Book Report: Kung Fu 2: Chains by Howard Lee (1973)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 24th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book finds Caine in the mountains, looking for his brother. He encounters some fellows who don’t like Chinamen and calmly dissuades them from attacking him and then walks into a local fort to inquire about his brother and to talk to an accused murderer who shared a mining claim with his brother. The murderer is accused of killing one of the other mining claim partners. Of course, the guys in the fort recognize Caine as a wanted man and shackle him to the accused murderer. These are the physical chains of the title.

The duo escape and try to make for the mining camp to find out what happened to the other partners, including Caine’s brother. Along the way, they encounter hostile Indians, a trapper who doesn’t like Caine’s chainmate and the sister of another partner in the mining claim and her tenderfoot husband, and the fellows from the opening reappear with hostile intent.

The story moves along more linearly than the first volume of the series and more like a teleplay. It’s a quick and engaging read and lightly heady enough with traces of lightweight Buddhist thought to make one think a bit and compare some of the tenets to Stoic thought if one happens to be reading both at the same time. So better than a lot of men’s adventure novels.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: F15E Strike Eagle by Hans Halberstadt (1991)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 23rd, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is badged by Microprose, which you old timers will recognize as the company behind military simulators such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Gunship (as well as the original Civilization). 1991 is near the end of its run as an independent game company (according to Wikipedia, so it’s possible they’re branching out into other revenue streams to create synergy at this point.

The book is primarily a photography book, with lots of images of the F-15E Eagle’s exterior and cockpit with a bit of text describing it, its history, and its recent successes in the Gulf War. If you’re a regular reader of Jane’s Defense Weekly, this stuff is old hat. But if you’re old timey like me and remember Top Gun fondly (which was not the F-15 but the F-14, but you know what I mean), you’ll find a lot to like in this short little book. Plus there’s bits like the fact that they painted over the kill counts on some of these machines as they continued to fly after the action where the saw the combat. Or that the names on the planes are not necessarily the names of the officers in the planes as crews take the available planes, not their plane on missions.

It makes me want to power up my Commodore 64 for another sortie. How come they don’t make good flight simulators any more? Oh, yeah: 9/11.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Holiday Memory by Dylan Thomas (1978)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 20th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a little chapbook containing a single ‘story’ from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It’s part of a series, and this ‘story’ first appeared in another volume, so I’m not sure why this appears in a slim chapbook edition twenty years after Thomas’s death.

At any rate, “Holiday Memory” is not so much a story as a stream-of-consciousness prose poem about being on vacation on the seashore in Wales in August of probably the late twenties or early thirties. Jeez, I’m going to have to start adding nineteen to the decades now, ainna? It’s a colorful, vivid recounting and a pleasant read, although there’s no plot to drive one along. It’s a pretty short work, though, so you don’t have far to go from morning to the beach and night at the fair.

Worth a look if you’re into this sort of thing as I am.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Romance by Ed McBain (1995)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 18th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverIt’s been three years almost since I read an Ed McBain book (Doll in April 2012). It’s hard to believe because they were such a staple of my early adulthood, but he was producing new books at a rate of one or two a year until his death in 2005, and I had a source of new books to read then. By now, I’ve been through most of them more than once, and any reading is likely to be re-reading.

As is the case with this book.

An actress reports threats as she rehearses a play about an actress getting stabbed. Then she gets stabbed for real, superficially, which leads the detectives of the 87th Precinct, in particular Carella and Kling, to investigate. It turns out to have been a stunt cooked up by the actress and her lover/agent, but someone really stabs the actress good and dead, which complicates things.

The book makes good use of the play within the play trope (wrapping it in a novel–Ed McBain was nothing if not novel and clever as a writer). It has some series business in it–Kling is starting a new relationship with a deputy chief who is black–and some of the characters only make walk on appearances (although Ollie Weeks appears, and I’m not sure why McBain focused so much on him at this point in his, McBain’s, career). The beginning of the relationship–the first dates and whatnot–give McBain an opportunity to explore The Race Question especially in terms of personal relationships. Some of McBain’s books have crime-based subplots, but this one only has the one crime plot and the relationship plot. So it reads a little like an episode in a television series.

Which is what you expect when you’re picking up one of these books after having read others. And it’s not a bad thing. And McBain is an excellent writer in the genre. So it’s worth reading more than once.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Calvin and Hobbes: The Sunday Pages 1985-1995 by Bill Watterson (2001)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 16th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverI don’t want to make you feel old, old man, but Calvin and Hobbes hasn’t been in the newspapers in twenty years. One day soon, you’ll have a doctor born so late that he’ll never have read it in the funnies, and how can you trust a doctor that young?

This book is not a comic collection. Instead, it describes an art exhibition that took place in 2001, fourteen years ago and six years after Watterson ended the strip. Watterson’s Sunday work was rolled into an art exhibition, and this book describes some of the history of Calvin and Hobbes as well as some of the Sunday comics. Each included comic includes the rough sketch and the finished product along with some commentary about the comic. Readers also get insight into how the Sunday comic is structured–in many cases, the first line of a three line comic is expendable as editors might have to cut it out to fit it into a particular newspaper or they can be sold “as is” as a half page, wherein the panels can be sized differently than normal and won’t be cut (Calvin and Hobbes started as the former but ended as the latter).

It’s a good bit of information, and the cartoons themselves are timelessly humorous.

The cartoon has been gone twice as long as it actually appeared in the paper; however, that’s probably a good thing, as Watterson got to end it on his terms, and readers were spared the endless “vote which cartoon stays” sorts of polls pitting Calvin and Hobbes against the Boondocks or having to write letters to the editor to get it restored.

I’m glad these books appear, though, because my children are coming to enjoy the strip. To be honest, my oldest son borrowed this book from the library and I poached it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Downton Abbey Rules for Household Staff (2014)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 11th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverI received this book for my birthday this year; it’s definitely the kind of book bought new as a gift. Or perhaps by serious, institutionizable fans of the show. It contains no narrative, no fan stuff: It’s basically an introduction by the fictional Carson (the butler) writing for new hires at Downton Abbey followed by tips and tricks for each job and their attendant responsibilities.

I’ve said recently what I think of the show these days, but there’s not any of that to dislike in the book.

Carson’s introduction is a nice bit of Stoic philosophy encouraging new workers: You are part of something meaningful and grand, and you should do your best at it. Then the tips and tricks are pretty much polish it with chamois leather. That’s two things I learned from the book: That chamois leather is good for polishing, and the source of the pun inherent in the ShamWow name.

Yes, friends, there are gaps in my classical education, and I’m unlikely to get certain French puns, especially those relating to cleaning products and practices, until decades later when reading gift books tied into British soap operas. Which probably means the chamois/ShamWow joke is the only one I’ll get.

So the book is an interesting little read if you get it as a gift or pick it up at a book fair, but it might not be a thing you order. But just in case you’re institutionizable, note this post is full of convenient links.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Town Council Meeting by J.R. Roberts (2009)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 10th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book starts out with an interesting conceit: The Gunsmith is playing poker when a group of ranch hands come into town and claim that he has killed their boss who was planning to hire him for something. It turns out he’s playing cards with the mayor, the judge, and the town’s attorney, so they call an impromptu town council meeting to order the sheriff to keep the men out of the saloon. So we’re presented with something novel: Clint tries to find out who killed the rancher by interviewing people while playing cards.

Ah, just when we’re wondering exactly how the author will handle this conceit throughout the book, it ends, and Adams sneaks out the back door to do a little, erm, investigation in that way he does. And he uncovers a pretty staple Western trope that ends with a gunfight in the street where (spoiler alert!) the title character of the series wins.

It’s unfortunate that the book couldn’t carry on with the novel setup to its conclusion, but that’s not what buyers of the series want or expect.

Me? I expected a thin bit of book to read that I spent a quarter on. And I got it.

So it’s the least bad of the books I’ve read in this line because of the novelty. I’ve only got one more in the series, and I don’t expect I’ll buy any more, though.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Paramilitary Plot by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 9th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is another in the 1982 Bolan books; at this time, they seem to have gone to the monthly model, which means of course that individual entries are passed onto different authors, which accounts for an uneven series.

This entry isn’t bad, but its plot is exceedingly similar to the others reviewed recently (Terrorist Summit, Return to Vietnam, and The New War especially). In each, Bolan gets wind of someone being held in an enemy camp (twice a jungle, once a desert, now a swamp). Bolan infiltrates the compound, leaves the compound, and then has to go into the compound with the bad guys on alert to extract the hostage and blow everything up.

In this case, the hardsite is a compound in the Everglades run by a right-wing corporate government contractor who wants a biological weapon to facilitate the invasion of Grenada, where he can then start properly trying to take over the world for right-wing reasons, which seem to be just being corporate and having a military.

This book preceded the actual United States invasion of Grenada, so its author was a little prescient in recognizing the political situation with the small island nation making it unstable. So I got a little history lesson on that which covers some of the gaps I didn’t gather when it happened because I was eleven years old at the time and dealing with boyhood things, like my parents’ divorce and my mother’s nascent plans to uproot us from Wisconsin to Texas.

So, as a book, it’s too much in the line with then-recent Bolan offerings but an interesting artifact in a meta way.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Curse of the Gypsy Woman by Lin G. Hill (1993)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 5th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a chapbook containing a single short story by a local author; I think I have one of his full length works here somewhere. I must have gotten this book in a package of books for a buck at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County book sale.

At any rate, in this story, an author with writer’s block and a looming deadline agrees to take a quick vacation to a random spot on a map, and he ends up renting a car and driving with his wife into the Ozarks. They pull off the highway where a sign promises a restaurant and a place to stay, but the road turns to a dirt road. They pass an old gypsy woman and do not give her a ride, which leads to her placing a curse upon them. When they reach the ramshackle inn, they find it’s run by gypsies, and they’re kidnapped and taken to a hidden gypsy camp where they are locked in a ramshacklier shanty on the Night of the Wolf. And werewolves attack, and they survive. BECAUSE THEY’RE NOW CURSED WITH LYCANTHROPY.

It’s a pretty basic story, and not a very good one. But it hearkens back to a time of less cellular coverage and fewer smartphones. In a more deft storytelling, this might not have been quite so disparate, the distance between then and now, but reading it left a lot of brainpower for thinking about other things instead of the primary text.

Geez, Charles, I hope this isn’t your brother I’m pooh-poohing.

Book Report: Terrorist Summit by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 27th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book reads so much like an authentic Don Pendleton book that I checked Fantastic Fiction to see if Pendleton wrote it. He did not; Steven Krauzer did. Krauzer, apparently, had read some of the Pendleton books before starting out. You have a lot of the elements of the Pendleton Bolan in the book, but a decided bit of tomfoolery at the end that is uncharacteristic of Pendleton.

In the book, Bolan has to go to Algiers to look for a missing technology executive whose daughter was kidnapped by terrorists of some stripe. For ransom, they want a prototype suitcase nuke the exec’s company had developed. The man goes to Africa himself to find his daughter and is instead captured, and it’s up to Bolan to get him out. Bolan does so early, getting the nominal plot out of the way so it can turn Pendeltonesque. Bolan pursues the woman to a camp in the Sahara where a Soviet-trained bad guy has assembled a summit of numerous terrorist groups to organize them under an umbrella operation headed by him. Bolan infiltrates the base posing as a Mafia-based bigwig and turns the groups upon themselves. This is all pretty Pendletonesque.

However, at the climax, Bolan is escaping from the site in a Range Rover when a Jeep pursues. He puts down his rifle to pick up his trademark .44 and has the Range Rover spring into reverse so suddenly he’s coming at the terrorists hard and fast while firing the handgun. Instead of, you know, shooting them with the rifle from a distance.

The tacky ending makes me wonder how the whole business worked. Did the editors have this cinematic ending in mind and perhaps on paper when turning it over to the writer to fill in the gaps? I dunno, but it diminishes the book.

I’m going to start calling these things the thrown silverware moments in honor of Silent Night: an outlandish moment in the climax thrown in for cinematic value but that leaves any thoughtful reader agape.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Silent Night by Robert B. Parker and Helen Brann (2013)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 25th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book was a little bit of a gift; it was, for me, an unexpected new Robert B. Parker Spenser novel. And although I savaged a lot of his later work on this very blog, because I know (suspect) this will be the last of his Spenser novels (although it was completed by someone else), I enjoyed it.

The plot: Around Christmas time, a boy comes to Spenser for help. The boy is associated with an unlicensed youth help facility. Run by the brother of an importer/exporter. Of drugs. The center is funded by the brother, who is unhappy about it but promised his mother to take care of his brother. Someone is attacking the brother who runs the shelter, trying to drive him off. The authorities are on the drug-smuggling brother, and he’s about to bolt, but he’s going to tie up some loose ends–including his former tennis pro girlfriend who might know too much. Until Spenser.

You know, trying to sum up the plot, I wonder if it holds up to scrutiny, or if the plot is merely the excuse for some Spensering.

Regardless, it’s full of proper Parkeriana: “Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” and unnecessary asides and psychoanalysis. We also get the obvious errata, like describing a Playstation and a couple of game cartridges or taking the shells out of a rifle. But because this is the last new Parker Spenser I’ll (probably) read, I kind of viewed them with affection.

Although I did laugh out loud in the climax, when the tennis pro is faced with a killer at a dinner party and picks up a knife from the table and throws it at the fellow, stopping him cold with a table knife to the chest. and Helen Brann, I presume. That does not read like something Parker would have done.

At any rate, I enjoyed it affectionately, and as time passes, Parker’s rising again in my memory. Perhaps I will fill out my collection of his works after all.

Now, with this rosy glow, do I pick up some of the latest John Sandford novels from the library?

UPDATE: As he mentions in the comments, Friar has already read this book.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Red Water by “J.R. Roberts” (2008)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 22nd, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverIn case you’re wondering, it looks like it takes about nine months for me to forget how much I don’t like a series. I read A Daughter’s Revenge last May, and it took me until February 2015 to pick up this book.

Clint Adams, the Gunsmith, is camped out when clumsy horse thieves try to get the drop on him and steal his horse. He outfoxes them, goes to a nearby town (Red Water of the title), has an, erm, encounter, discovers the local marshal is forming a posse to hunt those dangerous (but clumsy) outlaws. The Gunsmith thinks that’s odd, and when he joins the posse after an, erm, encounter, he finds the marshal doesn’t have a plan for all the town’s decent gun handlers except that they’re out of town. Apparently, the marshal is in on a scheme to steal the plans of safes made by a local safemaker. Which Adams thwarts amid the, erm, encounters.

Of the contemporary Jove Western series, Longarm is the better of the two. As to the Gunsmith series, I think I’ll put them on a higher shelf and avoid them until I forget, again, how I feel about them.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Gallic and Civil Wars by Julius Caesar (2006 ed)

Posted in Book Report, Books, History, History on February 21st, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverAs I mentioned, I got this book at the end of December with a Christmas gift card from ABC Books, who were having a half off sale on Folio Society books at the time, which is why I ended up with such a la-di-da edition. But Folio books are pretty handsome editions with heavyweight paper for the pages and a box to keep the dust off the top. I won’t join Folio Society and pay its prices for these books, but when I see them in the wild relatively inexpensive, I might pick them up if they’re something I want to read.

And I wanted to read this book after reading Last Seen in Massilia which takes place during the Civil War.

This book collects not only Caesar’s commentary on the Gallic War and the Civil War, but also the African War and the Spanish War (which were essentially extensions of the Civil War but with Pompey’s sons.

I’ll spare you the complete history lesson, but I will tell you what I learned about Roman warfare in the process:

  • With every campaign, Caesar informs the reader that he has secured a source of corn. This is no mere battlefield heroics tale; Caesar emphasizes the importance of logistics throughout, and the choice of camp sites for their access to food, water, and forage are continuously emphasized.
     
  • The amount of engineering and digging involved in soldiering in the Roman era took me a little by surprise. Whenever camping, the soldiers fortify their camp, and if they’re going to stay a while, they dig a lot of trenches and build earthen walls. To say nothing about the Battle of Alesia.
     
  • The Civil War has a different tone than the The Gallic War. The history of his campaigns in Gaul have the flavor of writing for history; the Civil War account has more of the feel of a contemporary political tract, where he’s justifying what’s going on for current readers, not history.
     
  • Caesar proves awful forgiving at times, allowing those whom he defeats to retain their lives and some of their privileges. This might have been prudent politically and strategically, as it allowed opponents to know that surrender did not mean death. It probably shortened many sieges. This contrasts with the Mongols, who drove refuges from captured towns before them to terrorize their next victims.
     

At any rate, it’s a pretty easy read even though it took me almost two months; as you know, I’ve been reading some other unrelated things alongside it. The translation seems pretty contemporary, and the narrative moves along, although I could have used a couple more maps sprinkled in the text to keep the movements straighter in my head. Also, I admit letting a large number of the names of the participants and places wash over me a bit.

I read a lot of these heady tomes, and I’m reading them, for the most part, and not studying them. I’m not highlighting or taking notes to write a paper on them. Perhaps that makes me less of a student than I should be, but the aggregation of the things I read builds connections between them so I am pretty sure I’m getting smarter as I do. But this isn’t the place for a detailed analysis of the Roman impact on Egyptian politics or the Egyptian impact on Roman politics in the first century BC, nor is it really my interest. Sorry, Googlers.

Also, note: This book was (mostly) written by Julius Caesar. Before the new Testament. Caesar is, you know, Caesar. A figure of such import to history that rulers bore his title two millennia later (that’s the Russian Tzars, as a reminder). There’s something inherently cool in my mind about reading his books. I’ll probably feel the same way about reading Thucydides and Plutarch once I really get into this Greek-Roman History rabbit hole.

I recommend it. It looks like you can get this edition for about $40 on the Internet, but the Kindle versions are cheaper.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Kung Fu: The Way of the Tiger, The Sign of the Dragon by Howard Lee (1973)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 18th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is one of several books tied into the original Kung Fu television series from the 1970s, in which a half-American Shaolin priest with a bounty on his head wanders the west having adventures. It ran for a couple of years and then ran in syndication for far longer (ask your dad what “syndication” is). Then, in the early 1990s, a spin-off appeared featuring the grandson and great-grandson of the original character, and that series played for longer than the original. I think I saw more segments and/or episodes of the spin-off than the original. So I didn’t come to the book with an existing love for the characters or story.

The book starts much like a pilot of the television series; in a series of flashbacks, Caine’s training is revealed and the events leading to his exile from China and the bounty on his head. In the present day of the book, which is the old West, Caine is fitting in with a bunch of railroad building Chinese immigrants driven by a harsh and murderous foreman who insists upon following the exact route planned for the railroad even though the company’s pesky geologist predicts disaster in blasting through mountains. When the disaster occurs, the Chinese rise up and only Caine can protect them from slaughter at the hands of the railroad guards.

It’s a short paperback, but it’s not as quick a read as could be expected. There is little dialogue, and there are stretches of paragraphs or pages of unnecessary musing–I guess this is the character development. The flashbacks aren’t problematic, though, and if you’re not familiar with the television series, they do provide a bit of parallel tension as his training unfolds.

