Book Reviews: Rush, Librarians, and Sports

Banged a knuckle and yelled “Son of a–” Then saw a woman glaring at me with a kid, so I finished with, “Preacher Man.” (It pays to know music.)

On This Date
After an intriguing and thought-provoking intro, the book moves to one usually-long-forgotten historical anecdote a day, much more interesting than any one-small-page calendar. Some are more or less expected, even if the particular date wasn’t known, but the fun is in the topics that would usually have no right being in a serious history tome.
Some of my faves. . . okay, a lot of my faves:
March of Dimes (Wow!); Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer; Tokyo Rose; Lou Hoover; Edmund G Ross; Oppenheimer; Massacre on the Tuscarawas; Sherman and Johnston; Columbine; Jingle Bells; the low-altitude barrel roll in a 707; the birth of the Smiley; We Shall Overcome; Marshall wins Nobel Peace Prize; Jack Robinson and Pee Wee Reese (“someone with the guts NOT to fight back.”); Carson McCullers, Karen Blixen, and Marilyn Monroe walk into a lunch; Theodore Geisel (“He was a political cartoonist all his life, meaning he managed the difficult task of being amusing to kids and adults.”); Princess Bride (even Mark Knopfler gets a mention!); and “Surf music is just the sound of the waves being played on a guitar.”
Did not expect the author of a non-fiction history book to go meta, but in one entry he writes about Philadelphians booing their cricket team as a reason the capital was moved to DC. . . then, “Well, no, I was just seeing if you were paying attention.”
4/5

Rush: Album by Album
The title tells you everything you need to know: a bunch of Rush fans got together to shoot the breeze about each of the many studio albums. . . except these guys are either incredibly familiar with the band from working with them, or are musicians—some in tribute bands—music journalists, or similar.
Intriguing forward by the author, but then I’d expect no less when it comes to my favorite band. Oddly, the book isn’t all that long, even with tons of photos, from album covers to concert fliers to pages from comic books! (As graphic novels were called back then, kiddies.)
Not a fan of Dream Theater, but Mike Portnoy seems like a fun guy to hang out with: “The way most kids my age were staring at a Playboy centerfold, I was looking at a Modern Drummer centerfold and salivating over the whole kit.”
The one downside for me was a lot of musical verbiage that went way beyond my understanding, especially about drumming. Was also surprised by how short the Moving Pictures section was, considering everyone calls it the band’s seminal album. As I’m sure every reader/fan will think, they spend too little time talking about my favorites and too much on those songs I hardly ever listen to, if at all. Still, there are nice things said about The Pass and Bravado—yes, among my faves—especially Geddy claiming the latter is his fave to play live. There’s also a great feeling when someone says something I’d already thought of, such as the addendum in Ghost of A Chance. Most of all, the agreement of The Wreckers being such a beautiful song made me smile.
The last 15 pages or so list the contributors, offer a bibliography, and end with a pretty thorough index.
3.5/5

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like
Subtitled: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information
When I started this I thought it would be quick and easy; boy, was I wrong. The format is a photo of a librarian followed by a short quote, with some longer articles to break up what eventually becomes monotony, though once in a while a cute line appears, like “ultimate search ninjas.” For those who have a stereotypical view of what librarians do—or look like—this will change that completely. Very few of the women shown here, for example, wear glasses, and even though I’ve only seen one with a pierced nose in person, there’s plenty of oddly-painted hair and such in here.
But it’s the longer stories that are the highlights. The doll-lending program has to be the cutest thing ever. Amy Dickinson and Cory Doctorow chime in with great articles, but if I had to pick a best, it would be the Montana Bookmobile.
There’s also a fascinating intro, in which the author says: “What made the library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.” Nothing more to say after that. . .
4/5

Battle of Arnhem
In what might be too short to even be called a novella, a veteran of the battle recounts his experience, filled with death, destruction, stupidity, and black humor. There’s tons of tiny details, some of them incredibly interesting.
“It was explained that, when we arrived, we would most likely be disappointed as all the fun would be over.” Wonder how often soldiers have heard that.
For such a short story, there’s a ton of detail. There’s also more to it than just the battle, as after his capture the author was taken to Dresden, along with 500 other prisoners, and was there for the famous firebombing.
But more than anything it gives you the grit and emotion of being that close to an enemy who’s trying to kill you just as bad as you’re trying to kill them. This is exceedingly rare in modern warfare; even as a former Marine I find it hard to imagine what these soldiers went through.
But some things never change, like the incompetence of staff officers, whom he disses over and over.
3.5/5

Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win
Though it clocks in at 128 pages, it felt a lot longer. Formatted in tiny chapters, each section of prose is accompanied by a cartoonish painting with hard-to-read words in tiny script floating around the outsides. It mostly just states facts in a boring manner; every chapter starts with “she was born on” and then “she started to play.” They are good intros to each person, but the lack of style is such that I doubt it would inspire anyone to find out more. I realize this is for kids, but it underestimates the intelligence of its young readers.
The only chapter that I found remotely interesting—not that the women weren’t interesting, it’s the presentation that lacks—was about the final game of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, where over 90,000 spectators packed the Rose Bowl to watch the United States beat China in penalties. Why did I find this interesting? Because I was there.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphic Pencils

“I make a mean sandwich.”
She cooed, “I make a mean sandwich happy.”

Britannia
A Roman soldier is manipulated by the chief of the Vestal Virgins to become the first detective in history, unless the ancient Greeks had stories they didn’t bother to tell (long shot). Then Nero sends him to the British Isles to find out what’s going wrong, thinking it was actually his idea.
Starts with a history of the Vestal Virgins; seems like far too many of them were blonde. The story quickly moves to northwest Europe, with plenty of blood and gore, as well as magical Druids and devils, so it’s certainly not a straightforward history.
There’s this one panel of artwork that I find so spectacular—though I can’t explain exactly why—full width with a flying sword. You’ll know it when you see it.
In between the chapters are scholarly articles on the Vestals, centurions, Nero—was he really that bad? Yes and no—and Roman Britain.
3.5/5

Letter 44 V.1 $10 Trade Edition
Pseudo-Obama takes over for pseudo-Bush and finds out there are aliens in the asteroid belt who no doubt will invade Earth at any moment. There’s also a mission sent to check out the aliens, launched three years ago.
There’s some really good scenes among the expected storyline; the briefing from the scientist in charge, the three questions guy, for example, was brilliant. I laughed at the baseball breaking the White House window and scaring the Secret Service. Sending conspiracy bad boy on a tour of every embassy is such an awesome twist. And there’s a very cool artistic effect on the flash-bang.
I’m liking the way this is written, though the plot may be too much. Thought there might be something to the scene when General Johnson comes in for the briefing, since they’re talking before the secretary leaves. . .
The scientist repeating that all of them were volunteers is rather ominous. . .
Sadly it ends at a critical juncture; get another ten bucks ready for volume 2.
Almost 20 pages of dossiers on some of the players, creator bios dressed as White House correspondence, and ads for other books.
3.5/5

Small Favors: The Definitive Collection
A lesbian who can’t stop with the self-loving is told to cut it out—there’s a lifetime allotment of masturbation? Wonder if there’s an actual number (asking for a friend)—and is given a helpful little blonde imp to keep her fingers and dildos in check. Little Nibbel is also helpful in letting me know the next section is a dream sequence, so thank you! Plus she’s really cute, incredibly funny in her naiveté. She’s the best part of this, playing a big part in the stor, as well as defining the title.
For me the other best part was how the author wasn’t afraid to break the fourth wall of get meta. Something as simple as “Bet you had to shower after that one!” makes for a big guffaw. Even when the author doesn’t know where to go with the plot we’ll get a line like “Who was that girl on page 104?” I thought it was the neighbor, but I guess I was overthinking it. And I also wondered who was taking the photos.
Very explicit sex is depicted, which is for the most part fine, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, had it been a man taking her so roughly rather than a blonde pixie with a strap-on, there’d be all kinds of protests. There’s a small interlude of Nibbel doing herself on a lightbulb that made me laugh so much. Spaghetti and wooden spoons just got a lot more sexy, but it helps if you have a Barbie-sized pixie playmate. And the safari story was extra hilarious, along with the dramatic cry of, “Alas, we are exposed!”
There’s about 15 pages of early sketches and outtakes at the end, the best feautring Nibbel playing Rock ‘em Sock ‘em. . . better yet, Nibbel being playfully attacked by the dialogue bubbles. . .
Most of it is done in simple black and white sketches, quite effective. When it at a certain point turns to color, it’s a little jarring.
It’s a fun read, if nothing else because it treats sex, especially lesbian sex, as fun. Another reviewer nailed it by calling this “innocent and lighthearted.”
4/5

