Friday, February 28, 2020

Booknote: Garfield Fat Cat 3-Pack, Volume 14

Jim Davis, Garfield Fat Cat 3-Pack, Volume 14. New York: Ballantine Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-345-49175-6.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: humor
Format: omnibus paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This is part of a series where the publisher puts three previously published books into one larger omnibus volume. This volume includes the following titles:

  • Garfield: Survival of the Fattest (#40). 
  • Garfield: Older and Wider (#41). 
  • Garfield Pigs Out (#42). 
If you've read the comics before, then you know the basics: Garfield the constantly hungry and sleeping cat, Jon his nerdy single owner (he eventually starts dating Liz the Vet, but not yet), the mice, so on. Overall, the humor is light and amusing. For me these comics are mostly comfort reading; they are something nice and easy to read. They are also good for when I need a break from more serious reading.

For libraries, these editions can be a good addition, though durability can vary as they are paperbacks. However, they are nice books with a lot of content and in full color, so they can be a good value.

Overall, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Booknote: Star Wars Return of the Jedi- Manga, Volume 4

Shin-ichi Hiromoto, Star Wars Return of the Jedi- Manga, Volume 4. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 1999. ISBN: 1-56971-397-9.

Genre: manga
Subgenre: Star Wars, film adaptations, science fiction
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This slim volume is part of a series that Dark Horse comics published in parts for the original trilogy of films. It is an English translation of the Japanese manga adaptation of the films. My local public library has some of the volumes, but their collection is not complete (and like public libraries often do, they have not bothered replacing the missing volumes).

Overall, this manga is a pretty close and faithful adaptation of the film. This particular volume covers the last segment of Return of the Jedi. If you are a fan of the films, you will probably like this. I sure did. The art is good, faithful to the material. It captures the fun and excitement of the film well.

I think if Dark Horse or someone else reprinted this series in omnibus editions, it could make a successful venture. In the end, I really liked it, and I do recommend it; hopefully you can find the full set.

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Booknote: Mayan Blue

Michelle Garza and Melissa Larson, Mayan Blue. Austin, TX: Sinister Grin Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781944044213.

Genre: horror fiction
Subgenre: Mayan mythology, college students
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I really wanted to like this book, but it was just disappointing. The premise, albeit a bit out there (or a bit of a stretch), was good: a horror look at Mayan underworld mythology. Just for that I was drawn in. The Mayan realm of Xibalba, kingdom of their lord of death, sounds awesome and terrifying. So far so good.

The basic story is this: a professor has a theory that the Mayans migrated north, even to Georgia, U.S. This is where that bit of a stretch comes in. That may sound a bit ridiculous, but I was still willing to go along with the tail. The professor disappears as he is about to find proof for his theory. His research assistant, tasked with bringing in some college students to help with the dig for college credit, arrives with the students to find the professor missing. Naturally they go looking for him, and the book goes down hill from there.

For starters, original premise aside, this is your usual story of dumb college kids doing dumb shit in a horror movie, but in book form. It is also the usual cast of suspects: college jocks, the bimbo slut, the nerdy girl, and the somewhat responsible male figure, i.e. the research assistant. So it is your typical group that you can't wait to see killed off because you could not care less about any of them.

The story then becomes a repetitive cat and mouse game in the cave where they are chased by monster they just keep getting banged up and meandering. It honestly gets tiring, and by the time revelations happen, you just don't care that much. Yes, there is gore, but it is comparable to other horror with gore, and to be honest, not that big a deal.

Honestly, the concept had a lot of potential, but the execution was poor. Done right, this could have been made into a good horror film even. As is I do not think it rates for one of SyFy's cheesy B-movies with washed up actors.

Overall, I did not like this, and I found myself dragging to the end. This is one to skip. If you have to read it, borrow it.

1 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Booknote: Llewellyn's Complete Book of Ceremonial Magic

Lon Milo DuQuette and David G. Shoemaker, Llewellyn's Complete Book of Ceremonial Magick: a Comprehensive Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2020. ISBN: 9780738764726.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Magic, Magick, Pagan, reference works, history
Format: e-galley
Source: NetGalley

I will start by saying that I read Llewellyn's Complete Book of Tarot, which I liked and enjoyed (link to my review), so I had high expectations for this new volume on ceremonial magick. This one was not as good. To be honest, it felt a bit flat.

The book is arranged into eleven books (chapters) on various topics of ceremonial magick. Each chapter is written by an expert or experts on that particular topic. Some topics include:

  • Foundations of Western Magic
  • Planetary Magic
  • The Golden Dawn
  • Thelema and Aleister Crowley
  • Magician's Tables
The main issue with this book is that it is basically a dry textbook. The history of Western Magick, and it is Western European Magick, can be interesting, but after a while that seems to be all this book offers. The books feels more like a history textbook than a "complete book" on the topic. I am a bit puzzled how the editors managed to get such a good line up of experts and practitioners and turn out such a dry, slow reading book.

The other issue with the book is that one cannot be sure who is the audience for the book. Advanced users and experts have likely read and studied many if not all of the sources presented and discussed in the book. They probably know the history too. For beginners, aside from the names, dates, and titles of various books and sources, there is very little. If a beginner was hoping to get some ideas on getting started or supplementing a budding practice, they'll need a different book. There is not much that is actually practical here. What a beginner can do is make note of some of the sources listed throughout the book, find them, and study those instead.

The book does offer a lot of sources in the chapters. There are some good footnotes, so if the readers want to learn more and explore further there are plenty of sources.

I need to make an additional note for this review. I am reviewing it from a NetGalley galley. Unlike other galleys, for some reason the publisher decided to provide a galley "that contains partial sections of each individual book." So as a reviewer I have no real sense of what was left out. In addition, when I got to the end of a couple of chapters, the cutoff could be a bit abrupt. I cannot say if some of the material missing might be included in what was not provided. The bottom line is, as it stands, this is not that good of a book.

Overall, I found the book to be just OK. Text is pretty dry, mostly names, dates, and sources. I enjoy reading history, but this was just too plain. I may borrow it once it gets published just to see what was missing. However, I am not recommending this for libraries. For public libraries that collect pagan materials and similar works, this is optional; I'd say wait to see if a patron requests it before ordering it if at all.

2 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Media Notes: Roundup for January 2020

This is a somewhat random selection of the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during January 2020.

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

  • Brightburn (2019. Horror. Drama). This is an interesting premise. What if a child falls from the sky, a child with extraordinary powers, gets adopted by a rural couple longing for a child? Story may sound familiar, but in this story, the child is not going to be a superhero. Rather, the child becomes a sinister figure with extraordinary powers. The movie is described as horror, but the strength is in the suspense as we gradually come realize the truth about young Brandon. Much of the horror is implied; the gore is fairly minimal. As I said, this is more about the suspense and the tension. These days horror with superpowered beings is becoming a thing, but this film makes a good twist on a classic story, and it is a good tense ride. The end credits are a bit amusing too. Overall, this one is definitely worth a look. Via DVD from public library. 
  • The Liberator (2013. Venezuelan film. Biography. Drama. History). The story of Simon Bolivar, his quest to liberate South America, and his dream of making a unified continent out of it. He did liberate the continent from the Spanish Empire, but his dream of unification never came to pass as rival factions and interests split the continent into what became the nations we know today. Part of me honestly wonders if history had been different, imagine what could have been.  Film starts a bit slow but soon it gets its pace as we see Bolivar rise from a wealthy educated young man who awakens to see the need to free South America. The cinematography is great; movie looks very good. The crossing of the Andes is moving and epic. The battles are well done, and they clearly did very good work in recreating them. Plus the soundtrack adds a bit of a surreal, or perhaps almost like magic realism, to the film. It stays with you. Still, this is a story that likely needs more than two hours of film, and it shows. It does pack a lot, perhaps way too much, not allowing at times for enough character development. Overall though, well worth a look. It is in Spanish, but English subtitles are available. I would add this film may encourage folks to seek out a good biography of Bolivar to fill in what the film just could not get to; some very key historical details do not make it into the film. Via DVD from public library. 
  • Triad Wars (a.k.a. Fatal Move, original title Duo shuai. 2008. Drama. Crime. Action. Hong Kong film). The description of the film is pretty basic: "Faced with losing his grip on the Hong Kong underworld, a Triad leader resorts to extreme violence to regain his status and the respect of his triad." However, it is more than that. Sammo Hung portrays Big Bro/Lin Ho Lung, the leader of his triad. His triad is besieged by rival gangs but also by betrayal from within. There are a lot of intrigues along the way, which keep the suspense going, and when the big betrayal is revealed, well, it is worth waiting for. The movie also offers great action and martial arts sequences. It is necessary to note it does contain violence, so some viewers may want to keep that in mind. Overall, it is a well made film, good plot, good action, a lot better than I expected. Worth a look. Via TubiTv. 
  • Saw IV (2007. Horror. Thriller. Mystery). The fourth installment in the series, which I am steadily catching up on. This time Officer Rigg, the SWAT team leader from the previous films is kidnapped and put through the game. However, John Kramer is dead, and someone else is continuing the game. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Strahm who is brought in to assist with the case is suspicious of Lt. Detective Hoffman, who heads the investigation.  What I found interesting is that much like in Saw II the main victim, Rigg in this case, could have likely passed the game by listening to instructions. This was a pretty tight thriller overall, though some of the flashbacks can get a little confusing if one does not pay attention. By now, we notice how the movies in the series are connected to each other. Overall I liked it. Via TubiTv. 
  • Saw V (2008. Horror. Thriller. Mystery). 5th installment in the series. This one is a bit slower and less gruesome than previous installments, but it does keep that twist in the end that these movies is known for. The movie also keeps the concept of if you actually listen carefully, and think a bit, you might get out alive. In that sense, John Kramer, the Jigsaw killer (who we see in flashbacks) really is able to anticipate the human mind (it does not bode well for the human mind). FBI Agent Strahm, who survived the game last suspects Detective Hoffman is part of the Jigsaw killings, and he aims to prove it no matter the cost. Strahm starts digging into Hoffman's past as the killer starts testing five new victims.  Will Strahm be able to solve the case or will his obsession be his undoing? As I said, this film is a lot slower than others, focused mainly in how Hoffman becomes Jigsaw's apprentice. Strahm is fairly obnoxious, and to be honest some of you may be waiting for him to get killed. By now, the series seems to be losing steam. Naturally the end sets up for the next film. Via TubiTv.
  • Saw VI (2009. Horror. Thriller. Mystery). Hoffman is now firmly the heir of John Kramer's legacy, or so he thinks (by the way, via flashbacks, John Kramer is always there), but FBI Agent Erickson, Strahm's boss, is now on his tail. By the way, by now if you've paid attention  you notice the victims of Jigsaw are not particularly nice nor good people. They tend to be outright assholes and social parasites (to put it mildly). For example, in this film, the two predatory loan officers at the beginning; I know some viewers probably were perfectly happy with those two getting their comeuppance. As for the insurance adjustors who deny claims arbitrarily and cruelly, we definitely cannot wait until Jigsaw gives them what they truly deserve. When you think about it, these films can have a bit of a vicarious sense of justice in them, which I am sure may be another small factor why the series remains popular even when quality has not been consistent. This film pretty much is just adding to the lore and mythos the series has established, and Hoffman gets his own test. The twist at the end, well game may not be for who it seems to be. It was a bit better than the fifth film but not by much. On another note, these are fairly short films at an hour and thirty minutes or so of run time. Via TubiTv.
  • Saw VII (2010, a.k.a. as Saw 3-D.  Horror. Thriller. Mystery). The alleged final installment in the series (we got a sequel to this in 2017, Jigsaw, which takes place a decade after Jigsaw's death, and it turns out there may be a sequel to that later this year) where there is a struggle for who controls John Kramer's legacy. Meanwhile, a group of Jigsaw's survivors seek out Bobby Dagen, another survivor who has become a self help guru and is on a book tour telling his story. However, Bobby's fortune is built on a lie, and though Hoffman thinks he controls the game, in the end, John Kramer has one more ace up his sleeve, one last asset to put in play. Movie was not bad, but not that great either. By now, this series needs to end while it still has some resemblance of a high note. Still, worth a look to get to the end, but not as good as when it started. Via TubiTv.

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

  • Adam-12 (1968-1975. Police drama, procedural). From Jack Webb, the guy who gave us Dragnet, which I was watching last month, we get Adam-12, which follows rookie officer John Reed and his veteran partner Pete Malloy as they deal with various issues, crimes and problems in every episode.  Like Dragnet, cases are based on real cases. Unlike Dragnet, we do not get to see the disposition of cases, i.e. who goes to court, sentencing, so on. Show may be dated, but it is still pretty entertaining to watch, has a bit of humor at times, and a good human element. As with other older shows, I often find interesting to see what now very famous actors may show up in their early careers here. Watched online first three seasons online. Some highlights for me: 
    • Season one, Episode 11: The officers need to recover a stolen vehicle. Just one problem: it has a big boa constrictor the owner has a pet in the trunk of the car. Some light humor ensues as some officers are less than thrilled about the idea of finding Arthur, the snake, in the stolen car. 
    • Season one, Episode 13 was a Christmas episode. I always enjoy these. In this one, among their tasks, the officers have to deliver Christmas presents collected from donations to needy families. A heartwarming episode.
    • Season one, Episode 25, Dick Sargent, known for being the second actor portraying the husband in Bewitched, plays a neighbor having a dispute with another neighbor over a boat.  
  • The Irish Mob (2016. Documentary. Crime. Mobsters). I could not find much about this documentary (the IMDB entry is thin). It is a six-part series that TubiTv describes as: "From the Irish gangs of New York in the late 1800s through to the 1970s, this six-part documentary series tells the amazing stories of the first generation Irish kids who became some of America’s most notorious and wanted gangsters.It explores the lives and crimes of key members of the Irish Mob including Gangs of New York graduate Owney “Killer” Madden, Jimmy Coonan’s infamous Westies gang from Hell’s Kitchen, America’s most wanted Frankie Sheeran and the recently captured James “Whitey” Bulger. The Irish gangster story represents the ‘American Dream’ in its totality - the idea that a kid from the gutter can rise to power, money and class, through whatever means necessary." Overall, it was an interesting series that goes from the beginnings of the Irish Mob in the U.S., and Canada for a bit, until its end with Whitey Bulger and Frank Sheeran. ViaTubiTv.

