Friday, July 31, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: July 31, 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.  

A lot has been going on in the past two weeks, so let us get on with it. This week let's look at some numbers:

  • More kids are living in poverty now in the U.S. than before the Great Recession. How many more you ask? "Twenty-two percent of American children were living in poverty in 2013 compared with 18 percent in 2008, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book, with poverty rates nearly double among African-Americans and American Indians and problems most severe in South and Southwest."  (Story via Equal Voices).
  • Three in five Americans Have Experienced a Year of Poverty. So, how bad is this? According to the study, "Our results indicate that the occurrence of relative poverty is fairly widespread. Between the ages of 25 and 60, 61.8 percent of the population will experience at least one year of poverty, whereas 42.1 percent will experience extreme poverty. Furthermore, 24.9 percent of the population will encounter five or more years of poverty, and 11.4 percent will experience five or more years of extreme poverty.”(Story via Big Think).
  • Meanwhile, home ownership rates are dropping in the U.S. According to Bloomberg, "it was lowest reading since 1967." Why should you care? Well for one, if you are a renter, as I am, it means your rent is liable to go up and so will rents in your areas as more of those people would would have bought a home can't and end up renting too.
  • And in the world of higher education, one in eight Americans are burdened by student loan debt, including 700,000 seniors. It is basically the curse that never really goes away, and in the end dying may well be the only way to discharge an exploitative onerous student loan debt. According to the story, we are talking about 41 million people. (Story via AlterNet).
  • In fact, overall, 80 percent of Americans have some form of debt, and this debt often spans generations from folks who were born before World War II to the Millennials today. (Story via NPR). 
  • There is an article on 7 ways the porn industry is changing. This caught my eye in part because I do enjoy some porn (sometimes even with the Better Half, and yes, we do strive to buy and be ethical about it), but it also does reflect a bit that the economy is bad. Additionally it reflects the industry has changed for reasons ranging from the Internet to changes in tastes, porn becoming more mainstream, so on. However, there are some things that remain the same. For instance, some older folks still order porn from mail order catalogs. The article argues this is because those older folks just don't want to change, though part of me wonders, you know, if you order the old school way, you are not putting your credit card number on the Internet. Hmm, maybe the old folks are onto something. (Story via AlterNet).
  • "For the two-thirds of Americans over 65 who are expected to need some long-term care, the costs are increasingly beyond reach." Elder care is getting more expensive in the United States, and more people are not able to afford it. It's another time bomb waiting to go off. (Story via Equal Voices).
  • Women are having troubles too. According to the Guttmacher Institute, "Twenty million U.S. women were in need of publicly funded family planning services in 2013, an increase of 5%, or 918,000 women, between 2010 and 2013, according to “Contraceptive Needs and Services, 2013 Update” by Jennifer Frost et al."
  • When it comes to providing grant and aid assistance, foundations and other organizations are seriously shortchanging rural areas. How bad is it? According to this piece at Truthout, "USDA economists analyzed grants from 1,400 of the largest foundations from 2005 to 2010 and concluded just 5.5 to 7.5 percent benefit rural counties, even though 19 percent of Americans live there."  
  • The U.S. government and right wingers in the U.S. love to whine about illegal immigration and how you should not hire illegal immigrants. Now, guess who is one of the largest if not outright the largest employer of undocumented immigrants? Yes, the government through the prison industrial complex.  Of course, that means that they can pay them next to nothing in poverty wages. After all, who are they going to complain to? How badly are these captive workers paid? According to the story from NPR, "the pay for an eight hour shift in a detention center is $1 a day, or roughly 13 cents an hour."
  • In fact, the government exploits immates so badly it even charges them in many cases for their own medical care. Many immates as a result forgo getting needed care because they cannot afford it.  According to The Rural Blog, "At least 38 states authorize the collection of fees—typically $20 or less—from a prisoner for medical services received while incarcerated, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline." Yea. Even in prison the dreaded copays follow you. 
  • In other news, due to the weakening of unions and the rise of other forms of exploiting workers, an underground economy where illegal practices of labor abound, is on the rise.  How bad is it? Well, to give one example, according to this report at Truthout, "in California alone, which boasts the largest economy among the states and the eighth largest in the world, the Employment Development Department estimates that the underground economy employs 15-17 percent of the state's labor force and generates $60 to $140 billion per year in economic productivity. This translates to an annual loss to the state of between $8.5 billion and $28 billion in corporate, personal, and sales and use taxes, money that could otherwise fund education, infrastructure maintenance and expansion, and a variety of social programs."
  • Other times, when the economy is bad, you have to get creative to find employment. Now for some, this entrepreneur may not be popular, but this one woman helps students who have been accused of rape or other sexual bad behaviors get back into college and find a second chance. Naturally, she does charge for her services. She may be one, but it is a business with a lot of potential. Article is certainly worth a look by anyone with an interest in higher education. Story via BuzzFeed.
  • Meanwhile, around the world. Let us be blunt, even though many people think things like child slave labor is appalling, they honestly don't give a shit and go right on to buy that bargain shirt made in some slave labor factory. So, let us look at the picture a bit. Here is a United Kingdom example, via The Telegraph, "there are believed to be as many as 13,000 Vietnamese victims of trafficking and slavery in the UK, along with many thousands more from other countries, with some 3,000 Vietnamese children brought to Britain to work in cannabis farms and nail bars, living in appalling conditions."
  • And in a bit of a ridiculous item of the day, one governor's daughter had it rough in the bad economy, so she came back home and set up her trailer on the governor's mansion's lawn. This was in Oklahoma. Now a lot of people gave them shit over it (OMG, she plugged the trailer home to the house to get her electric, so on, holy shit, we taxpayers are outraged, blah blah). But I bet if it was their own children, they'd be happy to do that, be they government officials or not. Story via Addicting Info
  • Now, not everybody is suffering in the bad economy. The Saudi king recently went on holiday, and he took along an entourage of a 1,000 people. Now there is a job creator for you. (Story via The Telegraph).
  • And some big old ranch in Texas is being sold. Asking price? $725 million. Story via Bloomberg.
  • Heck, even dogs get better treatment in the bad economy. JFK airport is building one seriously luxurious pet terminal. That is right, a pet terminal. So while you sit like cattle in their crappy seats waiting for your delayed flight after being humiliated by the TSA, pets get a luxury pet terminal.  So, how much are they spending on this boondoggle? According to New York magazine, "the entire complex will cost $48 million."

