Book Reviews: Children’s by the Dozen

Question of the Day
“Did you say Snickers or sneakers?”

The Big Adventures of Tiny House
A sleepy farmhouse finds its fields urbanized, but rather than be torn down human hands save the good stuff and turn it into a small home on wheels; the bed loft is my favorite part. Of course it needs to make new friends to get anywhere, and a truck with a hitch is a good start. They travel the country and see the sights, though I wonder why a house feels the need to order tacos.
The rich arrogant mansion is the bitchy one, of course, but to counter that we get Shiny, whom I love, and not just for the Firefly connection. Best moment is the cute little otter photobombing. . . er, would you call this painting-bombing?
These are big bright paintings with rhyming text. Some of the other small houses have really funky architecture. (Not much you can say when it’s only about 30 pages long.) Fun for kids to look at, though probably better for an adult to sing aloud than let the kid flounder and ruin the rhythm.

Free as a Bird
A boy wants to be a bird, so he makes a costume, climbs up a tree, and waits for something to happen.
Nothing does, until he comes down and finds his suit was really good enough to fool. Luckily, because he’s a human with a brain, nothing bad comes out of it. . . and it ends.
Nothing much really happens. Everything is so passive amongst the sparse watercolor and one line of words on a white background.

Tucker Grizzwell’s Worst Week Ever
A young bear is dreading his coming of age test, and his smart mom, dumb dad, and surprisingly friendly older sister aren’t much help.
I did not know this was a comic strip, and when I found out I realized it was incredibly continuous. This is like the book version of movies like “Airplane!” where the jokes come fast and furious; if one doesn’t make you laugh, or groan, there’s another one coming in the next panel. A lot of these made me groan, but are probably right in the wheelhouse of the kids in the age range this is shooting for.
Some of my favorites include the face he makes when he sees the Tarantula condo is empty; he’s not the only one who breaks the fourth wall with that “yeah, right” look. When Fauna asked for something to cover the zit, her non-specificity is her own fault.
“We all consider you inadequate.” Saw it coming, but still nice.
Detest—new definition, just as good as the first.
“The following program is made possible by a general lowering of standards.”
“My dad said I’d never amount to anything.” “That must’ve taken a lot of the pressure off you.”
“Do clouds ever touch the ground?” “Haven’t the foggiest.”
10 pages of bear facts to end it.

It’s Hard to be Good (Ellie the Wienerdog series)
A purple weinerdog tries to not screw things up for her human, but doesn’t seem to give it 100% effort. Her main motivation is wanting to hear “What a good dog!” but apparently it’s not enough to keep her from giving in to all the temptations she smells, as told in rhyme. Finally at the end she earns her reward, and provides the moral of the story.
I liked the artwork, which isn’t anything particularly special but does the job perfectly.

The Little Mermaid
The youngest of six mermaid sisters—hard to tell them apart when they’ll all got blue hair—has a statue of a human boy hidden away. She longs to reach her 15th birthday, at which time she can go up to land and check out the rest of the world. Her longing gets even worse when she comes across a ship in trouble and helps one of the passengers, who happens to look a lot like the statue. . .
If you’ve only seen the movie, forget it; this follows the original story. Especially forget the ending.
My main problem here is that the prince isn’t all that likeable, especially at first. After all, it’s not “Women, children, and princes first!” A nice part was when she loses consciousness and the page goes black.
The artwork is gorgeous. The colors are somehow rich and muted at the same time, as a lot happens underwater or at night, albeit with a full moon.

The Tragedy of Macbeth
Obviously a kids’ version. Starts with character sketches, which is always nice even when you’ve read it before. After that it’s basically some simple sketch drawings between pretty bland plot explanations. There’s a lot of repetition.
As a recap it’s okay, though rather dry. Thankfully it’s short, so it may not bore the kids too quickly.

Quite a Mountain: A Fable for All Ages
A bear and a frog are on a walk—I imagine the bear is walking slow and the frog is jumping fast to keep up—when they’re stopped by a mountain. Now what?
Bear thinks he can climb it. Frog is skeptical. “I’m not going to tell you that you can’t do this, because that would be discouraging.” Most people—or animals—would end there, but not Frog. “But I’m thinking it. I’m thinking it pretty hard.” Probably the funniest moment in the book.
They come across a goat—like Pearls Before Swine, they don’t seem to have names other than their species—who not only has a microwave, but somewhere to plug it in. I can accept talking animals, but this is too much! Especially when they have such a tough climb but end up living in a cave with all the amenities; how did they bring them up?
Done in very simple sketches; some pages are completely blank except for one line of text, which shows how this made it to 68 pages. Then there’s “The end. Kind of.”
He is not like any other fictional bear you’ve ever seen.

The Rhyming Diary of Jason Smith
The title says it all, doesn’t it? There’s all the chapters you’d expect, though occasionally a surprise comes on that forces me to remember this was actually written by an adult. One chapter deals with the death of the family dog; even trees and flowers get entries. He makes an adventure out of getting pens from the storeroom. A lot of them take place at school, which explains why the author at the end noted: These verses are born of 30+ years of teaching 11-year-olds.
The best chapter is likely where the schoolkids realize the graves are of people their age, providing a sobering lesson. On the other end of the scale is the one about dentures. A few were humorous and entertaining, but just as many missed the mark. As might be expected, some of the rhymes are forced. More than that, it was hard to find a flow, as I found myself able to read only a few chapters at a time. But probably the worst problem is that American kids, and even adults, will have trouble with the Britishisms.

Chow Mein and Potstickers (May also be known as Prawn Crackers and Satay)
A little boy moves from China to. . . somewhere else, it’s never said, but it must surely be a fantasy land, since everyone on the block is from a different country and they all get along.
The first thing you see is him waving at you from his front door; notice the cat is also waving. From there he goes from house to house meeting other kids, none of which are in school and all let strangers in despite their parents being at work. After each “day in the life” of kids from other cultures there are a few words in the language of the new friend, mostly “hello,” “goodbye,” and food. Bosnia, Indonesia, Poland, Afghanistan, Turkey, Belgium, Suriname, England, South Africa, and Italy are all represented.
It’s really simplistic, but I suppose for this age group it’s to be expected. It’s formulaic to the point where in every story they say hi, play, get tired, and eat, so it might get a little boring.

I’ve Got to Go
A dog, who by the way carries a personal roll of toilet paper, has to go potty. His sister is happily sitting on his, which looks just like a dish a dog would be eating or drinking from! Don’t get those confused! From there it becomes a chain of progressively larger animals using the smaller one’s toilet dishes; the funniest is the elephant, who squashes them. The whole thing is designed to get Dog to use the human toilet.
Nothing wrong with it in particular, but doesn’t seem all that engaging either. Even a three-year-old can go through this in less than five minutes.

Looking for Colors With Lily and Milo
Incredibly colorful, as one would expect from the title, and incredibly simplistic. Readers look for the objects in the correct color that the narrative tells them to.
Milo is extremely accident-prone.
Quick refresher quiz at end.
This is for really small kids, but feels like a good way to teach them colors.

Race Car Drivers and What They Do
Right at the beginning I have a small quibble with the author, who as a European claims F1 has the most famous races; she’s apparently never heard of the Indianapolis 500. Not that I think the kiddies reading this will care, but if this is how sloppy the research is. . .
Thankfully she does get most of the stuff right, though on the list of flags she forgot the white. The writing is typically simplistic, as it should be, although I wonder if kids of the age this is intended for know what a mechanic or gas is. “Tune the motor?” Hope mom or dad are prepared to answer that question.


Travel Thursday Snapshots: Djerba, Tunisia

No one told me to put on sunblock before going to bed at night. . .
Sighing heavily, knees creaking as my feet hit the floor, I walked over to the large window behind the bed, the stars of last night replaced by the heavy sunlight that had awakened me. Below the almost-tropical blue sky was a beach, though it had plenty of big rocks, enough to make real surf noise that had probably helped in lulling me to sleep last night, not an easy thing to do when you suffer from both insomnia and apnea. . . plus in this particular instance jetlag.
The scene made it easy to picture Odysseus’ men lazing on the sand while subsisting on lotus flowers, probably that blue water lily I’d seen on my first walk. Often called the “Polynesia of the Mediterranean,” Djerba was an island of palm trees and sandy beaches, along with the inevitable luxury hotels. What made it different than the rest of the Med, as well as the Carib, the Pacific, and basically everywhere else, was that it belonged to a Muslim country, albeit one not all that strict. Off the coast of Tunisia, Djerba not only had pirate castles, ancient synagogues, buildings that were featured in the original Star Wars (those were the droids you were looking for!) and open-air markets full of potters and silversmiths, it also had a casino. . . not that I would be wasting my time gambling, though I did hear there was a game room, with air hockey, Galaxian, skeeball, etc. You know, in case I got bored with all the sun. . .
Which I did, but not before walking what felt like the entire island’s circumference; at least my knees were creaking for an honest reason now. Realizing I was still early for dinner, I took the scenic route back to the hotel; unlike most tourists, I savored the moments amongst the locals, both their festivities and everyday work. How else would I have met so many friendly people, watched some dancers rehearsing for some festival, come across a wedding procession with the bride riding a camel? All soundtracked to melodious flutes and pulse-pounding tambourines.
And then end the day sharing the absolute splendor of a Mediterranean sunset with fishermen still casting their nets at this late hour, though I figured the clock didn’t matter, since fish don’t sleep.
Refreshed and relaxed without having stopped the walking, I wandered back towards the hotel, my mental GPS unerring as usual as I walked through shady gardens of fig, apple, and pomegranate; I’d grown up with a granada tree in the front yard, so I recognized that last fruit easily without wanting to reach up and grab one. Skipping the olive groves, though taking in the gnarled trunks that proved just how old civilization was on this island, I found myself high enough to look out, in the last dregs of post-sunset glow, to what I’d heard called The Island of the Pink Flamingo, as always wondering if it would be worth the trip. . .


Poetry Tuesday: The Fort of Rathangan

It’s World Poetry Day! And it falls on Poetry Tuesday! What are the odds? (Approx. 1 out of 7, taking leap year into account.)

Here’s an anonymous Irish work about non-permanence a thousand years before Shelley’s Ozymondius.

The fort over against the oak wood
Once it was Bruidge’s, it was Cathal’s,
It was Aed’s, it was Ailill’s,
It was Conaing’s, it was Cuiline’s,
And it was Maelduin’s;
The fort remains after each in his turn–
And the kings asleep in the ground.


Book Reviews: Put some Graphic in Your Pencil

Overheard at Coffee Bean:
“She’s the poster child for high maintenance. . .”

Lady Mechanika V.2: Tablet of Destinies
In the first volume I mentioned the heroine is a half-mechanical steampunk Lara Croft; should have saved that description for this one, as the plot starts with a search for an ancient artifact in secret caverns in Africa. Unfortunately she’s hunting abominable snowmen in the Alps with dilettantes while this is going on, but after a brief stop in London she eventually gets out there.
The first thing shown is a jewel-encrusted mechanical messenger bird, which tells the reader what they’re dealing with right away, in case they hadn’t gotten it from the cover.
For all her baddassery and proneness to hiding her feelings, she’s surprisingly good with little girls. Unlike the previous collection, where the girl was mean to her and called her a liar, this one goes as far as to dress up as her. Even better, “I kicked him in his trinkets just like you taught me.”
But then I love every moment where she shows her human side, like the rare times she laughs, or says something like, “Cheeky little bugger.”
There’s a beautiful shot of the desert’s desolation, with Mechanika and Fred looking tiny. Even better is the one where they’re silhouetted against the sun that reminds me of Star Wars. As before, the artwork is superb and the highlight of the book.
At the end is a cover gallery where Mechanika again reluctantly plays model.
Didn’t like it quite as much as the first, but still wonderful, and well worth the read.

Motro V.1
A tiny motorcycle—I was hoping it was the main character—is in telepathic communication with a boy who has the power of ten men and even survives a direct blast from a tank. He has to save them all, according to his nightmare. He doesn’t want to fight, but has to, and eventually becomes the ruler’s new son. (Don’t ask what happened to the old one.)
Fifteen years later he’s basically in charge and wants to go on a quest, no matter how many of his soldiers die. Thirty-four years later, the world has turned to black and white, where reptiles are kidnapping babies. Yep, it gets that weird.
There are some fun touches. The bad guys’ tanks also communicate telepathically, but only in pictures, so they must be dumber than the motorcycle. This time it’s the frog that licks you to make magic, not the other way around.
But I found both the plot and the character development lacking. He says he doesn’t want to fight, but when he has to, he kills—no middle ground. Leads his men to icy death, but that’s okay, because he gets what he wants.
Strange ending. If there was a point to all this, I didn’t get it.

The Flintstones Vol. 1
Puns abound—even more than on the original show or the movie—in these six stories that have a common thread: Fred and Barney are now war veterans, which works out for the best at the end.
Wilma is now an abstract artist. Fred’s words of love: “You were worth every goat.” I think Fred got a bargain with her less-than-impressive dowry. You can see why the guys from Red Dwarf were so hot for her.
The puns are the best part. Andy Warthog! David Rockney! Then the author unleashes a pun hurricane on the mall: Bloomingshale’s, Oscar de la Raptor; plenty of shoes I don’t know enough about, though there are original Ugghs. Starbrick’s. Foot Licker! Outback Snakehouse! And don’t forget Falcon Crest, the official toothpaste of ancient birds.
The local god’s name is the lovely-sounding Morp. “You can’t enter heaven unless Morp enters you.” Sounds about right. But Morp’s priest screws up and has to come up with something better. . . and the choice is awesome! The astronomer looks suspiciously like Carl Sagan, even though he thinks the earth is riding on the back of a giant turtle.
“Monogamy destroys!” Domestication of animals and marriage. . . I get where you’re going with that. And a lot of stealth jokes in the vein of Adam and Steve. And in addition to the David Bowie quotes, the mayor is Bruce Campbell!
Could have made the Vietnam analogy a little more obvious. . . wait, no.
14 pages of covers, mostly of Fred getting nuzzled by either Wilma or Dino.
Fun, and funny. Don’t worry about the plots and just enjoy the moments.

Rick and Morty, V.4
I’ve read one graphic novel in this universe, though at a bit of a tangent to this one, so I like Summer and I’m glad there’s no walking talking poo this time. Other than that I didn’t know much about this, and had no idea Grandpa Scientist was going to be such an ass; he’s like Back to the Future’s Doc Brown without a soul, or any type of morals.
There are no punches pulled here. At one point they club baby seals. One character is described as “why women walk around with keys between their fingers.” Then there’s the robobros, as though human bros aren’t bad enough. And the cops: “Well, we zipped this case up. Let’s do zero more investigating nor consider any other suspect.”
“The vanquishing of my enemies has engorged my genitals with blood!” Means a lot more coming from a woman. And you should always wear a sexy outfit when you friend-zone an alien who thinks he’s hot stuff.
So there’s plenty of funny moments, but not enough to justify the words they bandy about in their publicity blurbs. Every page I think it’s not possible to hate Rick more, but he’s definitely a go-getter in that category. I think the creator uses this comic to get all the stuff out of his head that he can’t say on his TV shows.


Poetry Tuesday: Sailing Through the Gorges

By Yang Wan-li (1124-1206)

Our boat going upstream barely moves by the inch;
The dark cliffs on both sides deepen into the dusk’s gloom
With a clap of thunder the heavens threaten rain;
A wind rushing in from the South Seas beyond the horizon
Angrily blasts the gorges asunder–
A hundred men shout and beat the big drums,
While a single swain flies up the towering mast.
When the sails are rigged, all hold their hands in their sleeves
And sit down to watch their boat–
a goose feather skimming over the waters.


Book Reviews: Ero-tick

Hotel Hookup: Chicago
First I’ve read of this series that obviously takes place in different cities, apparently featuring a one night stand that despite all efforts might turn into something more.
It doesn’t take long to realize I’m not the target demographic here, as Hannah goes bra shopping, which takes FOREVER. So bored I almost gave up on it. There’s so much build-up that this feels like a short story that later got expanded.
Wasn’t sold on the character either. Hannah pretends to be a deep thinker, but she’s quite superficial, especially around men. She’s only interested in looks, but that’s fair, since she certainly doesn’t mind being called a beautiful girl. . . or she might mind if she wasn’t so hot for the guy saying it.
At least the hookup scene was excellent, which only reiterates my belief that so much of this was unnecessary. Less is more here.

The Beginning: I Bet My Wife
A married couple gives in to their sexual urges, which sends her in the arms of other men while her husband waits at home, alternately turned on by what he imagines is being done to her and yet none-too-thrilled, especially when the guy in question is his archrival at work.
Not exactly a new story: be careful what you wish for—as far as sexy wives are concerned—has been around for centuries, and everyone knows what’s going to happen.
The writing isn’t that great, though it’s probably helped by being first person. Unfortunately that first person is the husband, so we don’t get the first-hand account of the sex scenes. Couldn’t help but think this should have been better, or at least put a twist on the same old story.

Bottoms Up
Woman in Tucson who just got fired and has a stalker walks into a bar; what happens then isn’t a joke, unless you count all the drink puns.
Lexi is a little flighty and neurotic, but oddly enough that makes her more endearing. The further the story goes the more adventurous she gets, especially with locations involving the word pool. Oddly enough, the first sex scene isn’t written with nearly the same style as the rest; almost stilted, choppy. Luckily after that it gets better. There’s a few fun side characters, like her best friend who’s engaged to a Brit; of course they walk in on the new couple at the worst time. Unfortunately the villain is so one-dimensional it hardly seemed worth including him. And of course there has to be a girl from Justin’s past to pop up and make a misunderstanding.
Cute, but no big deal. At least it’s somewhat funny, especially the drink names. The hot sex scenes are the highlight.

Blind Seduction
Dominant husband takes submissive wife to a sex retreat, blindfolding her from the moment they’re in the car and giving us the first part of the title. Once there the couple expands their sexual power games in small increments while listening to others’ stories. One guy wants her more than the rules allow.
Though I’m not much for the erotic power genre, I enjoyed this. The couple seems to have the perfect combination of adventurism and trust that only love can achieve. Leslie’s a fantastic character, from her desire for submission to her fortitude in escaping a kidnapping attempt. The subplot with the bad guy hardly seemed necessary, though it did show her strength. Had this just been about the sex it would have been just as good.
And the sex scenes were plenty good, including some interesting psychology into the Dom/sub relationship. A few times their games were interrupted by stories told to them by others, which at the time felt like filler, though it did make it easier to understand what the main characters were going through.

High Class—VIP Desire Agency, Book 2
Australian call girl doesn’t want to admit she’s in love with client; client tries to win her over with money and not taking no for an answer. In real life she’d be calling the police, but because this is a romance, guess what happens?
Despite the not-likely plot setting, there’s nothing here that isn’t typical. I might have been better convinced If there’d actually been a sex scene for her with someone other than him, considering she is an escort. Yet at the beginning she leaves the man who bought her time to go off into an empty room with this guy she apparently can’t say no to.
The romance is equally bland, with the usual misunderstandings and lack of communication. I don’t know if it would even be called a romance; if he wasn’t so rich and handsome, his behavior would be labeled stalkerish, especially when he shows up at the hotel near the end. The best part was their backgrounds, opening up about why they’d become so closed off emotionally, but that hardly overtook how bored and unwilling I was to suspend all belief for most of this.


Travel Thursday Snapshots: Spokane, Washington

One could hardly be blamed for thinking of rainy Seattle when Washington state was mentioned, but the view all around me was as different as it could get. All the liquid precipitation fell west of the mountains, which was why the coast averaged over ten feet of rain a year while on this other side of the Cascade Range both the ground and the people were much dryer. Here in early fall there was plenty of sun, tons of fresh fruit, and a vast rolling countryside with lots of space for everyone.
But don’t visit in winter. . .
Due to the miracles of modern refrigeration and irrigation, this part of the country was pretty famous for growing a lot of food, but for that same reason, plus all the snow in the winter, it didn’t get many visitors. Amber waves of grain might sound poetic, but to the eye, and camera, they were pretty boring. Most tourists, like most residents, preferred to cluster with the seafood around Puget Sound.
I’d visited this part of the country only once before, during my collegiate sports career, and thought it was high time—whatever that means—to check it out when I wasn’t worried about soccer or Grinch-like soccer coaches. Once here I simply wandered around, going wherever the spirit took me, figuring I might end up somewhere in Montana or Wyoming before I got bored.
Problem was, I was already a little bored, after hours of the same landscape. Still, it would be different once I got to Idaho, since mountains are so much more fun.
But now, as the highway crested the hill, my eyes were filled with the panorama of Spokane, sprawling a lot more than anyone would have thought before seeing it. I’d read there were close to 200,000 inhabitants, but from the view it didn’t look like they were jammed into a small place, and after all it was the major metropolis of a pretty big area, stretching from the Cascades to the Rockies, which for some reason was called the Inland Empire, like there wasn’t already one of those in Southern California, neither of them having monarchs. . .
I sighed at the way my mind worked sometimes and looked for a hotel.
Other than a local college volleyball game, where I spent more time looking at a blonde on the visiting team’s bench, the eastern part of Washington state hadn’t thrilled me on my first day. The next morning brought me to the tourism office, which pushed a “finest old homes” tour that bored me in a hurry, but Manito Park had a Japanese garden where I enjoyed myself for a while, as well as a more formal garden—it had “formal” in the name, after all—with the kind of scenery that had me maxing out a couple of smallish memory cards, so I really couldn’t complain.
For a moment I thought about dropping all the way down to Oregon, thinking of all the shots I’d get of the fall foliage, a sharp contrast to what I was seeing now. The entire Palouse region, between the wooded hills surrounding Spokane to the Blue Mountains—nothing like the Australian version—was full of barren knolls, low but steep. The tourism guy had told me this was the best wheat-growing land in the world, and if it wasn’t just pure homerism then I had to wonder how bored a grad student must have been to think up that study.
Somehow I ended up at the Grand Coolie Dam, which was, as one might expect, the centerpiece of the Grand Coolie Area. Not worried that I’d be missing the “spectacular” laser light shows shown only during the summer, I just stood there and looked up at what had at one time been the largest concrete structure in the world. . . then shook my head and got busy shooting the lakes, which, according to the tourist propaganda, reached north almost to the Canadian border. Before the dam, the Columbia Basin was so barren locals said you had to prime yourself to spit, and jackrabbits had to carry canteens. Definitely hard to believe, the way things looked now, but all the scenes of irrigation sprinklers bubbling happily along and over the wheat, grapes, corn, potatoes, and other stuff I couldn’t identify now made sense.
Realizing I was feeling tired, I remembered something I’d read in the tourism propaganda and dug through the stash. There it was, Soap Lake. I tried really hard—and was only moderately successful—to ignore the part about them having the world’s largest lava lamp, concentrating on the spa of it all. The name of the place, they claimed, came from a local native term for “Healing Waters,” even though in one of the photos I could see the buildup of what really did look like soap right at the water’s edge. The tribes used the lake for healing purposes, even brought their animals, so I figured it was good enough for me. If one of the twenty-three minerals—or more likely a combo of them—in the water and mud didn’t work for me, it wouldn’t be from lack of trying.
A quick meal at a place with wi-fi brought me more info; although I was looking for a good massage spa, I kept getting sidetracked by the science. At least I learned a new word: meromictic, which meant the lake had two layers of water that never mixed. The first layer was over eighty feet of mineral water, while the second was mud, with a stronger mineral composition and concentrations of unusual substances and microscopic life forms. That caused some pause, as I didn’t want any kind of life forms, especially unusual ones, all over me, but then I figured I didn’t need the mud pack as much as the massage. Seeing there were only eleven meromictic lakes in the whole country, I filed that away for the next quirky road trip.
Then I really got excited at the end of the list of minerals present—sodium, chloride, carbonate, sulfate, bicarbonate, etc.—when I read it matched the contents of the water in the Baden-Baden spa in Germany! Having been there and enjoyed it, in fact was one of my fave places in all of Europe, I let out a little chortle as I wondered if this might be just as good a stop as that had been. . . but since I didn’t think I’d be running into any European supermodels here, I doubted it. The waitress looked at me a little funny, but I merely grinned, thinking this would be the highlight of her boring day.
Once there I found references to the lava lamp unavoidable, though I couldn’t help tsking at how some locals didn’t want it, thinking this icon of the 60s would inspire other cultural artifacts of the time, namely drugs and sex. On my trip across the state yesterday I’d passed through Moses Lake and found the description exactly like a friend had told me, and now realized she’d been dead on as to the “moral” aspects as well, though morality was hardly the word I’d use for it. No wonder Martha the Stewardess left this area.
Finally I was having the massage I’d promised myself, followed by a dip in the healing water. I wasn’t about to go for the whole works; the thought of those microscopic critters was still on my mind. Eventually I settled for the therapeutic mineral water bath, foot bath, and biofeedback, though I didn’t expect to need that any time soon. I almost gave in to my curiosity about the detoxifying infrared sauna, but somehow managed to rise above.


Book Reviews: Graphic is the Future

“Do you mind if I start eating?”
“Have at it!” Grin. “Very polite of you to ask. Your parents taught you well.”
Snort. “This was a do-it-yourself project.”

A detective in DC is playing pool with her partner when around the corner two cops are shot while trying to save a kid from hanging. Great start. The assassin is so cool and collected he slips right past them without a problem. Being DC, politics gets in the way during the hunt, and there’s a big conspiracy involved.
There were some moments I really liked. For instance, I do enjoy when clichés are turned on their head or expanded, such as “I’m an open book. Big print, lots of pictures.” A senator is caught having sex with a tied-up woman while a dominatrix looks on, and he has the gall to say, “This isn’t what it looks like!”
But on the other hand, for being a smart detective sometimes she’s just dumb. For one, she makes the same mistake as her partner, going off after the bad guy without backup. There’s one page with a bunch of panels showing off rain and her walking in it, which seemed like too much.
Not at all sure how I feel about the ending. Her remarks at the ceremony were awesome, but what she did with the evidence and the new job offer doesn’t seem compatible. I really wanted to like this more, but in the end I realized it just wasn’t very original. The villain wasn’t that special either.

Lady Mechanika V.1: Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse
She’s a half-mechanical steampunk Lara Croft chasing down a demon, but all is not as it seems. She makes enemies wherever she goes as she tries to figure out her origins, especially when another mechanical girl dies after running from some goons and a hot evil redhead.
Did I say steampunk? This is steampunk on steroids.
As often happens, especially in operas but also stories like this, she’s standing around talking to the corpse rather than escaping, so a bad guy comes along and beats her to the prize. And right after it happens again; wish the author didn’t make it so contrived. This was my least favorite part.
There are some excellent touches, though. She infiltrates the bad guy’s lair with a ridiculous flying machine, made by an inventor—Cockney sidekick, of course—who’s afraid of clowns; it’s the first time we see Mechanika laugh, and it goes a long way to making her more likable. She laughs again at the carnival, but it really comes full force when she whines, “I’m pleasant!” Would have thought she relished her bad-ass reputation. But most of all, the way she keeps humoring the kid that insists she’s not who she claims is simply endearing. Also very cool how Lewis and the doctor become instant friends.
The artwork is sometimes overdone, as one might expect from steampunk, but still gorgeous, even considering the muted colors that at times feel like sepia. There’s something that looks weird yet somehow right about her wearing a derby with goggles on them. And in the cover gallery at the end it’s just plain weird to see Mechanika standing like she’s posing.
More importantly, this is in my top three of most beautifully drawn and colored graphic novels I’ve ever seen. And it didn’t occur to me till the end–mostly due to that cover gallery–to notice all the elaborate costumes she wears, mixing Victorian finery with steampunk leather and such.
She also has an inordinate amount of hats. . .

The Sound of the World By Heart
Impressionistic watercolor scenes of Noo Yawk background a story of a photographer who plans to go sixty-two days with no verbal interaction. (As a fellow photographer I wish I could do that with the models I work with.)
Things are strange to start, as there’s an unseen narrator, rather than the guy we’re following actually doing the talking, or thinking. It’s not till page 43 that she introduces herself; up to then there was no idea if the voice was male or female. She claims to hear his thoughts; telepathy or imagination? Is it the famous lady from the painting? She does say she’s French, after all. At some point it changes to first person, and it works better, but then it switches back.
I was wondering how he communicated when needed; turns out he passes notes. Would have been easier to use his ubiquitous phone, but either way it feels like cheating.
The conceit of having a redhead who appears in the photos—in color, even though the shots are B&W—felt spooky at first, but at the same time intriguing. Not so the dream sequence; that was just disturbing.
I’m of the opinion this graphic novel was longer than it needed to be. There’s a lot of white empty space; the drawings don’t come close to taking up all the room on the page. There’s also far too many drawings of him drinking coffee while walking with his headphones, which makes things a bit boring. And the crashing marbles analogy was just silly.
Joan is smart; talking to the painting would be weird, but telepathy is normal? But then there are plenty of times when he does or says something that makes me think this is either all a dream or he really is crazy, and not just because of the voices in his head. And there’s no way I’m buying the city theory, but then I hate Noo Yawk.
Even though it did a good job at resolving some of the seeming inconsistencies at the end, I was still left far too confused. Couldn’t tell if it was real or not, if it actually happened at all, but I guess I wasn’t supposed to know; that wasn’t the point of the story.

Wraithborn V.1
After a fight-filled intro there’s a flashback to how Melanie became such a badass, because she certainly wasn’t in high school. She’s firmly entrenched in the “reluctant hero” trope, but at least she’s amusing, especially for a wallflower, at times scared of her shadow but also willing to stand up for those who can’t. The part where she says, “Um. . . nice doggies?” got an actual LOL out of me, and I can’t believe I just used that damned acronym.
There’s nothing here that’s particularly new, though. The bad guy has minions and an evil laugh, and can’t seem to stop talking. And why are the redheads always evil? But despite it being an old story, I kinda liked it.
Cover gallery at the end.