Poetry Tuesday: My Stars

No, this was not written by a proud soccer mom, but rather by Abraham ibn Ezra (1067-1129).

On the day I was born,
The unalterable stars altered.
If I decided to sell lamps
It wouldn’t get dark till the day I died.

Some stars. Whatever I do,
I’m a failure before I begin.
If I suddenly decided to sell shrouds,
People would suddenly stop dying.


Book Reviews: Poker, Dreams, and Seductions

“I was just pointing out the inherent hypocrisy.”
“Gee, that’s so nice of you.”

The Backstage Pass
A cute short story about a woman losing her virginity to an 80s rocker, as told to her daughter’s friend.
This is part of a series, but I didn’t need the others to know what was going on, especially since it’s all explained in the small opening before Cougar Mom gets there. There’s rock-star sex, lots of descriptions of the 80s, plenty of uncomfortableness for the woman who has to listen to her mom talk about sex, but most of all it’s loaded with plenty of humor, which is ultimately what makes this a worthwhile read of about 15 minutes.

Luck, Love & Lemon Pie
A Wisconsin housewife wants to spend more time with her husband, but he’s so into poker he forgets their anniversary. Thinking that the way to connect with him is to also play poker, her plan fails big time when she eclipses him and wins a tourney that sends her to Las Vegas.
This is not a conventional plot—or I should say it’s an unconventional idea and the plot is actually quite familiar—but in this case that helps. The writing is entertaining, and for the most part the characters are fun, even the kids. Of course the protagonist has to have a snarky best friend along with a nemesis.
My only dislike was the way MJ would tell Poker Stud to leave her alone one minute and then quickly enable him by showing she was falling for his charm. But I suppose it was necessary to lead up to the breaking point before the story could be finished.

Tomas and the Galapagos Adventure
Drawn more as a cartoon than a graphic novel—but then it’s obviously for kids—this very short book has Tomas falling off his horse and dreaming about a pirate and zoological adventure on the Galapagos, just as the title says.
Tomas has a gap in his teeth “like a movie star,” his mom says. To me he looks like Zack Braff must have as a kid. At times I couldn’t tell if the writing was being snarky or was really that bad, but since I liked the line, “Bonito’s trot quickens into a canter as they gallop. . .” I’ll give it a doubtful benefit. There is one thing that’ll make adults cringe, though it won’t matter to kids (so it probably doesn’t need mentioning in a book for them, but here goes anyway): it’s disturbing to have a character go down with a concussion and not even get taken to a doctor.
On to the important part, the artwork. It’s done in broad strokes and bright colors. All the animals are smiling, except the hammerhead sharks, for whom it would be virtually impossible; the squid about to be eaten don’t look happy either. Since this is a dream, it doesn’t have to make sense, and as if to prove my point, a line says, “Are there such things as friendly pirates? There are in dreams!”
I was wondering if they might go Twilight Zone at the end, and they did.

Seduced: An Erotic Valentine Collection
Three stories of women falling in love—or back in love—with men whom they’ve known for a while.
In the first we get an Australian supermodel who comes back to the country home of the guy she can’t resist, who happens to be the brother of her psycho ex-husband. Seems hard to believe the bad guy would give in so easily after all that anger—that was a bit of a letdown—but other than that a decent story.

Next up is a British girl falling for the brother of her ex-fiancé, who died five years ago, before they could marry. Everyone feels guilty about it but keeps it bottled inside, so the requisite miscommunication ensues. He’s adamant about this not being a relationship, in order to spare her emotional pain, so he thinks. Problem is, he claims–in his mind–to be in love with her and yet does a total dick move near the end; he doesn’t deserve her.
Story was ok, but the miscommunication common in romance novels was particularly egregious. Didn’t care for it in the end.

The book concludes with the story of a woman fleeing her wedding when she finds out her fiancé is cheating, so instead she takes the honeymoon trip with her male best friend. This one falls squarely under the “Love was there all along!” cliché, making it kinda run of the mill, though for the most part I enjoyed the writing and snark. As again seems sadly requisite for the genre, misunderstandings and erroneous conclusions almost screw things up before they remember to communicate.

Overall 3/5


Poetry Tuesday: The Woods Are Wild

Francesco Petrarch, 1304-1374, Italy.

Through the midst of inhospitable wild woods,
where men at arms go at great risk,
I go safely, since nothing can frighten me
except that sun whose rays are alive with love:

And I go singing (oh, my unwise thoughts!)
of her whom heaven cannot set distant from me,
whom I have in my vision, and seem to see
women and girls with her, and they are beech and fir.

I seem to hear her, hearing the branches and breeze,
and the leaves, and the birds lamenting, and the water
murmuring, running through the green grass.

Rarely did silence, and solitary awesomeness
of shadowy woodland ever please me so:
if only too much of my sunlight were not lost.


Book Reviews: Wine, Bodyguards, and Stolen Money

Best way to keep from biting your nails: change a diaper.

Dark Secret
A text for help lures a man to the top of a cathedral, where he gets whacked on the head and pushed off.
While there’s some character development, the big story here is the relationship between the detectives, both of whom have problems they’re trying to sort through. More importantly, they’re completely different people who are trying to mesh into a good team; there’s flashes of that, but still a work in progress.
There are a lot of secondary characters, suspects and witnesses and such, each with a ton of background. From local racists to Hollywood actors to a Roman centurion, there’s plenty to unravel. But even with that, the ending plot twist came out of nowhere. There was some good detective work, but I was annoyed by the lack of clues given to the reader. The conclusion needs some big coincidences to make this work, but it’s still worthwhile.
On a lighter note, I would love to ask the author if she’s a Firefly fan, as I noticed a few touches that might have been homages; there’s even a character named Nathan. But the big shout-out, if it is indeed one, goes to Star Trek, with the character named Gray Mitchell, just a letter swap away from Gary.
Not-fun fact: This publishing company had a large line of detective series in England, and while the stories are usually good, they use incredibly similar covers and titles—and all of them have the same subtitle!—to make their books look alike. Dumb marketing.

Stolen Flame
Typical middle-upper class American girl is giddy about celebrating her twenty-first birthday, to the point where when she’s tossed in a van and hooded she thinks it’s her friends taking her to her surprise birthday party. Instead she’s kidnapped for realsies as a sex slave in the fanciest brothel ever.
She’s not the only one, and the introductory scene is both creepy and somewhat intriguing. It doesn’t take long for the virgin main character, nicknamed Flame, to give in, and end up being a natural at sex, of course. But despite the setting being all about sex, there’s a budding if forbidden romance in here too, making it an unusual love story; for all that’s rough and impersonal, it’s also rather sweet. It’s also endearing how the girls bond together while captive; one gets the sense they’re gonna keep in touch for years.

Tainted Tokay
In the eleventh entry in the Winemaker series, there’s plenty of violence and chicanery both in France and Hungary; kinda makes you wonder how they keep getting into these situations. Being a wine critic doesn’t seem all the dangerous in real life, with the possible exception of getting drunk all the time.
This story did better as a travelogue than any detecting; other than some nice descriptions of Vienna and Budapest, there’s nothing special here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; if you liked the previous ones, and I did, then you’ll like this one, as I did.

Man Eater
A psycho is hired by a drug kingpin to find the hooker who stole his money. Finding her in a bar, he proceeds to knock her around rather than go get the loot, giving an angry female Hollywood producer time to beat him to a pulp and therefore earn herself an enemy and revenge plot.
But after that bang-up start it settled into mediocre plotting; this could have been over in half the pages, especially with less plot lines.
There’s tons of characters, some of which have their say and are never seen again. Ronnie, the main character, is definitely interesting, as is Ellis, but the fascinating one is the bad guy, who despite being completely insane is still highly intelligent and capable of making elaborate plans. Seeing them through is another thing, as his emotions keep getting in the way, but calling the police to her place so she could drop the alarm, allowing him to sneak in the back, was bold yet smart.
There were parts I really liked, especially the two main characters, and of course all the humor. There’s also some juicy tidbits at the way insider Hollywood works. But there was plenty I didn’t like as well, especially the entire side plot involving the drug-running brothers and the parole officer.


Poetry Tuesday: Lament for Five Sons Lost in a Plague

Abu Dhu’ayb Al-Hudhali (d. 649)

Run down by fate’s spite
My body hangs, a mantle on a broom;

With wealth enough to ease all pain
I turn at night from back to belly
Side after side after side.

Who puts pebbles on my couch when my sons died?

I tried but could not shield
Them well enough from fate
Whose talon grip
Turns amulet to toy.

Thorns tear out my eyes. I lie,
a flagstone at the feet of Time
All man wear me down
But even those my pain delights
Envy that I cannot cringe
At fortune’s spite.


Book Reviews: Graphic Novels Falling From the Sky

“Did you call me Cootie Breath or Cootie Brains? Cuz one is a lot worse than the other.”

The Complete Alice in Wonderland
If I need to say more than the title to explain what this is about. . . can’t help ya. This follows the story—both, the sequel is included—very closely; Father William actually stands on his head. (I love that poem.)
So, since most people already know the story, the point of this is the artwork. It’s done in not quite sepia but a lot of brownish shades. Some of the painted highlights include the dormouse, who really should have been a koala, considering how stoned he looks; Alice’s priceless look of surprise when the needles turn to oars; her chase of the little red queen looks marvelous, even if she was dressed like a fire hydrant. . . not Alice, the queen. But my favorite image is a beautifully drawn shot of Alice filling the frame—and the house—holding the tiniest cake on in one upturned finger, looking amazed. She’s drawn sorta anime, though at times I feel like there’s a Russian cast to her.
I’ve always enjoyed that, even though she questions a lot, Alice takes everything at face value. And for those of you who hate the trope, remember that this was the original “It was all a dream” ending.
Page 168 starts the bonus materials, the most important being a piece on why they included the “lost” chapter of “The Wasp and the Wig,” likening it to a director’s cut. There’s a few explanations of panels, and in keeping with the theme of this paragraph I will call them director’s commentary.

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Zero, Volume 1
The seeming precursor to Robocop—both in looks and sense of righteousness; with his black and white approach to justice, he should be thinking more about survival—wakes up to find his city has been transported into either the past or an apocalyptic future or alternative universe or something; never got it.
Having his AI remind him of his last assignment is an excellent way of data dumping, but even with that the story is never above confusing. There are some great moments, like a hilarious and totally sad sendup of internet fads. But after that it disintegrated into unfocused speeches about the nature of freedom. Dredd growls about everyone being on a soapbox; I hope he included the writers. Said writers deserve to be smacked for having puppy-kicking as a thing. And the kid who likes eyes. . .
Brighter colors than I would have expected, but it’s not necessarily sharp, almost watercolor-like.

In the year 2031 a kid in school chased by bullies thinks he turns into a mostly tiger/some human beast. . . but he’s not sure; it’s explained later. Having found out his father’s a mafia boss, he runs away with his equally-semi-tiger bodyguard so he can be trained and then come back to defeat his evil dad.
There’s stuff here that reminds me of Star Wars, particularly where the older generation is teaching the young, but the young is too stubborn to wait until fully trained before jumping into the fray. He gets injured in a fight with a rooster; make your own joke here. The guy from Interpol might be necessary for the plot, but I felt he was way too over-the-top. In a story that makes you wonder who exactly is the bad guy here, this character’s drawn—no pun—a little too obvious, and that’s before the story skips ahead seven years. The protagonist turned out to be a lot more interesting—or at least the story was—as a kid.
Not happy with the final twist.
Nothing to say about the artwork; definitely nothing bad about it, but nothing to make it stand out either.

Paper Girls, Volume 1
After a weird dream, a young girl in late 80s Ohio finds an even weirder reality when she gets saved from a gang of jerks during her early morning paper route by three other female deliverers. Joining up with them immediately, they have run-ins with more gangs until they find some weird object in a basement. . . all before dawn. Then things really get strange, like her being shot by friendly fire and seeing a vision of Reagan; nuff said. There’s an old man wearing a Public Enemy shirt who seems to be responsible for all the shenanigans, commanding some futuristically-draped dragon-riding guys who point staffs and make regular humans go elsewhere. Against them is a group of ninja-dressed badly scarred teens who time travel; instead of a warehouse, they have a whenhouse (best line of the whole book).
Though there’s some good story, and the interactions between the girls are fun, as a whole it feels disjointed, almost as if the authors are making it up as they go along. (There’s only one guy listed as “writer,” so it’s probably not a case of different minds each issue.)
The artwork is kinda rudimentary; I thought the color scheme had to do with the fact it was night, but it continued even when inside.

I Hate Fairyland, Volume 1
To bookend these reviews, here’s an Alice in Wonderland-type story that quickly turns into anything but. A little girl with a vivid fantasy life wants to live in a wonderland, and ends up sent exactly there through a hole in her room that deposits her none-too-gently on concrete. (As the Rush song goes, “Sometimes the angels punish us by answering our prayers.”) Bleeding from her injuries, she wails that she wants to go home, and is given a guide and a map to find how to do that. Then the moon tells us it’s 27 years later, just before she cannons it; while her body hasn’t aged, she’s still lived through everything and has become a psychopathic meanie, for lack of a better term. Eventually she meets a peppy human girl on the same quest as her; it’s a race to the key now, and everyone loves the adorable newcomer who doesn’t kill everyone on sight.
Despite the flimsiness of the quest plot—all of them are just excuses for adventures—there’s quite a few excellent moments. For example, she escapes the king slug—in rapper paraphernalia—the same way Leia escaped from Jabba. (She even mentions where she got the idea, although why a six-year-old would have seen Return of the Jedi. . .) There’s Ice Cream Island, which I had high hopes for, but not much took place there. She drinks some wisher’s beer and turns into a sugar monster. There’s a witch with a turbo-charged broom. And so on.
Like I said, a quest story; the whole reason for its existence is the snark:
“Oops, my bad, innocent old man.”
(Sarcastic at the sky) “Thanks, weather king.” “You’re welcome.”
Her little bug Sancho Panza character has time to build a house—and have a family—before she recovers from a long fall; I thought she might be dead—she grew a green curly beard!—but the book was only halfway through. She looks even deader after her fight with Happy, but just like a cockroach, she can’t seem to be killed.
In the end she can’t get out of her own psychotic way and gets what she deserves. . .
It’s important to take this in the spirit it’s presented, or else it’s simply not gonna work. This is snark taken up to 11; her middle finger gets a lot of play. You have to be in the right frame of mind, and not have any kids around—you’re gonna laugh, and they’re gonna ask you what you’re laughing at, and you can’t tell them—but if this stuff is your thing you’re gonna love this. Just don’t treat this is a how-to. . .
The colors are so bright, so much cotton candy pink, I’m surprised Gert only threw up a few times. . .