Book Reviews: Star Wars, Grumpy Cat, and Inhuman Love

“If the chef is adamant about being spicy, I can always eat tortilla chips. That’ll put him in his place.”
She wrinkled her nose at the thought of a chef being spicy.

Star Wars on Trial: The Force Awakens Edition
Two supposed experts—never heard of them—argue as to why Star Wars is so great and why it isn’t. There’s a droid judge. Other people I’ve never heard of testify—the original meaning, not the urban slang—to that effect with their own essays, and then get cross-examined.
I’m surprised by how much of this tediousness I enjoyed. Helps that there was plenty to laugh at, especially between the councilors. I managed to annoy myself by thinking one side had a great point and then instantly the rebuttal had me thinking, “That’s true too!” I loved that the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was mentioned, as all of George Lucas’s catalog was fair game.
But let’s be honest: this is an old book masquerading as a current edition, supposedly given a makeover due to the new movie. Not true. With renewed interest in the series they could have simply been honest about it.

Misadventures of Grumpy Cat Volume 1
Collection of eleven stories in graphic form about that annoyed feline of internet fame, drawn very lifelike, along with her little brother Pokey. At a certain point I thought: if she has a spiritual ancestor, it would be Eeyore, except that donkey just didn’t want to do anything, whereas Grumpy will go out of her way to make Pokey look like an idiot. In the first story Grumpy pretends to be a ghost just to scare Pokey and get revenge for not sharing treats; for someone who doesn’t care for anything, that’s a lot of effort. So something brings her pleasure, even if she’s still being a jerk about it.
There’s a sarcastic sense of humor that permeates the book, especially toward the end. Nickelback recording a Creed cover? Amityville and Full House mashup? At least one of these authors had a lot of personal grumpiness to get out.
There’s some extra covers at the end, but by then I’d reached my limit; there’s only so much grumpy a reader can take.

Mated with the Cyborg
In the future humanity comes across alien races, some of them nasty. A former Special Ops-type guy goes undercover as the titular cyborg to get info on said bad guys, or even try to kill off their leaders. So of course he finds himself falling for the “princess” of the story, who’s shunned because she’s not like the others; this was a nice take on Twilight Zone’s Eye of the Beholder.
This may be listed as romance or erotica, but I see it as a sci-fi thriller with some sex scenes. The way the alien culture is portrayed, with its militancy and especially its religion, espousing rewards in the afterlife, isn’t subtle at all, but I suppose that’s the point.
Overall I found myself liking it, despite the couple of times the human was so besotted he failed at operational procedure and almost got them killed. Kinda reminded me of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, had the show been on cable.

First Bite
A stripper in the South trying to win custody of her little brother gets dumped over the phone by her high and mighty boyfriend, then promptly meets a new guy that same night after popping out of a giant cake. He’s not what he seems.
This is another entry in the growing field of not-quite-human erotica, and since it’s told in alternating first person you get both their thoughts as they fall hard for each other. There’s a deliciously wicked sense of humor, especially from her; he’s frequently stuck in the usual alpha male role, but even though she’s into him instantly she retains her image and self-worth, which is unusual in these kinds of stories.
As this is the first of a new series, it ends in a cliffhanger, before he can tell her his secret or she can inform him about her little brother. Half a point off for that, but overall a nice read.


Book Reviews: Another Graphic Novel Edition

“Getting a degree” online does not count, just like “having sex” online does not count.

Roche Limit Volume 2
Subtitled “Clandestiny.” Nice.
Around an orange motif there’s an alien planet where a female badass wants to kill a monster; I’m guessing you have to read volume 1 in order to know what monster she’s referring to. From there it seems to go into flashback, but it’s not clear. The reason I think that is because the next thing that happens is the ship being attacked by a missile and crashlanding.
As the story goes on there’s a woman who’s lost her memory, but I can’t tell if she’s the same badass from the beginning—that’s not good. I digitally flipped to the end to see if there was a character guide, but nope. I had such a hard time telling them apart, partly due to the artwork but mostly because in their uniforms they look similar.
Finally, almost at the end, we’re back to the beginning, with the badass wanting to kill the monster, but by then I’d already been lost and couldn’t follow. And it hardly mattered, because the story will continue, which is just an erudite—and silly, now that I think about it—way of saying it ends on a cliffhanger.
The author’s point, if there is one, might lie in this phrase: “You humans bend your world around what you like to hear, then you shut the rest out.”
This is one of those stories where it appears you need to be in on it from the beginning, because this was just too confusing. I wish the artwork was more on point, more in focus; some of the drawings are blurry on purpose. And in all my graphic novel reading, this is the first time I’ve had a complaint about the lettering, with the font a little wonky, especially with the R.

Shutter Volume 3
A woman in Venice—Italy, not Beach—surrounded by aliens in a café, is writing a journal while looking through old photos; eventually it’s made obvious that she has amnesia. Then she’s on the run. Considering this is volume 3, I shouldn’t expect to know what the hell is going on, but rather than an exposition dump they use a peyote dream to inform, which is totally weird but actually kinda refreshing in its originality.
Unfortunately about halfway a new storyline pops up which makes everything confusing. What had been a good story got sidetracked by taking the plot somewhere completely different, to a kingdom of lions. Again I’ll assume this has something to do with previous volumes, but if they’re trying to sell this as a standalone it’s far too jarring.
There’s some sneaky humor in here: {“Are we gonna explode?” “Yup.”} And as wrong as it is, I had to laugh when a guy’s head is knocked clear off his body with one punch and the rest of the assassins complain about the brutality.
There’s ten pages of sketches and other extras.
So to reiterate, this is one of those where you have to be familiar with the previous editions to understand what’s going on here. That said, it had a few wonderful moments and the artwork, especially the cat people, was excellent.

Southern Cross Volume 1
The Southern Cross is a spaceship going to Titan, where a woman is traveling to after her sister died there. She’s as antisocial as possible, chip on her shoulder and all that. She knows she’d have an easier life if she could keep her anger down, but she can’t help herself; might have made her too unlikeable to root for. She uncovers a conspiracy dealing with drug running and a very strange means of propulsion that might be the cause of all the weird goings-on throughout the ship.
The entire story takes place on the ship, and most of the artwork is browns and yellows, some blues, yet somehow it works. The only red thing is her hair. The story could have been sharper, tighter, and of course it ends in a sequel hook, but that should be expected by now, with a continuing story. After all, there’s no point in naming something “Volume 1” if there isn’t going to be a “Volume 2.”
Covers and bios at end.

Starve Volume 1
Former celebrity TV chef now dropout in Asia gets called in to do more shows as the world economy plunges; he quickly realizes he’s in over his head, much like New York (global warming). But he’s too stubborn or uncaring to give in, and plays the game as ruthlessly as those against him, especially when the show tells him he has to fight his way into restaurant kitchens for the next challenge.
This is basically a morality tale about how much the rich can screw the poor. Of course the protagonist is an ass, but then so is everyone else, especially the ex-wife and ex-friend. The only really good person is the only beautiful one, his daughter; those things tend to go together in comics. The whole thing is painted bleakly, much like this future, with an overabundance of gray, making for fuzzy images.
Since this is Volume 1 you can expect more to come, so there’s no resolution. The story cuts off just as it’s getting good!


Book Reviews: Sports TV and Murder, but Fear Not, Tiny Alien

“Does the shorter hair make me look older and more sophisticated?”
“Well, older. . .”
You’d think I’d learn. . . OW!

Detailing the birth of the sports channel all the way into how it grew into the behemoth we see today, this book consolidates information that is mostly public record and adds interviews to round out what could have been a highly entertaining read, had it been written in a different tone.
The most intriguing tidbit, very topical today, was the story of ESPN pulling out of a documentary by PBS on concussions in football. They of course instantly denied it had anything to do with their massive TV deal with the NFL, but all the excuses ring false. Another interesting part is how much they charge the cable and satellite subscriber; as stated here, they average $6.04 compared to the next highest, TNT, which gets $1.48. Can’t help but wonder if it was that way before ever-greedy Disney got their hands on the network, and is especially noteworthy when compared to their very humble beginnings.
While there’s some interesting tidbits here, it reads more like a textbook for a media class than an actual book intended to be read by those who view the channel.

Kaptara Volume 1
With a great subtitle: Fear Not, Tiny Alien
Humans on a spacecraft on the way to Mars encounter something strange, but they don’t have time to go around it, so. . . yeah, exactly. Instead the survivors end up on some strange planet far away from anything they know.
The first half features a lot of setting, with Keith, who seems to have settled in as the main character, enjoying how well he’s treated. But once he gets over being a coward, things go wrong not just in the story but AS a story, completely losing focus. There are battles against numerous foes just to get to the portal that will take him back to Earth, along with bounty hunters and flashbacks for the arrogant prince that you wish you die already. And then, since this is a continuing series, there’s no finish.
What it does have is plenty of humor, which is the best part. “Everyone get to the bridge, obviously!” The problem with being snarkily ironic, though, is aliens don’t know you’re joking, as the Prince of the Dance Floor finds out. And that robot butler and his special hand. . . that’s just wrong. The artwork is also brighter—colorwise—than most comics, which is nice to see, literally.
The funniest part may be the lexicon of bad guys at the end. So, great moments of humor in what’s really a weak story.

Dead Lost
In the fourth entry of a series about a police squad in an economically bleak part of England, a homeless man knows a secret and promises not to tell, but the bad guy kills him anyway.
Most of the by-now familiar characters grow through the series, but not Calladine, who is the main guy. Amazing that he’s no longer a spring chicken as well as a bit of a jerk, yet all the ladies still want him. He is a great detective, though, which is what’s important, especially when there’s a new sheriff—so to speak—in town, who is really horrible, both professionally and personally. But his new uncle—long story—is her chief, though that doesn’t work out as well as he hoped.
There are a lot more plot threads to this story than expected, dealing with the homeless, white slavery, and drugs. One of the best parts is the conclusion to the storyline about his cousin, which dovetails nicely with the discovery of his new family. And speaking of families, that’s where Ruth’s finally heading.
This was the best in an excellent series. A couple of new characters, but it’s a pleasure to follow old friends, especially Imogen. She gets more to do here, solves an important part of the case, but I still want more of her.
As always there’s a glossary of English slang for American readers, as well as a character list.

Storm at SEA
Reporter takes her husband along on an assignment: go undercover at a sex resort. One of the new genre of interactive erotica, where you choose which adventure you want to follow.
Having read a few of these in the past, I found this one more confusing, as well as longer. In this case the extra pages did not add up to extra fun; nothing wrong with the erotica, just not enough of it. Plenty of wasted opportunities.
Yet there’s still some good stuff here. The scene with the priest and the acolyte was exquisite. And at times the author shows a wicked sense of humor, like the chapter title: Yummy. Virgins. My favorite. And I certainly never expected something from the movie Labyrinth to be used as a sex analogy, especially not involving Jennifer Connelly. . .



So. . . after so many years of wanting to go to the biggest event in the music business, I finally crashed the party. . . only to find it really wasn’t much of a party.
What was it? Basically like all the photography and travel conventions I’ve been to, except with musical instruments and other stuff geared toward musicians, producers, and music stores. I’ve never seen so many guitars in my life, and I’ve never felt so useless. In addition I expected to run into a lot of people I know, not just the ones whom I knew would be there in a booth or playing live. In the end there was only one; hi Steve!
So what made it special? Live music! Been far too long since I’ve seen my old faves Raining Jane, even if it was just four new songs. And toward the end of the long day I got to see new friend Margot Lane play her violin for the first time. So there was that. . .

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Book Reviews: Redheads, Barbarians, Photography, and Spies

“100 years of solitary love in the labyrinth,” she sighed.
“While suffering from cholera,” I added, which despite the downer nature seemed to break the ice nicely.

Red Sonja/Conan
An herbalist wizard comes up with a potion that will allow him to rule the world, though we don’t find out how for a while in this graphic novel with a blind seer, a king, a few armies, and of course the two title characters. If you’re at all familiar with the genre, be it comics, books, or movies, there’s nothing all that surprising here: the heroes get into a lot of tight scrapes only to be saved at the last moment. Turns out this is a sequel, as the events of the previous story are mentioned often.
It truly is a sobering sight to see a beautiful almost-naked redhead amidst the carnage of battle, dead bodies piled around her. But on the other hand there’s more humor than expected, like when Conan is taking two wenches to bed only to find Sonja waiting for him; they are not happy, but then neither is she.
The artwork is a bit rough, which might be expected in this kind of story, but damn, when you’ve got such an iconic character, known for both her fierce warriorness and exceptional beauty, you really can’t go wrong. . . oh yeah, Conan’s in it too, if you go for the Barbarian thing.
Extras include variant and exclusive covers.

There’s a Little Black Spot on the Sun Today
Taken right from The Police song, this is the story of a small boy with a disease, with the treatment hurting worse, so he identifies with the song King of Pain. From there his father drew this small book.
The artwork is graphic in the modern sense of the word, composed of simple triangles that oddly yet emotionally bring the words to life. It’s mostly the lyrics that are rendered, some literal, others abstract; particularly happy not to see how the beached whale ended up. Though simple to the point of minimalism, there’s one particular drawing of tears that’s heartbreaking. . .

Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington
First and foremost, considering the modern usage of the name, Ariel is a boy, not a girl. At nine years old, he’s hungering for some cobbler, but Mom is saving it for his brothers, who are coming home on leave from fighting the Revolutionary War. But instead of resting they’re visiting to fetch their little brother so he can carry out a secret mission.
Said to be based on a true story, and in a general sense it is plausible; the best spy is the one who doesn’t know he’s a spy. Since it’s a children’s book, it’s relatively simplistic. For example, for German soldiers those Hessians were really polite, or maybe because they were only in it for the money they just didn’t care, because the British were a lot more suspicious. To me the most sympathetic character was the poor old horse, though his love of cobbler does humanize Ariel to the point where I was rooting for him, American or not.
There’s some drawings, though there’s no intent to make the figures lifelike; in fact they kinda reminded me of the caricatures artists draw at fairs, except for the horse, who is as realistic as can be right down to the giant teeth; long of tooth indeed. . .

George Eastman
I have to admit that despite being a history lover, not to mention a professional photographer for 25 years, it never occurred to me to wonder about the most important man in the history of the field.
Being a short tome, this book highlights only the most important moments of his life, both the ups and down of business as well as family, which mostly consists of his mother. There’s an interesting note about him being a fan of Stoic philosophy, which as you read on you realize explains a lot about him. Again and again he says wealth and fame are not important to him, and it turns out he was one of the major donors to places like MIT, though of course anonymously, as well as education and healthcare.
He was far better at getting people—chemists, carpenters, etc.—to make his products than dealing with the business side of things, especially when up against the government. As expected if you bother to think about it, the emulsion was the hardest part (and right on cue there goes Tom Petty in my head) of the photo-taking process, but once that was solved he showed he was a master at publicity and advertising as well.
As for the book itself, it’s a very easy read, possibly written with high school students in mind. I love the little sketches that crown each chapter; though some look like clip art, they’re cute in their simplicity, especially the historical ones, like the box camera.
All in all, this is a wonderful introductory—i.e. short—biography of a man who really should be more celebrated today.