Poetry Tuesday: Death the Leveler

By James Shirley (1596-1666).
Always liked this one because it reminds me of my favorite, Ozymandias.

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill:
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
They tame but one another still:
Early or late
They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath
When they, pale captives, creep to death.

The garlands wither on your brow,
Then boast no more your mighty deeds!
Upon Death’s purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds.
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb:
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.


Book Reviews: Fat Fit Photography

Making a Case for Innocence: True Stories of a Criminal Defense Investigator
Various stories from the author’s long distinguished career as—like it says in the title—a criminal defense investigator, the PI who looks for ways in which to exonerate a defendant. Most of the remembrances are about miscarriages of justice, and are not easy to read. Some absolve a false suspect before anything happens to them, which is always a reason to cheer, but there aren’t enough of those.
The writing is well-done, familiar but not overly jocular. Parts of the author’s personal life make it in here, the most interesting being that she wanted to be a singer-songwriter before she fell into this line of work. That humanizes her, as well as the stories, and is a good touch.
My only negative is I would have preferred the ending to not be so depressing, downright discouraging. I know what the author is trying to do, but can’t help but wish she’d finished it on a more positive note.

Eat Fat, Get Fit
I do love it when a title tells you everything you need to know, although the second half is optional.
Since I don’t read diet books, it’s hard to compare. This guy is straightforward and tells it like he thinks it is without frills, which might explain why this book is so short. Another reason is the long lists and plans and recipes and an exercise regimen at the end, which take up almost half of the book.
It is well written, with out-of-the-box thinking. But it’s definitely not for everyone—more of a general overview—as it doesn’t take into account most dietary restrictions and allergies like mine.

Curious Encounters with the Natural World
Once the intros are done, the book becomes two-page chapters of each animal encounter, the first of text and the second of photos. The authors are from eastern Illinois, so most of their explorations are based there, and they love showing off their accumulated specimens. They’re entomologists, one of whom got over the “Ew, bugs!” reflex that I never will. There are more than enough bug photos to give me nightmares for the rest of my life, even though I did my best to skip over ones where I knew what was coming. I risked a look at the peanut-headed bug: revulsion killed the curiosity. On the other hand, I do love the flamingo photo. The turtle-filled log just looks hilarious, and a shot of three turtles attempting to play leapfrog was equally chuckle-worthy. Some of the pencil drawings are more intriguing than the photographs.
My highlights:
That cat-poop-in-the-beard story. . . wow.
Penguin Poop on a Johnny Rook.
I’ve seen penguins on beaches in Australia, but in sandstorms. . .
Hoodoos in Utah: “A place that illustrates the point that geology has much more of a sense of humor than geologists!”
For those who love animals, especially insects, this is fantastic. For those who like some animals or have some curiosity in the field, this is good in small doses. The photography is excellent, but then it should be, because in one photo you can see Susan using the same camera I used back in the days of film photography.
There’s fifteen pages of glossary, references, and index.
I hope I didn’t bring down the book’s grade because of my aversion to creepie-crawlies, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

Understanding Color in Photography
This short book is, as you’d expect, full of photos. Yet despite those two facts, it is not easy going. I’ve been a professional photographer for over 25 years, so this would seem like a slam dunk, but I found myself disagreeing with his opinions too much. It’s difficult being in tune with him—though I’ve been a big fan of his previous books—because he likes warm tones, whereas I prefer the cooler side of the spectrum: blue rather than yellow and red. So this can’t help but color (sorry, couldn’t think of anything else there, definitely not a pun) some of the things the author says.
As always with these books, I learn a few new things and then instantly forget them. I treat them as reference books.


Book Reviews: Kiddie Twenty Pack

Wow, this is a pretty dark premise for a children’s book: a kid with superpowers can’t use them because he’s cross-eyed and gets motion sickness, which is definitely worse than not having superpowers at all. And then an old has-been superhero enlists—blackmails—him to help deal with his archnemesis.
Some of the more interesting points:
“Fine, whatever. You hired me for my directorial experience, but you don’t listen to me. Don’t blame me when you don’t get any views on You Tube!” Henchmen have sure come a long way.
The blonde kissing the startled raccoon. . . on the lips. . .
Saw that last cross-eyed laser shot coming. . . but not the very last twist, which was inspired.
But there just wasn’t enough here to keep my interest. Seems like they go through every possible situation from comics and movies in pursuit of. . . halfway through I couldn’t remember what/who they were after. Can’t shake the feeling this could have been better, or at least more concise. The good moments were not enough to offset all the filler.

My Wounded Island
In a story originally in French. a little girl—I’m guessing Inuit, since the island is close to Alaska—is scared of a monster that is forcing her family to move further inland by raising the water level around their island. It’s an invisible creature, though its outline is in the shape of a giant jellyfish.
This book might introduce you to a new term: climate refugees. You can’t help but feel the heartbreak in her words as she tells us the monster is forcing them out of their homes, and giving her nightmares. As a metaphor for what the world’s going through today it’s very effective, and the pastels are lovely in an impressionistic sorta way.

A Bear’s Life
One of those books where the title, as simple as it is, tells you all you need to know.
It starts with a beautiful photo of a forested island. The text is straightforward and easy to understand. “Cubs want to play, just like you.” Good to see the author highlighting the similarities so that kids will be more disposed to helping nature. Another such occurrence was the “eating barnacles like popcorn” bit; humorous to read, but I wouldn’t want to see it.
White ursines are called spirit bears, which is of course appropriate because they do look a little spooky. Of course there has to be a story where Raven—the Trickster—has a hand in turning some bears white.
The photos are exquisite, though that’s to be expected in such a place as uninhabited northern British Columbia. I had to smile when I saw some of the close-ups were taken from above, so either the photographer was in a plane/chopper or using a drone. There’s also a perfect action shot of a bear catching a fish.
Simple storytelling, with the photos the main draw.

A Message for Grandma
In the 1890s three branches of the same family share a farm, with each having double-digit children; that’s a lot of cousins! Grandma also lives on the farm, one of the original immigrants who never learned to speak English, whereas the third generation Alice—the little protagonist—belongs to doesn’t speak German. Alice is tasked with going to Grandma’s house to get some flour—not borrow it, as it says in the book—but has to memorize how to say it in German. The verbal contortions she gets into trying to remember the phrase as she travels the roads and paths are hilarious, especially when the goose chases her and she screams, “Can’t nip my bottom!”
Though it’s mostly text, there are some beautiful high-tone barely-there paintings, mostly farm scenes. It’s a sweet story, funnier than expected, but I have to mention that even though I don’t know much German, I do know “I love you,” and the pronunciation given is wrong.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
Before the Selma Hayek movie came out, you’d have to be a huge student of art to know who Frida Kahlo was. Now she’s pretty much as famous as her husband Diego Rivera, if not more so. This book takes the young reader through Frida’s early life, where the animals in her menagerie were her best friends. Each animal is compared to her, both physically and mentally/emotionally.
You don’t associate the word “cute” with Frida, but these childhood stories certainly belie that. (And yes, the unibrow is faithfully recreated.) My fave moment is her breathing on the window so she could doodle on it.
It’s easy to miss, but on the page where Frida is painting in bed, you can see an artificial leg standing there, waiting to be used.
Recently I saw an art exhibit where she was referred to as the Queen of Selfies. The artwork in this book is nowhere near realistic, but then Frida’s wasn’t either. Interesting that she started her artistic career as a photo colorist for her dad. More than anything, I have to say I was amazed to discover her paintings have been in the Louvre.

The Tea Dragon Society
A little girl who wants to learn blacksmithing from her mom finds an injured tea dragon; it doesn’t take long to figure out what that is. Her father knows who it belongs to, and when she takes it back she finds something else she loves as much as blacksmithing.
The girl is a goblin, according to an aside from her mom. The tea dragons don’t look like usual dragons, more like tiny unicorns without the horns. Minette. . . can’t tell what she is, with her tail and hooves—maybe a deer—but she’s really cute, and she has my fave dragon, Chamomile.
“This is kinda relaxing, when they’re not trying to bite your fingers off.” That leads the normally placid teashop owner to snark, “That should have been our slogan.”
Sweet kids, good people, and one bad giant dragon, all there to tell you that memories matter.
The artwork is almost child-like, though with great skill.
Ten pages from the Tea Dragon Handbook to end it.

Little Pierrot V.1: Get The Moon
There’s no actual narrative here; each page is its own story, like a comic strip. But basically it revolves around a kid with a huge imagination who wants to go into space and explore the stars. There’s also a talking snail who’s like a snobby unappreciative guru, almost an evil Mr. Miyagi or Yoda.
It’s hard to get a sense of this. Some pages are philosophical, some are funny, some try to be funny but don’t make it. Just a kid with his snail going through life, or trying to. Nothing to grasp, and the earth-tone artwork doesn’t help. Except when he dresses as Batman or an astronaut—complete with Chucky T’s—the clothing is remarkably drab.
Wow, those kids are extremely studious; all except the protagonist paying attention to their work in class. The physics lessons are both funny and painful.
Right away before the story starts there’s a double page of kids walking a row, and they are drawn extremely cute. But that’s the highlight of the visuals. Worse, the font is not easy to read; there’s one page where I couldn’t make out the last word and missed the punchline.

The Little Red Wolf
In a classic switch, or perhaps better said a reversal of roles, the Little Red Wolf is actually Little Red Riding Hood, and humans are the wolves. He’s charged with taking a rabbit to his toothless grandmother, but of course gets distracted. Not only does he get lost, he eats grandma’s dinner. A human girl finds him and leads him out of the woods, but not all is as it seems. Like most wars, each side has their own version of the truth.
The story is intriguing, but the overly stylized artwork—all lines and sharp angles, maybe a Navaho influence—is strange enough to distract from the story.

Merry Christmas, Little Hoo!
On Christmas Eve the little owl hears noises and instantly assumes they’re associated with Santa—the sleigh, the reindeer, so on—only to find it’s something more mundane. It’s all very cute and brings memories of gift anticipation.
The last page contains a surprise, but other than that there’s no real payoff to the story. He just goes to sleep and misses all the fun. Kind of a letdown.
The artwork is bright and blocky.

My Nana and Me
A little girl spends a day with her grandmother, through tea parties, hide and seek, hairstyling, bath time, and bedtime reading. Feels like a lot of this comes from the author’s personal experiences, which makes it all the sweeter.
The artwork is kinda beige and purposefully a little out of focus, but it makes for a bit of a dreamy quality.

Nonnie and I
A little girl in Africa confesses to her best friend—who just happens to be a giraffe—that she’s feeling anxious about the first day of school. Enjoying that last day of freedom, they wander—with the little girl on Nonnie’s back, which I didn’t think was possible—taking in the rest of the wildlife, especially the grinning meerkats. The next day at school she makes a new friend, and so does Nonnie.
Except for the giraffe not talking, this reminds me of the comic strip “Phoebe and Her Unicorn.” It’s sweet.
The artwork is nothing spectacular, kinda rudimentary, but I like how the colors are accurate, at least to how the animals are usually portrayed.

Petunia, the Girl who was NOT a Princess
The title already has me loving this. Yes, she’s adamant about not being a princess, even though she’s lonely being the only tomboy in town. Then another girl moves in who completely dresses like a princess, but has the heart of a tomboy (though I’m suspicious of how her dress never gets dirty, even in the mud). So Petunia—neither a princess nor a tomboy name—learns not to judge as well as try new things.
Nothing spectacular in the art work, but then it’s better that it doesn’t stand out.

Pop Pop and Me and a Recipe
A little boy has fun in the kitchen with his grandpa; they’re having a fantastic time, according to the drawings. Never realized there were so many things you could do with utensils and the ingredients themselves.
The best part is the rhymes, though some are forced. This is one of those books meant to be read out loud.
The artwork leans toward the magical, with seemingly every inch filled.
There’s a recipe at the end.

Safari Kids
Two kids dressed in stereotypical jungle gear, complete with those annoyingly uncomfortable pith helmets, go out to photograph wild animals. Turns out they’re going to the zoo rather than on safari, but for a kid I guess it’s pretty much the same thing.
There are some really good rhymes, and others not so much. Similarly, some of the stanzas are perfectly in rhythm and others are not. The one thing I most love is that they’re siblings of different races, and nothing is said about it.
The artwork is totally cartoon, with bold colors. Feels like meerkats are in every book I read these days.

The Children at the Playground
Kids play at the park and make sound effects. The book’s PR says this is set to the “Wheels on the Bus” song, so there’s a lot of repetition, especially of the noises; every stanza follows a pattern with the sound effect repeated so much it takes up half of the lines. At first it feels like a learning song, but after a while it smacks more of a lack of creativity.
The artwork is the most rudimentary I’ve seen, but that doesn’t make any difference.

The Dream Dragon
As the title states, the dragon appears when the little boy’s asleep, and is jealous of all other dreams, chasing them away. But then he’s beat, and then that dream gets beat, and so on. Luckily the dragon found someone else’s dream to inhabit.
The PR claims the dragon chases away the nightmares, but it’s clearly stated that he doesn’t stand for nice dreams either. His replacement isn’t any better, as well as being much scarier. I’ve probably missed the point of this, or perhaps there is no point and it’s just a book of drawings to get a kid to go to sleep, though it might have the opposite effect if kids think they’re going to encounter some of these dreams when they close their eyes.

There’s a Dog on the Dining Room Table
A cute little pigtailed redhead is shocked to see. . . well, the title spells it out. She has no idea how the dog got there, and wonders what to do with it: give it a meal, a bath, a poker game, a flamenco dance? The answer is much simpler than she could have imagined, if she’d just looked up earlier.
Cute story, with the rhymes executed perfectly. The artwork is pretty standard, but at least it’s humorous. The little girl’s expressions are particularly well drawn.

The Backup Bunny
This story is narrated by Fluffy, who explains that when Max’s stuffed bunny is no longer available, he steps in and fills the spot, adding that it’s that simple. . . except it isn’t.
It’s kinda heartbreaking to see Fluffy go splat on the floor, even more so than the rejection; yes, he’s just a stuffed bunny, but because he’s the narrator it feels like he’s alive.
According to one of the panels, sometimes you gotta fall in the mud to get some respect. . . though I wouldn’t recommend actually trying that.
Just when you think everyone’s got their happy ending. . . plot twist and cliffhanger!

Where Is My Coat? Farm Animals
A sequel to Jungle Animals, this one figures to be more familiar, and probably less exciting because of it. Like the first one, there’s black silhouettes and the reader has to figure out what animal it is.
It’s only 12 pages, and not all of them are story. It’s over in a flash, and if the kids like it they’ll instantly want more.

You Hold Me Up
The entire book consists of different ways a person can hold another up: being kind, sharing, so on. It is the simplest of the simple, and therefore should appeal to small children; its simplicity is what makes it so appealing.
The artwork barely approaches rudimentary—the cheek spots are particularly distracting—but I suppose it doesn’t matter.


Poetry Tuesday: Thinking of my Family

Yang Wen-li (16th century China)

Moist the jade dew that borders the flowers,
cool the golden breeze that penetrates the curtain.
Emerald green the autumn waters stretching to the sky,
hazy blue the evening mist that winds around the mountains.

Over and over I ponder the scene, sigh at the season’s changes,
think of my family, recall my native place.
Leaning on the balustrade, I stand for a time transfixed,
my heart chasing wild geese that soar toward the south.


Netflix Fun: Miraculous Ladybug

Not being much of a comic book reader—until recently—and never that interested in the superhero genre, I will take the word of the creator when he says that this is the first ladybug-based crusader of right and justice. Even I know there have been other cats, but mostly they’re bad and/or female, or at least big brawny bashers.
Put simply, this is one of the best animated shows I’ve ever seen, and it is one of my favorites of all time after just its first season. Rather than me bothering with explaining the premise, here’s a promo video that’ll tell ya all you need to know.

Did you catch the last thing mentioned in the video? (It did go by pretty fast.) Except for the superhero aspect, the most important thing in this show is the relationship between the leads. It’s actually quite funny how Marinette likes Adrien when he’s himself and is easily annoyed by him when he’s Cat Noir, even though they’re the same person. And he likes her as Ladybug but doesn’t spare her a second look in her civilian guise, thinking of her only as a friend. So that dynamic makes for four relationships between the two characters: without wasting my time trying to remember or look up their portmanteaus, there’s Marinette/Adrien, Marinette/Cat Noir, Ladybug Adrien, and Ladybug/Cat Noir (LadyNoir; I remember that one). It’s amazing that each of those have their own special elements that make the show so watchable as well as relatable.
The other superb part of this show is its humor. Most of my favorite moments involve Marinette’s adorkable attempts to speak to Adrian. Of course a major part of that is in the animation and acting, but it wouldn’t work at all if not for some great writing.
Some of my faves:
Marinette’s hand sliding down the railing {Guitar Villain}
Her fall off the bench and Cat Noir’s dances {Mr. Pigeon}
Her weird walk in the park, the sighing chin drops, and the best of what are usually puns that are smellier than Plagg’s cheese: Coldilocks {Stormy Weather}
The phone message and Baywatch-style slo-mo run through Copycat’s eyes {Copycat}
Marinette making “yada-yada-yada” gestures behind Cat Noir’s back {Evilistrator}
Using one hand to make the other stop waving, and the incredibly corny—on purpose—dramatic moves during Ladybug’s song {Santa Claws}.
And of course her catchphrase when she has to go before she turns back into a pumpkin: “Bug, out!”
But as a photographer, I must protest about all those “the boy ate too much spaghetti” lines! I’m stuck somewhere between outraged and amused, but those ridiculous red pants drop it into the outraged side.
Another thing that abounds is shoutouts. My favorite is in “Stormy Weather,” when Manon is hiding under the table and giggles, right out of Brave! Even though I’ve never watched a Spiderman movie, I still recognize the iconic scene where he’s hanging upside down next to right-side-up girl, and this happens twice, although one time it’s the girl upside-down. In “Pixillator,” Mr. Damocles uses the line, “Surely you can’t be serious,” but Jagged Stone doesn’t bite. I’d be shocked if Gabriel’s scream of “Adrien!” from the Christmas episode isn’t recognized by all. And this one might be me projecting, but there’s something about the vertigo-inducing scenes in the Origins episodes that remind me of Lindsey Stirling’s “We Are Giants” video.
Now for a small downside. I think the writers made it a little too obvious and over the top with the clues as to who Hawkmoth is, so it’s entire possible they’ll pull a switcheroo in the second season. My no-evidence guess is that he’s actually Gabriel’s brother, who was jealous that the gorgeous blonde woman didn’t pick him, so he kidnapped her and is holding her hostage. He wants the ultimate power that having all the miraculouses would give him so he can give her the world. Or perhaps she ran away so he wouldn’t nab her, having to leave her family to protect them. Yes, I’m a master of the delicious art known as fanwanking  . . .

I admit to not having a single notion as to what a director does in animation. Everything must be storyboarded to an OCD degree and then sent to the animators. It’s noteworthy that when I do catch a director credit, it’s always the creator. So, since there’s really nothing to say here, I’ll just leave it at that.
There is one thing I have to mention, though I don’t know if this started in the writing room, done on purpose, or if it was an animation error. Since at least some of the animation must be done in Japan, it’s completely possible it wasn’t noticed, but in “Guitar Villain,” Marinette is outside the hotel talking to Tikki—this is when the Gorilla catches her and she says it’s a talking purse from Japan—but behind him you can see the traffic going on both streets. We don’t see the intersection, but enough cars pass by so that if they were stopped for a red light, we’d see them stopped behind the Gorilla. So with both directions going at the same time, there’d be plenty of crashes. . . and they’re driving on the British side of the road. . . which is also the driving style in Japan.
I also wonder about the background characters. Of course in order to save money they’ll reuse the same images, thinking no one will notice, but there’s a regular cast that appears in almost every episode. The one who’s really noticeable, is the redhead in the green sweater; in “The Mime” she’s on the bus and then is right outside it too!

I don’t follow voice actors, but apparently the two English leads are pretty famous, and they show here that they very much deserve to be. There’s a few BTS vids of Marinette’s actor both vocalizing and singing, and she’s truly stunning to watch. In “Evilistrator,” there’s a scene where Marinette—not Ladybug—tells Cat Noir how they can escape from the box they’re in. As usual he thanks her in a flirting manner, only to have her turn his face away with a dry, “Yeah, I’m a genius” that he doesn’t pick up on, but is a subtle yet amazing piece of acting. In “Guitar Villain” after she slips down the railing, after Adrian leaves, she murmurs, “I can’t feel my legs anymore,” and it sounds incredible. Then there’s the beginning song of the Christmas Special, when her mom tells her to be nice to Chloe: she gives a small “ugh,” compared to Chloe’s over the top reaction. But the crowning moments had to be all those tiny squeaks when she’s around Adrien. . .
One last note: I would think one of the best reasons for a writer to go into animation is that you don’t have to worry about the actors adlibbing! Given that constraint, I have a new and higher respect for the job these voice actors do.

Cinematography (“Artwork” if animated)
I’m no expert on animation, though I did get why Brave was so amazing in that respect. With such little experience, it may not mean much when I say the CGI here is every bit as spectacular.
Perhaps the best example is in Ladybug’s transformation sequence: if you look closely you can see the geometric patterns of her suit, which shine when the light hits them and makes the view shimmer, but not in a “that-looks-like-a-mistake” kinda way.
It’s startling how quickly one gets used to the visuals of Paris, with that iconic if ugly tower and the buildings around the river. Other landmarks are delightfully rendered, like the Trocadero, the Louvre, the Grand Palais, and the zoo. But once in a while, particularly when they’re jumping along the rooftops to get somewhere quickly, there are glimpses of the city that tourists would never notice, and possibly locals don’t bother with either, the best being the park next to the bakery, now featuring a statue of Ladybug and Cat Noir.
Perhaps the best episode for visuals was “Stormy Weather,” where the very first shot is from above, looking down the building. And the final storm taking place on top of the same building looks spectacular. When Marinette gets off the bus in “Mr. Pigeon,” the street and buildings look gorgeous. The only recurring scenery worth noting is every time an akuma leaves home, giving an overview of the Paris suburbs, with that damned tower in the background.
Closer to the camera, there’s plenty of freeze-frame bonuses, my favorite coming in “Timebreaker”: during the scene in the restaurant, with Alix and her dad celebrating her birthday, there’s a close-up of the Egyptology specialist, and you can see he’s wearing a shirt decorated in hieroglyphs. . . and it looks a lot better than mine! Another one occurs in “Mr. Pigeon,” when Plagg lands on the bed in the hotel after declawing. As the dish of cheese is brought to him, you can see a pillow in the shape and color of a ladybug behind him.

Possibly the best theme song since Jack of All Trades. Here’s the complete version, in English.

But it’s kinda surprising that there isn’t much of an emphasis on sound in this series. An interview shows that this is on purpose: “The music plays a very minor role in the show. Often times it’s hardly audible over the dialogue or sound effects, but it provides the right subtle push that guides the emotion of the episode.”
There’s some great soft music at the iconic scene at the end of “Origins 2,” not quite romantic but still emotion-inducing. Once in a while there’s mood music, like the soft stuff when Adrien’s dad finally hugs him, or during the first scene of “Horrificator,” where it’s melodramatic horror; on the other hand, “Smelly Wolf” might become the next “Soft Kitty.” Then there are the themes, particularly Ladybug and Cat Noir’s transformation sequences, which immediately go into earworm territory, though the “Fly away, my little akuma!” theme does not. Besides the Christmas episode, which is actually a musical episode, there’s one other that features music, “Guitar Villain,” where we get Jagged Stone jamming on the electric guitar—actually pretty good instrumentals—unlike XY’s (purposeful) crap.

If I had to pick one moment above all others to encapsulate exactly what this show is made of, it would be the climax of “The Puppeteer,” where a split second before she’s going to be turned into an evil minion and have her powers taken away, Ladybug uses Lady Wifi to “pause” the villain. . . then, having all the time in the world, she casually strolls to the Puppeteer while whistling her own theme song!
But more than anything, this show has so much heart, particularly in its young heroine. While someone like Clark Kent has had decades to learn how to be both himself and Superman—and to a lesser degree the same goes for Batman and Bruce Wayne—Marinette not only has been an unexpected superhero for only a few months, she’s a teenager! She’s got school, she’s got family, she’s a babysitter sometimes, she’s trying really hard to be a fashion designer, and she’s dealing with her first case of puppy love. . . all these things pull for her attention, which is hard enough for your average teen, but then add the humongous responsibility of saving her city at least once a week. This also goes for Adrien, but to a lesser extent. Thankfully there’s a few scenes that show how much of a weight this is for her, as well as times when she doesn’t make the right choice, choosing herself first over her job as Ladybug. . . usually involving jealousy whenever another girl’s around Adrien.
Yet despite all that, 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 blue/black hair to the point she goes from incredibly cute to downright beautiful. 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 usually doesn’t mind being teased, quirky but lovable, so she’s someone girls can relate to. All this makes her 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.
But of course I can’t leave this without mentioning the giant elephant in the fandom: the far-too-common complaint by supposed fans who spend all their time whining about how no one recognizes Marinette as Ladybug. That doesn’t seem to bother people about Superman, but for some reason it’s a big issue here. This surprises me because you’d think such creative people as the fans claim to be would rather spend their time coming up with fanwanks rather than whimper about it.
So here’s mine. There’s a comic strip called “Phoebe and her Unicorn,” where in order to keep herself hidden from most people Marigold the Unicorn has something called the Shield of Boringness. Now, considering all the magical powers Tikki gives Marinette, especially the way her mask didn’t come off when Lady Wifi pulled on it, then you’d think over 5000 years they would have developed a power that disguises their faces and bodies. See, simple?
(And as I wrote above, I don’t believe Hawk Moth is Adrien’s Dad, but that’s a story for another time.)


Book Reviews: The Most Erotic Organ Is the Mind

My brain is a gold mind.

The Red
The owner of a failing art gallery in Noo Yawk gets an offer she can’t refuse. . . or really doesn’t want to refuse. She’d promised her mom she’d do anything to keep the gallery open, and now anything and everything is what she has to do. Two-thirds of the way through something happens that makes her back out of the deal, something bad enough that she thinks it’s worth losing the gallery over, but in the end she perseveres.
Despite trying to make it “just business,” she actually grows quite a bit through the story, and not just sexually. Malcolm unintentionally taught her how to be manipulative. . . not that Seb didn’t deserve it. But the whole point of the story, besides the sex, is that in the end it made her stronger.
I love the nymphs! Best and funniest scene ever. Too bad there wasn’t more of them.
So yes, I enjoyed most of this. The ultimate reveal was easy to guess with all the clues strewn around, but by then it didn’t really matter. Not a fan of the ending, though; that’s one guy who didn’t deserve to be rewarded.

Her Alien Masters
After her spaceship crashes onto an alien world and kills people, Mira gets sentenced to basically being the slave of a family who lost loved ones in the crash; that includes sex.
This is the third entry in a series, and I haven’t read the previous, but I am familiar with this author’s other works, and like them. She brings the same delicious humor here, especially in the small moments: a little joke here, noticing the look in someone’s eyes, that kind of thing. This one was different because there are kids—alien kids, but still—involved, so it made for a strange dynamic compared to others from this author and genre. I might have enjoyed it more because of that, though I’m not sure; it was simply refreshing to have something different, especially since it allowed the main character to be more than just a sex slave. Similarly, most romances have a next-to-last twist featuring a misunderstanding that needs to be overcome, but it’s refreshing to see errors occur here naturally, due to different cultures, rather than the usual manufactured drama.

Misadventures of a City Girl
LA divorcee goes to hippie spa but spends all her time in a hunky mountain man’s bed. Hilarity and misunderstandings ensue.
The first note I had was on the fact she booked a four-week stay at a spa. Really? People do that? I’d be bored out of my head in less than a week. Just me? Fine.
My next note was that only a third of the way through and they’re already past their worst issues. Didn’t think the rest of the book would only feature sex. . . then I wondered if her ex would show up. . . and I was right on both counts.
Then there’s the point where I wrote “Wow, this is where a girl should realize he’s too damaged to be with and look out for herself, especially since she has her own problems.” To have her go back to him after that was completely unrealistic, but I suppose it wouldn’t be an “against all odds” romance if she didn’t.
Despite some idiotic moves from both, this is an excellently written book. I always judge by how much I like the protagonist, and except for some strange decisions apparently made to move the plot along early on, I love her. That did cost a potential higher grade, as did the note I wrote higher. This could have earned a 5/5. I’m just glad there wasn’t any need to overplay the angry ex thing.

Passionate Desire
Woman who’s been hurt before tries not to fall in love with guy at work, even though her lust for him is so great she lets him do her while stuck in an elevator.
I can’t think of much to say here, and that’s a problem. I’ve read other books where the protagonist is damaged, but this one goes a lot further psychologically in her reactions; I’m not saying it’s not realistic, as I’m sure that kind of thing happens, but the fact she’s otherwise an intelligent individual makes it harder to take. The ex/stalker storyline feels tacked on, but then without it there’d be no story, no motivation. . . no reason for him to have to overcome her damage in order to win her. It is indeed thin on plot, and the characters are okay, if bland. Just feels like there’s nothing special; even the sex scenes were unmemorable.


Two Photos Today

Sometimes I’m surprised by how little I notice of my surroundings. I think part of it is age/experience, as my weary body feels like I’ve seen it all. Or maybe I got tired of being called Sherlock Holmes all the time.

But today was different. Maybe it was the weather, as it was a relatively balmy 85 degrees compared to the high 90s of the past couple of months. On the way to the physical therapist I saw this:

Have no idea who she is, but looks cute in a fairy with horns kinda way. When I left a couple of hours later to visit my mom at the nursing home, she was still there. (And I was totally shocked that my mother got into learning basic Italian with me.)

Then, leaving the grocery store to grab lunch at my second favorite Mexican place, I caught this at a nearby bus stop:

When your favorite actress gets top (or only) billing, as a fan you should share it with the world. (And yes, I’m sure there are ads with the names of the other actors, but I got the one with my favorite, so it counts.)


Travel Thursday: Lindsey Stirling on Jimmy Kimmel

I always give myself 15 minutes to walk to the bus stop for the ride downtown, even though it takes less than ten. (If you’ve followed this blog for a while—yeah right, welcome—you’ll know my fave Shakespeare quote is “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”) But thanks to my favorite app, I see that the bus that runs on my street and takes me to the light-rail station is coming in 5, so I do that instead, and thankfully there was enough of a break in the traffic to let me run across while it was about a block away. I do so love living on the edge. . .
The great thing about the light-rail, besides everything, is that it has a perfectly moderated air conditioning setting, whereas most buses will put it on freezing in the mistaken impression this is the way to go when it’s searing outside. And no matter how many times I’ve told them they don’t need to do that, some people are just allergic to logic.
Since I took the rules spelled out on the Jimmy Kimmel ticket email a lot more seriously than most people, as I saw when I got there later, I took as little as possible with me: no backpack, no water bottle, and definitely no headphones, so no music on the long rides on the train and subway. And they said no shorts! In this 95-degree heat my legs were very confused. (And there were a lot of people in shorts that were allowed in, dammit!) Stopped off at Olvera Street for my usual bean and cheese burrito, followed by a softie vanilla; after that I was ready for anything, including the boring non-musical subway ride that left me at Hollywood and Highland.
The irony did not elude me that I was in the place where I first saw Lindsey Stirling—The Dolby Theater—and I’m about to watch her again right across the street. I hope she plays her Christmas show somewhere else, though not too far away.

Finally I find the right line on the sidewalk and stand between an older couple from Texas and a younger couple from North Carolina; kinda felt weird being the local. It was at this point that one of the employees came by and said we might not get in if enough of the “special” people in the other line came and filled up all the seats. My back was already hurting and I truly felt like giving up, but stuck through another half hour until they moved us up and in; many people after me made it, so thanks a lot for the drama, dude! I regret giving you that fist bump.
You don’t get to put your phone on silent or airplane mode; nope, if you don’t turn it completely off you don’t get in. Then we waited on the stairs leading into the studio, moving another step every time the people in front were slowly told where to sit, off in pairs like we were heading into Noah’s Ark. Turns out the only other person there not in a couple was a girl from China standing next to me, so after a cheery “Hello!” to me—I shoulda remembered to say “Ni Hao!”—she led the way as we were escorted to the very back row. I didn’t mind, though my knees would have preferred not to do all the stairs. The guy doing the talking, a rugged lumberjack type named Linc, then came to the front to run the rules by us, and did a pretty good job with the humor, enough that I thought he might be the warmup. When he said, “Don’t do the El Lay thing, where nothing impresses you,” I realized I’d have to act excited after all, dammit. After he was done everyone rushed to the restroom, which is downstairs—great, more stairs—and are right next to the green rooms. I looked for Kit or Drew for a quick hello, but the glaring security guards kept me from lingering.
Once I climbed the damned stairs back up to the studio, the actual warmup guy was there, a balding big guy who thought he was Rickles, and was almost as good. Being from Michigan, he couldn’t stop heckling the guy from Ohio, and was all gaga for the girl from Virginia who was in the clip about finding North Korea on a map; he named her Queen of the Day and gave her a crown, in fact.
On to the show. Since I don’t watch the series he’s in, had no idea who Milo Ventimiglia was. Have to disagree about his name winning Scrabble, as it has too many vowels. And I didn’t know he was a fellow Bruin until I just now looked up how to spell his name. BTW, after Kimmel’s monologue, while the crew was setting up the desk and chairs behind him, he talked to one guy in the audience who just moved here from Massachusetts to attend UCLA, so it was a beautiful non-Trojan day.
After him was another celeb stranger to me, Jenny Slate, who turned out to be a pretty funny comedian, in that offbeat-sorta-weird coocoo cloudlander kinda way; she’s like a wannabe Zoe Deschanel. Her love for chicken fingers and beer ruins any potential romance with this guy, though.
Okay, on to the important part. Because I was in the last row, I had to wait for everyone else to stream out back toward where we entered, because on the west side of the old lobby was the stage where Lindsey would play. Those in front got to stand right in front of the stage, whereas by the time I got there I was in the very back, behind a pillar, plus there was a camera rig in front of me. I got occasional glimpses of Lindsey and Rooty, could see Kit most of the time, but didn’t glimpse the drum set at all. I did spot Adina once, if that makes up for it.
So there goes “Love’s Just A Feeling,” with all the musicians playing extraordinarily well; they brought it, for sure. Unfortunately the audience didn’t seem to know what to make of it; they were faking it as well as they could, but seemed confused as to whether they liked it or not, or were possibly stunned to see a violinist dancing. Because the crowd energy wasn’t at the level needed, the stage manager informed everyone that the song would be done again, which was fine with me. And then we got the bonus of the full version of “The Arena,” with the same video stuff as the concert playing behind her, and that seemed to be a bigger crowd pleaser. For once I forgot to notice which violin she was using, though I was too far away to tell if it was Excalibur or Bushwhacker anyway.
There were two guys standing in front of me, and during the first try they just stood there like they’d rather be anywhere else, even though everyone around them was at least faking the enjoyment. But when “Love’s” played again they were feeling it, clapping along, tapping their feet. By the time “The Arena” came along they were fully into it, as was most of the crowd around me; whereas before they might have faked the woo-hoos for the camera, this time it was totally genuine. And with Kimmel’s close-to-two-million-viewers nightly average, it’ll be interesting to see if Lindsey gets an uptick in sales and social media follows.
I got to say hi to Drew after, but he was too busy breaking down the skins to hang out.
Looking back, I was surprised at how quickly and smoothly the show went, especially in comparison to other shows. Sitcoms that film in front of a live studio audience take at least four hours for 20 minutes of screen time, while dramas sometimes need eight days! We were done in less than two hours—no idea as to exact times, as my phone was off—almost real time, and it’s a testament that only a few hours later it was airing on the East Coast; they must have been editing as they went along. I know there’s a ton of work that needs to be done beforehand, but they made it look so easy, so kudos to everyone. It felt like we spent more time in line than in the actual show, which for all I know is entirely possible.
With all that done, I debated where to eat. The McD’s fries are always there, and In-N-Out isn’t far away, though always full. I haven’t eaten at Mel’s in a long time, mostly because the price doesn’t equal the flavor, but then I remembered how much I love the Orange Freeze there and set out eagerly. As is my wont in this place, I sat at the counter, ignoring the mini juke boxes while I caught up on the world via my phone. It took longer to be served than for them to make my delicious treat, and they added more whipped cream than I remember, but no complaints here. As usual I took the cherry off and placed it on the napkin, this time leaving it there, not daring to ask anyone if they wanted it, not since the infamous “taking my cherry” debacle of 2009.
Uneventful ride home, the best kind.
And now as I write this I’m watching the show on TV, and now I understand why they put me in the back row (on the other hand, the guy sitting next to me was much better looking). It’s pretty intriguing to see the differences. I remember everything that was shown, but there were also some parts that were edited out. The concert was actually better on TV; as I mentioned, I was stuck in the back behind a pillar. (I promised Drew I’d yell out his name, but he couldn’t hear me from back there.) So while it was nowhere near as good as a full concert, especially one where I sat in the fifth row, it was a pretty interesting experience to see Lindsey with my eyes instead of a TV or computer monitor. It was my day off, and nothing is sore or achy the next day, so no downsides at all.
Now point me to where I can get tickets for the Christmas show, Lindsey. . .


Book Reviews: Racing, Cops, Post-Its, and Future War

Take Out
As much as I love Judge Deborah Knott and her incredibly extended family down in the South, I’ve always preferred this author’s Sigrid Halard series, even if it is based in Noo Yawk. It’s so much fun revisiting this universe after so many years away. All the quirky characters are here, especially the clumsiest cop that’s ever existed, the Bohemian photographer/mom who’s always a hoot, and of course Roman; if you’ve read any in this series, nothing more need be said.
This time out the squad is searching for the food-poisoning murderer of two apparently homeless men, with ties to various people on one city street. Also featured on this block is a diner and a getting-close-to-your-client business that isn’t what it appears to be; you’ll see. As always, the characters are more interesting than the plot, but it winds its merry way to a satisfying conclusion anyway. Classic Maron and Sigrid.
One note—at the end the author says this:
“Although the first eight books in this series were written in what was the current “now” at the time and with absolutely no regard to aging my characters, this book takes place in the 1990s, a year after Fugitive Colors but before Three-Day Town.”
Wish she’d said that at the beginning!

Start Your Engines (Racing Hearts #1)
Ten years ago, a racing crash killed their best friend, and put the male protagonist in the hospital. Though the cause was a cut tire, the female lead blames herself, and he blames her too, so now that they’re forced to work together on the same racing team they have to figure out how to deal with those residual emotions, as well as romance blossoming between them.
Had to laugh at how this author made up names for the races, the tracks, even the series. In Tammy Kahler’s Kate Reilly series, everything is true to life other than the names of the racers, so it’s an unusual contrast. And I’m always amazed when a writer throws in the name of a favorite movie or a band I know, in this case Halestorm.
So all in all, thoroughly enjoyable. Not the same feeling as other racing stories, like Tammy Kahler’s, but then this is a romance, not a mystery. There’s an amazing amount of psychology going on here, from the usual racing stuff to PTSD. Would have felt just the same without the romance, but then I don’t think I’m the target audience here; lack of communication rather than the usual miscommunication was the problem that popped up this time.
One thing that annoyed me was that at the beginning of chapter two there’s too many male characters introduced at once! Easy there, tiger. But that was really–well, almost–the only negative. Though the driving scenes are short and undetailed, almost treated like afterthoughts, the behind-the-scenes stuff was fun. And it’s set up for a sequel.
But I would be remiss if I did not point out something that bugged me. Though it’s made obvious that the one-dimensional villain and his cronies cause crashes and otherwise screw with the protagonists, they never get punished. There’s not even a mention of the race stewards—if there are any—checking the video evidence. And while it’s said a few times that Gabrielle checks her social media, nowhere does it say how the internet feels about the jerk antagonist. Those details would have made me feel better about the ending. At times it feels like, despite setting this in the world of auto racing, the author has no interest in it, just using it as a backdrop.

The Post-It Note Affair
A woman bored with her marriage finds a Post-It in her purse, which changes her life in two ways: the message buoys her spirits, and she’s totally invested in finding out who put it there, hoping it’s the hot new guy at the office.
This book starts with musings on what love is, which turned out to be pretty interesting. What’s not as intriguing is her description of her husband: “full of energy, a great listener, and he utterly adores me.” I think she just described a puppy. She pretty much says so later: “But maybe that’s why it’s just gotten, well, boring. Living with Stephen is like having a really great pet. Did I just think that? He’s everything you could want in a companion.”
Luckily it gets funny at times. “I strolled into work proud of the fact that I arrived on time. Of course, no one seemed to notice. I didn’t even get a prize for that. There should be prizes for that.” Written nicely as far as style goes, but then comes a scene where she manufactures drama with her husband. . . ugh. There’s no coming back from that on the likability scale.
This is written from the woman’s point a view, a woman who’s bored with her marriage to the point where she flirts with a guy from work. That’s fine. But, and let’s not mince words here, at times she treats her husband like crap, just because he’s boring in comparison to the new guy. Never once does she try to communicate with him about it, or figure out a way to make things better. Everything’s about her. It’s incredibly rare that I don’t like a female protagonist, but here it is. And I hardly ever complain that a story is too short, but that’s the case here. I figured out who was really sending the notes early, so I wish there had been more to make me wonder. The way the story’s written leaves only one real possibility, but also serves to make her even more unlikeable. The only thing that saved it from a lower grade was the humor.

Future War: Preparing for the New Global Battlefield
This review is a bit difficult for me, as I read an excellent book with the same title some years ago. Despite all attempts at not comparing, I have to admit some expectations seeped through, and the fact that they turned out to be on completely different paths didn’t help.
That other book was talking about weapons of the future, and there’s a little bit of that here: sonic waves, lasers, and other non-lethal newfangled inventions that DARPA’s working on. Twice the author lists historical military breakthroughs, but in both cases misses one of the most elementary and essential: stirrups.
But other than that small section on tech, this book is really one long surprising treatise on the philosophical, moral, and ethical implications of war in the future, rather than a description of actual warfare. There isn’t much about the tactics necessary to fight the new enemy that has made terrorism synonymous with warfare, for example. In fact, the ideas presented are not new, such as the chapter on leadership, and have always been a part of warfare since the Ancient Greeks. Perhaps he sees a need to remind people of it, and that’s fine up to a point, but the author belabors these opinions time and time again. If I’m smart enough to pick up this book, I’m smart enough not to be beat on the head over and over with the same kick. Plus it’s more likely a case of preaching to the choir of anyone interested in reading this book. For instance, he makes the point that people who are unaffected by war—in this case the American people—don’t care about the issues surrounding it. I wrote a paper on this very subject years ago, about Bosnia and Croatia and the bombing of Serbia, and I’m not exactly a military expert, so I have to say I learned very little here.