Netflix Fun: Miraculous Ladybug

Overview
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.

Writing
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  . . .

Directing
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!

Acting
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.

Music
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.

“Feel”
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.)
9/10

;o)

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.
4/5

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.
4/5

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.
4/5

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.
3/5

;o)

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!
4/5

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.
3.5/5

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.
2.5/5

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.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: The Whole World Is Graphic

“Do I have to carry you?”
“Would you? Careful on the steps, I’m fragile everywhere except emotionally.”

Red Team: Double Tap, Center Mass
After whiling away the hours in traffic talking about her relationship—and chasing after a guy who runs into a pole—the two cops who’ve been punished for something that happened in the first issue come across an entitled brat with gang bodies in the trunk of his speeding car, which of course leads to all kinds of red herrings and tangents and conspiracies before they finally discover what’s up.
In case you ever wondered, being shot in the head will not stop someone from having sex.
My fave scene was him gently ripping into the SWAT guys for failing to clear the crime scene. On the other hand, I’m getting tired of the cliché of cops not clearing crime scenes due to lazy writing. . . just sayin’. Another highlight was the stroll through the art gallery, which was all kinds of awesome.
The sex scenes are intentionally hilarious. For instance, that’s one happy voyeuristic dog on the couch! There’s funny usage of arms and legs to block naughty bits, and how can she not be the perfect woman when that kind of “pillow talk” gets her hot?
I’m surprised that such a convoluted story actually wrapped itself nicely at the end. Still a tough ride to get through, and there were a few plot holes that would have brought it to a screeching halt if they hadn’t been ignored, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared after the slow beginning.
As far as the artwork goes, these are some really bright colors for this genre.
Over twenty pages of sketches and scripts.
3/5

Lady Stuff: Secrets to Being a Woman
A series of cartoons about. . . well, you already know if you read the title.
Since this isn’t a story, it’s much easier to simply say there were a lot of hilarious moments here. This may be the funniest thing I’ve read all year. Some highlights:
The matching eyebrows (it literally made me laugh out loud).
“Pick a color” at the manicure place.
“My bed is warm.”
*Hugs sweatpants*
She lost me at “guac.”
“Summer cuddles”—not a name—is spot on.
How not to eat cookies.
Talking ice cream, no matter how cute, is friggin’ scary.
See, this is what I’ve been saying about garlic all along!
Sometimes when she’s in the blanket she looks like the cute little seal girl from Song of the Sea, but other times she looks like a nesting doll.
It’s all done in really simple drawings, but then this is about the humor, so it doesn’t matter.
4.5/5

Heart and Brain: Body Language
First, as far as the author’s pen name, I would like to point out that I’ve never met a Yeti who wasn’t awkward.
Second, I’ve read a previous collection of this comic strip, so I’m coming in with full awareness as to the brand of humor.
And most of all, Heart is so cute! And an airhead, of course. I have to assume there are plushies available.
Highlights:
“Pandora’s Web Browser.” That’s a thing.
“Give those back! I was making a point!” “Point taken.”
“They grow up so fast.”
“Protagonist!”
“Ssssshowtime!” and “Taste Buds!”
“Just song lyrics and movie quotes”. . . Yep.
See what happens when you roll your eyes. . .
Plenty of crazily humorous moments, well worth a perusal.
4/5

Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography
Yes, someone did a graphic novel on one of the biggest names in the history of religion. And it goes in-depth, with plenty of stuff that isn’t in a quick look at his life, if we assume all this is actually true, especially the lightning bolt incident. Did you know he played the lute? I didn’t. Now we both do.
Some high points:
The whole story starts on a high note, as the first illustration is a Bosch painting. Later on there’s a panel that’s right out of Escher. Bonus points from me.
For a monk, he sure knew his spycraft. Junker Jorg indeed.
There’s a Groundhog Day page to show how bored he is in exile, funny despite the repetitiveness.
“The gospel should be told as if everything just happened yesterday.”
“God. . . was absent during the bloodbath.”
The downside, at least for me, is all the religious babble. To the end he holds to his simplistic, even childish views. “There are innocent people among them. God knows well how to protect and save them. . . if he does not save them, then it is only because they are villains.” Ugh. And even if a lot of the Catholic rituals haven’t changed in over 500 years, I still don’t understand them.
As for how historically accurate it is, I can’t help but wonder. I looked for any representations of him with the hipster beard, and couldn’t find any. The wedding: tuxedo and white dress? Hopelessly anachronistic, obviously trying to appeal to a younger generation.
“Assumes a pastorate.” Some of the language sounds silly to modern ears.
I will admit I learned a lot from this, if indeed it was all true; I have my doubts on that score. He was neither a saint nor a sinner, or perhaps he was a bit of both. If this was pitched as a story, no one would buy it, but as a history lesson it works.
3/5

Poe: Stories and Poems
Seven of the master’s most famous works rendered in visual form. Being a huge Poe fan might skew my opinion, but since my very favorite story isn’t in here, I don’t think it’ll be a problem. Was going to try to keep my comments to just the graphic novel’s depiction, but as usual my questions about the stories crept in when I wasn’t looking.
Masque of the Red Death:
Starts, appropriately enough, with a depiction of what the plague does to a human body. This is easily the most colorful of the stories, as it should be, considering the party rooms. This is also the most straightforwardly told, but that may be because it’s the first one.
As I’ve wondered in the past, why did Poe name this protagonist Prospero? And how did the plague enter the sealed fortress after a few months had gone by?
Cask of Amontillado:
I will say the coloring in these scenes, particularly the burial basement, are accurate if not beautiful to look at: mostly darkness, with only the harsh yellow of artificial light to illuminate it. And I always thought Poe was being ironic, or sarcastic, in calling that unfortunate character Fortunado.
Annabel Lee:
This is the first story where the characters are dressed modern rather than period. This artwork makes the whole theme seem even sadder, from the shot of him on his knees sobbing into the ocean to his finished fortress of sand. It feels like no woman has ever been mourned more.
The Pit and The Pendulum:
The story is all black with white lines, since he’s trapped in the dark, until he finds the pit. The rats were a little too realistic for my taste. And this has always been one of my least favorite Poes, as I’m not a fan of the “saved in the nick of time” trope.
The Telltale Heart:
This has always been the go-to when it comes to showing the power of guilt. If anything, it’s a little too on-the-nose here, not subtle at all, but then there weren’t that many pages to work with.
The Bells:
Really isn’t much you can do artwise to show bells. Bells can be happy or sad, but they’re just the tool. The bright orange of the fire looks nice, though.
The Raven:
The protagonist looks just like Poe in these grayscale drawings. The raven is exquisitely drawn, with patterns in its wings. This poem isn’t as visual as the others, so not as much to work with here, though I thought the artist could have made more use of the references.
Ends, rather fittingly, with his grave.
The artwork is more picture book that graphic novel. As you’d expect, it’s literally and metaphorically dark. But I do have to admit that the images make the reading go by faster.
At the end the author explains some of his choices, accidentally answering some of my own questions.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Kiddie Mega-Mega Pack

“Not a bad start,” as the serpent said when he swallowed the toe of the hippopotamus.

The Tide is Coming In
A family spends a day at the beach, some relaxing and others building a sand castle. . . a big fancy one. When the tide comes in there’s crabs and seaweed to contend with, and then of course the tide itself.
The best character is the really helpful dog.
Nicely painted, but not much of a story. I can almost hear the kiddies asking, “Then what happens?”
3/5

ABC Train
As you would expect from the title, this is in standard “A is for—” format, with the first page being “automobile” and “backup,” as in traffic jam. There’s two letters for each page, and they rhyme, which works well. The story is held together by the presence of the train, which rides from one land to another, entertaining the kids on board.
Some pages go sideways, but the worst is the one with the bats, with the lettering completely upside down. I’m usually pretty good at reading that way, but it was impossible to make this one out without giving up—sigh—and turning it over.
Painted in early 90s TV cartoon style, with a lot of edges.
4/5

