Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Booknote: Generation Ink

Nathan, Paul, Generation Ink: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Brooklyn (NY): Pelluceo, 2012.

ISBN: 9780985136802

Genre: Art and photography
Subgenre: Tattoo art

My only quibble with the book is that not a single model is over 40. The oldest, if I recall, was an artist at 38. The majority are very late teens (19 or so) to twenty-somethings. A few thirty-somethings. I suppose it is reflective of the Williamsburg community where the models come from. Nothing wrong with young models, but I am sure there are some older folks in the area with some ink worth showing. Putting that aside, this is a very good book.

The book brings together a series of black and white photographs of men and women displaying their tattoo work. They were asked some simple questions such as how much have they spent getting the tattoos and significance of some of the works. The answers are interesting and vary. Some have spent thousands of dollars, and  others have bartered their way to get them, whether because they worked at at tattoo shop themselves or in some cases dated a tattoo artist. The stories they tell are varied and interesting as well. Many of the models provided quotes, which in the book are written out in the middle of a blank page next to the photo in nice cursive script, which adds to the artistic element of the book. The art overall is beautiful. One has to note it is not always finished; the models' ink is often in various states of completion, and that is part of their journey.

I think anyone who has gotten a tattoo or two or a few will enjoy this book. For those of us not inked, if you enjoy good art and reading stories about people, then this is a book you may enjoy as well.

I will give a small warning for some readers that there is some nudity, overall tastefully done. This is certainly a book I recommend.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Booknote: Mail-order Homes

Hunter, Rebecca L., Mail-order Homes: Sears Homes and Other Kit Houses. London: Shire, 2012.

ISBN: 9780747810483

Genre: U.S. History
Subgenre: housing and architectural history, business history

I will note first that I read this as a Kindle edition via Overdrive from my public library, which was an interesting experience onto itself. Checking it out was a good way to learn a bit how our local public library implements Overdrive, and I may post more on that later. I read it using my work iPad, which has the Kindle app in it. Next time, I may check out an e-book in the epub format instead to see how that compares. But for now, I want to focus on the book itself.

This is a short book with a history of kit (or precut) houses that were popular from the very late 19th century to about the early 1980s (the last company that made these homes finally closed down the business in 1983 according to the book). The book not only gives a glimpse of this industry where you basically bought a house in parts, it was shipped to you via rail, then you moved it to the site and assembled it yourself. Everything you would need to build the home came in two rail cars (or truck much later on). When the Great Depression came, the industry took a big hit, then after World War II, the industry had to compete with tract housing, prefabricateds an mobile homes, and thus the industry gradually vanished. Some big names were part of the industry such as Sears and Montgomery Ward, but there were also companies dedicated exclusively to making kit homes.

The history of these homes is interesting in itself. The author, a researcher on the topic, has to use various resources to find these homes and learn about them. Some of the houses are still standing, but they often were modified. Identifying a specific kit home is not easy: companies often copied each others' designs; they did not always keep sales records, and sometimes, a house is only identified by testimonial, as in someone who was around and remembers seeing such a house being built, so on. City and municipal records are not always helpful neither. So it is sleuth hunt to find these homes, and that is an interesting part of the story that shows how a researcher does her work.

The book features good photos of homes, floor plans, and catalog pages and advertisements, which make the book a pleasure to look over. A list of places to visit and a list of references so you can read further are featured in the book as well. The book was a quick read, and it was a nice glimpse into a part of Americana that not many remember today.

Booknote: Serving Him

Bussel, Rachel Kramer, Serving Him: Sexy Stories of Submission. Berkeley (CA): Cleis Press, 2013.

Find it at Cleis Press (if you wish to purchase)
Find it on WorldCat (if you wish to borrow from a library near you)

ISBN: 978-1-57344-925-0

Genre: Erotica
Subgenre: BDSM, D/s, Short fiction

I finished reading this two nights ago, and I have to say this is an anthology to savor. Whether you sit down with a cup of hot tea, a glass of wine (which could be my choice), or maybe a nice bourbon (hey, I live in Kentucky. Feel free to choose some other national drink), you are bound to soon get hot and bothered with these stories. This is definitely not a book to rush through. Take your time, enjoy the experience and the sensory stimulation from the stories and scenes.

The strength of this book lies in its diversity. The authors explore a broad spectrum of the erotic dance between the strong, seductive dominant male and the strong woman who thrives and blooms when she submits. The dance takes many forms in the twenty-two stories that the editor has carefully chosen for us. As a reader, you can tell this book was put together with care given the selection of well written stories with a variety of plots and kinks. There is something for every reader of erotica who enjoys D/s and BDSM as well as those who just enjoy very sexy tales. The excitement and intensity of the tales go from subtle and delicate to direct and strong, even a bit rough at times. I will dd that if you have a significant other, whether dominant, submissive, curious, or in between, then this is a book you can share. Who knows? You may learn a new trick or two or find a little inspiration. Or you may just live vicariously as a voyeur through the adventures and trysts of the characters. You will find well planned scenes and quicker interactions. There will be spanking, ropes, bondage, showers and all forms of delicious games in this collection.

I would like to take a moment and highlight some of my favorite stories. It was not easy to pick stories out given the excellent selection in the anthology, but these are ones that stuck with me at this time. If I read the book again, I might make different choices.

  • Kristina Wright's "Coffee Break" right away appealed to the coffee drinker in me. Granted, I am not much of a chain coffee shop consumer, but as a reader and writer, I find the ambiance of a good, cozy coffee house appealing. A great setting for a story that starts with the man ordering his woman over the phone to go to the counter and order a coffee, a very specific cup of coffee because our heroine is "as far from vanilla as they come. . . "(11). As in other stories, we see it is not only the thrilling sex, which we have here, but it is about trust. Plus, in this story we see our heroine submitting knowing she will get what she wants, and he knows exactly what that is. 
  • Errica Liekos' "Chattel" caught my eye because of its twist. It is a story that reminds us not to get complacent nor underestimate our partners. Sasha will discover that she indeed does have the perfect man,  a man worthy of her because of his confidence and high expectations. 
  • Teresa Noelle Roberts in "Under Direction" seems to turn the dynamic of dominant and submissive upside down as she asks if one always has to be on top of the other or not. This story features a monogamous couple, a kinky one, who "never ruled out the possibility of an adventure if the right opportunity arose" (27-28). Just remember that adventure can take various forms. And in this tale, the dominant reminds the submissive not to be greedy when it comes to serving. 
  • Cole Riley quotes Camus, who described submission as "giving up control to another person." However, in "Breaking Point," we are asked the question, "how far can you go?" Normal may well be relative as boundaries are pushed, and a good dom knows how to take his sub to the edge and over that event horizon. 
  • Bex vanKoot, in "Shining in the Dark," shows us how the dom cherishes his sub, often training and nurturing her to shape her into a masterpiece, a shining star. The art theme makes this a favorite tale for me, seeing the beauty of the woman in the artistic vision of her dom. 
  • joy's "Paper Doll" carries this theme of art and nurture as well. There are reasons the dom treasures, cherishes and takes pride in the sub he has chosen, even if she does not see those reasons right away. In the dance, the dom brings forth the best from the sub. 
In the end, the erotic dance of BDSM is one of fortune. As the editor tells us in her introduction, both dom and sub know how fortunate they are to have the other, but it is also about choice and trust, safety and consent. Without those elements, the dance cannot occur. So we have stories that will warm you up and move you tenderly. Others will have surprises, or they push just to the edge, giving you a bit of a rush maybe even a little fear. Regarding the stories, the editor writes that she feels "lucky to share them with you." I feel fortunate I was able to enjoy them. Overall, if BDSM and erotica are what you seek expert or just learning, then choose this book and share the good fortune as well.

(Note to keep The Man happy, a.k.a. compliance with FCC rules: Book was provided by the editor for review purposes in exchange for an honest review). 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Booknote: Waking

Rash, Ron, Waking. Spartanburg (NC): Hub City Press, 2011.

ISBN: 978-1891885822

Genre: Poetry
Subgenre: Mountain and Appalachian Poetry

Ron Rash spoke at Berea College as part of the convocation series on April 4, 2013. Our library had some of his books, so I decided to check out one of his poetry collections. I am glad I did. His poetry captures very well the essence of the region. He is descriptive in a lyrical and sensory way that just takes you to the places and times he brings to life. The poems' imagery can be strong, but it can also be poignant and moving as well. For example, in "Pocketknives," he evokes the memory of the well-worn pocketknife that is passed down from father to son over generations, knives that were an essential part of a man's life:

". . . the one
vanity of men caught once
when dead in a coat and tie,
so ordered from catalogs,
saved and traded for, searched for
in sheds and fields if lost, passed
father to son as heirlooms. . . " (18)

A poem like that recalls a time period that does not seem to exist anymore except in some isolated areas, maybe. The knives were not just a tool; they were talismans, treasures, heirlooms you took pride in and passed on to your son.

