Monday, May 30, 2022

Review of "A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City," by Anonymous

 Review of

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, by Anonymous ISBN 0805075402

Five out of five stars

On being female when Russian troops arrive

 The history of what the German troops did in the sections of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Second World War have been well documented. Therefore, when the troops of the Soviet Red Army moved into Germany, there was the expectation that they would have brutal revenge on their minds. This book is the diary of a German woman resident of Berlin in the last weeks of the war and the first weeks of the Red Army occupation.

 In many ways, it is tamer than what one would expect in the circumstances. While most women that were visible were raped, there were no mass executions. In what comes across as a bizarre twist, in many instances the Russians were quite polite. Their solicitation of sex were generally accompanied with acts of kindness in the form of higher quality food. They are also depicted as crude, using corners of apartments as toilets and tracking dirt and horse manure throughout the dwellings that they entered.

 Once Germany surrendered and the bullets stopped, the people did what they could to create something resembling a normal life. To many of the women, this meant forming an understanding with a higher ranking member of the Soviet military, in essence becoming his personal and exclusive German lady friend. A thoroughly understandable survival mechanism.

 The German defeat in World War II left the country prostrate. In this book, you learn about women taking that position in order to eat and avoid being further brutalized.

Review of "Atlas for Introduction to Military History, U. S. Air Force Academy Edition"

 Review of

Atlas for Introduction to Military History, U. S. Air Force Academy Edition, ISBN 9780757001697

Five out of five stars

 You can hear the professor’s voice when you read

 Open this book to any page and you can virtually hear the professor saying, “Now turn your atlas to page XXX, where you will see the map of the battle of XXX that took place in XXX in the year XXX.” If you are unfamiliar with the referenced battle, it will be difficult to interpret and understand the map. However, with additional information, the map is a superb synopsis of what forces were involved and how they moved.

 The first battle depicted is the Battle of Breitenfield in Northern Europe in 1631 and the last is the Allied assault against Iraq in the First Gulf War of 1991. Many symbols are used and until you become accustomed to them, several flips back to the opening table of symbols is necessary. Quite naturally, the largest number of pages used for an event to describe the European and Pacific theaters of World War II.

 Designed to be a supplement to detailed descriptions of some of the major and decisive battles of Western Civilization, this book is an excellent illustration of how the commanders executed the movements of their forces in both offense and defense.

Review of "The Last Man: Book One," by Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan Jr.

 Review of

The Last Man: Book One, by Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan Jr. ISBN 9781401251512

Five out of five stars

Humans remain humans, despite catastrophic death

 What is great about this novel is that it depicts humans in their inglorious mode, even after a species-ending apocalypse. At a precise moment in time, nearly all mammals with a Y chromosome (male) die within seconds. The only known exceptions are Yorick and his pet monkey. With nearly all pilots and other people in authority male, most planes crash, there are massive chain reaction crashes on the freeways, governments and the power grids collapse.

 Yorick’s mother is a member of Congress, so she retains some authority, and a low-level member of the cabinet is named President of the United States using the constitutional rules of succession. True to human nature, the women immediately become factionalized, with a group of the wives of Republican members of Congress attempting to stage a coup against what is the legitimate national government.

 Furthermore, groups of extremely radical feminists form gangs called Amazons, true to the legend of the group, they destroy one of their breasts. They think nothing of killing other women that they perceive as enemies, and they want to hunt down what they hear is the last surviving male. The fact that their policies will lead to the extermination of humans over time seems lost on them.

 That is not the case with a small group of female Israeli soldiers. Understanding that the only nations that will survive are those that procreate, they travel to the United States in order to bring Yorick back to Israel.

 What is great about this novel is that it portrays women as brutal humans. Rather than working together in order to continue the species, they pursue their personal agendas, believing that might makes right. They consider the mass death of males to be their opportunity to take control from the destructive policies of the men. The fact that they are continuing the policies of killing those who disagree is a dark, yet fitting irony.

Review of "Star Trek Picard: Countdown," by Kirsten Beyer & Mike Johnson

 Review of

Star Trek Picard: Countdown, by Kirsten Beyer & Mike Johnson ISBN 9781684056941

Five out of five stars

Saving a planet’s population

 Picard is now an Admiral, and the Romulan Empire is in dire peril. It has been predicted that a star in the Empire will supernova sometime in the near future. Picard is commander of a ship, and he is tasked with overseeing and carrying out the evacuation of a Romulan planet. As is always the case with the Romulans, there are many stages to the assistance, with several factions of the Romulans, not all of which are in favor of Federation help.

 When Picard meets with the Romulan governor and tours the planet, he discovers an indigenous, intelligent species that the Romulans were planning on leaving behind. When he objects to this plan, the governor has him incarcerated. This is when two members of the Romulan secret police known as the Tal Shar break Picard out of prison and get the evacuation back on track. It demonstrates the Romulans at their scheming, duplicitous “best.”

 It is gratifying to see one of the primary Star Trek characters back in action. Picard demonstrates once again the skill set he has that made him one of the best starship commanders in Star Fleet. He is capable of meeting and dealing with any situation, preferring to think/negotiate his way out of grim difficulties. Outplaying the scheming, factionalized Romulans is not an easy task.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Review of "American Reunion," DVD version

 Review of

American Reunion, DVD version

Four out of five stars

Adolescent humor with an adult theme

 While this movie is mostly based on humor directed at adolescents, the underlying plot has a very adult theme. The gang from the “American Pie” movies returns and this time they are having a formal high school reunion. It is a chance to reconnect, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on the directions their lives have taken.

 In the style of the “American Pie” movies, there is slapstick, crude sexual and potty humor and wildly played out sexual scenes. Yet, supplementing these antics, there are people expressing regrets, apologizing for past behaviors, engaging in grandiose bragging and in many cases growing up a bit and coming to terms with what their lives have evolved into. In other words, generally doing what people do at their earliest high school reunions.

 Most of the humor is predictable, yet the coming to terms does have some unexpected events. Even the aged adults join in the adolescent-like antics,  discovering aspects of their personas that have either been lost or deeply suppressed.

 While not a movie that will have you roaring with laughter, it is fun to watch. As a veteran of a memorable high school reunion, I recognized some of the artificial facades of people trying to impress and return to the pecking order of their high school class.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Review of "Don’t Whiz on a ‘Lectric Fence: Grandpa’s Country Wisdom," by Roy English

 Review of

Don’t Whiz on a ‘Lectric Fence: Grandpa’s Country Wisdom, by Roy English ISBN 0879057556

Five out of five stars

Heard them before, still timeless

 I grew up on a dead-end street on the edge of a small town with cornfields a few houses to the north and west. I also spent a great deal of time at my grandmother’s, where the situation was similar. Just a few more houses before the cornfields started.

 The title of this book brings back memories of my childhood, where the older boys were always trying to talk the younger ones into doing what is admonished against in the title. I was never convinced but heard the screams of another boy that took the dare.

 The sayings in this book are definitely folk, often reminiscent of those of Benjamin Franklin. For example, on page 84 there is the saying, “An ounce of doing with worth a pound of talk.” On page 118, there is the sentence, “It’s best to stop talking once you’ve said all you know.”

 Humorous with a sense of reality and wisdom, this is a book of expressions that you can repeat over and over with no real sense of redundancy.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Review of "Postcards From World War II: Sights and Sentiments from the Second World War," by Robynn Clairday and Matt Clairday

 Review of

Postcards From World War II: Sights and Sentiments from the Second World War, by Robynn Clairday and Matt Clairday, ISBN 0757001025

Five out of five stars

Angst and other emotions packed in a few sentences

 When the United States entered World War II, millions of men entered the service and went off to fight and for some of them die a horrible death. The people left behind lived in fear of getting the communication informing them of the demise of their loved ones. In such an environment, even a brief communication from one side to the other was uplifting and one of the best boosts of morale.

 Most of the messages on these actual postcards are simple, but that does not mean that they did not have a profound impact on the recipients. The images on the postcards depict scenes of military equipment to the base where the soldier was stationed to cartoons lampooning military life. It was a very serious time, where the future direction of the world was at stake. Yet, people still found time to inject some simple humor and heartfelt feelings into their brief communications.

Review of "The Medical Muse or What to Do Until the Patient Comes," by Richard Armour

 Review of

The Medical Muse or What to Do Until the Patient Comes, by Richard Armour

Four out of five stars

A whimsical, poetic look at the practice of medicine

While the practice of medicine is a serious endeavor, there is nothing wrong with being a bit light-hearted about it. Injecting humor into both sides of the patient-doctor equation will often improve the situation for both sides. This book is a collection of short items of verse that cover many aspects of the providing and receiving of medical care.

 The poems are light in nature, the darker consequences of medical care are avoided. Nearly all aspects, from the perspective of the patient, the doctor, the doctor’s spouse and even the salespeople that knock on the doctor’s door are the topic of the prose. While there are no major laughs generated by these poems, all bring a minimum of a knowing, wry smile.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Review of "Robert B. Parker’s Damned if You Do," by Michael Brandman

 Review of

Robert B. Parker’s Damned if You Do, by Michael Brandman ISBN 9781410461407

Five out of five stars

Very good, but not one of the best

 Jesse Stone is called to a seedy motel where there is a dead woman on the bed in one of the rooms. She was clearly in her early twenties and Jesse has an itch in his mind that he should somehow know her. There are many indications that she was a prostitute, and the case is one that Jesse cannot let go of. At the least, he wants to learn her name so that she does not forever remain a Jane Doe.

 Armed with this determination, Jesse seeks help anywhere he can find it, whether it be in law enforcement or in organized crime. Getting nowhere with traditional law enforcement, he consults with mobster Gino Fish. He is given a name of a madam and from there he is able to establish her identity. In order to make an engaging story, this knowledge puts Jesse in the middle of a significant turf war.

 A new character named Fat Boy Nelly is introduced and there is a secondary plot based on a company that buys up nursing homes with the goal of exploitation in pursuit of profit. Jesse handles them as well as he navigates his way between two ruthless men determined to have their way in the lucrative business of prostitution.

 Stories featuring Jesse Stone are always interesting and well worth reading. However, this is not one of the best in the series. The dialog lacks the highest level of crispness so characteristic of the Stone novels of Parker. The secondary plot gives Jesse something else to do but was not really needed in the pursuit of the primary goal.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Review of "Center Field on Fire," by Dave Phillips and Rob Rains

 Review of

Center Field on Fire, by Dave Phillips and Rob Rains, ISBN 1572435690

Five out of five stars

Insight to the game from a longtime man in blue

 Willie Mays once said that baseball is a simple game, “they throw the ball and I hit it, they hit the ball and I catch it.” While that makes sense from the perspective of Willie Mays, baseball is a far more complicated game than that. There are strategies within strategies and some of the plays are a matter of inches. Furthermore, not all of the rules are unambiguous, instances arise where the umpire must interpret them. Finally, one single call on the field can lead to a shift in millions of dollars of revenue.

 Longtime major league umpire Dave Phillips was present at many of the more complex and controversial plays in the last half century of baseball. He also has seen the rise of salaries, where players and owners are spending and receiving massive amounts of money, driving agendas that are not always in the best interests of baseball.

 This rendition of a life in baseball rendering decisions that are sometimes guaranteed to make half the people angry is a joy to read. Baseball is unique in that the players and managers are allowed to argue with the umpires, generally in full view of the viewers. Nothing can excite a crowd faster and to a higher level than an umpire and manager going chin to chin and screaming at each other. The event even has the special name of “rhubarb.”

 One of the best things about this book is that Phillips does engage in some criticisms of his fellow umpires. He describes personality conflicts between the umpires that are inevitable between human beings, but rarely acknowledged in public.

Review of "March: Book One," by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

 Review of

March: Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

Five out of five stars

Major historical event described in a comic

 There were many major events in the civil rights movement in the United States and arguably the most significant was the march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. The march was led by John Lewis and the vicious attack by police officers shocked the nation and galvanized people that were formerly unsympathetic into supporting the civil rights movement.

 This comic is the first in a series of comics that depict the early years of civil rights icon John Lewis and the planning and negotiations that led to that famous event. It is an excellent depiction of an event where the participants truly suffered for a cause they believed in. It could be used in history classes as a reference material on the event and a description of true heroism.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Review of "The New Yorker Book of Doctor Cartoons"

 Review of

The New Yorker Book of Doctor Cartoons, ISBN 0679430695

Five out of five stars

Great cartoons in the ‘New Yorker’ tradition

 The cartoons that appear in ‘New Yorker’ magazine are arguably the best there are. They are simultaneously funny, profound and contain biting social satire. This collection demonstrates all of that with the focus on the medical profession and the social structure that surrounds it.

 Like the best cartoons, you can read then a couple times a year, each time with equal enjoyment. This book should be in the waiting room of every medical facility.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Review of "Bleachers," by John Grisham

 Review of

Bleachers, by John Grisham ISBN 0385511612

Five out of five stars

An unusual look back at the glory days

 While a winning high school football team is the main plot premise of this book, it is much more about retrospective to the glory days of high school. Under the brilliant and at times sadistic control of Coach Eddie Rake, the Messina High School football team was nearly unbeatable. With a winning streak spread over several seasons, the Rake was a hero, and the team was the biggest thing in town.

 Neely Crenshaw was a high school all-American quarterback at Messina, and he seemed destined for the NFL until his knee was destroyed in college. It is fifteen years after Crenshaw starred at Messina and Coach Rake is on his deathbed. Many of his former players are coming back to town in order to pay their respects. Groups of them meet in the bleachers at the football stadium, hence the title of the book.

 As the former players reminisce about their glory days and reflect on their lives, what they have become is a cross section of what people do after high school. Their “professions” range from prison inmate to career criminal to various professions. It is a story of how they all both loved and hated Coach Rake and how each of them dealt with him as well as each other.

 In sports, the number of people that had glorious high school sports careers and then little after that far outnumbers the number that went on to additional glory in college and beyond. This book is about them, how they manage to come together and once again become a band of brothers when their former coach passes away.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Review of "Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year: 1992 Edition," edited by Charles Brooks

 Review of

Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year: 1992 Edition, edited by Charles Brooks ISBN 0882899104

Five out of five stars

Dated, but still relevant

 The best editorial cartoons are lessons in history, political and social commentary/satire and humorous. The entries in this collection are the best of the group for 1992, a year of tremendous change in the world, but especially in the former Soviet Union. A small group of reactionaries attempted to re-create at least a portion of the Soviet Union, only to fail miserably. While the people rose up against the military vehicles, it was the actions of Boris Yeltsin that led to the collapse of the coup attempt.

 One of the most interesting group of cartoons deals with the prelude to the American presidential election of 1992. The Democrats are depicted as weak and rudderless, yet Bill Clinton emerged as a powerful political figure, winning the maximum of two terms in the office. Since he won in November of 1992, this demonstrates how rapidly political fortunes of parties and individuals can rise and fall.

 To truly appreciate most of these cartoons, it is necessary to have some understanding of the events being referenced. If you possess a minimum of such knowledge, you will greatly enjoy this book.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Review of "If… (Questions for the Game of Life)," by Evelyn & James Saywell

 Review of

If… (Questions for the Game of Life), by Evelyn & James Saywell ISBN 9780679445357

Five out of five stars

Hard questions to consider

 Most of the questions that humans deal with on a daily basis are quite routine and don’t have major consequences. Those questions are not the content of this book. These questions are extremely difficult, based on unusual and at times what some would consider offensive premises. For example, on page 58 there is the question, “If you had to have one family member (besides your spouse) witness your next sexual act, who would you pick?”

