Friday, July 29, 2022

Review of "Clown at Second Base," by C. Paul Jackson

 Review of

Clown at Second Base, by C. Paul Jackson

Four out of five stars

Very good, but dated book of adolescent sports fiction

Bucky Bushard is a second baseman with a lot of both talent and attitude. Although he loves to play baseball and is an excellent player, his propensity to clown and make fun of others rubs people the wrong way. He is somewhat tolerated most of the time, but when his stunts show people up, especially the umpires, or cost his team runs or even games, there is no tolerance.

 This story is very much within the genre of adolescent sports fiction of the fifties. There are no females in the story, and the conversation is somewhat artificial. His team is the Detroit Tigers, and it is fighting for a position in the World Series at a time when the payoff was relatively big money. Every time when Bucky seems to have righted himself, he impulsively carries out a clowning stunt that is detrimental to the team. He even physically fights with his shortstop, the man on the team that he must be most in tune with.

 The book has the Tigers clawing their way out of the second division to a point where they have a chance to win the league pennant. Hence, there is a big game at the end. While Bucky is a sparkplug, he does not carry the team in the sense that he alone is making the key hits that win the games.

 Overall, this is a story that moves along at a good clip, presents problems and dilemmas to be solved and demonstrates how teamwork and not individual play wins games and championships.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Review of "Bone : One Volume Edition," by Jeff Smith

 Review of

Bone : One Volume Edition, by Jeff Smith ISBN 188896314x

Five out of five stars

The complete series based on unusual characters

 There is a little bit of many genres in this graphic novel. There is the reluctant hero, wise and powerful elder leader, some swords and sorcery, a bit of the Three Musketeers, great evil manifest as controllers of locusts and rat creatures and some dragons thrown in.

 Fone Bone is one of the three Bone cousins, the other two are Smiley and Phoney Bone. Smiley is a bit of a simpleton while Phoney is a greedy shyster that is always looking for a quick and profitable score. He will not hesitate to scam any and all creatures they encounter. When the three of them are kicked out of Boneville, they travel across a desert and end up in The Valley. It is a medieval level society and one of the most prominent citizens is Grandma Ben. A beautiful maiden named Thorn is also present, Fone is quickly stricken by her beauty and charm.

 There are great dangers in The Valley, creatures of all types with some of the most dangerous buried deep in the past. There is also some hidden royal figures that must be returned if the creatures of the valley are to be saved from the evil.

 The best thing about this story is the dialog. It is crisp, humorous and occasionally a bit obnoxious. (Think quiche.) The artwork is simply black on white, yet that is not a weakness. This is a great story where none of the features dominates any of the others. Most of the evil creatures have the potential for good in them and the evil is defeated in the end.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Review of "Pearl Harbor," by Ernest Arroyo

 Review of

Pearl Harbor, by Ernest Arroyo, ISBN 097607740x

Five out of five stars

Photos of the day of infamy

 Given the behavior of the Japanese when they attacked the Russian Asian fleet anchored at Port Arthur in 1904, it was logical that the Japanese would engage in a surprise attack on opposing fleets in the Second World War. While there was a wide belief in American military circles that history would be repeated, the belief was that it would not be at Pearl Harbor. The American military and political leadership vastly underestimated the technical capabilities of the Japanese, thinking that they simply could not carry out the powerful attack that they managed to execute. This belief was so deep in American thinking that there were many who believed that some of the planes that attacked Pearl Harbor were in fact piloted by Germans.

 The destruction of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is captured in these images from both Japanese and American sources. While the American pictures of the destruction of the ships are powerful, the most striking images are those of the ships in the harbor taken by the Japanese. All those ships simply lined up at anchor, stationary targets for the skilled pilots of the Japanese Navy.

 Luck had a great deal of action in the Japanese action at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. How such a massive fleet was able to escape detection on such a long journey and how the American forces were caught figuratively sleeping that fateful morning has been the subject of many books and studies. In war, sometimes things just break your way, and this book is a visual explanation of just how well they went for the Japanese forces that day.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Review of "Dog Farts: Pooter’s Revenge," by J. B. O’Neil,

 Review of

Dog Farts: Pooter’s Revenge, by J. B. O’Neil, ISBN 9781484983843

Five out of five stars

Plot involves one of kids favorite yuks

 This is a book that children will love, it features one of their favorite topics to laugh about, farts. Pooter is the dog of the family and when one of the humans lets one go, he often gets blamed. In this case, Pooter is suddenly afflicted with a case of really, really bad gas. Both in terms of the noise as well as the smell.

 Reaching the point where it is intolerable, the parents make an emergency trip to the vet. Even the vet throws their hands up, both in surrender as well as to cover their nose. With on end in sight to the end in action, they finally learn that the youngest child was feeding the dog her vegetables that she did not want to eat. This solved one problem, only to lead to another. Now the girl is the odorous one.

 Based on one thing that will always make children laugh, this book will keep the young reader laughing throughout. It is also useful as a reading challenge.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Review of "A Christmas Memory," by Truman Capote

 Review of

A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote

Five out of five stars

A fond memory of childhood

 Noted author Truman Capote lived with a family of distant and elderly cousins in rural Alabama until he was 10 years old. The household he lived in was very poor, his best friend was his elderly cousin Miss Sook Faulk. She was almost everything to him in terms of a familial relationship, anchoring his life.

 They did much together, in particular when the Christmas season arrived and it was time for them to make and distribute fruitcakes. The process starts by gathering pecans that have fallen from a nearby tree. The two of them do many things together and on the occasions when other family members are mentioned, there does not seem to be a great deal of affection of the others for Truman and Sook.

 This is a story told quite fondly, another demonstration that almost any childhood can be a good one as long as the child has an adult to look after and care for them. Such a life can be rich, even when you have to earn money a penny at a time for killing 25 flies.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Review of "Images of Healing," edited by Ann Novotny & Carter Smith

 Review of

Images of Healing, edited by Ann Novotny & Carter Smith ISBN 0025908200

Five out of five stars

Visual tutorial on the history of medical practice

 The advancement in the effectiveness of medicine has mirrored and benefited by the advance of scientific understanding. This book is a illustrated history of how medicine was practiced in the last three centuries. For each decade, there is a timeline of significant events, such as the establishment of the various medical organizations.

 There are images of some of the most prominent people in the advancement of medicine as well as what were routine events of the times. For example, there are formal portraits of people such as Joseph Lister and Walter Reed. Each image has a brief description of the relevance of what appears in the image.

 Some of the routine events are patients being treated, patients being loaded in an ambulance and the dispensation of medications at a pharmacy. Following the timeline, the reader learns how the practice of medicine has been changed by the introduction of new techniques. The practices of cleanliness and anesthesia being used while surgery is performed are practices that were introduced relatively recently. Some advertisements for patent medicines are also included to perform some dark comic relief.

 While of necessity lacking in depth, this is a book that will educate and entertain people interested in how the practice of medicine has changed over the past three centuries.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Review of The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse," by Rich Cohen

 Review of

The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse, by Rich Cohen, ISBN 9780374120924

Five out of five stars

Curse, or bad management?

 While there may be no supernatural justification to claiming a curse, there is one certain way one can exist. That is when the people considered cursed believe in the curse. In sports, it is when one or more members of the team think they are going to lose no matter what happens. In baseball, the time you make errors is when you believe that someone is going to make one.

 Until they finally won the World Series in 2016, ending a string of over 100 years with no such victory, the Cubs were generally awful. This had lasted so long that many people attributed the continuous failure to the “fact” that the team was cursed. As Cohen points out, much of that was in the heads and bodies of the players, he says several times that the primary reason for their decades of success is that the Yankees had better players (physical bodies) and that they believed that they would win (better heads.)

 Cohen also pointed out that the Cubs loss in the famous Bartman game was due more to the infield error and how the Cubs as a team suffered a mental collapse, and was not due to any supernatural force. He also points out that the primary reason for the lengthy failure is due to horrible management practices throughout the organization. One of the amazing facets of this absurd situation is that when the Cubs signed future star and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, one of the club officials said they signed him, “So that they would have another black to room with the one black player they had on their roster.”

