to the championship, all involved discover bonds and aspects of themselves that they were unaware of.

 This is not an instance of the standard “win the big game at the end” sports story. While it is about youth sports, it is more about keeping familial relationships intact. Although there is a clear message that “wait until next year” is not simply an idle boast. It is a good story about not letting sports dictate your entire life, especially when your age is barely into the double digits.

Review of "A Short Guide to a Happy Life," by Anna Quindlen

 Review of

A Short Guide to a Happy Life, by Anna Quindlen ISBN 9780375504617

Four out of five stars

Simple advice that never ages

 Quindlen divides her life into two parts, before and after, where the dividing line is the death of her mother when Quindlen was 19. She states that before that fateful time, she saw the world in black and white, and after it appeared in Technicolor. She states that knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest fact in our existence. For it means that we are all on a one-way street to the end.

 Using this as a fundamental premise, Quindlen puts forward what is standard advice, expressed in the simple adage, “get a life.” By this she means that a hard driving focus is often good, but taken too far, can be detrimental in the long run. A recapitulation of the old adage of stopping to smell the roses.

 Quindlen is not radical in her position, her milder version can be expressed as, “at least notice the roses as you pass through life.” She also discusses how life and the joys found in life should not be taken for granted.

 While there is nothing new in this short book, the advice contained within it is timeless and all humans should re-experience it on a regular basis.

Review of "Poke the Box," by Seth Godin

 Review of

Poke the Box, by Seth Godin ISBN 9781591848257

Four out of five stars

The essential first step in innovation

 This short book is essentially an expansion of what could be a motivational speech. It has a rah-rah tone and consists of the repeated message, “You can’t accomplish if you don’t try.” With the try focused on new things. The days of the static business where you can do the same thing for decades and make slow and steady increases in your level of business and profits are largely gone.

 Reading the book does give you a motivational buzz to put forward new ideas for products and tactics and the buzz does last for some time after you read the last page. It is a good book, one that should be placed on the table in the break room for employees to scan while taking a break from their routine.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Review of "Worlds of Fear: Stories of Weird Adventure, Volume 1"

 Review of

Worlds of Fear: Stories of Weird Adventure, Volume 1, ISBN 9781786360588

Five out of five stars

Comics before the Wertham slam

 In 1954, there was a sea change in the publication of comics. Dr. Frederic Wertham, now dismissed as a crank that falsified data, published his book “Seduction of the Innocent,” in 1954. In his book he reached the conclusion that comic books promoted delinquency and a lack of respect for authority in children. In response to the genuine fear that they would be censored by the government, the publishers enacted what was called the comics code authority.

 There were 41 provisions to the code and the words “terror” and “fear” were banned from the titles. Nudity and any references to sex or drugs were also forbidden. Violence was toned down to the point where it was minimal and the previous depictions of gore, where humans were severely damaged or killed, disappeared.

 This book contains the “Worlds of Fear” issues from November 1951 through June 1953. By modern standards, the artwork is weak and the dialog rather stilted, yet the horror stories remain horror stories. Not really different from the B movie horror stories that were so popular at the time.

 This book is a historical look back and when one considers what is fairly standard fare in modern entertainment, even that which is available to children, it comes across as rather tame.

Review of "Cartoon Cavalcade," edited by Thomas Craven

 Review of

Cartoon Cavalcade, edited by Thomas Craven

Five out of five stars

Newspaper humor from the first half of the 20th century

 Published in 1945, this book is a collection of cartoons that appeared in mass media publication such as newspapers and magazines. While some of the cartoons feature people in the public eye at the time and so are somewhat dated, most of them are about human situations and so are relatively timeless. They do reflect the social customs of the times, although there were many changes during the first half of the twentieth century.

 Several of the cartoons reflect the social stratification of the times, specifically during the Depression years. The cartoons are American, so there is little material dealing with what was happening in other countries. Almost nothing about the aftermath of World War I in Europe and how the entire continent struggled to cope with so much loss of blood and treasure.

  If you are a fan of cartoons that deal with social, political and economic issues, then these cartoons are timeless.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Review of "Bone: The Great Cow Race," by Jeff Smith

 Review of

Bone: The Great Cow Race, by Jeff Smith ISBN 9780007244775

Four out of five stars

Silly adventure set in a medieval context

Bone is one of three white creatures, the others are Phoney and Smiley, that are living with humans. The level of economic development is that of the late medieval time and the social setting is a village of modest size. The three white creatures are treated as if they are human, and Phoney is a big-time con artist.

 His first major scam is to enter a mystery cow in the great cow race. That cow is in fact Smiley in a ridiculous cow suit. His major competition is Gran’Ma Ben, a powerful woman that has won many times in the past. Hence, the title of the book.

 There are also appearances by dragons and giant rat-like creatures with long horns like a gazelle. The story is a bit silly as the three white creatures navigate their way through get-rich-quick schemes, a love interest and just working within a society where all others are humans. Many of the characteristics of the humans are exaggerated for comic effect. It is a book that is largely nonsensical, yet fun. One would need a great deal of imagination in order to find a significant social message in this book.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Review of Images of America: African-American Life in Jacksonville, by Herman “Skip” Mason Jr.

 Review of

Images of America: African-American Life in Jacksonville, by Herman “Skip” Mason Jr., ISBN 0752408836

Five out of five stars

A look back at a thriving black community

 Some time ago, I read what seemed to be a bizarre comment on the days of segregation in the south. It quoted an elderly black person as lamenting the loss of the days of segregation. Yet, when reading the article, their point of view made sense. The person pointed out that in the days of segregation, blacks owned many of the local businesses, including the banks. Those banks catered primarily to local black people and so were flexible in their financing arrangements. In the years since segregation ended, so did the era of locally-owned banks. They were now branches of multi-state megabanks that had little to no thoughts of catering to local needs. Profits that used to stay local are now shipped away.

 This book contains a series of images with cations describing the African-American community in Jacksonville, Florida in the first half of the twentieth century. There are images of black men and women posed at their place of work or the businesses and buildings that they owned. The range of organizations is vast, from financial institutions, schools, to stores of all kinds, to places of worship and other forms of social congregation.

 It is a reminder that despite the downward pressure that segregation placed on black people at the time, there were areas where they were very successful, both financially and in the creation of a close knit community.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Review of "Identity Crisis," graphic novel by Brad Meltzer et. al.

 Review of

Identity Crisis, graphic novel by Brad Meltzer et. al. ISBN 1401204589

Five out of five stars

Tough graphic novel featuring hard crimes

 Although it has been mentioned many times that the reason the superheroes have secret identities is so that their families will be safe from their enemies, that plot device has rarely been used. In this case, it is used to venture into territory rarely covered in the comic genre.

 Ralph Dibny is also known as the Elongated Man, and he is fairly unique in that he does not wear a mask or have a secret identity. Therefore, his wife Sue is also known to the world at large. When Sue is murdered under mysterious circumstances, the first list of likely suspects is populated by some of the powerful villains that Dibny has battled in the past.

 The path taken in the pursuit of the truth meanders a bit and covers a lot of ground with a lot of the characters of the Justice League. One of the darker points is the rape of Sue by a powerful villain that the members of the Justice League have fought several times. To cope with this event, Zatanna uses her powers to wipe some of the perpetrator’s memories. This involves a major debate among the Justice League members regarding the ethical status of such an action. Opinions are forcefully stated, as only super powered beings can.

 There is a break in the case when a detailed autopsy of Sue’s body is performed, revealing that the cause of death was not the obvious flaming of the body.  The true murderer is discovered, and it is not any of the logical suspects.

 Even though the members of the Justice League have great powers, they are still mostly human, and driven to some extent by human emotions. Protection of loved ones is one of the most powerful of those emotions, which is to a large extent what drives the heroes in this great graphic novel.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Review of "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror," starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

 Review of

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Five out of five stars

Still the best Holmes and Watson

 To fans of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce remain the best actors to ever play the roles of Holmes and Watson. While this story is modernized to the current affairs of England in World War II, the essence of the two characters is preserved. The year is 1942 and England is fighting for its’ very life against the forces of Germany.

 The “Voice of Terror” is a radio broadcast that originates in Germany and announces yet another act of terror being committed against England. Those acts are announced at the very time that they take place. The English leadership is completely baffled by the manner in which the “Voice of Terror” manages to carry out their actions, so they call in Sherlock Holmes.  

 Holmes starts out in his usual manner, pointing out basic facts of the situation that he has discerned in the few seconds he has been in the room. From that point, it is a classic Holmes story modified to fight the Germans. Although there is more than a little wartime British propaganda blended into the show, that aspect does not overwhelm the essence of the Holmes/Watson duality. In the end, the British emerge victorious in this particular aspect of the battle for supremacy for Europe and the world.

 It is not easy to adapt a character of 1890’s England into a time fifty years later when the very existence of England is at stake. Yet, the people who made this film managed to pull it off.

Review of "Alejandro’s Gift," by Richard E. Albert

 Review of

Alejandro’s Gift, by Richard E. Albert ISBN 0811804364

Five out of five stars

The gift of life through water

 Alejandro is a man that lives alone in the heart of the North American desert. His only companion is his burro. He farms and has a well that is powered by a windmill. Feeling lonely, he spots a chipmunk that is sneaking up in order to get a drink of water.

 Realizing that the local animals need water, Alejandro digs a water hole for them. However, the results are not as expected, for he sees few animals coming to the hole to drink. After seeing a skunk flee when he approached, Alejandro realized what the problem is. The watering hole was too close to his residence, making the animals fearful of his presence.

