Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Booknote: The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights

Uslan, Michael, The Shadow/Green Hornet Volume 1: Dark Nights. Mount Laurel, NJ: Dynamite Entertainment, 2014. ISBN: 9781606904701.

I read this, and I have to say it is excellent. It has a lot to offer for readers, especially for those who love historical references. In this volume, the crime lord Shiwan Khan is preparing to unleash his plan to plunge the world into darkness at the eve of World War II. Though the United States remains neutral, it is secretly ramping up its production capabilities in preparation for war. Khan knows this and plans to attack U.S. manufacturing. It falls to The Shadow, joining forces with Green Hornet and Kato, to stop him.

This is much more than an adventure tale. It is a very good piece of alternate history that is carefully researched for accuracy and authenticity. History buffs will be delighted with the many references, trivia pieces, and historical figures making appearances. People like FDR, J. Edgar Hoover, and Nikola Tesla are featured among others. In addition, the author provides a section with good notes that highlight and explain the history framing of the tale. For those of us who enjoy trivia, this was a very interesting part of the book.

The tale itself builds up well to a fast paced adventure full of action and suspense. The author gives good attention to detail, and he works to make sure the interactions between The Shadow and the Green Hornet and Kato work well. Unlike other comics that bring heroes together, this one does not seems forced or artificially rushed. It's a good, solid story that works well and is a very entertaining ride.

I do have to mention Keith Burns' art, which along with colors by Tony AviƱa, really bring this comic to life. They capture the feel of the historical time well, and the colors do stand out nicely. This is just another reason to pick up this volume. On a final note, this volume compiles issues 1-5 of the series. As an added bonus, the volume includes a cover gallery highlight the cover work of artist Alex Ross and other artists.

I read this via NetGalley (provided by the publisher in exchange for the honest review you are reading now. There is your disclosure), but this is one I would happily acquire for my personal collection. This is one I highly recommend for public libraries. Academic libraries with recreational reading collections would do well to add this as well. I will be ordering it for our library.

A solid 5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Booknote: Mass Effect: Foundation, Vol. 1

Mac Walters, Mass Effect: Foundation, Vol. 1. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2014. ISBN:9781616552701.

This is based on the video game, and I have to say that if you have not played the game in order to know the characters, you could be a bit lost here. If you are like me, who has not played the game, this series compilation barely gives you enough to figure out what is going on.  Thus, since the story may be a bit complex for some readers, I am including the book description:

"Brilliant, ruthless, and secretive, the Illusive Man holds the galaxy within his grasp, yet with all his vaunted resources, one objective eludes him-- an elite soldier, an  unstoppable Spectre, and an inspirational symbol: Commander Shepard. Enter Agent Rasa, the Illusive man's most resourceful and cunning operative. Targeting Urdnot Wrex, Ashley Williams, and Kaidan Alenko, she will use the crew of the SSV Normandy to further her mission-- bending the commander to her master's will" (from the book's back cover).

The comic is not as good as it sounds in the description. We get an initial scene that gives us the origin story of Agent Rasa, showing her ruthlessness early on. After that, years later, Rasa is sent on a mission to get some information and bring in a man. However, she is not the only one after the target; another bounty hunter is out for him as well, and Rasa needs the target alive. This is where not knowing all the backstory can make a difference for some readers. You see things happening, but you are not sure why they are happening. In spite of that, this is a pretty good espionage and adventure scifi tale. It does have a good pace; it does draw you in. I may seek out more in the series.

Overall, I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure: The mandatory stuff I have to type to tell you that I read this as an e-book review copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. You know, so The Man is satisfied everything is kosher.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Booknote: The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror (2nd Edition)

Becky Siegel Spratford, The Reader's Advisory Guide to Horror (2nd edition). Chicago: ALA, 2012. ISBN: 9780838911129. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library science, readers' advisory, horror

This book was a serendipity find for me at the public library. I picked it up to get a refresher on the genre and help keep up my RA (readers' advisory for my non-librarian friends) skill set. I did take the coursework for RA in library school, but I am also an avid reader and strive to keep up with various genres. After all, if this academic librarian gig does not pan out, I think I can still get employed at a public library. Plus, for me, reading is fun. As for the horror genre, I would not consider myself a "horror reader," but I do read in the genre, which I enjoy now and then. This book is part of ALA's RA series, and it was pretty good in providing an overview of the genre. It is a good aide for librarians who may not know much about horror.

The book focuses on horror; it does address what could be labeled as "related" genres such as dark fantasy or paranormal, but the bottom line here is true horror. However, in this day and age where paranormal fiction (often romance with paranormal elements) is such a big hit with readers, it needs to be acknowledged in any discussion of horror, and the book does that, providing some small guidance on those given the crossover appeal. This is to address, for instance, the nice lady who reads, for example, Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series and wants to read more "horror." What that reader probably wants is more paranormal fiction, possibly with romance elements, but it has vampires and werewolves, so it has to be horror, right? The librarian does not have to "correct" the lady. Just know the distinctions so you can provide the best advice possible and help your reader get to their next great read. Yet at the end of the day, the core of the book is horror.

For the purposes of the book, the author defines horror as:

 "a story in which the author manipulates the reader's emotions by introducing situations in which unexplainable phenomena and unearthly creatures threaten the protagonist and provoke terror in the reader" (13). 

That definition is the starting point.

The book's first three chapters provide a history and genre overview. The next set of chapters provide annotated lists with some readalike suggestions in these horror topics:

  • classics, 
  • ghosts and haunted houses
  • vampires
  • zombies
  • shape-shifters
  • monsters and ancient evil
  • witches and occult
  • Satan and demonic possession
  • comic horror.
The last two chapters deal with using your collection and marketing. The chapter on whole collection RA was good as it reassures librarians they may already have many horror titles in the collection they can start promoting right away. This chapter also looks at other genres such as supernatural, paranormal, nonfiction, and graphic novels that horror readers may like as well.

The book is mainly designed for librarians, especially public librarians. However, I think the chapters with book lists could help some advanced horror readers as well as readers new to the genre. As I mentioned, I do read some horror; I have read some of the basics, including some mentioned in the book, but I also found some new reading suggestions that I jotted down.

Overall, this is an accessible, concise book that provides a lot of reading ideas and suggestions. As a reader and librarian, I really liked this one. It does make me willing to go look for other books in the RA series too.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

This is the list of titles I jotted down from the book to add to my TBR list. In parenthesis, I am putting the label the book used and any comments I may have. I am also including WorldCat links to help my four readers and me find them later.

Books I jotted down from the opening chapters (i.e. caught my eye right away):

  • Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box (I have been told this is pretty much classic. Only Joe Hill I have read, which I enjoyed, is his Locke & Key graphic novel series.) 
  • Brian Keene, Castaways (the author mentioned this book a few times, deals with one of those "Survivor" type of reality shows.)
  • Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes (I have read Bradbury, and I can't believe I have not read this. We need to fix that gap.)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, Tales of Terror and Mystery. (1906)
  • H.P. Lovecraft (I have actually read some of his works, but would love to read more)
Other books I jotted down as I read the book:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad: April 11, 2014 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. 

Today we are highlighting an image of Lyndon B. Johnson as there were remembrances this week of his legacy with the Civil Rights Act. He also declared the War on Poverty. That fight is a long way from over. This week we once again feature the woes of college students and recent graduates. Wages are another big topic this week. Let's have a look.

  • The serfdom that is the modern student loan system continues to wreak devastation. Now this week we feature the parents of college students. According to this piece from AlterNet, "parents are increasingly struggling to repay federal loans they've taken out to help cover their children's college costs, according to newly released federal data."This article looks at another infamous part of the student loan serfdom that is not often mentioned, but it can be just as devastating: the PLUS loan program. Article includes link to a report from ProPublica and The Chronicle of Higher Education relevant to the discussion.
  • Meanwhile, it gets harder to afford college. Hell, it is getting harder to pretty much afford anything if you are not born with a silver spoon in your mouth or you sold your little app to Facebook or Amazon. Wage stagnation is another driving force of poverty. Story via IVN. 
  • Now, here is one that less than bright conservatives and RWNJ's might cheer about: more moms are staying at home. However, the reason is not what they might think.A reason? They cannot find work. Add to that the fact that if they do find work, it is often low-paying work that eats up any daycare they need to have to go to work. The fact is that "opt-out" moms, defined as "educated women of means who do not have to work out of economic necessity," are actually a very small group contrary to what certain pundits might try to make you believe. So less moms working, that qualifies as a sign the economy is bad. Story via AlterNet.
  • Moms are not the only ones having difficulties in the job market and the bad economy. The plight of food workers is well known. The fact that their employers actively lobby to keep their workers in poverty wages certainly does not help. Story via Food Politics blog. Do read on to find additional links including lists of which trade groups are actively lobbying and making political contributions to keep their workers in poverty. It's immoral to say the least. It is basically exploitation. 
  • Now, since those food workers get paid poverty wages, usually with no benefits such as sick days, the workers have to show up to work no matter what happens. You don't work, and you do not get paid. Don't get paid? You do not eat. It's that simple. So, the result? A large amount of the people preparing your food are going to be sick, and likely spreading their germs on food. Recall the last time you might have gotten a little food poisoning (at least you called it that) after eating out. Odds are the person fixing your food could have been sick and not able to afford staying home, let alone afford a medical check up because the health insurance is either poor or non-existent. Story via 
  • Hell, the economy is so bad even the moguls of the National Football League (NFL) are suffering. Apparently the high ticket prices and obscenely expensive concessions plus the merchandising are not doing the trick. Our story is about merchandising. Fans will now have to fork out more money for their favorite NFL jerseys, and in the arms race to have the latest jersey, if you don't put down some serious money, you may fall behind. Story via COED. By the way, I had no idea there was a hierarchy of football jerseys. 

Booknote: Sheltered, Vol. 1

Brisson, Ed and Johnnie Christmas, Sheltered: A Pre-Apocalyptic Tale, Vol. 1. Berkeley: CA: Image Comics, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-60706-841-9.

This series is brought to you by Image Comics, the folks who also publish The Walking Dead. This volume compiles the first five issues of the series. This is the start of the series, if you like post-apocalyptic fiction, you might like the author's twist on the concept. However, it feels a bit too much like a Lord of the Flies for this generation. The premise is as follows: a group of prepper/survivalists are all gathered in their compound to await the apocalypse/collapse of society. They fail to realize that the worst danger they face is not some impending disaster or a government coming to oppress them. It's their own children who proceed to kill all of the adults on the orders of one teen who believes the end is near (and without the adults, there are less mouths to feed). From that point onward, the comic strives to be a psychological thriller. It does blend some action and drama as one of the children, not wanting to go along with the plan, is trying to escape the compound and get some help. As the foretold apocalypse fails to arrive on time, the rest of the children in the camp start getting restless, and they are all well-armed.

As I mentioned, this reads way too much like Lord of the Flies, so depending on whether you read that novel and what memories you may have of it, especially if you were forced to read it in school, it may color how you like or not Sheltered. I personally did not like that novel, and so seeing that scenario play out here was not great for me. Yet the author does add some twists and shocking elements, just enough to keep me reading. The opening scenes to set up the rest of the story are well made. Afterwards, it does become predictable as the teen leader pretty much becomes yet another paranoid cult leader.

Will I read on in the series? It's a maybe at this point. I'd be willing to give it a chance at least for a few issues more. I do get the challenge: coming up with something new in the post apocalyptic genre, a genre that has had a good number of entries, good and bad, in recent years. For me, after the initial shock of the children killing the parents, it just seems like a trip back to the island.

I am giving it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I liked it, and I wanted to really like it, but I did not quite get there. It was good, and a nice twist on the genre by making it "pre-apocalyptic," but it just reminds me too much of that other novel. Your mileage may vary. I do think fans of The Walking Dead might like this, although if this series starts emphasizing more drama (read "soap opera") like The Walking Dead has done in big parts of the series, it could be an issue for some readers. Where Sheltered goes, we'll have to see. If you liked The Lord of the Flies, as I mentioned, you may like this one as well, but if you hated it, you may like this less. Fans of the genre who have read other works in the genre may want to take a chance.

Disclosure note: Once again, I get to tell you that I read this as an e-book copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review. There has been no compensation. There, we have appeased The Man.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Booknote: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying

 Leifer, Carol, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life in Comedy. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2014. ISBN: 9781594746772.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Humor, biography, career advice

Carol Leifer has been in the comedy and show business for a long time, working her way up, and paying her dues along the way. Now she takes time to reflect on her life and career, distilling the key lessons from her journey in her new book. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying is an easy to read and fun book that many readers will enjoy.

A strength of Leifer's book is in the lessons for work and life that she presents. She may be writing from her perspective as a comedian, but her advice applies to any career path. There is a lot here for young people who need advice and lessons as they enter the workforce. To bring this advice to life, the author uses a lot of stories from her experience with a generous helping of good humor. I found myself often nodding and smiling as I read this book. Now the book is not all upbeat and feel good vibe. Leifer also made a lot of mistakes along her journey. For example, read her story about the soda can in Aaron Spellings' office.Yet, she went on to learn from her mistakes, and she shares the lessons with us. Hopefully readers can avoid the mistakes and learn not to take anything for granted.

In addition, I found there are things in the book that librarians can relate to. For example, we are in very competitive times when it comes to career; Leifer's career path in comedy is also very competitive and very cutthroat. It does not matter if you are a comedian or a librarian;  you need to put your best foot forward. Odds are good you will interview for jobs, and when you get there, you may want to read the part of the book she calls "crimes against hirability." Again, do not take anything for granted.

Overall, I really liked this book of essays. True, some of the lessons are common sense, but they are delivered with humor and grace, and let's be honest, some people do need to hear it. The book combines memoir and guide to career and life in a smooth, accessible way. Leifer has a warm style that you don't see in other celebrity memoirs, She is entertaining and amusing. So, here is a takeaway from the book: persevere, find your path even if it takes a bit of work, and keep your humor. It can also help if you read this book to keep on smiling.

This book makes a good, solid choice for public libraries. Folks who enjoy shows like Seinfeld and Modern Family may enjoy reading this book by Leifer who wrote for those shows and more. This is certainly a good appeal point. It is an easy, light, and entertaining read. 

This was a book I really liked, so I am giving it 4.5. out of 5 stars.

The disclosure note is where, to keep The Man happy, I tell you that I received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

# # #

Additional reading notes: this segment of the post is for quotes from the book I wanted to remember with some observations. I found myself marking some passages that I wanted to remember. For me, that is always a good sign of an engaging book.

Ms. Leifer writes:

"So heed this advice: Find your true passion, even if it takes a little digging. Find the thing that's inside you, burning to get out" (25). 

However, she does temper that with some basic realism:

"So I would caution you about pursuing a dream if you find that, along the way, you're the only one clapping. Anything is worth a shot, but comes a time when you need to realistically evaluate your abilities" (25). 

A lot of feel-good self-help books will emphasize the part about passion and (conveniently) forget to remind you to be realistic in assessing your abilities when the time comes. And that time will come. 

On not taking things for granted and avoiding problems, Leifer writes,

"Something I often tell myself-- and anyone else who needs to hear it-- is 'control what you can and forget about the rest.' Avoid a potential problem that is in your power to avoid, no matter how insignificant it may seem. You never know which iceberg-- or ice-cold soda-- will be the one that capsizes you" (48). 

There are many other pieces of wisdom and humor throughout the book. Like a good teacher or advisor, she does summarize at the end. One piece of advice in the last chapter resonated with me: diversify. I think this is applicable in librarianship, and it has served me well in my career so far, even now. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Don't turn down opportunities to broaden your mind and skills. On this, Leifer writes,

"So keep an eye out for chances to learn the ropes and gain new skills, even in matters that aren't your primary area of interest (yet)" (221).