Booknote: Get Capone

Johnathan Eig, Get Capone: the secret plot that captured America's most wanted gangster. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010.  ISBN: 978-1-4165-8060-7.

Genre: history, biography
Subgenre: crime, mobsters, United States
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library.

This book took me a while to read, in part because Eig packs a lot of material and a lot of research into the book. For some readers, it may be a lot. It worked for me.

If all you know about Al Capone is from movies or stories, then this book may be revealing. The great story is that Al Capone was brought down by The Untouchables. With extensive research, Eig shows that is not true. Along the way, we get a biography of Capone with depth and a good look at this times, mainly the Roaring 20's and Prohibition, including topics such as society and politics of the time.

What I found fascinating is how Capone was able to operate with impunity for the most part because so many people were willing to subvert Prohibition. Puritans in the U.S. managed to shove that law down the country's throat, an unpopular law among regular people, resulting in people being very willing to break said law and for men like Capone to make fortunes. Don't get me wrong; Capone was good at what he did, but Prohibition basically gave him opportunity on silver platter, and he made the most of it. So did others, some known, some less so. Capone was able to bribe and corrupt Chicago and others with ease because the U.S. wanted to keep on drinking. Even President Herbert Hoover, who wanted to uphold the law, did so mainly out of (misguided) principle; he knew the law was a failure.

As I mentioned, the book looks at Capone and his times. We get a look at Chicago and its politics. We get various points of view from criminals as well as law enforcement, even the President of the United States. To be honest, by the way, Herbert Hoover was probably way too obsessed with Capone at a time when he probably should have been paying attention to the bad economy and suffering caused by the Great Depression. Overall, everyone who wanted booze could get it, knew where to get it, and/or took a chance to make it themselves.

Eig discusses how he did his research in the book too. He notes that "I've relied as much as possible on primary materials: interviews, newspaper articles, government documents, and books from Capone's own time. Nothing in these pages is invented or embellished" (405).

Overall, I found the book interesting to read as it provides not just a biography of Capone but a good look at the U.S. and Chicago history and culture of the time. Readers who enjoy the true crime and crime history genres will likely enjoy this. Readers interested in early 20th century U.S. history may like it as well. In the end, I really liked it.

4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes:

Why bootleggers were able to succeed:

"Still, the key to success for bootleggers boiled down the public's thirst. From the first day of Prohibition, huge numbers of Americans resented the law. They felt their freedom had been stripped by religious fanatics. Even when violence in the bootlegging business erupted, the gangsters who controlled the booze  were never entirely blamed. Most Americans seemed to understand that these criminals were like boils-- irritating yes, but also a symptom of a deeper and more persistent disease" (14). 

Capone was into workplace "wellness" before wellness was a thing:

"At the Metropole, Capone set up a gymnasium with punching bags, horizontal bars, trapezes, rowing machines, and more, and expected his employees to use the equipment. It was yet another example of Capone's progressive thinking. He understood that employees who took the time to fortify their bodies and mind would be more efficient killers" (84). 

Note we are not saying Capone himself used the gym, but then again, he delegated the actual killing work, and he needed his workers in good shape. Still pretty visionary.

Capone loved the arts:

"By all accounts, Capone was a lover of the arts and a benefactor of musicians. He especially loved the opera, which he usually attended with bodyguards seated all around him" (110). 

Eig often provides details like the above which humanize Capone. Some reviewers say this biography glamorizes Capone and makes him a sympathetic figure. In reality, Capone was a glamorous figure; he did rise to become a celebrity, and a popular one at that. Even his opponents could not deny that. But the real picture is that Capone, criminal and violent as he was, was also a complex human being, and that includes being a patron of the arts. Plus, let's be perfectly honest: a good number of entertainers, musicians, and artists might have been out of work in the 20's and 30's were it not for gigs in speakeasies controlled by Capone. It is not all black and white. Eig even writes,

"Almost every musician and comedian who performed in Chicago in the 1920s had a story about Capone. Some of them may have even been true" (110).