REVIEW – Elle(s) (2021)

A graphic Novel by Kid Toussain & art by Aveline Stokart

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

When I first started this, I wasn’t too sure what to expect – the art style and setting made me worry I was about getting into a twee book for teenagers, but I was definitely wrong. While the premise may sound somewhat similar to the recent Disney movie Inside Out, only a superficial likeness is there – Elle(s) adds the extra layer of being about mental health issues, and what it means to love somebody with mental health issues into the mix, which makes this so much more. The depiction of “split personalities” is on par when accounts I’ve heard on various TV shows and podcasts – i.e. dominant personality controls everything and person sees everything in third person view – so that was interesting. It would interesting to see somewhen in the clinical psychology field review this.

Elle is just another teenage girl… most of the time. Bubbly and good-natured, she wastes no time making friends on her first day at her new school. But Elle has a secret: she hasn’t come alone. She’s brought with her a colorful mix of personalities, which come out when she least expects it… Who is Elle, really? And will her new friends stand by her when they find out the truth?

While volume one leaves this chapter as an unfinished mystery, and could easily turn into something supernatural and weird, I’m hoping it stays as grounded as volume one – as it was a surprise to me how much I enjoyed it.

Europe Comics continues its trend of quality comics that always seem to surprise me. I will definitely need to seek out the next volume upon publication to see where this story ends up going. Don’t let the cover fool you into thinking this is something other than what it is, and give it a try – It’s good stuff.

REVIEW: First World War Trials and Executions (2021)

A book by Simon Webb

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I haven’t read too many true crime books as of late, although I do listen to a ton of podcasts on it. And I mean a ton, its probably a red flag on Spotify, and I am likely on some list somewhere. Some of my favorite ones are historical accounts vs modern ones simply because the cases seem to always take wild turns that you aren’t expecting. You hear about these insane investigations and primitive forensics efforts that likely led to tons of false imprisonments, but its exciting none-the-less. This book chronicles 51 such historical cases in the UK between 1914-1918 – The era of World War I. Taking a small, specific era in history is interesting as one really gets into the time period when its all laid out like this.

Webb splits each case into its own small chapters which are then split into sub-headings such as cases all committed by straight razor, or all axe-murders etc. I liked this configuration a lot; it made this easy for me to read bit-by-bit before I went to bed this past week. This is an entertaining read insomuch as a book on murders can be simply because of the way it is written. That isn’t to say Simon Webb makes light of the cases, as they are all very tragic, but he keeps you wanting to read more and more, and the information is well-researched. This book also acts, in a way, as a chronicle as to why Britain eventually did away with Capital Punishment – many of these cases have terrible things happen during the execution, it you can tell it scarred the main executioner quite a bit.

Another Solid historical offering from Pen and Sword, I’ll have to see if they have anymore books by this author, as a continuation of this series (if it becomes one) into later or previous years would be interesting. If you want a quick read to keep your true crime interest satiated, I’d recommend this book. It’s definitely to die for.

REVIEW: The Commandant of Auschwitz – Rudolf Höss (2021)

A book by Volker Koop

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

At some point this year, assuming Covid doesn’t keep ravaging the country, Kansas City will be hosting an exhibit that will showcase artifacts from Poland’s Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Having visited Dachau some twenty years ago in person, this might be the closest I could get to seeing these items for a long time, if ever. And if its anything like Dachau, I’m sure just seeing the artifacts will be a rough, if not VERY sobering experience. I mention this, because today’s topic is the man that made Auschwitz Concentration Camp so notorious, Rudolf Höss, and this new book about him The Commandant of Auschwitz, by Volker Koop and published by Pen and Sword Books. I basically wanted to educate myself more than what I was on the topic, and figured this book would be a solid look at the man responsible for one of the worst episodes in world history.

Koop does a solid job of not just regurgitating things from the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, and quickly points out that Höss appears to be a habitual liar in pretty much everything he does. Much of the information comes from things such as this material, but using historical records, and conflicting accounts by contemporaries, the portrait of a truly terrible man is painted. Even when everything was lost, and the man faced trial, he claimed to be a normal guy that just did his job and had no idea bad things were happening under his command. Reading some of the atrocities he signed off on, such as throwing children directly into a fire pit while still alive, was infuriating to say the least.

This was a tough read, for obvious reasons, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot about, perhaps, one of the biggest monsters in modern history. One would have hoped that he would have stayed in prison much longer than he did when he literally committed a political murder, but alas Hitler needed the most despicable to do his evil deeds. Very good book, if you are curious, or a WWII history buff, I’d check it out.

