skjam: (Communications)
Hi folks!

In an effort to drive more traffic to my review blog, SKJAM! Reviews, I'm hosting a giveaway of one of seven books.

Come on over and check it out!
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The Devil with WingsThe Devil with Wings by L. Ron Hubbard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full Disclosure: I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway in the expectation that I would review it. Presumably this was influenced by my review of an earlier book in the series, "If I Were You."

This volume is part of the "Golden Age Stories" reprints of L. Ron Hubbard's pulp writing. A lot of effort has been put into making the book physically attractive, and the appearance is of very high quality. I wish some other authors got the same treatment!

The short novel within is set in 1930s Manchukuo, a part of northeastern China set up as a puppet state by the Japanese invaders. The Japanese are being battled by a man they call "Akuma no Hane", which the author translates as "the devil with wings." (A closer translation would be "The Devil's Feather." Most of the names of Japanese people are likewise suspect.) This mysterious black-clad aviator has been harrying their troops for the last three years.

But now it seems Akuma no Hane has gone too far, killing the American civil engineer Robert Weston. Now, not only is Captain Ito Shinohari of Japanese Intelligence after the aviator, but Bob's sister Patricia is also out for blood. Now the pilot and his faithful sidekick Ching must race to discover the truth and head off a Russian-japanese war!

This is an exciting pulp story, foll of action and gunplay. The centerpiece is a fierce dogfight told from Patricia's confused viewpoint in the back of Akuma no Hane's plane. The period racism is toned down considerably; Shinohari isn't evil because he's Japanese, but because he cares more about his own advancement than the good of his country. The Japanese in general are in the wrong, but that's because they're invaders, not the color of their skin.

The story does less well with Patricia, whose bravery and determination are emphasized in her first confrontation with Akuma no Hane, And then...she accomplishes absolutely nothing in the story, becoming a tagalong for the Devil. There's a romance angle, but it's badly shoehorned in towards the end. A woman with agency Patricia is not. If that sort of thing bothers you, take off half a star.

The volume comes with a glossary, which will be helpful for readers who are unfamiliar with 1930s history, plus the same introduction and potted hagiography of L. Ron Hubbard that comes with every volume in the series, plus a several page preview of "The Green God," another volume in the series.

This is a very quick read, and with the recycled material, I cannot recommend paying full price for this one. If you enjoy daring tales of aviation and the Far East, check to see if you can get The Devil--with wings from your library, or wait until it shows up used.

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If I Were You (Stories from the Golden Age, #5)If I Were You by L. Ron Hubbard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before L. Ron Hubbard got involved know, he was a middling-good and prolific pulp author. The Golden Age Stories line is reprinting many of his stories in attractively designed paperbacks. This volume contains two short stories, , a preview of another, a glossary (really needed this time because of heavy circus slang) and a hagiography of Hubbard that does not know by name, just calling it "serious research." Hee. It's double-spaced in a largish typeface for easy reading.

The title story concerns a little person, "Little" Tom Little, who works as a circus midget, and then discovers a mystical method for bodyswapping with other people. He promptly decides to use this to swap with the tall, imposing ringmaster Hermann Schmidt. But Schmidt has troubles of his own, which could get Tom killed regardless of which body he's in!

There's a nice bit of foreshadowing early in the story, with what seems like random cruelty to Tom, but is actually a hint of what Schmidt's issues are. The lion phobia, on the other hand, was a bit too telegraphed. The payoff to that is a very exciting scene, mitigating the obviousness. There's a nice bit of ambiguity, too, in the motives of the Professor, who leaves Tom his books of magic.

The second story, "The Last Drop" is co-authored by the much better L. Sprague de Camp. A bartender foolishly creates a cocktail with some untested syrup from Borneo; growth and shrinking hijinks ensue. A fun story that at least waves at scientific plausibility as it goes by, in the form of the square-cube law. (The glossary explains it for the benefit of anyone who might have forgotten.)

