Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Booknote: Killer Stuff and Tons of Money, 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 11

I am almost done. I am currently reading the last book for the challenge, and I should have it done by the weekend.

(Disclosure note to keep the FCC happy. I received this book from the publisher as a prize from a GoodReads book giveaway).

Before I go on with the review itself, I am adding for my reference a small list of books that I think have similar reader appeal factors. I have read the books I am listing below:

  • Bruce Littlefield, Garage Sale America.
  • Alton Brown, Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run
  • Kyle Jarrard, Cognac
  • Josh Peter, Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders.
And now, the review itself as I posted it on my GoodReads page:

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market AmericaKiller Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America by Maureen Stanton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally finished the book. I finished it about a week ago, but it took me a while to find the time to write the review. And I am glad I finally got to it because this is a book worth sharing with others.

Stanton spends time with and "shadows" Curt Avery (a pseudonym), a mid-range antiques dealer (you learn from reading this book that there is a hierarchy when it comes to antiques and those who deal in them). Curt may well be one of the few remaining passionate, knowledgeable, and honest dealers in a business that seems to be declining and under siege by fakes, reproductions, and less than scrupulous folks. Why does he continue? Some of it may be just habit, but a lot of it is that the man has found his passion in life. Stanton does an excellent job in presenting a portrait of Avery as wll as giving us an excellent look at the world of antiques trading.

Much of the book concentrates on following Avery from one antiques show to the next. This is often a cutthroat business where mistakes (buying something you thought was real but turns ou to be a fake, for instance) can be costly, and in rare times you just might find that one items out of nowhere that makes you a fortune. Between those two extremes, you have the middle of the road trading. In this middle path, you buy something, hope to resell it for a modest profit, then repeat the process again. This is a cycle that requires knowledge (often hard won knowledge), patience, a very good eye, and sometimes luck.

Traveling with Avery already makes for a pretty good book. Stanton gives us more. In between visits with Avery, the author has written good informative chapters on the trade and the history of collecting and antiques. For example, there is a chapter on the human habit of collecting things. Think about that for a moment. Odds are good you have a small collection of something in your home now. Whether it's comic books, pens, match books, stamps, or any other object, many people collect something. Most people collect things just for the fun of it with no intention to sell or make money.

Stanton does visit a comic book convention and takes a look at the comic book trade, by the way. Additionally, her chapter on the show Antiques Roadshow (AR from here on) gives an excellent discussion and a good look behind the scenes of the show. Stanton points out how AR, along with shows it has spawned, has created false expectations in viewers from thinking anything old is valuable (it is not) to just a matter of finding something in the attic. The reality is very different than what we see on television. The books goes a long way to dispel myths about antiques and collectibles and about those who trade and collect them. This is definitely a strength in the book.

Stanton covers a lot of ground, but she provides an accessible book that is a pleasure to read. There were a couple of passages, mostly in Chapter 8--the chapter on thieves and fakers--that were a little too technical and dry, but do not let that deter you. This is a book to read at a leisurely pace with your favorite relaxing beverage. You will be entertained, and you will learn a lot as well.

(In keeping disclosure rules, to keep the FCC happy, I am revealing I received this book from the publisher as part of a GoodReads giveaway).

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Booknote: The Lost World and Other Stories, 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 10

I am moving along with the challenge. I did finish another book, which will be #11, but I have yet to write the review. I will likely post that review later in the week. And I am in the middle of reading the last one. So, I am basically on the final stretch. It looks like I am going to cut it close, but I will get done on time if all goes well.

Here is the review as I posted it on my GoodReads page:

The Lost World and Other StoriesThe Lost World and Other Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went between giving this two and three stars. I settled for three, for in the end I like the concept. It turns out I had read this before years ago; I was probably a teenager when I did it, so remembering back to those days was interesting.

This particular edition collects the Professor Challenger stories written by Conan Doyle. The Lost World is likely the most well-known, and it has been the basis (loosely or otherwise) of other works from Indiana Jones to Crichton's Jurassic Park. If you enjoy those works, you will likely enjoy this book. However, I will say this book is closer in feel and appeal to the works of writes like Jules Verne (for instance, Journey to the Center of the Earth), H.G. Wells, and H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon's Mines). If you enjoy those writers, you will like this book.

The novel is kind of slow in the beginning, so it took me a while to get into it. Once you get into the adventure itself, it moves along like any other adventure yarn. Professor Challenger is quite the obnoxious genius. Brilliant, but not like Sherlock Holmes in terms of personality. This may irritate some readers, but overall, Challenger is a strong character readers will enjoy. I know I did, and I even had a small smile of amusement or two as I read. More irritating to me was the idea of Malone, the reporter, who goes on the expedition with Challenger to impress a woman (and I will not say more of that woman to avoid potential spoilers). I suppose it does show a certain Victorian ideal, of the man going into the wilderness to conquer something and put his name on it, but Conan Doyle could have left her out and the story would have been fine.

So, this is a pretty good book, but it is not a great one. I personally prefer H. Rider Haggard's works for this kind of tale, but this is a good example of the science fiction, or science romance, genre, and thus it is worth reading.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Booknote: Conan, Volume 4: The Halls of the Dead and Other Stories, 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 9

We are getting down to the final stretch on the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge. This week I am tackling the graphic novel selections in my list. I saved some of the easier stuff for the end in the hopes it would make things easier. However, I still have two full books to read to complete the challenge. I am in the middle of what may end up being number ten or eleven, Killer Stuff and Tons of Money. Anyhow, here is my short review as posted on my GoodReads profile.

Conan Volume 4: The Halls of the Dead and Other StoriesConan Volume 4: The Halls of the Dead and Other Stories by Kurt Busiek

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I continue to enjoy this series put out by Dark Horse. However, this particular volume marks a transition as the series changes authors and artists. There is some work from the initial authors of the series, and then work from new writers, including Mike Mignola, of Hellboy fame. Conan is still a young thief, and he is quite brash, often reckless; he is that youthful stage where you think you are invincible and nothing can touch you. When he beds the wife of a local magistrate, the hunt for him is on. Also, since he has been basically showing off to the other thieves in the local area, they resent him and are trying to bring him down a peg or two. Add to this his adventure in the Hall of the Dead, where he goes in search of some mythical treasure, and you have quite a good set of tales.

The nice thing about this series is that it brings to life the stories of Robert E. Howard as well as adds new tales to the legend. The art continues to be very good, and it is very suited to this type of fantasy tale. We'll have to see if the authors can keep the quality down the road, but so far, it is an entertaining series.

If you are getting ready to watch the new Conan movie in theaters, this series may be a good place to look and get a feel for the real character. The other option is to read Howard's books. But if you want a visual tale, this series is very good.

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