Book Reviews: Strange Graphics

“I love sour cream.”
“On what?”
“On my tongue!”

The Trouble with Women
When a book begins with “In the olden days there were no women, which is why you don’t come across them in history lessons in school” you can only hope the rest of it will be as satirical and funny. And for the most part it is.
Each page has a drawing that adds to the point of the prose, which is presented in sometimes-hard-to-read cursive. It’s an intense combination of history lesson and barbed sarcasm smoothed over by honey-covered humor. This can probably be read simply for its humorous value, but it’s better to risk a little uncomfortableness and take it in the spirit it was presented.
Some of the highlights:
The embroidery begging for help almost made me spew. “So so bored.”
“It wasn’t till the 1960s that women were allowed to uncross their arms, and even then only in emergencies.”
“Women who studied science also ran the risk of growing a beard.”
There’s even a whole section on corsets.
At the end there’s a drawing of women escaping the Dustbin of History via waterslide, which would make a great attraction at some amusement park.
I was lagging at the end, as there are only so many ways to make what is basically the same joke over and over. So do not read this in one sitting. Some of the captions were unnecessary, like the shriveled child, or the four dogs named Psyche.
3.5/5

Rendez-Vous in Phoenix
As told in the intro, this takes place in the late 1990s, definitely not today. It also says it’s a true story, of which I have no doubt.
Basically a young artist in Mexico—who looks like Geddy Lee minus the glasses—fell in love with an American girl and now they need to be together. The story chronicles his—and others’—struggles to cross the border illegally and then get together after that, as even when across the border there’s still dangers.
The best thing here is the artwork, colorful yet conveying the starkness of the desert. But the story was depressing; even when Tony’s at his most hopeful, it’s still bleak. Stories are supposed to entertain and/or educate. There may have been some education here, but I definitely didn’t find it entertaining.
Eight pages of sketches round it out.
2.5/5

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: Wild Card
A demonic soul-sucker is terrorizing Chicago, but has a hidden agenda beyond just scaring everyone. A lot of different factions get involved, being manipulated into fighting each other, with Dresden stuck in the middle.
I like how he calls his apprentice padawan, and refers to what he does as “make things go boom” magic. Considering all the things that’s happened to Dresden over the years, he probably didn’t expect “kidnapped by a giant owl” to make the list.
There’s a flashback to Murphy’s childhood, and if you pay attention to these kinds of stories you’ll know exactly what’s being set up.
“A guy who made Darth Vader look like Mr. Rogers.” Can’t have noir without that kind of comparison. And yet it might be true; the bad “guy” is a much more powerful and horrifying version of the Joker.
Despite how simple the ending was, I liked it.
3.5/5

The Twilight Zone: The Shadow David Avallone
I don’t have a history with the Shadow, so it was difficult to understand the plot at first. I may not have this completely right, but I think The Shadow’s mind is now inside a guy who impersonates him—possibly a security double—after being gassed fleeing from an attack on some Nazis. Then it takes a Twilight Zone twist we’ve actually seen before in the original series.
As if it wasn’t confusing enough, he’s wandering through different worlds in different bodies, even makes like Gumby inside a book, where Lady Justice has a go at him, first with a sword and then pointed words as he fills her in on his backstory.
I was wondering if the Jedi mind trick was something he’d always had or part of the Twilight Zone twist, but apparently the power to see into men’s hearts is literal.
The image of the typewriter keys coming down was the best in the book.
There’s both humor—“Hit him with a cheaper vintage!”—and pop psychology/philosophy—“The war didn’t change me. It revealed me.” He also gets called a big goof, which is fair.
The author obviously had a point to make and spelled it out at the end, but if he hadn’t I wouldn’t have gotten it. Most of it was just too confusing.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphical Heroes

“I’m a non-believer,” I said cheerfully. “Or would you prefer infidel? Heretic? Maybe Blasphemer?”