I’ve got a bunch more of these paperbacks, and I’ll read them by and by. It did interest me in looking up the television series, but it doesn’t look like it’s free on Amazon Prime, so I won’t rush out to buy the DVDs for them. But the book is working its marketing and synergy magic, albeit forty years later.

Books mentioned in this review:

As I’ve Been Warning You

Posted in Books, Movies on February 14th, 2015 by Noggle

Disney films end up with fewer corpses on the stage than their source material. 20 Disney Movies That Are Based on Bizarre and R-rated Stories/How Your Favorite Disney Stories *Actually* Ended.

(See also Book Report: The Harvard Classics: Folk-Lore and Fable by Aesop, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen, Book Report: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (1831, 193x?), and Book Report: Kipling: A Selection of His Stories and Poems (Volume I) by Rudyard Kipling, edited by John Beecroft (1956).)

(Link via Ace of Spades HQ.)

Book Report: The Harvard Classics: Folk-Lore and Fable by Aesop, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 11th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverI’ve been reading this book to my son(s) over the course of the last two or three years. It’s a 368 page book, so cut me a little slack. Also note that we did the book in fits and starts, where we read a bunch of Aesop together, both boys and I, at the outset, but once we got into the relatively bloody Grimm brothers, we held off a bit. Eventually, the older boy wanted to hear the stories more than his younger brother did.

At any rate, we’re through it now. I’m not going to go into great detail because it’s been three years, and I’ve forgotten any of the lessons of Aesop’s that I might have learned. I will sum up some thoughts on each:

  • Aesop’s fables are good for children. They have a message in them, and their fanciful use of animals will make the children pay attention.
     
  • The Brothers Grimm are pretty bloody. There’s a lot of chopping getting done and bodily harm, but most of the stories have a redemptive element if not a Christian message. Famous Grimm stories include “Rapunzel”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Cinderella”, “Little Red-Cap”, “Little Snow White”, “Rumplestiltskin”, and “The Golden Goose”. When Disney got a hold of them, the films had more survivors than the stories. Which is the same complaint I had about Disney’s Hamlet. Also, the brothers reuse elements of their stories, so if you read the whole kit and kaboodle at once, you’ll feel a sense of deja vu.
     
  • Hans Christian Andersen has a reputation about being child friendly, but his stories are about as bloody as the brothers Grimms’, and they often don’t end on a note of redemption. Instead, some like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” just kind of end abruptly, while others end like “The Shadow” end with a nominal protagonist losing in the end. Hans Christian Andersen is not unlike a children’s Stieg Larsson. Famous HCA stories include the aforementioned “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Little Mermaid” (which does not probably end like the Disney film), “The Ugly Duckling”, and the source for at least one Kate Bush song (which does not end the same way as the song or its video).

        

All in all, a good collection. Now we’re going to read the Harvard Classics Arabian Nights, and three years’ hence when we finish that, the lad(s) should be ready for Plato and Aristotle.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Return to Vietnam by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 10th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book shares an awful lot of plot with The New War. Grimaldi flies Mack Bolan into the jungle, where Bolan is supposed to rescue a man from an enemy camp, and then Grimaldi returns to save the day.

This time, though, Bolan is returning to Vietnam to exfiltrate a soldier who stayed behind and who knows about American POWs still held by the Vietnamese. He joins up with some Hmong in-country and runs into difficulty when a beautiful resistance fighter fancies Bolan over another man in her unit, and that man is a hothead who might cross Bolan to get the girl.

Unfortunately, this book was a bit of a slog for a variety of reasons. For starters, there are some technical inaccuracies to consider: For starters, the method of getting Bolan into the jungle is for him to eject from a Harrier (the new hotness at the time), and then for the Harrier to fly back to base. With part of the canopy missing. Presumably, Bolan will land and go on fighting, albeit an inch or two shorter for the time being (ejecting from a fighter is not the same as jumping from a skydiving school, kids; it’s a violent action that sometimes knocks the ejected unconscious). Then there’s a lot of bringing weapons up to the hip in firing position. Oh, and the firsts. When thinking about how good Grimaldi is, Bolan thinks, “I’m a pretty good pilot myself.” Uh. That’s new. And he lights a cigarette. And he sheds a tear. So Bolan in this book is a bit more of a stock action hero than the man shaped by the history of the first forty books in the series. He even moons over the Hmong woman even though he’s got the love of his life in America. On the other hand, the contact with Stony Man Farm is dismissed, and we don’t get chapters of Hal and April fretting or remembering what an awesome guy Bolan is, either.

Still, I think I’ll take a break from the series for a bit.

Oh, and if you’re wondering whether I’m actually reading Julius Caesar or merely using its presence on my chairside table as a pretext to read junk: I’ve finished The Civil War, but it’s all Super Mario Brothers on poor Caesar. “Thank you, Caesar, but victory is in another castle!” And so Caesar is off to Egypt. I’ve got the Alexandrian War and the Spanish War to go.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Civil War As They Knew It edited by Pierce G. Frederick (1961)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 9th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book says its text is by Abraham Lincoln and the photos are by Mathew Brady; however, only the latter is true for the most part. Although the book does quote Lincoln on every page, the editor’s text far outweighs Lincoln’s words. The book is 200 pages of photographs, and the images themselves take precedence. The editor provides a light running history of the war accompanying the images, and then Lincoln gets his say at the end of each snippet of historical text. Lincoln’s comments come from speeches, letters, and cables he sends during the course of the war.

It’s a quick perusal–although it’s 200 pages, I ran through it in a little over an hour–but the book has a good summary-level review of the Civil War and, most strikiningly, the photographic record of a war one hundred and fifty years ago.

That’s before the Internet, child. And before television, even over-the-air broadcast television.

Books mentioned in this review:

Some Moron Reviewed My Book

Posted in Books on February 6th, 2015 by Noggle

A reader of the Ace of Spades HQ blog, which makes him a moron because that’s what the community over there describe themselves as, has reviewed John Donnelly’s Gold and gave it four out of five stars.

So he’s not a real moron; he’s a man of discriminating taste.

Book Report: The Pocket Book of Old Masters edited by Herman Wechsler (1949)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 4th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a 1949 paperback. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s sixty-five years old. That’s a quality paperback. And it was in pretty good shape before I started sticking it in my pockets and sitting on it for a couple of weeks.

At any rate, this book covers ten painters considered “old masters” in 1949, including:

  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Raphael
  • Michelangelo
  • Titian
  • Bruegel
  • Rubens
  • Rembrandt
  • El Greco
  • Velasquez
  • Vermeer

Each chapter includes a two-page intro by the author that talks about the text selection for each author, and then the text that follows is some writing about the author. I have to say that generally, because some of it is biographical, some of it is interpretive, and some of it is fiction. For example, for the Renaissance Italian fellows, we have some biographical sketches of da Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. But for Titian, we get a bit of purple prose describing Titian’s works in glowing and abstract terms. For El Greco, we get a section of On Human Bondage, a novel. So it’s unfortunate that the chapters are uneven.

This book also includes a number of black and white reproductions of some of the artists’ work. It’s unfortunate that they’re only in black and white, though, but given this is a little pocket paperback from the immediate post World War II period, it’s understandable. Still, the writers often talk about the artists’ unique use of color and that’s not something the reader can see.

Still, it’s a good quick summary course in these artists and could serve as a stepping stone to further interest. I’m more interested in Vermeer now and have researched him a little on the Internet to see some of his works in actual color.

So it’s an effective book, for sure, and it made me lament contemporary art museums and the elementary school rubbish on the walls there. But that happened because few enough people in the middle of the last century cared to make artistic judgments for themselves and instead let the academics and critics dictate taste.

Books mentioned in this review: