Book Reviews: Graphic is the Future

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

Control
A detective in DC is playing pool with her partner when around the corner two cops are shot while trying to save a kid from hanging. Great start. The assassin is so cool and collected he slips right past them without a problem. Being DC, politics gets in the way during the hunt, and there’s a big conspiracy involved.
There were some moments I really liked. For instance, I do enjoy when clichés are turned on their head or expanded, such as “I’m an open book. Big print, lots of pictures.” A senator is caught having sex with a tied-up woman while a dominatrix looks on, and he has the gall to say, “This isn’t what it looks like!”
But on the other hand, for being a smart detective sometimes she’s just dumb. For one, she makes the same mistake as her partner, going off after the bad guy without backup. There’s one page with a bunch of panels showing off rain and her walking in it, which seemed like too much.
Not at all sure how I feel about the ending. Her remarks at the ceremony were awesome, but what she did with the evidence and the new job offer doesn’t seem compatible. I really wanted to like this more, but in the end I realized it just wasn’t very original. The villain wasn’t that special either.
3/5

Lady Mechanika V.1: Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse
She’s a half-mechanical steampunk Lara Croft chasing down a demon, but all is not as it seems. She makes enemies wherever she goes as she tries to figure out her origins, especially when another mechanical girl dies after running from some goons and a hot evil redhead.
Did I say steampunk? This is steampunk on steroids.
As often happens, especially in operas but also stories like this, she’s standing around talking to the corpse rather than escaping, so a bad guy comes along and beats her to the prize. And right after it happens again; wish the author didn’t make it so contrived. This was my least favorite part.
There are some excellent touches, though. She infiltrates the bad guy’s lair with a ridiculous flying machine, made by an inventor—Cockney sidekick, of course—who’s afraid of clowns; it’s the first time we see Mechanika laugh, and it goes a long way to making her more likable. She laughs again at the carnival, but it really comes full force when she whines, “I’m pleasant!” Would have thought she relished her bad-ass reputation. But most of all, the way she keeps humoring the kid that insists she’s not who she claims is simply endearing. Also very cool how Lewis and the doctor become instant friends.
The artwork is sometimes overdone, as one might expect from steampunk, but still gorgeous, even considering the muted colors that at times feel like sepia. There’s something that looks weird yet somehow right about her wearing a derby with goggles on them. And in the cover gallery at the end it’s just plain weird to see Mechanika standing like she’s posing.
More importantly, this is in my top three of most beautifully drawn and colored graphic novels I’ve ever seen. And it didn’t occur to me till the end–mostly due to that cover gallery–to notice all the elaborate costumes she wears, mixing Victorian finery with steampunk leather and such.
She also has an inordinate amount of hats. . .
4/5

The Sound of the World By Heart
Impressionistic watercolor scenes of Noo Yawk background a story of a photographer who plans to go sixty-two days with no verbal interaction. (As a fellow photographer I wish I could do that with the models I work with.)
Things are strange to start, as there’s an unseen narrator, rather than the guy we’re following actually doing the talking, or thinking. It’s not till page 43 that she introduces herself; up to then there was no idea if the voice was male or female. She claims to hear his thoughts; telepathy or imagination? Is it the famous lady from the painting? She does say she’s French, after all. At some point it changes to first person, and it works better, but then it switches back.
I was wondering how he communicated when needed; turns out he passes notes. Would have been easier to use his ubiquitous phone, but either way it feels like cheating.
The conceit of having a redhead who appears in the photos—in color, even though the shots are B&W—felt spooky at first, but at the same time intriguing. Not so the dream sequence; that was just disturbing.
I’m of the opinion this graphic novel was longer than it needed to be. There’s a lot of white empty space; the drawings don’t come close to taking up all the room on the page. There’s also far too many drawings of him drinking coffee while walking with his headphones, which makes things a bit boring. And the crashing marbles analogy was just silly.
Joan is smart; talking to the painting would be weird, but telepathy is normal? But then there are plenty of times when he does or says something that makes me think this is either all a dream or he really is crazy, and not just because of the voices in his head. And there’s no way I’m buying the city theory, but then I hate Noo Yawk.
Even though it did a good job at resolving some of the seeming inconsistencies at the end, I was still left far too confused. Couldn’t tell if it was real or not, if it actually happened at all, but I guess I wasn’t supposed to know; that wasn’t the point of the story.
3/5

Wraithborn V.1
After a fight-filled intro there’s a flashback to how Melanie became such a badass, because she certainly wasn’t in high school. She’s firmly entrenched in the “reluctant hero” trope, but at least she’s amusing, especially for a wallflower, at times scared of her shadow but also willing to stand up for those who can’t. The part where she says, “Um. . . nice doggies?” got an actual LOL out of me, and I can’t believe I just used that damned acronym.
There’s nothing here that’s particularly new, though. The bad guy has minions and an evil laugh, and can’t seem to stop talking. And why are the redheads always evil? But despite it being an old story, I kinda liked it.
Cover gallery at the end.
3.5/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: The Gazelle

By Samuel Ha-Nagid, somewhere at the turn of the millennium. . . 1000AD, not 2000.

