Monday, November 18, 2019

Cold Pursuit: Go Along for the Joy Ride, Not the Sizzle

Movie Review: Cold Pursuit (2019)
Version: HBO subscription

"A grieving snowplow driver seeks out revenge against the drug dealers who killed his son." - IMDb

That's putting it mildly. Think John Wick with a snowplow. Slower paced but with the same menace. And with way more tongue in cheek, making this film a wild ride with a sense of humor. Watch it now, before the snow really builds up this winter, because you're gonna hate snow by the end of this movie (the red of blood does provide some relief).

Liam Neeson and Laura Dern (briefly) head the cast, most of which don't last long enough to get your notice. And this film is pretty standard fare for Neeson, just the jokes are different and are worth watching out for. They actually punctuate the film like chapter breaks in a novel. Watch out you don't stub your toe tripping over some of them, although they are funny.

Just so you know the story line, Nels Coxman is a snowplow driver who clears the roads in the Colorado high country. His son is killed by drug dealers, innocently caught up in a misdeed by a co-worker who is running from the dealers whom he owes money. Nels gets the name of one of the dealers and finds him, then so begins his journey of revenge against a slew of slimy underworld characters ascending the crime organization in Denver to its top, while still keeping his work hours. Now, Coxman is no professional hitman, but this crime organization is big on ego and short on smarts, allowing Coxman to almost always get the best of them, and when he doesn't he still manages to beat them.

Cold Pursuit has the look and feel of a quality independent film with soul and solid storytelling, even if it doesn't feature dozens of big stars and big effects. Go along for the joy ride, not for the sizzle.

Highly recommend. Four !!!!s out of five. Saw Cold Pursuit on a Saturday night, perfect weekend evening movie after a full day of football.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Tolkien: Exceptional Storytelling

Movie Review: Tolkien (2019)
Version: Library Blu-Ray

Much was written about the early life of fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien, but not much has been told in film. The 2019 film Tolkien brings to life his struggles and triumphs as an orphan and prodigy of language and the arts in early 20th century England and the imagination that brought him to write two of the world's most beloved stories in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

As a young boy, John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien and his younger brother Hilary would lose both their father and mother and be sent to live with relatives and then a boarding house to grow up. Their legal guardian was a kindly Catholic priest named Father Francis, who shepherded their upbringing and quality education. Tolkien takes us through those cold, difficult days, and the part camaraderie played in building Tolkien's imagination and the appreciation of friendship and fellowship that would become key themes in his books. He struggled to pass his exams to earn scholarships and just as he was about to attach himself to an esteemed professor of language, The War to End All Wars (World War I) erupted and Tolkien found himself on the front lines in Europe, where his experiences fueled many of his visions for the horrors of battle for his stories. Of course, he returned after the war to become a professor of philology and write his books. Many of his friends did not make it through the war, providing grist for his tales as well. 

Tolkien is a rugged, ambitious telling of Tolkien's early life and a celebration of language and storytelling. The action is vivid, its settings are breathtaking, and the characters are heartwarming, making for brilliant film making and the story memorable. So, too, the imagery is evocative. The film does Tolkien himself proud. Harry Gilby is excellent as young J.R.R. and Nicholas Hoult is devout as his adult self. Colm Meany was wonderful as Father Francis. They lead a great cast. As a steadfast Tolkien fan, I found the film Tolkien exceptional.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Shazam!: Impish, Upbeat -- I'm Liking It!

Movie Review: Shazam! (2019)
Version: Library Blu-Ray borrow

Shazam! is a new kind of superhero movie, fashioned out of comic books first published in the 1940's and over time morphed by DC Comics into something of a wink and a nod to what you think of today as the persona of a Superman or a Batman. Its greatest feature is its impish, upbeat sense of humor. I'm really liking it!

Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel) is an orphaned boy who has grown up trying to find his idealized mother, living in and out of well meaning but not-making-it Philadelphia foster families. Most refuse to deal with him but in his latest family he finds foster parents and foster siblings who won't give up on him and an incorrigible new friend in Freddy (played by Jack Dylan Grazer) who helps him discover his amazing new powers. Taken to an underground lair by Wizard Shazam to become the champion to keep the seven evil powers in check, twelve year old Billy is selected to protect the world, but the wizard gives him no instructions. Meanwhile, a previous candidate to be champion, Dr. Sivana (played by Mark Strong), who was denied, returns and is chosen by the seven evil powers to be their champion. This is when the heart of the movie takes off.

A fun part of the film is Freddy helping Billy figure out what his powers are. The two twelve-year-olds do what twelve-year-olds would do testing ideas, some good some not so good. Billy proclaims the wizard's name, "Shazam!" to become the superhero or to return to himself, as he and Freddy try to figure out how to live out the dream life of a kid being a superhero. They learn he can't fly, falling flat on his face, but that he is impervious to pain. In fact, the two sneaking out of the foster care house late at night and going to a convenience store, stop an armed robbery. As part of their discovery process they tease the robbers into shooting Billy, watching the bullets bounce off. "It kinda tickles," Billy giggles. There is all kinds of silliness between the two new buddies as the movie fully explores this relationship, and it works.

Eventually Dr. Sivana shows up to challenge Billy. And the two are of equal power. This contest puts everyone connected with Billy in danger, so while Billy originally just sloughs it off he finally realizes he has to take it serious. This is where the fun wears off. The movie drags on as it takes an enormous amount of time to resolve the conflict between Dr. Sivana and Billy. Honestly, they could have done it in half the time. As is, they cheapened the charm.

What the superhero movie genre needed was a sense of humor after taking itself too seriously for too long, and Shazam! fits the bill just great. (Just next time, guys, resolve the conflict more quickly, OK?)

Friday, September 06, 2019

Stockwin's Maritime Miscellany: A Lot of Information; Hours of Entertainment!

Book Review: Stockwin's Maritime Miscellany by Julian Stockwin
Version: Author paperback

Author Julian Stockwin posted past photos on Facebook of his research trips for his historical fiction novels, and I commented that he should write a book compiling some of his most interesting finds. He steered me to Stockwin's Maritime Miscellany, "A Ditty Bag of Wonders From the Golden Age of Sail". I was expecting a book of interesting bits and pieces of lore and wisdom of the sea, perhaps some notes on tying knots and types of sails and classes of wooden tackle blocks. But no, this wide collection of knowledge is much more than that.

Stockwin's Maritime Miscellany is a small "tome" of research of the age of sail. Of the people and the places and the battles from that amazing time when England was the master of the seas and none dared oppose her. Too, it digs deep into the words we speak that emerged from that time. And it tells of the daring and the discoveries that both heroes and the plainspoken achieved who might have lived lesser lives on land. Also, it delves into inventions that marked a time when men had to come up with their own solutions to challenges, so far away from civilization, and the beliefs and superstitions that followed them far out to sea. Such faraway and dangerous travel would also have its misfortunes, and Stockwin's Maritime Miscellany has a section on those, too.

Most often when I'm reading a Stockwin novel, I want to breeze through it, because it's a compelling story I must finish to the end. But Stockin's Maritime Miscellany isn't that kind of work. You want to study it and savor it for its detail. And there's plenty of detail! One hundred and eighty-seven pages of regular content, plus eighteen pages of museums, important historical dates, ship sizes, and a detailed glossary. And the book is full of historical black and white photographs, with a photo index in the back.

So to say I was pleasantly surprised by the contents is an understatement. "Miscellany" is a good description! Reading this thorough book will provide you with not only a lot of information but also many hours of entertainment. It belongs on any shelf with books of stories of naval engagement, not to mention age of sail. And it gives you a deep understanding of the history of the times. If you haven't read Stockwin's Maritime Miscellany, add it to your to-read list now.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Mountain Between Us: Redeeming Message and Sweeping Vistas, but Plodding Plot

Movie Review: The Mountain Between Us (2017)
Version: Library borrow

It was never going to be an award-wining film, but The Mountain Between Us gets points for having a socially redeeming message and sweeping vistas. The lead actors (Idris Elba and Kate Winslet) are pretty good, too. However, the writing isn't spectacular and the plotting is plodding.

