Friday, July 19, 2019

Booknote: The Book of Divination

Ann Fiery, The Book of Divination. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1999.  ISBN: 0-8118-1618-4.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: art, divination, history
Format: coffee table book
Source: Borrowed from Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This is a coffee table book on the topic of divination. The  book is organized as follows:

  • Introduction
  • 15 chapters, one for each divination practice presented  in the book
  • A bibliography, plus picture credits and acknowledgements
The book does offer a variety of topics ranging from well known forms of divination such as astrology, numerology, and Tarot as well as lesser known or mostly extinct forms such as metoposcopy (reading lines on the forehead), phrenology, and haruspicy (reading animal entrails). The length and quality of content varies. Some entries are larger and better developed than others. Astrology, for example, gets about 40 pages of content. Haruspicy gets two pages. On the text, the author writes:

"This book is no more than a dabble in the deep waters of Western divination. I have tried to give a sense of the traditions of each of the systems I discuss, but all of them (with the possible exception of haruspicy) would repay further investigation" (9).

That is another thing: the book only focuses on Western divination, no Oriental/Eastern methods in this volume. While I get this is a "dabble," the dabbling is often very uneven. The author also provides instructions as possible if you want to try a method. However, the author is also intensely opinionated, which can be an issue. On this, the author writes:

"I am not demure about my opinions; you will undoubtedly notice that I approve of some interpretations and developments more than others" (9).

That bias likely helps explain the very uneven treatment of subjects in the book. Opinion can be good; however, when this author disdains something she does so aggressively. Plus, at times, to be perfectly honest, she can come across as overly prescriptive and even a bit snobbish. A little less personal opinion and a little more neutrality may have worked better for this book.

A strength of the book is in the illustrations. The author includes plenty of photos, charts, engravings, and other historical illustrations. The illustrations were a reason for me to pick up the book. They do enhance the book.

Overall, this is more of a book to browse than to read cover to  cover. In the end, I did like most of it. Still, I'd say borrow it rather than buy it if you must.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Booknote: Appalachian Health and Well-Being

Robert L. Ludke and Phillip J. Obermiller, eds. with Foreword by Richard A. Couto, Appalachia Health and Well-Being. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.  ISBN: 978-0-8131-35861.

Genre: nonfiction, reference work
Subgenre: Appalachia, health, health care, academic essays anthology
Format: Hardcover
Source: Hutchins Library, Reference Collection

This note is a reference book review. We currently have this book in our collection at Hutchins Library; I saw it on our new reference books' shelf, and I decided to make this note both to help me better know this resource and to see if it can be helpful for our students here. In this note, I will mainly look at key features of the book, how it is organized, and why it may be useful and how. On a small side note, I will probably pull some notes or items from this review to write a small quick review for our library's blog about this book. What I am saying is this note is a bit different than my usual booknotes.

In our library, we get a lot of questions related to Appalachia and the region in general. Appalachia is also a big part of the college's curriculum, especially in the required reading second semester General Studies course, so we are always looking for resources in this area. Health in the region is often a popular topic in those classes, so this book seems relevant.

I need to note it was published in 2012. For some of our classes that may require sources within 5 years (for reasons I will not go into here), this book may already be "too old." However, for classes looking at the region more broadly and at overall conditions in the region, this book can be useful.

The book is a collection of scholarly signed essays on various health related topics in the region. The book is organized as follows:

  • List of illustrations
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Three major parts, each containing a series of essays. The book has a total of 16 essays. The major part topics are: 
    • Appalachian Health Determinants
    • Appalachian Health Status
    • Urban Appalachian Health
  • Acknowledgements
  • Selected bibliography
  • List of contributors
  • Index

In his foreword to the book, Professor Couto tells us chapters in this book "addressed all the factors that promote health and well-being, including economic, political, psychological, environmental, and social ones" (xi). Maybe "all" is a bit too ambitious, but a look at the book's contents shows work "to put health and health care in a socioeconomic and political context" (xi). For many classes here on campus, specially in that General Studies curriculum I mentioned, this book can provide a good start for student research assignments.

This book is not just a collection of essays. The book's foreword and introduction provide a good overview of the complex issues of the region in terms of health and health care. The editor writes,

"This volume takes a broad perspective by focusing on the health of all Appalachians, both residents of Appalachia and those who have migrated from the region" (1).

The introduction's overview goes over various essential topics in a brief but clear manner in order to provide background material. Some of these topics include:

  • Medical services for rural areas
  • Health innovations
  • Definitions and concepts

What the book does not cover and why. This is the kind of statement that students and researchers need to pay attention to when considering a source for a research task or assignment as it presents the limitations of the work being considered:

"There are important Appalachian subpopulations (e.g African Americans, Hispanics, Eastern Band Cherokee) and health cohorts (e.g. those with HIV/AIDS) that are not discussed in this volume. Although women's health is reasonably well represented here, many other subgroups in Appalachia are not. This is not an intentional omission; it is caused by an unfortunate lack of reliable regional data on these populations" (16). 

The book's introduction includes a section on "organization of this book." Good scholarly essay collections often include this kind of section. Here the editors define how a book is organized and why they chose their book's arrangement as well as briefly describes each essay in the book. So for students, read the introduction, specially this part, to quickly assess how well this book may suit your assignment or not. For many topics on Appalachian health and health care, you may find this book is a good source. At the end of the introduction you will find endnotes and references used in the introduction, which can be useful for expanding your research.

In the book, each scholarly essay has its own list of references as well. Again, those references are a tool to help students and researchers expand their research. We librarians often call using references from a source "citation mining." Want to learn more about this research technique? You can ask your local friendly librarian.

Finally, the book has an index of terms you can use to locate specific contents in the book. Book also contains various tables, charts, and graphs.

I'd say for some of our classes here, especially for some in the General Studies curriculum as well as classes here and in other places in Appalachian Studies, health, and wellness, this book can be a good resource.

Note: no stars rating. This is a reference book. If you have questions about why I did not rate this book, see my book review statement.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Booknote: Battle Pope Presents: Saint Michael

Robert Kirkman and Terry Stevens, Battle Pope Presents: Saint Michael. Lexington, KY: Funk-O-Tron, 2002. ISBN: 0970810822.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: heroes, humor
Format: Trade paperback
Source: Bought at A+ Comics. Volume was on clearance, i.e. cheap. 

This is a prequel to the Battle Pope series, which I have reviewed in this blog. I will put the links to those reviews below. In the prequel, God finally decides to carry out the Rapture. However, the Rapture does not quite turn out the way He expects, so He just pouts and forgets about humanity. After a while, God feels sorry and sends Saint Michael the archangel, who knows nothing of humans, down to Earth to protect them. Naturally all sorts of misunderstandings happen.

The comic has amusing moment, but it is just not as good as the Battle Pope series. It does feel more like an add on than an essential part of the overall story. I did like the idea of portraying Michael as a tough as nails general with uniform and all. However, otherwise, the comic is not that big a deal. It is a short and quick read, so there's that. I like it, but it was just not on the same level as the main series. I'd say it's optional reading.

3 out of 5 stars. 

* * * * *

Additional reading notes.

If interested, here are the reviews of the main series volumes:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Deck Review: Everyday Witch Tarot

Deborah Blake (author) and Elisabeth Alba (artist/illustrator), Everyday Witch Tarot. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-7387-4634-0. (link to publisher)

Genre: divination, card decks
Subgenre: Tarot, witches, witchcraft
Format: 78 cards deck with companion book (paperback) packed in solid cardboard box with magnetic closure.
Source: I bought this new and own this. (Do not recall where I got it, but possibly Barnes and Noble. You can likely find it at your favorite esoteric shop, or if you must, that big retailer everyone hates but uses anyhow). 

Promotional image for the deck from publisher
Deborah Blake, the author, is a Wiccan high priestess and author of other books on witchcraft such as Everyday Witchcraft and The Witch's Broom (book links to WorldCat). I can see a bit of everyday/quotidian vibe in such books, and this Tarot deck certainly has that. The title of the deck is very accurate; this is a deck you can use on a daily basis. If you want a deck you can use regularly, daily, that feels casual, and not complicated, this deck may be for you. The art is done by Elisabeth Alba, and it definitely works for the deck. I will add that you do not have to be Wiccan like the author (or a witch of any form for that matter to enjoy and use the deck).

Let's start with the companion book: Guide to the Everyday Witch Tarot. The book is pretty basic in terms of content. It is arranged as follows: '

  • Short introduction. The author presents a short story of how the deck was created in the form of a little tale, even starting with "once upon a time." 
  • Chapter One: In this chapter, Blake points out this deck "is based on the classic Rider-Waite deck that many people are already familiar with" (5). However, she also tells us there can be variety with some images close to RWS and others are very different. Still, I can say if you read on the RWS system, you can use this deck well enough. This chapter also includes a basic lesson on how to do a reading and on learning the cards. Blake also encourages readers to experiment. 
  • Chapter Two. This chapter includes common questions and answers. Some common questions include: 
    • What is a signifier and should I use one?
    • What if I get bad news, a bunch of scary cards, or answer I (or the person I am reading for) don't like?
    • Do I have to be psychic to read the Tarot? (spoiler alert: NO. Author then discusses this). 
    •  Under Tarot extras this chapter offers three spells to use with Tarot. If you do not practice a craft or such, you do not have to use these. If you do or choose to try, the spells are substantial but fairly easy to perform in terms of materials and things to do to make the spells work. 
  •  Chapter 3: This chapter contains the card meanings. We first get the Major Arcana. For each Major Arcana card you get a full color image of the card, a key phrase, and then card description and meanings. Major Arcana cards also include a section on "Things to consider," which gives a reader questions and ideas to consider related to the card. For the Minor Arcana cards, cards are arranged by suit ace to ten with their court cards (court cards are not separated from their suits). In terms of substance, content is similar to the Major Arcana: full color image, key phrase, description and meanings and "things to consider," just a bit shorter overall. 
    • On a side note, I do not usually write in my books, but if you do, this book does include some lined pages throughout this chapter for you to add your notes. 
  • Chapter 4. Three spreads included: one-card, three cards, and Celtic Cross. 
  • Brief conclusion. 
The book overall is in full color, and in terms of aesthetics it does look very nice. In terms of content,
the material is light and basic. By light, I meant it is pretty positive in terms of meaning and outlook. This book and deck are really for everyday use. The content is good for beginners and those wanting a deck with a positive, optimistic outlook. I am not saying this deck is all sweet- it can and does read honestly- but if you seek some comfort, this is a good choice, and the meanings in the book reflect that.

The content is accessible and easy to read. Black maintains a light hearted tone throughout. If you choose to use the book with the cards, it works well, However, if you read by intuition and/or just seeing the cards, the images are clear and mostly within RWS.

Six of Pentacles
This leads me to the cards. Elisabeth Alba's art is cute and playful. It is also bright and colorful. Plus if you like cats, most cards feature one cat or more. The deck features male and female witches. The images are mostly modern and contemporary, but there is still a fantasy element. Furthermore, if you are looking for a "family friendly" deck or one without "scary" elements, this is a solid choice. In the few times I read publicly for others at events, I carry multiple decks so clients can get a choice. I usually try to have at least one "family friendly" deck, and this one works nicely. If someone brings a child along, this deck is safe for them to look at (properly supervised if they are small children of course). I am happy to take this deck with me to read for others.

This is a deck you can easily use year round. If you plan your decks' Modern Spellcaster's Tarot deck (link to my review) has that borderless style too. I think it works well, and they should use it more. Back to this deck, the good bright art has a bit of a playful element. This is a deck that always made me smile when I used it. This is not really a deep study deck, but it is one for daily use and readings on a lighter side work well with this deck. It is a good mood deck. Good for a pick me up if you need it.
Page of Wands.
rotation based on seasons, I'd say this is a good one for spring and better yet for summer. The cards measure about 4 1/2 inches by 2 3/4 inches. They are borderless with a small ribbon in the bottom of the image to identify the card. This borderless style is one Llewellyn seems to be favoring recently in some current selections. For example, their

Overall, this is a good deck for beginners and for those wanting a light and easy deck in the RWS tradition. I personally like it a lot, and I am glad to have it in my collection. Looking for a witch themed deck, and you like your witches on the lighter side with pointy hats but still a bit modern, this may be for you too.  

4 out of 5 stars.

Note on photos: Except for the promo photo, all photos were taken by me of my personal copy of the deck.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Media Notes Roundup for June 2019

These are the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during June 2019.

Movies and films (links to for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise). In addition, I will try to add other trivia notes, such as when a film is based on a book adding the information about the book (at least the WorldCat record if available):

  • Augustus: The First Emperor (2003. Drama. History.)  A made for television movie produced in a British and Italian collaboration, about 3 hours long which they split into two episodes. Peter O'Toole does a great performance as Caesar Augustus at the end of his life. After the death of his friend and top general Agrippa, Augustus spends time with Agrippa's wife, his own daughter, Julia, telling her his story and explaining his actions, which he always justified as for the good of Rome. I leave folks to judge that history on their own. O'Toole's performance is truly moving, reinforced a bit by Charlotte Rampling in the role of the manipulative Livia;  manipulative yes, but also gains some humanity here. Granted, they do take historical liberties, but compared to other films that also take their liberties, this was actually pretty good and moving at times. If nothing else, do keep in mind, he was the first emperor, and he did bring peace to Rome, a lasting peace. By the way, Gaius Maecenas, Augustus' friend and close advisor who was effeminate (according to history, that was true), and portrayed as a bit flamboyant in the film, was very real, and it turns out he was a very able and competent administrator, especially in cultural affairs. In fact, to modern times, his name is often associated with arts patronage. If nothing else, the film does not get enough of the real Maecenas but we do get a glimpse of his political skills. Overall, the film is worth a look. Via TubiTv.
  • Hellraiser (1987. Horror). Clive Barker directed his film based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. I think this is one of those films that over time has gained a cult status, but it may be somewhat overrated. The pluses: great special effects on the cenobites as well as other parts of the film. The concept is good too, but not explored nearly enough. Film leaves a lot of questions open.The minuses: this is a seriously slow film. Aside from the promising beginning, the film does drag along for most of the running time until things come to a head in the last hour or so. By the way, there is some sex, but let's be honest, fairly tame. I like the idea and concept, the mythology it sets up, but the execution, aside from that last part of the film was not really that great. It has moments, but honestly, it does drag for most of the film. On a side note, my local public library got a new edition of The Hellbound Heart, so I will be reading it just to see the source. Clive Barker may be a horror and dark fantasy master, but I get the feeling his fiction is better than the films. Heck, even the comics adapted from the concept may be better (for example, this one which he wrote). It is a classic by now, but really, not that big a deal. I did not think it was that big a deal when I saw it back then, and not that big a deal now seeing it later. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. Via TubiTv. 
  • Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988. Horror). The film starts pretty much where the first ended. In fact, you get some scenes at the beginning from the first film to remind you where things left off. Kirsty the daughter, who survived from the last time, is now in a mental institution, except not all is at it seems. The head psychiatrist turns out to be obsessed with the Lemarchand boxes and manages to unleash the Cenobites once more with the help of another mental patient who is seriously good at solving puzzles. This sequel to be honest felt better than the original, mainly because we get to see more of the mythology Clive Barker created starting with The Hellbound Heart. Special effects are still pretty good for their time. Plus the movie has a better pace; it is not as slow as the first one. The movie overall still holds on pretty well today, mainly in terms of the setting, scenes, and the mythos it presents, plus it was entertaining. Via TubiTv. 
  • The Dwarves of Demrel (2018. also known as Dragon Mountain and/or The Dwarves of Dragon Mountain. Fantasy). Whatever the title, bottom line is three dwarves trapped inside a mine after a cave in. Aside from a brief fly over by a dragon at the start of the movie to see the mountains from outside, the whole movie takes place inside the caves, so setting is very minimal. The dwarves have some steampunk-type tech but that matters little. The film is really a character study of the three men (who could easily be humans trapped in a mine), their trust issues, and confronting their mortality. Otherwise, it is a seriously slow movie with not much of anything, a lot of lost potential, and an unresolved ending that makes it feel like the film was not even completed. It is an hour and half too long. Via TubiTv.

Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via YouTube, which, as noted before, I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes:

  • The Making of the Mob: New York (2015. Crime. Docudrama). Description from This is an "eight-part docudrama that begins in 1905 and spans more than 50 years, tracing the original five families that led to the modern American Mafia, including the rise of Charles Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Benjamin Bugsy Siegel." This particular series aired on AMC in 2015. Series combines drama with historical narration. If you know the history, well, you know how things turn, yet the series manages to make it dramatic and interesting. Series goes from the origins of the American Mafia to basically when the Gambino Crime Family is born. I did like watching this, and I will likely be seeking out one or two authors who provided expertise in the series. Via TubiTv.
  • The Making of the Mob: Chicago (2016. Crime. Docudrama). Second season of the series covers the rise of the mob in Chicago. This has eight episodes as well. I did not find it as interesting as the New York series, but it was still pretty good and worth watching. An important point it makes is that everyone thinks of Chicago and Al Capone, but there were others, some we barely if ever heard about, who really ran things and helped give rise to what became known as the Chicago Outfit. Series goes until the passing of Tony Accardo, who manages to survive into a good retirement, very rare for any mob boss. I did jot down a couple of book titles to read later mentioned in the series, such as Thompson's Kings about the Chicago numbers rackets, which at the time prior to the Outfit were ran by African Americans. Via TubiTv.
  • Gangsters: America's Most Evil (2012-. Mob. Crime. Documentary). Via YouTube.
    • "The Rat from Southie: James "Whitey" Bulger." A look at the life of Boston mobster "Whitey" Bulger. 
    • "The Mafia Cops." Looking at Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, the NYPD cops who worked for the Mob and almost got away with it. David Fisher, who wrote Friends of the Family (link to my review) appears in the documentary as one of the experts going over the story.
    • "The Iceman: Richard Kuklinsky." A look at the hitman. 
    • "Sammy the Bull: Salvatore Gravano." The close associate of John Gotti who did flip and thus helped bring down the Teflon Don. As Gotti's underboss, once he turned witness, he pretty much destroyed the notion of silence (omerta) in the Mob, showing overall that rather than honorable or organized, they were every man for himself. 
  • Mobsters (Documentary. true Crime. biography. 2007-2012). I continue watching episodes of this series via YouTube here and there. See the June 2018 roundup for previous commentary on the series overall.  Episodes watched:
    • "Tommy Lucchese."