I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Astonishing X-Men: Vol. 4: Unstoppable by Joss Whedon (Writer), John Cassady (Artist), Laura Martin (Colorist), Christ Eliopoulos (Letterer), and Joe Caramagna (Letterer)

In the previous comic, Ord managed to escape with the help of the robot DANGER who both still seeks to destroy the X-Men.  The X-Men are still recovering from Emma Frost's mental manipulations while she was under the influence of Cassandra Nova.  Cyclops doesn't have his powers and Kitty is emotionally traumatized.  Agent Brand of S.W.O.R.D. [Sentient Worlds Observation and Response Department] has her precogs working on the Breakworld situation and they discover who the mutant is who supposedly destroys Breakworld according to Breakworld's oracles and its Colossus.  Brand kidnaps the X-Men as well as the now captured Ord and DANGER and is heading toward Breakworld.

There's a group on Breakworld led by Aghanne who tends to the sick and wounded of her planet and believes the end times are coming but only because of those who rule it, not because of some prophecy. Meanwhile, Powerlord Kruun is hunting down Colossus to keep him from fulfilling the prophecy.

Brand is not afraid of Kruun exactly. She's more afraid of the missile on one of Breakworld's moons that is aimed at the Earth.  So, the X-Men head toward the moon to try to defuse the missile while on Earth superheroes do what they can to help, just in case and Colossus keeps Kruun busy by distracting him by pretending to carry out the prophecy.

This book explodes with action and is a fitting end to this four-part series.  The plot twists and turns on a dime.  Not everyone makes it through this, sadly.  The art is vivid and sometimes haunting and the colors leap from the page.  I have thoroughly enjoyed these books and this one was the icing on the cake. 

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Astonishing-X-Men-Vol-4-Unstoppable-ebook/dp/B00AAJQVAO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1516367851&sr=8-1&keywords=astonishing+xmen+vol+4 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The English Wife by Lauren Willig

This stunning novel opens up in 1899 with a murder. Janie Van Duyvil and her cousin Anne Newton have just discovered Janie's brother Bay with a knife sticking out of his chest inside the folly at his house during the Twelfth Night party he and his wife Annabelle were having. Janie sees Annabelle in the river.  When help is brought back, Annabelle has disappeared into the river and the police doubt that Janie saw her to begin with.

The book travels back in time to when Annabelle and Bay met in London in 1894 when Annabelle was Georgina Evans, an actress at a cheap theater.  Sir Hugo, a notorious rakehell, invites Kitty and Annabelle to dinner with his friend Bay, Georgina balks and Bay takes her outside and puts her in a cab.  He later comes back to the theater to apologize and thus begins a friendship that turns into something more.

Janie is the quiet daughter of a formidable towering matron of society, whose mother is obsessed with the family name and its place in society.  Anne "stole" the man she was to marry, not that Janie minded all that much.  She works at the Girls Club doing charity work helping young women to her mother's consternation.  The papers are saying that Bay killed Annabelle and then himself because she was carrying on with the architect of the house they had just had built.

Janie becomes determined to find out the truth and when a reporter, James Burke, finds his way into the house and she has words with him, she decides to go to him and make a bargain with Burke for them to be honest with each other and share information and he could print anything he found as long as it was the truth.  Of course, the two of them are attracted to each other.

The characters are interesting such as Anne who deals in triple entendre and does daily battle with Mrs. Van Duyvil, her aunt who took her in and never let her forget it and Georgina who is scrappy and takes nothing from no one. This book has more twists and turns than a mountain road and it opens up on an exciting note that catches you right away and never lets you go.  The pages fly so fast your fingers will have scorch marks. 

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/English-Wife-Novel-Lauren-Willig-ebook/dp/B072TY6MS6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1516201448&sr=8-1&keywords=the+english+wife

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The book opens in the 1790s with the Captain returning from a long voyage overseas to his tobacco plantation in Virginia with an eight-year-old girl, Lavinia, in tow. Her parents were indentured to him but died on the ship leaving her brother whom he sold his papers to another farm and her whom he brought back to his farm to fulfill her indenture to him. He places her in the kitchen house with Belle who really isn't thrilled with this.  Belle is the Captain's daughter, though his wife, Miss Martha, thinks he is sleeping with her.  He plans on freeing her, finding her a husband and sending her to Philadelphia when she turns eighteen, which she just has.  Belle does not want to leave the only home she has ever known or the only family she has.

Mama Mae, who takes care of Miss Martha and things in the big house, takes care of everybody and she pushes Belle to be more understanding of the young girl who at first barely speaks and cannot remember her name or anything about herself.  Mama Mae is married to Papa George who works in the barns and the two have four children: Dory, an adult who works with Miss Martha and has a sick baby from Jimmy who works in the fields; Ben who is eighteen and works in the barns and is in love with Belle; and Fanny and Beattie who are eight-year-old twins who help out in the big house.

Miss Martha suffered several miscarriages, but has two living children, Marshall, age eleven and Sally age four.  Sally is all sunshine and light and sweetness. Marshall seems alright at first, but then his father gets him a bad tutor and he and Rankin the evil overseer fill his head with ugly thoughts about slaves and do things that help turn him mean.  The slaves do what they can to try to protect Marshall and help him, but he doesn't seem to appreciate it.  His mother takes laudanum and stays in a stupor to avoid dealing with the reality of her losses and her loneliness.

Lavina grows up not knowing at first that she's white and feeling that the slaves are her family, but eventually, it is pointed out to her and she is heartbroken.   Meanwhile, her and Belle will get closer and Belle's situation will become more precarious, especially as the Captain is an old man and his son Marshall grows meaner each day and hates Belle. One day he will take over the plantation and then what will happen to her?

This book explores life on a plantation from the eyes of Lavinia a girl who almost straddles both worlds and Belle a slave who has a chance at freedom but seems reluctant to take it, perhaps due to its conditions of marriage to a man she's never met and leaving the only family she's ever known.  You quickly become attached to these characters and really feel for them.  Like Lavinia you want them to be a part of your family.  This is an excellent read and will keep you up late at night turning the pages as it did me.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Kitchen-House-Novel-Kathleen-Grissom-ebook/dp/B0034DGPEU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1516023910&sr=8-1&keywords=the+kitchen+house        

Friday, January 12, 2018

Captain Marvel: Earth's Mightiest Hero Vol. 2 by Kelly Sue DeConnich (Writer), Jen Van Meter (Writer), Scott Hepburn (Artist), Matteo Buffagni (Artist), Pep Larraz (Artist), Gerardo Sandoval (Artist), Filpe Andrade (Artist), Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Matthew Wilson (Colorist), Nolan Woodard (Colorist), Andy Troy (Colorist), VC's Joe Caramagna (Letterer), and VC's Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

When we left off at the end of the last book, Captain Marvel had just been diagnosed with a legion on the part of her brain where her powers come from. She was told by the doctors that she was not to fly or the legion would grow. She would ignore it and find that she would have trouble flying, so she gave it up and the Avengers came through and gave her a vehicle to fly with.  Unbeknownst to her the Kree who was there when she got her powers and supposedly died, the evil Yon-Rogg, is the one who sent Deathbird to attack her and wear her down.

While Captain Marvel and the Avengers are kept busy tackling evil cohorts and dinosaurs in the quest to find an elderly homeless woman that is a friend to Carol, Yon-Rogg breaks into her apartment and steals the piece of Kree technology that gave her her powers.  She has no idea who could have stolen it. Her neighbor has a camera in the hallway since he's trying to find stuff to get her kicked out of the building. So she makes a deal for the tape.  Carol has her friend Wendy, a  compuer whiz, look into the tape.

Meanwhile, Kree metal warriors that had been placed on earth many years ago are coming up everywhere. The Avengers and S.W.O.R.D. head out to take care of them.  But there are too many of them. After calling the Kree homeworld, Yon-Rogg has a devious plan in place and he needs Captain Marvel to complete it.  How will they get out of this mess?

The book contains three other stories one about a new villain, one about a huge battle in space against a great foe, the builders, who created the universe and now intends to destroy it causing everyone in the universe to band together as one to fight them, and one involving the Amazing Spider-Man. This is a fabulous book. Carol is not the same after her encounter with Yon-Rogg.  She loses her memory and it's interesting to see how she reacts to those around her and in battle.  Without her memories has she lost what it means to be human?  While in the previous comic when she became sick the artist used a sketchy form to draw her, in this comic most of the artists use strong strokes to draw her to show her drawing upon her strength.  This really is an incredible book and I can't recommend it enough.

Link to Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Captain-Marvel-Earths-Mightiest-Hero/dp/1302901281/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1515764448&sr=8-3&keywords=captain+marvel+earth%27s+mightiest+hero

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture by J.D. Vance

Vance uses his life story and that of his family and extended family in order to explain the cultural and economical ways of the hillbilly. Just what is a hillbilly? Generally, they are someone who is from the Appalachian Mountain region who is poor, rural, and working class. Sometimes undereducated. The stereotype has them with no teeth because they drink Moutain Dew and don't go to the dentist.  Also that they are gun happy people ready to use them especially if you get their daughter pregnant.   The heavy popping of opioid pills such as Percocet and Oxy began in the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky, which is where the term "pillbilly" comes from.

Vance's Mamaw and Pawpaw came from a holler in Kentucky called Jackson. He got her pregnant at the age of thirteen and the two took the famous Route 23 out of Kentucky to Ohio (sometimes referred to as "Middletucky") where a good job at a steel manufacturer, Amaco, awaited.  They weren't the only ones. Plenty of people from Appalachia left for jobs in Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania (or "Pennsyltucky"), and Illinois. In the 1950s thirteen out of one hundred in Kentucky took the hillbilly highway out and in Harlan County Kentucky, thirty percent of its population, mostly coal miners, left.

Life was hard for his Mamaw and Pawpaw. She had several miscarriages and three children that survived.  These included Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Wee, and his mother.  His Pawpaw was an alcoholic and things could get ugly in their house.  He would straighten himself out and while he and his wife stayed married they would end up with their own separate homes once their kids were grown, but remained close.  But heaven help anyone who bothered one of the children or a member of the family. When Uncle Jimmy was five, he saw a toy in the pharmacy that he wanted for Christmas and his parents told him to go in and look at it while they finished shopping at a store. When he picked it up to play with it, the clerk in the store told him that he wasn't allowed to touch the toy and kicked the boy out of the pharmacy.  When his parents found him and found out what happened they went in and trashed the place and stood up for their son's honor, because how dare someone tell their son that he can't come in their store.

He would take a while to adjust to a new place as his mother moved him and his older sister, Lydnsey, around to different homes with different men.  The one constant was his Mamaw's place.  Life with his mother was hard as she had a temper and in her relationships, fighting was the only way she knew how to deal with things. So dishes went flying and she would get violent with the men in her life.

According to J.D., this was how most hillbillies acted. Also, they spent money they didn't have at Christmas on fancy gifts for the kids, hoping the IRS refund check would cover it.  Sometimes there would be someone in the house with a substance abuse problem.  In J.D.'s case, it was his mother who got hooked on pills.  They also abuse the Welfare system and try to get out of work if they can.

Vance basically says that you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but most of these people don't have boots. And he had helped himself.  His Mamaw received a pension check from his Papaw when he died and likely social security.  He credits his Mamaw, his sister, his teachers, and the Marines with helping him to avoid going down the wrong path and instead earning his degree at Ohio State and his law degree at Yale, something practically unheard of from where he was from.  He offers a lot of criticism but no solutions and he overgeneralizes and forgets the people in his life that weren't loud and violent like his sister and Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Wee and cousin Gail and their spouses.  It's like he wants them to be the exception that proves the rule, but there are more of them in his life than the violent argumentative types.  Also, I think there are plenty of people who are dying to get jobs of any kind if you just give them a chance.  And there are programs that train people in Appalachia to learn a new trade for a company that is in the area.  Vance is close to using stereotypes, though with stereotypes there is some truth to them.  Read this book with caution.

*Vance is contemplating a run for office and it is my opinion that he wrote this book as a stepping stone for this purpose. But that is just my opinion. 

* I add this as I think it might be interesting and be a counterpoint to the book.  

 I was born in poverty in Appalachia. ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ doesn’t speak for me.

J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” in Washington in January. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
By Betsy Rader September 1, 2017
Betsy Rader is an employment lawyer at Betsy Rader Law LLC, located in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She is running as a Democrat to represent Ohio’s 14th Congressional District in the U.S. House.

J.D. Vance’s book “Hillbilly Elegy,” published last year, has been assigned to students and book clubs across the country. Pundits continue to cite it as though the author speaks for all of us who grew up in poverty. But Vance doesn’t speak for me, nor do I believe that he speaks for the vast majority of the working poor.

From a quick glance at my résumé, you might think me an older, female version of Vance. I was born in Appalachia in the 1960s and grew up in the small city of Newark, Ohio. When I was 9, my parents divorced. My mom became a single mother of four, with only a high school education and little work experience. Life was tough; the five of us lived on $6,000 a year.

Like Vance, I attended Ohio State University on scholarship, working nights and weekends. I graduated at the top of my class and, again like Vance, attended Yale Law School on a financial-need scholarship. Today, I represent people who’ve been fired illegally from their jobs. And now that I’m running for Congress in Northeast Ohio, I speak often with folks who are trying hard but not making much money.

Although high school graduation rates are rising and there are more private and federal grants available, most low-income students have a tough time attending and staying in college. Here are nine facts about poor students and the college experience. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/Photo: iStock/The Washington Post)
A self-described conservative, Vance largely concludes that his family and peers are trapped in poverty due to their own poor choices and negative attitudes. But I take great exception when he makes statements such as: “We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy. . . . Thrift is inimical to our being.”

Who is this “we” of whom he speaks? Vance’s statements don’t describe the family in which I grew up, and thy don’t describe the families I meet who are struggling to make it in America today. I know that my family lived on $6,000 per year because as children, we sat down with pen and paper to help find a way for us to live on that amount. My mom couldn’t even qualify for a credit card, much less live on credit. She bought our clothes at discount stores.

Thrift was not inimical to our being; it was the very essence of our being.

With lines like “We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs,” Vance’s sweeping stereotypes are shark bait for conservative policymakers. They feed into the mythology that the undeserving poor make bad choices and are to blame for their own poverty, so taxpayer money should not be wasted on programs to help lift people out of poverty. Now these inaccurate and dangerous generalizations have been made required college reading.

Here is the simple fact: Most poor people work. Seventy-eight percent of families on Medicaid include a household member who is working. People work hard in necessary and important jobs that often don’t pay them enough to live on. For instance, child-care workers earn an average of $22,930 per year, and home health aides average $23,600. (Indeed, it is a sad irony that crucial jobs around caretaking and children have always paid very little.)

The problem with living in constant economic insecurity is not a lack of thrift, it is that people in these circumstances are always focused on the current crisis. They can’t plan for the future because they have so much to deal with in the present. And the future seems so bleak that it feels futile to sacrifice for it. What does motivate most people is the belief that the future can be better and that we have a realistic opportunity to achieve it. But sometimes that takes help.

Yes, I worked hard, but I didn’t just pull myself up by my bootstraps. And neither did Vance. The truth is that people helped us out: My public school’s guidance counselor encouraged me to go to college. The government helped us out: I received scholarships and subsidized federal loans to help pay my educational expenses. The list of helpers goes on.

Now that so many people have read “Hillbilly Elegy” this summer, I hope they draw this better moral from the story: Individuals can make a difference in others’ lives, and by providing opportunities for all, our government can do the same. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be legitimate expectations for everyone, “hillbillies” included.

Monday, January 8, 2018

I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks by Gina Sheridan

As a former librarian I found myself, quite often, laughing out loud at some of these stories, both because they brought back memories and because it made me realize I had sadly not had the ability to continue to work as a librarian and experience more stories.  The author, in true library fashion, orders the chapters in the Dewey Decimal System.  The chapter titles are: Computers, Reference Work, Reading Interests and Habits, Curiosities and Wonders, Listening In, Communication, Failures and Disruptions of, Bullying, Rare Birds, Human Anatomy, Telephones, Children's Humor, and Volumes of Gratitude.

In the first chapter, Computers, what is the reply to the question "I keep getting the blue screen of death"?  "Sir, that's the desktop".  Another man keeps coming up to the desk asking tons of questions, including: How do I make the computer like a typewriter?; There are red squiggly lines under everything I type.; Now I want to make a website.  Do I just get the framework up ...using the typewriter function?; Maybe you could help me make a website. I have about an hour.  Another man wants them to disable Google because they are "taking over the United States".  One librarian was helping a patron upload his resume for a job application from a flash drive.  When she asks him which job is applying for, he says, "all the jobs on the Internet". 

In the chapter "Reading Interests and Habits" here are some of the book titles patrons have requested: Fifty Shades of Grey's Anatomy, How to Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Aunt Frank, Lord of the Flies by Tolkien, The Hungry Games, and The Lively Bones.  A woman expresses her disinterest in e-books, claiming they will be the death of libraries.  When the librarian informs her the library has e-books, she replies, "aren't they invisible?".  In the chapter, Curiosities and Wonders, one person comes in looking for the margarita machine, which, honestly, would have been nice to have at my library. 

A conversation overheard between a young woman showing her mother how to search for items at the library: Mother: There are almost three thousand movies to choose from? Daughter: Well, movies and TV shows.  Mother: So are you saying that the library is now the video store? Daughter: Among other things. Mother: Who else knows about this?.  A seventy-year-old man tells his wife, "I think we really should do the Facebook.  Art and Frieda are doing it.  We don't want to be the only ones left."  A conversation between one parent and another in the children's room: Parent 1: Do you ever hide books you've read over and over again because you're so sick of them? Parent 2: Oh, definitely.  When they ask for them, I say the book fairy came to get it.  One time they saw one of the books at the library so now they think the librarians are the book fairies.  One of my personal favorite lines in this book from a patron who says "It's too cold in here.  What is wrong with you people?  Do you like frozen books?"  I wore a sweater jacket year round at the library.

But my absolute favorite is the one on a librarian putting up a display for Banned Books Week, which is something I did when I worked.  Librarian: I'm making a display about books that people complained about.  They wanted them removed from the library.  Girl: Why? Librarian: Because they didn't like what the books were about and didn't want anyone else to read them, either...Can you imagine what would happen if every person could choose one book to remove from the library forever? Girl: There wouldn't be any books left on the shelves.  Librarian:  That's right!  It wouldn't really look like a library anymore, would it? Girl:  We are learning about bullying at school.  It sounds like even libraries get bullied sometimes.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Work-Public-Library-Collection-Stories-ebook/dp/B00NQF0JNY/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1515417269&sr=1-1&keywords=i+work+at+a+public+library

Friday, January 5, 2018

Astonishing X-Men: Volume 3 Torn by Joss Whedon (Writer), John Cassaday (Artist), Laura Martin (Colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (Letterer)

In the previous books, S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient Worlds Observation and Response Department) has been butting heads with S.H.I.E.L.D. S.W.O.R.D. has Ord, the alien who came to earth to kill the mutants because it was foretold that one of them--an X-Men--would be the end of their world.  Right now he is locked up tight and Agent Brand of S.W.O.R.D. is trying to find a peaceful solution to the situation.  Brand has an inside man in the X-Men headquarters.  Meanwhile, Emma Frost has been talking with a mysterious group that turns out to be the Hellfire Club.

Kitty Pryde is having a hard time dealing with things and is having nightmares about losing people, even though she now has Peter back.  Emma and Scott's relationship is rocky and Emma goes in and manipulates him using her powers into believing that his powers no longer work, so they don't.  She lets in the rest of the Hellfire Club members and they all go to work on the others.  There is something in the mansion that they want and with Charles gone they see a chance to get it.

This book is all about manipulation of the mind.  Whedon does an excellent job of doing some manipulating of his own. It's also fun to see what happens to Wolverine.  The dreamscapes are rather vividly drawn. It will be interesting to see where this comic will go on the concluding one titled Unstoppable.

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Astonishing-X-Men-Vol-3-Torn-ebook/dp/B00AAJQVAE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515163250&sr=8-1&keywords=the+astonishing+x+men+torn