Book Reviews: Choppers, Drummers, Be Kind to Books

Garrison Keillor once said, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”
I love corn, but I wonder how he feels about bacon. . .

Airwolf: Airstrikes
I’m gonna try to come at this as simply a book, albeit a graphic novel, but the thing is I was a huge fan of the TV show as a kid—probably would not have bothered reading this otherwise—so I can’t help comparing it.
The first thing is getting used to the changes, as this is technically a “reimagining,” as in Battlestar Galactica, definitely not a continuation. Santini is now young and black rather than old and an Italian cliché; it takes them quite a while to explain it’s his son, and then go further to say he was adopted. Also different is Archangel, now a beautiful young woman rather than an older one-eyed guy. However, since that’s more of a position than a name, and the guy shows up later, it isn’t as jarring. At one point I wondered if it was really Stringfellow or his brother, but thankfully that didn’t last long.
One thing I enjoyed was that, unlike a lot of graphic novels, this isn’t one overreaching arc, but rather each of the collected comics is a separate episode. We get our heroes saving a Pakistani scientist from prison; taking out some Indonesian bad guys; battling an Arab warlord in what looks to be Somalia but could be Qatar or such; rescuing a supposed teen drug lord. . . okay, that one stretched things a bit much.
They’re even going up against a militia on home soil who’s gotten their hands on a stealth aircraft; too bad about that brave female agent. This was most likely the weakest entry, as it featured the stealth in a dogfight with Airwolf, which is completely impossible, as anyone familiar with stealth technology would know. The writers might have some knowledge of military operations, but the use of an obsolete Warthog—the plane, not the animal—in Indonesia is also a miss. The Indonesian military guy uses the phrase “Crispy critters,” and I really do hope it was intentionally funny. In fact, all the foreign officers speak Big Word English.
As one would expect of a woman drawn in what is essentially a comic meant for men—or more likely teenaged boys—Archangel is drawn hot, but there’s a good reason nobody likes her. The writing is pedestrian, the plots simple. . . but then I don’t remember the original winning any writing Emmys either. The best line had to be: “Queen of Deceit in a kingdom of liars.”
For this fan, a bit disappointing. As an objectionable objective observer, it’s okay.

Cultural Repercussions
First of all, great title for a study on a drummer (icymi, re-percussions).
And yet the emphasis here is not on Neil Peart’s drumming, but rather a chronological history of his life with an emphasis on his lyrics. The author is as much a fanboy as me and everyone else reading this, which is refreshing, but for the most part he still manages to make this sound somewhat scholarly. There’s a lot more philosophical ramblings than I think anyone has ever tried to make of the lyrics, especially the Stoic school, as he breaks the career of Rush into parts according to when one era of music stopped and another started; I do that too, but mine don’t quite mesh with his.
There’s quite a bit here that reminds me of the documentary made of the band, with special attention given to all the famous musicians they’ve inspired. I don’t think this broke any new ground other than the philosophical musings mentioned above, but it’s still an interesting addition for those who have to have everything Rush-ian.

Tips, Tools, and Tactics For Getting Your Book Reviewed
I’m not looking to be a published author, so I came into this with a different mindset. It amazed me how many suggestions mentioned here have been used on me, and I had no idea that listing a book on NetGalley could be so expensive.
As the title implies, this is more for authors than reviewers, but I nevertheless found some interesting things. The main body is about the different ways authors can get reviewed—again, there’s the title—and classifies them according to how much effort it’ll take, average results, potential results, and secondary benefits.
On the downside, especially at the beginning, there were small chapters with plenty of facing blank pages, no doubt in order to pad what is already a thin book anyway. It’s more probable the publisher did that, but annoying that they think readers won’t figure that out.
My favorite intriguing note is a direct quote: “I know when I was blogging, I was always hesitant to leave below a three-star review for an author I had interacted with directly. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings—but maybe I was being too Canadian about the whole thing.” Since I am a born and bred Southern Californian who thinks of himself as an honorary Canadian—just gotta ace the test—I could see where she was coming from, because the very same day I read this I went through the same thing.
The most important takeaway here is that the author is earnest and genuinely seems to want to help, which I found refreshing. This more than anything, as I wouldn’t be trying out the suggestions, is what sold me on this book.

Kindness on a Budget
A lady writes about all the encounters she has in a regular day and how easy it is to make even a stranger’s life a little brighter, if only momentarily.
It’s hard for me to say anything negative here, as I really believe in the message of this book and some of the ideas she puts forth. Still, I would be remiss if I did not mention she’s at least middle class if not upper middle-class; even though she rents her home, it has a pool and hot tub. Not everything done here is within the reach of a lot of people, and I don’t particularly mean monetarily. In addition, since she doesn’t have a regular job—yet manages to fly all over the place—she has a lot of time to do crafty things at home and run errands; people who have to deal with rush hour and then go to the market might be too tired and frazzled to pay attention to the niceties as she suggests.
Despite that caveat, there’s plenty here to like and emulate.


Poetry Tuesday: Reconciliation


WORD over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead.
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin—I draw near,
Bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.


Theater Review: Antigone at A Noise Within

A semi-honest agent: “This could be big for your career, I don’t mind lying.”

It’s become a running gag that whenever I go to see theater it’s over 100 degrees; unfortunately Mother Nature is the only one laughing. As always I’m in my explorer hat, with the flap down the back, necessary because I get sunburned on the back of my neck after about ten seconds, but luckily the bus stop is shaded and I can take it off. . . only to burn my fingers with how hot it has become just crossing the street. And of course the air conditioning on the bus is ice-cold in comparison. At least the driver is cheery.
On the way north up Rosemead Blvd. there’s the Greek church once again holding GreekFest! Why did no one tell me? Your PR guys suck. Okay, I’m not about to go in this heat, but I’ve had fun there before, might have handled a few minutes of looking for archaeology souvenirs. . . as in t-shirts of the Acropolis, not actual artifacts; don’t buy them, they fund terrorists.
Off the bus into the cavernous parking lot cum transportation station, where I simply have to cross one access road and then walk a somewhat shady path for about ten seconds to get to the back door of A Noise Within.  Yes, so lucky that an excellent theater company is located where all I have to do is cross the street from my apartment, catch a bus for 5-10 minutes (depending on traffic), and walk for fifteen seconds.
Since I’m at the mercy of the bus schedules I’m early as always, so I hunker down by a hidden couch next to the balcony entrance and peruse the program, then my phone. I’m probably the only person who actually turns off their phone before being told, though this time there’s a beautiful female voice telling you to do so before the show begins; gotta find out who that is.
Also gotta remember next time to take some photos of this unusual yet intriguing building. I have no idea if they maintained the original design of the lobby, but since it fits with the scheme of the exterior, I’m giving it a doubtful benefit. Research tells me it used to be the Stuart Pharmaceutical Building, a midcentury modern landmark designed by architect Edward Durell Stone; for you architecture buffs, here’s a small article on the building’s history until I can photographically dazzle you next time.
As you approach the staircase going down into the theater—I took the elevator—there’s a sign saying that this season of theater works is dedicated to Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, which became a lot less surprising when in the above-mentioned research I found he was instrumental in bringing the company to its new home, after years in Glendale.
Okay, down in my usual aisle seat and chatting with the woman seated next to me while trying not to listen to the inane patter of some rich matrons behind me. To my surprise, Glen Miller is the house music as we’re waiting for the play to start; to everyone’s shock, I named those tunes: Little Brown Jug and String of Pearls.
Okay, on to the play, or I should say the first preview of the play. In the publicity it’s said this is the first authorized translation from the modern French version of Sophocles’ classic by Jean Anouilh, so that’s cool. The basic plot is that in Ancient Greece it was important that a body be buried so their soul can be free or some such; there has never been a time in human history when a majority of people didn’t believe in something silly, goes the famous quote. And said rites have to be done by a woman. More specific to this play, two brothers were in a war to rule Thebes and killed each other—I picture a Wild West shootout—leaving Creon—who I think is their uncle, but with Oedipus as part of the family, who knows?—as king. He kinda arbitrarily decides that one of the brothers should be thought of as a hero and the other a villain, and so declares that the bad guy should not be buried, just left there to stink up the place until the scavengers harvest him. Antigone, sister of the two as well as daughter of Oedipus, thinks her uncle is being a meanie and goes out in the middle of the night to bury her brother anyway, despite knowing she’ll be put to death for it.
We start with a Greek chorus of one, a lady dressed in a style that makes me think of the 50s, but since when do I know anything about fashion? With great humor and plenty of gravitas—not at the same time—she tells us what’s up, even introduces the characters as the actors stand still on stage. Since this isn’t a particularly famous play with the general public, it seems like a good idea.
Creon is dressed in a business suit, which completely fits the type of ruler he is. Other than a few pieces of broken temple masonry on stage, there’s no attempt to make it feel like it takes place in Ancient Greece; there’s a radio and bombs going off, so it’s definitely a modern setting. Since this is a translation of the French version which was written in the 1940s, all this makes sense, but only if you think about it. . . or don’t bother to think about it.
The most colorful of the characters is the sentry, dressed in an overdone army uniform, not exactly ceremonial but not what anyone on duty would wear either; in fact he looks more like General McArthur than any mere soldier or guard. His clipped speech and manner is over the top and also reminiscent of WW2 movies, done for comedy, which worked for me.
Without revealing any more of the plot, I have to sat this was pretty intense and discomforting, but then that’s what tragedy’s supposed to be. The hardest part was adjusting expectations; people had different belief systems thousands of years ago, and things that seem inconsequential to us were life and death to them. Even knowing that, it was still tremendously difficult to follow along as to why certain things were so important, especially to Antigone and Creon.
At some points it felt like Antigone had a death wish, or perhaps wants to be a martyr; she basically forces Creon to put her to death. Seems like a really high price to pay just to throw some dirt over a dead body. But there’s a director’s note in the program that made this better for me: “None of us here tonight believes that Antigone’s brother will never rest until she throws some dirt on the corpse. Yet we listen, and we believe in her, although she neither knows nor cares what we believe.”
There’s quite a few philosophical ramblings between Antigone and Creon, such as civil disobedience, the nature of happiness, and the burden of being in charge; considering how tyrannical Creon becomes, that’s definitely not out of place here. There’s a line toward the end that I perversely enjoyed, maybe too much: “They will rot well.” But the best moment for me was when Creon made an Oedipus joke about the famous tragic figure being called a certain insult that actually, unlike everyone else, does fit him; I was the only one who laughed. (In case you didn’t get that, it’s frequently shortened to mofo.)
With all that said, the acting was as superb as usual whenever I see this company. The main character basically has to carry the play, and Emily James does so without any unnecessary flash or ego, yet still enjoying the hell out of her rare impassioned lines. Eric Curtis Johnson as Creon—whom I saw in Dance of Death but didn’t come close to recognizing—brought an air of pomposity, though thankfully not too much, to a character who is by turns sympathetic and hated. Lorna Raver as the maid did a good job of lightening the mood at the beginning, where she starts off the play alone for a good five minutes. As mentioned before, the guard—as thespian’d by Stephen Weingartner—also brought some much needed comic relief to the heaviness and ultimate despair inherit in the work. The direction was sparse, which is not strange considering the stage is never changed, and I think the play is better for it. My fave part of the staging is the inclusion of a small water source behind some ruins, just big enough to dip some fingers and wet your face, but with a light positioned perfectly to see the reflection of small shimmering waves on the whiteness.
Since it had worked for me before, I had skipped lunch in favor of some snacks before the two o’clock show, so by the time we were let out around four I was hungry but not starving. This all works out because across the street is Hook Burger, which has rapidly become my second fave after In-N-Out. . . plus they have bacon! Rather than having girls bring your food to the table they have switched to a pager coaster system, which was a shame because I enjoyed talking to those ladies. As I finally get to munch I check the app and find my bus is coming in 5 minutes, with the next one an hour later. So with a rueful gesture at having to leave the air conditioning, I wrap my half-burger up and stuff it in my pocket—I love these shorts, so many pockets!—and swig from the bottle of orange cream soda as I hustle across the street to the bus stop, trying to ignore the even more incredibly intense heat. The orange drink is proving ineffective in regulating my temperature, though it sure brings it taste-wise.
When I got home I ate the second half of the burger while watching a documentary on Mayan glyphs on Netflix.

Poetry Tuesday: Properties of a Good Greyhound

By Dame Juliana Berners (b. 1388)
Do you wonder if they dressed up their dogs and put them in strollers back then too?

A greyhound should be headed like a Snake,
And necked like a Drake,
Footed like a Cat,
Tailed liked a Rat,
Sided like a Team,
Chined like a Beam.

The first year he must learn to feed,
The second year to field him lead,
The third year he is fellow-like,
The fourth year there is none sike,
The fifth year he is good enough,
The sixth year he shall hold the plough,
The seventh year he will avail
Great bitches for to assail,
The eighth year lick ladle,
The ninth year cart saddle,
And when he is comen to that year
Have him to the tanner,
For the best hound that ever bitch had
At nine year he is full bad.


Book Reviews: Hawaii, New Mexico, The South, and Neurotica

Some people take exception when I say a face devoid of makeup is a “naked face.”
Some people are assholes.

The Cypress Trap
How sad would your life be if everything depended on a good-luck charm?
After a prologue of kids jumping into a watering hole somewhere in the South, we’re taken to a failing marriage on a fishing vacation, with both still trying to recover from the death of their child. It’s been said that in such situations it’s more likely for the couple to split up rather than stay together, and though she’s trying her hardest, it looks like this is heading that way. . . which confuses me, because this protagonist is no great prize. He calls his recent life “an extraordinarily atrocious run of bad luck,” when in reality it’s more like incredible stupidity and stubbornness.
The couple and their friend are chased by bad teens, though no one believes them. Finally the sheriff helps her out, except we never find out what happens to him, other than the implication he was killed by the bad teens. I was feeling sympathy for her, but now she seems as dumb and self-centered as her husband. Unfortunately the sheriff’s simply forgotten and we’ll never know.
There are some reasons a dog might change allegiances, even a brutal attack dog. Being hit on the head is not one of them.
Because there had to be a reason for the prologue, I wasn’t surprised when that person showed up; still, I think the author cheated a little with that. Hard to believe someone could get so hung up on a good-luck charm, but then there’s plenty of crazy to go around.
The worst part for me was how the main character’s injury left his leg too shredded to walk, and yet without any medical care later in the book he’s able to fight off some bad guys and survive being thrown in the lake. Or perhaps the worst part is at the end I really wasn’t shook up at all about the deaths.
Though the writing was enjoyable, these several huge inconsistencies in the plot mentioned above doomed it for me.

A Bundle of Neurotica
A collection of six short stories featuring a young college professor and her evil twin, who wants to make her sister’s life better by showing her how to have fun—or taking her place to protect her from the arrogant jerks around her—and only makes things worse.
I was sadly surprised by how bored I was despite the fun premise. There isn’t even that much erotica in it, except for some spankings and the evil twin picking up some anonymous guy in a bar. The only thing that kept it interesting enough for me to make it to the end was the evil twin’s snark.
At one point I actually wondered if, instead of an evil twin, she had a split personality, but no, the evil gal is real. . . I think.
All in all, pretty disappointing.

Tropical Judgments
A local—as in Hawaiian—musical legend is killed in a mugging, and a black kid who’s led the most heartbreaking life you’ve ever heard, as well as suffering from fainting spells, is accused. A local lawyer, himself the victim of fainting spells, is forced to defend him in a story that’s part detective and part courtroom drama.
This was a surprisingly easy read, with a flow that kept me going for far longer than I would have thought, once I glanced at the clock. The Hawaii setting—anything but a paradise—was intriguing, especially the racism. I found the characters well-drawn and distinctive, except for there being too many people to keep track of in the crime family.
Not that it was perfect, though. The one bad guy’s excuse of “family” sounded particularly false, considering he was betraying his real blood relatives. At one point the prosecutor, who up to then had been a relatively good guy, uses the “if the criminal didn’t do this, he probably did something” crap, which surprised the hell out of me, and disappointed me as much as the defense lawyer. The dif is I was disappointed in the author for scuttling the character. And as far as the writing, smooth as it was, there were too many chapters for how short it was.
Some questions remained. Did the police—corrupt as they are—try to trace the death threat phone call? What about the witness who saw the bad cop with the real killer? Perhaps those will be explained in the next book.

Spectre Black
A female cop in New Mexico is chased out of her home in the middle of the night; then the scene switches to a guy in San Clemente, California. Quick introductions, though that might be understandable considering this is not the first book in this series.
Rushing to New Mexico at her SOS, the protagonist finds himself quickly immersed in all the nefarious activities of the small town where she was a detective. Before he knows it he’s being seduced by a black widow of an FBI agent—how the hell was she posted so close to home?—and set up for murder, thrown into jail where he’s fully expected to be killed.
And then somewhere in the middle the plot turns into something much different; how the heck is it suddenly about cloaking technology? And then our bright hero, with the help of a friend, decides the smart thing to do is go undercover with a militia; yeah, that’ll end well.
Just to confirm their evilness, the half-siblings—the obviously schizophrenic youngster and the FBI agent—are in an incestuous relationship.
When the main character finds the cop he came to save alive and well and living it up on a houseboat, the fast pace slows down dramatically, almost like a whole new book. They plot to take down the bad guys in numerous ways, none of them very convincing. What could have been a very good story gets bogged down in a plot too intricate to really enjoy.


Book Reviews: Graphic Novel Edition

“You’re invited to take me to dinner,” she smirked.
With that attitude, I graciously declined; her reaction was priceless.

So this week it’s all graphic novels, and because they’re quicker to read there’s more of them.

Invisible Republic Volume 1
You know the authors have a lot of confidence when they open with a hero shot of a couple standing on an asteroid.
On a distant planet a totalitarian government has fallen, and an intrepid reporter is out to figure out how it all happened. No one cares to help him; everyone’s too poor to waste their time on this stuff. But by sheer coincidence he comes across the memoirs of the one person who knew the dictator best, at least in his early days. From there we go to flashback, interspaced with more of the reporter.
The story actually follows a woman who was with the future bad guy, who from her looks and clothes appears to be of Australian descent. In the first incident she shows her moral courage, which of course pisses off her cousin the bad guy, and from there we see her survive on the street and then be taken in by a co-op of beekeeper honeymakers, because one of them felt guilty about almost killing her.
The artwork is well done but bleak—monochrome, sepia—which fits the bleak world portrayed. There wasn’t all that much story or character development, but I assume there’s more to come, since it ends with the title character appearing in the present.
The extras are well done, including the history of bees and the problems of interstellar travel. But in the end it’s only an intro, so don’t expect a full story.

Some badass female fights a bunch of soldiers, then climbs a wall—a very high wall—but is still darted and falls into the ocean. So of course I immediately thought of Aeon Flux. . . the cartoons, not the movie. (Don’t get me started on Charlize’s poor choices. . .)
During that chase there’s one small panel of a woman with a cello, which intrigued me. The other thing that kept me interested is that it took 18 pages for words to show up, at which point we find out the totalitarian regime that says they’re protecting their citizens by making a wall no one can escape over is called the Origami, as poetic a name as you’ll ever find for such a group.
“You don’t believe there’s a threat?”
“I don’t believe the threat is coming from outside.”
Finally we meet the main character, a former soldier with a special skillset that makes her in demand; later it’s said she was a sniper who had a crisis of conscience. The rest of the story concerns some high-ranked officials trying to capture her, and her barely escaping over and over. Every issue starts with a flashback; little by little we see what brought her not just to this position but the enmity of the general. Her ultimate goal seems to be too simple, which is actually the best quote: “One day things will be different for me. I just need to make it to that day.”
The hook for the sequel has the heroine saying, “Now I’m pissed,” but without the rest of the story it feels like a waste of time. Most of the last half rambles on, especially the middle section, which contains a far-too-long piece where Rain, the main character, is getting drunk or whatever they do in this dystopian future. Ditto when the commandos deploy to the bar to get Rain. From there it’s all about her trying to escape, barely managing it time and again, impressionistically drawn—some places unclear as to what I’m supposed to be seeing, more artsy than narrative—but not very eye-catching.
I’m just glad I found out what the girl with the cello was about. . .

The Tithe Volume 1
This story opens in a megachurch in Irvine, so I’m already liking the blasphemy. . . er, satire.
From there the plot follows a small group of “terrorists” who steal from the gigantic churches, and the FBI agents after them. The supposed bad guys are led by a fantastic character, someone we can identify with as far as her convictions, though definitely not her skills. She wants to bring down the churches because they steal from the poor, and are often committing crimes as well, but at the same time she’s got a much bigger moral compass than those she’s stealing from, those self-proclaimed bastions of righteousness; Robin Hood indeed. Of course there’s always a point where things go south, and though I kinda saw the last twist coming, it still provided an excellent closing, even with more to come someday.
It’s interesting to see the two FBI guys with such different viewpoints, especially toward religion. Not exactly Mulder and Scully, though; the highly religious older black man makes no concessions, while his younger partner, who has a history as a hacker, is much more sympathetic. One of those cases where both sides have points, but not enough to change a mind.
The artwork was good enough, but it’s really the story that’s the big thing here. I’d certainly want to be on Samaritan’s side, for more than one reason.
Almost a third is taken up by extras: some character sketches and alternate covers, but mostly where the author got the idea, with plenty of link to religious scandals. There’s even some letters from the public, followed by a 20-page preview of another series that annoyed me a bit.

Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars
On a planet far off in space, an alien machine parks in orbit and threatens a beautiful futuristic civilization; nice to see a future that isn’t Dystopian in a graphic novel. But that was just the prologue, as ten years later we’re on a mining moon, where everyone’s dead except a boy, who’s just woken up and wondering where his mom and brother are amongst all the bodies, which makes it look like the dead planet on Serenity.
Because of that I wondered if the boy knew he was a robot, but that was a red herring; he’s well aware. So he and his dog/robot companion, a la Muffy from Battlestar Galactica—aka Bandit aka Yappy-Bot—look around for anything alive.
At the same time a robotics expert is drafted by a redheaded captain—remember, it’s Telsa, not Tesla—to go looking for the boy bot before mercenaries can nab him, thinking he has something to do with the attack a decade before. After getting shot the kid bot is in some kind of droid purgatory which lasts for quite a bit. The best character might be the drilling robot, who comes up with lines like, “Gladiator bots! Oil will be spilled!” And on the back cover there a shot of little Tim totally channeling Luke Skywalker about to climb into his x-wing.
All in all this was a pretty good story, with fun though flawed characters. If there’s a way to describe the artwork, I would go with bright watercolor. As one would expect there’s a hook for more to come, and after that there’s a small lexicon of planets, but that’s all the extras. But it doesn’t really need anything else, being a complete and well-drawn-out story.

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime
An all-girl rock band with a cute redhead lefty keytarist has a lead singer with stage fright; you can see how that would be a problem. Luckily Dad left them a music-infused AI that turns the singer into a hologram—they do notice the irony with the band name—and allows her to perform in a battle of the bands video competition against an established group, almost all of whom seem rather entitled and serve well as bad guys.
“Was dad a superhero? Was he that iron guy?”
I am loving the humor here. The redhead is a hoot of an airhead; they even have her doing a happy dance that’s hilarious. At one point she goes to wake up one of the others and gets shoes thrown at her, which inspires her to shout, “You will eventually run out of shoes, Aja!” She also falls in love with her counterpart on the more famous band, inspiring a Juliet/Juliet storyline.
The others members of the rival band are either entirely apathetic or downright evil. Trying to kill The Holograms seems over the top, though they could blame it on their deranged manager/fan. They do have motorcycles shaped like guitars, which is beyond awesome, so they’re not completely horrible. There is a hilarious pie fight, but the pillow fight was over after the first blow, just a tease.
The artwork is just as bright as the humor. This is one of the few graphic novels I’ve read where I’d like to read the continuation, especially since it ends in a cliffhanger. Definitely the best of this group of books.

The Infinite Loop
Oh good! A snarky redhead. They know me so well. And she’s a time traveler. And of course she doesn’t care for love. This is the second gorgeous redhead of the week, and both are gay; I have horrible luck even with fictional women.
I’m not going to attempt to explain this plot, because as you would expect with time travel stories, you really can’t. But I will say that, for such a complicated time-travel storyline, I had no difficulty following it. I’ve read plenty of plots recently where with a much simpler premise I couldn’t say the same, although it seems strange for the Unit 70 asses to kill people for no reason, since it’s likely to alter the timeline.
More than anything else, there’s an undercurrent of snarky humor that often takes you by surprise. The flow charts are hilarious; the tough bad guys do pinky swears. A cute bad girl gets her head chopped off by a t-rex just as she was making a joke about extinction. Someone gets called a mushy unicorn lover. There’s even a perfectly appropriate Star Trek reference. But the best line has to be: “Those are some shitty choices. Like having to decide between Beiber and Kanye.”
Not sure I understood the conclusion, unless there was no conclusion and it’s gonna continue. Still, I enjoyed it more than most. My second favorite of this group, behind the one with the other redhead.

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: Down Town
Heard plenty about the Dresden Files, never read them. Good wizard keeping Chicago safe from fantastical creatures, in a nutshell. This is a new story in the series, so I didn’t feel like I was left out because I didn’t know the backstory. He does have a padewan—his own word—and a semi-ghost dog, or something. Plus the nasty talking skull.
Basically a new big bad comes to town and makes what turns out to be a Golem to terrorize the villagers of Chicago’s south side. The local mob boss takes offense and thinks he can beat magical creatures, which of course complicates things for Dresden.
Probably the most realistic art, and therefore my favorite, I’ve seen; I haven’t read graphic novels very long, but this artwork is amazing. There are some exquisite. . . human form drawings, to be as subtle as I can make it; the blonde in the nightclub is particularly noteworthy, though all women are drawn stunningly.
The big extras are the character sketches and the rough line art for every page of the first issue.
The story was fine, but it’s the characters that shine the most.


Poetry Tuesday: Lucy Ashton’s Song

With Lucia de Lammermoor being one of my fave operas, and liking Sir Walter Scott in general, had to choose this.

Look not thou on beauty’s charming;
Sit thou still when kings are arming;
Taste not when the wine-cup glistens;
Speak not when the people listens;
Stop thine ear against the singer;
From the red gold keep thy finger;
Vacant heart and hand and eye,
Easy live and quiet die.


Book Reviews: Genetics, German kids, and Caligula

“Wanna hear a secret?”
“I am moist with anticipation,” I promised.
Then I was moist from her spit take.

Seeds of a New Birth
Scientist finds a way to supercharge DNA, then his silly friend comes by to surprise him and infects himself. And hasn’t that happened to all of us?
It’s not that Flip is a bad person, but his flippant—no pun, I think—attitude and casual lack of responsibility often hurts others, and in this case is the catalyst for everything that happens in this story. At first it’s only the women he gets pregnant—even though he’s had a vasectomy and most of them used protection—but things quickly get a lot more complicated with an industrial espionage angle, soon to be joined by a crazy lady, or actually two.
I was a little taken aback when I flipped the digital page to read “Two years later,” but I suppose it had to happen to advance the story. I found the plotting a bit simplistic and therefore predictable; the traitorous scientist was the only one who didn’t know he would be betrayed in turn, because ego does you in every time. The good guys get rid of one bad guy, then another, and there’s still a third, more powerful adversary to deal with before it ends. What’s amazing is how quick the kids grow up, mentally and psychically—superpowers!—more than physically. And of course there isn’t enough room to tell the whole story, so it ends with a sequel hook, but in general this is well written with some moments of fun, especially from the twins.

The Children’s Train
My first time in Amsterdam, I tried to go to the Anne Frank museum. No one stopped me, I just couldn’t do it; it was just too heavy, too much. A lot of this book had me feeling the same way, simply difficult to get through, though there were a lot more humorous moments than I expected, ending with the protagonist getting the nickname “Violin Commando!”
The reason I did get through this book was because it was about the Kindertransport, which was a British program to get Jewish kids out of Nazi Germany. In college I wrote a paper about the different ways people escaped, including this, and I went to a play about it a couple of years ago. But surprisingly there isn’t all that much about it here, and a lot of this story takes place back in Germany and Poland after the kids have moved on to England. In addition to that, life for the kids in Britain isn’t all that great either, though of course not nearly as bad as if they hadn’t left.
One more personal note: there’s a throwaway line where a character says, “Sometimes I wish the Jews weren’t always the ones chosen to suffer.” Back in college a poly-sci prof told a story about an Israeli student who started an oral report with, “The Jews are God’s chosen people. . .” and there was a pause while the professor hid, then the guy added, “chosen to suffer.”
About halfway through I looked at the author’s website, where besides her impressive credentials I saw that this book is geared toward kids, or at least teens, which changed my perspective on the writing; I found myself more forgiving after that. The only problem I had with the plotting was the occurrence of too many coincidences, especially Peter when he infiltrates Germany and Poland and runs into so many people he knew before he left.
In a book that makes you check your emotions at the door if you have any hope of reading through it, this is the most heartbreaking passage: knowing they’re about to die, a child tells his mother, “I’m glad I didn’t go on that train. Then you would have died alone.”

32 Lays Later: The List 2
Rich girl trying to make it on her own as a nurse decides to go into porn; hilarity, and love, ensues.
It took me a while to realize this was set in Australia—it was probably established in the first book of the series—but it really didn’t make much of a difference, since most of the story takes place in a mansion where all the filming occurs. Most of the porn stars—though not all of them, of course—are fun to learn about, and nicer than you’d expect, with interesting quirks that humanize them quite well. But of course it’s Bethany, the main character, whom we learn about the most, and she’s really amusing even with her clothes on.
Despite all the erotica, some of it excellent, at heart this is still a romance, with all the bouts of stupidity and non-communication that lead to agony and broken hearts and suchlike, at least until the end. Even though it came out happily ever after, I still felt sorry for Stasy, who deserved better than the way she was treated by the main characters as well as the author. But the writing itself was excellent, with plenty of funny stuff from the spunky heroine. The only moment that was less than stellar was my seeing the Ari/Stasy hookup a kilometer away.

Emperor’s Slave
Slave girl in Ancient Rome helps Caligula survive an illness—in a magical sorta way—and becomes his favorite, available for sex with him and his friends and sometimes his enemies, even becoming the priestess in his new cult. She even participates in palace intrigue while she falls in lust and then love with the lead soldier.
First and foremost, it’s intriguing to see Caligula described in such glowing terms; to us modern people he was one of history’s greatest assholes, though not ranking anywhere near Hitler, of course. But as the story goes on we see him becoming the monster we’re familiar with, mostly because surviving the illness made him think he was an invincible god. Also unusual is that our modest but secretly horny slave’s first sexual encounter is pretty much as big-time as you can get, which leads her to enjoy just about anything thrown at her. She’s a wonderful character, if hopeless naïve, especially compared to her two friends. Others make shorter appearances but are remarkably well-drawn; one favorite is the actor who earns Caligula’s favor, which basically means he gets to join in whenever there’s an orgy.
Despite having studied this historical era—somewhat, anyway—I learned some things here. Though this is definitely more erotica than romance, there was a touch of the latter; the soldier loves her despite all the men and some women she has sex with. The only part that I thought was a bit lacking was the descriptions of the surroundings; when a civilization like Rome is the setting, where a lot of the buildings still stand, there could have been more to it, but that’s a minor quibble in what’s really a well-written story.


Huntington Cactus Garden

Because it was supposed to be a cool day–unlike the huge heat waves we’d had this summer–I figured it was a good time to toodle over to the Huntington to explore the hottest part of the grounds, the cactus garden. More fool I; you really shouldn’t trust people who are paid to be wrong 60% of the time (i.e. meteorologists). I actually contemplated spending the rest of the trip on that bench in the shade.

Beeteedubya, I took exactly 100 photos; couldn’t do that on purpose if I tried. . .

(Somehow this program uploaded the photos in reverse order; these first three were supposed to go at the end, after the cactus garden. Go fig.)

!japanese garden !long leg squared Huntress Diana sees a bird !IMG_1495 !IMG_1497 !IMG_1518 !IMG_1524 !IMG_1535 !IMG_1540 !IMG_1545 !IMG_1555 !IMG_1562--the dragon