Book Review: The Boy Knight

Book Review: The Boy Knight by G. A. Henty

boy

G.A. Henty (1852-1902) was a writer of children’s historical fiction, who began his career as an author after a friend heard him telling bedtime stories to his kids.  Like many Victorian authors, he’s out of favor these days, but my parents found this book at an estate sale.

Cuthbert is fifteen when the story begins, a lad of mixed Norman and Saxon blood during the reign of Richard I (Richard the Lionheart.)  This gives him ties to both his late father’s cousin, the Earl of Evesham, and his mother’s relative, the landless freeman Cnut.  Learning that the Earl plans to rid the forest of the landless men, Cuthbert warns them in time, then happily finds a way for the woodsmen to help save the Earl’s daughter from his real enemy, the Baron of Wortham.

Recognized for his bravery and cleverness, Cuthbert is made the Earl’s squire when a Crusade is called.  The noble (in the best sense of the word) lad is quickly noted by King Richard, and soon becomes a knight.  Alas, after many adventures the old Earl dies without a male heir, but before he goes convinces Richard to appoint Cuthbert the new Earl of Evesham and the betrothed of the old Earl’s lovely daughter.

More adventures later, Cuthbert arrives back in England incognito, to discover that wicked Prince John has appointed one of his unpleasant cronies as Earl and betrothed.  Now Cuthbert must defeat the false Earl, save the maiden and find the missing true king.  With a little help from Robin Hood and Blondel, he accomplishes all this.

The prose is rather stiff with an antiquated vocabulary–today’s children might get the impression that they’re reading a book for grown-ups.  Those looking for deep characterization are likely to be disappointed.  Cuthbert begins the story honest, kind, brave and clever, and remains so throughout.  His primary character flaw is that he is, perhaps, just a little too boyishly fond of adventure.  When not engaged in battle, even the lowliest of persons is formal of speech.

This is not to say the work is free of moral ambiguity.  It’s admitted that the Crusades had generally bad results in spite of their lofty purposes, the Muslims have valid reasons for opposing the Crusaders, and King Richard’s selfish actions are shown to have negative consequences even while he remains the great hero of the story.  Parents reading this with their children may wish to discuss how easily religion can be used as an excuse for war, and the real history of the Crusades.

This book can also be found under the title “Winning His Spurs.”  It’s a good example of children’s literature of a bygone age, and with some caveats is suitable as a bedtime story even today.  As it’s in the public domain, there have been some inexpensive reprints in recent years.

Manga Review: Ayako

Manga Review: Ayako by Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka is best known in the United States for his early children’s manga and their subsequent animated adaptations like “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion.”  But later in his prolific career, he also produced quite a few works for more mature readers, such as “MW” and “Ode to Kirihito.”  Ayako falls into the latter category.

Ayako1

The year is 1949, and the last of the Japanese POWs are returning to Japan.  Among them is Jiro Tenge, second son of a wealthy landowning family.  Times are tough for the Tenge clan due to the occupation’s land reforms breaking up their holdings.  They’re desperately trying to hold on to their remaining prestige, a task made more difficult by the family’s dark secrets.  Jiro has his own secrets from the time he was in American captivity, and soon there is death in the story.

Soon, it is decided that the only way to protect the Tenge clan is to seal away the youngest  daughter, four-year-old Ayako, in a cellar.  There she remains for over twenty years while the rest of the family sows the seeds of their own destruction….Given the recent cases of women escaping from long captivity, the story has a resonance today.

Even Tezuka’s children’s work did not shy away from deep themes (parental abandonment and racism in Astro Boy, questions of gender identity in Princess Knight), but this is a particularly dark work.  In addition to the nudity and sexual situations you might have guessed from the cover, I need to issue TRIGGER WARNINGS for rape, child abuse, incest, torture, abuse of the developmentally disabled and domestic abuse.  None of this is depicted as good things, but it can be seriously disturbing.

This story uses few of Tezuka’s trademark “stars”, instead trying to come up with new faces for its cast.  One notable example is police officer Inspector Geta, who seems to be heavily inspired by Dick Tracy.

Inspector Geta
Inspector Geta and his mentor, Inspector Tanuma.

Bits of real Japanese post-war history are woven in, and there are footnotes indicating where this has happened.  Tezuka’s explanation of events is not kind to the American Occupation.

Again, this is a book for mature readers.  Late high school students might be able to handle it, but certainly not children.  (Given the NSFW cover, you might not want to read it in public even if you’re an adult.)  Recommended for Tezuka fans and those ready to explore the darker side of post-war Japan.

Book Review: America In So Many Words

Book Review: America In So Many Words by Allen Metcalf & David K. Barnhart

America

American English is its own animal, with a vocabulary that marks it out from British English.  This volume traces American history through the words that have been important to or invented by Americans.  It’s set in roughly chronological order, from “canoe” (1555) through “gerrymander” (1812) to “millennium bug” (1998.)  The authors admit to a certain amount of fudging, with some words discussed in the year they were invented, others when they became common and some when their usage changed.

Most of the entries are entertaining, full of useful or exciting facts.  Some words’ origins may be very familiar to educated readers, while others are obscure.  The indexes in the back are both alphabetical and chronolgical for easier searching.  The illustrations are somewhat sparse.

This is a good book for both the American history student and the lover of words.

Open Thread: It’s my birthday!

But you might be the one getting the present!  Check out this giveaway…

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

http://www.skjam.com/2013/06/15/arc-giveaway-the-cat-sitters-cradle-ends-june-30-2013/

And feel free to leave comments!

Got the news tonight that my current job is over.  Know of anything for a book blogger?

Manga Review: A*Tomcat

Manga Review: A*Tomcat by Osamu Tezuka

Atomcat

A perennial comic book idea is animal versions of previously created superheroes, such as Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny for Captain Marvel.  It turns out that manga creators can do it too.  Back in the 1950s, Osamu Tezuka created Tetsuwan Atom (“Mighty Atom”), the story of a super-powered robot that looked like a human boy.  In the U.S., he’s known as Astro Boy.  For a children’s series, it was quite deep, dealing with themes of identity, prejudice, parental abandonment, war and death.  (Did you know Astroboy died in Vietnam?)

A*Tomcat takes place in a world where Tetsuwan Atom is fiction, an old-time manga that young Tsugio and his father (an inventor of much more realistic robot technology) bond over.  Tsugio is easily bullied (the lead bully is nicknamed Gadaffi) and after a particularly humiliating session, Tsugio finds an abandoned kitten and names it Atom.

One bizarre accident with aliens later, little Atom is granted superpowers similar to the boy robot, which it uses to protect Tsugio and battle evil.  Supernatural cats (the mummy cat is particularly creepy), a crime syndicate, pirate ghosts, that sort of thing.

Tezuka’s art is in his more cartoony style, hearkening back to the Tetsuwan Atom series–indeed some pages are direct redraws of the older manga to provide a counterpoint to the cat’s adventures.

The bullying scenes may be a bit much for some readers (Tsugio winds up naked more than once) and there’s some toilet humor.  Otherwise it’s a fun kids’ manga, and there’s only one volume, making it relatively affordable.

 

Book Review: Shanghai 1937

Book Review: Shanghai 1937 by Peter Harmsen

Shanghai

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  This is my 25th win!

This is the first English-language book specifically about the battle for Shanghai in 1937, which is considered by some to be the start of the Asian portion of World War Two.  It’s notable for having unusually comprehensive press coverage for the time.  This was because both the Chinese and Japanese were very careful to involve the foreign quarter of Shanghai in the fighting as little as possible.  Neither of them wanted the Western nations to side with the other due to attacks on their citizens.

What that means is that there’s a wealth of contemporary sources of information about the battle, even if it’s obscure now because of the larger conflicts that followed.  AFP reporter Peter Harmsen has woven this into a chronological retelling of the conflict.  There are accounts from both the Chinese and Japanese soldiers, as well as the foreign observers.

A couple of points that stuck out to me:  having the large foreign quarter be neutral ground created tactical problems for both sides, and both sides frequently made tactical blunders that prolonged the three month battle.  Chiang Kai-shek does not come off at all well, demonstrating the qualities that would eventually result in his retreat to Taiwan.

There are excellent photos and maps, as well as the battle order.  There are copious footnotes, bibliography,and an index.  The prose is clear and understandable

This volume is a bit pricey at $32.95, but will be worth it to the World War II and military history buffs.  Everyone else should check it out at the library.

ARC Giveaway: The Cat Sitter’s Cradle (Ends June 30, 2013)

This giveaway has ended!  Congratulations to the winner!

Please check to see if there’s a new giveaway!

Hey, folks!  I thought I would give giveaways another chance.  So I’ll be giving away an Advanced Reading Copy of The Cat Sitter’s Cradle by Blaize & John Clement. in a contest.

Cradle

Rules

  • The contest begins today, June 14, 2013 and ends June 30, 2013 at ,midnight Central Daylight Time.
  • U.S, residents only (sorry international fans.)
  • One entry per person.
  • To enter the contest, comment to this entry with an answer to the topic:  “I like cats because…”

Even if you aren’t interested in the book yourself, please consider telling other people who might be interested on your favorite social networks.

Good luck!

Book Review: They Talked to a Stranger

Book Review: They Talked to a Stranger by Len O’Connor

Not actually a picture from the book.

This book is centered around ten interviews with juvenile delinquents by then-radio reporter Len O’Connor in 1950s Chicago.  Each of the boys is identified with a nickname, some their actual nickname, others chosen to protect their identities.    They’re asked how they got into a life of crime, a bit about their home situations, what kind of reformatory or jail experience they’ve had, and so forth.

“Moustache”, for example, is a cop killer.  It’s more bad luck and bad choices than something he planned to do, but a cop killer none the less.  “The Loner” is an Israeli citizen, “Joy Ride” just likes stealing cars for the thrill (and his capture on a petty theft charge keeps him from being indicted for murder with the rest of his gang) and “One-Arm” is going to find it hard to continue his burglary career after his laundry machine accident.

It’s pretty strong stuff, and would have been even stronger when it was published back in the 1950s.  Most of the boys are clearly doomed to continue being criminals in adulthood; even the Army won’t take them.  The one ray of hope is “Boot Straps”, an uneducated black man who one day decided that stealing was getting him nowhere and quit cold turkey, turning his life around despite every hardship.

There is discussion of racism as one of the contributing factors of juvenile delinquency.  Several of the boys talk about rape, but none of them admit to it.  (There’s a fair amount of casual sexism both from the delinquents and from Mr. O’Connor.)  Homosexuals are seen as disturbed, and the concluding chapter makes a disconnected suggestion that homosexuals = sexual deviants = child killers.

The concluding chapter has other thoughts on the problem of juvenile delinquency in Chicago.  Suggested fixes include strong positive relationships between fathers and sons, free athletic programs to keep active young men busy, and better enforcement of curfew laws.

This is an interesting look at crime by minors in a bygone decade; it is disheartening to see how little has changed in some respects.  I got my copy from a library discard sale, and reprints appear to be very rare.

Book Review: The Weird Ones

Book Review: The Weird Ones by Frederik Pohl, Poul Anderson, Milton Lesser, Eando Binder, Mack Reynolds, Sam Sackett & L. Sprague de Camp

Weird

This is an anthology of 1950s science fiction published in 1962.  In the Fifties, SF became more “thinky” than in the pulp era, with an emphasis on the soft sciences like psychology and sociology.  While still rather staid in certain areas, which would be radically updated with the New Wave in the 1960s, Fifties SF came closer to literature.  This was the first book printing for these stories, which is why the cover calls them rare.

A preface by H.L. Gold discusses the need for neologism in science fiction, and how it compares to real world neologism.

“Small Lords” by Frederik Pohl has a first contact situation go horribly wrong.  Can the Earthmen somehow communicate their peaceful intentions before they all die?

“Sentiment, Inc.” by Poul Anderson concerns a scientist who’s developed a way to influence people’s emotions and is determined to use it to make the world a better place.  Even if it means what some people would consider treason…or worse.  Period sexism is evident in the use of women as “rewards” rather than as people with agency in their own right.

“Name Your Tiger” by Milton Lesser is about a Mars colony threatened by a killer that can become your worst fear.  The thinky bit here is what exactly constitutes a greatest fear.  The man who says “goldfish” is lying.

“Iron Man” by Eando Binder is even heavier on the psychological aspects.  A downtrodden man develops the delusion that he’s a robot.  A psychiatrist attempts to help him, but is it too late?

“The Hunted Ones” by Mack Reynolds is set in a future where humanity has decided that Zaroff was the hero of “The Most Dangerous Game.”  Their alien prey finds a way to remind them that “alien” doesn’t just mean odd-looking.

“Hail to the Chief” by Sam Sackett has a professor who believes that the government should be run by smart people discover that this is actually true of the American government.  Be careful what you wish for.

And “Impractical Joke” by L. Sprague de Camp involves an expedition to an alien planet disrupted by a bully’s trick on a mentally ill man.  A story where the joke isn’t one bit funny.

A good selection of stories, though rather dated.  Worth looking for.

Book Review: The Cat Sitter’s Cradle

Book Review: The Cat Sitter’s Cradle by Blaize & John Clement

Cradle

Disclosure:  I received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  This is an Advance Reading Copy, so minor changes may be made in the final product.

The cover is adorable, a kitten bottle-feeding in a cradle.  This scene does not appear in the book, or anything remotely close to it.  But aww…

This is the eighth book about Dixie Hemingway, a former sheriff’s deputy in the Florida Keys who is now employed as a pet sitter.  She runs into more than her fair share of murder and mayhem in these cozy mysteries.  Blaize Clement is now deceased, and her son John Clement wrote the book from her notes.

In this one, Dixie is out walking a dog when she finds an exotic bird lying by the road.  Nearby is a woman who’s just given birth, a woman who begs not to be taken to a doctor.  To make Dixie’s life even more complicated, one of her clients turns up dead, a friend disappears after leaving a cryptic voice message, and the handsome attorney Dixie likes makes a move to deepen their relationship.

I have not read the previous books in the series, but it’s a serviceable installment.  Many scenes seem designed to check in with characters from previous books, which gives the feel of comfortable shoes.  The ending could serve as a decent place to stop the series should the sales not do well or Mr. Clement run out of usable notes.

There’s some dubious handling of evidence towards the end; I’m pretty sure that as a former deputy sheriff, Dixie should know better, but it’s needed to set up the climax.

I liked this book, but the hardcover is scheduled to retail at $24.99.  I’d recommend trying out earlier books in the series to see if you’re enchanted enough to pay full price, or waiting for paperback.,

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