 This is a great book about a team that suffered from a great deal of bad luck over decades, most of which was self-generated.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Review of "Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s Casey At the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888," by Christopher Bing

 Review of

Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s Casey At the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, by Christopher Bing ISBN 0439331684

Five out of five stars

Unique rendition of a golden oldie

 There is no better poem in all of sports than the classic, “Casey at the Bat.” Written in 1888, it has been published many times in various forms. This is one of the best. Using what appears to be faded newspaper accounts of the famous game in Mudville, Bing builds the action up to that climactic moment of the mighty, but futile swing.

 The men in the crowd are generally dressed in coats, ties and fancy hats while the few women are wearing very large hats. The players are depicted largely as they were in 1888 in terms of their uniforms and equipment. Although there are some inconsistencies. On one page the umpire is behind the plate while in another he is behind the pitcher and calling a strike on Casey.

 The sharp and historically knowledgeable reader will notice two other unusual traits, that may not be anomalies. On the page where Casey has just come to the plate and is tipping his cap, the catcher for the other team appears to be black. Furthermore, on the page where the umpire is calling the second strike on Casey, the pitcher also appears to be black. While this is possible, for this was before there was the official color barrier, it is implausible. Yet, it was nice to see.

 A great rendition of the best sports poem of all time, Bing has done a wonderful job of establishing the proper context.

Review of "History of the Second World War, part 18: How Crete Was Lost," edited by Barrie Pitt

 Review of

History of the Second World War, part 18: How Crete Was Lost, edited by Barrie Pitt

Five out of five stars

History of a semi-decisive battle

 With millions of men and women under arms and nearly six years long in Europe, the Second World War had many phases. One smaller battle that had decisive consequences that are not often appreciated was the battle for the Greek island of Crete. While the end result of a German victory was never in doubt due to total air domination by Germany, it had repercussions shortly afterward.

 Despite putting together their defensive forces on a shoestring, the Allied forces made up of Greeks, British and Commonwealth troops put up a superb resistance. Short of time due to the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union, the German high command wanted to move as quickly as possible. Therefore, they relied on airborne units as the first wave on the island. The losses of these troops were so high that the Germans never again mounted a major airborne assault. Their later action was generally as ground forces.

 This magazine is a history of that brief conflict from the perspective of both sides, where the goal of the Allied forces was to keep the fight going as long as possible, followed by evacuating as many as possible from Crete when their position became untenable. In that context, they were successful, keeping major German combat forces tied down. The invasion of the Soviet Union was delayed by a few weeks due to the operations in Greece and it can be strongly argued that the delay kept the Germans from reaching and taking Moscow.

Review of "Planes, Names & Dames: Volume II, 1946-1960," by Larry Davis

 Review of

Planes, Names & Dames: Volume II, 1946-1960, by Larry Davis, ISBN 0897472918

Five out of five stars

Nose art appearing on American planes

 One of the most interesting and effective ways to maintain morale among the various air wings is the art that appears on the noses of the planes. The most famous example of this is the shark insignia painted on the planes of the famed “Flying Tigers” of Claire Chennault. This book is a collection of pictures of some of the art along with explanations from the period 1946-1960. In terms of combat operations, it was during the Korean War.

 Even though the images are in black-and-white, the reader can clearly get a sense of the quality of the art. The images are detailed and served to boost and maintain morale as well as give the pilots, flight and ground crews a sense of shared identity. In that respect, it was a success, there is a clear sense of pride in the men posing next to the art.

 Many of the images were originally of nude women, yet at one base, the wife of the commanding officer demanded that the “good parts” be painted over. She got her way and that can be seen in some of the before-and-after pictures.

 A blending of art and combat readiness, this book is an interesting historical retrospective of the air arms of the U. S. military.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Review of "Incident at Muc Wa," by Daniel Ford

 Review of

Incident at Muc Wa, by Daniel Ford

Five out of five stars

A novel with a lot of truth

 In this novel, the United States military is not yet heavily involved in Southeast Asia. American involvement is limited to advisors and recruiting and paying for local mercenaries. What is indicative of how the American command structure thinks is that the decision is made to install a powerful garrison at an isolated location called Muc Wa.