 His solution is to dig another watering hole farther away from his home, which led to a large number and wider variety of desert animals coming to drink. Alejandro is pleased that he is able to aid his wild desert friends and his loneliness is abated.

 The descriptions of the different species of desert animals is very educational and this story also emphasizes how humans can aid and coexist with their wild animal companions. It is a good story for children about how a quality life can be lived by cooperating with nature rather than exploiting it.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Review of "Crazy Sh*t Presidents Said: The Most Surprising, Shocking, and Stupid Statements from George Washington to Barack Obama," by Robert Schnakenberg

 Review of

Crazy Sh*t Presidents Said: The Most Surprising, Shocking, and Stupid Statements from George Washington to Barack Obama, by Robert Schnakenberg ISBN 9780762444533

Five out of five stars

Surprising sometimes, but not always

 Presidents are still basically human and often make statements that are not well thought out. That is really not the case with these quotes. Nearly all appear to have been thought out before they were stated. Some conform to the common perception of that particular president, while others are in sharp contrast to how they appear in history.

 Some of the comments, specifically those where one president is speaking about another and his performance in office, are basically normal political speech. Abraham Lincoln, who prosecuted a war that ended slavery in the United States, said some rather disturbing things about black people. It seems clear that he considered them inferior to whites, his advocacy seems to have stopped after making sure they were no longer property.

 A quick read into the minds of the American presidents from Washington through Obama, this book is a collection of some of the most controversial utterances made by American presidents.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Review of "Baseball Rookies Who Made Good," by M. G. Bonner

 Review of

Baseball Rookies Who Made Good, by M. G. Bonner

Four out of five stars

Even the stars were once rookies

 In many ways, this book is a statement of the obvious, even the greatest of the baseball stars were once rookies. This book is a collection of brief bios of some of the greatest stars of all time as well as some of the players that had recently reached the majors.

 The major stars are: Bob Feller, Honus Wagner, Phil Rizzuto, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig, Warren Spahn, Dizzy Dean, Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle. Lesser players featured are: Bobby Brown, George Kell, Del Ennis, Don Newcombe, Walt Dropo and Joe Black. The bios of the major stars are longer, while most of the rest are only a few paragraphs in length.

 The stories are written at the level of the young adult and are entertaining. They describe the difficulties that the players had when their major league careers were just getting started. After all, even Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays struggled at first. Mantle was even demoted to the minor leagues for a short time.

 While not a revelatory exposition in the manner of the modern sports book, this is a simple, enjoyable, yet dated reading about the great game of baseball.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Review of "Batman No Man’s Land: Volume Two," by Greg Rucka

Review of

Batman No Man’s Land: Volume Two, by Greg Rucka

Five out of five stars

 The psychotic version of Batman in a post-apocalyptic Gotham City, a great idea

 The premise of this series of graphic comic books is the product of genius. A massive earthquake struck Gotham City, so completely destroying it that the federal government declares it a wasteland and orders it evacuated and then sealed off from the rest of the world. Some people refuse to leave their homes, while others choose to stay within the consequential chaos.

 The destroyed city has been partitioned into territories held by various groups, some criminal and others with a more noble intent. Police Commissioner Gordon and some of his officers hold one territory, Batman adversaries such as the Penguin and Two-Face hold others and in general other criminal gangs hold the rest. Most of the efforts of all the groups are spent on trying to hold and expand their territories, generally these are border skirmishes with little territory changing hands. Lives are lost on a whim, one of the most common forms of entertainment is to have one-on-one gladiatorial style contests to the death. Students of history will recognize the shifting alliances in the battles between princes that led to Machiavelli writing his classic “The Prince.”

 Batman and the second generation Batgirl have remained in the city and are the ultimate wildcard in the battles for territory. This is the more psychotic version of Batman; he is determined to save the city but is overwhelmed with the task. Commissioner Gordon and Batman are adversaries yet not enemies, although Gordon will seek his help if pressured hard enough.

 Post-apocalyptic tales are a staple of literature; this one is unique in that superheroes are involved. There was one mention of Superman flying in supplies, but that is the only time the most obvious solution is mentioned, having the other superheroes come to the rescue. Batman in his psychotic form is an excellent character to be involved in a tale of this type, for his psyche is a consistent battle against an internal apocalypse. This is a great and engaging story, survival in its most brutal form; once I read it I started a search for volume 1.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Review of "Sex Criminals Volume One: One Weird Trick," by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

 Review of

Sex Criminals Volume One: One Weird Trick, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky ISBN 9781607069461

Five out of five stars

Bizarre consequences of sex

 The premise of this graphic novel is not exactly what the title suggests. The two main characters, Suzie and Jon have many problems. From fitting into society to their jobs to their outlook on life. Yet, they have one asset that is truly unique. When Suzie has sex, the world, except for her and Jon, comes to a standstill.

 Blessed with this advantage, they do what many people in their social positions would do, rob banks. Therefore, they use their sexual powers to commit ordinary and not sex crimes. Although there are two difficulties. Having sex on the premises and making sure they complete their unorthodox withdrawals before the world starts back up again. The first proves to be easier than the second.

 This is truly an unusual comic series, there are some unique supporting characters where the reader is uncertain as to what their roles are. They are clad in white and seem to take the role of overseers that make sure that Suzie and Jon don’t wander too far off the path of legality.

 Unusual and nonlinear, this was a fun graphic novel to read, in a world where comics have strange plot lines, this is one of the weirdest, but in a fun way.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Review of "Boys’ Life Mystery Stories," by editors of Boys’ Life

 Review of

Boys’ Life Mystery Stories, by editors of Boys’ Life

Five out of five stars

Fairly typical YA adventures of the fifties

 There are ten short stories in this collection and nearly all open with a hint of supernatural activity. However, once the investigators pursue the issue, in all cases there is a fundamental, scientific, human behavior explanation. All of the players are male, after reading it I could not remember even a reference to a female.

 The best story in the collection is “The Whirlpool,” by Robb White. Barry Benton is an Eagle Scout and on a naturalist expedition in the Brazilian rain forest. He severely damages both ankles and since they are some distance from the nearest outpost of civilization, the other explorer on the expedition took the boat. His plan was to go to that outpost and have them send a helicopter to rescue Barry. He was left plenty of food and water as well as a rifle with ammunition.

 Barry get nervous when he hears a rustling on the outskirts of the camp. He does not recognize the sounds as being that of an animal and when he looks closely, there is no discernible shape. To his horror, he realizes that the sound is being made by a colony of ants on the move towards his position. While he is on the edge of the river, going into the water is not an option, for there are piranhas. Leaving him with the options of being eaten by ants or by fish.  How Barry manages to survive is an example of a knowledgeable person using the basic principles of nature to create a simple, yet effective solution.

 While the other stories do not have the intensity of “The Whirlpool,” they are still pretty good. Even though there are no females, the adventure stories have maintained their quality over the intervening decades.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Review of "Batman: The Killing Joke," by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

 Review of

Batman: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland ISBN 9781401216672

Five out of five stars

Batman and Joker are so similar personalities

 It is no coincidence that the two best Batman movies had the Joker as Batman’s main antagonist. There have been many colorful villains on the other side of the bat-punch over the years, but none is more of an alter ego than the green haired one. This fact is used to develop the opening scene in the book.

 The Joker is in an insane asylum along with some of Batman’s other foes. Batman goes to the Joker’s cell and tries to reason with him to call off their “feud” before one of them is killed. His magnanimous gesture is for naught as the Joker has already escaped and is deep into plotting his revenge.

 In a brutal scene, the Joker kidnaps police Commissioner Gordon and attempt to drive him insane. The Joker taunts Batman, setting up yet another confrontation between the two longtime foes in a setting that fits the Joker’s mind. In an ending that is deliberately ambiguous, we don’t know if Batman follows Gordon’s instructions or executes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 Although occasionally brutal in expression, the psychodynamic between Batman and the Joker makes this story a great one. There is an origin of the Joker subplot that helps us understand him a little better and that also moves his psyche closer to that of the Batman. One of the best evil villains ever created, the Joker expresses the dark side in all of us, and fortunately in nearly all cases it remains submerged and unexpressed. However, when someone does let that personality emerge it is usually national news.

Review of "Batman: Evolution," by Greg Rucka et. al.

 Review of

Batman: Evolution, by Greg Rucka et. al.  ISBN 9781563897269

Three out of five stars

The artwork and presentation theme was a disappointment

 This book is a continuation of the excellent “Batman: No Man’s Land” sequence, unfortunately it is a step down. While the artwork of the NML series was excellent, in this book the coloration is minimal and the lines are drawn much more harshly.

 Gotham City is being rebuilt at a frenetic pace, yet it is split into two groups. The people that stayed in the city are called “OGs” and those that left and have returned are called “Deezees.” There is a great deal of tension between the two groups with people in each group agitating against the other. Criminal gangs based largely on nationality have carved out their respective niches and they often engage in violent actions against each other.

 There is also the presence of a gang that is providing an alchemical elixir that will give a human eternal life. However, it is extremely addictive, must be taken to maintain the longevity and alters your body structure so that you become part animal.  For example, one of the gang members is part king cobra. The leader of the elixir gang and his lieutenants use the hostility of the criminal gangs to incite additional violence so that they can take over the underworld of Gotham City and stopping them is the primary task that Batman is working on.

 While the story has some good qualities, I simply could not overcome the visual theme of the story. It may be that I was spoiled by the previous NML books, but what I saw here left me lacking.