While it's a handsome package, and the stories are fun, the book is thin on content for the price. I'd recommend looking for used copies at a steep discount, or checking it out from the library.

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Blood Lance: A Medieval NoirBlood Lance: A Medieval Noir by Jeri Westerson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it. Also, I read an Advanced Reading Copy, and there may be small changes between it and the final product.

This is the fifth Crispin Guest novel, featuring a disgraced knight of the Fourteenth Century who takes up a career of detection, earning the nickname "Tracker." I have not read the previous volumes.

Guest happens to witness a man falling from a bridge into the Thames. By the time he reaches the man, the fallen person is already dead--and he didn't drown. The dead man was an armourer, who it would appear owned a piece of the Lance of Longinius, a relic that supposedly pierced the side of Jesus Christ, and grants victory in battle. The lance has since gone missing, and multiple parties are working at crosspurposes to find it. Two of these are old friends of Crispin's, but are they his friends now?

All this is set against political maneuverings in the English court, as soon-to-be adult King Richard's favorite is losing his grip on power. The climax of the novel is an exciting trial by combat, with the actual solution of the mystery for a coda.

The noir elements are quite obvious; the morally ambiguous but still upright protagonist, everyone having secrets and many of those unpleasant, miserable weather and darkness (at least at the beginning, authorities who can't be trusted and the detective's falling for a woman too close to the case.

ONe tricky element of the story is the Spear. This is, apparently, not the first time Crispin Guest has come into contact with a supposed holy object. And while it's left ambiguous whether or not the Spear actually has any powers, (Guest himself is a skeptic) the coincidences keep piling up. Towards the end, at least one character believes that these are not coincidences, and that artifacts seek out Crispin for a purpose as yet unknown.

It's a good read by itself, and I would certainly be willing to look up other volumes in the series.

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A Planet of Your Own/The Beasts of KohlA Planet of Your Own/The Beasts of Kohl by John Brunner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another fun Ace double.

A Planet of Your Own, first--Kynance Foy is a young woman from Earth who decided to go out and make her fortune among the stars...and failed. At the end of her rope, she's offered a job by the Zygra Corporation. A job that sounds too good to be true, despite the obvious hardships. But she's desperate, so sign she does. It isn't until she gets to the planet of Zygra that she discovers the true nature of the trap, but is it too late?

Good stuff: This is a rare mid-Sixties SF book with a competent female lead. Amusingly, towards the beginning she lists off traits that in bad fanfic would make her kind of Sueish (smart, multi-skilled and exotically beautiful) but it turns out that the further she gets from Earth, the more common these traits are, to the point that normal fifteen year olds are earning the equivalent of a doctorate.

The moment Kynance figures out what the trap is, she sets about systematically disarming it, using the skills she established earlier. And when male characters show up, they don't take over the story or assume control just because they're men. Kynance simply works them into her plan. And there isn't a shoehorned-in romance, either. Just a hint at the end that now that she's made her pile, Kynance might consider a relationship, possibly with one of the male characters.

Not so good stuff: Kynance's boss sexually harasses her as an added topping to his other slimy activities, just to reinforce that he's the bad guy here. There's the people calling a grown woman a "girl", and being surprised she's in the Zygra job (though the same character admits that a woman would be equally able to do it.) And the ending relies heavily on the legalistic version of technobabble.

The Beasts of Kohl is by John Rackham. Kohl is an aquatic lifeform that travels to other star systems, explores them, and sometimes brings back smart animals to serve it. (Thus the title.) But one day, Kohl's bipedal servant Rann asks a question that makes Kohl realize he isn't just a very intelligent animal, but a fully sapient being like Kohl itself. Since Kohl's ethics prevent it from enslaving true setitents, it decides to take Rann back to his home planet for a visit, so that Rann can make an informed choice about his life.

Joined by his female counterpart Rana (who has had a less wise master and is thus more emotional and unskilled), the great canine Gromahl and thehunting bird Virgal, Rann accompanies Kohl to a certain small blue planet. What none of the visitors realize is that quite some time has passed on that world, which has changed considerably. And in a single jam-packed day, Rann and Rana learn both good and ill about their home world and its inhabitants.

It's a fast-paced story, with some nice "outsiders looking at Earth culture" satire, but the latter half depends entirely too much on coincidence to speed things along. This easily could have been twice the length without spoiling the plot. There's some gender essentialism, and some readers may groan at the "nerdy guy gets the incredibly hot girlfriend" subplot.

Also, the story is implied to take place on Earth in "the near future" from 1966, so it's interesting to see what the author thinks would have changed, and what looks exactly like the Sixties.

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skjam: (Communications)
Hi folks!

I now have a formal blog for my reviews at so swing on by for my first post, a review of Shonen Jump Alpha!
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The Spider, Master of Men! #30: Green Globes of DeathThe Spider, Master of Men! #30: Green Globes of Death by Grant Stockbridge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another cracking adventure of the bloodthirsty hero known as the Spider.

The twist this time is that when last we and the Spider saw the Fly, that criminal had been skewered by a sword and fallen several stories into a river. If it hadn't killed him, the Fly certainly would have been horribly injured. So how is it that the Fly is walking around hale and hearty, and back to his old trick of massacre with robbery.

Surely this Fly must be an impostor. Or has the villain accomplished the impossible? Even the Spider knows moments of doubt.

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Prophets and ApostlesProphets and Apostles by Joseph Ponessa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimers: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would read and review it. I am a Christian, but not a Catholic, which influences my reaction to this volume.

This volume is part of the "Come and See" Bible study series; I have previously reviewed the "Acts and Letters" volume and you may wish to look that up. It's important to remember that this is not a stand-alone book. For full value, you will need to have a Catholic translation of the Bible with all the books (in particular Baruch and Daniel) and a copy of the most recent revision of the Catholic Catechism. It's also meant to be used not individually, but in the context of a small Bible study group, meeting regularly and advised by a priest or elder.

This volume, Prophets and Apostles, concerns itself with the so-called "minor" prophets, and the shorter apostolic letters. The primary theme is that the prophets point the way to the ministry of Jesus and the redemptive power of His sacrifice, while the apostles explain how the prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus and give advice for going forward in the life of the church.

As there isn't a separate "leader's guide", this book begins with a chapter on how to set up the Bible study group and keep it running, which is very similar to the one in Acts and Letters.

The text switches back and forth between Old and New Testament, keeping the material fresh. Each chapter covers a book or two, or a large section of a book, discussing the salient points the author of this volume wants to point up. A selection of questions and suggestions for group discussion follow each chapter. There are frequent quotations from Catholic scholars, in particular the last two Popes.

The text shows the author's Biblical scholarship, and also a strong adherence to Catholic dogma. The writer's a bit more personally visible in this volume than in Acts and Letters. Great care is taken to show that the Bible does not contradict itself, even when verses taken out of context would seem to do so.

One nitpick here--In discussing Galatians 4:4-7, the author makes the claim that "sons" is inclusive, while "children" is exclusive. This seems to be based on the Greek word Paul uses, direct translation "sonship" having special meaning above and beyond ordinary adoption. But such would not be obvious to the lay reader, who is more likely to come to the conclusion that Paul was simply using the pre-Twentieth Century practice of using masculine nouns and pronouns as the generic, on the assumption that male is normative, with the subtle damage that does to communication. The author doesn't make his case well, and thus comes across as blinkered by his patriarchal training.

Overall, while I do not agree with all the interpretations of Scripture herein, nor the conclusions drawn therefrom, it's well-written and I believe would serve a Catholic Bible study group well.

"These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath."--Zechariah 8:16-17

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Heroman #1

Nov. 13th, 2012 09:07 pm
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HeroMan volume 1HeroMan volume 1 by Stan Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, Stan Lee has been around a long time. Over the years, he's come up with a lot of ideas. Some were great, many were pretty good, some needed a bit more work to be viable, and a handful were truly awful So by now, Stan has a briefcase full of ideas of varying quality and every time he runs a bit short of lunch money, he opens up the briefcase and sells one of his spare ideas.

A couple of years back, Stan Lee sold a couple of ideas to the folks over in Japan. This is one of them.

It was an animated series, and this is a tie-in comic for fans of the show. Fans will quickly spot the usual Stan Lee touches: underdog teen hero, bullying jock, elderly relative who must be protected, Stan Lee the manga staples like an enormous robot controlled by a hot-blooded teenager, and a romantic interest who wears a tiny skirt even in the most inappropriate circumstances.

The combination works pretty well, but long-time fans will find much of the material very familiar. I'd recommend it mostly to junior high kids who will strongly idenify with Joey and HeroMan.

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Universal StationUniversal Station by Beth Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This volume is by the Beth Brown who also wrote "All Dogs Go To Heaven". Like that book, it's a light fantasy about the afterlife. (Indeed, one of the main characters is a dog.)

Sadly, the charm of a talking dog is overwhelmed by the repetitive, preachy dialogue about the nature of the afterlife and how right Johnny's grandfather, Grand, is about everything.

There's a romance in the backstory, but if anything the dialogue in it is even more nauseating in its preciousness.

There's a different book going on in the background that would be arguably more interesting, and whose midpoint would be about the end of this book. In it are all the actual action scenes, and the adventures of Johnny's love interest trying to escape the Nazis.

This is an interesting curio, but it's easy to see why it's fallen into the memory hole.

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The Case of the Missing Servant: A Vish Puri MysteryThe Case of the Missing Servant: A Vish Puri Mystery by Tarquin Hall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

This is the first of a series about Vish Puri, owner and operator of the Most Private Investigations office of New Dehli in India. He's already built a successful business, and bills himself as India's top private detective. While his bread-and-butter is investigating prospective bridegrooms in arranged marriages to determine if they're really suitable (and one of these investigations is a major subplot), he often has more interesting/dangerous cases.

In the present instance, a reform-minded lawyer's servant has gone missing, and the lawyer is being accused of murdering her to cover up an affair. Shortly after Vish Puri takes the case, someone tries to murder him. Can he and his agents figure out what's really going on?

There's lots of local color, including an extensive glossary, but how authentic the book is to the reality of India I will leave to other reviewers. The clash between ancient poverty and new money, the multiplicity of India's religions and languages, and the endemic corruption in the legal system all play strong roles in the story.

I should note that Vish Puri is extremely quirky in addition to being exotic to American and British readers, in much the same fashion as Hercule Poirot. This may come off as excessive to some readers. Also, there are what appear to be prophetic dreams (or heavily intutive ones), which may strike some as not "fair play."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to fans of eccentric detectives.

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The Complete Knifepoint HorrorThe Complete Knifepoint Horror by Soren Narnia

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I received this book as part of a Firstreads giveaway on the premise that I would read and review it.

One of the interesting aspects of writing is the self-imposed challenge. Poems in a rigid format, an exact number of words, not using gendered words--it can stretch a writer's skills, even if the product isn't always great art.

As described in the blurb, "The Complete Knifepoint Horror" is an entire volume of short horror fiction stripped down to essentials. Tight first-person narration (a couple of pieces do cheat on this), no capital letter, paragraphs, page numbers or titles. No gratuitous mood-setting, fancy typography, anything like that.

For the most part, this works pretty well. When the author is "on", the narrow format makes the story especially intense. On the other hand, it tends to flatten the contrast between narrators. Nineteenth-Century and Twentyfirst-Century people "sound" identical in word choice and grammar. Sometimes if I put the book down for a moment, it was hard to tell where I'd left off, even with the aid of a bookmark.

As you might expect, full explanations are rare in these stories. Some come across as a series of random creepy events which may or may not be connected with the final horrific moment. Others leave the "monster" half-glimpsed and barely described, though there are a couple of straight-up ghost stories and a particularly good zombie apocalypse piece.

I'd also like to point out the "moss" story and the one with the deaf protagonist as innovative and especially worthwhile.

This collection should do well in audiobook or podfic format, though I would recommend having more than one reader to offset the flattening effect I mentioned above.

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Weird Golf: 18 Tales of Fantastic, Horrific, Scientifically Impossible, and Morally Reprehensible GolfWeird Golf: 18 Tales of Fantastic, Horrific, Scientifically Impossible, and Morally Reprehensible Golf by Dave Donelson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I received this book through a Firstreads giveaway in the expectation that I would review it.

To make where I'm coming from clearer, I'm not a sports fan, and in specific not a golf fan. I've played just enough golf to know the game doesn't appeal to me as a player, and I don't believe I have ever watched an entire match on TV. However, I'm a big fan of "strange sports stories" which blend a real-life sport with fantastic elements.

As you might gather, this is a single-author anthology which is exclusively about golf. Thus, the changes are rung by introducing different unusual elements, not all impossible. It's double-spaced for easy reading.

The best single story is "Grand Slam", where a veteran golf writer (much like the author) realizes there's something more unusual than most about an up and coming golfer. The ending's very predictable, but the research is good.

Mr. Donelson appears to have been his own editor/proofreader, as there are a couple of "relies on spellchecker" errors.

And then there is the story "Superhero Grudge Match", in which Superman and Batman compete to join a pro-am golf tournatment. I was very surprised to not see a fanfic disclaimer, or an indication that Mr. Donelson got permission to use the characters for his book.

It really felt like the writer hadn't done the research on the comic book characters nearly as well as he'd researched Pebble Beach. The story references some current events that might have made the business pages, but the Batman and Robin combo used were clearly the ones from the 1960e TV series. The characterizations are closest to the Silver Age "World's Finest" comic books, in which Superman, Batman or both suddenly start acting dickishly for reasons given at the end of the story. Except that this time they're dickish for the sole purpose of winning a golf game.

Notably, though both heroes end up cheating during the match, neither of them uses the skills/powers that would allow them to be freakishly good at golf. As a comic book fanfic reader, I have to say it's not very good.

I would only recommend this book to people looking for a gift their golf-mad relative probably doesn't have already. It's a light read, suitable for rainy days and waiting for tee times.

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George W. Hamilton, USMC: America's Greatest World War I HeroGeorge W. Hamilton, USMC: America's Greatest World War I Hero by Mark Mortensen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Everyone who served in a military in World War One is dead, and we're rapidly coming up on the centennial of the Great War itself. I expect we'll be seeing a flood of books, TV series and films on the subject. So it's no surprise that someone decided to do a biography of George W. Hamilton, one of the most impressive people involved in the war.

It's not as good a book as it could be, however. The problems start with the introductory material, which overdoes trying to sell the reader on why this book should be written about this person. Some of the famous Marine terseness would have served well here.

Major Hamilton did not keep a journal and did not get around to writing his memoirs, and very few of his letters are still in existence. To cover for this lack of primary source material, particularly in the earlier chapters, the author lists various historical timeline events that Hamilton might have heard about or been in the vicinity of. There's also a fair amount of attempted mindreading. "Hamilton would surely have been interested in..."

Once the book gets to Hamilton's war service, the book gets more solid--probably both because of the extensive documentation of events, and because it's the meat of the story. I'll just say that the subtitle of the book is well supported.

The disappointing and short post-war years are covered, followed by a "where are they now" segment for people George W. Hamilton was close to. There's a postscript that sounds like the author's attempt to start another attempt to get Hamilton the Medal of Honor (arguably, he was robbed.) Extensive footnotes, a fine bibliography and an index round out the volume.

The book is primarily intended for schools and libraries, and is retailing at $45 a pop; I'd suggest checking your local library for a copy and skipping straight to the war chapters.

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Later Swift

May. 1st, 2012 09:48 pm
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Tom Swift and His Ocean Airport, or, Foiling the Haargolanders (Tom Swift Sr, #37)Tom Swift and His Ocean Airport, or, Foiling the Haargolanders by Victor Appleton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is much further along in the Tom Swift (Sr) series than my previous review, Tom Swift and his Motorboat. Tom is now the owner of a factory that produces his inventions, Ned is his business manager, Eradicate is now a full-time employee of the Swifts, and they've added the giant South American Koku to the team as Tom's bodyguard. Tom is also now married, although you can hardly tell. We don't learn the wife's name in this volume, she is never "on stage" and is mentioned only twice, once to establish that she exists, and once to let us know she's not going on the adventure. We hear a bit more about Mr. Damon's wife, who he keeps ditching to visit Tom.

Oh, the plot. One of Tom's old friends we (and Ned) have never heard of before has his plane forced down by a competitor in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Tom decides to avert any such future disaster by building a floating airport for emergency landings. About this time, a new engineer is employed by the Swift firm, a swarthy foreigner named Emil Gurg. Yeah. He's actually useful at first, since his home country of Haargoland just happens to have exactly the kind of wood Tom needs to make the airport feasible. But once it's actually built....

Ned comes off the best in this vclume. He correctly suspects Gurg from the start, and expresses a wish for Tom's new silent wireless transmitter to make a lot of that he can give raises to their employees.

Tom means well, but sees nothing wrong with rearranging another country's government to suit his needs, as long as there's no violence. Gurg exploits this for all it's worth.

It's Eradicate and Koku that raise my hackles. They've become the "bickering sidekicks" so beloved of early 20th Century action stories, the comic relief characters that constantly fight, but secretly would lay down their lives for each other. Except that what they bicker about in this volume is which of them is more properly servile towards Tom. Rad had some dignity in the motorboat story, not so much here.

Between the ethnic stereotypes and the way Tom never learns his lesson about interfering in other countries' politics, I cannot recommend this book to anyone who isn't already a Tom Swift fan.

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City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern ChicagoCity of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I was sent this volume as a Firstreads giveaway on the premise that I would write a review of it. (I would not be surprised to learn that the fact I have reviewed two previous Chicago history books influenced the contest.) Also, my copy is an uncorrected proof, and small changes may have been made between it and the final product.

Late July of 1919 was certainly a troubled time for the city of Chicago, and thus one ripe for interesting history. The book opens with an account of the Wingfoot disaster to hook the reader, then moves back to the beginning of the year to set the stage for the more politically oriented events. After the main narrative, there's a summary of later events and finally a "where are they now" section.

The central figure is colorful mayor "Big Bill" Thompson, but space is made for the stories of others, including a ordinary Chicago woman, Emily Frankenstein, who happened to keep a very good diary. There are copious footnotes, a full bibliography, and an index.

The book is written in clear, understandable language and was a quick but not insubstantial read. I would have liked a bit more information on Chicago's dealing with the "moron" problem after the events covered, but was otherwise satisfied.

Be aware that as a race riot is part of the history, there are quotes from racist people--and some early 20th Century sexism.

I'd especially recommend this book to high school history students looking for an interesting subject not as yet overdone.

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Tom Swift And His Motor-boat (Tom Swift Sr, #2)Tom Swift And His Motor-boat by Victor Appleton II

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another of the boys' adventure books from the early 20th Century I love so much. Young Tom acquires the motor-boat seen towards the end of the previous volume, repairs and improves it, and has a series of adventures on the local (very large) lake.

It illustrates how much the technology of gasoline motors has advanced in the intervening century--Tom and the other motorboat pilots must frequently tinker with the engines mid-race to get the best performance or prevent breakdowns.

The last quarter of the book sets up the airship that will be the focus of the next volume.

The character of Eradicate may come off as offensively stereotyped, and Tom shows some mild sexism when it comes to girls and motors. (The romantic interest gets better at it, but only because of his tutoring.) And towards the end, one character suddenly reveals he has more political power than he'd let on, with no foreshadowing.

But these are minor quibbles, and I think this book would be fine to share with a son, grandson or nephew.

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Mingo DabneyMingo Dabney by James Street

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I am apparently the first person on Goodreads to have read this book (I had to manually add it); I'll be a bit more descriptive than I might otherwise be.

Mingo Dabney is a Mississippi woodsman from Lebanon who falls in love with the lovely but exotic (white-haired) Cuban woman Rafaela Galbran when she comes to his hometown seeking money and arms for the 1895 Cuban revolution. Being a passionate young fellow, he winds up following her to Cuba and getting mixed up in the fighting.

The story is based on real events and several of the people involved actually existed. Jose Marti, the author of "Guantanamera", has a small but key role, for example. However, as the author admits in the foreword, he's a storyteller, not a historian, and has rearranged things to make a better tale. In particular, one incident is moved from the 1868 revolution to 1895.

Racism is acknowledged in the story; while Mingo himself is surprisingly unbigoted for his time and place, the reputation of Southerners for racial prejudice works against him in the early part of the story. The revolutionaries' fear that American intervention would result in a loss of sovereignity for Cuba is also mentioned. Rafaela is the only woman with a substantial role in the book, and is primarily a symbol for the troops to rally around.

The book ends before the end of the revolution and the beginning of the Spanish-American War; it could easily have a sequel as there are several plot threads left loose, but Mingo Dabney's character arc is complete, so it's a satisfying ending.

You might have a little trouble finding this one--it appears that the most recent Cuban Revolution soured American readers on the topic, and it was not reprinted past the 1950s. But it's a solid read about a period of history little taught in US schools.

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Dave Dashaway and His HydroplaneDave Dashaway and His Hydroplane by Roy Rockwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A nifty book about a young fellow in the early days of aviation.

It's a fairly typical boys' adventure book of the time period; Dave is cleancut, honest, brave and naturally gifted at flying airships. His sidekick Hiram is also a jolly good fellow, and they're supported by honest older gentlemen. Only the villains have personality flaws.

In this second volume of the series, Dave is called in to assist in the recovery of a hydro-aeroplane, or as we would know it, a seaplane. Criminals have already figured out how to use this exciting new invention for evil, and Dave must nip it in the bud!

Perhaps the most interesting feature for the modern reader is the descriptions of flying the airplanes, very much a risky enterprise at the time.

Notably, Dave's adult mentor goes on an exciting adventure of his own, which we only learn the details of afterward. Thankfully, this method of keeping the grownup from hogging the action follows smoothly from the events of the previous volume.

Some readers may be put off by the heavy use of coincidence to make Dave's search easier, and the rather pat way everything works out in time for setting up the next volume.

Recommended for aviation buffs, boys from about ten to fifteen and people living in the Great Lakes area where the story takes place.

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The Big Book of Adventure StoriesThe Big Book of Adventure Stories by Otto Penzler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a big book all right!

This doorstopper contains a multitude of fun pulp adventure stories, from the so famous it's almost cliche "The Most Dangerous Game" to obscurities never before reprinted. With a wide range of genres and settings, there is something here for almost every pulp fan.

There are some flaws. The "humor" section is weak, one of the stories not even being from the pulp era. Plus, the racism and sexism of the pulp era are shown in many of the stories; this is acknowledged in the introduction and author notes.

But all in all, many hours of exciting reading, including the rare Tarzan novel, "Tarzan the Terrible", which owes its placement as the final entry I think in part due to its ending paragraph.

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