Author Archives: Todd

And Then I Read: ASSATEAGUE DEER by B.F. Beebe

This is a book about a sika deer (native to Japan) which has been naturalized in many other parts of the world, in this case Assateague Island, on the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. As the story opens, a pregnant sika doe is swimming to a small island to give birth, unaware that a shark is following her and about to attack. The doe manages to arrive safely and gives birth to Little Sika, the main character of the book. Little Sika has many adventures and some brushes with death growing up on Assateague, as he and his mother join a small herd of sika deer and encounter many other animals, some friendly, some wanting to eat them. It progresses along the lines of Bambi, except that the animals are not humanized, and there are no humans in the story. The natural history knowledge is presented well, and seems accurate. The events, from Little Sika being trapped in deep mud to the climactic hurricane, are interesting and exciting, but in the end I can’t say I loved this book. Nothing wrong with it, but it’s not as good as, say, Marguerite Henry’s books about the wild horses of Assateague or Bambi by Felix Salten.

The illustrations by the author’s husband, James Ralph Johnson, are quite good, and I like his two-color cover.

Ellen had this in her animal stories collection and decided not to keep it. I thought I’d read it before we donated it to a thrift shop, and I’m not sorry I did, but on to a new home it will go. Mildly recommended.

Rereading: THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER by Mark Twain

I don’t think I’ve read this since I was a child myself, and I only remembered the highlights, which may actually be from a film version. Twain’s writing is always worth a revisit.

Tom Sawyer is a boy with ideas, always scheming or planning some big trick or adventure. He lives in the small town of St. Petersburg (inspired by Hannibal, Missouri where Sam Clemens grew up). His closest friend is Huck Finn, who Tom admires for the fact that he gets away with living just as he likes, never going to school or having a parent to trouble him. Early in the book we get a sense of Tom’s cleverness from the famous fence story where Tom convinces a lot of his friends to whitewash the Sawyer fence for him, a job he’s been assigned by his Aunt Polly, matron of the Sawyer home. Tom’s adventures at school follow, where sometimes he pulls off a good trick, and other times he takes hard punishment. A new girl at school, Becky Thatcher, has Tom enchanted from her first appearance, but it takes a long time for her to see anything in Tom. At one point Tom, Huck and one of their friends run away from home to be pirates on a small island, leaving their families sure they’ve drowned.

These typical boyhood tales are interspersed with a much scarier and more dramatic story that begins when Tom and Huck are at the town graveyard late one night and witness a murder by the town’s most dangerous character, Injun Joe. Twain plays it for all it’s worth, a truly frightening experience. Thereafter, Tom and Huck are haunted by what they’ve seen, and Tom is tempted to accuse Joe, though he feels sure he’ll pay for it, perhaps with his life. Other encounters with Joe happen, one in which Tom and Huck see Joe and his friend planning to rob and torture a rich widow, another where they see them with a large sack of money that the boys would love to get hold of.

The big finale takes place in a cave where a group of children on a party excursion go exploring, and Tom and Becky get lost. No one misses them for a while because of things Huck is up to trying to save the Widow Douglas from Injun Joe. The story of the search for the lost children, and then Tom and Becky’s story, make an exciting climax to this entertaining book, with Injun Joe’s treasure as a capper.

Highly recommended.

And Then I Read: EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR Season 2 #5

Image © Ahoy Comics

First, let me say how much I like seeing my logo for this book used on an EC Comics pastiche, parodying perhaps the company’s most infamous cover.

This issue has two excellent stories. The first is “The Man That Was Used Up” freely adapted from the Poe story by cartoonist Rick Geary. Rick’s work is always a delight, his combination of creepy and cute is a rare mix that is hard to beat. Here we have Poe himself meeting a famous war hero and being very impressed with the man in every way, from his intelligence to his manly figure. Poe is determined to find out more, and perhaps is sorry he did.

The second story is “Berenice” written by Alisa Kwitney, art by Mauricet. This one is more realistic in approach, and leans more toward horror than humor. Doctor Egaeus is very fond of his cousin Berenice, and to protect her, decides he must perform some dental surgery. Later, after they marry, he comes to regret that decision.

Always fun is the two-pager pitting Poe against The Black Cat by Hunt Emerson.

Perhaps my favorite issue of the second season! Recommended.

And Then I Read: POGO: UNDER THE BAMBOOZLE BUSH (Vol. 4)

I haven’t posted here in a while for several reasons. First, the corona virus situation has put me out of the mood. Second, I had nothing to review because I’ve been reading this wonderful strip collection for the last month. I love Pogo, and I love these strip collections, but Pogo is a dense strip that takes time to read and appreciate, even when it’s just going for slapstick humor, and I can only read about 15 pages at a sitting. At over 300 pages of strips, that takes a while. Worth every minute, though.

There’s plenty of goofy humor, but also a share of political satire, as in the strip above where a pig takes the place of Soviet Union leader Nikita Krushchev. This collection covers 1955 and 1956, which was an election year, so there’s a fair amount of “Pogo for President” business and other election hoohah, with P.T. Bridgeport and other bombastic characters. The Olympics in Australia gets some funny coverage, as do a reporter and photographer from “Newslife,” who are quite sure Pogo is not a possum. The majority of these strips draw humor simply from the familiar characters of the Okeefenokee Swamp, their frequent misunderstandings and confusions, with Pogo about the only level head in the bunch. It’s great fun, and Walt Kelly is in fine form here.

Highly recommended.

And Then I Read: THE SINISTER MYSTERY OF THE MESMERIZING GIRL by Theodora Goss

This is the third book about The Athena Club, a group of female characters from fantastic literature who work together to solve crimes and mysteries, along the lines of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” but not derivative except for a few crossover characters. The Athena Club are sisters Mary Jekyll and Diana Hyde of Stevenson’s book, Beatrice Rappaccini from “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Catherine Moreau, the lone surviving beast-woman from Well’s “Island of Dr. Moreau,” and Justine Frankenstein, the intended bride of Frankenstein’s creation. Other characters from literature abound, including Ayesha from H. Rider Haggard’s “She,” Dorian Gray, and Sherlock Holmes, Watson and the Baker Street Irregulars.

While I loved the first book, which introduced the characters and explored their origins and history, the second took them on a case in Europe that I found somewhat flawed but still enjoyed. This third book takes place mostly in London and Cornwall, and is as satisfying as the first one. One narrative technique that’s distracting is that Catherine is the “author” of the book, and her writing is often interrupted by comments to her from the others about what she’s writing. This tends to pull me out of the story, but at times is entertaining too. There’s plenty of excitement in the plot as Moriarty is gathering a gang of shady characters himself with a plan to kidnap Queen Victoria and take over England, while on a personal level the Athena Club is searching for their maid and friend Alice, who has gone missing along with Holmes and Watson. Thrilling scenes take place in the British Museum as well as on the coast of Cornwall, and despite their abilities, the Athena Club has formidable odds to overcome.

A good and enjoyable read, as are the first two, and recommended for those who want to get away from today’s harsh realities.