Puerto Rico Special Feature This Week

Cartoon from the Chicago Tribune republished in Marshall Everett, ed., Exciting Experiences in Our Wars with Spain and the Filipinos (Chicago: Book Publishers Union, 1899), p. 326. Cartoon shows Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines knocking at the door of the U.S. Found at LearnNC (

Puerto Rico's financial woes have been in the news (gee, sure took the gringos a while to notice the woes in their colony):

Booknote: MPH

Mark Millar, MPH. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781632152657.

From the book's description:

"Growing up in Detroit, Roscoe and his friends know all about hard luck. But their fates take a different turn when they stumble upon a street drug called MPH — little pills that give them the power of super speed, and the opportunity of a lifetime. Now holding the perfect Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card, Roscoe leads Rosa, Chevy, and Baseball on a lightning-fast crime spree across the nation. But as a good guy dealt a tough hand, that's not enough for Roscoe. Before long, he and his friends are taking the fat cats for all they're worth, and sharing their take with the masses. But zooming through their riches at super-speed has a downside. The pills are running out, the Feds are cracking down, and a mysterious figure named Mr. Springfield is teaming up with the authorities, claiming to know more about the speedsters than they know about themselves. When time is your only asset, what happens when the clock runs out?" 

Roscoe and his friends are having a rough, hard life in present day Detroit. When Roscoe, by a stroke of chance, gets an MPH pill from a prison drug dealer, he realizes he is able to use his new power of super speed to his advantage. Initially, they set out to taking the rich bastards that screwed over Detroit for all their worth, and they become Robin Hood figures, but soon his group splinters as Chevy gets greedy, and Baseball takes an overdose of MPH that causes his speed to increase so much he seemingly vanishes. It seems the good times are not meant to last, or are they?

This was a very good read from Mark Millar, also known for works such as Wanted, Kick-Ass, and various works for Marvel Comics. His works often contain a layer of contemporary social commentary, and MPH is no exception. The protagonists are portrayed as very sympathetic, and given present day events where economic equality is a fact of life and so many struggle to make ends meet, you cannot help but root for Roscoe and his friends. The story draws you in, and you end up reading it at a fast pace as well. You get draw into the lives of the characters, and you want to find out if they end up OK or not. In addition, if you like elements of science fiction with a little time travel thrown in, then this is a book for you as well. The book may be reminiscent of some stories about thieves where the thieves think big money is a great thrill, until they find out it is not all it's cracked up to be.

I have to say this one of Millar's good works. Fans of the author will likely want to pick this volume  up. If you have not read Millar's works before (can't imagine why), then this is a good one to pick up. It has a good story with characters that many people can relate to. It has some action and adventure with some social commentary, but that commentary is just part of the story; it's not heavy handed at all. The art is also very good on this one. This is definitely a good selection for libraries that collect graphic novel collections. If you have already collected Millar's other works, you need to have this one as well. This is one I will purchase for my library, and it is one I would purchase for my personal collection as well.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Booknote: Batgirl, Volume 1

Cameron Stewart,, Batgirl, Volume 1: The Batgirl of Burnside.  New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401257989.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes, new adult fiction
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review 

From the book's description:

"It’s a reinvention of Batgirl from the boots up, focusing on Barbara Gordon’s amazing eidetic memory and how she balances her dual lives—one as a masked hero and the other as a grad student."

This is a new series with a new look for Batgirl. Barbara Gordon leaves home to strike out on her own as a graduate student. She moves into the very desirable and hip neighborhood of Burnside. However, not all is well as she soon has her computer stolen, the one that had all her work for graduate school. As if things could not get worse, a fake Batgirl is ruining Barbara's crime fighting reputation. And in all this, she has to maintain her identity as a hip, young woman.

This is a comic that will appeal to young readers, late teens and perhaps college age students. While clearly for all readers, it seems a bit more geared for a female reader appeal, what is often known as the new adult reader. It works to capture the feel of the age group with various contemporary references to actual celebrities, social media, and pop culture.  The stories are light and entertaining, and they are fast moving. We get to see Barbara deal with her dual role as hero and young adult out in the world; we get a bit of light humor and a good amount of action along the way. In addition, the art is very colorful on this one. I think the artist did a very good job with the art, especially with Barbara's Batgirl look. It is a new look that seems to suit her well. I think readers who enjoy this genre will enjoy this new Batgirl series.

This was a light and fun read. For me, it was a nice contrast to some of the darker DC Batman titles I read now and then. Very colorful and well done art, and the stories have a good amount of action and slice of life of young adults in college and the dating scene.

This will make a good choice for libraries with graphic novel collections. It will likely appeal to new adult readers, specially female readers who also read comics and want something lighter than some of DC's darker offerings. I really liked it, mostly for the good art and new look.