The Life After V.1: $10 Trade Edition
Groundhog Day turns into a time travel back to what looks like 19th century England. Then things really get crazy. . .
Then Ernest Hemingway shows up. . .
My initial thought was “That lady sure has a lot of handkerchiefs. . .” Every little thing is controlled in this Orwellian world, so when he steps out of the usual routine to return the handkerchief everything goes crazy, and the story behind the story unfolds.
“I was talking to the dog. . .” Saw it coming, still made me laugh. The dog also does the best sideways-head-tilt puzzled I’ve ever seen in a two-dimensional character. Plus he’s a tease. . .
What kind of people are in charge of this crapsack world? “Let’s see if we can find someone taking a shower or something. . .”
You can see it in Hemingway’s face: “Surely you must be the son of god. . .”
This volume one finishes on a pretty big reveal.
Creator bios and ads at end.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Spanking, Shakespeare, and History

Back from three weeks of shooting sports and dodging mosquitos and party animal athletes. What’d I miss?

“Is she your new crush?”
“I object to the use of the term ‘new.’”

The Hand of Vengeance
In 2560 A.D., on a planet far away, a human doctor in a Without Borders situation gets kidnapped to save the rebel leader. Her plane is shot down and she has to survive by following the orders of the alpha who took her. Sparks of many kinds ensue, especially on her posterior.
First of all, an interesting setting for an erotica novel. On the other hand, having a stubborn educated woman forced to do what the hulking soldier tells her to is a situation rife for spanking punishment, which had become a big niche lately. Unlike some stories, there’s actual sex involved too.
Perhaps I’ve read too many of these lately, for I found the spanking parts boring. What makes this book a bit more interesting is the world building, unexpected yet welcome as a diversion, even if the plot has been done before. There’s plenty here besides the sex, is what I’m trying to say.
3.5/5

Strange History
This book is published by the Bathroom Readers’ Institute, which is basically all you need to know. Yup, this is one of those books you put next to the toilet to entertain yourself or your guests while busy doing other, more biologically necessary things.
This follows no pattern; might as well simply open the book to a random page. It does live up to its name, and is often funny. Some of these anecdotes are eye-opening, others made me wonder which tidbits were left out. But more than anything it supplied some moments of fun, which is all one can ask from such a tome.
4/5

Who REALLY Wrote Shakespeare?
I’ve written on this very question on this blog before, so no surprise I checked this one out. However, all those previous books were much better than this one, and I really should have taken notice of the way REALLY is capitalized in the title, as it was a foreshadowing of amateurish things to come.
With it being done first person, it’s hard to remember this is fiction. And with the writing so clumsy, it might have worked better in non-fiction form. Often the dialogue was too cutesy, bordering on cheesy. A good pun makes you groan; a bad one leaves you exasperated, and there was far too much exasperation here.
I remember writing a paper in high school where I was so glad to have it done I simply turned it in without rereading and revising, and this has the same feeling. There are so many times Jenny says, “That’s right,” that I almost felt like it was a running joke gone bad (I’m guessing the author never watched A Bit of Fry and Laurie). Their discussions, which take up most of the book, are always interrupted for food, usually with the same speech.
Despite the fact that the info dumps are for the most part done okay—though an overabundance of them that made the names too hard to keep straight—the writing itself fails stylistically. It’s quite irritating to have the dialogue mention the characters’ names every paragraph, as though it wasn’t obvious whom they were addressing from the previous passage. In addition to that, there’s so many useless moments of “said,” “answered,” “replied,” without adverbs. I would advise that an author read their words aloud to make sure they sound like a real conversation, because it sure didn’t here.
As far as the reasoning behind the theories, the arguments were presented so painstakingly—more my pain than his—that I wanted to skip ahead rather than worry if I got his point, which is new for me. As I said, I’ve read other books on this subject, so I know that some theories and facts were ignored here. All very frustrating, not the least when near the end it switches to a different narrator.
And then it ends on a strange sequel hook. . .
1.5/5

His Little Lapis
Oh wow, another spanking story! Yet like the one above, it works because of its setting, this time the wild west town of Culpepper Cove, just as uncivilized as all mining towns in history.
A former governess who is now a submissive whore falls for the mayor of the small town. He falls for her too, but he can’t be seen with a prostitute, right? He tries to repress his desire and of course fails miserably.
What makes this story different is the addition of the mayor’s niece, a precocious child who tugs at the fallen woman’s heartstrings. On the sly she teaches her to read, mostly with a children’s book she wrote herself. This leads into situations that force the mayor to take a deeper look at this woman, after spanking and having sex with her, of course.
All in all, a sweet little story in the setting of spanking, but ultimately not about it.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Murders and Syria

“Here I am trying to be mad at you, and you come out with the truth. Is that any way for a boyfriend to act?”
“Mmmm, I think so. . .”
“Oh, right.”

Secret Crimes
Third in a great series of British detective novels, this one takes Sophie Allen to new places, forcing her to concentrate on her job more than ever due to the events of the previous book, which left her wracked with guilt over how she’d treated her absent father, if only in her head. (I was expecting something like this, but not to this extent.)
Oddly enough, that part of the story was spot-on, and it was the plot that was a bit of a letdown this time. As always there are great moments of detective work, this time with more behind-the-scenes stuff, as it were. For example, it was kinda weird seeing the witnesses’ point of view of the detectives, but definitely interesting. But for once this author didn’t give his readers a fair shake; the bad guy seemed to come out of nowhere, and while that might happen in real life investigations, it’s not good to not leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to figure it out on their own.
So definitely not satisfied with how this story turned out, not up to the standards of the previous two. Still love the characters, not as much the story/plot.
3.5/5

Aleppo
History of the city which was one of my favorite in the Middle East, now pretty much destroyed in three years of civil war.
The first quarter of this book is a history of the city, strangely zeroing on specific eras rather than providing an overall view. But after that it’s all first-person historical accounts. One is an entire chapter on food, while another is a long piece on farming.
The bad part is that the author included entire chapters, where a lot of the writing had nothing to do with Aleppo; a little editing would have been welcome, but then I guess it would have been an even shorter book. Some of the historical accounts hardly mention the city, could have happened anywhere. At least the first section offered context. These records might be understood by a historian, but there’s so much there that’s not because it was written about an age I have not studied.
It occurs to me that this author did a lot more work reading rather than writing or editing. He chose what the reader would see, but like being a DJ doesn’t make one a musician, this doesn’t make one a writer.
The last section, another big chunk, is notes, bibliography, and index.
2/5

Blood Defense
With the resurgence of OJ Simpson stuff in the media, most people have heard of Marcia Clark, who has now become an author and a very good one. This is my first of her books, but now I feel like going back to read the previous ones because this one hit the right spot with me.
A young, semi-famous actress is killed in her home along with her roommate. The protagonist is a first-person young lawyer who left the public defender’s office to go private. From some of the cases she works on and others referenced, you can see this might not have been a good idea, but she hopes defending the cop accused in this case will change that.
This was a long but surprisingly easy read. Definitely enjoying the main character; I do love a snarky lady, at least in fiction. At three chapters in I made a note that the writing was top notch, though nothing I hadn’t seen before. And then came the huge twist!
It’s funny that she has criminals of all walks owing her favors, seemingly very loyal to her; even racists in jail look out for her. There are a lot of little legal tidbits strewn throughout, most of them interesting and unusual for someone not in that area of the legal profession, or at all.
If I had some negatives, one would be that there might have been too many characters; I had to go back to check who Chas was. The other, much bigger problem–to the point where it cost half a point on its final grade–was the ending. As I always say, a mystery writer has to leave breadcrumbs of clues for the reader to at least attempt to figure out who the killer is; in this case the bad guy came out of nowhere.
The only mystery left is what she did with DeShawn’s heroin. . .
4/5

Guaranteed to Bleed
This is a mystery set in 1974, second in the series. I haven’t read the first one, and it looks like that matters, because the protagonist’s husband was killed and there’s plenty of references to it that had me in the dark. Like many amateur investigators, she’s a magnet for dead bodies, finding one underneath the stands at a high school game, then later having another shot in her backyard. Because of all that, she’s familiar with the police investigator, as well as a lawyer her overbearing mother is determined to set her up with.
Unlike most, she doesn’t set out to find the killer. In a nutshell, her motivation is: “A boy was dead and it was up to me to carry out his dying wish. I couldn’t afford to feel guilty about how I went about fulfilling that wish.”
The only things that really scream 1974 are the phones and the attitude towards gay relationships and cross-dressers, although come to think of it those last two might not be all that different today. “Who was I to judge? My late husband had engaged in much stranger things than dressing like a woman.”
There’s was one point I didn’t like, when the housekeeper gets an emergency call and leaves her all alone; a little too obvious that something’s gonna happen, and of course it does. Other than that it’s a serviceable mystery if you have a high tolerance for dramatic teens, overbearing mothers, nosy neighbors, and country club politics.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Redheads, Barbarians, Photography, and Spies

“100 years of solitary love in the labyrinth,” she sighed.
“While suffering from cholera,” I added, which despite the downer nature seemed to break the ice nicely.

Red Sonja/Conan
An herbalist wizard comes up with a potion that will allow him to rule the world, though we don’t find out how for a while in this graphic novel with a blind seer, a king, a few armies, and of course the two title characters. If you’re at all familiar with the genre, be it comics, books, or movies, there’s nothing all that surprising here: the heroes get into a lot of tight scrapes only to be saved at the last moment. Turns out this is a sequel, as the events of the previous story are mentioned often.
It truly is a sobering sight to see a beautiful almost-naked redhead amidst the carnage of battle, dead bodies piled around her. But on the other hand there’s more humor than expected, like when Conan is taking two wenches to bed only to find Sonja waiting for him; they are not happy, but then neither is she.
The artwork is a bit rough, which might be expected in this kind of story, but damn, when you’ve got such an iconic character, known for both her fierce warriorness and exceptional beauty, you really can’t go wrong. . . oh yeah, Conan’s in it too, if you go for the Barbarian thing.
Extras include variant and exclusive covers.
3.5/5

There’s a Little Black Spot on the Sun Today
Taken right from The Police song, this is the story of a small boy with a disease, with the treatment hurting worse, so he identifies with the song King of Pain. From there his father drew this small book.
The artwork is graphic in the modern sense of the word, composed of simple triangles that oddly yet emotionally bring the words to life. It’s mostly the lyrics that are rendered, some literal, others abstract; particularly happy not to see how the beached whale ended up. Though simple to the point of minimalism, there’s one particular drawing of tears that’s heartbreaking. . .
4/5

Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington
First and foremost, considering the modern usage of the name, Ariel is a boy, not a girl. At nine years old, he’s hungering for some cobbler, but Mom is saving it for his brothers, who are coming home on leave from fighting the Revolutionary War. But instead of resting they’re visiting to fetch their little brother so he can carry out a secret mission.
Said to be based on a true story, and in a general sense it is plausible; the best spy is the one who doesn’t know he’s a spy. Since it’s a children’s book, it’s relatively simplistic. For example, for German soldiers those Hessians were really polite, or maybe because they were only in it for the money they just didn’t care, because the British were a lot more suspicious. To me the most sympathetic character was the poor old horse, though his love of cobbler does humanize Ariel to the point where I was rooting for him, American or not.
There’s some drawings, though there’s no intent to make the figures lifelike; in fact they kinda reminded me of the caricatures artists draw at fairs, except for the horse, who is as realistic as can be right down to the giant teeth; long of tooth indeed. . .
3.5/5

George Eastman
I have to admit that despite being a history lover, not to mention a professional photographer for 25 years, it never occurred to me to wonder about the most important man in the history of the field.
Being a short tome, this book highlights only the most important moments of his life, both the ups and down of business as well as family, which mostly consists of his mother. There’s an interesting note about him being a fan of Stoic philosophy, which as you read on you realize explains a lot about him. Again and again he says wealth and fame are not important to him, and it turns out he was one of the major donors to places like MIT, though of course anonymously, as well as education and healthcare.
He was far better at getting people—chemists, carpenters, etc.—to make his products than dealing with the business side of things, especially when up against the government. As expected if you bother to think about it, the emulsion was the hardest part (and right on cue there goes Tom Petty in my head) of the photo-taking process, but once that was solved he showed he was a master at publicity and advertising as well.
As for the book itself, it’s a very easy read, possibly written with high school students in mind. I love the little sketches that crown each chapter; though some look like clip art, they’re cute in their simplicity, especially the historical ones, like the box camera.
All in all, this is a wonderful introductory—i.e. short—biography of a man who really should be more celebrated today.
4/5

;o)

Berlin Concrete

“Simon sez jump in the air. . . and stay there! Everyone loses!”

Taking a break from Morocco, sports, and music blogs to bring you this:

So when I joined up here I cyberly met Ailsa of Where’s My Backpack? fame, and I saw she’d done a blog on a piece of the Berlin Wall in Noo Yawk. Since there’s a piece of it here in El Lay too, I figured I had to do the same. So here goes. . .

These brightly painted chunks of concrete are on Wilshire Blvd. across the street from LACMA–Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, or as I call it, the Art Zoo–but they’re difficult to see from the street because of all the lunch trucks. No one seems to know it’s there anyway.

The whole thang. . .

And now some closeups; the ones on the front are original, the ones in back commissioned. It took a moment to realize they wouldn’t have been originally painted on the back, unless you actually wanted the East German Stasi to use you for target practice.

He’s incredibly muscular for being just bones

Almost makes me hungry. . . almost

A bit creepy even if she’d been painted right-side-up

 

;o)