Category Reviews

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales” Review

4 star rating

This lavishly illustrated volume, published in 1961 in London, contains only about 50 of the over 200 folktales Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collected during their lifetimes. It includes, of course, some of the most famous: Cinderella, Hänsel and Grethel (Hansel and Gretel), Rapunzel, Snow-White, and Tom Thumb, among others.

One of the most interesting aspects of reading these original versions of the stories is how different they are from the Disney-fied versions. Cinderella, for example, had no fairy godmother, no pumpkin-carriage, no clock striking midnight, and no glass slipper, and each of her evil sisters mutilated themselves to try to fit a foot into the shoe she did leave behind.

Even in their day, some of the Grimms’ stories were so bloody, or included certain topics, t...

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‘The Portable Walt Whitman’ Review

4 star rating

Walt Whitman, and his contemporary Emily Dickinson, were the seminal poets of their era, and had influence on American poetry far beyond their lifetimes. Which, of course, means they get studied in English classes, and that’s where I first encountered this book, during my master’s degree studies.

These classes naturally focus on bits and pieces of his multi-edition collection, Leaves of Grass, and especially his “Song of Myself,” but I wanted to read this entire book, not only to get the full measure of Whitman’s poetry, but to read his prose writing, which gets far less attention. I’m glad I did.

The hallmarks of Whitman’s early work are not just how he abandoned the stiff formalism of the poetry that came before, but how he would pile up lists of the characteri...

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“The City in the Middle of the Night” Review

5-star rating
3-star rating

I’ve never done a review like this, but it’s been a long time, if ever, since I’ve read (and finished) a book like this. A single rating simply isn’t sufficient to capture my responses to the book, so there are three: five stars, three, and one.

5-star rating

Anders not only creates this world and its native inhabitants, she creates a complete backstory of the humans in the generations ship who came to populate the planet, the vastly different cultures of the two major cities they founded, and groups of wanderers who travel between them. The cities, Xiosphant and Argelo, not only have highly distinct, and largely corrupt, governments, they have their own languages, currencies, and ways of dealing with the fact that the sun never rises or sets.

All of this is highly ima...

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“The First Marine Captured in Vietnam” Review

4 star rating
"The First Marine Capterued in Vietnam" cover

Don Cook was a young Marine Corps Captain, stationed on Okinawa but on a 90-day temporary duty assignment in South Vietnam when he was captured by the Viet Cong near the town of Binh Gia. From his capture on December 31, 1964, to his death on or about December 8, 1967, Cook was held in a number of primitive prisoner of war (POW) camps in South Vietnam. He and his fellow POWs, mostly Army officers and enlisted soldiers and one US government civilian suffered mental, emotional, and some physical abuse, near-starvation diets, minimal medical care despite the ravages of many tropical diseases, and exposure to the elements.

Through it all, Cook held himself to the highest standards of moral, professional, and personal conduct, often placing the health and welfare of his fellow POWs ...

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“Science and the Arts” Review

4 star rating
Science and the Arts book cover

“Science and the Arts” is one of a large series of magazine-like books, or book-like magazines, that Scientific American offers to its subscribers as a reward for renewing their subscription. Each contains a collection of articles from the magazine that relate to some general topic, in this case, as the subtitle of the work indicates, “the interrelationship of science and art.”

Published sometime in the mid- to late 1990s, this volume contains articles that span nearly four decades, from 1955 to 1994, and cover topics ranging from the creative process to visual art, sculpture, music, and perception. There’s even a long poem by John Updike.

Because of the age of the articles, it’s fair to assume that the science of each topic covered has advanced, probably significa...

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“Adventures, Outlaws and Past Events” Review

4 star rating

In this, the final book in the Icelandic Folktales series, we leave behind the ghosts, ghouls, and goblins of the previous books. As the title might suggest, the stories are generally longer than in the first two books, and humans are the only characters.

Magic still plays a role at times. In one story, the poor friend of two princes follows them as they seek fame and fortune. At each royal house where they winter-over, the poor boy makes himself useful to the royal family, and earns a magical boon as his reward, while the princes do nothing, but have to pay handsomely for their room and board. Finally, the three adventurers arrive at the castle of a harridan virgin queen. She allows only eunuchs in her court, and any man who refuses is banished to a desert island...

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“Elves, Trolls and Elemental Beings” Review

4 star rating

This is book two of the Icelandic Folktales series.

The island of Iceland sits at the north end of the Atlantic Ocean, just south of the Arctic Circle. While the Gulf Stream, which passes by on the south side moderates temperatures some, Icelandic weather is highly changeable, and winter nights are very long. No surprise, then, that long, dark, nights, howling winds, blizzards, and oh by the way, volcanoes, can take the imaginations of isolated farmers and travelers in dark directions.

In these stories, trolls and especially trollwives are the bane of the traveler and the shepherd watching over his flock in isolated summer pastures, often luring them to their death, slavery, or even transformation into trolls themselves.

Icelandic elves bear no resemblance to, say, J.R.R...

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“Ghosts, Witchcraft and the Other World” Review

4 star rating

This is the first book in the Icelandic Folktales series. The stories were originally collected by Jón Árnason and Magnús Grímsson in the 1800s, and were translated by Alan Boucher in the 1970s. This volume features stories of ghosts, witches, and the Devil himself.

Iceland is a beautiful but rugged country with ferocious and highly changeable weather. Early farmers lived far apart on isolated farmsteads. Life was hard, so it’s no surprise that the supernatural world was real and near to them. Ghosts and other spirits walked among them, often with malicious intent. The Devil was around too, but not as the nearly all-powerful being imagined in Continental Europe and the Americas. Here, he could not only be bargained with, he could be beaten or fooled, and often was...

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“Endurance” Review

5-star rating
"Endurance" book cover image

Scott Kelly’s early life as a kid from West Orange, New Jersey, just west of New York City, gave no hint of what he and his twin brother Mark would become. Scott in particular was a mediocre student at best, drifting through school, even junior college, just getting by. Until he read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, the story of the seven original US astronauts.

That book sparked the passion in him that led him to become a Navy F-14 pilot, a test pilot, and ultimately an astronaut who would fly both the Space Shuttle and on the International Space Station. His final mission aboard the ISS lasted nearly a year. That year would prove to be a true test of endurance—mental and emotional more than physical—for not only him, but his ex-wife, their two daughters, and his girlfriend...

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“In the Palm of Your Hand” Review

4 star rating
In the Palm of Your Hand cover

I dabble in writing poetry, so years ago a now-deceased poet-acquaintance recommended I pick up a copy of Steve Kowit’s book. At the time, I couldn’t get more than a few chapters into Palm because I wasn’t ready for it. It went back on the shelf.

Since then, my poems have been well received, even sweeping the poetry awards at a local writers’ conference last year. So a few months ago, I decided it was time to give the book another try. Four chapters in, I stalled out again, but after a few weeks away from it, I decided to keep going. I’m glad I did.

The book’s two subtitles, “The poet’s portable workshop,” and “A lively and illuminating guide for the practicing poet” turned out to be accurate...

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