Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton

Admittedly, I know little about Canadian history or Nancy Drew books, but these cutely drawn comics that often use history and literature (including comics) as subject matter are rather delightful, even if it gets a little overwhelming sitting down to read an entire collection at once. I would say they should be more popular, but many of the references are just too obscure. Hark! A Vagrant  

Not sure why this first collection is being published here about three weeks after the sequel, but that's how I role (I guess).

The Property - Rutu Modan

A young woman and her grandmother travel from Israel to Poland ostensibly to learn about property that was confiscated from their family by the Germans in World War II, but the truth to the grandmother’s visit is much more complex. Nicely illustrated, this a good tale to be told and to read as the days of the World War II survivors quickly grow dim. There's a lot to like about the story, as there is strong characterization, humor, pathos, history, and romance, but perhaps that is also the problem, as the story attempts to take on so many elements that it often loses track of itself, weakening the overall effect. Still, I did enjoy it and ate it up in a single sitting and it is hardly a thin volume; and I think you would too. 

American Sniper

I suppose this movie about America's most celebrated sniper (in that he has the most confirmed kills) is based on the book of the same name and is just as accurate or inaccurate as that. Still, I found it rather interesting being action-packed (plenty people are getting shot in the head) and yet does not glorify warfare (most of the film has our main character suffering from post-traumatic stress). I felt it struck a good balance between the difficulties of trying to be loyal to your country and fellow soldiers and being present for your family. Then again if we did not invade Iraq needlessly the story would not have had to happen.

Germany From Above

My cousin Ina sent this to my mom to remind her of her original country. This movie shows images, and explanations, of and about Germany broken down month by month to show various changes in landscape, activities, and weather. The key is that all the images are taken from above giving some magnificent aerial views. Enjoyable and beautiful, but some people might find it too much of a tourism film. Thanks again, Ina! German from Above

Mike's Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv - Jack Baxter, Joshua Faudem, & Koren Shadmi

I try to reserve October postings for horror themed works to go with the spirit of Halloween (not really sure why), and considering that this work is about a terrorist attack that takes place at a kind of hippie bar in Tel Aviv, it seems to fit. It is an interesting work describing the events that led up to, included, and the aftermath of just one of the seemingly endless bombings that take place in Israel, giving details on the lives, loves, and personalities of various people involved. Apparently, it is made by the same people and relates to the documentary: Blues by the Beach. I have not seen it and don't want to give false comparison, but I will say that while this work is very good it either needs to have several characters and events cut to streamline it, or it need to increase its length by about a third to do justice to the various characters. As is, it feels rushed and truncated, so that I felt I was missing some piece of information, or an important interaction that was cut from the final draft. This may not be true, but is the impression that I get. Still, a poignant and powerful read. mike's place

Boxers & Saints - Gene Luen Yang

Yang is probably best known for the wonderful American Born Chinese and, if you read this site, his awesome presentation to the American Library Association. This isn't as strong, as I believe he's having some difficulty finding a balance between telling a serious story and his very cartoony artistic style. Still, this was a fascinating adaptation of the Boxer Rebellion that took place in China in the late 1800s against the pseudo colonization of China by foreign powers. While I know of the basics of the rebellion, I don't know the specific details of the people involved, so I can't say if this accurately reflected their mythology (he does have a bibliography at the end but what does that mean?). Either way it's rather poignant as you watch a young boy go from a carefree youth to disillusionment to empowerment to the slow degradation of all his values; truly intense stuff. There's also the companion piece entitled Saints which is designed to show the point of view not of the foreign powers per se, but those Chinese that associated with them. Again, not as strong as Boxers but I'm glad he made the attempt. Even together they are a fast read and I recommend them. boxers

The Salon - Nick Bertozzi

It is the beginning of the 1900s in Paris, and someone is decapitating avant-garde artists, so just such a group must ban together to save their own necks, uncover the mystery, and stop these deplorable crimes, while still getting totally drunk and creating the foundations of modern art. Trust me, that sounds more interesting than this really is. Part of the problem is I don't know much of about half the artists that make up the characters in this supernatural story (and by the way, while using historical characters can be clever, it is rather unfair to the reader who may not know much about them, and it's pretty cheap of the writer who does nothing to help illuminate the characters, but instead relies on the reader's knowledge to make up for characterization). The art was somewhat interesting, and the different colorizations were hit and miss, and while I don't know if it's true that Georges Braque was really the brains behind Picasso's Cubism (what's the matter Picasso? Feeling insulted? Oh, are you going to have another blue period?) I like to believe it is because everything I hear about Picasso makes me think he was a dick. The end result was I didn't care much for this comic, although I could easily see others liking it--like the four people who wrote blurbs praising the story, who were also conveniently thanked in the acknowledgment page (perhaps some quid pro quo?). salon

In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and its Consequences - Truman Capote

The book is a documentary account (no, I'm not entirely sure what that means) of the 1959 murders of a family in a small town in Kansas. Oddly or unfortunately enough there were plenty of other murders, just as pointless, just as brutal, but apparently not as shocking or well-known, around the same time, so don't confuse the story as an end of innocence tale. Why Capote chose to write about this one, I don't know, but he does so with great eloquence and empathy making this work every bit as exciting and unbelievable as fiction. If you're interested in history--or in murder (I'm being flippant, but there's fascinating insight into the mind of murderers)--then you may well enjoy, for lack of a better word, this book. I also saw the movie, as I am planning to teach this text and I wanted to see what was covered and, more importantly, what wasn't. Unfortunately, the film is from the 60s, and suffers greatly from the point of view of a modern movie-goer who expects action and adventure, although it did a somewhat decent job painting a vivid picture in two hours what the book took 340 pages to do. In Cold Blood

Last Days in Vietnam

An incredibly powerful documentary examining the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 and the inaction of many and the actions of a few to get those that helped America during our horrific conflict there out of the country so that they would not face almost certain death. This poignant film is all the more so considering how many we are or will be leaving behind since exiting Iraq and Afghanistan. Powerful stuff. Last days in Vietnam

Seabiscuit

This is the story about an abused horse that is too small for racing, a down and out kid too big to be a jockey, a horse trainer who is too old, and a very rich horse owner who is trying to get over the death of his son (and has a ridiculous generosity with his money). I'm assuming most of the story is true, and I kind of don't want to know which parts, if any, are fabricated, as it really is a nicely done feel good movie that parallels well with the needs of the nation coming out of the depression that is its setting. seabiscuit

Over Easy - Mimi Pond

This is a very strong tale, done in sketchy light blue, about a wannabe artist, who, after being forced out of college due to finances, takes a job in a diner. It is the late 70s in San Francisco and the characters are, to say the least, rather colorful. Drugs, sex and a hodgepodge of musical and artistic styles all come together for the backdrop of this tale of daily life. It is a long work, and even then feels rushed at times, with a variety of people all thrown together, so at times it may be difficult to keep track of who is who (and especially of who is having sex with who), and while I understand why it ended on a somewhat upbeat, if unfinished, note, I would've liked to see more of a conclusion, as, let's face it, we are talking about a very specific moment in time. But I suppose it would leave things with too much of a downer, so perhaps it is best we have what we have. Definitely worth reading. over easy

Nathan Hale's Hazadous Tales: The Underground Abductor - Nathan Hale

I greatly enjoy these tales ostensibly told by America's first spy, who shares the name of the author, who, just prior to his execution, is able to recount tales throughout American history. And recount them he does, mainly geared towards a young adult audience but I like them just fine. This one is about the escaped slave Harriet Tubman (as she would name herself) and her amazingly adventurous life shuttling slaves to freedom. Plenty of stuff I never learned in school, this is perhaps one of my favorite in the series so far. underground abductor

A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York - Liana Finck

The intelligent and beautiful Ms. Finck presents us with a largely forgotten part of New York history in the form of letters to the editor of The Forward, and incredibly influential Yiddish newspaper at the turn of--not this last one but the one before--the century, asking for advice. I do have some problems with it, some of the light blue writing couple with light blue drawings, and very sketchy ones at that, don't always demonstrate her full talent, and some of the comics could be better laid out on the page. Additionally, and I don't know if this is how it actually worked out, editor Cahan's replies to some incredibly poignant dilemmas seemed far too brisk. Still, it is an insightful and powerful, if, and forgive the term, brief exploration into a fascinating historical time and the immigrant mindset. I can't say for sure if this work is for everyone, but definitely want to try to make and eat some schav. bintel brief

The Furies - Mike Carey

It is an interesting idea based on Greek mythology: The Titan, Cronus, had been hunted by the Furies--forces of vengeance against those that kill their kin--since around the beginning of time, and comes up with a plan to get rid of them once and for all. Unfortunately, the story is directly tied to The Sandman universe and makes enjoyment of the comic impossible for those disconnected from the title (that had ended long (enough) before). I also wasn't thrilled with John Bolton's art. It seems like all the characters where drawn from friends modeling the person/pose and it gives that awkward feeling of pictures that look too close to people but not close enough that is discussed in the art/animation/CGI world. 

Two Gun Hart: Lawman, Cowboy, and Long-Lost Brother of Al Capone - Jeff McArthur

Second generation Italian immigrant, horse rider/ acrobat/ boxer/ wrestler/ circus performer, music lover, blue collar worker, honored Veteran of World War I, Nebraskan Marshall, agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, temporary bodyguard to President Coolidge, delusional and intractable in seeing the world in anything but black and white, idolizer of movie star Cowboys, perjurer, and flamboyant enforcer of the 18th amendment, are all terms that could be used to describe Vincenzo Capone, or Richard Hart, or one of the other names he (and others) called “Two Gun,” but if you called him anything at all—and that is extremely doubtful for anyone prior to reading this book—you would have called him the big brother of Al Capone: the most notorious Prohibition gangster of them all. This is a story so unbelievable, so incredible, it can only be true. The author does a fantastic job painting a vividly detail portrait of a man most could not even have imagined existed. Seamlessly written, the author takes the life of Richard “Two Gun” Hart and breaks it down into digestible chunks, brilliantly illustrating the people, times, and events that surrounded, influenced, and shaped the “other” Capone. This is not simply a book one reads, so much as devours, and not alone, as I constantly felt the need to share in the discoveries of the book, reading passages to friends and family alike just to see the shocked and thrilled expressions on their faces that must have mirrored my own. Even people who lived to the times discussed, were still taken aback in disbelief. It is disappointing that the citations to clarify the many fascinating historical events are broadly listed at the end only, making it difficult to allow the reader to separate and make their own opinion about some of the speculations that the author engages in on occasion (for example, he continues with the faulty notion that a cow caused the great Chicago fire), although not without circumspection and insight. It additionally could be argued that the author is too reliant on integrating information about the criminal Capones with that of their long lost brother (who is, after all, the centerpiece of the story), a fact that he touches upon at the end, although the vast majority of it is clearly necessary to broaden the understanding of “Two Gun.”

The story is historically fascinating, poignant and deeply moving; a true adventure tale that speaks to the American character. It is a story about immigration, American values (and their mercurial manifestations), the (im)possibilities of (re)defining oneself, and family—for better or for worse. I can't imagine someone not wanting to read this book. Find out more about the author and his works here

Marco Polo

This Netflix original series it is often very pretty to look at and has quite a degree of action and naked breasts, but for a story about the historical explorer, it has much to be desired, such as historical accuracy.  

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

This example isn't in the book but might as well be: by the late 80s, glam metal bands were the rage. At the same time, a small music scene almost unknown outside of Seattle called Grunge existed. By the early 90s, with Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (the band's frontman is mentioned in a quotation, once) exploding onto the world scene, Glam Rock was passé and a dozen Grunge bands flooded the airwaves. Soon the most popular band of the world was Pearl Jam, and high-end fashion shows featured the (once) cheap, dirty--but warm--flannels, that were the mainstay of grunge fashion. According to Gladwell's book, Grunge hit the tipping point. The idea is that a number of very small factors (i.e. situational context) or individuals (e.g. those who know their stuff (Mavens) or know tons of people (Connectors)) create massive impact that shape events in the street, politics, culture, etc. The book discusses in easy to read language, saving citations for the end as to not scare off readers, numerous examples of the tipping point in action and goes step-by-step and explaining the various types of people and situations that are necessary to cause a tipping point. Here's the problem: the book gives the impression that there might actually be mathematically or perhaps culturally devised ways to make something such as an economic or social trend tip, while if such a thing were possible you would probably have an awful lot of people and companies doing just that. Additionally, a problem with the text is that it further gives the impression that if something tips in remains tipped. This is honestly absolutely ludicrous; trends come and go, empires rise and fall etc. With only one weak example as an exception, there are no trends mentioned that tipped and then eventually fell by the wayside into obscurity (or at least admitted to in the book), and the example given is of a company that undermined itself. Perhaps that is why Grunge is not discussed--it is a trend that tipped and was un-tipped or overshadowed and thus would not fit within the book's model. The work is very interesting and informative, but it is likewise misleading, filled with cherry picked examples that never become un-tipped, and thus in the end it is somewhat disappointing, despite the fact that numerous pages are dedicated to the tale of the incredible and intellectual Mark Alpert—sadly that is not me, but just another namesake pushing me farther down of Google search result list. 

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

How long has it been since I reviewed an actual book? It seems all I do is read academic essays for work and comics for fun. And yet it is pure fun to engage in this classic novel of betrayal, intrigue, revenge, and romance(!). Edmond Dantes's life looks like it is going to be awesome. Still a teenager and he is captain of a boat and marries his beautiful love. Naturally all his "friends" betray him and he is sent to the dungeons of France during the restoration of the monarchy (it helps to know a little about Napoleon in French history). There he meets the seemingly insane Abbe Faria who tells him of an incredible treasure they could share should they escape. All Edmond can think about is how he would use the fortune to manipulate events to horrifically punish those who have stabbed him in the back. What a great story, but a long one and I'm not sure those who would be most thrilled by the tale have the patience to get through it all.

Outlander

This cable show is about Claire, a married British nurse who, after WWII, is transported in time to 1743, while visiting Scotland. So this is very much a live action romance novel. In the first episode her husband casually mentioned that if she did cheat on him during the war it was ok because they were worlds away, so that's the hint that she's going to hook up with the young stud from the past (presumably, I've only seen a couple of episodes). While I love the idea of Scots trying to kill the English and the scenery is beautiful, the plot is always the same as Claire thinks X about the people/time, which is bad, only to realize that it is Y, which is good, and there is horrible monotone narration of her thoughts that sound like they just handed her the novel to read from without any prep. PS After Scotland voted "no" on independence, I'm pretty sick of any story that whines about how hard the Scots had it under English rule.