INsiders: Tale of Two Cities

The start of my third year with this prestigious group turned out to be one of the best meetings yet, much more fun than one would expect in a lecture about a famous and often-discussed book/play/story.
First, a little background: The INsiders is a discussion group that meets during the run of each play at A Noise Within (not counting the annual A Christmas Carol). Some people liken it to an old-fashioned salon—a term invented in 16th Century Italy, but that’s another story—where people gathered to banter about the art of the day, usually literature and poetry. For those who don’t know, A Noise Within is a relatively famous theater company in Pasadena, known for being a tiny powerhouse amongst the giants of the stage world. The theater is easily accessible, as it is right off the 210 freeway, as well as being directly at a stop of the Metro Gold Line light-rail train.
Every INsiders gathering has two guests, one a distinguished scholar who usually teaches the work being discussed, the other an actor involved in the production. At this past Tuesday’s meeting the acting guest was Emily Goss, who portrays Lucie. She’s one of the few actors at A Noise Within whom I was familiar with before seeing her on the stage here. In this episode of the You Tube series Princess Rap Battle, she played Goldilocks (behind Cinderella, not the one in red), but with her newly brown/red hair she no longer fits that role.
The scholarly guest was Dr. Lana L. Dalley, a professor of English Lit at Cal State Fullerton. Far from the stereotype of a stodgy academic in tweed, she was instantly notable for her short blonde hair and script tattoo on her right arm; when asked about it later, she admitted it read “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress,” which is the first line from Middlemarch, by George Eliot. She’s also an X-Files fan, as we’ll see later.

Armed with computer slides that were both amusing and educational, Dr. Dalley regaled us for the next two hours with little-known tidbits on the life of Charles Dickens, as well as placing his life and works into context. The first note that struck me was the reveal of Dickens World! Yes, an amusement park was built around his novels, with such features as a water ride, haunted house, and animatronic show. Even though I would have never thought to go, I’m disappointed I won’t have the chance, as it has since closed down.
Unlike most famous authors, Dickens never wanted to be a writer. Like Shakespeare, he was more interested in acting, but missed his first audition due to sickness. He did eventually work on the stage, but ended up writing to make money, eventually becoming so famous that at the height of his popularity he did tours around England as well as America, and was reportedly quite the diva about it. He even had a rider that would put most rock stars to shame.
One of the most intriguing tidbits for me was his friendship and collaboration with Wilkie Collins, a vastly underrated author whose most famous works were The Woman in White and The Moonstone, some of the best early British mysteries.
At one point Dr. Dalley showed movie posters of some of Dickens’ works, the first being a recent Bleak House production starring Gillian Anderson. . . except she called her “Scully.” Anyone who can reference The X-Files during a English Lit lecture is more than okay in my book.
The lecture ended on a fun note about Tale of Two Cities having the first ever mention of potato chips:
“Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.”
I don’t know how oil can be reluctant, but it sounds awesome. I might argue, though, that since fries are called chips in England, this isn’t so much about potato chips as French fries, which I love a thousand times more, but I digress.
It felt like there wasn’t as much time for questions as usual, but since Dr. Dalley let us interrupt her whenever we wanted, there wasn’t much left to ask. The lecture was so entertaining that poor Emily spent most of the time as a fellow listener, but did get to bring some insights into her portrayal of Lucie.

If I’ve piqued your interest in attending, here are the remaining dates for the 2017/18 season:
The Madwoman of Chaillot | Oct. 24, 2017
Mrs. Warren’s Profession | Nov. 21, 2017
Henry V | Feb. 27, 2018
A Raisin in the Sun | March 27, 2018
Noises Off | Apr. 24, 2018

In addition to the guests and discussion, you get refreshments—cookies and strawberries are the favorites—and if you arrive early you can join a lot of the attendees for dinner beforehand, usually Chinese food (I go to the burger joint).
Fair warning: it does cost, though it counts as a tax-deductible donation. For more info, contact Alicia Green, the Director of Education & Community Outreach, at education@anoisewithin.org or call 626-356-3104. (Don’t be scared, she’s a sweetie.)

;o)

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Book Reviews: Plenty of Kids’ Stuff

Chatur and the Enchanted Jungle
Chatur and his usually trusty donkey Gadhu are back for another adventure. Will the human turn out to be the bigger ass like last time?
Of course he does. Chatur is just as impatient as ever, and Gadhu just as laid back as ever, as they go from town to town looking for work, only to find some genie mojo in the forest. It takes little for Chatur to go overboard again.
Classic Twilight Zone ending made it all worth it.
4/5

Riley Can Be Anything
A short story about. . . well, look at the title. Cousin Joe, who’s slightly older, asks Riley what he wants to be when he grows up; Riley has no idea, so they think about it, in pictures and rhyme. Cook, musician, doctor, pilot, all are examined. The ending is a little bit of a surprise.
I appreciate how well the rhyming was, but at the same time the rhythm itself seemed off. Either the author or the illustrator has no idea what a trumpet looks like (hint: not like a sax).
The artwork is all big bold colors and simplistic shapes. Feel like this could have been done better.
3/5

The Monster at Recess: A Book about Teasing, Bullying and Building Friendships
Shy nonconformist Sophie would rather be playing with the monsters from the school that shares a playground with hers than deal with her mean classmates and misunderstanding teachers.
First and foremost, this isn’t a typical children’s book; there’s no artwork or photos, it’s all written (Though there are monsters drawn on the cover). This story would have benefitted from visuals, considering all the monsters an artist would have enjoyed inventing.
As it stands, Sophie breaks rules and lies to go play with the monsters, which isn’t surprising, considering they’re a far better lot than the human girls. Still, I’m not sure parents will appreciate the lengths this author has her going to.
3/5

The Field
A little girl soccer-dances her way through a forest, finally arriving at a field with cows and goats. She gathers everyone she can find for a game, after setting up the goals and shooing the animals off the playing field.
It’s funny that it’s even a question as to whether the game would stop because of rain. Ask any kid and they’ll tell ya it’s more fun playing soccer in the mud. And like the professionals they get a long soothing bath once their dirty clothes are off.
At the end there’s a two-pager of every character playing with a ball, including the moms and the cows. This includes a little blonde girl, who is treated no differently by all the other inhabitants of what I assume to be a Caribbean island, from the Creole-looking version of French tossed in every once in a while (confirmed at the end, with a page of translations).
The artwork is broad, with no attempt at realism, but that’s fine. It’s colorful before the rain hits, and every character is drawn distinctively.
4/5

For Audrey With Love
An unusual story about the friendship between Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, a fashion designer. Their dual stories play out one above the other, from childhood—with his mom being positive about him wanting to be a fashion designer while her mom tells her she’ll never be a ballerina—on through their careers and their eventual meeting. Once she becomes famous she brings him along.
But the story doesn’t always make sense. On one page he says he doesn’t have time to design for her, but she can buy from the rack; next page it says she appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in dresses he designed for her. An editor missed that blooper.
The artwork is in a broad 60s watercolor style. In some ways this is indeed for kids, especially in the prose, but at the same time it seems more geared for adults.
3/5

Let’s Clean the House
A story told in photos, not more usual types of artwork, about. . . exactly what the title says. It starts in an incredibly messy bedroom, where even the bunkbed is loaded with stuff. . . how can anyone sleep on that?
How messy is the place? There’s an actual line: “Can you find the floor?”
There’s photos of a tidy closet and a laundry basket, but it doesn’t show the effort to get them there. Is this supposed to inspire kids to tidy up? Doesn’t seem like it would do any more than telling them to do it. The tag even says “Want to get your kids excited about clean-up time?” but I don’t see how this will do it.
The formerly messy bunkbed now looks like something in a showroom. A little girl is perched precariously on a bookcase that looks like it’s never been used. Even when you clean up it never looks this good in real life.
Next up is the kitchen, and I’m happy to say it looks worse than mine. The toilet looks like something out of a mansion, or a space station.
Ends with a photo of kids jumping for joy.
All in all, pretty bland.
3/5

Nursery Rhyme Time
Large drawings frame classic stories, like The Cat and the Fiddle; seeing a cat holding a violin is not nearly as unusual as I thought it would be. Others include a nattily depressed but dour Humpty before the fall, Little Miss Muffet, Three Blind Mice, and so on. These are the original versions of the stories; can’t help but picture a child asking, “Why did the old woman who lived in a shoe whip the kids before sending them to bed?” And did the pumpkin-eater kidnap his wife and hold her captive?
The artwork is drawn in childish exaggeration, but not so much that you can’t tell how it fits in the story. Some of the rhymes were unknown to me; perhaps they were selected for visual appeal.
3/5

Queen Quail is Quiet
This is the usual alphabet runthrough, with each letter supplying a phrase full of alliteration, though most are too simple to be called genuine tongue-twisters, as the book claims.
A little disappointed in G, which features a giant bunny rather than a giraffe. J seems to be the best one. Some are right on the mark, others are too silly, like the robot radish. I’m sure I’ll never hear about a Zen zucchini being in the zone ever again.
The author/illustrator must have had fun with these, as she paints not just animals but all sorts of things in anthropomorphic form; some of them have to be seen to be believed.
3.5/5

Science Candy
Two kids try to be innovative with their school science project, but spend most of their time at the candy store. The candy man seems to know more about science than their teacher, using his wares to show refraction and geology, amongst other things.
Mostly written with drawings here and there. Some of the scientific descriptions seem to be at least of a junior high level, if not high school. If this is targeted for smaller kids it might go over their heads.
4/5

Discover Cats
Photos of different types of cats—including the skeletal hairless ones that look like the feline version of a Chihuahua—are augmented by small sentences. Other than some factoids, like eye color and how cats don’t like to be alone, that’s it.
The first cat looks quite surprised.
Seems like something small kids would like, as in preschool age.
3.5/5

Chirp
Chirp is a chick—wonder what the others are called—who goes off on an adventure while Mom and siblings are asleep, avoiding cats and falling into buckets of paint, which lead to mistaken identity and crisis.
The chicks are drawn as simple fluff balls on leg sticks, but keep a lookout for the little girl, especially her hair.
4/5

Secret Agent Josephine in Paris
As I always say, it’s good when the title tells you everything you need to know.
All it took was the first sentence to include the phrase “mermaid piñata” for me to know how quirky this was going to be. After all, when the villain is nicknamed “The Cupcake Kid” and likes stray puppies. . .
A flower shop is a good place for a villain to hide as he observes the ditzy agent sent to catch him. Wasn’t at all surprised by the supposed twist. Bug’s arm would have given out long before the fifty-seventh yarn throw. From a story point of view, it’s not well-plotted, to the point where even kids would question some of her decisions.
The flower shop showed a lot of beautiful colors, but some pages were just too cluttered.
2.5/5

Sleep, Baby, Sleep
Different cultures are shown putting their babies to bed. There’s archaic language and attempts at rhyme, but other than that the words do not stand out.
This is all about the visuals, taken from a German poem written out at the end. The artwork shows every brushstroke, and comes off as something a child would do in kindergarten, which I’m sure was the intention, but it’s a bit jarring at first.
3/5

The Tooth That’s on the Loose
With an Old West sheriff narrating, we get an allegory of a tooth that needs pulling. The tooth in question not only wears a cowboy hat, gloves, a gunbelt, and boots, it’s sporting a mustache and bushy eyebrows. That cannot be at all pleasant inside a mouth.
Would have been a tighter story if the sheriff and the tooth fairy were the same person.
That is the strangest-drawn sun I’ve laid tired eyes on in a month of Sundays. . . wow, that lingo is catching!
3.5/5

Amazing World Sea Creatures: Encounter 20 Light-Up Animals
I don’t know how young this is meant for, but with plenty of percentages and words like bioluminescence bandied about on the first page, it can’t be for really small tykes.
There are plenty of photos and graphs. The firefly squid is intriguing, but if it wasn’t so colorful, it would feel like a textbook.
3/5

Amazing World Stars & Planets
A colorful primer on the planets and other objects in the solar system. Each page contains a photo and an interesting fact about the subject. Being giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune get more pages. There’s a whole section on different types of nebulae.
Can’t help but wonder who named the Sombrero Galaxy.
Ends with a one-page glossary. The whole book is big and bright and hard to miss the information.
4/5

Creature Files Dragons: Encounter 20 Mythical Monsters
“They are the real stars in stories about knights rescuing princesses.” Wow.
European dragons have bad reps, so it’s nice to see the Asian nice ones included here. Ethiopian and Armenian dragons were the most interesting, but none as weird as the cockatrice (which is okay with spellcheck, oddly enough), though the tarasque is close (and not in spellcheck).
The font is difficult to read, but other than that it’s a fun intriguing book with plenty of angry dragons drawn beautifully.
4/5

Creature Files Predators
Not just predators, but apex predators. (Apex predators are the only ones who don’t have other animals hunting them.) Seems like they all have claws, though the most awesome ones belong to the non-predatory sloth.
What is a fossa? I didn’t think there were any animals left in the world I hadn’t heard of, not counting those not yet discovered in the Amazon or such.
Well-illustrated in bright colors.
3.5/5

;o)

Graphic Book Reviews: Dolls, Unicorns, and Bond Buddies

How to Be Perfectly Unhappy
This book argues—for a surprising amount of pages—that there’s a whole spectrum of emotion between happy and unhappy. Fair enough, but it’s a lot of pontificating on what’s really a simple theme. And yet it’s oddly captivating, especially the comparisons made to Pluto and an alien having fun making colorful walls.
“Stay-in-the-same-placers.” I do love new words.
It argues that “meaningful” and “compelling” don’t make for happiness, but it’s what some of us like to do anyway. He uses running, reading books, working as examples of things that don’t make him happy but he enjoys doing. (I’ll go along with reading.) “I’m not unhappy. I’m just busy. I’m interested.”
Some of the artwork is cute, but it doesn’t add much. . . except for the colorful wall. That was pretty awesome.
3.5/5

Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy: Disco Fever
In this story, talking animals play superhero in a universe where chickadees are more evil than wolves, and eagles are afraid of spiders. That, along with fish landing on the windshield, is why the super pair are avalanched by a cargo of disco balls.
Running is always plan B, but yeah, it should be plan A.
“Sorry, Frank.” Yeah, keep your lasers to yourself.
Squirrel claws to the ass will defeat all superheroes.
“You’re really cheesy, but you’re right.” Howz that for a moral?
At the end the good wolf explains why dancing is good for you. . . and then Rabbit teaches disco, with moves even I haven’t heard of.
With a disco ball giant robot, nothing is too ridiculous here. Incredibly silly, but all the better for it.
3.5/5

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story
As always, I love it when the title hits it right on the spot.
I thought the cover showed some kind of sea monster, until I saw the girl peeking out from under the blanket.
In a strip-like storytelling, a young woman in college goes through everyday stuff from an introvert’s point of view. Being an introvert myself, I understand a lot of these. On the other hand, some go a little too far. The total lacking in self-confidence would be a different thing than simple introversion, wouldn’t it?
She has the best boyfriend an introvert could possibly have, who then turns into a husband. After finishing her dissertation and the stressful wedding comes the first real job. . . not exactly what you’d expect from someone who just got an advanced degree.
Oddly enough, she’s such a sweet person I wish I could get to know her better, all the while knowing she wouldn’t want to.
She apologizes to boxes. . . empty boxes.
Some genuinely funny moments, others quite touching. I don’t know if it’ll make extroverts more understanding, but it’s worth a try.
4/5

James Bond: Felix Leiter
A post-shark-encounter Leiter is in Tokyo, working for the Japanese to identify an old enemy/colleague/lover who’s off the grid. There’s a flashback with Bond, and then we find out why Tiger didn’t keep his end of the bargain in helping to catch his gorgeous adversary.
“You had me at ‘Not the French.’”
About halfway there’s a major plot twist that, quite frankly, was easy enough to guess. Though the story doesn’t actually end in a cliffhanger, there’s enough left unresolved that you’d certainly expect a sequel, especially when there’s a character like Alena to write about.
Tight hands and sphincters are a necessity when you’re pretending to be James Bond.
Too bad the writer made what was a proud character such an idiot, as he admits plenty of times. Then there’s the serious inferiority complex. It’s one thing to make the protagonist complicated, quite another to make him seem like a butt monkey.
Brightly painted poppy fields are a sharp contrast from Tokyo, which has a Blade Runner vibe. . . or maybe it’s all the rain. Florida is also brightly lit, but Helsinki looks like an impressionist painting.
There a whopping 35 pages of extras! Variant covers, author interview, and what looks to be the entire script of the first chapter.
3/5

Dollface V.2
The first volume wasn’t written all that well, but I remember enough funny moments from it to give the series another try. This time the three take a portal to El Lay and land just a few blocks from a witch. . . but not just any witch. This one’s a baby-eater. Dollface flattens the clinic she’s in, thereby killing a lot of innocent people.
At Venice Beach she lifts weights, joins a drum circle, plays volleyball, and makes other women jealous. But of course the bad guys aren’t dead yet. And even more of course, the innocent character gets killed.
“You killed my family! Prepare to die!” Why does that sound familiar?
The giant fight scene was so difficult to follow. The artwork is so angular, much like Dollface herself.
Despite some early fun, it turned into as much of a gorefest as the first one. At some point it just stopped being fun and felt more like work. Emily’s reaction was strange as well.
The artwork is brighter than most.
2/5

Be a Unicorn & Live Life on the Bright Side
As always, I love a title that tells you everything you can expect from the book.
There’s not much more to say about it. Everything is positivity, puppies and rainbows. “Eat the cake, but also eat the kale” kinda stuff. All pretty simplistic, but I imagine people often forget.
“Unicorn loves to feel the rain on his cheeks.” No, not those. . . okay, those too. And there’s an obligatory Trump joke, though a mild one. Some jokes are literal, like looking at the bigger picture. Then you get what you’d never thought you’d see, a unicorn on a stripper pole.
The artwork, especially the unicorn, is pretty rudimentary, though he does have the multi-colored horn.
3.5/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: On The Death Of That Most Excellent Lady

By my mom’s fave poet, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (Mexico, 1648-1695).

Let them die with you, Laura, now you are dead,
these longings that go out to you in vain,
these eyes on whom you once bestowed
a lovely light never to gleam again.

Let this unfortunate lyre that echoes still
to sounds you woke, perish calling your name,
and may these clumsy scribblings represent
black tears my pen has shed to ease its pain.

Let Death himself feel pity, and regret
that, bound by his own law, he could not spare you,
and Love lament the bitter circumstance

that if once, in his desire for pleasure,
he wished for eyes that they might feast on you,
now weeping is all those eyes could ever do.

;o)