Animal Family Portraits
If I understand this correctly, the author picks two animals who don’t seem to have all that much in common and combines them to a make a third, completely fictional animal. It’s written out and it doesn’t seem like it’ll work, but then you turn the page and see the family portrait—wonder if they had them made at the mall—and you think, “Yeah, okay.”
An antelope is wearing scuba gear. That might be the first time that phrase has ever been written. The toucan, penguin, and puffin wear silly hats. The most obvious, and therefore the best ones, are panda and platypus.
3.5/5

Annabel on the Go
Annabel likes to pretend she’s someone different each day. Each page shows her doing something different: artist, baker, detective, doctor, etc. Her cat usually joins in on the fun.
This is likely the most rudimentary art work I’ve ever seen, short of stick figures, but it actually doesn’t hurt. The girl has a giant imagination and it’s shown perfectly here.
3.5/5

Best Beast
A girl wants to win a contest so her family can go to the beach. Unfortunately it’s for pets, of which she has none and they’re too poor to get one. So the local crazy lady gives her a rock, and things go from there.
The artwork is more like colored sketches, but the newsflash here is the giant Pinocchio noses everyone on this family sports. Not the pet or the neighbor, just them.
This was cute, except for the part where her parents gave in way too easily.
3.5/5

Her Majesty: An Illustrated Guide to the Women who Ruled the World
“You don’t necessarily need a crown (but they sure are pretty).”
Mostly matter-of-fact with a few instances of trying to be funny. They read like a basic Wikipedia entry dumbed down for kids, which is fine, considering who the target audience is. Hatshepsut goes first (although it’s spelled “Hapshepsut” here) so it seems it’s going to be in chronological order. Boudica is another fave, but then I do love redheads. Lakshmibai was the most intriguing of those I didn’t know; not sure why the inclusion of Gandhi was there, as no other entry had a man sharing the splotlight.
Interesting tidbit: It was Victoria who started the white wedding dress trend, no surprise if you think about it. But too bad Queens Christina and Wilhemina, as listed at the end, didn’t make the cut, and it’s certainly a huge surprise Cleopatra wasn’t included.
The drawings are beautiful, and not an inch is wasted. It does make the script look small, though.
3.5/5

Letters from Santa: A Christmas Alphabet Book
The title is a great pun. Learn your ABCs with Santa, telling you about traditions of Christmas while rhyming well.
Some of the verses don’t say much, too abstract, but in general should be fun for the kiddies.
The illustrations are done on postage stamp backgrounds, with some throwback style; 50s or 60s or something like that. It’s cute.
3.5/5

We’re Going to the Farm
Simple singalong of all the things you can do on the farm: ride horses, roll in the hay, play with animals, etc.
Just as simple artwork, nothing fancy for the kiddies, but It shouldn’t matter as the singing is the highlight.
3/5

Once Upon a Tree
A small story, no doubt meant to be read out loud, about a leaf who’s happy at the top of a tree until birds and caterpillars and the like make him question the true meaning of his life.
This is by far the most emotional leaf I’ve ever known, prone to fits of drama and jealousy and most of all self-doubt. He finds himself at the end, but he’s gonna be in for a big surprise when a shoe crunches him. . . and no, that’s not a spoiler.
3.5/5

Tall Tall Tree
A Northern Spotted Owl introduces the book by saying that until recently humans didn’t know what a thriving ecology could occur so high up in trees, with many different animals living or visiting.
The rhymes are inventive, following the usually more hilarious conceit of what would be the last word in one stanza starting off the next. Each verse describes a creature that lives way up there, though there’s only so much information you can include in three lines (the fourth is always “And now comes number x”). The second line has to rhyme with the next number, so no doubt that was a little difficult for the author.
I can only describe the artwork as lush, with tree bark and green leaves, bushes, and ferns dominating. The owls are a little dark, but the detail is wonderful, the banana slugs just as horrifying as in real life (try eating a chocolate banana slug, I dare you). The ladybugs, on the other hand, were cute. But you really need a vertical view to understand the size of these trees, especially when there’s drawings of tiny humans at the bottom. I first read this on my desktop, then downloaded it to my tablet; the text is better on the former, the paintings on the latter.
At the end are many facts and details about redwoods, as well as an invite to go back and look through the artwork for other animals (I’m guessing the author didn’t bother to try rhyming any numbers further than ten).
4/5

Daytime Nighttime (All Through the Year)
Rhyming stanzas, surrounded by trees and plenty of greenery, tell the reader about what certain animals do, told chronologically with one daytime and one nighttime creature each month.
With the need to rhyme there’s not much room for description, making for a flowery pose that seems designed more for being read aloud than actual learning for the young’uns.
You don’t often find weasels included in kids’ books.
At the end there’s a match game to see if the reader remembers which animals are paired in which month, followed by more facts about each animal and a page actually called “Teachable Moments.”
3.5/5

I Give You My Heart
A little boy in what appears to be rural Japan finds a store on the way to school and zeros in on a wooden box. The owner gives it to him and then promptly disappears. The kid can’t get the box open until his seventh birthday, when he wakes up to find it ajar. Anything else would be spoiling, but it has to do with cycles of life and passing the torch from one generation to the next.
The artwork is kinda hard to describe; best I can come up with is muted watercolor, vaguely impressionistic but a little more lifelike than that. Sometimes I find it beautiful, others mundane. The only problem here is the incredibly tiny text.
3.5/5

Rivers, Seas and Oceans
Starts with a photo of an island with kid drawings of birds, the sun, a boat, fish, etc. added to it. After that it looks more like a textbook, with photos, drawings, fun facts, and little quizzes.
“A penguin is very tasty to an orca.” Don’t know why that made me laugh. And they’re drawn just as cute here, though only when their wings are out. . . then penguins, no the orcas.
After the intro there’s chapters on different kinds of water, oceans, and seas. The contrast between the Carib and the Med seem almost day and night. Iguazu Falls is featured a lot. Yellowstone makes an appearance, as does the Grand Canyon, along with more famous watery places like Venice and Hawaii.
3.5/5

Santa, Please Bring Me a Gnome
A little girl knows what she wants for Christmas and is not swayed by a trip with mom to the toy store. Grandma is much more understanding; the dog might not be, though. She doesn’t get what she wants in the end, but it all works out.
Sweet story.
The artwork is what you would expect for a pre-school level: simple and broad.
4/5

That Looks Good on You
A children’s book about the history of fashion. Okay. . .
What age group is this for when they’re expected to know what avant-garde means?
The rows of hairstyles and hats remind me of picking out the perfect emoji.
Then it actually does portray clothes throughout the ages, though the attempts at context aren’t enough. (At the end there’s a timeline that offers time, place, and what the clothing is.)
Hard to see the point of it, when you could be teaching kids something more valuable.
2/5

Where Is My Coat? Jungle Animals
Animal silhouettes want you to guess what they are. . . and help them find their coats, as the title spells out.
For the most part it’s incredibly simple, so this would be good for really young kids. The artwork is playful. I really can’t think of anything else to say, as it’s so simplistic and yet just perfect the way it is.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Rush, Librarians, and Sports

Banged a knuckle and yelled “Son of a–” Then saw a woman glaring at me with a kid, so I finished with, “Preacher Man.” (It pays to know music.)

On This Date
After an intriguing and thought-provoking intro, the book moves to one usually-long-forgotten historical anecdote a day, much more interesting than any one-small-page calendar. Some are more or less expected, even if the particular date wasn’t known, but the fun is in the topics that would usually have no right being in a serious history tome.
Some of my faves. . . okay, a lot of my faves:
March of Dimes (Wow!); Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer; Tokyo Rose; Lou Hoover; Edmund G Ross; Oppenheimer; Massacre on the Tuscarawas; Sherman and Johnston; Columbine; Jingle Bells; the low-altitude barrel roll in a 707; the birth of the Smiley; We Shall Overcome; Marshall wins Nobel Peace Prize; Jack Robinson and Pee Wee Reese (“someone with the guts NOT to fight back.”); Carson McCullers, Karen Blixen, and Marilyn Monroe walk into a lunch; Theodore Geisel (“He was a political cartoonist all his life, meaning he managed the difficult task of being amusing to kids and adults.”); Princess Bride (even Mark Knopfler gets a mention!); and “Surf music is just the sound of the waves being played on a guitar.”
Did not expect the author of a non-fiction history book to go meta, but in one entry he writes about Philadelphians booing their cricket team as a reason the capital was moved to DC. . . then, “Well, no, I was just seeing if you were paying attention.”
4/5

Rush: Album by Album
The title tells you everything you need to know: a bunch of Rush fans got together to shoot the breeze about each of the many studio albums. . . except these guys are either incredibly familiar with the band from working with them, or are musicians—some in tribute bands—music journalists, or similar.
Intriguing forward by the author, but then I’d expect no less when it comes to my favorite band. Oddly, the book isn’t all that long, even with tons of photos, from album covers to concert fliers to pages from comic books! (As graphic novels were called back then, kiddies.)
Not a fan of Dream Theater, but Mike Portnoy seems like a fun guy to hang out with: “The way most kids my age were staring at a Playboy centerfold, I was looking at a Modern Drummer centerfold and salivating over the whole kit.”
The one downside for me was a lot of musical verbiage that went way beyond my understanding, especially about drumming. Was also surprised by how short the Moving Pictures section was, considering everyone calls it the band’s seminal album. As I’m sure every reader/fan will think, they spend too little time talking about my favorites and too much on those songs I hardly ever listen to, if at all. Still, there are nice things said about The Pass and Bravado—yes, among my faves—especially Geddy claiming the latter is his fave to play live. There’s also a great feeling when someone says something I’d already thought of, such as the addendum in Ghost of A Chance. Most of all, the agreement of The Wreckers being such a beautiful song made me smile.
The last 15 pages or so list the contributors, offer a bibliography, and end with a pretty thorough index.
3.5/5

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like
Subtitled: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information
When I started this I thought it would be quick and easy; boy, was I wrong. The format is a photo of a librarian followed by a short quote, with some longer articles to break up what eventually becomes monotony, though once in a while a cute line appears, like “ultimate search ninjas.” For those who have a stereotypical view of what librarians do—or look like—this will change that completely. Very few of the women shown here, for example, wear glasses, and even though I’ve only seen one with a pierced nose in person, there’s plenty of oddly-painted hair and such in here.
But it’s the longer stories that are the highlights. The doll-lending program has to be the cutest thing ever. Amy Dickinson and Cory Doctorow chime in with great articles, but if I had to pick a best, it would be the Montana Bookmobile.
There’s also a fascinating intro, in which the author says: “What made the library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.” Nothing more to say after that. . .
4/5

Battle of Arnhem
In what might be too short to even be called a novella, a veteran of the battle recounts his experience, filled with death, destruction, stupidity, and black humor. There’s tons of tiny details, some of them incredibly interesting.
“It was explained that, when we arrived, we would most likely be disappointed as all the fun would be over.” Wonder how often soldiers have heard that.
For such a short story, there’s a ton of detail. There’s also more to it than just the battle, as after his capture the author was taken to Dresden, along with 500 other prisoners, and was there for the famous firebombing.
But more than anything it gives you the grit and emotion of being that close to an enemy who’s trying to kill you just as bad as you’re trying to kill them. This is exceedingly rare in modern warfare; even as a former Marine I find it hard to imagine what these soldiers went through.
But some things never change, like the incompetence of staff officers, whom he disses over and over.
3.5/5

Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win
Though it clocks in at 128 pages, it felt a lot longer. Formatted in tiny chapters, each section of prose is accompanied by a cartoonish painting with hard-to-read words in tiny script floating around the outsides. It mostly just states facts in a boring manner; every chapter starts with “she was born on” and then “she started to play.” They are good intros to each person, but the lack of style is such that I doubt it would inspire anyone to find out more. I realize this is for kids, but it underestimates the intelligence of its young readers.
The only chapter that I found remotely interesting—not that the women weren’t interesting, it’s the presentation that lacks—was about the final game of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, where over 90,000 spectators packed the Rose Bowl to watch the United States beat China in penalties. Why did I find this interesting? Because I was there.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Erotic Carpenters, Pilots, and Students

Again, rather than post something witty that happened to me today—usually at my expense—for the erotic reviews I invite you to search out photos of Black Widow from the Captain America Winter Soldier movie. . . but then you might never come back, so read this first.

Not Safe for Work
A corporate woman shows her new boss around the office on a weekend, and they end up having sex there. Turns out big boss, the cold humorless type, has cameras installed and saw the whole thing, firing her. . . but not him. Hmmm. Turns out there was an ulterior motive, but in which direction is he jealous?
This is a novella, short enough that I didn’t have time to make notes, write down impressions as I went along. On the other hand, it was short enough to remember. The one thing that really annoyed me was that she hated the big boss for firing her, yet oh so willingly let him have her, even if her lover was part of it. By the end she was claiming to love him. That didn’t strike me as anywhere near true; this would have been simpler if she’d done it just for the sex, or even to please her boyfriend. This three-way relationship was just too dysfunctional to bear.
2/5

Blackmail
Yale student misses class because she was asleep in a common room. She hears her TA coming and hides in the closet. Then she watches him having sex with a guy she can’t stand. Assuming it’s rape, she records it, gets caught, and is forced to participate and also be taped so everyone can have blackmail material on each other.
I thought I’d become used to having multiple points of view, but in this case it was a bit confusing. Perhaps it’s due to Julian and Tristan’s names being too similar. As for the writing, there’s a really long philosophical discussion that made me want to tear my eyes out, while also making me glad I didn’t actually major in philosophy despite getting easy A’s in the two electives. I’d rather read about Mia playing the piano again.
On to the characters. I wish Tristan hadn’t been pushed so far into jerkass territory than I found him unredeemable. Mostly he’s, to use Mia’s words, “spoiled and self-important because his parents are ridiculously wealthy; used to getting his way because, although I am loath to admit it, he is unnaturally gorgeous; and predisposed to treating people like a means to an end.” Julian seems to be weak-willed and will go along with whatever they tell him, which is unusual as he’s the oldest. He was meh at best. Mia seemed cool at times—liked her but didn’t love her—at least when sex isn’t getting the best of her. I certainly didn’t like her basically giving Julian a free pass for all the crap he put her through. She had the potential to be a smart character, but too often her mind failed her; annoying.
The ending just seemed weird to me, both what happened with his illness and the keys; might have been more dramatic in the sequels had she declined and Julian was forced to ostracize her in public while still wanting her. Even the sex scenes left something to be desired.
2/5

Cockpit
A female airline pilot approaching her sixties comes across her old high school boyfriend sitting in first class on her flight to London. She eventually meets him for a drink in their hotel, not expecting anything to happen because he’s wearing a wedding ring, as well as their ages. Boy, was she wrong.
Interesting that, after quite a few mentions of age at the beginning—mostly with her wondering if she could be sexy enough—it was never mentioned again, certainly not during sex. Though her self-doubt was understandable, there seemed to be too much of it, especially in her rivalry with a flight attendant half her age who’d screwed her now ex-husband. A little more of London would have been nice too.
In the end it was cute but no big deal. Extra points for having an older couple, especially the sex scenes in offbeat titillating places like the London Eye and the flight simulator. But other than that it seemed pretty standard.
3/5

Drilled
Beautiful construction worker goes in to work on a weekend, expecting to be alone—“No one had listened when she’d pointed out the problems at the time and now they were at the wire. They didn’t listen because she was a woman”—only to find herself being ogled by two rich businessmen. Erotica ensues.
For once the cover actually fits the story!
Danni loves doing construction, and it gives her a connection to her late father. She’s got a greedy, though in the end understanding, matronly mom and a horrible stepdad. I don’t remember her having any girlfriends, though I might be forgetting. Still, she seems more well-adjusted than most of the heroines in this genre, so I kinda loved this character. The two rich guys weren’t total jerks, for once, though of course there’s the inevitable miscommunication near the end that has to happen before the happy ending.
For the most part I enjoyed this. Not happy with them throwing their money at the stepfather, especially after what he said to her on the phone; he didn’t deserve it, especially considering he never apologized. Other than that, there was a lot of fun dialogue between the three when not having sex, and included some quickly-inserted fun characters–when they dressed her up and took her to lunch, for example–that, had their story been longer, would have been fun to get to know. But perhaps they’ll have their own stories later. . .
4/5

;o)