For those of you who keep track, this collects issues #35 to #40 of  Batgirl and a story from Secret Origins, #10.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Book Reading Challenges:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Booknote: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Volume 2

Tom Taylor,, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Volume 2. New York: DC Comics,  2014. ISBN: 978-1-4012-4601-3.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: video games, superheroes
Format: hardback
Source: My local public library

My local library got this one in. Since I read the first volume, I figured I would read the rest. I liked the previous one, but I was not thrilled with it. So I kept my expectations in check. Some issues from the previous volume remained in this one, but some things did get better.

Superman continues to be the big tyrant. He now has Lex Luthor, who survived the disaster in Metropolis, as an advisor of sorts. Batman and his team are all that stand to oppose him, and it is Batman here who points out just how low Superman has fallen. Superman even resorts to torture to get his way. On a side note, this comic was written before the recent revelations from the CIA Torture Report, but in light of that, Superman's behavior (the guy who for many stands for truth, justice, and the American Way) just seems much worse. Wonder Woman, who is fully in Superman's camp, is not that much better. Her scene in an African village is a bit disturbing. Another somewhat shocking moment is the scene towards the end with Superman confronting Batman; this scene seems more taken from another comic to add shock value to this one. I know this is the mechanism to set up the rivalries in the video game, but still most of the heroes on Superman's side are nothing more than outright bullies and tyrants, which for me was a bit of a turn off. Fans of the game may have different views.

On the positive, the story gains more depth in this volume. The path to an ultimate confrontation is coming, and a new element will even the odds for Batman's side. We also see more characters in this volume. Harley Quinn makes an appearance, quite amusing as she can be. There is a bit more substance to the story overall, and there are some more side stories that may be of interest.

The art remains very good in this volume, and it is certainly a good reason to pick up this book. In the end, this series is just a prequel to set up a fighting video game, and the story is leading to that set up. I ended up liking the volume, but not really liking it. I am sure in the end many game fans are likely to pick it up. For other comic book readers, I'd say this is optional.

3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Booknote: Grayson, Volume 1

Tim Seeley,, Grayson, Volume 1: Agents of Spyral. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401252342.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes, espionage and secret agents
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Dick Grayson has undergone quite a life journey: circus acrobat, sidekick to Batman, a superhero on his own, a martyr presumably dead after being unmasked by the Crime Syndicate, and now double agent. DC is starting a new series featuring Dick Grayson, and it looks like a good start.

This series has quite a bit of intrigue and mystery. Who really are the bosses in Spyral? We can't see the overseer's face. What exactly are they doing? As we read and Dick goes on new missions for them, we wonder what is Spyral up to? What are they after? The suspense is also there as we wonder whether Dick will be exposed as a mole inside Spyral or not. The series is just starting out, so much of this volume is setting him up within Spyral, an organization that deals in espionage, brainwashing, manipulation, and misdirection. Dick is infiltrating them on Batman's behalf, but how long can he go given how much Spyral keeps tabs on him? Not to mention that Spyral has put implants and post-hypnotic commands in Dick's mind, so he has that to contend with as well. There is a lot going on in this series.

The series is a fast paced read. We get into the story right away, and we go deeper and deeper as we read. Fans of Dick Grayson since his early days will certainly appreciate these new stories. However, you do not need to have read previous volumes in order to enjoy this series. You get a quick recap at the beginning, and there are enough references throughout the comics to get the sense of how the storylines have progressed.

For libraries that collect graphic novels and comics, if you collect Batman and other Bat Family titles, you will want to add this to your collections. Also readers who like works of espionage, secret agents, and intrigue may feel moved to try this one as well.

I really liked this one, and I will look for the next one. It looks like a good start, but we will see if they can keep up the pace.

According to the description, the volume collects issues 1-4 of the Grayson comic, the Grayson Annual, Volume 1, and a story from Secret Origins, #8.  However, I will note the galley I received was incomplete as it seems I only got the first four comic issues, and one of those issues was packed in the galley twice (which was a bit of an annoyance, but a small issue).

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Booknote: Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 6

Francis Manapul and Brian Bucellato, Batman: Detective Comics, Volume 6: Icarus. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401254421.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes, murder mystery
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

After reading a few Batman titles that varied in quality, this was a nice return to a good Batman story where Batman works as the detective. A new drug, Icarus, is hitting Gotham once again. Detective Bullock of the GCPD had a hand in getting the drug off the streets years ago, so when the drug returns, it becomes a personal issue for him. Now Bullock and Batman are both trying to find where the drug is coming from and stop its distribution while trying to solve the murder of a wealthy activist who was planning on revitalizing a bad part of the city in partnership with Bruce Wayne.

After reading a few comics with big events for Batman, and as I mentioned of varying quality (some were better than others), I felt this was a refreshing return to a more classic Batman. What we have here is a crime procedural with a good amount of action and intrigue. It is a gritty almost noir story, and the art style reflects that. The art captures the essence of the corrupt city quite well. The portrayal of Detective Bullock is a bit more charitable in this comic series when compared to other works. He comes across as a bit more sympathetic, and he even has a humane moment or two. In addition, Batman is still reeling from losing Damian, so we get to see him cope with the loss still.

I say that if you want a Batman story that is solid without too much flash or big events, then this may be a good book for you. For libraries with graphic novel collections, if you already collect Batman titles, this is one you need to add to your collection. I am very likely to get it for our library here. It is a title that I really liked for its fast pace, good story, the detective and mystery elements, and overall a good read.

For those of you who keep track, this collection includes issues 30-34 of Batman: Detective Comics and the Detective Comics Annual #3. I will admit that I did not care as much about the annual, but it does add a bit more value to the set. 

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Book Reading Challenges:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: July 17, 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.  

Once again, it has been a bit of a while since we did one of these features. It's not because the economy got better. It's more because I still have to work for a living. Anyhow, as a result, we do have some older stories that remain of interest along with stuff for this week. So there is plenty to read and ponder this week. In fact, we have so much I am arranging things by topics:


Some Rural News

Education News

  • Student loan debt is so bad that many students are forced to drop out of college.  Story via IVN. I will be honest, if I knew then what I know now, I may have dropped out as well, or better yet, just not gone at all and done something else.
  • By the way, those exploitative college loans are not just bad for students. Parents are often screwed over as well from the loans. From the article in Common Dreams, "a new Politico investigation reveals how the federal government's Parents PLUS lending program has much higher interest rates and fees, and far fewer opportunities for loan forgiveness or reductions, than even the regular student loans driving the nation's debt crisis."
  • Meanwhile, as students and parents get screwed by the oppressive college loan rackets, colleges and universities continue to also exploit their faculty in the form of hiring more adjuncts in order to pay them on the cheap. Given the way they treat adjuncts, you can tell that if they could get away with slaves to provide education (as say, the ancient Greeks and Romans did), they probably would; however, one does have to wonder if some of those skilled slaves in the Roman days fared better off than adjuncts today (yea, I went there, but think about it. At least those slaves got fed and a roof over their heads, and their students were not probably assholes like the brats who see themselves as customers today. Many adjuncts are lucky not to be homeless). Read here about an adjunct professor who teaches five classes, and still earns less than a pet sitter. That is just not right. Story via AlterNet.   

Making a Living If You Are Not Rich

  •  Al Jazeera recently had a series on The American Dream and how some families struggle to barely keep up.
  • American teens, unless they are born with silver spoons, already know what the deal is. They know that they are screwed and any advancement economically is not happening. Their views on money are seriously depressing. However, they are still stupid enough to think money buys happiness. Apparently, advertising does work. Story via Grist.
  • Low and middle class people are feeling the pinch, especially if they rent as rents keep going up. Story via Salon.
Other News (or Stuff I Could Not Quite Put Under a Category)

  • Health insurance and health care costs in the United States are a notorious clusterfuck. Could we have universal health care? Sure, but that would mean people would have to want it instead of putting up with the current crap system for the sake of "don't tell us what to do" or "we don't want that socialist shit here (even if it could save us)." So, one solution for more Americans is to engage in medical tourism to get their expensive medical procedures done abroad, where medical costs are actually reasonable, and hell, in some cases you can even make a small vacation out of it. Story via Big Think.
  • We often think the military has it made. I mean, no politician would dare suggest cuts to the Pentagon's budget. But things are bad, and look, the U.S. Army is cutting down on troop levels. Story via The Week.
  • Often in the bad economy, those big box stores that started with such high hopes end up closing. Aside from the fact of the many people who lose jobs as a result, those big boxes leave empty buildings behind that are often hard to repurpose. Here is a story on that via The Awl and a photo gallery via The Morning News.
  • And finally for this section, something that personally pisses me off: the lousy way the U.S. treats its military veterans and the fact it relies on charitable veteran care groups to do what it should be doing. A theory I have on this, and I could probably write a paper on it, is that these groups often rely on the same rhetorical techniques that animal rescue groups use in their fundraising ads. Go ahead, I dare you to watch an ad for say SPCA and for Wounded Warrior Project and not reach the same conclusion, i.e. please take pity on this cute puppy and send us money versus please take pity on this wounded and vulnerable looking vet and send us money. If I ever get the time, I am writing that paper. In the meantime, read the story via IVN.

Doing Well in the Bad Economy, or How are the Uber Rich Doing

  • The big news this week is the prison escape of drug cartel lord El Chapo. Have you seen the tunnel his people dug for him? Let us be honest. This was a solid tunnel with all the amenities built by good and skilled Mexican labor. Now compare that to the shithole tunnels most American escapees build. So, not only is El Chapo doing well enough in the bad economy, but he is also creating good jobs for construction workers. Story via New York magazine.
  • The legalization of marijuana in places like Colorado has been good for the economy. So if you work in that emerging industry, odds are good you are doing well. Story via AlterNet.
  • And again, under first world problems, the sex toy industry is coming up with another expensive geegaw, this time to get women to fork out about $800 bucks for the thing. Don't get me wrong, I like sex toys, and there are some fine items out there (although the scarcity and high prices of male sex toys is certainly a topic worth of conversation at another time). Anyhow, sad thing is probably a few women and their husband or mates will fall for this. Anyhow, what's the problem? Let Epiphora lay it out (by the way, can you imagine if say, Anthony Sullivan was peddling this?): "Day by day, second by second, time is destroying your vulva. Your labia are deflating like a sad soufflĂ©. Your vagina is drying up. The color is draining from your genital region. Your husband is weeping. Your dinner is burning. Your life is a farce." I had no idea this was an issue; certainly not with the Better Half's cha-cha, but hey, what do I know, right? Just read the story, which I say is quite ridiculous, but be warned the site can be risque. 

Booknote: Deathstroke, Volume 1

Tony S. Daniel,, Deathstroke, Volume 1: Gods of War. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401254711.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: antiheroes, assassins
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Deathstroke is one of the big bad guys of DC. He is the deadliest assassin around, and his reputation precedes him. In this new series, his friend and handler betrays him, and he is left for dead. When he awakens, he has a new look, and he finds himself on a new quest: he has to find the man known as Odysseus. Odysseus is seeking a boy with great power and building an army. Will Deathstroke be able to stop him?

If you like action and intrigue and dark ops stories, then this is one you will enjoy reading. Deathstroke here becomes more an antihero. He is a bad guy you want to root for. The story begins with a lot of action, and once it starts, it does not let go until the end as Deathstroke tries to put the pieces together of the mystery he is trying to solve. Who is Odysseus? How does his Deathstroke's son come into play? And who really is the masked person with the red letter on the mask? Questions arise, and some of them will be answered as you read. The volume provides a great combination of action and intrigue to keep readers reading. I have to add that the art on this one is really good. It has color, and a lot of good attention to detail. A big part of reading this I have to say is in the art.

There are also some guest appearances. Harley Quinn, a personal favorite, appears. For those who have been following the comics, this comes after the new Suicide Squad series. However, you do not have to have read that other series to read this one. This stands on its own fine. Also, while in Gotham, Deathstroke has a confrontation with Batman that, although very rough and tumble, is also brief.

As this is the first volume, it is setting up a new series. This was definitely a great read, and I will seek out more. So far, it looks like it can only get better from here, and I do recommend it. This is a good choice for libraries with graphic novel collections. If you already collect titles like Batman and Suicide Squad, then you want to add this one to your collection as well. As it does feature violence, it is for older teens and up.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Booknote: Flash Gordon Omnibus

 Jeff Parker,, Flash Gordon Omnibus. Mt. Laurel, NJ: Dynamite Entertainment, 2015. ISBN: 9781606905999.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes, adventure, retro
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This feels a lot like the classic Flash Gordon comics, so if you remember those, you will probably enjoy this newer series as well as it captures the essence of that. If the only Flash Gordon  you know is from that one movie with the Queen soundtrack, then forget that and read this. Don't get me wrong, the film has a special place in my heart due to nostalgia, but the comic is better. I also remember watching some reruns of the old show, so all those memories come into play here. This was a fun volume to read. Flash Gordon may be a bit of a misfit on Earth. Back there, he is the son of a rich man who can't seem to find his direction in life. He gets involved with Dr. Zarkov and Dale Arden, a reporter, and they end up on Planet Mongo. It is here where Flash seems to find his direction and fate. Mongo is ruled by the ruthless Ming the Merciless. Ming controls various colonies such as Arboria and Sky City. The colonies are oppressed, and they are in need of someone to inspire them to rebellion? Could Flash Gordon be that man?

The comic is a light read. It combines a good amount of action with some sprinkling of humor. This is what action adventure is about. In these comics, Flash is portrayed as very capable; he certainly is very fit physically, can do great feats of strength, and is a serious swordmaster. However, he is also very impulsive and rash. He needs someone to keep him in focus. As the series progresses, he does begin to find a sense of direction and seeks to do what is right. So, we have a tale of a man finding his talent filled with adventure in an alien world. Add to this art that is colorful and has a feel for the classic comics, even if Flash Gordon is modernized for our time, and you get a fun volume to read.

This is definitely a good addition for libraries with graphic novel collections. I am sure it will be a good one for public libraries. If your library happened to have old tapes or DVDs of the classic show,  you could display and advertise them along with this graphic novel. For readers who have never read or heard of Flash Gordon, this is a good entry point. If you have read or watched the show or film, then this comic will take you back. Want to get your swashbuckling fix? Flash Gordon has you covered.

The volume picks up the complete 8 issue run of the Flash Gordon comics from Dynamite Entertainment plus two more issues: the Flash Gordon 2014 Holiday Special and the Flash Gordon 2014 Annual. You also get some bonus stories from Planet Mongo and a cover gallery. So overall, it is a pretty good value for readers.

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

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, July 10, 2015

Booknote: White Whine

Streeter Seidell, White Whine: a Study of First World Problems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2013. ISBN: 9781440557132.

Genre: Humor
Subgenre: social observations
Format: paperback
Source: I bought this cheap at Ollie's Bargain Outlet (and I will be passing it on). 

I wanted to like this book, but it really missed the mark. This book is another example of a book based on an Internet meme. Books like this often try to expand or exploit the momentary popularity of the meme, but they rarely succeed. More often than not, books like this are a brief flash in the pan and then end up in the remainder pile, which is where I found this one.

Streeter Seidell's White Whine: A Study of First World Problems just tries way too hard. The book does have some funny moments such as white whining over the lack of "white history month" (because apparently the whole year of white history is not enough for those asshats), and whining about lesser people, real or perceived. The problem with the book is the author drowns the white whines. He wants to play social scientist, and he writes paragraph after paragraph setting up and explaining the white whines. By the time you are done reading his stuff, the fun is mostly gone and deflated. In the website, you get some caption or funny comment, but it's the whines that shine. In the book, that is not the case. In fact, white whines are fairly scarce in this book. It's like the author just needed to hear himself more than letting the jokes show through.

In the end, the book was just OK (barely); it had just enough for me not to outright hate it. This was clearly a quick attempt to cash in; it could have been better. This is one that I recommend you skip. If you must read it, borrow it because it's not really worth the price even as a remainder or used title. Better yet, just go to the website and get the jokes directly from the source.

2 out of 5 stars (barely).

Booknote: VHS Video Cover Art

Thomas Hodge, VHS Video Cover Art. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 9780764348679.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Entertainment, Art and Photography, Vintage, Film and Movies
Format: e-book galley.
Source:  Provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

This book is a trip down memory lane for those who lived through the 1980s and 1990s and rented and/or watched a lot of rental movies in the VHS format. One of my early memories was our father bringing home VHS tapes for us to watch over weekends. I watched a lot of the old Disney movie classics that way. Later when I was older, I could go to the video store on my own, and I could discover all sorts of new and different things. And as the book points out, you often decided on impulse to watch something based on the cover on the VHS tape. The decade of the 80s had quite the variety and weirdness when it came to the movies that came out on VHS. For the many that made the movie theater, many more went straight to VHS. Some of those were good. Others were good in a cheesy way. Others were schlock, so on. Odds are good you could find something you would  like. Then there was the art. I did not realize it at the time, but much of the art was done by some very well known artists, including one or two done by Boris Vallejo. However, even more of the art was done what that great artist-- Mr. or Ms. Unknown. At any rate, the art was great, at times ridiculous, but I would say always amusing.

This book collects a pretty wide selection of VHS cover images from the decade in a broad range of genres. I did find interesting that some of the movies that fall under children videos are not fare many would consider for kids. Thing is I remember watching them as a kid, so go figure. The book is arranged as follows:

  • A foreword and an introduction that provide some nice background. For folks who may be too young for the VHS era, this is a good introduction that describes the appeal and fun of these tapes. Yes, there was a time when you had to go out of the home to rent a movie to watch. Also, they note that VHS in a way is having a renaissance, much like vinyl is for records, so collecting these rare movies is becoming a big deal. You may want to buy yourself  cheap old VHS and check out those bargain bins and garage sales for old VHS. 
  • The rest of the book is divided by these categories of film: action, horror, sci-fi, comedy, kids, and thriller. 
 You do need to keep in mind that the images in the book are scans of covers from tapes. The quality of the images may vary, and much of it depends on the condition of the film cover. That means you will see some stickers, some covers may be a bit more faded than others, and other aesthetic issues.  This does add to the nostalgia factor a bit as many of us do recall those stickers in the often worn covers of movie rentals. However, for some, it may detract from the reading experience since after all, a I said, they are cover scans. I read this as an e-galley, so I hope the quality of photos would translate better in print.

This is a nice, fun book to leaf through and browse. Once you get past the introductory material, it is basically a matter of looking at the covers. As I read, there were a few films I could think of that did not make it. There were others I was pleased to see that took me back to younger days. I get the impression this book may be a conversation piece as folks talk about films they feel may have been missed or that could have been excluded.

For public libraries, this may be a good selection, especially for older readers who remember these days. Sure, libraries are getting rid of their VHS left and right, but this book may be a nice reminder of the days gone by. Plus, who knows, for some readers, it may inspire them to seek out some of the films featured.

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

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, July 06, 2015

Booknote: Bodies

Si Spencer,, Bodies. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401252755.

From the book's description:

"VERTIGO brings you a graphic novel with four detectives, four time periods, and four dead bodies - all set in London. Edmond Hillinghead is an 1890s overachiever who’s trying to solve a murder no one cares about while hiding his own secret. Karl Whiteman is our dashing 1940s adventurer with a shocking past. Shahara Hasan is 2014’s kickass female Detective Sergeant, who walks the line between religion and power. And Maplewood, an amnesiac from post-apocalyptic 2050, brings a haunting perspective to it all.

Si Spencer (HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS, THE VINYL UNDERGROUND) executes a centuries-spanning murder mystery like nothing you’ve ever seen before, with four sensational artists illustrating a six-page chapter in each issue: Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade, Meghan Hetrick and Tula Lotay.

Collects BODIES #1-8, the complete miniseries."

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: murder mystery, paranormal
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

This is one that I really wanted to like. It had it all: an intriguing premise with the four detectives trying to solve murders that seemed linked over time, great art done by various artists, and it seemed reminiscent of works by authors like Alan Moore, and great use of Jewish, Kabbalah, and other lores. It even had a strong female detective who also happens to be Muslim. This should have been great. It just felt short on the delivery.

The story starts out in good solid manner. The author develops the mystery in one story, then it jumps around from one time period to the next. The setting is in London in the following time periods: 1890, 1940, 2014 (present day), and 2050. Each time period is carefully presented and depicted. The artists pay great attention to detail, capturing the essence of a time period, including the uglier elements. In addition, the detectives are pretty compelling characters that we want to follow. In addition to our Muslim female detective (in 2014), we also get the Victorian detective who is involved in some secret society (and so happens to be gay, though back then, it was seen as a perversion); the 1940s detective is trying to solve the case, but he is also a corrupt cop involved with local rackets, and the future era detective suffers from some form of amnesia. To be honest, it is with that future timeline that things seem to fall apart in what could have been a good tale.

For one, we do not totally get what exactly happens in the future to cause her amnesia. There is something about a pulse wave, an experiment, and her mother may have been involved in it, but it is left up in the air. That thread is not tied down. So when you come from following the tale from the other three time periods, you are just not sure what the deal is. Second, as I got closer to the end, there is a feeling the author just did not quite know where to go, and it ended up in some new age kind of ending that sort of left me unsatisfied and with a few more questions than I started with. After following all the threads, when I got to the end of the comic I was asking myself, "what the hell was that about? It ends here?" And this is not the good kind of open end neither. It just plops the ending and the book is done. It was a real letdown.

Oh, and another minor issue if you are reading this on an e-reader. The publisher decided to put all the filler material such as variant covers and sketches at the start of the book. So you go about 20 pages in before the actual comic starts. Now, in print, you just flip through the pages and ignore it. In an e-book comic without a hyperlinked table of contents, it can get annoying having to flip page after page of art they want to show off in order to get to the story. That certainly did help me like the volume any better, and I honestly hope in the final draft they do fix that and put that stuff where it belongs: in the back of the book. 

In the end, it was an OK work. The only reason I do not rate it lower is because I did like the attention to detail in the older time periods and the good art. However, the plot leaves a lot to be desired and is overall confusing. This is not one I would recommend. If you must read it, borrow it.

2 out of 5 stars (barely).

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, July 03, 2015

Booknote: Gotham Academy, Volume 1

Becky Cloonan,, Gotham Academy, Volume 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401254728.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: mystery, superheroes, teen fiction
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

From the book's description:

"Gotham City's most prestigious prep school is a very weird place. It's got a spooky campus, oddball teachers, and rich benefactors always dropping that weirdo Bruce Wayne. But nothing is as strange as the students!

Like, what's up with Olive Silverlock? Is she crazy or what? Where did she go last summer? And what's the deal with her creepy mom? And how come that Freshman Maps is always following her around? And is she still going out with Kyle? P.S. Did you hear the rumor about the ghost in the North Hall?!

Collects Gotham Academy #1-6"

Gotham Academy is the most prestigious private school in Gotham. Apparently, given the courses we see the students taking for the most part, it is also all Gotham City, all the time. I am guessing the rest of national history is not really a priority here. Anyhow, that is just a minor detail I noticed as I read along. There is a hint also of paranormal elements, but the story is vague enough to leave room for speculation: is there really something paranormal, or is it just another case that "those kids" (to invoke Scooby-Doo) will be able to solve in the end. There are a lot of questions, but we do not always get the answers. For instance, what did happen to Olive's mom; we get bits and pieces of it, and that includes indication Batman may have been involved. Perhaps this will be answered in later installments.

This series is a teen drama, so it is not the usual story. It is one of those "Batman without Batman" stories. Batman makes a brief appearance, but overall, he is not central to the story. Olive is the central character, and she is quite insecure. Part of it I am sure is because of the baggage she brings including the trauma about her mother. But at times her insecurity can get a little irritating. I know teens and insecurity go hand in hand, so one would think Olive is someone they can relate to, but there are moments when the insecurity is a bit much. Grow a spine already. As for Maps, the geeky friend, she is a pure tabletop gamer stereotype including the encyclopedic knowledge of tabletop tropes and the social awkwardness.

In terms of pace, this book is a bit slow to get going. It takes a while building up the setting and the dynamics of the academy before we get to something actually happening. However, if you look close, and you are in the know, there are small details that can be rewarding. For instance, the librarian who helps Olive find books is reminiscent of a certain book loving villain in the 1960s Batman series. I am not sure if that was intentional or not, but it was a nice thing to see.

Overall, this was just OK for me. The mystery elements are a bit drowned by the teen angst and drama. Teen readers might like it better than I did. I would consider this an optional purchase for libraries with graphic novel collections. I would guess public libraries that already collect a good amount of Batman comics may want this for their youth readers; I am suggesting it as an optional title, not a must-have. For academic libraries with graphic novel collections, this is one to skip as it is not likely to be as popular with college students. I am willing to admit I could be wrong, but given my experience in academia, I do not see it. I also foresee this title may be geared a bit more to female readers. Not that it is a bad thing, just an observation.

In the end, I am giving it 2 out of 5 stars. Seeking the next volume in the series would be low priority for me given all other choices out there.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Time on Two Crosses

Bayard Rustin, edited by Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin. New York: Cleis Press, 2015. ISBN: 9781627781268.

Find it in your local library via WorldCat.
You can buy the book from Amazon
You can buy the book from Barnes and Noble.
You can buy from the publisher, Cleis Press.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: African American history, biographical, collected writings
Format: Trade paperback
Source: Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

After reading The Right Side of History, there were various folks and events that I wanted to learn more about. One of the folks who I wanted to learn more about was Bayard Rustin. Now, I have taken coursework in African American history, and recently did the Civil Rights Tour my college offers for faculty and staff. While I learned a lot about Dr. King, I did not hear a word about Rustin, a man who was one of his most senior advisers and even organized the March on Washington. Lucky for me, Cleis Press also published a collection of Rustin's writings, and I was invited to write a review as part of their book blog tour. Though I initially read it for review, I can see the book is very timely now given the current events of Charleston, South Carolina as well as the recent SCOTUS decision regarding marriage equality. I get the feeling that much of what Rustin said and wrote remains very relevant today. It is a good time to rediscover this hero of the Civil Rights Movement and get an inside look at those times as well as the times right after the movement.

The book's introduction starts by describing the structure and purpose of the book. This is followed by a biographical sketch of Bayard Rustin's life and activism, showing how his thinking and actions grew and progressed.  It also shows that the great man had his flaws; he could be a bit indiscreet at times in his sexual affairs, something he did acknowledge in some of his letters. In such correspondence he mentions how discretion was an important lesson to learn. But he was also a passionate man who could not let an injustice stand, no matter where it was. And he was a man loyal to the Civil Rights Movement even when at times the movement did not show him that same loyalty in return.

It is admirable how early on he was doing great things, even getting invited to meet Gandhi in India in the 1940s. This is not history you hear often in the usual textbooks. Much of Rustin's presence and influence has been erased, often by those in the movements he worked in. Being gay, having connections to the Communist Party, among other things tended to make those he worked with uncomfortable if not outright prejudiced against him. He was also a brave nonviolent fighter,  and he even went against his mentors such as A. Philip Randolph when he felt his elders would not go far enough. All in all I hope this book helps bring Rustin back to the spotlight.

An element I found curious and interesting while reading this book is now some in the Civil Rights Movement could display strong brands of sexism and bigotry. This was not just when they shunned or tried to keep Rustin hidden for being gay and/or having communist ties. People like Ella Baker. Even though she went on to become a leader in the SCLC, she faced strong sexism from the Christian ministers in that organization:

"SCLC ministers, few of whom had ever before taken directions from a woman, resisted her authority, while King disregarded Baker's input on substantive matters" (xxv). 

Baker would go on to resign in 1960. She took her talents to work on student protest movements. Rustin resigned from SCLC shortly after due to a threat of blackmail with false allegations of him having an affair with Dr. King. Rustin did it for the "greater good." Shamefully Dr. King swiftly accepted the resignation, a move that was criticized by figures such as Muste and James Baldwin. From the book, we see the inside of the Civil Rights Movement, and we see that it was not always unified or in lockstep. The movement could be contentious at times, and the "greater good" may or not always have been the right thing.

As I read this book, I see that so much of this writing is relevant today. While Americans cling to an illusion that racism is over, the reality is we still have a very long way to go in changing society's minds and hearts. By the way, Rustin did look to the future; he likely knew much work had to be done to win hearts and minds. In pieces such as "From Protest to Politics," Rustin did look to the future; he knew the struggle for equality would need to continue. Rustin knew the movement would have to evolve to respond to new challenges. There is much to learn today by reading history as Rustin lived it and taking lessons from his insights, experiences, and strategic thinking.

Rustin looked around, and he saw a need to act broadly. This is reflected in his writings, which show not only how his thinking evolved over time but also the many interests he had and his passion to help those who needed to fight for their rights no matter where they were. He addresses a very diverse range of topics in his writings. This is illustrated in the book's arrangement. The book is divided in the following 6 parts:
  • The Making of a Movement
  • The Politics of Protest
  • African American Leadership
  • Equality Beyond Race
  • Gay Rights
  • Equality Beyond America
In the end, Bayard Rustin sought to bring democracy and equality not just to all Americans, but to people around the world as well. 

Rustin could be controversial, not only for the reasons I have mentioned already. For instance, he raised a lot of questions such as questioning the field of Black Studies in his essay "The Myth of Black Studies." In this essay, he describes how he sees what the field should be versus what he sees it becoming. The essay may give food for thought to scholars in Black Studies today.

The book features a selected bibliography for those who wish to learn more, be it about Rustin or some of the folks he worked with such as Dr. King, A. J. Muste, and A. Philip Randolph.

Overall, this book offers a lot of material that should make people think and reflect. The selections provide a diverse range of Rustin's thinking and advocacy, showing how he went from a leader in the Black Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. to Gay Rights advocate to a humanitarian seeking to help the oppressed around the world. And through it all, he held onto and practiced the principles of nonviolence. Was he perfect? He was a human being with flaws, but he rose to do what was right not letting what others may think deter him. His writing is strong, moving at times. Even in moments when some may disagree with him, he always shows solid logic and argument.

A strength of the book is that is is very accessible. That is in large part because Rustin's writing is very accessible. This is an easy book to read, and I do mean that in a good way. This is a book more people need to pick up. We need to learn more about Bayard Rustin and heed the lessons he offers. He had much to say in his day, and he still has much to say now.

This book is definitely a good choice for libraries both public and academic. I will certainly be ordering it for my library. For me, this is one of the best books I've read this year, and it is one I may go back to now and then if I need further inspiration. It was a great way to learn about a part American history and a man instrumental in civil rights that has been buried. The book is a great work of bringing history back to visibility.

I am giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

Additional reading notes:

From the introduction to the book, I wanted to remember this quote by Rustin. These are words that we should heed this day and in the future:

"One has to fight for justice for all. If I do not fight bigotry wherever it is, bigotry is hereby strengthened. And to the degree it is strengthened, it will thereby have the power to turn on me" (quoted in x).

On Rustin not being discreet. He is writing here after an arrest for lewd conduct after a lecture he delivered in 1953:

"I know that for me sex must be sublimated if I am to live with myself and in this world longer" (xx). 

It was a very hard time to be a gay man, even so if you were open about it. Rustin certainly did not advertise it, but he did not hide it neither. He was true to himself.

In this next quote, he is writing about Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, but this is relevant and still applicable today in light of recent events:

"In response, moderates today warn of the danger of violence and 'extremism' but do not attempt to change conditions that brutalize the Negro and breed racial conflict. What is needed is an ongoing massive assault on racist political power and institutions" (111). 

Keep in mind that he is advocating doing this via nonviolent means.

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Booknote: Batman, Volume 6: Graveyard Shift

Scott Snyder,, Batman, Volume 6: Graveyard Shift. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401252304.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes
Series: The New 52.
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This volume is a compilation of various single issues. Though the description emphasizes this story happens after the death of Damian, that is not the only focus in the volume. There are other stories from various Batman titles, including Batman Eternal, which is more of a near future Batman story arc. To be honest, the volume as a whole is not terribly coherent. We do get one story arc where Batman grieves for his son, but then we get other stories that barely seem connected. The result is that this volume feels like it was thrown together from various separate parts in order to sell something. I liked some of the stories better than others, but in the end, this is a volume to borrow rather than buy. If you have not kept up with the various series that this volume draws from, you may have a bit of a problem following details at times. For instance, I have not really read into Batman Eternal, so naturally I have questions about how that future came to be where James Gordon is in prison. That does not affect the quality overall, but it can affect the reading experience. In the end, as I said, borrow this one; I consider it an optional volume. It seems more a placeholder until DC gets to the next big stories.

For libraries, I would consider this one an optional selection. If your library already collects Batman titles fairly extensively, then you probably want to get this one for completist readers. Otherwise, I think you can probably pass on it and move on to the next thing. As for readers, I think only those who feel they need to have every single title would buy this. Otherwise, borrow it. I liked it, but it was just not that great. After reading other works by Scott Snyder, this did not seem to be the best he can put out.

3 out of 5 stars.

This volume qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges: