Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments

Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments by Barbara Postema

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Narrative Structure in Comics

This is a scholarly work on the subject of “Comics” which here includes comic books, comic strips, graphic novels and sundry related items.  The emphasis is on the formal elements of comics, the structure which is used to create narrative.  Definition of terms and the historical development of comics as an art form are relegated to appendices.

Ms. Postema’s thesis is focused on the concept of “gaps”, which allow and require the implied reader to fill in those gaps and create the narrative.  The combination of pictures and gaps and often words creates an intertextuality that makes the reader a part of the creative process.

There are numerous illustrations in both color and black & white, while other examples are merely described and the student will have to look them up for themselves.   The fragments on the cover are from  Shutterbug Follies by Jason Little, which is also discussed in some detail (including spoilers!) in the text.  By a happy coincidence, this work is being reprinted on GoComics for free.  http://www.gocomics.com/shutterbug-follies/2014/01/06#.UtQkGZ5dWa8

There’s a considerable bibliography of both scholarly works and fine comics, and a helpful index.    This is, as stated before, a scholarly work that would most likely be used in college courses dealing with comics.  Bright high school students with an interest in the deeper aspects of comics should be able to handle it.  Id’d also recommend it to comics fans who enjoy examining formal narrative structure.

Book Review: Christians at the Border

Book Review: Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R.

Disclosure:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Christians at the Border

Daniel Carroll is a professor of Old Testament at Denver,  whose mother was Guatemalan, and who has divided his time between the U.S. and Guatemala since he was young.    As such, he has ties to both mainstream American and Latino culture.  In this updated edition (first version published in 2008) he speaks to the issue of immigration from a Biblical perspective.

He covers the history of immigration, primarily Hispanic, into the U.S. starting in 1848, and its ebbs and flows.   There’s a look at the question of  cultural identity and the economic impact of illegal immigration.  Unlike many articles on the subject, he also writes about the effect on the countries the immigrants are from.

Then he really warms to the theme of the Christian dimension of Hispanic immigration, citing its invigorating effects on American religious life, and an understanding of the “sojourner” theme in the Bible.   He refers to several different experiences in the Old Testament of immigration, including the stories of Ruth and Esther.

The book also looks at the Old Testament laws regarding “the stranger and the foreigner in your midst.”   Mr. Carroll claims this is different from similar law codes of the same time period in the Middle East because those others do not have laws to deal with immigration, and because they are influenced by the Hebrew people’s own experience in Egypt.

But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.  Leviticus 19:34

Turning to the New Testament, Mr. Carroll admits Jesus didn’t say anything about the specific topic of immigration, but he did spend time reaching out to the despised and those outside Judean society.  The parable of the Good Samaritan indicates that tribal identification is less important than a person’s behavior to determine who is a “neighbor” to be loved.

!st Peter extends a metaphor of all Christians as sojourners in strange lands.  And last, Mr. Carroll examines Romans 13, which is often used as a “clobber text” against undocumented immigrants.  If they are here illegally, they are breaking the law, and we need give them no further consideration, end of discussion.  But he feels this text should be examined in the context of Romans 12; discerning submission, rather than blind obedience.

The book wraps up with a call to Christians to make their decisions on how to treat immigrants, legal or otherwise, with a view to what the Bible teaches and the example of Jesus.

The text is clear and in understandable language, with a logical progression of thought.  The introduction by Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference is a bit more jargon-laden.  There’s also an afterword by Ronald J Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action.

For further study, there’s an appendix of resources including websites, both pro- and anti-immigration.  There are extensive endnotes and a small index.

This book will be of most interest to Christians, particularly of the evangelical persuasion, searching for perspective on the issue of immigration.   People interested in the immigration issue who are not Christian might also find it helpful to understand the Biblical perspective.

To quote again, May the Lord illumine us and grant us understanding.

Book Review: Glitter & Mayhem

Book Review: Glitter & Mayhem edited by John Klima, Lynne M Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Glitter & Mayhem

This volume is an anthology of speculative fiction short stories,  themed around dance clubs, loud parties, roller skates, sparkly light and glitter.  They’re full of sex, drugs and disco music.  I’ve never been much of a party person myself, not being fond of noisy crowds, deafening music or flashing lights.  So I can’t speak to the authenticity of the party scenes.

That said, there’s a fair mixture here of fantasy, SF and horror; as well as a couple of less genre-specific pieces.  The characters are a diverse lot, men, women and less defined genders, of multiple sexualities and races.

The stories I liked best were two straight-up roller derby tales: “Apex Jump” by David J. Schwartz, about a small town derby team that gets invited to an away game that’s out of this world;  and “Bad Dream Girl” by Seanan McGuire, which ties into her InCryptid series (which I have not read, but this story makes look promising.)

The introduction by Amber Benson comes off as overly pompous, and is quite skippable.  There are a number of interesting tidbits in the author bios in the back, which should help you if a story makes you want to read more of a particular writer.  This book, by the way, was a Kickstarter project, and the sponsors get their own thank you pages.  I am pleased to say that some of that money seems to have gone to competent proofreading and book design.

Trigger Warning:  The protagonist of “Subterraneans” commits rape by deception, and is not one whit repentant.

Overall:  There are a couple of standout stories, several quite decent ones, and a handful of clunkers.   If you’re much more into the dance party scene than I am, or are a big Kickstarter fan, you’ll probably enjoy this one enough to pay full price.  Everyone else should consider getting it from the library

Book Review: Why Do We Say It?

Book Review: Why Do We Say It? by unknown

As the subtitle on the cover suggest, this book is about words and phrases used in English, and where they came from.  It’s primarily in alphabetical order, except for some quizzes with answers at the back.  While many of the entries are amusing or interesting, a few are just “we borrowed it from French, but pronounced or spelled a little differently.”  Some of the word derivations are also a bit suspect,

Why Do We Say It?

This edition is put out by Castle Books, and was published in 1985.  There’s no author listed, no sources cited, no index; your college professor is not going to accept this as a source for your research paper.  From the typography, the writing style, the date of phrases not included, and some dated cultural assumptions, I believe this book is a reprint of one from the mid-1940s  (Some of the catchier phrases haven’t been in common use since the 1920s!)

Overall, a fun book, but the serious student of etymology will need a better-cited volume; for entertainment purposes only.

While we’re at it, here’s five questions from the book.  Can you answer them all?

  1. Why is some cloth called “broadcloth”?
  2. How did an unruly lock of hair come to be called a “cowlick”?
  3. What is the origin of the expression “fair-weather friends”?
  4. Why is a lively person said to be full of “ginger”?
  5. Why do we call a celebrity a “bigwig”?

Book Review: JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency

Book Review: JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency by John T. Shaw

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

JFK in the Senate

As someone born after John F. Kennedy was elected president, and about two years old when he died, I don’t really remember him in the same way as the generation just a bit before mine.  I learned about his PT boat exploits in World War Two, and about the events of his presidency, and especially about his assassination.  But he didn’t come out of nowhere as a young president.

In the later 1940s and the 1950s, JFK served Massachusetts first as a member of the House of Representatives, and then as a senator.  This volume concentrates on those years, tracing Kennedy’s development from a callow new representative to a successful presidential candidate.  For me, this is pretty interesting reading, shining some light into the political processes of the time, and Kennedy’s learning process.

However, this is very much a volume about John F. Kennedy the politician, not JFK the person.  We read little about his personal life and how it might have affected him.  Rather than a strict chronological retelling, the book focuses on various policy areas that Kennedy worked on during his senatorial years; domestic issues, foreign policy and his special committee to choose five senators to honor with portraits.

Thus, not only do we not learn anything about how Jackie Kennedy might have influenced his personality or politics, but there is no mention of when JFK married her.  Just a note at one point of a magazine calling Kennedy a “bachelor” and at another of Jackie attending the club for wives of senators.  Similarly, nothing of his children save brief acknowledgment that they existed.

Therefore, this work would best be supplemented by a fuller biography for most readers.  But for the Kennedy scholar wanting a closer look at his early political career, this will be a big help.  There are some black and white photos at the center, one of which is mentioned as being staged.  As well, there are end notes, a bibliography and index.

Check it out from your college or public library if the subject matter appeals to you.

Book Review: Murder by Sunlight

Book Review: Murder by Sunlight by Barbara Graham

Disclaimer: I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Murder by Sunlight

It’s coming up on the Fourth of July in tiny Park County in Tennessee, and Sheriff Tony Abernathy must deal with not just the heat and increased traffic, but a sudden wave of crime.  Someone is going around assaulting people in an attempt to find “Bob”, a man is found impaled on a tree, and a woman is murdered–by sunlight!  Good thing the sheriff’s wife Theo runs the local quilting shop, where she can catch the gossip while a charity quilt is being made.

This is part of the “Quilted Mystery” series, none of which I have read before.   Amusingly, the fact that several high-profile murders have occurred around one small town is acknowledged, and may be causing political problems for the sheriff.

The story reflects the business of a sheriff’s department, with many issues popping up, some connected to the main plotline, others mostly irrelevant.  I found most of the characters likable, or at least believable–as often happens in murder mysteries, the central victim has a personality that leads you to question why she wasn’t murdered before this.

I really liked that volunteerism leads to at least one character having as happy an ending to their part in the story as is possible under the circumstances.  And crafty people may enjoy putting together a quilt pattern that’s slowly revealed through the book.

It’s a good fast read and a fun mystery.  Thrifty readers may want to check to see if there’s paperback editions of the earlier books, or consult the library, as the hardback is $25.95 new.

Book Review: Schottenfreude

Book Review: Schottenfreude by Ben Schott

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Schottenfreude

The German language is well known for its ability to agglutinate words together to create new words, such as zeitgeist, “the spirit of the times.”   Mr. Schott has done this to create 120 new words to describe sensations or activities that don’t already have German words.  For example, “LIppenhaftung”, the lingering sensation of a first kiss.

The word are nicely laid out in old-style German lettering on what look like music staves, so that those of you who practice calligraphy can copy them.   Many of the words are mildly funny, and a couple look like they’d actually be useful.   The real meat of the book is in the footnotes and references for each word.  There are plenty of quotes and philosophical musings.

It’s not really a very practical book, perhaps best used as a fun gift for someone who already has studied some German and will be able to fully appreciate the puns.

Book Review: Torsten

Book Review: Torsten by Joshua Kalin

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Torsten

Aznaro, Cordin and Osoro, three blood brothers, have returned to Spain after a tour of the known world.  Already feeling restless, Aznaro becomes interested in a proposed voyage by one Christobal Colon, who thinks he can sail to India faster by heading west across the uncharted ocean.   The brothers sign up as rookie sailors, although there is a bit of a hitch, since it turns out  that Aznaro had sex with Torsten Rentier, first officer of one of the ships, the night before.

Worse, Aznaro soon makes an actual enemy on board the Santa Maria, a man who comes to share a dark secret with the brothers.  And as you might have guessed from your history classes, the voyage is taking them to a destination they could never have guessed.

Though not listed anywhere on the book itself, this is the second book about the brothers, the first one being titled Aznaro.   The main characters have something in their blood that makes them unaging and very hard to kill.  They have in fact been alive nearly three hundred years at the start of this book.  This causes them a certain amount of angst, and the need to move on frequently.

While the point of view skips around quite a bit, sometimes between paragraphs, the primary character is Aznaro, with the major plot threads being his struggle with the new immortal Rodriguez, and his romance with the man he calls “Reindeer.”  The other brothers are on other ships and play very little part in the story.  Indeed, one vanishes from the book altogether around the 3/4 mark!

While the book is quite good on the details of being a sailor in Christopher Columbus’ time, said personage himself  plays a very tiny role, seldom interacting with the crew.  So I can’t really recommend this book to Columbus fans.

While yes, Aznaro and Rentier have sex, it’s not on camera or explicitly described.  The movie if one is made, could probably get by with a PG-13.

Some issues:  There are a couple of brief torture scenes, the viewpoint switching can be confusing as the author doesn’t mark the switches well, and there are numerous missing words and some dubious grammar that  points up the need for a good editor/proofreader.  (this book was self-published.)

If you are in need of a gay romance novel with some paranormal elements, and a bit of history, this might suit your fancy.   But everyone else might want to wait for a revised version with better editing.

Book Review: USA Noir

Book Review: USA Noir edited by Johnny Temple

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  This was an Advanced Reading Copy, and small changes may be made in the final product.

USA Noir

“Noir”, here, is short for noir fiction, a form of hard-boiled crime fiction by analogy with the cinematic film noir.  Noir fiction tends to focus on the seedier side of life, filled with petty criminals, people driven to extremes by circumstance, and bittersweet at best resolutions.  Akashic Books has been putting out anthologies of noir short stories grouped by location since 2004, and this is a “best of” collection.

The stories are grouped by themes such as “True Grit” and “Under the Influence”, and range across the continental United States.  (Yes, that includes the Twin Cities.)  Most are contemporary (one has Google Maps as a plot point) but there are a couple of period pieces set in the 1940s and Fifties.

Some standout stories include: “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane (a man finds an abandoned puppy, and decides to keep it),  “Run Kiss Daddy” by Joyce Carol Oates (a man does not want to upset his new family), “Mastermind” by Reed Farrell Coleman (a dumb crook comes up with the perfect crime), “Loot” by Julie Smith (various people try to cash in on Hurricane Katrina), “Helper” by Joseph Bruchac (revenge comes looking for Indian Charlie, but he’s no pushover) and “Feeding Frenzy” by Tim Broderick (in comic book format, a Wall Street firm has lost a big contract, and the employees search for someone to blame.)

Thirty-seven stories in total, 500+ pages of entertainment.   There’s also a list of the other stories in the volumes these were reprinted from, and a list of awards the series has garnered.

If the genre is not warning enough, I should mention that sordid violence is common in these stories, and some may be triggery.

Overall, the stories are of good quality, and represent an excellent cross-section of today’s noir writers.    It’s good value for money.

Update:  “Animal Rescue” was turned into the 2014 movie “The Drop” starring Tom Hardy; here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy_ogNiryZ8

Comic Book Review: Spartan & the Green Egg

Comic Book Review: Spartan & the Green Egg by Nabila Khashoggi and Manuel Cadag

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Spartan & the Green Egg

Spartan, an adventurous boy, his three human friends, and his dog Grimm make contact with an alien that manifests itself in the shape of an egg.  Using its vast powers, they go on exploration journeys.  In this introductory volume, the kids travel to the Amazon rainforest and learn a little bit about the locals, as well as about deforestation.

This graphic novel is intended for kids about eight to ten, and the main character is named after Nabila Khashoggi’s son.  It’s very light edutainment, with little sense of conflict or peril.  The children have largely interchangeable personalities, and the Egg makes everything just a bit too easy.

I liked that the lumber company employees weren’t characterized as villains, but they seem awfully superstitious and easily tricked.  It also seems highly unlikely that anyone will listen to their crazy story about forest spirits, and the locals won’t have an advanced alien and super technology on their side next time.  On the other hand, a shaman does show the power to send bad dreams, so perhaps it will work out.

This is one book that could have done with a glossary, or a text page with more concentrated information about the Amazon.

The art is serviceable, but it’s clear the artist has a lot of development potential ahead of them.  The lettering is too obviously computer-generated, and takes away from the feel.  One amusing bit is that three of the children, including the business suited black kid, wear swimming-suitable trunks under their clothes, despite not having planned to go swimming that day.  (The fourth child’s swimgear is never seen–perhaps he wears ordinary underpants.)

It’s an okay introduction to the Amazon for young readers, but will leave many of them hungry for more substantial information.  Consult with your local children’s librarian for what might be a good follow-up book.

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