Book Reviews: Graphically Cute Bugs and Tasty Dinosaurs

She crawled over to the big cat and cooed, “Here kitty kitty. . .”
The tiger turned to her with a look of “Girl, please.”

The Circle
Kid whose mom dies moves with dad to a new town. Depressed enough, he finds the new school so bad even something as simple as trying out for the basketball team gets him beat up. The castoffs are mean to him too, but he’s accepted, and he’ll take that. They go hang out in an abandoned mine shaft, and eventually it turns into an occult thing. Then it really gets horrible. His only hope is the scary old lady who lives upstairs.
In the end I ended up not liking this very much. It’s a mean story full of mean people without even an ounce of hope. And it ended without wrapping up the main plot point, especially now that everyone who could exonerate him is dead. I had to go listen to uplifting music for three hours to get rid of the sudden depression I felt from finishing this.
There’s a lot of sepia, which can be beautiful but in this case only makes everything look dull. The faces are all drawn to look sad; the main kid I can understand, but the rest. . .
2/5

X-O Manowar V.1: Soldier
This should have been subtitled, “They just keep pulling me back in. . .”
A seemingly immortal human with magic armor is tired of fighting and goes off to another planet, finds himself a woman, and tries to be a farmer, only to get forcibly drafted into the local war. When he not only survives being cannon fodder but achieves the mission’s objective, he gets sent on a suicide commando raid by a jealous superior.
I don’t know if it was brains or experience, but it’s easy to see how he survived the first battle. . . not that the battle was easy, of course. My other thought was that the visuals were a lot less bloody than usual for such scenes; not complaining, just noticing.
In the end I didn’t see much that was original here. Even the main character looks like a Viking berserker. And the introduction of his support team came too fast, all at once; had no idea who was who, and other than the woman it didn’t get any better during the raid.
The artwork frequently has the characters without pupils, and it’s creepy and disconcerting.
Unlike most collections, this one doesn’t include the whole story, so of course it ends in a cliffhanger.
2.5/5

Voracious V.2: Feeding Time
Right off the bat there’s a “previously.” Thank you!
Chef cooks up dinosaur meat, and it’s authentic, because he has a time machine to go hunt dinosaurs in the past. But now there’s a parallel universe involved where the dinosaurs became the top dog instead of the monkeys, just like in Harry Harrison’s West of Eden. The difference is that while that book actually did have dinosaurs developing their own society as would be expected through their reptilian biology, this is basically a human society, just with dinosaurs instead of mammals. Even the “gear up” scene, with the lead dino in a wifebeater/bulletproof vest cradling his big-ass weapon, is right from the human world. And they get drunk and go on rampages just like the mammals. But hey, they have flying cars. Thankfully they don’t speak the same language as humans; that would have been too much. (slight sarcasm)
This first part is told from the dinosaur point of view, especially the detective whose wife is missing and presumed eaten. . . I mean, never ever existed. The second takes place in Utah and then back in time. There’s enough of the present for me to ascertain that when she isn’t drunk and vomiting, girl-next-door Starlee (is she supposed to be Kaylee from Firefly?) is more attractive than just-another-Noo-Yawk blonde Jenna. {Boots > Heels.} There’s some truly funny stuff in here, such as the intro blurbs, like: {Warning: Contains a dinosaur getting some sweet sweet revenge!}
I know that Owen is crazed on said revenge, but it’s weird that he screams about saving the missing dinosaurs while he’s killed a few of the scientists to get to the gate. I do like how there’s no one truly evil in this story; the “bad” guys are accidental, through ignorance or “disease,” if that’s the word for it. But the dinosaur hoodie. . .
Nice quote from Ozymondius to end it.
The artwork is more than serviceable, with the bright colors taking center stage. There are three main settings—small town in Utah, Dino City, and way-in-the-past forest, and they all look great. Even better is the Native American flashbacks in the last issue. But seriously: did you have to write “Wink” right under the wink?
Each chapter has extras, like dinosaur recipes. Sounds yummy. Also behind-the-scenes stuff from the creators. Particularly interesting is one of the artists explaining why he’d never go back to working by hand now that he uses a computer. And at the very end there’s a page about those who Kickstartered enough to be drawn into the story, even as dinosaurs. Cute.
So, despite a few misgivings and plot points this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I look forward to the last part of the trilogy.
3.5/5

Miraculous: Tales of Lady Bug and Cat Noir
Three stories from this animated TV show from France.
Story #1:
It’s the dreaded Valentine’s Day in Paris, and most of the characters can’t say I love you to the face of their crush, while the one who does gets crushed on the bridge of locks. . . then turns evil, making people fall out of love with the sling of an arrow.
If there’s a quibble, it’s in the fight scenes, which in two dimensions are confusing. And I don’t think I’ll ever forgive them for having the villain actually say “Mwahaha!”
Story #2
The kids are filming a movie in class, but the lead heroine is scared of. . . well, everything and everyone, it seems. Perfect candidate to be made evil; too bad the ensuing monster wasn’t scary at all.
It’s funny how Marinette likes Adrien when he’s himself and loathes him as Cat Noir, even though they’re the same person. And he likes her as Lady Bug but doesn’t spare her a second look in her civilian guise.
#3
The father of one of the girls is a mime about to star in a big production, but his understudy blocks him, leaving him susceptible to the dark side. Have to admit, giving the bad guy the superpower of. . . mime was inspired.

Marinette is an awesome character. For a teen to be a superhero but unable to gloat about it, and always failing to get what she wants in the end, she takes things remarkably in stride, never losing her sense of humor or sweetness. Her big aquamarine eyes, which get even bigger when she’s joyful, perfectly offset the purple hair. Early on there’s a shot of her caught as she’s rooting through the trash, and the look she gives is priceless, worth the price of admission alone. She’s incredibly cute and usually doesn’t mind being teased, and is one of the most intriguing teen protagonists I’ve ever seen. Adrien manages to pull that off in no small way as well, even when his fame and wealth are added to it, though he becomes a bit of an arrogant jerk when he’s dressed feline.
The best parts of these stories are the humor and the way the friends have each other’s backs. My one pet peeve is in wondering: when the person in each story gets turned evil, how do they instinctively know their powers? Who told them they could suddenly fly or use their props to shoot lasers and such? But anyway, ignore those plot holes and just enjoy.
There are 225 pages for only three stories—including “Exclusive digital pages!”—which seems like a lot of work until I realized that these are screencaps from the TV show, with everything 3-D and bubbly.
BTW, I liked the first of these so much I went looking for the TV show, and found it on Netflix! It’s surprisingly accessible for adults. Can you say “binged?”
4/5

;o)

A Year With Lindsey Stirling

In late April of last year my old musical buddy Meiko sent an email about her latest album being made with the help of a platform called PledgeMusic—first time I’d heard of it. After I signed up for that I noticed on the side it gives you recommendations for other artists, and one of those was Anna Nalick; been years, but yeah, sign me up! Then amongst others I checked out but didn’t like came a recommendation for someone I’d never heard of, Lindsey Stirling.
So I clicked on that, and it looked promising, since I love violin. At the time the artwork hadn’t been shown, so I had no idea what this was going to be about. I liked the title of the sample track, Crystalize, so I clicked on it and. . . it didn’t work. So I bookmarked the page for later, since I was in the middle of preparing for two weeks of photography in Jordan. So: packing, equipment check, visa, doctor checkup, etc.
Didn’t think much about it until after the trip to Jordan, where I found myself in a hotel room in Paris on May 28, with a two-day stopover before coming home to El Lay. As some of you know by now, I’m not a fan of this place—the only reason I’d come here on my own is if the Louvre had a yard sale—so I decided to see if I could sleep during the day and stay up all night for a very good reason.

It worked! I had no jetlag when I got back home.
More importantly, as soon as I got to my desktop in my living room, before answering all the emails and stuff, I went over to pledge Lindsey’s new album, and the rest is. . . herstory?

;o)

Book Reviews: More Kids’ Stuff

I think I’ve read more kiddie books this year than in my entire life, including when I was a kid.

Want to Know. Whales
Pretty watercolor drawings of a small boy who spends his time looking for whales at the beach.
From there it turns into factoids about whales—why they’re not fish, different types, etc.
All cutesy as expected, but can’t help but wonder if it might be too advanced for five-year-olds, especially at the end with the quizzes.
3.5/5

Princess Lemonella
From grumpy baby to sullen teenager, this princess never smiles. When the kind and queen put her up for royal marriage, princes from other fairy tales show up, asking her to let down her hair, offering her glass slippers and mattresses, and so on, but she’s not buying it.
It’s not till one guy ignores her by riding by that she gets interested, stopping him to find out why he’s not in the princess sweepstakes. Turns out he’s a sullen prince who’s also being forced to marry, and when they discover they’re exactly the same they. . . laugh. It’s beautiful.
If I had to describe this artwork I would go with mildly Impressionistic. Certainly not bad, just a tad different than most other kiddie books. It’s too bad the only time we can really like her doesn’t happen until the end; I wonder if kids will be able to keep their attention on this till then.
3.5/5

The Five Fierce Tigers of Rosa Martinez: A Tale of Healing
A sick little girl has five guardian tigers in her head, each with a different job/quirk/personality. There’s a leader, the efficient one, the funny, the one who was “far more interested in being right than being happy,” and the one who has trouble staying in one place. Thankfully there’s a flashback as to how they came into being, thanks to her grandfather/shaman.
Somewhere in the middle the job of the tigers is revealed, then it all makes sense.
Really nothing much to say here. The good is in the world building, as well as the characters. The plot itself is straightforward. The artwork is good enough, and thankfully the tigers are easy to tell apart.
3.5/5

A Wish Come True
Sick little boy—so sick his friends can’t see him in the hospital—gets a visit from the wish fairies, also known as the Make-A-Wish® Foundation. What he wants to do is catch bad guys, and when he’s better he gets his wish, starting with a visit to a fire station. That’s followed by some police training, including cuffing his own dad.
When they go out on a call I instantly thought it had been set up so the kid would catch the bad guy, but no, it was an actual police call! What? You let a little kid do that? Even though it turned out okay in the end, that’s just ridiculous, and ruined what was looking to be a very good book grounded in reality. Dropped a point.
Ends with the history of the Make-A-Wish® Foundation.
3/5

Kobee Manatee: Shipwreck Sea Friends
A manatee and his buds swim off to play in a shipwreck, meeting all kinds of sea creatures along the way. The manatee wears a vest and beret, the seahorse has a huge red bouffant. While exploring the wreck, the manatee gets trapped inside and needs to be rescued. Many try to help, but it takes size to save the day this time.
Each page had fun facts, with the first one the most interesting: the wreck they explore, despite being over 100 years old, was made of steel and had electricity! The sawfish is a ray, even though it looks like a shark, so even adults can learn stuff here.
As you might expect, blue is the predominant color. Having never been in water further down than a couple of feet—except for the ride at Disneyland—I’d imagine the sea is not so bright and colorful that far down, which should have been included in the fun facts, but kids will enjoy looking at this strange new world.
4/5

My Brother Tom
Tom is not like other brothers, being born premature and having to stay in the hospital. Angels appear outside the window. Nice simple paintings make the text easy to follow for the very young, though I wonder if this is a situation too scary—or too hard to grasp—for that age.
This is not a book about coping with loss or anything like that. In fact, it’s a fundraiser for a charity that provides support for those who find themselves in this situation.
3.5/5

Little Kangaroo
Not-so-little Roo doesn’t want to leave Mom’s pouch, where it’s warm and she gets fed and doesn’t have to do her own jumping. Mom tries to convince her that there’s so much beauty in the world, but she’s not interested. The art shows them in all kinds of places—forests, deserts—and they even share an ecosystem with elephants, whom Little Roo calls stupid. Birds, butterflies, monkeys, none of them get her attention until at the end she finds something that’s fun to do. . . outside.
The dedication states “For all the little ones who will let go of their moms (and for all the moms who manage to let go of their little ones)” and that pretty much says it all.
3.5/5

The Only Way I Can
A rabbit sees a bird flying and wants to do that. When he asks for help, the bird pretty much screws with him until Rabbit figures out how to use his powerful legs in another way. At the end the bird is impressed by rabbit’s running ability, but goes home before he gets any crazy ideas.
The artwork is fine, but if there’s a point to this story, it eludes me. Perhaps be happy with what you have or who you are?
3/5

My Good Morning
A rhyming story about how a little girl manages to get up and be ready for school every morning before her parents, without the benefit of coffee. Proves that you have to be born that way in order to be a morning person.
There’s a lot of cuteness here, from her mismatched socks to the artwork to the fact no big deal is made that this is a mixed-race family. The ending is particularly “Awwww!”
4/5

I Don’t Want a Rabbit
The little boy really doesn’t, but not for any reason you’d expect, unless you were a social worker trained to deal with sad kids.
Not much to say about this one, other than the artwork is incredibly cute, starting from the cover. Eventually the kid figures it out and accepts his new pet, but has to do it without any guidance from his parents, which seems weird. The bunny was almost human in the way it acted, and was able to withstand all of the kid’s plots to get rid of him. It’s a cute story, but something seems missing.
3/5

Come Be Wild With Me
In this case the wildness of the title is not in how you act, but where you go. “You must unplug to reconnect” is the first thing you read, while the last is, “When we’re good and ready, we’ll return to the world—happier boys and girls.” In between is all the things that can be done when you go for a walk in the woods.
The artwork is black and white with the sun and leaves in color. Looks quite stark.
3.5/5

Chocolate Mixer
A little girl sings—and rhymes well—about her parents and which parts of her body come from each, like her nose and toes. She has friends who are both chocolate and vanilla—her words—but seems fascinated the most by those things that are mixed like her.
Basically saying “Be yourself” with a lot of bright artwork.
3.5/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Snapshots: Amman

Exactly one year ago today I landed in the capital of Jordan for about the fourth or fifth time in my life, can’t remember. (I say exactly, but time zones and stuff.)
With only half a day remaining after settling in, I thought about hanging out at the entrance to the Royal Palaces on the off chance of running into the amazing Queen Rania, a lady I hold in as much esteem as Valerie Kondos-Field (Gymnastics coach at UCLA) and Katherine Heigl. But before I left the hotel I saw on her Twitter that she was in Norway, so that’s that. I suppose I can’t blame her for wanting to get away from a possibly crazed fan. Maybe the king will want to talk Star Trek. . .?
Did you know that Amman was the original Philadelphia? Now you can impress with your knowledge of trivia at the next party. There’s still a lot more brotherly love in this city than the current one, as I saw plenty of times once I finally ventured outside and made my way past a ton of embassies, arriving downtown just in time for dinner, which with my stomach was not an easy thing to find. After that I took a taxi up to the Citadel, as there was no way these knees were going to make it up that hill, especially so early in the trip when I should seriously be conserving my limited energy. I spent some minutes getting every conceivable angle of the Temple of Hercules, as well as the Hand of Hercules (a little creepy), before settling in to shoot the sunset.
Feeling the first pull of jetlag, I dropped off the hill and found a taxi to take me back to my hotel, figuring I’d have time right before I left the country to peruse the amphitheater and all the museums, which other than maps are pretty much my crack.
Perhaps it was the excitement I always get at the beginning of a trip, or else my internal clock set itself perfectly when I went to sleep around 10PM local time, but the next morning my brain was perfectly tuned to the time zone and I was smiling as I had a quick breakfast of oranges, grapes, and even pineapple (!) before heading off south, ultimate destination Petra, followed by Wadi Rum and Aqaba.
;o)

Word Reviews: Nerd, Geek, Dork

Had been looking forward to a few days alone to get stuff done. . . and instantly strained a groin (good thing I have one left!). So of course my mind turned to cookier things, like how I would rank these three words in order of which one I least want to be called all the way to “Eh, don’t mind.”

First the dictionary meanings.

{Geek: a peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward.}
Hey, I’m all three! Yay! Do note that the original meaning of this word was “circus performer who bites the heads off chickens.” Now I don’t feel as bad.

{Nerd: a person considered to be socially awkward, boring, unstylish, etc.}
Only one fits me! Okay, two, but I’m never boring!

{Dork: a silly, out-of-touch person who tends to look odd or behave ridiculously around others.}
Me, ridiculous? Never!

Right away there’s a problem: “Dork” doesn’t really fit in with the other two, at least not as tightly as those two do with each other. “Nerd” and “Geek” seem pretty specifically geared toward those who love science fiction and fantasy, gaming, tech, and so on. But “Dork” could be about anything, or about nothing, simply a perception of not being cool. But that very non-specificity hurts its reputation, as some people will gladly take the mantle of nerd or geek proudly; there’s no similar cachet to being a dork.
So that solves the worse, but there’s more fun ahead, as we have to figure out if we’d rather be a geek or a nerd. They’re actually so similar than at least in two dictionaries I checked they’re synonyms for each other. So since that’s no help, it’ll have to come down to personal preference. . . no, that’s no good either. I’ll just have to go with instinct without being able to explain it.
So I’m going with nerd as best, then geek, then dork.
Phew! That was more exhausting than I thought!

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Air

In honor of seeing Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba last week, here’s one of his little ditties, of which there must be thousands.

The air
pregnant with rainbows
shatters its mirrors
over the grove.

;o)