Ben Bass (Idris Elba) is a heart surgeon trying to get back from a conference to do an emergency surgery. Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) is a socialite photographer trying to get home for her pending marriage. A snow storm upends both their flights home so they arrange a private plane flown by aging pilot Walter (Beau Bridges) to take them over a mountain and homeward bound. Only, Walter suffers a debilitating stroke and crashes the plane high in the wilderness. From here on out, it's not a matter of will they get home in time for their important business but will they get home at all. It's them against nature and the cold of winter in the mountains.

Add to that dynamic are the cultural divides. He's a doctor and she's a socialite. He's been married that she senses is keeping a secret from his wife, she's about to be newly married. He's Black, she's White. Multiple conflicts arise as they try to stay alive and find rescue. What they come to find instead is a close relationship that threatens to upend their lives if they ever find a way out of the wilderness.

The Mountain Between Us isn't the most exciting movie ever filmed. It has great scenery, but some of the situations seem a bit contrived and, on many levels, too good to be true. And the ending is eye-roll silly. Die-hard romantics will likely eat it up, but if you're a diabetic, be sure to keep your insulin handy. Fair warning!

The only good thing I can say about this film is, they signed good talent. Ibis and Winslet are good to watch squirming through the dialog and scenes struggling through deep snow and cold water. Sorry to be so negative, but I just need to be honest. This was not a film I enjoyed watching.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Isle of Dogs: See It, Because It's a Good Film

Movie Review: Isle of Dogs (2018)
Version: Library borrow

Isle of Dogs is an imaginative work of stop-action animation, the story of which takes place in a dystopian future Japan. In it, an outbreak of dog flu forces the mayor of Megasaki to exile all dogs to an island of trash. The main character Atari dares to defy the mayor, his uncle, to seek out his best friend, his lost dog Spots. Crashing his small plane in the refuse, he is rescued by some canine heroes who agree to help him find Spots while overcoming a series of obstacles, including a robot dog sent by the mayor to find him.

The film is a bit dark and dank, but the story line hangs tough and has a lot of heart. It is supported by a superb voice cast, including Koyu Rankin as Atari and Bryan Cranston as Chief, a dog that tries to help from afar because he can't associate with humans. Other top voice talents include Edward Norton as Rex, Jeff Goldblum as Duke, and Bill Murray as Boss. Liev Schreiber is Spots. There are way more! Isle of Dogs has the look and feel of a quality indie film and it has attracted a lot of top talent.

This won't strike you as "up there" with a Disney or Dreamworks picture, and children won't likely be drawn to it with cute, cuddly, colorful characters, but younguns who like films with firm characters and well developed stories will enjoy it. And adults who still love animation will like it for its depth of plot and devotion to technique, story, and art. See Isle of Dogs, because it's a good film.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Dumbo: For Me It's a Flop

Movie Review: Dumbo (2019)
Version: Library Blu-Ray borrow

Holt Farrier (played by Colin Farrell) returns from the war missing an arm and his hope of returning to his life of fame trick-riding horses in the circus. Meanwhile, the circus is running on fumes, selling off assets with its own hopes for a bright future riding on the purchase of a sick elephant and the baby it's carrying. But when it's finally born, Dumbo turns out to be an ugly little critter with huge ears circus goers are more enthralled in jeering than in cheering. And momma elephant has to be shut away to keep her from rampaging the crowds. The circus's only hope to save their show is banking on Dumbo's penchant for flying with its ears. In steps the owner of another circus, whose desire to join forces are suspicious.

This version of the animated original is a darker, less colorful and might I suggest less friendly version. Danny DeVito plays the circus ringleader, more a bumbling con artist than masterful showman. Michael Keaton plays the owner of the second circus, a conniver and evil plotter. Alan Arkin is his financier and enabler. Animation provides a far more fanciful circus world than the live action world with its rough edges and duller images. Real animals just aren't that cute. The world of real people and animals playing the characters adds an evil edge that isn't softened by software.

Add to that the poor joke telling and poorer acting in this version, and you have a dumbed down version of a Disney classic. Honestly, I didn't laugh until well over halfway through the film. I just don't see the reason to have made this film. Sorry, Disney, for me this Dumbo remake is a flop.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Persepolis Rising: Seventh Novel in the Series and it's Dynamite

Book Review: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
Version: Library eBook borrow

I cannot express adequately enough how much I am enjoying the James S.A. Corey series on which the sci-fi TV series The Expanse is based. I've just finished reading Persepolis Rising, the seventh full-length novel so far, and it's dynamite!

Persepolis Rising takes place thirty years after the ending of Babylon's Ashes ends, in which a charismatic leader of an insurgent revolutionary force trying to wrest control from the inner planets of our solar system fail in their conquest and high tail an escape through the protomolocule-related ring gate and are not heard from again. In this novel, they reappear with new technology ready to once again challenge Earth, Mars, and the outer worlds for power and domination of human space. At the center of the story line are the crew of the spaceship Rocinate: Holden, Naomi, Bobbie, Amos, Alex, and a host of others that we've grown to know and love from the last six novels. All key to understanding this future universe.

The invaders bring superior ancient technology from the creators of the protomolocules and a misplaced assurance and arrogance of rule. The Rocinate crew find themselves in league with the old Belters who refuse to be conquered fighting off the new "Laconians", bombing facilities and facing off greater forces in an effort to escape and fight for freedom another day.

By way of background, The Expanse is about human habitation of the solar system in the future, escaping the bounds of Earth to live on the Moon and Mars and mining the outer bodies, including the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn and La Grange points. Earth and Mars are in competition for control of the solar system and supplying the Belters, often at war with one another. It's a fantastic but realistic visioning of our human future.

As with the past novels, Persepolis Rising is well written, well plotted, and fantastically imagined. The characters are the most amazing, each one written to incredible detail with consistent unique detail, which isn't always the case in lesser-written literature. This has always been so in this series of books and one of the things that makes me so admire the writers (James S.A. Corey is a pseudonym for two authors). Now, I don't think Persepolis Rising is the nadir of the series (I think that was Nemesis Games), but it is a great novel with a good story line and like the others well created -- a great read!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

First Man: A Deeply Introspective Look into Neil Armstrong's Life

Movie Review: First Man (2018)
Version: Library Blu-Ray borrow

As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the first steps of man to the Moon in 1969, you might do well to see First Man. It's a look into the life of that first man to put a footprint on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, played by Ryan Gosling. Claire Foy plays his beleaguered wife.

First Man is a deeply introspect look into a complex man, an engineer test pilot, who risked his life breaking personal barriers to move the U.S. space program forward. Facing many challenges like the loss of a young daughter, he fought depression and doubt to conquer internal deprecation while still contributing to the national effort to reach the Moon. But it was at a cost to his self, his family, and friends, distancing himself from them as he focused on science and engineering instead of working through his tragedies.

This isn't an easy film to watch. We're used to lionizing our heroes and First Man very much shows the struggling, human side to Armstrong. But in watching this more real side of the hero unfold, we learn of their sacrifices and strengths in becoming really greater than the superheroes we've come to know in lore and legend. Celebrate the triumph that was Apollo 11, yes, but also celebrate the man, the family, the endeavor, and the life that was the first man to step on the Moon in real terms. First man on the Moon was a man, with foibles and weaknesses that went along with the strengths, and both sides got him to the Moon and back.  You'll get plenty of the hype elsewhere.

Green Book: Enjoy the Ride Along the Way to Redemption

Movie Review: Green Book (2018)
Version: Library Blue-Ray borrow

Green Book isn't an easy journey, for characters or viewers. It places tough bar bouncer "Tony Lip" Vallelonga (played by Viggo Mortensen) and delicate classical pianist Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali) on a long-winding road trip of self-discovery, mostly through the racist southern USA. You'll need thick skin to make it through, but it's worth the journey.

Tony is there because his work at a New York City bar is suspended for a while and it's good to stretch his legs on a long drive. Shirley is there to make a quiet statement. Neither is there for the other, initially, and the tension between the two is palpable as Tony struggles to protect and provide for the man he's signed on to serve, guided only by the Green Book guide for negroes who dare to travel in the segregated Deep South of the early 1960's United States. But as the two learn about each other's lives and the realities of appalling disparities of injustice, and their newfound respect for each other's talents and strengths, they take on the world together and finally become friends.

The picture painted is an ugly one. There is a gritty earthiness to this film that feeds into the reality of the times Green Book exposes. Be prepared for the long haul, because it takes till nearly the end of the film before there will be relief. And that's as it should be, because that's how long the struggle that is the theme of the film has taken.

Mortensen is an underrated actor who often takes on meaty roles, and Green Book is among his meatiest. Ali has been winning accolades for some time for his soulful portrayals in heavy-themed films, and this is among his most sensitive. Together, they make a powerful twosome on the long road to redemption an a subject desperately needing it. If we really pay attention, we enjoy the ride along the way.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Boy Erased: Sometimes Brutally Honest Film on an Important Topic

Movie Review: Boy Erased (2018)
Version: Library Blu-Ray borrow

Boy Erased features a fine cast (Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton) in a sometimes brutally honest memoir of a late-teen's experience with gay conversion therapy imposed by his willful dogmatic preacher-father. Includes a particularly savage rape scene, so this may not be a film for young viewers.

One of the positives about this film is that it doesn't resort to the typical gay stereotypes to portray the main character Jared's fellow therapy subjects. They come off as teens who happen to be gay and we can focus on their struggles instead of the often groan-able stereotypes. One of the negatives is that in not employing at least a couple of stereotypes is that the characters are one dimensional and in some ways seem unrealistic. Where the film may overplay its hand in use of stereotypes is in portraying the southern Baptist fundamentalists who run the therapy camp. In doing so, they risk making the characters look too dark, too evil, and too fit-to-form to be believable.

This is a memoir, so these characters may very well be as written, but all too often we get the feeling artist's license gives free rein to embellishment and the viewer's willful suspension of disbelief takes a hit. I got the feeling that was true here. Another nit was that most of the gay characters were male. There was one lesbian in the therapy class of a dozen or so boys. That seemed strange. Later, the lesbian was seen with a study group of other girls, presumably other lesbians at the center. None of this was addressed in the story. She seemed out place, didn't seem to have a real role.

It was a great story, well written and nicely paced. Definitely a social consciousness story that examined a lot of important sexual-orientation, parental-awareness, and religious-tolerance issues that didn't get bogged down in trying to play nice but focused on telling an important story.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: A Dramatic Role Turns to Sardonic Wit

Movie Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Version: Library Blu-Ray borrow

Not all writers are cat people, but the most interesting ones seem to be. Lee Israel was an eccentric one, and the 2018 film Can You Ever Forgive Me? explores all her foibles. With Comedian Melissa McCarthy in the starring role, it turns a dramatic role into an often sardonic one with wit and sarcasm as only she can whip at you with an eye or a wink or a sigh. She is great in this memoir based on the adaptation of the book by the same title and makes it her own.

Lee Israel was an author profiling 1970s and '80s women celebrities. But eventually the women she covered grew out of favor and she had trouble making a decent living. One day while doing research she discovered a celebrity letter and found she could sell it at a New York City bookstore and if she ran into letters or notes with spicier, funnier content she could hawk them for even more. Thus began a new career inventing witty memorabilia for sale, and she was quite good at it. Yet, it turned out she wasn't quite as good at it as collectors were at spotting fakes. Can You Ever Forgive Me? takes you through the twists and turns of turning that trade, feeling guilty about it, learning to live with it, and then living with the consequences of discovery.

Joining McCarthy in this breezy romp is the Brit Richard E. Grant, who plays Jack, the homeless gay man-about-town and eventual colleague in crime. He is every bit as genuine in the role as is McCarthy in hers and the two become comrades in trade, although he isn't quite so witting.

Both are socially awkward inepts who fall into each other's orbits quite by accident but become close friends and allies -- their only real friends, actually. In one scene, Jack must help Lee clean her apartment so the supervisor can bring in an exterminator to treat flies, only to discover she hasn't cleaned the apartment for ages. The cat has defecated under the bed and Jack nearly vomits when he looks there to clean. Now, that is a friend! From then on Jack is there to help her clean up the other mess she creates in her new endeavor.

My only real complaints about Can You Ever Forgive Me? are that the film doesn't really take full advantage of the character social ineptness -- there are clues, but if they didn't reference it you might not realize it. And while McCarthy is cheeky in parts of this story, this film doesn't take full advantage of her many comedic talents, although likely the material simply doesn't provide for it. The film becomes a sad tale about two lonely people who just can't catch a break, despite apparent talents to live life otherwise.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World: A Hidden Gem

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)
Version: Theater purchase

Seems like the How to Train Your Dragon series can do no wrong. All three movies were brilliant -- kudos to Dreamworks! The second sequel, The Hidden World, stayed the course and may have been the best of the three. If you haven't seen it yet, get to a theater now before it's gone, because it's a great story and the animation is superb. It will pay to see it on the big screen. Two more days left at my local theater!

In this chapter of the story, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is leading their Viking clan with his dragon Toothless the favored leader of the clan's weyr. Yet despite their defense of everything dragon, enemy clans still want to capture and kill off Toothless and his charges. Hiccup remembers a myth of a land beyond the edge of the world where dragons live free and safe, and he searches for it as a last refuge against the attack of the merciless and seemingly unstoppable mercenary Grimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), whose specialty is the black night fury dragon of Toothless's species.

The characters from the past films return, including Hiccup's love interest, Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), who provide support in the great cause. And there are, of course, the band of insanely cute and lovable dragons these feisty Vikings would be lost without. Dreamworks Animation provides each with amazing colors and designs and expressions that give them personalities all their own. And this sets this animated film apart from others for the attention to detail it gives to entertain its audience.

There is tremendous depth to this story, recapturing the magic of the two previous How to Train Your Dragon films, and capping the narrative arc of the trilogy with a feast of characters and settings and, to cap it all off, the hidden world of dragons that is an amazing fantasy world of color and imagination. The film is worth seeing just to visit this hidden world. But of course, it wouldn't be How to Train Your Dragon without its heart, which is taken with the love of human and beast, in this case, his or her faithful and fearless dragon and the sacrifices each makes for the other. Be ready to put your own heart on the line as Hiccup, Astrid, and the amazing list of other unforgettable characters face the most difficult decision of their lives in this third wonderful film of the series.

Get to the theater quick before How to Train Your Dragon -- The Hidden World leaves the big screen. You really need to see it there before you see it on DVD.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

How Can I Avoid Paying for a Damaged Textbook?

Damaged Binding: The Expense of Replacement
By Alan Eggleston, Book Editor and retired writer and editor, former bookseller

Reader Amy wrote back in July 2018:
Hello! My 7th-grade son was recently charged $85 for a broken spine (pages falling out) on his 3-year-old algebra textbook (hardcover). He was not rough with it in any way - he used it every day, and carried it back and forth to school. I contend that the BOOK is at fault, not my son! Do you have any advice on how to argue against this fine? I would appreciate any thoughts you may have. Thank you!
Unfortunately, when Amy wrote this I was recovering from complex surgery and it's taken a long time to build up my wherewithal to get back to writing for my blog. But here is a response at long last. I wrote a short reply back in February, but here's a fuller explanation.

The Possible Problem

Several things could contribute to pages falling out of a three-year-old algebra book. It could be a book damaged by an earlier owner or owners. It could be careless use by your son other than being rough. Equally, it could be a faulty binding by the publisher. The best way to tell is to look down inside the spine: Is there peeling, flaking glue and string? Is the spine in general disrepair? Is the spine firm or does it give a lot when opening the book, and does it hold its shape when you stand it vertical? Are the pages discolored inside where they meet the spine? Is there any flaking glue at the back edges of the pages? Are there full stringing holes at the back edge of the pages or are they torn? Was any of this present when you got the book in the fall?

If there is peeling, flaking, and discoloration in the binding at the spine or at the back of the pages, the gluing could be damaged, such as from weather. Three years isn't an old age for a book, but if it isn't cared for during that age the glue and string can be damaged, such as getting wet, damp, or cold or hot. If the spine is bent the strings can be stressed and broken. If the book is stored in cold, damp places such as the car or garage or basement, or if it gets hot sitting in the sun too long, it can be damaged, too, weakening the binding. Mold and mildew can set in, also weakening the binding.


Look at all your textbooks as soon as you get them. Leaf through the pages and gently tug the pages. Check the binding to make sure it's in good shape -- has it been over- stressed by previous owners? Look down the inside of the spine for discoloration, peeling, and flaking of glue and worn string. Look at the back edge of pages where they meet the spine for discoloration. Obviously, don't try to pull out pages, just make sure they're secure. If you see any problems or have questions, return the book to school and get a replacement. Or at least get an assurance you won't be charged for replacement when you return it at the end of the semester or year.

If everything looks good, take care of the book while it's in your possession. Treat it like any book you intend to keep. Don't store it in cold, damp places nor in hot very dry places. If the book gets wet, gently dry it such as with a hair dryer on a low setting. Keep the temperature and humidity environment as even as possible for the best possible results. And keep the book clean and dust-, mold-, and mildew-free. Also, treat the spine gently, opening the book no more than halfway -- if you have a new textbook, break it in gently.

What to Do if There's a Problem

In my experience, schools aren't very sympathetic to students or parents when there's a damaged book. Schools often don't have extra funds available and they always assume families are at fault. So the best thing is to always be proactive and avoid problems in the first place. But sometimes it just isn't avoidable! It isn't always your fault. 

If there's a binding problem:
  1. Seek out a professional publishing binding repairer and see if it would be cheaper to repair it.
  2. See if you can find a cheaper replacement book in otherwise equal or better condition, There are online textbook stores -- see what's available!
  3. Explain why it wasn't your fault (such as if you can show it was faulty manufacturing). 
  4. You could always try to refuse to pay, but it's unlikely to work. The school holds too much power over you and your kids.
It's always valuable to remember: Investing effort in book care now may save you a more expensive investment in a book you don't want to keep later!

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Paddington 2: Better Than the Original and Great Family Fun

Movie Review: Paddington 2 (2017)
Version: Cable TV rental

If you enjoyed Paddington (2014), you should love Paddington 2, the return of everyone's favorite Peruvian bear become Londonite. I actually liked Paddington 2 better than the original. It was original, it was imaginative, it was full of comical situations with very interesting characters, and it starred a most interesting bear who almost everyone likes, including a brood of criminals in a London prison who can't resist his innocent charms.

It seems Paddinton Bear, now Paddington Brown since he has been adopted by the Brown family, has been looking for a gift for his 100-year-old Aunt Lucy back in the rain forest of Peru. He goes to the antique store, where he finds a pop-up book that makes the perfect gift. Except he tells the wrong person about the book, a nascent actor looking for clues to a lost treasure which are given in the book. When Paddington is mistaken for the actor who steals the book in a break-in, he is sent to prison, where he meets the brood of misfit criminals, who come to like him and want to help him clear his name. Meanwhile, the Brown family also set out to prove Paddington's innocence.

Paddington and his group of prison mates break out to find the book and capture the man who framed Paddington, Close on their heels are the Brown family, who are also close on the bad guy's trail. All make for a fun frolic in Paddington's new London environment as he prepares to celebrate Aunt Lucy's very exceptional birthday. Oh, dear -- wrong bear, that's Pooh.

The great cast from the original Paddington returns, with the addition of the lovable rascal Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, the eccentric actor. Among the cast are Ben Whishaw who voices Paddington; Sally Hawkins  is the mother, Mary Brown; Hugh Bonneville plays the father, Henry Brown; Julie Walters portrays Mrs Bird, the mother-in-law; and Jim Broadbent is Mr Gruber, the store owner. And there is a host of entertaining actors portraying the prison crew to add the perfect touch of fun.

Do see Paddington 2. It's great family fun.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

A Sea of Gold: Quintessential Kydd and a Great Read!

Book Review: A Sea of Gold by Julian Stockwin
Version: Publisher provided

For my money, Sea of Gold is the best in Julian Stockwin's 21-book Thomas Kydd series yet.

Sea of Gold picks up where Iberian Flame leaves off, with Captain Sir Thomas Kydd in command of the British frigate Tyger off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. He joins another frigate captain, Lord Thomas Cochrane, who is famous for daring raids against France. Both are to fight off Napoleon's attempts to retake Spain, chasing after French forces off the east coast of France and Spain and the eastern end of the Pyrenees mountains. Then the two join forces in league against a French fleet off the west coast of France running the British blockade in an attempt to leave for the Caribbean to make mischief in the colonies. You join in the skirmishes and battles as Stockwin engages the reader in the fun of well detailed drama and action of the seas, in harbors, and in close quarters as Kydd and his crew work desperately around uncertain conditions and under unreliable leaders to beat back foes, French and British.

In another part of Europe, Kydd's good friend Renzi (Lord Farndon) becomes involved in foreign intrigue to aid the British government in funding its lone ally, Austria, in the battle against France. Risking his life and freedom from inside French territory, Renzi also unknowingly puts Kydd's persona fortune in jeopardy, a result of Kydd's exploration of insurance speculation during personal time off back in London. Making for a touching scene later in this story, Kydd's long-time crew rush to the captain's rescue to help him save his home and career.

Most of the Kydd-series books feature detailed battle scenes and great interactions with his crew. More recently Stockwin has turned to historical events removed from action at sea and focused on international events. Well, Sea of Gold gets back to the heart of action at sea and what makes the characters click as a crew. Everything comes back together in this highly enjoyable read of what I think brings loyal readers back to Stockwin's stories again and again. Sea of Gold is quintessential Kydd and a great read!

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Iberian Flame: Roiling Recount of Britain's Battle to Save Iberia

Book Review: The Iberian Flame by Julian Stockwin
Version: Author provided hardcover

We learn a lot from reading historical fiction. The better the research, the more we can learn. No historical fiction is better researched -- and written -- than Julian Stockwin's Thomas Kidd series. The 20th in the series is The Iberian Flame. It's the amazing story of Napoleon's attempt to take Spain by tricking the Spanish royalty out of power and finishing its taking of Portugal from an earlier invasion. Standing in Napoleon's way is the British Navy, with the assistance of the British Army, subverting the French who overplay their hand.

As always, Stockwin blends the real people of the time with fictional characters to fill out an intriguing story, including the host of series characters we have come to enjoy in the other books. You look forward to their reappearing from story to story, well defined and given important roles in tightly written plots that tell the real story but also give insights into those very trying times in British history when Napoleon posed an existential threat to the island nation and when it was the British Navy that ruled the seas to protect king and country, nation and people.

No detail is left unconsidered in telling the story, which shows Stockwin's meticulous research, bringing the reader ever closer to understanding the lives of everyday seamen and extraordinary leaders, not to mention the nefarious rulers and the people who enabled them in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Every read is a page burner, engrossing you in the tale so that you don't want to put the book down, and The Iberian Flame continues this trend. Captain Sir Thomas Kydd finds himself under the command of a failing but controlling admiral who does everything in his power to push Kydd to the back of the action, yet Kydd continually finds himself in the middle, aiding the Portuguese and Spain and the cause of Britain. There is plenty of naval action for the most ardent age-of-sail reader, a mainstay of the Kydd novel. For the reader who likes a little romance mixed in, The Iberian Flame begins with Kydd returning home to his beloved Persephone, but it doesn't take long for international intrigue to enter the picture and Kydd to be sent off to sea. There really is something for everyone in this book!

I will warn that this story is slightly more than 400 pages long. It may seem a bit lengthy. But it's quality length. And the maps at the front are well done and help aid in visualizing the name locations in the story. If you are tempted to buy the ebook, investing a bit more in hardcover is well worth it, especially if you're a collector.