Rash covers a broad variety of topics in his poetry: the moving of a mirror into a house in "Mirror," the Civil War in various poems, women, farming, including how tobacco may seem a financial salvation only to be revealed to be ruin in "Tobacco," a poem I think remains very relevant in the message it conveys, and very applicable to other big industries that carry a price often in lives and long term losses. There are many poems here to like that cover the sublime to the quotidian.

For me, as someone who just moving into the Appalachian region, who is still discovering it, the poetry gave me a good feeling for the place, for some of the people, their history and longings and ways. You can tell from the poetry that the author loves and cares for his region and home. I will certainly seek out more of his poetry down the road. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Booknote: Asterix Omnibus, Vol. 3

Goscinny, ,René and Albert Uderzo (illustrator), Asterix Omnibus, Vol. 3. London: Orion, 2011.

ISBN: 9781444004274

Genre: Comic strips
Subgenre: Juvenile/YA
Series: Asterix 

This volume includes three books from the famous French series: Asterix and the Big Fight, Asterix in Britain, and Asterix and the Normans.  The strength of this series is that, even though it is a juvenile book, adults can certainly enjoy it. The author and the illustrator have created a series that children and youth can enjoy for the humor while adults will likely appreciate the many references to modern era and pop culture. I used to enjoy these as a child myself, so when I saw that my local public library had it, I had to pick it up.

In the first book, another Gaul chieftain has gone over to the Romans. He now wants to fight Vitalstatistix, chief of Asterix's tribe, for control of the tribe, and by law, if he wins, he can do so. Now, you'd think that with our Gauls' magic potion, made by the druid Getafix (you've got to love the names), that things would be fine. But when the druid's memory is temporarily impaired, and he can't remember how to make the magic potion that gives superhuman strength, all sorts of hijinks ensue as the Romans think they finally have a way to conquer that last Gaulish village that keeps resisting them. It's a fun little tale.

In the second book, Asterix and Obelix travel over to Britain to help some locals resist the Romans. When they get there, they find that the Brits have some seriously different customs (eating boar boiled with mint sauce? what the heck?). Again more hijinks ensue along the way, and in the end, we find out what those mystery herbs Getafix found are actually for.

The third book I thought was the weaker of the three, but it was still well worth it. In it, the chief's nephew comes for a visit. Justforkix is sent by his father to his uncle so Vitalstatistix can make a man out of him. Unfortunately, Justforkix is your typical teenager more interested in rock and roll and bumming around. Oh, and there is a Norman invasion coming. It still was a fun tale, but I liked the other two better. At any rate, you can never go wrong with these books.

Overall, a great book for children and teens. I think it would be good for parents to read with their kids. You get a humorous look at history (a little history), and you get characters that are fun. There is some slapstick violence, after all the Gauls are fighting the Romans, but nothing that should keep you from letting your kids read it. Overall, this is a nice series that remains popular today.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Booknote: Coffee: A Dark History

Wild, Antony, Coffee: A Wild History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.

ISBN: 9780393060713

Genre: History
Subgenre: Microhistory

Coffee is one of my favorite topics. I enjoy the drink, and I like reading about the lore and history around it, so I thought this would be a good book on the topic. It was not to be. While the topic is interesting, Wild makes so many digressions away from the main topic of coffee that one is not sure exactly what the book is about. Is it about the slave trade? About the origins of coffee? About Napoleon? The origins of coffee was somewhat interesting as it dispelled some common myths such as the one about a goat herder discovering coffee when a bunch of his goats ate the bean and then acted "funny" from the caffeine. That probably did not happen, romantic as it is. However, the chapter on Napoleon's exile to St. Helena was mostly unncessary. Yes, Napoleon was a coffee drinker, and his housing on the island was terrible. So what? How exactly does all that minutiae advance the story? That is the problem with most of the book; the author gets bogged down in too many tangents to make for a coherent reading experience.

The book had potential if the author could make his mind up what story he wants to tell. That the prose is pretty dry does not help matters neither. Thus, I will continue to search for a good book on the history of coffee. This one is not it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Short booknotes on graphic novels 16

It has been a while since I have done a compilation of these (I did #15 back in 2007), but as I wean myself out of GoodReads, I am doing them again. It feels like going back to basics. These were borrowed from my local public library, Madison County Public Library, Berea Branch. They have a pretty decent selection of graphic novels, and they are actively ordering new ones, which is good. It certainly better than the public library back in Tyler where they had no idea when it came to graphic novels. Book record links go to WorldCat. At any rate, here we go.

Azzarello, Brian and Lee Bermejo (illustrator), Joker. New York: DC Comics, 2008. ISBN: 9781401215811.

I picked this up when I saw it was written by Brian Azarello since I am a fan of his 100 Bullets series. He provides here a solid noir tale of the Joker. Joker manages to be released from Arkham Asylum, and he wants to get back to business. The only problem is that his retainers and goons took his interests, split them up, and basically squandered things. So now he has to put his empire back together. So, with a new goon, Jonny Frost, Killer Croc, and Harley Quinn, he sets about his mad work. Along the way we meet Two Face, the Riddler, the Penguin, and others. However, Azarello, with Lee Bermejo's art, gives us a different, more gritty take on these characters. These are not the bright costume-wearing characters, but rather more street, gritty, characters. The result is a very dark, deep, story in an urban setting. Joker will meet Batman, but this is first and foremost Joker's story. And the interesting and neat thing is that it is told from Jonny Frost's point of view, as he rises to earn Joker's trust (as much as that is possible), and he is there to see and experience all the madness. Overall, this is highly recommended. One of the few I give 5 out of 5 stars.

Claremont, Chris and John Byrne, X-Men: Days of Future Past. New York: Marvel, 2011.  ISBN: 0785164537

This compilation features issues of the Uncanny X-Men comics (issues 138-143) plus X-Men Annual #4.  It has a very classic feel to it. The issues make up the "Days of Future Past" story line where, in the future, the Sentinels control the United States after killing off or imprisoning all mutants as well as anyone with super powers. The remnants of the X-Men in that future, led by Magneto, send one of their own back in time to the present (in the 1980s) to try to prevent that future from happening. The way the time travel is accomplished is a bit hokey, to say the least, but hey, it's old comics, so what can you say? Overall, it is an entertaining collection if you like comics from that time period. The compilation also features a story with Dr. Strange as a guest and a Christmas special. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars, which means I did like it. I think fans of old school X-Men will enjoy this one.

Claremont, Chris and Brent Eric Anderson (illustrator), X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills.  New York: Marvel, 2011. ISBN: 9780785157267

The description of the book says this book was a basis for the second X-Men film. I have to say that the film makers barely based the film on this as the book pretty much does not resemble the movie at all other than having a character named Stryker who hates mutants and his creation of a second Cerebro-type computer to track and kill mutants. At any rate, as usual, the book is better than the film.

In our graphic novel, Stryker is the leader of a fundamentalist Christian church (more like a cult) that hates mutants, sees them as abominations, and uses Christianity to justify mutant extermination. The cult is very well organized, and it resembles any modern Christian cult today such as Pat Robertson's or Jerry Falwell's with a paramilitary element. When Professor Xavier is kidnapped by the cult, Magneto steps in to help out. Granted, his beliefs are different than Xavier's, but he sees Stryker's church as a common threat all mutants have to face. The X-Men have to find their lost leader and stop Stryker from carrying out his plans while people are divided on whether the mutants are human too or if they are abominations to kill.

In many ways, I think this tale is still very relevant today. All one has to do is look at Christian and other religious extremists who call for racism and bigotry in the name of their deity to see that Stryker is very much alive and well in today's society, especially in the U.S. The story is a pretty good comic book story with some nice twists.

Claremont, Chris, and Frank Miller (illustrator), Wolverine. New York: Marvel, 2012. ISBN: 9780785137245.

A compilation of Claremont's run with Frank Miller doing the art, which makes for a nice combination. Wolverine heads to Japan to meet the woman he loves. However, the impending wedding is not all it is cracked up to be. Her family is involved in the criminal underworld, and when she stops answering his letters and calls, he heads over to Japan to find out why. He finds himself in the middle of an underworld battle as her father is striving to consolidate his underworld power. Add to it a ronin samurai girl who also has the hots for Wolverine, and things get interesting. Overall, a nice compilation of comics, although I have to say it does leave a bit of a cliffhanger at the end.

Hine, David, X-Men: Colossus- Bloodline. New York: Marvel, 2006. ISBN: 9780785119005. 

This collection brings together the story of Colossus having to return home to Russia when someone is murdering members of his family. Who is behind it and why? And what does the mad monk Rasputin have to do with it? It is not a bad story, but the premise seemed to be a bit of a stretch. However, it makes for a nice mystery-type of reading. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Booknote: The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures

Ashley, Mike, ed., The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2005.

ISBN: 9780786714957

Genre: Science Fiction
Subgenre: Steampunk, Alternate History

 I finally finished this book. I mostly skipped through it after a while since very few tales really caught my attention or kept me engaged. Some of the stories were just too long and winded, not terribly interesting to be honest. For example, after dragging myself through "Cliff Rhodes and the Most Important Journey," I am still not sure what it was all about. 

However, there were some stories I did enjoy, For instance, I did find James Lovegrove's vision of a 21st century London to be an interesting one with a nice play on some things we have now in our 21st century. Another example of a story I enjoyed was Stephen Baxter's "Columbiad." It was pretty good, and I think the ending when we see who the speaker is talking to may make us appreciate the story a bit more. 

Overall, like many big anthologies, this book can be hit or miss, but there are a few stories worth finding. I may go back and try out one or two tales I skipped, but for now I am moving on. I would say this is a book to borrow rather than buy. Usually, I do like these Mammoth anthologies, but this one, in spite of one or two gems, did not have a lot to keep my interest.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Booknote: Descent of Angels

Scanlon, Mitchel, Descent of Angels. Nottingham (UK): Black Library, 2007.

ISBN: 978-1-84416-508-7

Genre: Science fiction
Subgenre: Military Science Fiction
Series: The Horus Heresy, Book 6 (Warhammer 40,000)

After a very good run with the first five books, the Horus Heresy series just falls flat with this one. Descent of Angels was a real disappointment after the solid story, good pacing, and heavy action of the previous volumes. This volume just dragged on and on and on. It is a pity really because the premise behind it is pretty good: a view of the time before the heresy and before the unification of the Imperium of Man. Unfortunately, the delivery is awfully slow, and to be honest, much of the book is just boring.

The book can be divided into three major parts: the time before the arrival of the Astartes and the Emperor; the arrival of the Imperium, and the integration of Caliban into the Imperium and of many of the Caliban knights into the First Legion, which becomes known as the Dark Angels. If you are a fan of the Dark Angels, I bet you were looking forward to reading this book. I think only really hardcore fans will get into it. More casual readers like me can safely skip it because the book contributes little to the Horus Heresy. Even as a standalone fantasy novel, which is what this is for most of the book, from the first part to about middle of the second part, it is not that good of a fantasy novel neither. You see, before the Emperor arrived, Caliban was your basic feudal medieval kind of world. The knights have some enhancements in terms of armor and weapons, due to their long forgotten Terran origins, but aside from that, we are looking at castles and knights. We see the events in the novel through the eyes of Zahariel, a young boy who first becomes an aspirant to knighthood in The Order, one of various knight's orders and the one that will come to prominence.

Over time, he rises to knighthood, and in time, when the Astartes and the Imperium arrives, he will become an Astartes, and a special one at that for it turns out his gift of being able to read people easily is due to him being a latent psyker, so he will become an Astartes Librarian. Personally, I love Astartes librarians, but by the time in the novel I got to that part, I already did not care for the novel overall. You see, to get there, you get almost 220 pages or so of the medieval stuff which is basically the story of boy goes to knight school and succeeds. C'mon, you really did not think he would fail, right? It's the usual knight apprentice stuff done in other fantasies, and it is probably done better elsewhere. Scanlon delivers it in the slowest, most boring way possible. To be honest, the first two hundred pages or so can be skimmed or mostly skipped, and you would not lose much in the story. When you have a novel that you can safely skip big chunks of it without losing much, that is not a good sign.

In addition, this is supposed to be the tale of the lost primarch, Lion'el Jonson, who is to become primarch of the Dark Angels. However, we get to see very little of him in the novel until the last stages of the novel, even though the Prelude of the novel promises that this is his tale. So, that was another delivery failure. Plus, since the novel has to connect with the series, the ending naturally is left open and vague as the Dark Angels are divided. Some are to continue on the Great Crusade, and a few are sent back to Caliban to help train new Astartes. As the Great Crusade is just getting started, you are nowhere near the heresy events yet. So the novel serves mostly to fill background information, and to be honest, I would have kept mostly the part starting with the Imperium arriving on Caliban and tossing out the rest that came before. Overall, the book just does not really feel like a Horus Heresy book. Towards the latter part, it seems to give it lip service, but there is nothing terribly substantial to add to the series. If anything, the latter stuff could have maybe been executed as a longer novella. This 412-page book was about 250 pages or so too long.  If I had picked up this book as my first foray into the Horus Heresy, I probably would not have kept on reading it. Knowing there can be good books in the series, I am willing to take a chance and keep going. However, I do not recommend this one unless the Dark Angels happen to be your favorite WH40K Space Marines or you are a completist who feels a need to read all of the series. Casual readers can skip this one and move on to the next one.