Red Sonja: The Falcon Throne
When the king is dying he wants to make Sonja his heir; the redhead earns my everlasting respect by refusing the throne. The guy who does take over has made everyone safe, so now she’s bored. But after she dreams about how she could have been queen—and previous lovers—she wakes to find a family fleeing from conscription and finally finds a fight.
It turns out the guy who wanted to win her with riches is now king, and he still doesn’t get why she says no. When another former boyfriend—she’s a redhead, she gets around—is too smitten with her to bring her in, the new king sends three other redheads—who look a lot more like classic Sonja than the legend herself—to hunt her down. Later she has a long battle with a flaming roc, and makes it her pet.
Though Sonja looks overdressed compared to previous incarnations, her costume is still impractical for sword fighting. She also looks like she’s wearing a ton of makeup or has been airbrushed, whereas before she had a much more earthy beauty. Still, the close-up of her green eye. . . wow. This is drawn a little more flamboyantly than most, but no big deal.
She also doesn’t take kindly to all her exes being mentioned. “Not the time for comedy. Got it. Sorry, I do that.” Another great sequence: “Death before failing King—” “Oh shut up.” Glad there’s plenty of humor here to lighten up what is at heart a pretty depressing story. And it’s great that no one comments on the fact she’s bisexual. Ho-hum.
The two most important lines, describing her perfectly: “I am not a queen, I am not a goddess. . . I am Sonja!” And “She bettered the people she came across.”
There’s 15 pages of extras at the end, like covers.
3.5/5

Will Eisner’s The Spirit: Who Killed The Spirit?
No need to describe a plot when it’s right there in the title, huh?
After a poignant intro by the author, the story not only doesn’t launch into the plot, but takes all of the first issue just on background and having the two detectives decide they want to solve the mystery. I would imagine some people who bought this first issue gave up on it right here.
But since this is an omnibus, I kept going. In fact, while most books are five or six issues, this one was at least double if not triple the usual length.
The first villain they look at. . . wow, hope he’s done. With a pet vulture and ridiculous loquaciousness, he made the whole chapter a downer. Thankfully it got better, especially when the hero is saved from being eaten by a shark and the author remembers to go back and explain how he got there.
Nazis show up. “I hate these guys!” Though it did seem odd that he was racist while having a black daughter he claimed to love so much. Almost as bad is the blonde, who seems more whiny trouble than she’s worth. There’s a long poem on how Spice came into power. And with the main bad guy going free, you know there’s gonna be a sequel.
I don’t know anything about art, but it felt like these drawings were more three-dimensional than most. At some points it became more. . . cartoonish, for lack of a better word. Some surprisingly bright colors. I’d say kudos for the Nighthawks tribute if I hadn’t seen it so often nowadays.
About 20 pages of extras, mostly early character drawings and scene sketches.
3/5

Sun Dragon’s Song #1
In a story that seems to be set in ancient China, a boy who needs a crutch to get around is bullied while feeding the dragons. All he wants is to be a dragonrider. When his parents, both dragonriders, come home from the war, he gets to go home with them. Dad’s a pacifist, who would rather let a young thief go than throw her into prison, while mom wants to do the opposite. At the end of this first of four issues, he’s accepted as a dragonrider trainee.
Since this is just ¼ of the story, there’s not much to go on. I don’t mean it artistically when I say this is painted in broad strokes, no doubt so kids can understand it. I do like the direction it’s going in, and look forward to the next one.
The artwork is “sketchy”; looks like someone simply colored the first drafts.
3.5/5

Bread and Butter #1
Amid pencil sketches of San Francisco landmarks Liana works in the cafeteria of a museum, disillusioned by her job when she wants to be designing album covers. But once she gets inspired. . . she falls asleep.
With only 24 pages, there’s not a lot here. It’s more of an intro to the main story, which will have to wait for the next issue.
There’s a drawing of a clock in a bar that says “No tick since April 18, 1906,” which I assume is the day of the great earthquake. It’s a bit surreal, but I like it. There’s a lot of small touches to evoke the quirkiness of the city. The problem is there’s too much bitterness throughout, making the optimism at the end ring false.
3/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Came To Me

By Rudaki, a Persian from the 10th century.

Came to me–
Who?
She.
When?
In the dawn, afraid.
What of?
Anger.
Whose?
Her father’s.
Confide!
I kissed her twice.
Where?
On her moist mouth.
Mouth?
No.
What, then?
Cornelian.
How was it?
Sweet.

;o)

Book Reviews: Erotica Edition

I have incredibly simple tastes when it comes to food.
Okay, women too.

Blame
In the world of competitive beach volleyball two women end up falling for each other, despite their pasts and neuroses conspiring to screw up the relationship.
The writer has drawn some excellent characters, with witty dialogue abounding. I’m sure she had a ton of fun with stuff like the sawing babies in half line. There’s also some psychological stuff that’s pretty fascinating, especially the reason for a past lover’s suicide and how religion played such a big part in it.
Now comes the bad/ridiculous stuff. The author posits that someone could come in never having played volleyball and becoming this good in a couple of years. Not possible. It’s an insult to all volleyball players who spent years honing their craft. The whole premise is ridiculous, and unnecessary in this story. Even worse are the simple volleyball mistakes. Apparently she didn’t know the last set only goes to 15, and you have to win by two.
So this is a tough one. On the one hand, there’s the typical lack of communication that so many romance authors think is necessary for a good story–quite the opposite–and in this case it’s taken up a few orders of magnitude. But on the other foot, it’s hard to fault Tatyana for her silence. For her guilt, yes, and Kris is just as screwed up. Can’t help but think that if either had been brave enough to see a psychiatrist, they would be living happily ever after a long time ago. It’s almost like they enjoy their guilt, are addicted to it.
Other than their neuroses, I liked the characters, but in this case it wasn’t enough.
3/5

Communication Skills
A woman who describes herself as strong ends up falling for a dominant jerk and gives in to his every whim, even sacrificing all she’d been working for to please him.
A third of the way through, I’m not liking it, but I can’t figure out why. By the end I was simply tired of this relatively short novel, especially with her closing gambit to prove her submissiveness. She shouldn’t have gotten respect for what she did against the overly prideful dom.
I’ve read other such stories before—strong woman realizes she’s submissive—but something didn’t ring true about this one. I wish I could put my finger to it, but it just seemed off. I simply didn’t find any of this convincing.
2/5

Bordello of Vampire Pleasure
Three shorter stories are put together here, all taking place at the titular establishment. In the first a woman wants to get over a breakup by playing at being a dominatrix, while in the second a man ends up being dominated. As you might expect, in the third they end up together.
The sex is surprisingly uninspiring, probably due to the lack of variety in the writing style. It seems like every sentence started with “he” or “she,” giving it absolutely no flow. Sentences like “Her naked torso had curves he wanted to explore” make it sound more like a report than fiction. At one point there was “shuttering” in pleasure instead of “shuddering.” I’m guessing no editor was used.
If this was meant to be a love story. . . no, that wasn’t convincing either.
2/5

Shattered Sapphire
Third in a series where several women are kidnapped to serve as sex providers for wealthy men, held for a year and then given a lot of hush money and sent home. The first one was pretty good, but I missed the second one.
In alternating chapters between the two leads, we have the one girl who actually treats her sexual captivity as a dream come true and the owner of the brothel falling in love. Strangely, the story starts after the year is over and she’s been released, and is of course disappointed to be going home to her disapproving family.
She’s a fantastic character, a free spirit when it comes to sex, yet still girly enough to buy a stuffed animal and name it. He’s much more human here, as he’s finding out himself, but still a rich jerk.
Unlike the first book, which was very erotic, there’s very little of that here. Strange that the one character who actually went into the situation enjoying sex and wanting to be there has so few sexual encounters written about her.
The romance isn’t much better, as there’s very little of it. Despite the flashbacks, I know I wouldn’t have understood any of this relationship without having read the first book, so it’s imperative to read that beforehand in order to see how it came about. Yet even with that I find it hard to believe they fell in love.
2/5

;o)

Music Review: Lindsey Stirling’s Brave Enough

For those people who don’t know—and should know better—Lindsey Stirling is a violinist who fuses classical with modern music, such as dubstep and other forms of EDM. She also happens to dance while playing, which is a huge part of the draw, but for me first and foremost is the fact she’s a great composer. As I mentioned in a previous blog, one of the songs on her last album, Take Flight, if it was stripped of everything except violin and piano, could be considered one of the best classical compositions of the last fifty years.
In addition to that, this lady is just fun. Besides her amazing music videos—she was a film major in college—she has another YouTube channel of behind the scenes and tour stuff, where you get to know her so well you think she’s been your buddy for years. She’s a lady who personifies the term “adorable badass.” In fact, it might have been invented for her.
On to the new music. As should be expected, the top two songs off this album are the ones released early, which I’ve already reviewed. That feels like so long ago that I was a bit disappointed in my first listen of this album, thinking there was nothing that really slammed me until I remembered the previous two. Usually it takes a while for a song to really worm into my heart—okay, that’s a disgusting metaphor—which is why I decided to take some time, almost a month and maybe a hundred runthroughs, before writing this review.

Lost Girls
Gentle plucking gives way to a soft romantic theme, real purty. Then a completely unnecessary vocoder wastes a few seconds before the song bursts into a fast Celtic melody that would not be out of place in Riverdance. This sequence repeats a couple of times. I imagine this is a song Lindsey and her dancers will enjoy doing live; with the right choreo and background this could end up being as much fun as Roundtable Rival.
8.5/10

Brave Enough ft. Christina Perri
Christina’s voice is not bad, although nothing special either. But then I’m not really here for the vocals. One of those reasons is the penchant for a lack of respect to the art of rhyming; too many of these attempts don’t come close.
The music is so much better. I love when the violin plays the vocal melody, reinforcing it. This solo also sounds Celtic, and is the best part of the song. I wish it didn’t end so abruptly into the next verse, though, but at least the outro continues that deliciousness.
And when you realize exactly what the lyrics are about. . . it’s heartbreaking.
7.5/10

The Arena
Already reviewed here. Best song on the album.
10/10

The Phoenix
The easy opening goes a little too long before hitting the main melody, which is soft and beautiful as it climbs. A minute later it’s at full power, with a clashing of drums that feels like a gift to Drew, who will go crazy playing this live. There’s a lot to like here, especially the violin, though with so many different parts it feels a little uneven/unfocused to me.
8/10

Where Do We Go ft. Carah Faye
Right off the bat, gotta say I’m not liking this singer’s voice. She certainly has the talent, but the tonal quality. . . it sounds like she has a cold. It’s distracting, but I find the more I hear this song the less it bothers me, it’s that good.
The chorus, while simple, is powerful. “Where do we go when our prayers are answered but the answer is no?” In a way it’s almost a perfect song: simple in execution, deep in meaning. As good a “message” song as you’ll likely find.
9/10

Those Days ft. Dan + Shay
I was a little wary when told this would be country, but the opening sure didn’t sound like it. In fact, nothing here sounds country at all, to my everlasting relief; no twang in either the vocals or instruments. The music makes this sound like a romantic jaunty non-ballad, but it’s not, if you pay attention to the lyrics.
As always the song shines when we get to the instrumental solo, with Lindsey playing off the melody with much more enthusiasm than between the vocals. Nothing spectacular here, more of a cute interlude. I like the cut ending better than had it faded out.
8/10

Prism
Possibly the most electronic/techno song, with a fun melody amongst all the other stuff layered in here. In fact, there’s so much here it makes it hard to describe. This is the kind of song where each person could invent their own dance moves for it, but since I’ve seen it live, I can’t get the image of Lindsey shaking her booty out of my mind. . .
9/10

Hold My Heart ft. ZZ Ward
A dramatic start gives way to dramatic vocals and violin melody. It’s somehow playful and heavy at the same time. The theme of being a strong woman who still wants love is powerful. On a personal note, there’s more of my pet peeve of misfiring on rhymes, which lessens my enjoyment.
7.5/10

Mirage ft. Raja Kumari
I have a love/hate relationship with Indian music, as I much prefer a sitar to vocals. The violin opening is wonderful, and Lindsey does make what I’m assuming is Excalibur sound like a sitar at times. I’d like to see this in concert just to find out if that’s her doing the extremely fast picking in the middle. The vocals are more melodic than atonal, thankfully. There’s a playful part where it seems the voice and the violin are having a discussion. But even though it’s playful it doesn’t get much further than cute.
7.5/10

Don’t Let This Feeling Fade ft. Rivers Cuomo & Lecrae
Hate rap, hate autotune. Best for me not to attempt a review of this.
0/0

First Light
At first glance this is an instrumental reminiscent of previous songs that were fun but didn’t make as much of an impression, for example Heist and Night Vision from the last album. But somehow this one is better. Chalk it up to experience; less frenetic, more polished. With alternating slow verses and heavily syncopated chorus, this is an amusing and enjoyable jam.
8.5/10

Love’s Just a Feeling ft. Rooty
This lady has a wonderful bluesy voice, and the violin is delicious. The chorus slows to showcase the vocals, and after it comes the inevitable bigger dance section, all fitting together very well.
With that said, this would get a higher score if the attempts at rhyming weren’t so atrocious.
8/10

Something Wild ft. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Already reviewed here. Second best song on the album. Lovely. Speaking of the video, I love how Lindsey filmed Andrew doing the rhythmic clapping. And that’s the first time I’ve seen Lindsey in jeans. . .
9.5/10

Gavi’s Song
For those of you not aware, Gavi was Lindsey’s best friend and keyboardist, who passed away last year, just before the start of recording this album, of complications from the chemo that treated his lymphoma. And it happened after he’d become cancer-free and everything was optimistic, which makes it all the harder.
This may be a simple violin piece with gentle piano under, but that’s what makes it so lovely. Lindsey has said she began writing this with Gavi, so it obviously had a different meaning to it at the time, but as a dirge—only the second I’ve ever liked—it’s spectacular, a fitting remembrance of one of the most important people in her life.
At the end the melody is played as if far away, coming through an old radio or gramophone; I choose to believe this is her interpretation of how it would sound in heaven. . .
9/10

Target Exclusives
Waltz
The title does not lie. The start is all violin, leading into electronica supporting the melody as it swirls around the dance floor. Feels simple, but there’s more involved here than is first apparent, soaring in the same way Beyond the Veil does near the end.
9/10

Afterglow
This is as old-school new age as I’ve heard from Lindsey, with a touch of techno. It’s so playful—reminiscent of Electric Daisy Violin—that I can see dance students using this for their performances. It’s too bad there’s little chance this’ll be played live, as I imagine it would be a ton of fun for Kit and his keyboards.
8.5/10

Powerlines
This has another dramatic beginning, but by the time it settles to just violin and fingersnaps it’s nothing but fun. After that the violin melody feels subtly Arabic, not as much as Yeah! but still noticeable. At some points there’s a bubbly playful keyboard, which somehow manages to fit right in, along with the high female vocalization reminiscent of Take Flight.
8.5/10

Forgotten Voyage
at the start this sounds like a continuation of the previous, then jumps into a slightly techno version of a Riverdance-style tune. Lindsey has mentioned that she thought “Space pirates!” about this one, but I don’t hear it.
Can’t help but point out that the extras were more vintage Lindsey, the more playful side of her musicality.
8.5/10

Entire album: 8.5/10

Bonus: The Only Pirate At the Party audiobook
Since I’ve already reviewed her book, this will only involve the vocal version, which I braved even though audiobooks usually put me to sleep.
Right away—I mean at the very start—it shows why in some limited cases this version can be better than the written: music! Not one of my favorite of her songs, but it proves its point. Another of the few ways audiobooks can be better is the way she yells “Scarfman!” with such joy, or the voice she uses when playing her alter-ego Phelba.
But as fun as that is, it can also be painful. When you read in the book “I hope I never have to hire another keyboard player,” it’s hard enough, but to hear her voice breaking as she reads it aloud. . . it’s heartrending, even more so at the end with a special page dedicated to Gavi.
But in general this is more fun than reading it, simply because you can hear the joy in her voice as she remembers certain good memories, as well as her sometimes hammy attempts at accents. I’m heartened to know that, as crazy as I might get, I won’t be the craziest person in the room; there’s a certain freedom to it. (As Lindsey says in her concerts, “Crazy in a good way!”)
BTW, if there’s a sequel it should be called The Only Pirate With a Pedicure.

;o)

Book Reviews: Art and Oddities

The tattoo sealed the no-deal.

Photographs from the Edge
Travels To The Edge is most likely my favorite travel show, in no small part due to the awesome theme song (still waiting for it to be released. . . someday. . . just sayin’). More importantly, as a travel photographer this show gives me ideas where to shoot next, as well as fond memories of previous shoots. But this book is even better at that, as most of these shots are from places not visited by the TV show. Art Wolfe’s philosophy is that he wants to shoot places that haven’t been photographically exploited before, which is hard to do nowadays, considering it doesn’t take long to reach any spot on Earth in this modern world.
Each photo comes with a description of how it came about: camera and lens, f/stop, exposure, ISO. The fact he took the time to document all that while shooting, especially back in the film days, makes my head hurt. Each page also has a photo tip, which in a book this large is an astonishing number of tips. One of these says his workhorse lens is an 80-200; that’s the one I use the most too, so I had a momentary geek-out. (But I’m feeling much better now.)
On to the important stuff. The first image is of an arctic fox, and it’s beautiful, a perfect opener. Another shot that stayed with me was of a small house and some trees looking amazingly tiny as a mountain looms straight up behind them. I also learned more about hyenas than I ever expected. And as much as I know I shouldn’t laugh at his scare on Easter Island. . . I laughed. There are hundreds more, and while it’s impossible for all of them to be awesome, considering everyone’s taste is different, this is a stunning and fitting document to what I consider an underappreciated modern photographer.
For fans of his show, think of this as a “best of” episode, told chronologically. I read this with his voice in my head.
4.5/5

Circles of Delight: Classic Carousels of San Francisco
In this photo book three vintage carousels in San Francisco are photographed, with a format of a general photo on one page, followed by a close-up. Each merry-go-round gets its own chapter, with the figures further divided into jumping, standing, and chariot.
Of the first carousel my favorite was the tiger, the sculpture and color so beautiful. I don’t know much about these devices, so I have no idea if giraffes, ostriches, pigs, deer, and even bunnies are common, but these made me smile.
The second carousel is housed in a glass building, which makes it so much brighter, especially for photographs. Unfortunately its pieces weren’t as lovely as the first one’s, so that was a bit of a letdown.
The third has the most dramatic drawings on the horses, and even features a unicorn and a sea dragon, plus a tiger with a mermaid on it. The camel looks amused.
There’s no doubt both the craftsmanship and the photography is gorgeous, but it takes a serious merry-go-round buff to make it through the whole volume in one sitting without losing focus.
3.5/5

Anatomy of a Song
Interviews with the people involved in the writing and recording of many hit songs. This is by no means encyclopedic, as there were quite a few tunes I thought merited attention, but perhaps it’s as simple as not being able to get interviews. One of the artists mentions their 2015 tour, so this is definitely up to date.
Most of the articles were pretty standard, which made one in particular stand out: not only was Joni Mitchell interviewed, so was the guy she wrote “Carey” about, a trip down memory lane that takes us all the way to the Greek Islands.
The thing is, not being a musician or a sound tech meant there was a lot here I didn’t understand. But what I did understand, I liked. Too bad there were so few songs I got excited about, but of course that’s in the ear of the beholder.
3.5/5

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
I have a friend on Facebook who constantly posts articles from this website, and since I usually found them interesting enough to click through, I felt the same about this book, though from the times I checked it out on the internet it felt like a tonier international version of Roadside America.
As expected, each page contains a strange destination, with some filler blurbs of other interesting places that didn’t make the cut for their own article. Interspersed with the locations are a few articles on the places, or the science—or bogus—of the contraptions that make the place interesting, and so on. I found “Constructed Languages,” playing off the Esperanto museum in Vienna, the most interesting of the articles, along with “Everything’s bigger in Australia.”
While I was reading I was anxious to find places I’d been to, but to my chagrin I topped out at about three dozen (a surprising number of them in Austria, Munich, New Zealand, Mexico, and Scandinavia). In the London extras there was a mention of the Temple of Mithras, which I’d been hoping would get a page, so that was disillusioning. I was simultaneously disappointed and relieved when there was no photo of Archie the Giant Squid, though from the drawing it may be too big to capture in one shot. One of the nicer photographed entries is Skellig Michael, though I have to wonder if this book was in the planning before the new Star Wars movie, as that would seem like an automatic mention. Another highlight for me was that John Frum, Tom Navy, and Prince Phillip—all our favorite cargo cults—are mentioned near the end.
There’s not much else to say. If you like to travel and visit weird museums and locations, this is exactly what you’ve been wanting.
4/5

;o)