 Therefore, almost nothing is off limits in this collection of “If…” questions. Designed to be provocative in putting forward questions for discussion and comment, the authors have succeeded in achieving their goal.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Review of "DC Superhero Science," by Jennifer Hackett

 Review of

DC Superhero Science, by Jennifer Hackett ISBN 9781941367537

Five out of five stars

Physics explains the consequences, not the origins

 The members of the DC superhero group are capable of amazing things. While some like Batman, Robin and Green Arrow are simply highly skilled humans, others have superpowers. In this book, while the origins of those powers are not heavily discussed and explained, the physics behind those powers and the consequences are very well explained.

 For example, in order to understand Superman and Supergirl’s heat vision, it is necessary to understand how energy is transferred via electromagnetic waves. To see in the dark, it is necessary to be able to see differences in the thermal energy content of your surroundings. Super vision is explained by describing how the human eye accepts light and then transfers it to the brain for processing and interpretation.

 The most interesting segment is called “Can People Really Walk on Water?” It turns out that if a person were capable of running 67 miles per hour with normal sized feet, they could in fact walk on water. This is the speed necessary for the contact with the water to be so short that the water molecules could not move fast enough to allow the person to sink.

 This book is more a science book than it is a reference to DC superheroes. Those references help make the explanations more interesting.

Review of "Plague: Stories of Death in the Great Plague of the 14th Century," written by Kyle Garrett et. al.

 Review of

Plague: Stories of Death in the Great Plague of the 14th Century, written by Kyle Garrett et. al.

Five out of five stars

“First person” accounts of the great death

 The most conservative estimates are that the so-called “Black Death” that invaded Europe in the 14th century killed one-fourth of the population. Death was largely indiscriminate regarding socio-economic status, age and religious affiliation. The only exception to this was the large numbers of Jews that were murdered in the fever of belief that they were somehow the cause. The true cause were the yet unknown species of bacteria.

 This comic is composed of a set of short stories set in the first person of people experiencing the plague and it consuming those around them and in most cases them as well. The authors of the stories do a superb job in capturing the despair and hopelessness the people felt as people continued to die. Many of the dead were buried so hastily that their graves were shallow enough that dogs and other animals were able to dig the bodies up and consume them. For many, this was their greatest fear of what would happen when they died.

 The plague transformed Europe in that it was a great leveler of the social classes, quickly destroying feudalism and leaving those who survived largely in charge of their future. Since the clergy proved incapable of having any affect on the great dying, the power of the Catholic Church was also significantly weakened.

 This is an excellent account of a time when European society was subject to a great upheaval, changing it forever.

Review of "Muddled Meanderings in an Outhouse Number 2," by Bob Ross

 Review of

Muddled Meanderings in an Outhouse Number 2, by Bob Ross

Five out of five stars

Ode to a once ubiquitous necessity

 When I was growing up, both of my grandparents had outhouses, and since I spent significant time there, I have all-season experiences in making the round trip. Using it was just what we did when we had to. In both cases, they were simple shanties, roughly the size of a closet.

 While most of them were of this type, there were others that were more elaborate, the ones I find most amusing are those that were two stories high. Such an arrangement seemed to serve no purpose as the saving of space would be minimal.

 Each of the entries is a combination of a short segment of verse with an image of an outhouse. Most of the poems are quite good, they are truly odes to what was once everywhere and now is almost nonexistent. While they are humorous, in some cases the reader will likely not appreciate the joke if they have not used an outhouse as they were intended.

 The last generation that can appreciate the humor of outhouse references will soon be gone. This book is a legacy of what once was and hopefully will never be again.