Book Review: A Curious Man

Book Review: A Curious Man by Neal Thompson

Disclaimer:  I received this volume free from the Blogging for Books program, on the premise that I would write a review.

This is a biography of Robert Ripley (nee LeRoy Robert Ripley), the cartoonist who created the Believe It or Not! feature.  I was fascinated by the paperback reprints of the cartoons back in my boyhood, but knew little of the story behind the creator.

A Curious Man

This volume covers Mr. Ripley’s life from barefoot poverty in Santa Rosa, California, to his early career as a sports cartoonist, through his discovery of a love for bizarre factoids and the creation of his famous comic strip to his worldwide fame.    He became a world traveler, a millionaire, star of radio and newsreels and knew many beautiful women, all for doing something he enjoyed immensely.

Of course, he also had his faults; Mr. Ripley was a heavy drinker, sexist, racist by our current standards (though progressive for his time), could not keep it in his pants, and had a tendency to fudge facts about his own life the way he didn’t the stories in his cartoons.  He also became a more difficult person towards the end of his life as his health failed and his drinking and overwork caught up with him.

The story of Ripley’s life is told in mostly chronological order,  with little “Believe It!” factoids about the people and places mentioned.  There’s also the story of various supporters of Ripley; most importantly, Norbert Pearlroth, Ripley’s main research person who found many of the factoids that appeared in the comic.  (He actually stayed with the strip longer than Ripley himself!)

There is a black and white photo section in the middle, but if you have a smartphone, you can download an app with audio and video clips from Mr. Ripley’s many public appearances.  For those of you with multimedia capability, this will make the book a much better value for money.  There are extensive end notes and an index as well.

This biography benefits from the very interesting person at its center, and I would recommend it to any Believe It or Not! fans.

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Crossovers Casebook

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Crossovers Casebook edited by Howard Hopkins

One of the fun things about fan fiction is the “crossover.”  That’s where two separate fictional worlds are combined in the same story, which is generally impossible in the source material.  Having the Enterprise crew battle the Daleks, Sailor Moon teaming up with the Brady Bunch, Bella Swan falling in love with Dracula, or any other bizarre combination the fan writer can think of.

Crossovers Casebook

Combine this with a public domain (mostly) character like Sherlock Holmes, and you can even do professionally published crossover fan fiction.  And thus this book.  Each story teams Holmes with other fictional characters or real people from the time period of the stories.  Some of the tales just barely qualify as crossovers with a quick reference at the end, while others pile on the characters and cameos.

There are fourteen stories, most of which are only available in this volume.   “Sherlock Holmes and the Lost World” by Martin Powell, which guest stars Professor Challenger, has appeared in another anthology.  Other notable tales are “The Adventure of the Fallen Stone” by Win Scott Eckert, which goes full-on Wold-Newton (a fan theory that ties together many fictional heroes with a mysterious meteorite), and “The Adventure of the Imaginary Nihilist” by Will Murray, which guest stars Richard Henry Savage, a real life person who inspired parts of both Doc Savage and the Avenger.

I particularly liked Barbara Hambly’s “The Adventure of the Sinister Chinaman”, which guest stars the Wizard of Oz…or a delusional man with a similar name.  “The Adventure of the Lost Specialist” by Christopher Sequeira lays on the crossovers thick with an outright science fiction premise, but as Watson himself admits in the introduction, it’s not much of a traditional Holmes tale.

There’s also “The Folly of Flight” by Matthew P. Mayo, guest starring French thief Arsené Lupin.  Lupin’s author, Maurice LeBlanc, was one of the first Sherlock Holmes crossover fan fiction authors;   Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not appreciate the compliment, so Lupin’s clashes with Holmes were rewritten with a slightly different name, and a bit more mocking of a tone.

This is a fun book, but not for Holmes purists.

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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