REVIEW: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Heaven According to The Devil (2020)

A book by Bedrettin Simsek

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Heaven According to The Devil by [Bedrettin Simsek]

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I think the backstory of the author, as described in the preface, is almost more intriguing than this book itself. A Turkish author, Simsek apparently wrote a book early in his career that was deemed heretical and was jailed in his home country along with people associated with the book publisher that released it. When released, he tried for decades to get his books out there, but was blocked and threatened forcing him to self-publish. This caused his books to go largely forgotten until now apparently.

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Heaven According to The Devil is written in the tradition of the ancient Gnostics, who composed a whole litany of religious texts in the early eras of Christianity, and were later deemed the most heretical of all heretics and driven underground by what is now The Catholic Church, they were oppressed, killed, and had their books destroyed. Most of what we have of their works was only made available due to a monk burying scrolls in a clay pot hundreds of years ago. Being a person that formerly considered themselves Gnostic, and having read a lot on the subject, this was a definite interest for me.

This is basically a retelling of The first part of the Biblical Book of Genesis with an emphasis on the Devil as the main protagonist. While the ideas presented are interesting, I’m not sure they wholly represent the Gnostic ideas of the “Garden of Eden” events as seen in books like The Testimony of Truth or The Apocalypse of Adam which are historical texts detailing the same story, but actually written by The Gnostics. However, many old biblical texts are basically religious fan-fiction in their own right – designed to tell an allegory within the context of a set of known characters. This is, of course, something Biblical literalists don’t want to hear, but I digress.

My qualms aside, this is a solid book, and I liked what the text was trying to do here. The dialog definitely grounds the characters, and gives you sympathy for a character that is largely seen as very misunderstood for a multitude of reasons. All-in-all, I liked this and would like to read more by the author. And of course I’d like to learn more about his troubles, and am glad he is finally getting his work out there.

REVIEW: IRA Terror on Britain’s Streets 1939–1940 (2021)

A Book by Dick Kirby

Cover

It is little known today that, in January 1939, the IRA launched a bombing campaign, codenamed The S – or Sabotage – Plan on mainland England. With cynical self-justification, they announced that it was not their intention to harm human life but in just over a year, more than 300 explosive devices resulted in 10 deaths, 96 injuries and widespread devastation. London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and many other towns and cities were targeted.

Description

It hasn’t been too long since I read another book by Pen & Sword Books on the so-called “Troubles” that scarred Northern Ireland for nearly a century. That book was more concentrated on the large flare-ups in terrorist tit-for-tat fighting in and around the 1960’s and 1970’s, so I jumped at the chance to read IRA Terror on Britain’s Streets 1939–1940 as it concerned a period that was briefly glossed over in that previous book. Technically not part of “The Troubles” as a whole, you can see the seeds being planted in this period that would later bloom into a full-blown war.

The narration of this book is very informative, although it doesn’t strive to be very neutral (if one can be in a situation like this). Being a former Detective that worked directly in Northern Ireland for a period, one can assume that Kirby wouldn’t be too excited to sing the virtues of men that would have wanted him dead. With his unique insight on the situation, and both an acerbic wit and self deprecating humor – this book is very addictive and sometimes humorous despite the dark topic.

I think my biggest takeaways from the book are some of the origins of The Troubles, even dating back into the nineteenth century. I had no idea that The IRA sprang from groups like the Fenian Brotherhood and the fact that it was originally an American organization that repatriated back into Ireland to instigate an uprising was interesting. I also had no idea that some versions of the IRA had ties to Hitler during the Second World War.

Just like with many books from this publisher that I have been reading lately, I quite enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in true crime books, Ireland, or World War II history. It covers a topic that not many of my American friends, with me being an American myself, would know about.

REVIEW: The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 (2021)

A book by by Colin Turbett

Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Continuing my late winter history book dive, I’ve decided to get into a topic I know a bit about, but from an entirely different perspective than what I’ve come accustomed to. Being from the American school system, we all know that the USSR were part of the Allied Forces in WWII, however, there was always an explicit attempt by textbook writers to downplay their involvement and champion US-Centric takes on the war. It’s a shame since Russia carried that war largely on its own shoulders. I enjoy books by Pen and Sword because they are generally VERY in depth on a specific topic, and challenge y comfort zone on what I think I know; The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 is one such book.

This book can be seen, in some ways, as an analysis of the Communist Party of Great Britain – going from Nazi Sympathizers early on, due to Hitler’s initial alliance with the USSR, to being “neutral” seeing the war as a Capitalist charade, to finally being pro war, and seeing the war as a fight against Fascism. This secondary narrative is illustrated masterfully by the authors descriptions, and examples of official party literature in his own collection. Its not unheard of to see politics change at such a whiplash pace, but we always see COMMUNISM through the eyes of decades of State-led propaganda, even today. Its interesting to see just how fluid it was.

While the Anglo-Soviet Alliance was mostly born out of necessity, with both sides not being 100 percent on board at any given time, it was a testament of what good can come from a pragmatic alliance during wartime. Whether it be the UKs sandbagging and delay at opening a second front to pull pressure out of Belarus and Ukraine, or Stalin committing a political Genocide in Poland and covering it up, only to be found out then flat out lying about it, neither the USSR or UK were “the good guys” in many ways. neither side trusted each other politically, but all accounts from soldier level are that everyone got along for the most part. It’s a shame to see how everything ultimately fell apart, and in many ways we aligned ourselves with Fascists far too easily with fears of making everyday Germans too mad at us. This is a common thing that still happens today that always upsets me – being tolerant of intolerance ultimately leads to intolerance, but I digress. Who knows where we’d be without the Cold War, good or bad.

Colin Turbett did a excellent job with this book, his insight and items from his personal collection regarding the CPGB and its relationship to wartime politics, was very interesting and paints of vivid picture of this period both internationally and domestically in the UK. I was most taken aback by the general feeling that Russia was this unsung hero of the war (until deemed otherwise), being the focal point of fundraising drives, and pro-USSR charity events. This was very thought provoking, and runs counter to my notions of where Russia sat within the media at the time. Perhaps people were willing to look the other way to a maniacal monster like Stalin, much like how we do now with many of our “allies”, but the whole thing comes across as if the UK somewhat used the USSR and perhaps they used the UK.

Another solid offering from Pen and Sword, highly recommended.

REVIEW: Titanic: ‘Iceberg Ahead’ The Story of the Disaster By Some of those Who Were There (2001)

A book by by James W Bancroft

Book Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

It’s been a long while since I read a book on the Titanic, as aside from a ton of whackadoo conspiracy stuff I was always of the mind that everything that could have been said had been said. Perhaps ignoring looking more into the material was a mistake because I quite enjoyed reading this book. I’m not surprised as I absolutely loved being able to visit a local museum exhibition around a decade or so ago that used props from the James Cameron film show what the ship was like, seeing that full-sized replicas were built (I believe the full museum is in Branson, Missouri now, this was a traveling thing). The reason I enjoyed it were the person stories, and the points of view from the handful of survivors.

That’s basically what this book is, it tells the story of the sinking of the Titanic, from early bad omens all the way up to the aftermath, but its sold through personal correspondence and accounts of the very people that were on the ship, organized in a linear way so that every bit of the trip is explained. Its an interesting way to piece a book like this together, and I appreciate the author doing it this way vs telling us the accepted “this is what happened” version of the story. It was particularly heartbreaking to read letters basically saying “The boats 100% unsinkable, I’ve never felt more safe in my life!” mailed from the last port before the boat went towards its water grave in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

I particularly enjoyed a section about a man who was apparently so drunk that he somehow survived the sinking by wandering out onto the ship as it was listing to the side and swam around until the Carpathia showed up. In actuality it was less ridiculous as he hung halfway onto a lifeboat, held by a friend, but the descriptions make it sound like Mr. Magoo obliviously avoiding certain doom. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the conspiracies that yellow newspapers started printing after the disaster – like ones involving Captain Smith sightings. to me, this shows that nothing ever changes and gullible people are eternal.

The book is a fairly quick read and is split into two halves. Part one is the chronology of the entire disaster, and the second half are short biographies of the people involved alive or dead. Throughout the “main” bit of the book names sometimes have asterisks next to them, meaning that the author has included historical information to look at. There are also photographs and references in the back. All-in-all its well researched and well put together.

My only gripe with this book is that information is sometimes duplicated when jumping between accounts, its somewhat jarring when it happens and made me think that I was tired and reading the same line multiple times. Its a small gripe, and I understand why it happened, but I wonder if that could have been addressed.

While I’m not going to jump headlong into Titanic Mania like some did a while back (The anniversary especially) I think I have a new appreciation or understanding for what these unfortunate folks went through. It makes me want to go and see that big museum down in Branson one of these days, just to see what else I can learn.

Sci-Fi Book Club 2 – Frankenstein Chapter Two

lightning-strikes-tree

This week we are continuing our read-through of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (originally 1818, 1831) as Written by Mary Shelley. I missed posting this last Saturday due to being tired after rocking Planet Comicon for three amazing days! If you want to follow along, I am using the 1831 edition of the text. The book is in the public domain as far as I know, so if you don’t have a tangible copy handy, there are many sites that host the work for free. Feel free to add to comments, ask questions, or suggest future books for this series!

During the last edition of “Sci-Fi Book Club” a great topic was brought up in the discussion section. A reader named benmc47 posted:

“One thing I am curious about – is lightning really involved in bringing the Creature to life? I thought I recalled that the novel didn’t give a description of the actual method that Frankenstein used, and that the lightning was a film invention. It’s been years though, so maybe I’m imagining that?”

 

I had hastily mentioned “lightning” being the catalyst for the monster’s creation at one point in my ramblings, and realized that my mind had definitely made a few leaps of logic that I didn’t explain. The truth is that within the book itself, we are left to use our imagination as to the actual method of the monster’s creation. There are no scenes of a frantic Victor Frankenstein hoisting his patchwork corpse onto the roof adorned with lightning rods – that is purely movie license. But lightning, more specifically – electricity, is not completely absent from the work. Today we will look at Victor’s scientific upbringing, and how that probably leads him down the path of creating the monster in a way that isn’t too far from the method depicted in the films. It could even be said that the film depiction was simply a “modernized” version of what was in the book.

Most of the somewhat brief chapter two concentrates on Victor’s young life and how two thunderstorms made him the very man that he would later become. At a very young age, Victor was not what most would call a “normal boy” rather than playing and doing other childish things, he became obsessed with metaphysics and obtuse ideas like the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. He looked on at what Elizabeth and Henry were up to and somehow saw himself as superior. He states that his family did not really echo his yearning to answer all of life’s questions, so he went on a quest for all of the knowledge that he could attain.

 

“My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.”

 

While forced to stay inside during a horrible storm at age 13, Victor began reading old science textbooks in his house, to pass the time. As a result Victor became obsessed with the works of three men: Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus. Victor read these medieval scripts more-or-less secretly since he discovered that they were very much out-of-vogue in modern times (his father ridiculed his interest somewhat). All three authors were, in fact, noteworthy alchemists that were looking for a way to create eternal life. It was a wide held legend that Magnus was even able to create a fabled “philosopher’s stone” something supposedly able to transmute base metals into gold.

 

 

“When I returned home my first care was to procure the whole works of this author, and afterwards of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus. I read and studied the wild fancies of these writers with delight; they appeared to me treasures known to few besides myself. I have described myself as always having been imbued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature. In spite of the intense labour and wonderful discoveries of modern philosophers, I always came from my studies discontented and unsatisfied. Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth. Those of his successors in each branch of natural philosophy with whom I was acquainted appeared even to my boy’s apprehensions as tyros engaged in the same pursuit.”

 

At age 15, Victor witnessed something that basically changed his life forever – the destructive nature of electricity in the form of a second lightning storm:

 

“As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed.”

 

A_Galvanised_Corpse

During this thunderstorm, he learns of a new scientific theory, Galvanism. The book quickly glosses over this, assuming the reader knows every intricacy of this topic, but this inclusion is VERY important because this is most likely the sort of experiment performed later in the story. To summarize, Galvanism is named after the scientist Luigi Galvani, who investigated the effect of electricity on dissected animals in the 1780s and 1790s. His nephew Giovanni Aldini took this even further, believing that one could re-animate the dead using electricity made with chemical reactions – something called “electro-stimulation”. His most famous public demonstration of the electro-stimulation technique was when he made a recently hanged criminal twitch and writhe around, a feat so alarming that one man reportedly died of fright.

This is basically Frankenstein’s origin story – after an upbringing of reading alchemical texts and occultist medical books, Victor is obsessed with learning the meaning of life and how to go past the limits of what it means to be human and enter nature. The theme of “lightning” as the embodiment of nature comes up many times in this book. It can be said that controlling nature is a pursuit of science. How often do hear about scientist trying to create weather, or alter it, to benefit humanity? perhaps as a weapon? One could surmise that control over nature would lead to omnipotence, perhaps Godhood. This was even a hot topic at the time of Shelley, as we were ever so close to being able to harness electricity.

Frankenstein is forced to pursue what sees as more mundane pursuits such as mathematics and natural sciences, but he never gives up on what he learned the night nature utterly destroyed a tree right in front of him. Perhaps if nature can remove life, it can bring it back? So the question still stands – “Did Frankenstein use electricity in his experiment?” – I believe so. The book goes to such great lengths showing all of the lightning symbolism at every turn, I think it would be foolish to assume that he did anything other than a mixture of alchemy and galvanism. Perhaps we’ll revisit chapter two when we make it to the actual creation of the creature, just to see if my theory still holds up.

Join me again next week for the third Chapter Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus