Friday, April 29, 2016

Booknote: Martian Manhunter, Volume 1

Rob Williams,, Martian Manhunter, Volume 1: The Epiphany. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2016.  ISBN: 9781401261511.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenres: superheroes
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

This has not been a character I've seen a lot outside of Justice League cartoons and a Justice League comic here or there, so I was intrigued when this volume came available for review. I also loved the cover art right away, which really brings out the character's true alien nature. It is this alien nature and otherness that is explored in this volume.

J'onn J'onz, a.k.a. the Martian Manhunter, is truly an alien on Earth. He settles in and becomes a hero and member of the Justice League and some other hero groups. However, though he claimed that he was the last of his Martian race, that does not seem to be the case. Martians are about to invade Earth, and the alien hero has to choose sides as he finds out he could be used as a weapon by the Martians.

The comic looks back at the character's past and origin. However, it is a pretty good thriller as both sides chase the hero. The Martian Manhunter is forced to make a substantial sacrifice. The comic reads like an action and intrigue story. The art is also very good on this volume, adding to the reasons to pick it up. I really liked this one for its good story that drew me in on a character we rarely see on his own. Libraries that already collect DC Comics titles will want to pick this up, especially if they already have a few Justice League volumes.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, April 22, 2016

Booknote: LEGO Star Wars in 100 Scenes

Daniel Lipkowitz, LEGO Star Wars in 100 Scenes. New York: DK Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4654-3437-1.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: art books, children, Legos, Star Wars, photography
Format: Hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

"6 Movies. . . A Lot of Lego Bricks."

The book features "one hundred brick-built scenes" that tell the Star Wars story from the films; it goes from Episode I to Episode VI. It is a nice, big hardcover with great photography that Star Wars and Lego fans of all ages will enjoy. Each scene features a Lego set depicting a scene from one of the films. The text includes character speech bubbles as well as small trivia boxes with information about the Lego set presented. An interesting element is when they tell how a Lego set may slightly differ from details in the movies.

The photos are in full color, and each scene usually takes two pages in full. Most scenes are depicted horizontally, but a few are depicted vertically, so you have to turn the book on its side to fully appreciate those. If you are not a Lego collector, this book might inspire you to start. It is a very good book for kids and adults. It tells the story, but also brings in some nice humor and playfulness. This is definitely a good addition for public libraries.

4 out of 5 stars

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Booknote: New Suicide Squad, Volume 2

Sean Ryan, New Suicide Squad, Volume 2: Monsters. Berkeley, CA: DC Comics, 2016. ISBN: 9781401261528.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes, villains
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

I continue to enjoy this series. This time, the team has to infiltrate a breakaway faction of the League of Assassins. Back on base, Waller's nemesis manages to get himself some administrative power, and naturally, being the asshole he is, he will work to complicate matters for Waller and the team. That guy cannot get killed soon enough.

The volume is about even with the previous volume in terms of quality and entertainment. The action is quick and fast paced, and this is combined with some intrigue and manipulations. It is a bit better than the first as the characters are more settled in, though you still see some tensions in the team. Still, the story is light and entertaining despite it being a bit average. It is basically the team going against a sort of Al Qaeda or Taliban kind of group.

This is a volume to borrow. For libraries, if you already collect DC Comics titles like Batman and Harley Quinn, you may want to add this too, though I would see it as an optional selection. Interest may pick up a bit with the new Suicide Squad movie coming soon.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Monday, April 18, 2016

Booknote: The Tibetan Art of Positive Thinking

Christopher Hansard, The Tibetan Art of Positive Thinking: Skillful Thought for Successful Living. New York: Atria Books, 2005. ISBN: 9780743483261. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: spirituality, self-help
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I managed to finish reading this, and I am not quite sure what to make of it. I can say that this was not as interesting or good as I expected it to be. While the book offers some positive affirmations and common sense, it can also seriously stretch credulity. A weakness of the book lies in the personal anecdotes that the author tells to promote how positive thinking can work. Some of these stories sound more like happy miracles; so and so had positive thoughts and suddenly things changed, or maybe the change was not sudden but it was fairly swift. You see this in the segment on bullying, which I found to be a bit simplistic and idealistic. As a survivor of workplace bullying, I can assure you that simply being nice to the bully and simply using "skillful thinking" to redirect that negative energy is not going to make the bully go away. In the end, a lot of this book read more like a magical hocus pocus wishful thinking act.

The book does feature some decent meditation exercises that could be helpful for things like reducing stress and countering pessimism. They are often simple meditations that can be done in 10 minutes or so in the morning or while on a walk. I feel that if the cutesy stories were taken out and the meditations kept, the book could have worked out better.  It would have made the book shorter too.

Bottom line: this is a book I do not recommend.\

1 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Some additional reading notes. Though as I mention in my review above, I do not recommend the book overall, one or two ideas caught my eye enough that I wanted to jot them down to ponder one way or another.

On anger:

"Anger comes into being when a person is overwhelmed by the world and feels powerless to change it. This sense of powerlessness grows in intensity and creates anger that becomes part of an individual's reactions to the world, both externally and internally. Anger is unskillful self-recognition, a burst of intense energy that creates a sense of awareness" (29).

One of the book's key ideas is that every person experiences nine key moments in life. The idea is to be aware of the thought energy behind the moment so you can act on it to create blessings, happiness, peace, so on. The key nine moments are:

  • Birth
  • Family
  • Love
  • Success and Failure
  • Meaning
  • Happiness
  • Acceptance
  • Independence
  • Death
Family is not the usual conception of family members but rather a broader communal idea that likely involves at least empathy. This is something seriously lacking in society today:

"In everyday life many people close themselves off from others, diminishing their interaction and reducing their quality of thought. Many opportunities to experience the power of family pass us by when we are closed this way. Opening up to family thought energy brings people together and cuts through prejudice. It creates a feeling of goodness, sharing, and togetherness. It teaches us the value of people in their own right-- not for what they can do for us or for what they have, but for what they are" (52). 

On acceptance, something that over time I keep working at. I feel I've gotten a bit better at it in recent years:

"Acceptance is not submissive; it is wise and dynamic because it gives you the courage to know when to accept things, events, and people and to know when you have no power to alter them" (66). 

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, April 15, 2016

Reading About the Reading Life, April 15, 2016 edition

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). 

I found some curious and interesting items this week, and I find myself a bit amazed that a chair can become valuable because someone put their butt on it. So, let's read some stories.

  • In Sicily, a bookstore refuses to sell the book of the son of a jailed mafioso. Story via ANSA. On a side note, this month I am reading the book Black Mass, which was the basis of the recent mobster movie starring Johnny Depp. Once I finish it, you will see a review here at The Itinerant Librarian.
  • Another account of something I have seen in bookstores all over. "Gifts now seem to take up as much space as books. . . ". The story comes from the United Kingdom, but it is also applicable to the United States. Barnes and Noble these days is more a gift and toy shop than an actual bookstore it seems. Even my favorite, Half Price Books, is giving a lot more space to gifts and knick knacks, and they have also been adding a lot of vintage collectibles. I guess you gotta do what you gotta do to stay afloat. Story via the LRB Blog
  • The label of "bestseller" for books does not mean what it used to be. The definition has evolved and changed in this age. Learn more about the invisible bestsellers. Story via Boing Boing.
  • You know that craze for adult coloring books? Well, it has gotten so strong that coloring pencil makers are having to ramp up production because there are retail shortages of coloring pencils. And by the way, folks who love their adult coloring books do not just buy the little box with the basic colors. They got to town and buy the big boxes with a broad variety of colors, the more colors the better. Story via The Independent. A hat tip to Libropatas, where I first saw the story. You can read their version of the story in Spanish. 
  • Adult reading of books in South Korea is a bit on the low side. So they are hoping over there that "a recent revival of book cafes and the emergence of trendy book bars where visitors can read and purchase books while drinking coffee, tea or even alcohol, will help reverse the trend." Story via the Korea JoongAng Daily.
  • The BBC has a piece on the decline of subscription libraries. Before public libraries, many folks who wanted to read had to pay to have access to a library. Read the article to learn more about the subscription libraries that still remain and the many that have closed over time. 
  • Via the Past is Present blog, some highlights and some information on the art of marbled pages in books. This is something that I personally find fascinating, and it is a pity it is not really done anymore. 
  • And finally, if you are famous and you sit your culo (that is "butt" for my non-Spanish literate friends) on a chair, that chair could fetch a lot of money. That is the case with a chair that J.K. Rowling sat on while writing the first two Harry Potter books. The chair recently went up for auction, selling for $394,000. Go figure. Story via CTV News.

Signs the Economy is Bad, March 18, 2016 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

This week, it has been lean in terms of finding things about the bad economy. However, I did find a few items that I think are interesting and significant. So here we go.

Booknote: The Jumbo Duct Tape Book

Jim Berg and Tim Nyberg, The Jumbo Duct Tape Book. New York: Workman Publishing, 2000. ISBN: 0-7611-2110-2.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: humor and trivia
Format: small paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) public library

This is a humor and trivia book about that wonderful fix-it-all took: duct tape. It's 400-plus pages of trivia, tips, and humor. Jim and Tim, the Duct Tape Guys, blend some real tips on uses of duct tape with some wacky ideas, including quite a few not to be tried at home (or anywhere no matter what). The authors claim that many of the tips in the book come from visitors to their website ( As for the tips, I will let them explain:

"Please don't try any of the hints in this book that are blatantly stupid, potentially injurious, disrespectful to human or animal life, or outright dangerous. Some of the hints are real, useable ideas (we aren't distinguishing which ones)" (viii). 

The guys seem to have a lot of faith in their readers; maybe a bit more faith than I would have. Anyhow, in the end, it's a thick little book meant to be read in fun. Some ideas are more amusing than others. The I got it from has it labeled as a young adult title, but I am sure some adults will find amusement in the book as well.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Booknote: Grayson, Volume 2

Tim Seeley, Grayson, Volume 2: We All Die at Dawn. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2016. 

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes, espionage
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

Dick Grayson continues his run as secret agent and spy infiltrating Spyral. This volume had a lot of action on it and a good amount of intrigue. We also see some betrayal in Spyral from within. There is a lot going on in this volume, and it can get a bit convoluted at times. The volume includes the continuation of the organ harvest story from the previous volume. It also starts a new story arc after the Irish bomber story in the middle of the volume.

If you liked the first volume, which I did, you will like this one as well. Dick Grayson continues to grow into the spy and hero role. The volume is a good choice for libraries, especially if they already collect Batman titles. If they have collected Nightwing titles, then this is a follow-up fans will likely want.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Monday, April 11, 2016

Booknote: Night and the Enemy

Harlan Ellison and Ken Stacey (artist), Night and the Enemy. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2015.  ISBN: 9780486799612.

Genre: graphic novels
Subgenre: science fiction
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

Harlan Ellison's Earth-Kyba War stories are collected in this volume. This is a reissue/reprint collection of these stories that first appeared in the 1980s. In addition to the stories, the volume includes an art and sketch gallery and the statements from Ellison and Ken Stacey, the artist, that they included with the stories in 1987. In addition, Ellison and Stacey wrote new introductions for this edition, and the volume also features a new short story by Ellison that was previously available only as a limited edition. Overall, this is a good package.

The stories are examples of Harlan Ellison's writing in great form. The stories combine emotion, suspense, and the realities of interstellar war where things are not always straightforward. The art is strong, making great use of colors, especially dark blues and black. The book combines text and visual elements in a great way to tell the stories. Parts of it reminded me of Ray Bradbury's work, so I think fans of Bradbury may enjoy this one as well. The volume does have some adult content, but overall this is one I really liked and recommend.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, April 08, 2016

Reading About the Reading Life, April 8, 2016 edition

 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). 

  •  Read about elementary school propaganda in Mussolini's Italy. An American student at the time, Barbara Donahue, was issued "small soft-covered government-produced student notebooks, decorated with colorful, dramatic illustrations." The notebooks were part of the government's indoctrination into fascist loyalty. We get to see the covers of the notebooks now. Story via Slate
  • Learn more about the grail diary movie prop from the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Story via Quo Vadis blog.  I always thought that diary was one of the coolest details in the film, and I wish I could sketch in my journals as neatly as Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. could. 
  • And now let's see some real adventure notebooks. Theodore Roosevelt kept field notebooks of his travels, and you can see some highlights in this Slate article. 
  • We may be able to read documents previously thought to be lost from Herculaneum. "It may require a particle accelerator, X-ray vision, and a highly toxic metal, but researchers believe they could soon be reading from the libraries of Herculaneum, an ancient Roman town destroyed by a volcano to the benefit of archaeology." The toxic metal is lead, which apparently is present in the ink of papers of the time. Story via The Christian Science Monitor.
  • According to the BBC, "almost 8,000 jobs in UK libraries have disappeared in six years, about a quarter of the overall total, an investigation by the BBC has revealed." And as in other dick moves, they are replacing the professionals, or trying to, with amateur volunteers.
  • By the way, British school libraries are not faring better, again, according to the BBC. I am sure this stupid remark by one of the local teachers does not help: "One head teacher decided 'all reading can be done on iPads. . . '". I am not sure what planet that teacher resides in, but where I come from, a lot of things are not on iPads, nor digitized.
  • Did you know that westerns author Louis L'Amour was a hobo once? Learn more about that in this article from Signature. And if you are interested in learning more about how to be a hobo and the hobo life, I recently finished reading The Hobo Handbook. Stay tuned for a review of that book on this blog soon.
  • According to EL ESPAÑOL, a recent report from Spain's "Informe General de Instituciones Penitenciarias" (General Report of Penal Institutions. Yes, they have such a thing) highlights reading preferences of inmates in Spanish prisons (article is in Spanish language). The article lists top authors read and top ten most requested books. Sure, there is a little fluff (someone requested Fifty Shades of Gray and some Dan Brown, but we can forgive that), but overall I have to say those prisoners are a seriously well-read group that likely puts American cons to shame.
  • Let's take a Kitty Break with "26 Cats Who Love Books More Than You Do." Via Booklist Reader.
  • Heinrich Himmler, head of Hitler's SS, amassed a seriously big library of occult books. He amassed 13,000 or so volumes on the occult, and that stash has recently been found in the Czech Republic. Like other Nazis, he was obsessed with the occult and mysticism, believing that such arts could help prove Aryan superiority. Story via The Daily Mail.
  • The Atlantic asks if the library card is dead. No, it is not, but it has had an interesting history.
  • A big collection of Houdini artifacts and memorabilia is going up for auction. The story includes a link to the auction catalog if you wish to view it all. Via Boing Boing.
  • In Istanbul, an Arabic bookstore offers a small taste of home for Syrian refugees. Story via Associated Press. 
  • Meanwhile, in Panjwai, Afghanistan, a small library strives to survive in an area previously a stronghold of the Taliban. Story via The New York Times.
  • The Guardian offers a nice profile of The Strand Bookstore in New York City, the last of the bookstores from the old "Book Row."
  • Learn about a library where bats protected the books; they do so by eating the bugs that would damage books. Article is in Spanish language, and it comes via Libropatas.
  • Pew Research Center released this week their "Libraries and Learning" survey on Americans and libraries. Worth a look as there is quite a bit on use of libraries and demographics. 
  • And finally, I learn this week that competitive book collecting is actually a thing. And no, this does not refer to libraries and collection development. Story via Smithsonian.

Booknote: Cocteles con historia

Julio Patán, Cocteles con historia: guía definitiva para el borracho ilustrado. Mexico D.F.: Editorial Planeta Mexicana, 2014.  ISBN: 978-607-07-2476-3.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Spanish, cocktails, alcoholic spirits, essay, memoir, recipes
Format: Paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I have not read in Spanish for a while, so when I saw this in my local public library, I picked it up. The book is a collection of fairly erudite essays on various alcoholic spirits and a few historical cocktails like the Rusty Nail and the Negroni. In total, we get 40 essays that discuss a bit about the spirit or cocktail, a bit on the celebrities who may have made a cocktail famous-- like Hemingway and Daiquiris--, and other miscellaneous trivia. In addition, the book features two opening essays, an introduction by the author, a small section with a selection of celebrity cocktails-- for example, Luis Buñuel's way to make a dry martini--, and some classic recipes in case you feel moved to try to make your own.

The book is very interesting at times. However, the author's tendency to use anglicisms or to selectively translate some things into Spanish that may or not need translation did throw my reading off a bit. Some of that was either author laziness or perhaps the need for better editing. Still, the book is one I liked. Some essays were better than others, and essay length could vary from one or two pages to a few pages. Overall, a nice read.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes (please note: for this review, the quotes coming from the book are in Spanish. My translation of the quote is right below).

From the book's back description:

"En esa línea de pensamiento, este libro propone un recorrido emocional y cultural por nuestras bebidas favoritas, alcoholes que hemos elegido por su sabor, perfume, o precio pero también por los recuerdos que evocan en nuestra memoria ya que, como dice el autor, 'forman parte de nuestra vida emocional, de nuestra nostalgia, de nuestros afectos.'"

"Along that line of thought, this book proposes an emotional and cultural tour of our favorite drinks, alcohols that we have selected for their flavor, aroma, or price but also for the reminiscences they evoke in our memory since, as the author states, 'they form a part of our emotional life, of our nostalgia, of our affections.'"

The book does have a bit of old school feel to it; some of the essays can be evocative of a bygone era when  drinking well was a serious and often solemn business. Though at times it can also evoke a bit of the modern hipster image. Again, I am reminded of a certain mixologist in a certain piece of advertising (link to YouTube).

The book does have some poetic moments, such as this remark on making a toast:

"En su versión ritual, el brindis es una forma de sacralización de lo cotidiano. Una manera de volver significativo lo evanescente" (12)

"In its ritual version, the toast is a form of making the mundane sacred. A way to turn the evanescent into something significant." 

Another issue that distracted a bit from the reading experiences was the book's layout with pages in varying colors from white with black lettering to black with white lettering, blue, so on. It was a bit jarring to read. This was not a good moment to be playing around with colors and layouts.

* * * * *

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Booknote: Divided Spirits

Sarah Bowen, Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2015.  ISBN: 9780520281059.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: food and drink, academic texts
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

This is basically an academic treatise going over the commercial development of tequila and mezcal. To make it easy on folks: all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila (kind of like all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon). The book goes over how the paths of tequila and mezcal diverged, and tequila became more industrialized. Meanwhile, mezcal tended to keep its more artisanal roots and processes. The book also looks at the concept of designations of origin for regions of Europe, a tactic Mexico used as a model to protect and market tequila. The author does not just look at this history but also raises questions about the practice as well as the strategy of relying on alternative markets (you can read that to mean elitist and/or somewhat hipster markets in places like the United States) to market and export mezcal and high end tequilas.

The book has interesting moments, but it is not exactly riveting reading. I do not really see this book as one for the general public. This is basically an academic book for classes in food politics, political science, business and economics, and sustainability studies. The author sets up the background, and then strives to give balanced views of the pros and cons of designation of origin practices. However, she also goes into a lot of the bureaucratic details which can make for some really dry reading.

I would recommend the book for academic programs that support the fields of study I listed above. This is not really one for public libraries unless patrons ask for it, and even then I would suggest a public library do an ILL for it if need be. I do not see too many foodie or gourmet casual readers picking this up. If those readers want to read something about tequila, perhaps something like Tequila: a Natural and Cultural History or other more popular selections. You can ask your local friendly librarian for suggestions.

2 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, April 01, 2016

Booknote: The Ghost Fleet, Volume 1

Donny Cates, The Ghost Fleet, Volume 1: Deadhead. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2015.  ISBN: 978-1-61655-649-5.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: thriller, mystery, conspiracies, supernatural
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

Fans of conspiracy stories like The X-Files may find something interesting to read here. The Ghost Fleet is a trucking company you call when you need to transport extremely valuable, secretive, and often dangerous cargo. When one of their agents sees too much, his partner shoots him, leaving him for dead. Except the guy does not die. Now he aims to get his revenge and make the company pay.

The story draws you in right away. The narrative is not linear, but you can easily follow it as you try to figure out just what is the cargo Trace was not supposed to see and just how deep does the conspiracy go. The action is pretty much nonstop for this comic. The art on this one is excellent, and this is a series to pick up. First volume does end in a cliffhanger, so I will be picking up the next volume. So far, this is a series I am really liking, and I hope it keeps getting better.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges: