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.


Book Reviews: Star Trek/Green Lantern and Sherlock Holmes Graphics

“Promise me you’ll always make me laugh.”
“That sounds like a marriage proposal.”
She threw her arms around my neck. “See? Exactly what I mean!”

The Courier
A bike messenger in a futuristic West Coast city. . . sound familiar already? Yep. But luckily it goes off in a different direction than Dark Angel and Heinlein’s Friday. For one thing, Kris Ballard hides her girl-ness. For another, while she’s doing well, she’s not a kick-ass fighting machine; she’s winging it and barely surviving, which makes it more exciting as everyone underestimates her. So even though the premise is the same, the execution isn’t.
As one would expect, the plot centers on something she’s delivering, and when things go wonky everyone’s after her. About halfway through the story comes into focus, involving much more than just futuristic Earth, and of course corporate shenanigans, not so much espionage as infighting between factions of one up and coming company who wants to play with the big boys. There’s also an anti-corp group involved, I suppose you can call them the Resistance.
There wasn’t anything great about the writing, but I did like the main character, as well as the world-building. The idea of one vast city stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles has been mentioned before, but what’s new here is levels, with the lowest being the poorer sections, where people can go their entire lives without ever seeing the sun. As for Kris, she’s feisty yet vulnerable when no one else is around to see. It’s hard for her to trust anyone, considering her family history, but as you get to know her she’s thoroughly likeable and you end up rooting for her.

Sherlock Holmes: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
This is most likely the most famous non-Doyle Sherlock story, now brought to you in graphic novel form.
An old Watson is telling a Sherlock story many years after to Miss Dobson, who likes being called charming. Everyone in the story has died—except for Watson—so he can tell it now.
It’s claimed that Watson made up 2 of the canon stories, about Holmes’ death and return, having to do with Moriarty. He gets Sherlock to go to Vienna so Freud can cure him of his cocaine addiction, so they’re in the right place at the right time to prevent, or at least postpone, the first world war.
I find myself enjoying this bare-bones version more than the original novel; Meyer always liked going overboard with the clichés. And there’s a few pieces from the movie that were not in the book, but the reader doesn’t need to know anything about those versions to get the full gist of this. As for the artwork, the drawing of Holmes seems to be based on Rathborne or Brett, certainly not Cumberbatch. And Watson also looks like the older versions, more stout than Freeman’s slight figure. The graphics are more brightly colored than I expected for this kind of story, but it works perfectly. Definitely a must for Sherlock fans, and good enough for those who aren’t.

Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War
Some catastrophe happens in the Green Lantern universe, sending those characters into the Star Trek universe, where they again fight their evil nemesis with the help of the Enterprise crew. That’s the best I can tell you, as I’m not at all familiar with the Green Lantern stories.
All the Star Trek characters are drawn remarkably similar to their real-life counterparts; I know that’s how it’s supposed to be, but even more so here. Even non-regulars like General Chang look exactly right, and thankfully he’s not spouting hammy Shakespeare when he shows up.
The plot was a bit difficult to get through, as this is really a Green Lantern story set in the Star Trek universe, though there are a few moments that would not have happened anywhere else, especially the outcome of the final battle.
Here’s a twist that I’ll bet no one thought they would ever hear: Vulcan zombies!

The Adventures of Basil and Moebius Volume 3
A British dandy who fancies himself the next Indiana Jones and a former SAS guy are forced to serve an ancient alien by going around the world collecting artifacts for him, though they don’t know why he wants them. The story starts in Hong Kong but goes off to many other places, including London, before the final showdown in Crete. Both the Mossad and a secret cult are after them, with no one knowing the endgame, as you would expect.
I love that it’s the old Chinese professor who comes up with the perfect word everyone’s groping for to describe Basil’s mom: “Cougar?” There are other female characters more appropriate to this kind of story, particularly Sophi, who’s a wannabe Lara Croft, especially in the way she dresses. Isabella the assassin babe is actually more fun, and exquisitely drawn, until she meets her untimely death in a most gruesome way; I hate when that happens, and even more that Basil didn’t try to help her.
The one thing that could have been done better was the exposition, which happened in the form of clunky info drops. There isn’t much opportunity in individual comic books to tell the whole story, but there’s room for improvement.
Extra credit: if you go to their website you can see a short film about these characters, with Zach Levi from Chuck playing Moebius!


15 Fave TV Actresses of 2015

Unlike previous years, I’m not going to bother ranking them. And as usual this is only broadcast TV; no cable allowed.
This list is apparently brought to you by the number K.

Katherine Heigl—State of Affairs
Karen David—Galivant
Krista Allen—Significant Mother
Kaitlyn Black—Hart of Dixie
Kirsten Kreuk—Beauty and the Beast
Katherine McPhee—Scorpion
Daniela Ruah—NCIS: Los Angeles
Missy Peregrym—Rookie Blue
Alana De La Garza—Forever & Scorpion
Jaimie Alexander—Blindspot
Molly Quinn—Castle
Melissa Benoist—Supergirl
Jennifer Carpenter—Limitless
Darby Stanchfield—Scandal
Rachel Skarsen—Reign

First 5 almost in
Bellamy Young—Scandal
Adelaide Kane—Reign
AJ Cook—Criminal Minds
Zoe McClellan—NCIS: New Orleans
Rachel Bloom—Crazy Ex-Girlfriend


Book Reviews: Beagles and Unicorns, Hostages and Robots

“I’m from one of the Baltic countries. Care to guess which one?”
“Do I get three guesses?”
(Yes, I’m a geography nerd.)

Snoopy: Party Animal!
It really is impossible to say something about Peanuts that hasn’t been said over the past 50 years. The humor isn’t edgy, and sometimes the joke’s pretty obvious, but a huge proportion of the time you chuckle, snicker, or outright laugh. Kids will get the jokes too.
One sticks in my mind: Snoopy sleeping on his doghouse when a football smacks him on the stomach. After that he sleeps with a helmet covering his torso. Every time he gets tickled is a highlight as well. Okay, one more: Snoopy being asked what he would do if he was in the woods and spotted a rabbit. With a big smile he sticks his paw out to shake. . .
Again, nothing groundbreaking, just funny.

A terrorist takes hostages in Washington DC, only he’s not what he seems to be. Two of the hostages end up becoming famous, though one is not who he seems either.
Something annoyed me from the start: you never get a clear sense as to when this takes place, though it’s obviously not in the present. There’s mention of the conflicts in Lebanon and Chile, plus a 1984 Volvo, so I’m thinking 80s or early 90s, but it’s irritating not knowing.
The main plot twist actually isn’t much of a surprise; I expected it and felt no satisfaction to be proven right. Oddly enough for a rather thin book, there’s a lot of padding, most of it taken up by the publicity tour the two ex-hostages take. At one point they’re watching the making of a music video based on the hostage situation, which goes to show how ridiculous the media can be. Unfortunately this point is driven over and over and loses its edge. The dialogue, especially during the interviews, is repetitive as well, with the guys always agreeing with each other to the point of boredom. I did find it humorous, though, when even the gang attacking them when they get a flat tire knows about Pizza Guy.
Glad it wasn’t expanded any further.

Unicorn vr. Goblins
A comic strip collection where a little girl has a unicorn as a best friend. Since this is the third book but the first one I’m reading, I have no idea how that happened, but it only matters that it did.
First off, the introduction by Poesy Doctorow and her grown-up Cory is awesome.
The unicorn is drawn to be femininely beautiful, almost dainty, so it’s a bit of a shock to learn, right on the first page, how snarky she can be. She has as much snark as sparkles and rainbows; coffee makes a unicorn oversparkle. . . and I never thought I would ever write that word, or that sentence. She actually looks like the blonde waitress on “2 Broke Girls,” only prettier. The unicorn can’t use contractions, making her sound more formal; it’s just off enough to be funny. And yes, unicorns should be the only equines allowed to wear legwarmers and scarves. . . especially pink. But even though she’s snarky and incredibly narcissistic, Marigold the unicorn luckily always feels amused at all those around her rather than irritated, which saves her from being annoying; it’s like she’s in on the secret.
Phoebe is also quite interesting, a little girl who really doesn’t go out of her way to make friends because she already has the bestest one ever. Of course everyone except her frenemy have no idea there’s a unicorn around, but luckily her parents and her teacher “get” her. And she does make a few friends, from the even weirder roommate at band camp to the older girl she’s in awe of to the younger girl she calls “Small Auxiliary Backup Phoebe.”
Some highlights:
Candy dragon says “Rar!” Using your horn to roast marshmallows over a campfire doesn’t sound smart, Marigold. There’s something called the Curse of the Unicorn-Adjacent. And the image of a unicorn wearing a life vest while rowing will always stick with me.
At the end there’s a primer that shows some of the other animals and magical creatures, and particularly the differences between Marigold Heavenly Nostrils and her sister Florence Unfortunate Nostrils. A recipe for questing snacks and a brief mention of what a unicorn looks like when imagined by Lewis Carroll ends the book.
The reason I’m giving this such a high score is that while other comic strip collections have made me laugh and occasionally chuckle, this one brought a ton more laughs out of me. Now I just gotta figure out how much each laugh weighs. . .

In a future Earth, humans are gone and there’s a robot society, though nothing at all like one would expect such a thing to turn out. Exposition shows this is a sequel; a year ago something happened and D4ve became a hero. This time a couple of humans show up to screw things up, and though he’s a supposed war hero he’s not up for the task of managing what could become a dangerous situation.
It’s like the author took all the worst traits in humans and none of the good ones to make his robots, an entire society of slackers and airheads who cuss even more than humans ever did. There’s a female with literal bazookas, as in missiles running through her and ending in giant breasts. The only sane person, and that’s in comparison to the rest, has such a huge crush on D4ve she’s pretty useless too.
Even worse is his teen son, who shows no respect for either his dad or his commanding officer, both being D4ve. (How do robots have kids? I’m afraid they’ll tell me.) Not that he’s worthy of much respect, hero or not, being the ultimate slacker, but in this world that hardly matters. At least he acknowledges the Terminator thing as the story takes him into the past, but toward the end the whole thing turns so existential I had to go to my bedroom and listen to 80s music. The entire story comes across as too cutesy, and the robot almost-names/numbers gave me a headache.
There’s some fun moments, especially in the way the robots rework human sayings, like, “You’re always gonna have that little folder in your CPU for those feelings” and “You’re gonna 404 urself” and the even better “Not to be a blue screen. . .” At one point the soldiers say, “Let’s get triggy with it.” My favorite part, being a photographer, is the guy at the closing press conference who has a telephoto lens of about a million mm.
The best way to put it is I really didn’t get it. . .


Book Reviews: Three Kid Graphics and Immortal Love/Hate

“Do we have to stop?” she whined.
“It’s a rule. Rest after 10 orgasms.”
“I can’t believe you were counting! That’s so sweet!”

Big Nate Thunka Thunka Thunka
A comic strip collection about a kid with all kinds of early-teenager problems, who relieves his stress by thunking an empty soda bottle—thankfully plastic—in the same way you would use bubble wrap. Despite that, there’s nothing original in the premise, so it’s up to the execution.
The first part is about Halloween candy; impressed the author could mine so many jokes there. I like the format; a whole week of one storyline, a Sunday special, then on to another plot. The poor bald dad is the guy who has to play butt monkey the most; the way his son reacts to almost asking him where the hair dryer is was perfect.
Best line: “I am that nobody!”
The best character is the dog who loves cats so much he falls in love with one; can’t give the award to the cat, because I’m allergic.
One thing was confusing, though: I came across only one instance of thunka thunka; must’ve used them all up in previous books.
All in all, funny enough.

Desmond Pucket and the Cloverfield Junior High Carnival of Horrors
I always make the distinction between graphic novels and stories with drawings; since this had a lot of talking in it, too much for speech bubbles, it’s thankfully the latter.
It’s the start of a new school year and the main character, who loves monsters and lives to scare people, not only gets the cushy class schedule, he gets to do his “What I did over the summer” creative writing project as a graphic novel. And he’s in tight with the girl he likes, if in the friend zone so far; life is good. . . until the twist! (Otherwise it would be a really short book.)
The reader has to be on the lookout to get all the nuances here, some written, others drawn. The library is “like Google exploded!” and the librarian with the fist pump when the kid shouts, “I found it!” is pure gold. There are friends and enemies, at least to start, thought it takes a lot of personality changes and heel-about-face to make the story work out in the end. I found the plot resolution a little weak, but at least I was able to read it without that most hideous of earworms running through my head. . . until I thought about it just now. Dammit!
After the story there’s a “make your own monsters” section. And snot. (Not actual snot, how to make it. Almost as bad.)
Smarter than most.

Li’l Rip Haywire Adventures: Escape from Camp Cooties
Here’s a tale about the son of a soldier of fortune who does all sorts of dangerous missions with his dad and his talking dog. Lots of flashbacks to his adventures, with riddles, cryptograms, labyrinths, and other games for you to help him with as he tries to survive being stuck in a summer camp with nothing but girls.
There’s a lot of subtle humor in here, don’t know if the kids in this age group would pick them all up, but it makes it more fun for the adults. He’s a cross between James Bond and Lara Croft, and sometimes the flashbacks go so over the top it’s truly hilarious. No doubt the most important lesson he learned was about teamwork, even with (shudder) girls!
After the story there’s some historical tidbits about people and places mentioned.

From Hell to Breakfast
Semi-immortal human—or something like that—is tasked by the god of the underworld to retrieve a succubus who escaped from Hell. . . I think. Don’t worry, it’s a rom-com. . . I think.
First of all, it took me a while to realize the main character was male, considering the cover and the fact it’s written in first person. More importantly, it didn’t take long at all for me to jump on Vinnie’s side, even though she’s the villain of the piece; Crixus is simply too much of a jerk to root for. That’s with the caveat that there’s a lot of backstory here I’m missing, as this appears to be part of a series, and not the first part.
I don’t know if this was meant to be a light comedy or a dark comedy; the main character gets killed over and over, in increasingly painful ways, but it’s treated as a joke. The worst part is, no matter what flavor of chocolate, I didn’t find that funny. It wasn’t the subject matter; it just wasn’t humorous. On the other hand, the rest of the writing, especially the dialog, is hilarious; there’s a lot of funny little moments that sneak up on you. Too bad it took looking through my notes to write this review to remember that.