Friday, April 17, 2015

Booknote: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Volume 1

 Kevin B. Eastman and Peter A. Laird, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the Ultimate Collection, Volume 1. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2012. ISBN: 978-1613770078.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: Oversized hardcover.
Source: My workplace library

For fans who know how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got started before they got sanitized by Nickelodeon and bad movies, this is a great compilation. It is also great for folks who do not know how the TMNT got their humble beginnings.

The art is in black and white. However, this volume is an oversized edition, so it really let's you appreciate the details. The volume's covers are done in color, and they look great. This was clearly not a comic for little kids. In this volume, we get the origin story of the TMNT. Did you know that Splinter trained them to kill Shredder? Yes, the honorable sensei was actually training a hit squad to get his revenge. The stories are entertaining, and they offer plenty of action. They are actually pretty deep in terms of plot as well. It is also interesting to note that the creators were not sure if the comic would survive; they went on to create a substantial series and story line that goes from the inner city to space and beyond.

This volume includes the following:

  • The Mirage Studios run of TMNT issues 1-7. 
  • The Raphael Micro series one-shot. 
  • Annotations and commentary by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. This definitely adds value to the volume. Fans will appreciate reading their insights and learn about the creative process. If you are interested in "how they did it," then this additional material should be of interest. 
 I would say that for collectors this volume is a must-have. It makes an excellent library selection, but again, I have to emphasize this is not for little kids. This is one I highly recommend, and I will seek out other volumes in the set. It is one I would add to my personal collection, though at the moment its almost $50 retail price is a bit out of range for me, but maybe down the road.

5 out of 5 stars. 

Booknote: American Vampire, Volume 4

Scott Snyder, American Vampire, Volume 4. New York: DC Comics, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-4012-3718-9.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: vampires, horror
Format: Trade paperback
Source: My workplace library

I thought I had made notes on this book a while back, but upon reflection it seems I missed it. Thus let's make some quick notes now. This series continues to an excellent read, and it is one I continue to recommend. This time, we travel to 1950s California where Travis Kidd is a rebel with a cause. Vampires slaughtered his family, and he is now on a personal mission of revenge to kill every vampire he finds. The vampires in the suburbs have learned to fear Travis. Snyder does capture the feel of this era quite well in this action-packed story. In fact, a pleasure in reading this series is just that: the author always gets the feel of the time period right. There is always good attention to detail. Plus the color and the art are very good at depicting the horror of these vampires.

The volume also features a Skinner Sweet story. This is one before he became an American vampire. Before he became an outlaw, he was a soldier fighting the Indians out in the American frontier. And at this point, the Indians are desperate, so much so they are willing to unleash a new horror. Overall, the volume is a great addition to this series.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Booknote: The Empire Striketh Back

Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-594747151.

Genre: drama
Subgenre: space opera, science fiction
Format: hardcover
Source: Copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I continue to enjoy Ian Doescher's Shakespearean take on the Star Wars saga with The Empire Striketh Back. I recently watched the movie trailer for the new episode seven movie, which I believe is due out in December of 2015 (go Google it if you must. I am pretty much passing up on the whole film since it looks from the trailer it will be a lot of CGI visual bloat). A book like this reminds me once more that Star Wars (at least as presented in the original films) is an epic story. This book highlights the epic and tragic elements of the drama.

The author continues to channel Shakespeare in this volume. The Empire strikes, and the days get darker for the Rebellion. Young Luke Skywalker begins his Jedi training as Han and Leia will fall into a trap. The duel scene between Luke and Darth Vader is one of the greatest passages in the book. Tension, drama, action, all in the great Shakespeare tradition.

The only issue I had with the book is that some of the monologues and asides do seem a bit drawn out. One example for me was the guards scene in Cloud City. This could have been shorter. However, that was a minor issue for me, and in the end, there is much to love in these books. Fans of Star Wars need to be grabbing this series. I really liked this one, and I will continue on to the last volume of this trilogy. Public libraries need to have this one on their shelves. It is also a definite must-have for academic libraries with recreational reading collections.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Booknote: Deadman Wonderland, Volume 1

Jinsei Kataoka, Deadman Wonderland, Volume 1.  San Francisco, CA: Viz Media, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4215-5548-5,

Genre: Manga
Subgenre: dystopian
Format: paperback
Source: My own library
This is part of a series (ongoing as of this post).

From the book's description:

"Framed for the brutal murders of his classmates by the mysterious Red Man, middle-school student Ganta Igarashii finds himself sentenced to death in the bizarre and fatal theme park/prison known as 'Deadman Wonderland.' The inmates of this insane penitentiary fight for survival every day to provide entertainment for the masses. Ganta is determined to survive Deadman Wonderland and clear his name, but the price may be his soul…" 

This is a series that I will keep on reading. I am not a huge fan of dystopias, but when they are well made and intriguing, I take a chance. Ganta's challenge will be not to lose his soul as he struggles to survive. I will admit that the premise that gets Ganta into prison is quite farfetched; the trial was barely such. In the end, that is just the device to get him in there. It is in the prison that the mystery really starts. Who is Shiro, the mystery girl with a touch of insanity that comes and goes? Who is the Red Man? Why did he frame Ganta? And what is his connection to the prison? The author sets up these and other questions, questions that will keep the readers curious and interested as the story deepens.

The pace of the story is quick. Once you pick up the volume, you are in right away. Once Ganta is imprisoned, he fails the basic rule of common sense: when you are given a book of rule, read the damn thing. Some of the issues he faces could have been ameliorated had he read the book. Still, there are many more challenges to Ganta's survival (and not all the answers are in the book), including the fact that death is a very real possibility in this prison/amusement park. He will have to work hard to stay alive, and he will clearly need to wise up. It remains to be seen at this point if does get his wits about him.

So, great pacing and good action with some mystery and deep intrigue are tossed into the mix. This is one series I will keep reading. There is some carnage, but it is not as brutal as other series in this genre. I am highly recommending it, and I hope the series continues to keep up the goodness.

5 out of 5 stars.

Some works I have read with similar appeal:

  • Battle Royale
  • The Running Man. (Read the book, not so much the film).
  • I will add this will likely appeal to fans of The Hunger Games (taking a guess here as I have no interest in the this series, but from what I know about it, the appeal elements are there).

Signs the Economy is Bad: April 10, 2015 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

A lot of stuff going on in the last couple of week, so let's get on with it.

  • College basketball was the big story last week with the end of March Madness. University of Kentucky got close, but they did not make it all the way. Still, they did very well overall. Now you would think that this would mean an economic windfall for them. Sure, they will get a good chunk of money, but they also stand to lose quite a bit of it. Turns out their loss to Wisconsin will lose them a few bucks in royalties from merchandising, but it is the retailers who sell all those "we are champions, blah blah" tee shirts who are really going to lose money. That and a whole lot of Third World countries will be getting new shipments of tee shirts and other clothing merchandise no one here wants.  Story via ESPN.
  • If you are poor, having a smile is getting harder. No, it is not that being poor gives you less reasons to smile. It's that access to affordable dental care is much worse if you happen to be poor. Dentists are not exactly known to be affordable for starters. Unlike other doctors, whose costs are (somewhat) reigned in by HMOs and insurance, dentists rarely have such restraints, and their charges can be quite astronomical for things as simple as a cleaning. People often put off going to the dentist precisely because they are so expensive, and it seems the dental profession has no interest in addressing that. I mean, why mess with the gravy train, right? Now, why is this a story now? Well, when it was just the poor, as usual, no one gave a shit. But now that it is affecting the middle class, it is becoming a problem. Story via AlterNet.
  • We are getting to that wonderful time of the year: tax season. If you are getting a refund on your taxes, you probably want it soon. The predators of those tax preparer services know that as well, which is why they invented things like advances on your refund, and other fees to separate you from your money. Low income families who may be a bit desperate are most vulnerable to this exploitation. Story via Equal Voice.
  • And in the U.S., since humiliating the poor in every way possible is the national hobby, the poor can't catch a break. Not only are debtors' prisons alive and well for people. They are alive and well for their dogs too. You lose  your dog, and the pound gets it, you are screwed when they blackmail you: pay up our outrageous fee, or we kill your dog. "Across the country, some animal control agencies seem to be targeting low-income pet owners and applying large fines to small infractions." Story via AlterNet
  • And speaking of debtors' prisons, at least a small bit of good news as one of those vulture companies that "collect" fees for courts was recently charged with racketeering. Not a full solution, but it is certainly a good start.  Story via Mother Jones
  • And speaking of rackets, a lot of municipalities are using traffic tickets to help add funds to their budgets. Yea, cops very often do have quotas. Catch the clip and hear John Oliver explain how cities exploit the poor with citations and tickets to make their ends meet.  As the story reports, "municipal violations most often involve traffic tickets and parking tickets, but can also include fines for things like loitering, trespassing, 'failing to vaccinate your ferret,' peeing in public (despite a woeful lack of public restrooms in many places), spitting, and jaywalking." Story via Addicting Info.
  • Given the bad economy, raising your own food be it via a modest garden or maybe raising your own chickens for eggs and meat seems like a great idea. But if you live in a city, that could be a challenge. If you want chickens, you may not be able to afford or find the space to keep chickens. Well, if you can't afford your own chickens, here is a service where you can rent the chickens, coop and feed included. Story via Good.IS. 
  • And speaking of food, this may be of interest to some folks. A new report out by the Economic Research Service on "The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2014 Annual Report." Find the link to the full report here via Full Text Reports
  • In the end, we the average folks and the poor may be screwed overall as the uber rich keep buying off influence and power. They already own the politicians, and now they are also buying off churches and non-profits (the ones who could have helped counter their oligarchy). Robert Reich explains how. Story via AlterNet.

On the positive, some people have had it real good recently. And not all were rich. It turns out if you are hateful, bigoted asshole, and you announce it to the world, people will actually send you money. So, how did the uber rich and the bigots do this week?

  • The highlight of the week is what I mentioned: be a bigot, announce it to the world with joy, and people send you money. Yes, that petty small town pizza maker in Indiana who announced she would discriminate against gays got paid not to work. And you thought government farm subsidies were bad. For me, that says more about the people who sent her the money than her. There is a lot of bigots out there.  Story via Addicting Info (though I think by now, the funding has gotten higher than that report as of this post).
  • Now hate and conflict not only pays for bigots. It also pays for large weapons suppliers. Hell, they are pretty shameless about admitting it: yes, war is very good for business. Fuck, you don't even need a real war. Just the threat or perception that war could come is great for business. Story via AlterNet.
  • Do you live in New York City? Are you rich? Do you need to get around in luxury without having to mingle with the hoi polloi? Well, if you own a yacht or a plane, the city will be happy to give you a tax break. Because we all know they so desperately need a tax break. Story via Daily Intelligencer.
  • And if you need to ride a helicopter to get around, well there is a nice helipad under the FDR in New York City. Plus, since waiting for your helicopter ride can be harrowing, the place even has its own speakeasy so you can sip on a martini while you wait. Story via
  • Finally, let's say you want to get out of the city. Maybe you feel like "roughing it a bit and going camping? Not a problem. Now if you have money to burn, you can buy a very nice and fancy hybrid yacht-camper. It only starts at $17,000, so what are you waiting for? Story via The Week.

Booknote: All-Star Western, Volume 2

Jimmy Palmiotti, All-Star Western, Volume 2: The War of Lords and Owls. New York: DC Comics, 2013. ISBN: 9781401238513.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: Western. Steampunk.
Format: Print. Trade Paperback.
Source: My local public library

In this one, Jonah Hex trails a kidnapper to New Orleans, and he has to work with Amadeus Arkham a while longer. However, before Hex can complete his task, he has to help his friends Nighthawk and Cinnamon deal with the August 17 terrorist group. If that was not bad enough, back in Gotham City, he confronts the Court of Owls and the followers of the Crime Bible as both groups struggle for control of the city.

The action continues in this volume as Hex and Arkham continue their awkward partnership. The story was entertaining and quick to read. For fans of Batman and the Owls' story, this is one they will want to read to see the early days of Gotham's Court of Owls.

The rest of the volume contains some additional stories.  The Nighthawk and Cinnamon story is the best of the bunch as the couple looks back at how they got started as masked heroes. The Bat Lash story is pretty much a filler story that adds very little to this volume. The Terrence 14 story is also filler, but it was a bit better. Terrence 13 is a man of science in the 19th century called to solve the case of a thieving ghost. Folks who like some steampunk may find the character appealing. The short story was good, but it was no big deal.

Overall, this is a good volume with good art. Fans of westerns will likely enjoy it. In terms of appeal, if you like things like Wild, Wild West (the series, not the movie), The Outlaw Josey Wales, and maybe Brisco County, Jr, you may like this series as well. Batman readers may be interested too. This is one I recommend for libraries with graphic novels and comics collections.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Booknote: Being Dead Is No Excuse

Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays,  Being Dead Is No Excuse: the Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral. New York: Miramax Books, 2005. ISBN: 9781401359348.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: regional, etiquette and manners, funerary customs,  food, Southern  U.S., humor (well, there is some humor.)
Format: Hardcover.
Source: My local public library.

This book may sound morbid on the surface, but this guide to U.S. southern manners and behavior for funerals, using Greenville, Mississippi as model, has amusing moments and humor. Food is a big part of southern funerals, so the book also includes some authentic southern recipes. Funerals in the Delta are not just funerals; they are full-blown social events. As the authors write,

"A nice funeral is good for everybody. If the family has been through a long, painful sickness, it's a chance to pull themselves together, spruce up, sober up, and put on their best dark clothes (white is acceptable during the Delta summer) and bid the dearly departed a formal farewell" (28). 

The book strives to settle some deep questions, such as who does better food for funerals. Is it the Episcopalian ladies or the Methodist ladies? This is discussed in the second chapter of the book.  On the one hand, Methodists seem to have the upper hand in covered dish casseroles, and "historically, Methodists are better behaved than Episcopalians" (33). On the other hand, Episcopalians do drink and do so more openly. Yet, if you are not too pretentious, given that being pretentious is apparently a requirement of a southern funeral, then Methodist cooking may be for you. Heck, "when polled anonymously, many Episcopalians admit to a secret preference for the eclectic Methodist goo" (35). I do think the use of the word "goo" may reveal the authors' biases a bit.

Chapter 3 discusses the delicate art and taste of having a good obituary, an obituary that tastefully focuses on your positives. However, you do have to do it right:

"There is a difference between touching up a few details and an extreme make-over. In an obituary, you must strive to make the deceased look their best-- but not look like somebody else. After all, this is a moment for which they've been waiting all their lives. Selectivity is the key to success in this delicate undertaking" (68). 

This can include what can, politely at best, be called a white lie or two. Are you a lady who did not finish college because going to parties and dating boys and taking hard classes were a problem? You made a choice, and the choice was dropping out of college for boys and parties? Not a problem. You can go to college and graduate posthumously. That's Southern right there just as long as you have the right obituary writer.

In the end, the book is quite a look at aristocratic southern culture via its funerary rituals. Well, aristocratic or pretending to maintain that image. There a lot of rituals and details in a good southern funeral. At times, I found amusing some of the rituals and details, but there are also things that struck me as a bit ridiculous. Chalk it up to them being southern I suppose (versus me not being southern, i.e. to them I suppose I would not "get it.").

The book overall was a good read. It does have a lot of recipes included, which makes sense since food is such a big part of the funerals. A lot of the recipes are what I would describe as very "old school," but this is about tradition after all. I am just saying you won't see these recipes on cooking television unless it's some show with some modern chef coming to yell at them for serving Civil War era food in the 21st century. The book was entertaining, but it was also a bit stuffy at times. In the end, I liked it, but it was not a big deal.

I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Here are a few more notes of things I wanted to remember or found amusing in the book:

In the South,  good note writing skills and manners are crucial. You do not want to be the woman that others say "I bet her mother wasn't a Southern girl" (75). It is a Southern mother's duty to make sure her children (and we assume here this means her girls) can write good notes. So, how does a note from a Southern girl work?

"A note from a Southern girl never has a fill-in-the-blank feel. There is nothing generic about it. A Southern girl has to stop herself from gushing more than Old Faithful. If she is writing a thank-you note for a toaster, she doesn't just say thank you. She tells you about every little ol' thing she's ever toasted in it or is likely to toast in it. In a sympathy note, she doesn't say that Uncle Willie who has been lost will now be missed-- she recalls the cute bow ties Uncle Willie always wore. She does not recall that he also had a cute mistress named Lorene" (75). 

The book speaks further on the importance of stationery. Monograms on stationery do need to be really engraved so they pass the "finger test." An exception could be made, but otherwise, do not go cheap:

"Of course, we invented shabby genteel down here, and we really don't mind if a family scrimps because of actual economic hardship. We are not pleased, however, when somebody who made a good crop last year resorts to that cheesy, pre-printed stationery supplied by the funeral home. A death is the time for the best stationery  you can afford" (76). 

However, there may be moments to be glad you live in a small town. A sudden death can be a reminder of this:

"People in small towns instinctively want to help each other through a crisis. In good times, you're always complaining that everybody knows your business. In bad times, you know that the covered dishes are on the way. The smaller the town, the more food you will get" (143). 

As a private introvert, people all wanting to know my business in a small town has been a bit of an adjustment, balancing between being open and friendly and setting boundaries without appearing to be rude. Part of me wonders if I get to live here (Berea, KY) long enough if a covered dish or two might show up at my funeral (it is not as Southern as the Deep South here, but they still have enough Southern here at the edge of Appalachia).

And speaking of funeral food in the South, here is a not-so-secret secret:

"A cardinal rule of Southern funeral cooking: Fresh is not best" (145).

So expect casseroles, carbs, and things made with a base of mushroom soup. For many, that is definitely comfort food. For me, it's pizza and pasta, so feel free to bring plenty to my funeral.

Now, funeral food comes friends, family, so on. A lot of covered dishes come in. How do you, the recipient, keep track of who brought what and where to return the empty dish? There is a solution for that too: calling cards. No, they are not just for leaving in the little silver tray when you visit:

". . . attaching them to the funeral food offering. We write what we brought on the other side. This not because we insist upon being thanked but because we know we will be, and we want to make it as easy as possible for the family member in charge of notes to do so without being embarrassed by not having the foggiest what we brought" (210). 

And after the funeral, a restorative cocktail is a good thing. It might even help folks finish off that pineapple casserole. Right after a funeral you need two things to celebrate life, and those are friends and alcohol. I can certainly agree with that. Such time for friends and drinking after the funeral is "also a good time to reminisce about the person who has died and to celebrate life" (213). I know when mom passed away, we did some good drinking back home, and we did reminisce quite a bit while were at it. Because in the end, whether you have a big fancy funeral or a small simple ritual, it is about celebrating life, the life of the one dearly departed and the lives of those who remain.

* * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, April 06, 2015

Booknote: Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volumes 2 and 3

Juzo Tokoro, Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volume 2. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2006. ISBN: 1-58240-542-5.

Juzo Tokoro, Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volume 3. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2006. ISBN: 1-58240-576-X.

Genre: Manga
Subgenre: superheroes, horror (light)
Format: paperback
Source: Part of a set of three I got used at Half Price Books. 

In the second volume of this series, Ken Kurosawa, the new Spawn, keeps struggling to figure out his past memories after his return to Earth, and he strives to protect his sister Mariko. Seven years passed since Ken died and returned to Earth. By now, Mariko has grown up, and she is finding success as a movie star. Mariko has also unknowingly made very powerful enemies along the way. It is Hollywood after all, which can be a dog eat dog establishment. Meanwhile, Spawn faces new obstacles and rivals. An angel that hunts demons confronts him, and then Spawn meets a very reluctant mentor, an older Hell Spawn who has resisted the higher demon Malebolgia. The tale also gives us some glimpses of Spawn's humanity.

The volume was a good and quick read. The story does take some twists and turns as Clown
continues to tease and taunt Spawn, giving Spawn very few clues. The art continues to be very good as well. This was one volume I really liked as it is a good action story with a good amount of intrigue and suspense.

Giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

The action and intrigue continue in the third volume of the series. This one did end a bit abruptly. Ken, our Spawn, continues to learn from his past. He gets a reminder of how promises made are not always easy to keep. There is a lot more action in this volume in comparison to the previous two. I continue to like the art very much. If I find more volumes in the series, I will certainly read and review them given the story does draw you in. As the previous volumes, this was also a pretty quick read that I really liked.

Also giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

* * *

These two volumes qualify for the following 2015 Reading Challenges: