Thursday, December 31, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons Art & Arcana

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual HistoryDungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witwer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History chronicles the history and evolution of Dungeons & Dragons, specifically the art.

I was a heavy D&D player from ages 14 to about 25 so this piqued my interest. Fortunately, my wife bought it for me for Christmas.

This weighty tome chronicles the history of Dungeons and Dragons, from the original pamphlets printed up by Gary Gygax in the 1970s through the most recent edition. It's not an in depth history, focusing more on the look and feel of the art over the years, from high school chuckleheads Gygax knew in Lake Geneva to heavy hitters like Larry Elmore and Erol Otus and beyond.

I knew most of the behind the scenes stuff from other books up until 3.5. Fourth edition's resemblance to World of Warcraft makes a lot more sense now. Is fifth edition still hung up on using miniatures? This book wasn't clear...

Anyway, the art is the star of the show, as it should be in a book of this type. The book is easily two thirds artwork spanning the lifetime of the game. Some of it was new to me but other pieces were as familiar as a ragged character sheet. I recently watched Eye of the Beholder, a documentary covering a lot of the same territory on Prime Video. I recommend watching that as well.

To be honest, my only gripe with this book is that it could have easily been 1000 pages bigger. There are a lot of memorable pieces from 2nd and 3rd edition that didn't make the cut. Hell, Spelljammer and Planescape got 2-3 pages apiece and Dark Sun fared about the same.

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is an essential coffee table book for any longtime Dungeons and Dragons fan. Five out of five dragons.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Is This Anything?

Is This Anything?Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is This Anything? is a collection of Jerry Seinfeld's jokes, from way back in the seventies through the post-apocalyptic train wreck that is 2020.

Seinfeld was my favorite TV show for years, from when it was originally on until my dad and I watched back to back episodes on TBS and quoted most of them to my mom's chagrin. I saw the Comedian documentary film in the theater and even drove to Nashville from St. Louis to see Seinfeld on tour in the early part of this century. My brother and I used to read Seinlanguage aloud to one another while we were sitting in a parking lot ditching church on Sundays. So, naturally, when I saw Seinfeld had another book out, I had to have it. Fortunately, the Christmas gods smiled upon me and here we are.

This book is surprisingly hefty at 480 pages but most of the length is due to the way the book is formatted. I think it would easily fit in 300. I guess we'll see how small they manage to make the paperback. It's divided by decade so it's easy to navigate, though I wolfed it down in three sittings.

If you like Seinfeld's standup act, you pretty much know what you're getting here. Lots of bits about cereal, the airport, the movie theater, going out to restaurants, and things of that nature. It's a fun book to read out loud to your wife, even if she's not a fan of the Seinfeld television show.

A lot of the jokes seemed familiar to me but that's only natural. This book contains all the bits that survived, road tested and tweaked through years of performing. I watched his Netflix special not too long ago and some of those jokes made it into the book.

I don't know what else to say about this. Your enjoyment level depends on how much you like Jerry Seinfeld as a comedian. Since he's shaped my sense of humor since I was a teenager, I'm giving it five stars.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

Under the Black Hat

Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and BeyondUnder the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond by Jim Ross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Under the Black Hat is the second volume in the biography of wrestling commentator and personality Jim Ross.

While I was a little let down by Slobberknocker, thinking it was a little insubstantial given Jim Ross's career, I was open to reading the second book. My wife got it for me for Christmas and I breezed through it the following Monday.

Under the Black Hat starts with Jim Ross becoming head of talent relations and ends with him leaving the WWE after calling one last Wrestlemania less than two weeks after his wife of 25 years was tragically killed and hits a lot of high and low points in between.

Vince McMahon sounds like a real mother fucker to work for but the WWE was pretty much the only game in town for almost 20 years so I guess Jim didn't have much of a choice other than to come back whenever they called despite being fired a few times.

Anyway, events like the death of Owen Hart, exodus of Jeff Jarrett, and retirement of Steve Austin are explored from Jim Ross's point of view. Ross gives an inside view of the pressures of working for the WWE during the Attitude boom. It sounds like it was a continuous dick measuring contest between Vince McMahon, the wrestlers, and good old JR.

There are topics I wish he'd spent more time on but overall I thought this was a much better book than Slobberknocker, with more emotion showing through. I could feel Ross's sadness and frustration at times. It had to be hell to have your dream job but constantly be in fear of someone yanking the rug out from under you.

Under the Black Hat is a great closing chapter to Jim Ross's WWE career. Four out of five stars.

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Strong Style

Strong StyleStrong Style by Scott Norton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strong Style is the biography of wrestler Scott Norton.

This book was on my radar for a long time but I didn't pull the trigger on it since I didn't think I had time to read it. Fortunately, the stars were aligned. My in-laws got it for me for Christmas and due to the pandemic, I found plenty of time to read it over the long weekend.

The book opens with Norton wrestling a bear and doesn't let up much after that. Norton goes from being a high school athlete to the arm wrestling circuit pretty quickly. Even though he didn't go into wrestling until he was around 30, the writing was already on the wall since he grew up with Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, and Road Warrior Hawk in the Minneapolis area.

After a disappointing stay in the AWA, a hellish tour of Canada, and a stint in Portland, Norton winds up in New Japan, where he'd spend the bulk of his career.

Norton's style hooked me right away. He's a straight shooter and surprisingly humble. The road stories are great but the core of the book is his relationship with Masa Saito, the Japanese wrestler who took him under his wing and was like a second father to him.

I've read accounts of wrestling in Japan in other books but Norton goes pretty deep into it, like sleeping in closet sized hotel rooms, for instance, and trying to deal with veterans trying to keep their spots like Vader. I've heard of Antonio Inoki's Wrestling Peace Festival in North Korea but I'd never read about what a nightmare it was behind the scenes before now.

Norton goes into injuries and even a parasite he contracted while eating sushi that left him paralyzed for days. He mentions an aborted stint in WCW in 1995 and talks about WCW during the Monday Night Wars and ultimately choosing New Japan over WCW in the twilight of his career.

Strong Style is an A+ wrestling book and if I wasn't already a Scott Norton fan, I would be now. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, September 13, 2020

Flaming Zepplins

Flaming Zeppelins: The Adventures of Ned the SealFlaming Zeppelins: The Adventures of Ned the Seal by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flaming Zeppelins contains Zeppelins West and Flaming London by Joe Lansdale.

In that hazy time before Goodreads, I read both of these books. While I love Hap and Leonard, these were the crazy ass books that made me a Joe Lansdale fan. Thanks to the magic of getting older, I remember almost nothing about them so I need a refresher course before I read the concluding book in the trilogy, The Sky Done Ripped.

Zeppelins West is the tale of a rescue mission that went tits up, sending our heroes out of the frying pan and into the fire, as the cliche goes. Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, and Buffalo Bill Cody's head in a jar try to save Frankenstein's Monster from the Japanese and wind up on the island of Doctor Momo.

Crude humor, witting lines, and violence abound as Lansdale hits a lot of Jules Verne and HG Welles high notes with spoofs of Doctor Moreau and Captain Nemo, with guest spots from the Tin Man and and a lot of other turn of the century literary characters. I forgot what a shit storm the second part of this novella is. The love affair between the Tin Man and SPOILER is my favorite part of the story.

Flaming London is what really happened when the Martians invaded London, with Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and Ned the Seal stranded on Misty Island for a while as the fabric of space and time unravels.

Mark Twain has hit rock bottom at the beginning of Flaming London, with only a dead monkey and two books to his name. He eventually teams up with Jules Verne and some old and new friends. Tears in the space time continuum abound as the heroes make a last stand in London, with Ned the Seal in tow. The Martians meet their end the old fashioned way, as they usually do.

Joe Lansdale isn't often mentioned as a steampunk author, probably because steampunk is all gears and goggles these days, but these are steampunk books as they were originally intended, throwbacks to the works of Jules Verne and HG Wells. Joe Lansdale might not be the father of steampunk but he's definitely steampunk's hilarious, foul mouthed uncle that isn't welcome at family gatherings. 4 out of 5 dead Martians.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Dead Girl Blues

Dead Girl BluesDead Girl Blues by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1968, Buddy got away with a horrible crime and went on the run. When will his past inevitably catch up with him?

A while back, Lawrence Block sent me a PDF of this, asking if I might be interested in reviewing it. When your favorite living crime writer sends you something, you read it ASAP. Since we have a toddler running around, constantly shoving things into his mouth and plowing into things head first, ASAP wound up taking longer than expected.

The old dog still has quite a few tricks left in him, it seems. This was a gripping read. While Buddy isn't a sympathetic character, having killed a woman, having sex with her still warm body, and going on the lam under an assumed name, you wind up understanding him and even liking him just a little bit.

Does one horrible crime make someone an evil monster, even decades after the fact? That's the question Lawrence Block is posing in this one. Buddy assumes the name of a kid that died years earlier and lives a normal, full life for decades, not exactly looking over his shoulder constantly but with an awareness that the check is going to need to be paid one of these days.

The thing about Buddy is that he's not like a Jim Thompson sociopath where he's just a drink and some cross words away from hacking up his family. He's got his urges under control and runs a hardware store. He has a wife and kids. Huh, I just realized Buddy's assumed name is John James Thompson.

As with all Lawrence Block books, he wields misdirection like an expect surgeon with a scalpel. He even mentions Chekov's Gun when Thompson's looking at his revolver! I thought his goose was cooked for sure a couple times before the ending.

Dead Girl Blues is one of the more powerful Lawrence Block books in recent years. If it's his swan song, it's a worthy one. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Too Sweet: Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution

Too Sweet: Inside the Indie Wrestling RevolutionToo Sweet: Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution by Keith Elliot Greenberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Too Sweet is Keith Elliot Greenberg's look at the rise of Independent Wrestling. Or is it?

After a hiatus of a few years, I started watching wrestling again in 2017, specifically independent wrestling. I've gone to more live shows in the last three years than the previous forty combined, all but one of those independent shows. When ECW press offered me an ARC of this, I jumped at it.

First off, I know the subtitle is "Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution" but it should really be subtitled "All Roads Lead to AEW" or something of that nature. The book is geared toward telling about the All In pay per view and the resulting formation of AEW with other bits in between. Can I fault Keith Elliot Greenberg for not writing the book I was expecting to read?

A little, I guess. The book dedicates some pages to the formation of various bigger indie promotions from 2001 to present, like Ring of Honor, CZW, Chikara, Evolve, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, and the usual suspects, in addition to more material than one would expect about GCW, although that makes sense with the Janela-AEW connection.

Seriously, this is more about the paths various wrestlers took to AEW than anything else. Most of the material is based around Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, and the rest of the AEW crew. If it was REALLY about the rise of independent wrestling, it would have featured more than a mention of Homicide, Eddie Kingston, Low Ki, Bryan Danielson, and the other guys that kept the independent scene interesting when ECW folded.

If you're looking to read about the Rise of AEW, I'd give this a 5. If you're actually wanting to read about independent wrestling in the last twenty years, I'd give it a 3.

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Monday, September 7, 2020


BettyBetty by Tiffany McDaniel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Betty is a brutal coming of age tale, the tale of a girl with a Cherokee father, a white mother, and a family with enough skeletons in its closet to populate a decent sized cemetery. Will Betty make it out of Breathed, Ohio, alive?

As Goodreaders may know, I was a tremendous fan of The Summer That Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel's debut novel, and did what I could to help get the word out. When this one was ready to go, I was all in.

While The Summer That Melted Everything was published first, Betty was actually written first, making it the most powerful first novel I've ever read. The fact that parts of it are based on Tiffany's mother's life make it even more powerful.

Much like TSTME, is a work packed with lyrical prose and gutshot plot twists. Much like the protagonists in a Flannery O'Connor book, the Carpenters are doomed from page one and the rest of us get to experience their fates like a forgotten dog dragged behind a station wagon.

After drifting for a while, Landon Carpenter and his brood settle down in a house with a checkered past, a past that is spotless compared to some of the things in the Carpenters' past and also in their future. Landon steers the family between the icebergs as best he can. Betty has the misfortune of growing up in rural Ohio as half Cherokee, dealing with the other girls as well as her family.

That's about all I want to say about the plot for fear of spoilage. There were at least five times where I had to set the book down in order to process some horror that befell Betty or her family. As my friend Easy E said, this is the best modern horror novel in years, even though it isn't marketed as such. Nightmare clowns and giant spiders pale compared to the very real horrors whispered about behind closed doors.

Betty is a brutal coming of age novel that made me physically worn out, a shotgun blast of a novel. Five out of five stars.

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Monday, August 10, 2020

The 37th Parallel

The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America's UFO HighwayThe 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America's UFO Highway by Ben Mezrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chuck Zukowski is obsessed with UFO sightings. This is his story.

Despite the pandemic, we flew my sister-in-law and brother-in-law into town for Miles' first birthday. Before they left town, Marc pushed this on me. My in-laws are much more into UFOs than I am but I resolved to give this a read.

I was huge into UFOs as a kid but have gotten increasingly skeptical over the years. As a result, I approached this as a work of fiction but reserved the right to change my mind later.

This reminded me of James Renner's True Crime Addict more than anything else. It was written in an engaging style and felt more like fiction than a factual work.

The 37th Parallel chronicles Chuck Zukowski sojourn into the world of UFOs, starting with cattle mutilations and eventually leading to a dig at one of the Roswell crash sites and beyond.

I'm not going to debate the existence of UFOs here. I'm sure there's life elsewhere but the thing about space is that it's quite big. Anyway, this book can be interpreted in two ways: either it's a very engaging piece of fiction with a shitty ending or an account of one man's wild goose chase.

If you take it as a work of fiction, this is some gripping stuff, although I found the time jumps annoying. If you take it as fact, Chuck's wife should have divorced his ass decades ago. Yeah, I get the pursuit of truth and I understand his obsession at times but was it really worth all the sacrifices along the way?

At the end, I guess I'll say I was very entertained by this and possibly a little convinced Chuck isn't wasting his time. Four out of five little green men.

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the CrematorySmoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is the story of Caitlin Doughty's ruminations on death and dying interspersed with her own journey from death touched little girl to licensed mortician.

My wife and I are big fans of Caitlin Doughty's Ask a Mortician series on Youtube and I bought this for my wife, who gave it to me as a reading assignment upon her completion.

Caitlin's writing has a funny yet respectful tone, much like her Youtube series. She details death practices and beliefs from around the world but the really interesting bits where about Caitlin herself. The funny tone makes a topic a lot of people find distasteful easy to digest and I kinda wish she'd try her hand at writing some crematorium based mysteries or something.

Raised in Hawaii, Caitlin saw a little girl fall from an escalator and die in a mall when she was a kid, forever changing the trajectory of her life. From there, she went from goth to crematory operator to mortuary school, pondering death the whole way.

There are darkly humorous stories, like molten fat gushing out of a cremation machine like something in a Three Stooges short, to poignant moments like Caitlin having to cremate a box of babies from the local hospital. She also pulls back the black curtain shrouding the funeral industry, an industry full of lies and pressure to upsell. Shady shit.

If you've been entertained by Caitlin's Ask a Mortician videos, this is a must read. Four out of five cremulators.

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About DeathWill My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death is a collection of questions asked by children and their answers from Caitlin Doughty's book tours.

Until fairly recently, my wife entertained the possibility of being a funeral director. As a result, we've watched about 80% of Caitlin Doughty's Ask a Mortician videos on Youtube. I bought her all three of Caitlin's books and now I'm reading them as some sort of homework assignment.

In this volume, Caitlin addresses such topics as what happens to an astronaut's body in space, port-mortem pooping, do mummies stink, and can you be buried with a beloved pet, among other things. Caitlin addresses the topics with respect but also with her dark sense of humor, making for an entertaining read.

Any complaints? Nope. If you've been entertained by Caitlin's Ask a Mortician videos, you know what you're getting. This is class A death knowledge.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs is a good source of info for kids and necromancers alike. Four out of five caskets.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Cryptozoology A to Z

Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras & Other Authentic Mysteries of NatureCryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras & Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature by Jerome Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cryptozoology A to Z is an encyclopedia of cryptids, cryptozoologists, and things of that nature.

Not long after I first learned to read books on my own, I was super into ghosts, UFOs, and monsters, specifically Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the like. When you're young, the world is huge and there's still room in it for dinosaurs and such. Anyway, now I'm into stuff like this for entertainment purposes, though I made my wife go with me to the Cryptozoology museum in Portland Maine and think there's a good chance there are relict populations of Tasmanian Tigers out there.

Anyway, this is breezy, fun dive into the world of Cryptozoology, detailing such characters as Tom Slick, Loren Coleman, and Ruth Harkness and creatures such as Orang Pendek, Almas, and the Mongolian Death Worm, in addition to the usual suspects like Bigfoot and Nessie. One of my favorite parts of this book is an account of the Lawndale Incident when a giant bird allegedly tried to carry off a young by in an Illinois town in 1977.

This book entertained the shit out of me, partly for nostaligic reasons and partly because there's a tiny part of me that still wants there to be mysterious creatures in far off corners of the world. My main gripe with the book is that it could have used a dose of skepticism. I've heard various accounts of how the famous Surgeon's Photo of the Loch Ness Monster was debunked in the 1970s but it was presented as fact here. The writing goes all in on the approach of most of the cryptids being presented as fact, something I don't buy into in a book written for adults. On a related note, how can someone be an expert on a creature that might not even exist?

As long as you don't take it as a serious scientific work, Cryptozoology A to Z is great for a few hours of entertainment and a brief return to childhood dreams of hunting for monsters. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Review: The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andr� the Giant

The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andr� the GiantThe Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andr� the Giant by Bertrand Hebert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of Andre the Giant is the biography of Andre the Giant. Duh.

I haven't been taking on many ARCs since shortly before my son but I had to request this one when it popped up on Netgalley. Plus ECW press offered me an ARC so I was double damned.

The book chronicles the life of Andre the Giant, from his birth in France as Andre Rousimoff to his wrestling career to his death in France while in the country to attend his father's funeral.

Hebert did his homework, dispelling some myths about Andre and confirming some others. Andre's time in the various territories is covered, as are his behind the scenes disputes with Dino Bravo and other wrestlers. I knew the bare bones of Andre's life from being a wrestling fan for decades but Hebert took me for a ride. I had no idea Andre was part owner of the Montreal territory with Gino Brito or how often he went to Japan. I also hadn't heard the story of Andre shitting on Bad News Brown during a match in Mexico.

The book is a little removed for my taste but that is to be expected since Andre has been dead almost 30 years at this point. Hebert must have been researching this for a decade or more. Some of the people he talked to have been dead a few years as of this writing.

As with a lot of good wrestling books, I could have used more content with this one. A giant sized book for a giant sized man, if you will. All things considered, I have no complaints.

The Eighth Wonder of the World is a fitting tribute to a legend of the wrestling business. Four out of five stars

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