Friday, May 29, 2015

Booknote: Batman: Earth One

Geoff Johns, Batman: Earth One. New York: DC Comics, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-4012-3208-5.
Genre: Graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: Hardcover
Source: My local public library

Much like Superman: Earth One, which I read, this volume is a new series for a new generation. The series shows Batman as human and flawed, having to work his way up. It has a great opening sequence depicting how he initially did not perform flawlessly (a gadget fails, he has a serious fall, and the bad guy manages to get away). The story goes back and forth between the present day and the past where Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered. And if things were not complicated enough, there is a new villain in town who likes birthdays.

A nice thing about the Earth One series is in the details. Often small recastings in the series make a difference, yet they manage to keep the essence of the story. The way Alfred Pennyworth is recast as way more than just an English butler is a good example of this. He plays a more active role in helping Batman grow and learn, yet keeps the essence of the character we all know.

The comic has great pacing and action, and it does give quite the look at Gotham City's corruption. All I will say about the ending is that it sets up further adventures. Additionally, the book features great art which makes it a pleasure to look at as you read. Overall, a solid work.

5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Short Booknotes on Graphic Novels 21, and a Bonus Item

Here is another roundup post of graphic novels and comics I have read recently. These are mostly quick reads that did not merit a full post, but I still wanted to remember.

Gary Larson, The Far Side Gallery 2. Kansas City, MO: Andrews, McMeel, and Parker, 1986. ISBN: 0-8362-2085-4.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre: Humor
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library.  

This is one of his big collections, and it has a bit of everything. Among my favorite comics on this one was the one for creationism explained, which I think makes a nice jab at creationists. Larson's humor is very good; I always love that surreal element in his work. This particular volume features a foreword by Stephen King. So, as King says, don't explain Larson. Just enjoy his work. 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Jim Davis, Garfield Bring Home the Bacon. New York: Ballantine Books, 2012. ISBN: 9780345525864.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre: Humor
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library

The humor continues in this 53rd collection, which starts at the Christmas season. If you read it during Christmas, I think it will set the mood for the season nicely, but you can read it anytime. Jon is dating Liz the veterinarian. Garfield still won't hunt mice. Highlights include Jon taking Liz to a fancy restaurant and Garfield discovering a sombrero. In the end, it's good, clean fun. 4 out of 5 stars.

* * *

Jim Davis, Garfield Gets in a Pickle. New York: Ballantine Books, 2012. ISBN: 9780345525901.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre: Humor
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library.

This is the 54th book in the series. I had not read the comic in a while, and I can say that I really liked this volume. In this stage of the series, Jon is now dating a new lady, who happens to be a veterinarian. The humor is good and overall lighthearted. I really liked this one, and I will go back and find other volumes. 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Jim Davis, Garfield Sings for his Supper. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-345-52593-2.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre: Humor
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library.

This is volume 55 in the series by Jim Davis, and the series continues to be fun and amusing. This time, Jon tries to finish a sudoku puzzle, shares kitty pictures with Liz, his vet girlfriend, and he gets caught in a street sweeper (yea, you have to read this one to believe it). Garfield takes it all in stride and good humor. Overall, if you are a fan of the series, you will probably enjoy this one. It is a nice, light read that provides some good laughter. 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Jim Davis, Garfield. Caution: Wide Load. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013. ISBN: 9780345525963.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre: Humor
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library.

The humor goes on in the 56th volume as Jon and Liz continue dating. Liz continues her futile attempts to get Garfield to be more active and healthy. A highlight is Jon attempting to beat the dragon in the video game. Yes, even Garfield can beat the game. More good and clean fun. 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Jonathan Appel,, So. . . I Survived the Zombie Apocalypse and All I Got Was This Podcast. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-61655-217-6.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre: Humor, horror (light)
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library
This is intended to be a humorous take on the zombie apocalypse genre. Mara Mitchell, a survivor, has a podcast she transmits from her locked down home, and she is lonely. She ventures out of the house, and she discovers zombies only eat males. She tries to befriend zombies. However, they are not only interested in eating her; they are actually your typical school age jerks. The book has nice art though the style varies from somewhat realistic to cheesecake to cartoonish; it was inconsistent. The plot is pretty thin. It was an OK read, but it was nothing terribly terrible. This feels more like a webcomic than a full comic. It does try to be different from the usual zombie fare via humor, but it read more like high school girl drama. 2 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Christopher Yost, X-Men: Emperor Vulcan. New York: Marvel Comics, 2008. ISBN: 9780785125518.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre:Superheroes, science fiction
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library
This volume comes right after Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire (link to my review). Vulcan and Havok, the leader of the Starjammers and the rebellion, are forced to work together versus a larger threat. The volume has a good amount of action, intrigue, and betrayals. Good art as well. It was a good follow-up to the previous volume. 4 out of 5 stars.

* * *

Rick Spears,, Jennifer's Body. Los Angeles, CA: Boom! Studios, 2009. ISBN: 9781608865017.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre: Horror
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library
This is a collection of short comics with four stories of boys that Jennifer kills. The boys range from a washed out jock to an exchange student from India. Each story has a different author and artist, so this makes for a nice sampling. The comics are short and easy reads. Fans of the movie may appreciate it, but you can read this even without having seen the movie. 3 out of 5 stars.

* * *

Jim Davis, Garfield: Fat Cat 3-Pack. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003. ISBN: 0-345-46455-9.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Subgenre: Humor
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library
This edition collects the first three volumes of the series. The strips are in color, which is a big plus. After reading some of the more recent titles in the series, it was neat to see how it all began. Garfield has evolved quite a bit. We learn how Odie arrived; he belonged to Lyman, Jon's roommate at the time. There is a lot of very good humor here, and this was a volume I really enjoyed. 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Eileen Wallace and Julie Hale, Masters: Book Arts: Major Works by Leading Artists. New York: Lark Books, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-60059-497-7.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Art and photography
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library
This was a very nice book to look at. It is a survey of book arts from 40 artists. It features a broad variety of styles and artifacts. The book provides a great look at books as an artistic medium. The artists' statements do vary in terms of how interesting or not they can be, but the photography on this book is excellent.  In the end, I liked it. 3 out 5 stars.

* * * 

Matt Wagner, Batman and the Monster Men. New York: DC Comics, 2006. ISBN: 1-4012-1091-0.

Genre: Graphic Novels and Comics
Format: trade paperback.
Source: my local public library

Matt Wagner is also the author of the Grendel series; this is a series I have tried to get into, but it has not really worked out for me so far. This Batman story was good. It is a story of Batman's early days. We are in Batman's second year in Gotham, and he has had some success in dealing with organized crime. However, when strange, apparently mutant, monsters appear in the city causing major massacres, Batman finds a new kind of danger. I do like these early days stories where he is still figuring out things; he seems a bit more human then. The art is pretty good, and it suits the tale. It was a nice and easy read with an open ending to leave you wondering a bit. I liked it, so 3 out of 5 stars. 

Signs the Economy is Bad: May 22, 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 is Memorial Day Weekend, so we all know what that means. Sure, for many people, it is the start of the summer season. For businesses, it's the mattress sale season (to this day, I am not sure when Memorial Day became mattress fire sale day).  For the rest of us, it may well be the stay home watching war movies weekend. However, before you head off to the beach or fire up the barbecue, let's see what has been happening in the bad economy. This week we have a couple of, shall I say, interesting stories.

  • It is hard to survive in the bad economy if you get stuck working in the fast food industry. Let us be honest. A lot of people, for whatever reason, love to eat there. However, the employers do not really like paying their workers an honest wage, and the people who eat there make it their hobby to often rag on fast food workers for asking for a living wage thinking they are just burger flipping monkeys. Maybe they need to work a few late shifts in a fast food restaurant to get a clue. "Trying to survive in a Broken Economy" is not particularly easy. Story via Talk Poverty. "In America, we’re told that if we work hard, we can make it. If we cut back and save and scrimp, we will succeed. I have done these things and I’m still struggling." It should not be like that, and if you happen to be doing a bit better, and you rag on the people who struggle, you should just remember that, were it not for the deity of your choice, that could be you.
  • When people rag on fast food workers or the poor in general, this reply here may well be perfect. Yes, "Everyone Deserves a Living Wage...Even if They Can't Spell 'Fries.'" As the responder writes, "the minimum wage is SUPPOSED to be a living wage. Anyone who works 40 hours a week should be able to provide a good home for themselves and their family." It really should be as simple as that. Story via Poor as Folk.
  • I have highlighted before how the bad state of higher education, or rather the lack of commitment and investment from people in higher education, is a serious sign of the bad economy. Universities and colleges are getting their funding cut left and right by legislators more interested in ingratiating themselves with whiny stingy voters than in the common good. Result is colleges get their funding cut, and then those same voters whine to their legislators that those schools are raising tuition, holy shit, do something about it. The legislators then go on to cut more funding, rinse and repeat. Colleges meanwhile figure they have to make up the revenue somehow. Those in-state kids, aka the kids of said whiny taxpayers, do not bring in enough revenue. So colleges are pursuing the next cash cow: out of state kids who in addition to tuition pay out of state fees. Naturally, to make room for those kids, they have to take in less in-state kids. Story via Addicting Info. Oh well, it is the bad economy. And that is not all. This means that it is more of the wealthy kids who can go to college, since they often get more of those merit-based scholarships, and they often have daddy's wallet to pick up the tab. So, Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Six Pack, guess what? Your little bundle of joy may not be able to attend State U., and odds are that while you voted for legislators who defunded your State U., State U. decided to look for kids actually willing and able to afford to pay. You are welcome.
  • Oh, and parents, do not get too comfortable. If you thought your little ray of sunshine was going to just graduate from college, get a job, and leave the nest once and for all, I have news for you. "Sixty-five percent of parents expect to be providing some financial support to their children after they graduate from college, according to a survey released Tuesday. . . " Story via Inside Higher Ed. Yea, in the bad economy, the kids more often than not come back home after graduation, and you will get stuck with the bills.
  • In the end, student debt, and much of debt in general as it exists now, has become a serfdom tool part of "the poverty machine." Story via TruthOut. Article also includes a list of readings that may be of interest. 
  • In other news, it seems the conventional wisdom that the gun industry is doing well in the U.S. is not quite as true as the NRA would have you believe. According to The New York Times, gun makers are now toxic in terms of stock. So much so that Cerberus cannot sell off its ownership of Remington.  And that is not all; it is not just one investment company trying to divest to save its image. The bad economy is hitting these guys hard: "Many firearms manufacturers have had declining revenue over the last year. Another gun company, Colt Defense, the maker of the M1911 handgun, has announced a financial reorganization plan as it has struggled to make debt payments." A hat tip to Southern Beale.
  • And on a final note for the bad economy, even kinksters have had to get a little creative. Working in the bad economy and making it work often involves creativity. So, you like your kink. You have your sex dungeon set up just the way you like it to torment your little submissives to your heart's delight. Then, oh no, you need to take a trip out of town? How will you indulge your kink when you travel? Well, it turns out that much like AirBnB, now there is a company that provides out of town accommodations that include sex dungeons. The company is KinkBnB, and you can read about them in this article via Grist.

For the weekly bonus, yes, we do have some people doing well in the bad economy, very well. Let's have a look at how the uber rich are doing this week:

  • Military contractors keep doing great. Hell, they even build stuff nobody, including the military, wants them to build. After all, they are getting paid. For them, life is certainly good. So what if no one wanted a $25 million building in Afghanistan? Damnit, money was put aside for it, and by gosh, it got built. Period.  Story via Truthout.
  • It has been celebrity cat fight this week for morning talk show people as the MSNBC guy, who is quite wealthy himself, decided to whine and mock the ABC Sunday morning guy over his salary. Kettle, meet pot. I guess when you have a ton of money, you still need to look down on others, even if the other guy makes more than you, but it is not like you are not making enough yourself. Ah, the life of the rich and famous. Story via Crooks and Liars.
  • And finally for this week, file this under "I am not sure if I should hate them or praise them for getting this kind of job." Apparently some rich wives get bonuses like corporate executives do for things like keeping a house budget under control and making sure the kids get into the right private school. Some are decrying this as outrageous sexism. Others are more along the lines of "how do I get that gig?" The fact is the ladies in those arrangements are overall doing nicely. They certainly are not left wanting. Oh well. Story via Jezebel.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Booknote: Darth Vader and the Lost Command

W. Haden Blackman, Darth Vader and the Lost Command. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-59582-778-4.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: Star Wars, space opera
Format: Hardcover
Source: Got it via Interlibrary Loan (ILL) from my library.  It came from the Warren County Public Library in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

I finished reading this during my forced Chronic Bronchitis Staycation 2015 (last month). Having read it almost right after Tarkin (link to my review), I could not help but compare how Moff Tarkin is portrayed in the two works. He comes out looking better in Luceno's novel. It is interesting to note that the machinations of the Emperor towards Moff Tarkin  are fairly consistent in both works.

The premise here is that the Emperor orders Vader to find a lost fleet. Why is this particular fleet so important? It was commanded by Moff Tarkin's son. Vader travels to the Ghost Nebula, only to find traitors in his midst, a religious leader who may or not be friend or foe, and that he is still tormented by the memories of Anakin Skywalker's dead beloved Padme.

For readers interested in Vader's psyche and his early days right after the fall of the Republic, this is a good read. The story combines intrigue, plots, and suspense with plenty of action. Sure, Vader has emerged as the Emperor's most fearsome enforcer, but he is not totally invincible. He is discovering more and more the true cost of taking the path of the Dark Side of the Force.

The art on this is excellent, and it is a big reason to read this. You cannot help but wish that stories like this got made into new Star Wars films instead of the crap we got the prequels (and I am not holding much faith in the upcoming movie neither). The art is colorful with good attention to detail.

This is one I would add to my collection. Libraries that already have Star Wars comics and graphic novels should add this one as well.

Giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Booknote: Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet

Kevin Smith,, Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN; 978-1-4012-5228-1.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheros, television shows
Format: e-book
Source: Read via Edelweiss. 

I admit that I was a little skeptical when I picked up this volume given that I was not as enthusiastic about the last Kevin Smith comic that I read, which was also a Green Hornet title. I liked that one, but I have read other authors working on Green Hornet who have done much better work such as Matt Wagner and Michael Uslan (links to my reviews). However, this title of the 1960s Batman featuring the Green Hornet was very good. If you've enjoyed previous volumes of Batman '66, you will like this series as it captures all the cheesiness and charm of the original television show.

When a priceless collection of fossils goes missing, Batman and the Green Hornet must learn to work together. It is not easy since the Green Hornet and Kato masquerade as villains in order to fight crime, and Batman has sworn to fight all criminals and put them in jail no matter who they are. But work together they must if they hope to defeat General Gumm, the guru of glue, and the Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime.

You get it all here: the wisecracks, the cliffhangers, the fights, and the humor (intentional and otherwise). What is there not to like? It has its silliness, but that is just part of the charm. Overall, this was an entertaining and fun volume to read. It features nice and colorful art as well. Plus, the Alex Ross art pieces between issues are excellent and make a very nice bonus.

Whether for nostalgia or for new readers, I am sure libraries will want this one. I am definitely recommending it. It is just a hoot, even when it may not mean to be.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: 101 Things I Learned in Culinary School

Louis Eguaras and Matthew Frederick, 101 Things I Learned in Culinary School. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-446-55030-7.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: cookery, quotations, trivia
Format: small hardcover
Source: My local public library

This was a very nice and simple book of cooking concepts that everyone should know. From how to boil water to what different types of knives do to explanations of how cooks at restaurants do things, you can learn a lot from this book. There is a lot of useful information here. The book is simply arranged into 101 short topics, one topic per page with a second page for a small illustration.  You get about 202 pages in the book. The book also includes some humor, quotes, statistics, and other trivia. There are no frills here, but it is a good book for any kitchen.

I am giving it four out of five stars.

Here are some favorite quotes from the book I wanted to remember:

  • "The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it." -- Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential (2000). 
  • "Cooking is the oldest, most basic, and most universal human application of physical and chemical changes to natural chemicals." -- Arthur E. Grosser, The Cookbook Decoder, Culinary Alchemy Explained.
  • "Everything in moderation, including moderation." -- Julia Child (1912-2004). 
  • "Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don't quit." -- Conrad Hilton, hotel executive. 
  • "Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last." -- Francois Minot, French chef and restaurant consultant (1936-) .

Signs the Economy is Bad: May 15, 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.  

After a quiet week or so, we are back with a few new subtle hints that the economy is bad. Let's get rolling:

  • If you are a young black person in the U.S., odds are good you may not be doing good, and if you are a young black male, your life expectancy is not doing very well lately. Well, you may say a college education is a way to maybe help increase said life expectancy. However, if you are a black college student, college debt is specially oppressive for you. Quoted in the story, one college graduate says, ". . . I’m not sure if I had known how difficult it would be to pay off student loans on a public school teacher’s salary, I would have chosen this career." I can certainly relate to that since I too suffer from student loans, and I was a school teacher; I may be a librarian now, but salary-wise, not that much better. As one may often say, if I knew then what I know now. Story via Bill Moyers. 
  • In the end, whatever color you are, it seems that if you are a college graduate, you may not be doing well in the bad economy. According to a recent survey, "Forty-nine percent of students who graduated college in 2013 and 2014 consider themselves underemployed." Story via Inside Higher Ed. And let's not even get started on how bad things may be for you if you just got a library degree and want a job as a librarian. Just find an honest librarian who is not all blinded by ALA's oh so shiny propaganda; they will give you the truth, but that is another story. 
  • If you are a child in a rural area, poverty may be afflicting you. According to a new report, "America’s youngest children have the highest rates of poverty compared to other age groups, and rural kids have the worst rates of poverty compared to all other age or geographic groups." Story via The Daily Yonder.  
  • Now, if you are a child in Kansas in public schools, you may be headed off home early. That is because Republicans there, including their governor, cut funding for schools, so the schools cannot afford to stay open the full day.  Early summer vacation kids. Story via Crooks and Liars. Basically the GOP there wanted to be popular hotshots by cutting the income tax, mostly for the well to do, and naturally, when you cut your source of revenue, you have to make it up somehow, and they chose to do so by cutting school funding. Besides, kids don't need that much schooling anyhow.
  • I think we can consider this story a "canary in the mine" story. According to this story, one in four local banks are vanishing. They are vanishing mostly because giant megabanks are buying them up and out.  Now why the hell should you care, you may ask? Local banks, in addition to creating local jobs, are the ones who often finance and lend money to small businesses in your area as well as provide loans to locals for homes, so on. Large megabanks just do not have very much of a local interest in anything. Sure, they may loan you money (if you are lucky), but a local investment interest, not so much. You could think of it a bit as how Bailey's Building and Loan worked in the film It's a Wonderful Life where Bailey explains "Well, your money's in Joe's house...that's right next to yours. And in the Kennedy House, and Mrs. Macklin's house, and, and a hundred others." Story via Yes! magazine.
  • A few years back, right when the economy was tanking in the Big Recession, there was a story about Cessna, the maker of private aircraft, basically questioning the manhood of big shots if they did not keep or buy a private jet. That was quite a sign the economy is bad. Anyhow, apparently those big shots decided their manhoods were secure enough not be shamed into buying a jet they could not afford given sales of private jets are suffering. Reported this week, Bombardier, another private jet maker, is laying off people. I guess you can pound your chest all you want, but in the end, if your wallet is lighter, oh well, learn to live without your private jet. Story via MacLean's.
  • When manipulating and exploiting the poor for entertainment and profit starts to become the norm, you know the economy is really bad. You also probably know (if you are a decent human being) that society has reached a seriously new low. Let me just use a quote from the article: "CBS has announced a new reality series, The Briefcase, a cruel show on which producers screw with two financially challenged families to squeeze out some ratings in their next attempt to create a reality hit." Allow me to be blunt: how fucked up do you have to be as a human being to come up with this idea and think it is good television? And let me take it further, if you as a viewer think this would make good television, you are beyond fucked up. You make those Romans cheering at the Colosseum look like good samaritans. Story via Reality Blurred
  • You know things are bad when what people ask for as wedding presents has changed. Having a gift registry is just not as practical. Let us be perfectly honest. What many of those couples starting out a life together really need is money. Send them money. Now, a new start up is making that a bit easier. Hey, if I was getting married today, I would probably ask folks to donate money too instead of a china set.  Story via BetaBeat.
  • Now this has to be the most depressing story that came across my feed this week. It is specially depressing for my profession, and a ton of other librarians shared it. Here is the story as the Annoyed Librarian tells about it in her blog: "A public elementary school in Arizona is trying to save the job of the school librarian, or media specialist, or whatever it is they’re called these days. They’re doing it with a 'Go Fund Me' campaign, which is a sorry commentary on contemporary public education." She does include a link to the source story. It is indeed not just a sign of the bad economy; this is just a sad comment on the state of public education and the fact that most people are just unwilling to fund it properly. Because people love to give lip service to public education, until it comes time to pay for it, and then they whine about not wanting to pay taxes, they don't have kids in schools themselves so why should they pay (oh, I don't know, maybe so you do not have illiterate morons ruining the nation you live in?), etc. So yea, now to save school librarians we may need to run startup internet campaigns and hope they are popular enough for people to chip in. 

Well, not everyone is doing bad this week. Some people are, as often the case, doing well in the bad economy. Let's see what the uber rich have been up to:

  • The prison industrial complex continues to do well. As part of the privatization of prisons (aka as politicians selling off jails left and right for a quick buck), there is yet another racket within the racket: prison phone services as "states began signing contracts with private phone companies like AT&T, who, in turn, began charging sky-high rates for phone calls between prisoners and their families." Read the full story over at Truthout.  
  • The NFL may have given up its tax exempt status, but it does not mean they will be losing money. If nothing else, the U.S. Government is more than happy to give them money. This time, the government is buying a lot of advertising space and time to advertise for the armed forces. You know those cute cheerleaders dressed in pseudo military uniforms during halftime or those flyovers as you sing the national anthem at the stadium, or better yet, the tons of recruitment ads you get while watching the game at home? Yes, the NFL is paid for those and more. As the article states, "All this patriotic propaganda- the troop-salutes, the banner ads, even the community service events where troops and NFL teams 'build or re-build' a playground together, come with a price tag. Fourteen NFL teams were paid a total of $5.4 million by the Department of Defense to cover the nationalistic propaganda filling downtime during the games." Read the story for details at AlterNet
  • NFL has also been doing very well in their concessions, specially in New Jersey. In what has to be quite an amazing feat, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was busted after revelations came that he spent $82,000 on snacks at NFL games. Now, granted, he was also buying for friends and cronies, but that is hell of a lot of snacks even at $10 beers. Story via New York Magazine.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Booknote: Tarkin

James Luceno, Star Wars: Tarkin. New York: Del Rey, 2014. ISBN: 9780345511522.

Genre: Science fiction 
Subgenre: space opera, Star Wars
Format: hardcover
Source: I got it via Interlibrary Loan (ILL) at my work library. The book came from Rowan County Public Library in Morehead, Kentucky.

I have to say that I really liked this book. For fans, you now get the story of the man who commanded the Death Star, the destroyer of Alderaan, Grand Moff Tarkin.

The novel presents Tarkin's life via a current events and flashbacks of his youth in his native world. The current time is about a decade before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. Tarkin is in command of Sentinel Base, overseeing part of the project that will lead to the Death Star. When his personal warship is stolen, it leads to a complex game of cat and mouse as the ship then begins to attack Imperial targets. To solve this, the Emperor sends Darth Vader to work with Tarkin to get the ship back or destroy it. In between this, we get glimpses of Tarkin's youth in Eriadu, his harsh homeworld, and how learning to survive there, mentored by his uncle, shaped Tarkin into the ruthless and tactical genius he became.

The book provides a nice blend of action and intrigue. Initially, it seems this is just about a hijacked warship, but soon we learn the plot goes much deeper. If you wonder how Tarkin got Vader to do his bidding, you get that answer here. If you find the politics of the early Empire and its inner workings of interest, you will enjoy this book as well. And while we get intrigue and politics, you also get action and a well-paced novel. It is a good addition to novels about the early days of the Empire.

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

Works I have read with similar appeal (links go to my reviews):

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, May 11, 2015

Booknote: ClownFellas

Carlton Mellick III, ClownFellas: Tales of the Bozo Family. New York: Penguin Random House, 2015. ISBN (for e-book): 9780804179355.

Note: Link to publisher page as no WorldCat record at time of this post. The book is actually under their Hydra imprint. Book is due out in July 2015.

Genre: Fiction
Subgenre: bizarro fiction, urban fantasy, clowns, humor, mafia, mobster.
Format: e-book
Source: Received from the publisher as e-galley via NetGalley for honest review.

From the book's description:

"In a topsy-turvy world where clowns are killers and crooks, Little Bigtop is a three-ring circus of crime, and no syndicate is more dangerous than the Bozo family. From the wildly original mind of Carlton Mellick III comes the short-story collection ClownFellas—an epic mob saga where life is cheap and the gags will slay you."

I have to say this is one of the weirdest and most unique books I have read in a good while, and I do mean that in a good way. In a world where comedy is prohibited, and clowns are real (and not just folks with painted faces. Those folks are offensive to real clowns), the Bozo Family controls the underground traffic of comedy and humor. Yet like pretty much every good crime boss, Don Bozo faces issues within his family and threats to his empire from outside.

The book falls within the genre of bizarro fiction (the publisher labels it as "urban fantasy," which I would say it's close but not quite) but do not let that deter you. If you have enjoyed tales like The Godfather or the film GoodFellas, you will appreciate the humorous take on the mobster and mafia genre. If you like clowns, you may enjoy the concept of clowns as mobsters. Actually, when you think how ridiculous things like a prohibition on comedy sound, you may realize how ridiculous real life prohibitions are. You can't help but smile at some of the jabs the novel takes at pop culture. 

The novel is really a collection of six interconnected tales of the Bozo Family. You still want to read them in order since as the tales progress, you learn more about the family, the clowns in society, and how the rest of the nation and world sees them. The tales' structure allow the write to focus on specific characters, and put together, the tales bring out a full and very entertaining narrative.

The author gets us into the tale right away where we learn, via the story of a veterinarian who is afraid of clowns, that clowns are real people. They are not ordinary clowns; they draw on clown gags and abilities for humor as well as for other more lethal endeavors. They may have clown weapons, but they are very lethal. They may even kill you with laughter. There is a certain element of magic that gives readers a sense of wonder. Plus, the book features quite an array of characters, like this guy:

"He showed them firsthand how, when it came to causing pain and dismemberment, Bingo Ballbreaker was a true artist" (195).

Overall, this was a fun book to read. It was entertaining. It had some ridiculous moments and some outrageous ones. I really enjoyed how the author constructed this world, and I enjoyed most of the gags. If you are looking for something different to read, this is a good choice. I will certainly look for other books by this author.

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

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, May 08, 2015

Booknote: Pancho Villa Takes Zacatecas

Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Pancho Villa Takes Zacatecas. New York: Restless Books, 2015. ISBN: 9781632060051. (Link to publisher. Publisher also includes a book excerpt and some interviews if you wish to learn more. Book was not in WorldCat at time of post).

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: history, historical fiction, art
Format: e-book
Source: Read via Edelweiss.

This is a graphic novel narrative of the Battle of Zacatecas from the side of Pancho Villa's army, which fought to take Zacatecas during the Mexican Revolution. The event is a true historical even. The narrative here blends history and a little bit of fiction to create a work that reminded me of some good Mexican literature: Pedro Páramo came to mind.

The text in the narrative is minimal. The highlight is the excellent black and white art in a woodcut style done by Eko. It really brings the story to life, and it captures the action and bloodiness of the battle in great detail. I found particularly moving the fate of one of Villa's officers at the end, the man who disobeyed Villa's orders. If you read the book, you will know what I mean. The Battle of Zacatecas was a pivotal moment of the Mexican Revolution, and this book brings it to life. It may be a good book to encourage people to learn more about this historical time period.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Goodnight Darth Vader

Jeffrey Brown, Goodnight Darth Vader. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-60699-690-4.

Genre: Children's Lit (but really for all ages)
Subgenre: humor, Star Wars. 
Format: hardback
Source: My local public library.

With Goodnight, Darth Vader, Jeffrey Brown continues his series of cute Star Wars books. Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and enforcer of the Emperor, is a single dad raising his kids, Luke and Leia. In this episode, he has to put the kids to bed, so he tells them a bedtime story of other Star Wars characters going to bed from Yoda to Boba Fett to Han Solo and so on.

The book is totally adorable. Fans of Goodnight Moon will certainly appreciate it as well as Star Wars fans of all ages. It is very nice with colorful art that brings to life the childhood wonder of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This was a pleasure to read, and it is one I would love to add to my collection.

5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Booknote: The Mask

John Arcudi, The Mask. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 1993. ISBN; 1878574507.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: antiheroes, dark humor
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought at Half Price Books (and I have to say, one of the better finds recently)

This is a collection of the Dark Horse Comics run written by John Arcudi with art by Doug Mahnke. If all you know of The Mask is the Jim Carrey movie from some time back, you are in for quite a ride with this book. This is definitely not a comic for kids nor for the lighthearted.  This is The Mask unfiltered and in all its gory violent glory.

The mask itself is an ancient artifact that gives the wearer great transformative powers, but it can also change the wearer, at times depending on the wearer's natural disposition, driving one to madness. In this series, the mask does change owners, but what is guaranteed is that people who deserve a serious comeuppance will really get it. And they will get it with great doses of dark humor and gruesomeness.

This collection was published in 1993; the movie came out in 1994, yet in many ways, I think the book will appeal to some readers today. The pacing and plot are fast; the humor is dark, and overall it is a fun read. Mahnke's art, capturing the humor and colorful nature of The Mask, is great. It is a good reason to read the comic.

I really enjoyed this one, and I do recommend it. My only wish was that it did not end. And perhaps, Ipkiss' girlfriend should have just accepted the mask in the first place. When you think about, you can't really get rid of it.

5 out of 5 stars.

Works I have read that may have similar reading appeal:

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: The Transformers Classics, Volume 4

Bob Budiansky,, The Transformers Classics, Volume 4. San Diego, CA; IDW, 2012. ISBN: 9781613774977.

Genre: Comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: 1980s comics, robots, science fiction
Format: Trade paperback
Source: I bought this one on a clearance sale  at A+ Comics.

This is an IDW compilation volume of the 1980s Marvel Comics run. It picks up issues 39-50 of the series. If you want to take a nostalgia trip to your childhood, this may be for you. However, you may end up remembering that, while the toys were really neat, the cartoon, which was mostly to market the toys, was really not that good.

A major issue with this volume, and this series overall, is that comic has not aged well at all. The plots were very silly, and to be honest, the humans in the comic are more an annoyance and a nuisance. The introduction to the volume argues that adding humans shows readers the collateral damage and allows the writers "the opportunity to study the deep level of personal sacrifice that a human being will undertake for a cause" (5). That seems a bit of a stretch for this comic. In addition, as I mentioned, the comic has not aged well. Some details and effects that may have seemed cool then are laughable now. For instance, storing the full brain of a robot into a floppy disk.

In this volume, the Underbase saga, which runs for four issues, may be the best story in this set. We see Starscream as devious as we know he can be, and the story has a bit of depth. It does feature a lot of Transformers, at times way too many; this was an overall issue with the comics, way too many robots to keep track of. You can tell Hasbro was pumping them out to sell toys, and thus the comics had to feature them somehow. Also, you find some name changes, which seem petty. For example, Bumblebee becomes Goldenbug, and stuff like this does not really help. As I said, neat toys but the comic leaves a lot to be desired. 

Then there are the mistakes and other issues. This may be of interest if you like trivia, but as the IDW folks point out in notes between the issues, there are various bloopers, mistakes, plot gaps, etc. in the original comics. Some of these are due to trying to rush a comic to market. Others are due to trying to match a new (at the time) toy campaign, say the whole Powermasters line, and not quite succeeding. Panels get repeated to save time to press with Marvel hoping most readers would not notice. Overall, this was not Marvel's best work. However, for the true nostalgia folks, IDW has done a service preserving those issues and adding notes for context.

For me, I would skip these comics and grab later iterations of Transformers. Things like Beast Wars, their stories set in Cybertron, so on. For many, if you remember the 1980s cartoons fondly, just keep the memory. Going back now may well ruin the memory.

Though I would not recommend these, I think some libraries may want them if they already have a large selection of Transformers comics (or they need to replace older editions with a newer compilation). The IDW compilation, with an introduction and issue notes may be of interest to hardcore fans. However, casual fans may prefer more modern titles where the characters and plots have much depth, and the art has evolved. In the end, this is a volume to borrow rather than buy.

It was OK, so I am giving it 2 out of 5 stars.

This volume qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, May 01, 2015

Booknote: The China Collectors

Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac, The China Collectors: America's Century-long Hunt for Asian Treasures. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: history, museum studies
Format: e-book
Source: Netgalley (book provided by publisher in exchange for honest review)

The topic was interesting, but this writing in this book was a bit dry at times; the result is that the book was a slow read for me. Once you get past the first chapter, which lays out a lot of basic historical background, things do get a bit more interesting. The goal of the book is:

". . . to explore how and why Western collectors became captivated by Chinese art, to the lasting benefit of American museums" (18).

There are various reasons for that ranging from looting and greed to just opportunity of being in the right place at the right time. Often, it helped if you had a big fortune to spend buying artifacts and antiques (or bribing the right people to get them out of the original country).

One thing I found interesting is how the Chinese, when they can't just get looted items back, use their financial might to outright buy them back at auctions, so on. Overall, the trade comes across as a bit of an arms race. Another fascinating fact, and one that not many historians talk about is that:

". . . many New England fortunes, including those of Forbes, Russell, Sturgis, and Delano families, had roots in the opium trade" (51). 

The book has many little facts like that. In the end, the only reason I am not rating it higher is that it was just so dry to read. Although it claims to be for the lay reader, I see this book more in academic collections. Academic institutions with fields like museum studies will want to acquire this. For my college, I would not get this unless it was requested. As for public libraries, this is definitely an optional selection. 

In the end, it was OK, so it gets 2 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Reading about the Reading Life: May 1, 2015

Welcome to another edition of "Reading about the reading life" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is where I collect stories about reading and the reading life. Basically, these are items related to reading, maybe writing and literacy, that I find interesting and think my four readers might find interesting as well with a little commentary.As with other features I do on this blog, I do it when I have time or feel like it. Comments are always welcome (within reason). 

It has been quite a while since I have done one of these features. Too many bad vibes out there recently. So, let's try to relax, and just look over some lighter things.

  • The New York Review of Books has one of those articles asking if there are too many books being produced. As the article points out, this is not a new a question. The game changer are e-books plus the fact that self-publishing is so easy these days (and no, I am not commenting on the quality of a lot of that self-published stuff. That would be another debate for another time). 
  • I keep a journal, and I do write by hand. By now, I have a few filled notebooks. It is a habit I really got started on when I was student teaching. I never gave thought to transcribing them. But if you keep a journal, maybe you want to consider doing that. Here are then "10 Reasons You'll Want to Transcribe Your Handwritten Journals" via Writing Life Through
  • Journal writing can also be beneficial to graduate students. GradHacker tells you how. 
  • Maybe you do not wish to keep a full-blown journal, but keeping and using a notebook even for little things can be a good idea. Via The Week, here are "8 Ways a Simple Notebook Can Change Your Life."
  • Need ideas of that to read? Thomas Jefferson may have an idea or two. Looking at some of his writings and correspondence, this article compiles a list. Via The Art of Manliness.
  • With another election coming up in the U.S., it is time once again to despair about how clueless and uninformed (or willfully misinformed) a lot of voters are. This article from a while back suggests that some book clubs where books about, well politics and civics, may help with the issue. I remain skeptical (and I will say I do read a good share on politics on as many sides as I can) given how rigid and close-minded the average American can be. Still, if I hear more on this, I am willing to be convinced. Story via IVN. 
  • A nice story about a little library doing a lot of good in Grenada. Story via Global Voices.

Booknote: Hip Hop Family Tree, Volume 1

Ed Piskor, Hip Hop Family Tree, Volume 1. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-60699-690-4.

Genre: graphic novels
Subgenre: music, pop culture, history
Format: Oversized paperback
Source: My local public library

This is a graphic novel history of the early days of hip hop and rap, and it all gets started in parks and nightclubs in the South Bronx. We get to see the rise of stars like Grandmaster Flash, the Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and others who worked behind the scenes like Russell Simmons and Sylvia Robinson. The book takes us from the early days and rivalries to the start of the music entering the mainstream with Kurtis Blow's hit "The Breaks" and Debby Harry and Blondie's "Rapture."

The oversized volume is colorful with great art by Piskor. The art really captures the flamboyant and strong personalities of the artists. I found the story interesting, though at times I wanted a bit more depth. The narrative jumps quickly from episode to episode. It can be a bit superficial at times. However, it is a good book that captures its era well. I will seek out the next volume.

I liked it, but it could have been better at times, so I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.