Monday, March 30, 2015

Booknote: 90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry

Henrik Lange, 90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry. Boras, Sweden: Nicotext, 2009. ISBN: 978-91-85869299.

Genre: Humor
Subgenre: Graphic novels and comics, literature
Format: Paperback
Source: My local public library. 

This is a humor book for readers and book fans. If you were forced to read some "classics" in your school days, the cartoons here may give you a chuckle, or maybe a different appreciation of those classics. Each book featured is represented by a four square panel cartoon. The humor and ability of the author to capture the essence of each book varies from one selection to the next. Some cartoons work better than others. The book's art style is in black and white, very simple and basic. Also, the definition of "classic" is somewhat liberal. You will find some of the usual suspects like To Kill a Mockingbird and Moby-Dick, but also titles like The Thorn Birds, The Clan of the Cave Bear, and The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I think the author just tried to include something for everyone, and that can be a good thing. In the end, it was a very light and easy book to flip through. It was nice and quick entertainment.

I liked it, so giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

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This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volume 1

Juzo Tokoro, Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volume 1. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2005. ISBN: 1-58240-571-9.

Genre: Manga
Subgenre: Superheroes, horror (light)
Format: Paperback.
Source: Part of a three volume set I found at Half Price Books (I will be reviewing the other two later). 

This is not just a manga treatment of Spawn. The manga presents a new Spawn character. Ken Kurosawa, a thug for hire and martial artist, lives to care for his ailing sister. A car bomb kills him, and his dying wish is to be at his sister's side and to be there for her birthday. But beware what you for. Seven years later, he returns to Earth as a Hell Spawn, taunted and guided (somewhat) by Clown and a faerie-like demon named Beelzebub. It's a familiar tale, yet it is new as well with a new Spawn and a new setting.

The manga art on this is really good. Tokoro makes Spawn look great. My only wish is that the manga had been in color, but it was well done overall. The story moves along well as Spawn struggles to figure out his new powers, rediscover his old memories, and trying to see his sister again.

The book was a nice and light entertaining read. It was one I really liked that even gave a little nod to the original Spawn, Al Simmons.

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Booknote: The Six Million Dollar Man: Season 6

James Kuhoric, The Six Million Dollar Man, Season 6. Mt. Laurel, NJ; Dynamite Entertainment, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-60690-607-1.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: television shows, science fiction, cyborgs
Format: e-book
Source: Netgalley

This is definitely a nostalgia piece for those like me who watched the 1970s adventures of Steve Austin, Air Force colonel, astronaut, who after a gruesome accident is given a new life by OSI as a bionic man. The author and artists really strive to capture the feel and look of the television show, including the bionic sound effects. But it is not just a nostalgia piece. It is also a very good adventure comic. Plus, it is accessible enough that new readers can discover Colonel Austin's adventures.

In this volume, Steve faces various challenges. A rogue faction inside OSI is making a power play with robotics; they are trying to push a fully robotic secret agent, one that the faction thinks will be fully obedient (because apparently Steve Austin is too much a maverick for some people). In addition, an alien menace from space is unleashed, and if that was not enough, Steve is also sent on a mission to infiltrate a Soviet base to get information on a new weapon. There is a lot going on, but the stories move along with a fast pace and plenty of action. The comic brings in action and intrigue, and it really keeps you reading.

Overall, this was a fun comic to read, and it was a nice addition to the television series continuity (by the way, this sixth season is made for the comic as a follow up to the show). If you watched the television show, you really should take a look at this. If you are new to the series, this is a pretty good entry point. I say it's a good choice for public libraries with graphic novel collections. Academic libraries with recreational reading and graphic novel collections could consider it too. I'd consider it for our library here.

I really liked it, so I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

* * *

This comic qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Adolf: An Exile in Japan

Osamu Tezuka, Adolf, Volume 2: an Exile in Japan. San Francisco, CA: Cadence Books, 1996. ISBN: 1-56931-107-2.

Subgenre: Historical fiction
Format: Print. Softcover
Source: My local public library.
Series: Second volume in a five volume set.

Link to my note on the first volume.

The plot thickens in as the reporter returns to Japan. He takes possession of the documents his brother had, documents that can prove Hitler had Jewish ancestry. However, this attracts the attention of the secret police in Japan, who pursue him, and get him fired from his job.  Then the Gestapo sends their own agent. Still, Sohei Toge perseveres as he tries to find a way to make the documents public. Meanwhile, in Germany, young Adolf Kaufman is being indoctrinated in a Hitler Youth school, and he will come to hate his friend Adolf Kinzel.

The story continues to draw in the reader. It kept me reading, and I am curious to find out what will happen next. What can I say?  You just want to see if Toge makes it, and what will happen when the other two Adolfs eventually confront each other. The book is very good, with a unique and deep view of the war. Though it is fiction, you do learn a bit about the history from reading it. I will certainly continue reading the series.

Pretty close to perfect, but not quite. We'll see how the series moves along.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Booknote: Two for the Road

Jane Stern and Michael Stern, Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2006. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Food and epicurious, memoir, travel
Format: Hardcover
Source: My local public library. 

The idea of the book is a blend of memoir with how-to. In this case, the how-to is how they wrote their previous book, Roadfood. What the authors do is go around the United States and eat at out of the way places. Now today this would just be yet another "travel and eat" book; this has been done by professional chefs, celebrities, and a lot of amateurs who did manage to get some degree of fame. The fascinating thing here is that the authors were among the first to do it. They started their journeys at a time when there was no social media nor real "travel and eat" writing. They were among the first to get in a car and hit the road seeking those out of the way eateries from diners to barbecue pits to tea houses. Then they wrote about it. Sometimes, most of the time, the food was good and things went well. Yet there were also some misadventures along the way.

In addition to the travel narrative, between chapters, the book features one or two local recipes. This was an interesting book, but it did get a bit long at times. By the last three chapters, I was ready to get done; it felt like the authors were stretching things a bit. Perhaps the book needed  a bit more editing. Overall, this was a good read that I liked, so I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

The authors are the founders of the website

* * * 

Additional notes from the book with some further thoughts of mine:

Their accommodations and hotels were often on the cheap side and less than desirable; they were on a low budget when they started out. Remember, there was no Food Network or such to support them. Yet they also found great joy in cheap, non-chain restaurants. They write,

"Before fast food muscled its way into town, nearly every place had at least one good cafe. Maybe it was on the town square, and in the clean light of morning it looked scrubbed and pretty. When we started writing about such places, we had no clue as to how to find them" (18). 

The authors were basically trailblazing. What they did was pave the way for folks like Anthony Bourdain, Alton Brown (think his Feasting on Asphalt), Guy Fieri, and that guy eating weird food for fun in the Travel Channel now.

In fact, the authors had a lot of learning to do along the way. In visiting the South, they admit to starting out with some cultural denseness. They did learn one thing in the South:

". . . there is a direct correlation between the excellence of the food and the number of pictures of Jesus on the wall" (23). 

One important part of the experience that you can't replicate is the particular sounds of a food place. Very often when they write, the authors do try as much as possible to describe the sensations: the smell, the sights, the sounds, so on. On sound, they write,

"Sure, background music can provide a good reminder of the food's place of origin--zydeco tunes for a cajun eatery, mariachi music for a burrito joint-- but all the other things  you hear are vital too. The joy of so many memorable restaurants includes the unique sounds of cooking, serving, ordering, and eating a meal" (79).

The authors love being professional eaters, but it is not all good finds and great food:

"The simple truth is that the world is full of really bad places to eat" (157). 

and this:

"Out of the twelve meals we eat in a normal day, two or three are good enough to write about and eight or nine are unremarkable. But on occasion one of them is downright frightening or dangerous, or both. Sometimes a terrible meal is, in its own way, impossible to forget" (157-158). 

Another detail I found interesting is when they write about being food reviewers. Aside from their column in Gourmet magazine (what they were known for), they held a job for a time as restaurant reviewers for a newspaper. The job came with good times but also threats and getting on the Christmas card list of the Connecticut Ku Klux Klan. As reviewers they needed to be anonymous, but as it often happens to other restaurant reviewers, the restaurants figured out who they were. However, when writing about road food, things were different:

"We are anonymous in most places we eat, but not because we've gone to any length to conceal our identity. We are anonymous because the people who run the restaurants never heard of us and don't care what we're doing" (233). 

To such folks, credentials from Gourmet magazine were not impressive. In fact, to such people, the real accomplishment was a humble write-up in a local newspaper or advertiser.

* * *

The book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Booknote: Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin

Tim Siedell, Star Wars. Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-61655-207-7.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: Star Wars, science fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: My local public library.

Dark Horse has been putting out a series of Darth Vader stories from Vader's early days, and I've been on the lookout. I finally found one of the volumes at my local public library, so I checked it out. The story for this one takes place shortly after the Clone Wars as the Empire is consolidating its power. In this tale, Darth Vader kills the son of a wealthy businessman. The man decides to get revenge, and hires an assassin to kill Vader. However, the Dark Lord is not an easy target, and by the time our story opens, the man is hiring the ninth assassin to attempt the task. It seems this assassin may be the one to put Vader away for good.

The art in this one is simply gorgeous. It is a high cinematic quality that makes it a pleasure to read. The art is vivid and colorful, allowing the reader to immerse into the story. That alone is a great reason to pick up this volume. The story is good too. Vader has more to worry than a possible assassin. The Emperor also sends him out to deal with a much darker threat. But does the Emperor have an ulterior motive? A neat element in the story is the insight in the relationship between the Emperor and Vader. At this point in time, we know the Emperor is using Vader, but Vader may not be as aware of that fact just yet.

I found the story had a good pace, some good suspense, and enough action. For me, this was an excellent work. I will definitely be looking for others down the road.

5 out 5 stars.

Signs the Economy is Bad: March 20, 2015 (March Madness 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.  

AP Photo from The Daily Mail, "Baltimore is Still Poverty-Plagued" 4/10/13

This week, the U.S. national cult tradition known as March Madness started. The highlight this week is how well the NCAA does at the expense of the student athletes it exploits. John Oliver lays it all out for us. (A hat tip to AlterNet). The outright exploitation is pretty shameless, but hey, go on and fill out your brackets, play hooky from work to work out said bracket and watch the games while betting in the work pool, etc. Whoop dee doo!

So what else has been going on this week in the bad economy? Let's have a look.

  • While March Madness is going on, well rural hospitals continue to lose funding and close (story via The Daily Yonder). 
  •  The Census Bureau is also tight on money, so as a result, it is cutting back on data for middle-sized places. They are having to cut back on the American Community Survey (story via The Daily Yonder). Why is this a problem? "The availability of less timely data means being less responsive to real social and economic changes. Small communities competing for grants and program funding will be at a disadvantage if they can’t show the impact of plant closures or national economic downturns. These events will be captured in the data for large cities and metros but data covering a five year period simply isn’t adequate for monitoring change." By the way, this can also affect librarians who need to work with and help others in finding this kind of information.
  • If you are an LGBTQ woman, the likelihood of being poor is much higher (Story via The Advocate).  The report draws on this study.
  • Yet another story on dying shopping malls. Sure, online shopping had a lot to do with it, but it is also a sign of the bad economy. Story via HBS Working Knowledge. Article also includes an excerpt of the book Retail Revolution.
  • And by the way, the NCAA is not the only one blatantly engaging in exploitation of its labor force. McDonald's apparently is doing so poorly that they cannot afford to have a simple first aid kit in its stores. So they were caught telling their employees to put condiments to treat burns. According to the article, "After such accidents occurred, management often lacked first-aid supplies to treat the injuries and instead often told the workers to treat their burns with condiments." Naturally, McDonald's will blame franchise owners and activists (you know, the people who expose them), but in the end, the buck stops back in the corporation that fosters the exploitative culture. "McDonald’s closely monitors all aspects of its franchisees’ operations, but when it comes to health and safety, it looks the other way with a 'wink and a nod', alleges Kendall Fells, organizing director of Fight for $15. 'McDonald’s has the power to protect its employees, but it’s just not doing it,' said Fells."
However, not all is going poorly in the bad economy. We can find a beacon of light or two:

  • Sales of luxury toilet paper are going up. Yea, things may be bad, but people want to wipe their asses with high end toilet paper.  What is luxury paper? It is "anything quilted, lotioned, perfumed or ultra-soft, from two- to four-ply" and sales "climbed to $1.4 billion last year, outpacing all other kinds of toilet paper for the first time in nearly a decade, data from market research firm Euromonitor International show." Story via The Washington Post.
  • And if you are hipster with money to burn and don't want to mingle with the hoi polloi, you can now ride a special fancy commuter bus in San Francisco. Story via City Lab.

Booknote: Fictitious Dishes

Dinah Fried, Fictitious Dishes: an Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals. New York: Harper Design, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-06-227983-5.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Literature, Foodie, Photography
Format: Print (hardcover).
Source: My local public library.

The author did an interesting thing here. She took photos of dishes from literature. She would recreate the dish to the best of her ability, and she would take a photograph of it The book began as a school of design project, and like many creative projects, it went on to become a full book. The author prepared the foods, and she also set the tables and acquired any necessary props. Some of the dish set ups were done at home. Others were done on the road. The result is a "delectable assortment of photographic interpretations of culinary moments from contemporary and classic literature" (from the book's description).

If you have read the works that the author refers to, the text and photos will take you back. If not, perhaps you may discover something new to read. The book includes an introduction that describes the project, then the dishes, followed by a section of book summaries (to help those who may not have read the books), and a small bibliography. Each dish selection includes the photo, some text from the literary work that describes the dish, and then footnotes with trivia about the food and/or the literary work and its times. The photos are very well done and in full color. You can practically touch the food. Literary selections for the dishes include works like Alice in Wonderland, Moby Dick, and even the watery gruel from Oliver Twist. Do note the book does not include actual recipes.

Folks who like books about books and foodies will enjoy this one. I really enjoyed this one very much, so I am happy to recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: March 13, 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.  

This week a bit of good news came out when a poll showed that a good number of Americans (read people from the U.S.) feel better about the economy, so they have more time to bitch and moan about the government. Notice that key in the New York magazine story is that the people "feel" better. It does not follow they are doing any better. In fact, the economy certainly continues to be bad, and in some case really bad. But do not be sad. For some, the uber rich, things are going well. So, let's see what up this week.

  • We have talked before about the student debt. I have mentioned once or twice how that is going to be the next big time bomb to go off. Maybe not right away since the government and the lenders, by garnishing wages, making bankruptcy practically impossible, so on, will get their pounds of flesh (and maybe even get your soul in the hereafter). Thing is, if there is nothing to collect due to factors such as umemployment (you can't garnish wages that are not being earned), the bomb sooner or later has to explode. Anyhow, the story is once more out there this week, featured on Bill Moyers' site. By the way, the article highlights adults under 35, but believe me, it's not just those under 35. Here is a little bit from the article: "The student debt debacle has huge implications for the future. The average college graduate is now almost $30,000 underwater, with some on the hook for over $100,000."
  • These days about the only way to be free of student debt if you are deep underwater is to die. However, if you are going to die, you may want to keep your final arrangements cheap. It is a bad economy, and funerals can be expensive. So, you may want to do like many Americans who are choosing cremation over casket funerals. Story via Al Jazeera America.
  • Meanwhile, back in Texas, the number of households on food stamps almost tripled since 2000. It is all part of the "Texas miracle" they love to brag about down there. Story via Texas Tribune.
  • Up in the Great White North, Canadians are not doing better when it comes to being in debt. Story via Maclean's.
  • Now, in the bad economy, exploiting any worker for profit is pretty much a given. Americans like their stuff cheap, and easy, and they want it now. It is part of why Amazon keeps selling stuff, even though the company has not turned a profit worth a damn since its inception. So, in the interest of Americans getting their cheap stuff now, Amazon's latest scheme is to exploit the contingent and adjunct workers of the U.S. Postal Service. Naturally, the USPS in desperation to stay relevant has gone along with this scheme. As the AlterNet article reports, "this new deal has proven to be the impetus behind postal management’s brutal utilization of its CCA workforce, creating the seven-day/no rest work cycle and perfectly exemplifying the extraordinary lengths to which the USPS will go to pander to its corporate partner’s interests." Hey, as long as folks can get their cheap shit fast on Sundays, who gives a shit who suffers, right? 
  • On a side note, economies may be bad abroad, but the migrants from many nations go go abroad to work help out their home countries via remittances. Turns out that money sent back home does a lot to fuel the global economy. Story via Bizmology.

As usual, some people do very well in the bad economy, usually at the expense of everybody else who actually works for a living. Let's see how the uber rich are doing this week:

  • Well, the one-percenters recently got a new magazine dedicated to them, courtesy of The New York Times.  So, what kind of fine quality content does the magazine provide? For example, "the first 29 pages contain full-page or spread ads for luxury cars, 5-star resorts, wealth management services and condos in Manhattan that only the royal family of Qatar could afford." That is just the first 29 pages. I am sure you can't wait to keep on reading. Story via In These Times. I mean, Cadillac is also advertising, and they need the one-percenters' help "to shrug off its image as the car best used for funerals. . . . "
  • Gun makers always do well in the bad economy. 
    • Locally, in Missouri, gun sales have been taking off in light of events in the town of Ferguson. If you are going to profit from tragedy, peddling guns seems to be a pretty good way to go. Story via The Washington Post.
    • Selling weapons abroad is also profitable for the United States. The U.S. may have poverty, homelessness, crumbling infrastructure, racial tensions, education systems that leave a lot to be desired, but as long as the nation can still sell weapons abroad, someone will make money. Weapon exporting is one of the very few things where the U.S. can say they are Number 1. Story via Common Dreams, which includes link to the report citing the U.S. prominence in arm sales.
  • And finally, in the "so shameless it just has to work" department, evangelist and con man Creflo Dollar's fancy private jet plane recently had a mechanical failure. Apparently it was a scary experience, so much so that is asking his congregation for a new, better plane to the tune of $65 million dollars. Yes, that is the right number: 65 million dollars. The rub is that you know odds are good his flock will pony up. As often attributed to P.T. Barnum, there is a sucker born every minute. Story via The Root.

So, today, on a light note, with a special dedication to Creflo Dollar, we feature a little musical accompaniment. You certainly will not find the good reverend practicing what he is preaching, nor making any sacrifice.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Booknote: Meka

Bengal, Meka. Burbank, CA: Magnetic Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-9913324-1-0.

Genre: Graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: Science fiction
Format: e-book
Source: Netgalley

From the book's description:

"In a future where civilization is defended by giant, humanoid vehicles known as “Meka”, two pilots learn to deal with the consequences of their actions and the price of their unquestioning dedication to military duty as their vehicle is incapacitated in the center of a once-thriving city now turned interplanetary war zone!" 

The art on this one is very colorful. However, if you look closely, you notice some attention to small details that reinforce just how gruesome some of the battles can be. For instance, you see small body parts flying out during an explosion.

As for text, it is pretty minimal. The story starts in the middle of the action, a meka battle in the middle of the city. The story focuses on Corporal Onoo and her pilot lieutenant, who is basically your typical pilot jock. Their meka is damaged in combat, and they get stranded. From there, we move into the awkward boy and girl stuck together and discovering they may need each other to survive in hostile territory story. As they move through the city's wreckage, they get to see up close the damage the meka battles do on the general population.

Corporal Onoo has the better character development. She often proves to be a better soldier and human being than her arrogant lieutenant. The action overall is decent, but much of the character development is fairly predictable. You can count on the lieutenant to be an asshole not matter what. It's Onoo who really shines and does what needs to be done.

This was a quick read, but it was not a big deal. I may look up the next volume if I find it just to see how things turn out. I liked it, but I did not really like it.

I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: Where I tell you I read this via Netgalley, provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. That way, we keep The Man happy.