 It has no real strategic value in the sense that it controls a vital road intersection or is near a major population center. The decision by the commanders to make Muc Wa a critical location is based more on whimsy than on sound military strategy.

 The almost comic events in setting up and managing the strong point mimic what was actually done in many locations in Vietnam. The garrison is established, considered critical enough to fight for with many casualties, only to eventually consider it of little value and so abandon it. The men fighting for it on the side of the South Vietnamese government never really understood what they were fighting for.

 This is a great book that sets down many of the reasons why the Vietnam War went so poorly for the United States. It demonstrates a lack of overall strategy as well as knowledge of the countryside and the people. In retrospect, it sets down a prediction of how the war would progress.

Review of "The Stolen Train," by Robert Ashley

 Review of

The Stolen Train, by Robert Ashley

Five out of five stars

True adventure story for adolescents

 In the history of the American Civil War, it is known as the Great Locomotive Chase, Andrews’ Raid or the Mitchel Raid. A small group of Union men commandeered a train known as the General and took it toward the Union lines at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Their goal was to do as much damage as possible to the vital rail line, tearing up tracks, cutting telegraph lines and burning bridges. It was led by James Andrews, and while they did not do as much damage as they hoped to do, they did accomplish much of what they set out to do.

 This book for the adolescent reader is a largely historically accurate rendition of that event. It is told from the perspective of Private Johnnie Adams of the Ohio Volunteers. He is in is mid-teens and was selected for the mission because he was an expert at climbing poles quickly. The only real flaw in the book is that there should have been a couple of pages at the end explaining the actual event that the book is based on.

 An exciting adventure story for adolescents starring an adolescent in a critical war job, this is a book that I read several times as a child and loved reading again.

Review of "Sixkill," by Robert B. Parker

 Review of

Sixkill, by Robert B. Parker ISBN 9780399157264

Five out of five stars

New sidekick, not quite hawk

 This is the last Spenser novel written by Parker and in it he introduces a new sidekick for Spenser, a Cree Native American called Zebulon Sixkill. Sixkill was born of alcoholic parents and was raised by his grandfather. A large man with substantial athletic skills, Sixkill left college in disgrace and is now working as an on-set bodyguard for Jumbo Nelson, an actor that more than fits his bad-boy image.

 When a young woman is reported dead by strangulation in Jumbo’s hotel room, the logical conclusion is that he killed her. However, Quirk finds that premise questionable and when Rita Fiore is hired to represent Jumbo, they agree that Spenser should look into it.

 When Spenser encounters Jumbo, Sixkill is working as his bodyguard and is ordered to physically remove Spenser. While Sixkill is large and relatively capable, he is no match for Spenser and after he loses, Jumbo fires him. For reasons known only to Spenser, he takes Sixkill under his wing and begins training and educating him in the skills needed to be a professional tough guy.

 Like all Spenser cases, this one turns out to be far more complicated than it first appears. Spenser’s standard brusque manner irritates powerful and ruthless people, leading to physical and armed confrontations. With the assistance of his new sidekick, Spenser once again emerges victorious.

 Since this was the last Spenser novel penned by Parker, one is left wondering what direction he planned on going regarding the relative positions of Hawk and Sixkill in Spenser’s professional life. This story maintains the high standards of plot development and witty dialog that is Parker’s trademark. Every plot point fits into a logical consistency and the reader never is put into the position of asking, “Where did that come from?” It is hard to put down once you open it.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Review of "Hawkeye Tales," by Hubert L. Moeller

 Review of

Hawkeye Tales, by Hubert L. Moeller

Four out of five stars

Dated, valuable history of the state of Iowa

 Written at the level of the late elementary school student, this book is somewhat dated, yet remains valuable, as long as it is interpreted within the proper historical perspective. It begins with a brief geological history of the state, back to the times when it was under both the sea and glaciers. While there is brief coverage of Native Americans, the real depth of the history begins when the people of European descent arrived.

 Many of the Iowa cities along the Mississippi were named after these first explorers as well as Native Americans or given names taken from the languages of the Native Americans. The names of counties, natural features and cities in the interior of the state were derived from the languages of the Native Americans.

 Ranked roughly in the middle of the United States in terms of order of statehood, population, area, and geographic position, Iowa ranks high in many of the most positive features. Along with the brief history of the state, these features are emphasized, demonstrating how important it is economically.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Review of "Leonard Marshall: The End of the Line," by Leonard Marshall and Dave Klein

 Review of

Leonard Marshall: The End of the Line, by Leonard Marshall and Dave Klein, ISBN 0453995764

Four out of five stars

History, with a bit of tell-all

 This book was written in 1987, when the New York Giants were at their monster best. They won the Super Bowl in 1987, totally dominating the Denver Broncos. It is part autobiography, part recent history of the New York Giants and there is a bit of tell-all dirt about other members of the team.

 Marshall is clearly a very intelligent man in that he was already planning for life after football while he was still in his prime. He was developing business interests while playing, sound investments that will provide for him and his family after he hangs up the football uniform.

 There are times when Marshall is critical of his teammates, openly stating that while they must get along while in the locker room and on the field, other than that he has little to do with some of them. He even goes to the point where he explicitly states that he doesn’t really like them. Even the all-time great Lawrence Taylor is not exempt from some criticism.

 Modern pro football is an extremely complex business masquerading as a game. Much of that comes through in this book. There is also a demonstration that the members of a team are individuals, with their various idiosyncrasies. Some of which are complementary, while others tend to aggravate.

Review of "DK III: The Master Race, Book One," by Frank Miller et. al.

 Review of

DK III: The Master Race, Book One, by Frank Miller et. al.

Five out of five stars

Batman returns, but in what form?

 This comic features a very dark form of Batman, he is now an enemy of entities on both sides of the law. The story opens when it appears that the police are about to gun down a black youth. Batman intervenes, beating up the police and immediately putting him on their significant enemies list. The event also ignites a fierce public debate on the television channels, some applaud his move to prevent an unnecessary death while others take the side of the police.

 The story then shifts to what appears to be a location in the Amazon rain forest, where a centaur-like creature is terrorizing the natives. While they are fighting back, their primitive weapons are nothing to the monster. At this point, Wonder Woman intervenes, destroying the monster.

 There is another dramatic shift of context, this time to the arctic Fortress of Solitude, where everything is frozen over, including Superman. The residents of the bottle city of Kandor have carved a message of “Help” into the bottle.

 There is yet another dramatic shift of context back to the Batman being pursued by a large number of police officers. There is a ferocious fight where both sides get beat up, ending with the police commissioner asking an important question.

 With so many different plotlines that are so deep in meaning, this opening comic of a series borders on the overwhelming. It is reasonable to conclude that they will somehow be tied together, which increases the level of anticipation for the following installments.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Review of "Stan Lee’s Mutants, Monsters & Marvels," DVD version

 Review of

Stan Lee’s Mutants, Monsters & Marvels, DVD version

Five out of five stars

The voice of Marvel speaks

 I listen to an oldies radio station and there have been occasions when the DJ has mentioned the amount that the works of an artist or group has earned from their musical creations. While the numbers are impressive, they are dwarfed by what the creations of Stan Lee at Marvel has earned. A Marvel superhero movie is considered a failure if it earns less than a quarter billion dollars. “Avengers: Endgame” has earned approximately three billion worldwide.

 This DVD contains two features where Stan Lee is interviewed by filmmaker Kevin Smith. The questioning is very low-key, and Lee is very honest in his answers. He is humble yet takes reasonable credit for the characters that he co-created. When specific characters are mentioned, Lee describes who collaborated with him on that specific character.

 Lee also never hesitates to explain how he adapted existing characters when creating new ones. For example, the version of the human torch that is Johnny Storm was an adaptation of a pre-existing human torch that was an android.

 There is also some insight into the Marvel-DC “rivalry” that existed while Lee was at Marvel. He points out that it was a friendly, sometimes collaborative rivalry in the sense that Lee met with people at DC on a regular basis to discuss the current trends in comics.

 If you are interested in the history of Marvel Comics in general and some of the characters in particular, this is a video that you should watch. It is impossible to understate the role Stan Lee had in creating what is now an entertainment powerhouse.