Review of "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns," by Frank Miller

 Review of

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller ISBN  9781563893421

Five out of five stars

Batman returns to a changed Gotham City

 After a lengthy absence, Batman returns to stalk the evil creatures of the night. Crime is exploding exponentially in Gotham City, with a large gang that call themselves the mutants terrorizing the population by robbing, raping and killing. Having reached the point where he can stand it no longer, Bruce Wayne once again becomes the Batman and begins to punish the evildoers.

 However, he is a man that is years older and a bit slower, when he fights the more powerful adversaries he gets roughed up. Furthermore, Batman is also on the edge of insanity, his mind continues to replay the murder of his parents and all his subsequent loses. Police Commissioner Gordon is about to retire, and he is also a hardened, cynical man, he chain-smokes cigars, even though they are killing him. Superman/Clark Kent is still playing the hero, although his relationship with Batman is rapidly growing adversarial.

 The mix is stirred even darker when the United States and the Soviet Union have a confrontation over a small island nation and the navies of the two square off and prepare to do battle. The public is split over the role of Batman, some citizens welcome the additional layer of protection while others, often portrayed as liberal idiots, demand that he be arrested as a vigilante. A new Police Commissioner is about to take office and the first thing that she does is issue a warrant for the arrest of Batman.

 There are many supporting characters in the story, the Joker is released from prison and returns to his old ways, the President of the United States and most other government officials are portrayed as spineless idiots and there is a new Robin. Alfred is still the loyal butler, yet he admonishes Batman in the tone of a parent fed up with the antics of his child.

 I found the story captivating; it is a dark and cynical tale of civilization unraveling until the cavalry comes to the rescue. An amusing point is the caricature of the President of the United States, the images are very similar to Ronald Reagan and his speech also contains some of his mannerisms.   

Monday, March 7, 2022

Review of "Batman: Battle For the Cowl," by Tony S. Daniel

 Review of

Batman: Battle For the Cowl, by Tony S. Daniel ISBN 9781401224165

Three out of five stars

Too brutally graphic for me

  The setting is after the apparent death of Batman (Bruce Wayne) and the streets of Gotham City have been turned into a war zone. With the fear of the Caped Crusader gone, organized criminal gangs are now battling for control of the rackets and ordinary citizens are regularly collateral damage. Three of Batman’s protégés are vying for the position of successor, but one is cleaning up the criminals by brutally killing them.

 The two main gangs are run by Two-Face and the Penguin, but there is a third entrant that is manipulating the situation so that the other two gangs are expending their energies and being blamed for all the destruction. Many of the other powerful villains that have fought Batman over the years, such as the Catwoman and Poison Ivy are also part of the complex mix of soldiers battling on both sides of the law. The situation gets so bad that martial law is declared in the city with U. S. soldiers patrolling the streets and the skies.

 I found this story too dark and brutally graphic for my tastes. A lot of blood is splattered around, there are depictions of severed heads and limbs and the characters, even the heroes are drawn with shadowy faces showing no emotion other than anger, hatred and fatalism.

Review of "A New Treasury of Sports Humor," by Herman L. Masin

 Review of

A New Treasury of Sports Humor, by Herman L. Masin

Four out of five stars

Good, but not great sports humor shorts

 While there are wry smiles and a few chuckles in this book, there is nothing that will cause you to burst out laughing. The stories are generally a paragraph or two in length and feature sports figures at all levels, from the champions to those who only had a cup of coffee in a minor league version of the sport.

 This is a fun book that can be read very quickly. It is a light look at the lighter side of sports. There are no revelations of the background of how sports and those who play them function, either in their craft or personal life.

Review of "Baseball Fathers, Baseball Sons," by Dick Wimmer

 Review of

Baseball Fathers, Baseball Sons, by Dick Wimmer ISBN 0688076343

Five out of five stars

What a fantasy come true!

The events recounted in this book are a fantasy come true for any child or young adult that is into baseball. The author loaded up his two sons and took them to spring training in Florida. It is a time for instruction, so some of the all-time retired greats go to spring training to give the young players personalized instruction. It is the one place where you can find the old stars and since it is pre-season practice, the players don’t have the mid-season intensity.

 The author and his sons meet greats such as Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Wade Boggs. An even greater thrill is that the boys are given some personalized instruction. It is amazing to think that Ted Williams gave pointers on how to stand, hold the bat, stride and generate the perfect swing. Furthermore, imagine being given personal pitching instruction by Sandy Koufax.

 However, the author had another agenda. He interviewed the baseball stars in order to get some idea regarding how much their fathers encouraged and helped them as they rose to stardom. His data was quite interesting. Many biographies of baseball stars such as Bob Feller and Mickey Mantle describe how their fathers worked with and encouraged them as they developed into stars at an early age.

 Yet, something like 40% of the players interviewed had absent or essentially neglectful fathers. Even though they have been stars for years and quite famous, these players were sometimes still trying to get some form of approval from their fathers.

 This is a great book in many ways. One of the best is the rendition of how nearly all the baseball players that the family of three encountered were very kind and considerate. Some of those players had reputations of being detached, aloof and at times nasty to fans. There was almost none of that in this book. It is nice to learn that these greats were willing to take a little bit of time to talk to an author and interact with his sons that at times were in awe of the men they were encountering.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Review of "The Bathroom Sports Quiz Book," by John Murphy

 Review of 

The Bathroom Sports Quiz Book, by John Murphy ISBN 9780940462052

Four out of five stars

Something interesting to go to when you are going

 I was an intense sports trivia fan when I was young, I read and memorized every baseball fact that I encountered. Since I spent a lot of time talking about baseball and other sports with the other kids on my street, it gave me an early advantage. Of course, in order to respond they also started reading books about the history of baseball. It was a great time, our arguments over which player or team was best were laced with facts that included the context of their playing.

 This book contains many of those facts; it consists of a set of ten question quizzes over all areas of sports. The answers to the questions appear on the following page. As is always the case with such questions, there is a wide difference in the level of difficulty. Most sports fans will remember the major events and those specific to their favorite teams.

 The reason for the quiz being ten questions long is that all are designed to be completed during a sit-down bathroom visit. With 50 quizzes, this gives you a month and a half of quality reading material while you are resting naturally. They also will give you quality material to discuss with your fellow sports fans.

"Baseball Research Journal Fourth Annual"

 Review of

Baseball Research Journal Fourth Annual

Five out of five stars

Reading equivalent of a gourmet meal

 As a lifelong baseball fan, items like this are food for my soul, which makes me fairly typical of the true fan of the game. Nothing is more pleasing than to read of one more data point where the subject is baseball. In that context, this journal is the reading equivalent of a gourmet meal.

 The papers in this issue include:


*) James “Deacon” White – a description of the career of James White, a player considered one of the best in the decades of the 1870’s and 1880’s.

*) A Most Spectacular Debut – an article about the major league debut of Russ Van Atta on April 25, 1933. He was the starting pitcher for the New York Yankees against the Washington Senators and pitched a five-hit shutout and went four-for-four at the plate.

*) The Grand Slam Story – a summary of the players who hit the first and most home runs with the bases loaded.

*) Pitchers Hitting Grand Slams – a summary of grand slam homers hit by pitchers since 1900.

*) Gehrig Streak Reviewed – a listing of the games where unusual measures were taken to preserve Lou Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games played.

*) The 1919 White Sox Depicted – a description of the factionalism of the infamous “Black Sox” team that attempted to throw the World Series.


 The characteristic of “Baseball Research Journal” that I find the most appealing is that many of the articles deal with players and situations before 1920. Very few of those players ever get mentioned in histories of the game and their contributions to the grandeur of the sport were very significant. The contributors to this journal are obviously engaged in a labor of love and we are all the better for it.

Review of "Stan Lee’s Alexa Volume 1," by Stan Lee et. al.

 Review of

Stan Lee’s Alexa Volume 1, by Stan Lee et. al.

Five out of five stars

Vintage Stan Lee story

 People that have been reading Marvel comics for many years have noted the occasional self-reference in a story. It is where the imagination and creativity of comic book writers is used as a basic plot device. That tactic is used here.

 Alexa Moran is the character of main focus, and she is a talented artist that works for a comic book publisher called the Fantasy Factory. She often pulls all-nighters in order to make the deadlines of a very demanding boss. When a portal to another dimension allows two very large (20-30 feet tall) males to come through along with a human-sized creature. The normal-sized creature is hunting the two large creatures.

 After an initial time of puzzlement, the two large creatures discover that Alexa is the source of the creation of the rift. She is baffled by this designation, after all, “I only draw people with powers, I don’t have them myself.” Throw in an editor-in-chief that wants to use all the action in a new series of comic books and you have a story within a story.

 A fun new comic character formed using input from the legendary Stan Lee, Alexa Moran is a character to watch and enjoy.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Review of "The Autonomy of Mathematical Knowledge," by Curtis Franks

 Review of

The Autonomy of Mathematical Knowledge, by Curtis Franks ISBN 9780521514378

Five out of five stars

The most foundational mathematics

  There are two broad categories of major players in any field of intellectual human endeavor; the people that pose the problems and the ones that (re)solve them. Unfortunately, history often allocates greater praise to the solvers rather than the equally essential proposers. In the 1920’s, the great German mathematician David Hilbert proposed an approach that would place mathematics on a sound axiomatic foundation. The goal was to prove the consistency of mathematics, in other words that it is not possible to ever properly deduce a contradiction. Like so many such programs, it was one whose time had come as there were several earlier discoveries and issues that pointed the way. In this book, Franks explains the program, some of the work done on it and the primary consequences of what Hilbert initiated.

 The program went to the very essence of what mathematics and proof are, in some ways it is one of the most complex areas of philosophy. Very few question the existence of physical matter and the laws that govern its’ behavior, but in mathematics the objects can only be approximated, they are the product of thought. So too are the reasoning techniques used to manipulate them, the primary reason that so many people find mathematics difficult is that you are manipulating abstract ideas represented by unusual symbols. Hilbert’s goal was to formalize these ideas as much as possible so that whenever an object was declared and processed, each step in the route was formally understood. Furthermore, the rules regarding what you could do were rigidly traced back to a solid foundation of understanding.

 Franks does an excellent job in describing this process, giving Hilbert much deserved credit for putting forward the program. While Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems meant that there were some limits beyond which even mathematics could not cross, Hilbert helped initiate a mindset that drove the mathematical community towards those barriers.

 Most mathematicians simply do their mathematics without regard to the deep metamathematics underlying their actions. In most cases, this really does not matter, yet it is something that all practitioners should consider from time to time. Franks does a sound job in revisiting what Hilbert started and with few exceptions it is a book that all mathematicians can understand and appreciate. 

Review of "Aurora of the Northern Lights," by Holly Hardin

 Review of

Aurora of the Northern Lights, by Holly Hardin ISBN ‎ 9781432724399

Three out of five stars

A path too unpleasant for children

 When the male resident of a warm climate (William) and the female resident of a cold climate (Mistletoe) meet and fall in love, something must yield. However, after a short time in the cold climate of the north, William grows ill and must return to the warmer lands of his birth. Mistletoe agrees to go with him and together they build a happy home, although Mistletoe sheds some tears during the departure. When their daughter Aurora is born their happy home becomes a joyous one, although it only lasts for seven years. An illness strikes down William and Mistletoe and Aurora is left wandering the streets looking for a new home.

 The search yields her nothing as all the residents of the town reject her as an outsider, so she must leave.  Aurora wanders out into Woodland Fey, where the sprites also reject her. Fortunately, the queen of the sprites gives her a thick cloak and an oak staff before telling her she must trek back north so that she can reunite with her people. Aurora sets out on a long journey and shortly before she would have been frozen, she encounters a castle amidst the snow and ice. It is the castle of Santa Claus and Aurora is reunited with her grandmother and she has a home once more.

 Reading this book will be a scary experience for young children as one of their greatest fears is what will happen to them if their parents die. Making this one even more frightening is the rejection of Aurora by all the people in the town and then having it repeated by the sprites in the forest. Children will read of this rejection and be concerned that such a situation would also be their fate if their parents die. Fortunately, there is an eventual happy ending, but the path there is one that I would have been very hesitant to take my daughter down when she was young.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Review of "Sports Illustrated Book of Baseball," by editors of Sports Illustrated

 Review of

Sports Illustrated Book of Baseball, by editors of Sports Illustrated

Four out of five stars

Basic introduction to fundamental play

 This book is written for the young male with an interest in how to effectively play baseball. Five stars that play at various positions give their expertise in how to do it well. Those players and their subjects are:

*) Harmon Killebrew on hitting

*) Al Downing on pitching

*) Brooks Robinson on fielding in the infield

*) Tim McCarver on the basics of catching

*) Tom Tresh on playing the outfield and running the bases.

 The tips are all sound and to the point. Which is necessary in a book of this small size. While in no way definitive, this is a good book to get the baseball hopeful down the right track.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Review of "Spider-Girl Presents A Next Second Coming," by Tom DeFalco

 Review of

Spider-Girl Presents A Next Second Coming, by Tom DeFalco ISBN 9781435223530

Four out of five stars

A new group of Avengers

 The group of comic superheroes called “The Avengers” were always an odd grouping of personalities and unlike some other groups, the membership was always in a state of flux. Not only did the members come and go, they also often alternately walked on both sides of the good/evil street. Two examples are the Hulk and Submariner, powerful beings that fought with and against the groups of do-gooders.

 This book is not only about a new group of Avengers, but many are the second generation of super beings. They have come together to form a team and they are having some bonding difficulties. Egos and the desire to shine are a common problem and many of them struggle with the demons of their lives. The new Avengers battle some of the old villains such as Loki, a Kree robot and the Hulk, strong villains that are worthy opponents to their great powers.

 One major difference in the depiction of the new Avengers from that of earlier comic heroes is the way the female heroes are drawn. In nearly all cases they have enormous muscles and prominent breasts. American Dream is a female Captain America look-alike with long blonde hair that has muscles and a chest so large that it probably gets in the way when she fights. 

 However, new blood is always a good thing, even in the superhero business and while there is a good deal of continuity with their predecessors, there is enough originality to make the characters interesting and entertaining.



Review of "Great Upsets of the NFL," by Richard Kaplan

 Review of

Great Upsets of the NFL, by Richard Kaplan ISBN 0394824660

Four out of five stars

Typical YA rendition of sporting events

 There have been many significant games in the NFL/AFL in the years before this book was published in 1972. The author has selected 10 games to label with the term “upset” and gives a brief description of each. As Kaplan states, the definition of upset is a very subjective one. Nevertheless, the term can reasonably be allied to all ten of these games. Surprisingly, Super Bowl III is not one of them.

 The prose is very typical of books about sporting events written for the YA audience. A great deal of low-level hype in combination with the facts of the game and the major plays that determined the outcome.

 Unfortunately, the author commits a major historical blunder on page 67. The first two sentences are:

“During the year 1957 two things were put in the air. One was called Sputnik I, the historic space capsule in which Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth.”

Sputnik was a satellite 23 inches in diameter and Gagarin did not orbit the Earth until 1961. It is amazing that such an error would pass through the editing process.

 Nevertheless, if you are interested in reading about significant professional football games, this book will entertain you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Review of "Woman of Valor: A Story of Resistance, Leadership & Courage," by Marty Brounstein

 Review of

Woman of Valor: A Story of Resistance, Leadership & Courage, by Marty Brounstein ISBN 9780757005039

Five out of five stars

A life of courage against great evil

 In the early thirties, there was an increase in the latent antisemitism in Europe that was concurrent with the rise of fascism. While it appeared in many European countries, it was most pronounced in Germany under the Nazis. Although there was a period where antisemitism was relaxed in Poland, there was a rebirth after the departure of Pilsudski.

 In September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and rapidly defeated the Polish forces, after which the war became a military occupation. The Germans brought their extreme antisemitism with them. It was not long before the occupation became a movement to exterminate the Jews. While most were rounded up and sent to the death camps, there were some that managed to escape and even conduct partisan military operations against the German forces and their Polish allies.

Eta Chait was a Jewish woman that spoke fluent Polish and had an appearance that made her able to pass as a Christian in Nazi-occupied Poland. This undoubtably saved her life as she was part of the resistance, saving the lives of several Jews. She joined a partisan band living in the forest and she was able to leave their base and go out into the areas patrolled by the Germans and collect food and other materials that the partisans needed.

 Her story is one of determination to do whatever she could to resist the German killing machine. In many ways it is an amazing one, for the Germans were very thorough and they had many allies in the local Polish police force as well as among the Polish citizenries. Even some fellow Jews collaborated with the Germans.

 Chait survived the war and ended up in New York City shortly after the war ended. It is a great story of courage and survival. Unfortunately, there were too few examples of this particular outcome.

Review of '“All Day Long” Stories,' by Eric Kincaid

 Review of

“All Day Long” Stories, by Eric Kincaid

Five out of five stars

Good stories new to me

 When she was young, I read to my daughter every night, the ritual was largely the same, several books each night, sometimes repeating the same books night after night. The upside was that my daughter enjoyed it immensely and the downside was that I had no choice but to memorize a large number of children’s stories. What was interesting to me is that I have never encountered any of the stories in this collection before. They are:

*) The Greedy King, by Irene James

*) My Garden by David Eden

*) The Brave Little Engine, by Robert Moss

*) The Dragon of Wantley, by David Eden

*) The Straw Hat, by Lucy Kincaid

*) Sprogget and his Pets, by Rosalind Sutton

*) Jumping Frogs, by Lucy Kincaid

*) The Magic Spectacles, by Robert Moss

*) Stairs, by Rosalind Sutton

*) Chiffa’s Moon Trip, by Dennis Burley

 These stories don’t have the obvious lessons that others do, yet they are certainly worthy of being read to children. Had I known of this book when my daughter was young, no doubt I would have memorized it as well.

Review of "A&E Biography Tape of Harry S. Truman"

 Review of

A&E Biography Tape of Harry S. Truman

Five out of five stars

As gutsy as they come

 Although he always remained a self-proclaimed “simple man from Missouri”, Harry Truman was anything but simple. He never flinched from making a decision with great consequences, he stood up for the rule of law against powerful figures and he was a great president. The decisions that Truman made in office to use the atomic bombs against Japan, to define and implement the Truman Doctrine, to commit the United States to armed conflict by the NATO treaty, to send aid to Europe under the Marshall Plan, to intervene in Korea and to fire General MacArthur all had consequences decades in duration. Furthermore, they all were good for the United States and good for the world.

 While this tape does not delve into the depths of Truman’s actions as president, the makers of the tape cannot be faulted for that. There were so many major decisions made by Truman and the consequences so far-reaching that it is simply impossible to achieve any depth in 50 minutes. This is an excellent overview of the life of a great man and president, to delve deeply into what he did would take many hours.  With some of the lowest approval ratings of all time when he left office, history has been kind to Harry Truman and for good reason.