I’d give everything I own for that gazelle
who, rising at night to his
harp and flute,
saw a cup in my hand
and said,
“Drink your grape blood against my lips!”
And the moon was cut like a D,
on a dark robe, written in gold.

;o)

Book Reviews: Mounds of Kiddie Stuff

“I did my doody,” the toddler intoned solemnly, then grinned.
“He might be a prodigy after all. . .”

Sun Dragon’s Song #2
I’ve read the first, and more importantly remember it; that doesn’t happen often.
Despite now being a dragonrider in training—or more likely because of it—Ho Yi is still getting bullied. Before he was just an easy target, but now jealousy gets added and he gets a huge beatdown. Much more endearing is how much he likes his new digs: not having to share a room, his own bathroom, so on. That changes quickly as training sets in, leaving him homesick and in pain, but with new friends.
You can’t be a dragonrider if you’re afraid of heights; maybe shoulda thought about that beforehand. . .
I like the artwork here more than I did in the first one. I don’t remember if the first was so watercolor-y, but it definitely works here.
Ends in a cliffhanger, but since it’s the 2nd of 4 chapters that’s to be expected.
3.5/5

New York City Monsters
Bright landscapes of Noo Yawk are interspersed with info bubbles and monsters for you to find in a Where’s Waldo fashion. Some are pretty tricky, like the one dressed in a business suit on the street. Toward the end I missed some, much to my everlasting chagrin; some three-year-old is bound to find it and make my embarrassment complete.
4/5

Princess Lila Builds a Tower
A young version of Rapunzel—shorter blonde hair, of course—is sad; much like Buddha, she has everything she wants but is not allowed to go outside. So she gets the great idea to build an observation tower, seemingly modeled after the one in Copenhagen, so she can see past the dangerous forest she’s forbidden from entering.
Personality trait that will tell you all you need to know about her: “Princess Lila blushed with happiness.” Though she doesn’t even take the crown off to sleep. And in the end she finds a friend with a much bigger crown than hers.
The print is a bit small, despite having plenty of room in the beautiful page-size drawings.
3.5/5

The Bear
Learn about ursines in question and answer method. Example:
WHERE DOES THE BEAR LIVE?
There are rocks, trees…. And look! There’s a cave!
Nicely descriptive without getting verbose. I’m liking this for adults, other than the simple language, though it’s perfect for kids. Small and simple but bright colorful paintings tell most of the story.
Facts and glossary at the end.
4/5

Mama Bird Papa Bird
In full page drawings with few words, the story of how a pair of birds suddenly find an egg in their nest is told. They have no idea how it got there. Mama got fat and then she wasn’t. (What exactly is the attempted lesson here?)
At some point it occurred to me there was rhyming going on, but it didn’t hit me at the beginning, which is unusual.
Ends with the parents squabbling over baby’s career path, so to speak. But after that there’s a bible bit that seems to imply the whole book was about keeping to old-fashioned gender roles. What was a simple and almost-boring story becomes rather chilling.
As usually happens, the artwork is the best part, though the birds smile way too smugly.
2/5

Chicago Monsters
Each page of this book contains monsters, not many of them scary; it’s up to your kid—or you—to find them. Period. That’s all there is to this, and it’s beautiful. Some are of course easy, but it’s hard to get them all on the first try, especially in the latter pages.
Since this is the Chicago version they start with the Bean. Not as many well-known places as the NY edition; can’t wait for them to get to El Lay.
The whole thing is done in big bright colors that make it a joy to look through.
4/5

San Francisco Monsters
As always, each page contains not-always-scary monsters to find. That’s the entire game, and really all you need. Each setting is brightly colored yet realistic, as the Golden Gate Bridge, Painted Ladies, and brickwork of Ghirardelli Square attest to.
Maybe it’s the locale, but I enjoyed this one a little more than the previous editions in Chicago or Noo Yawk.
4/5

My Favorite Word: Arcane
Text alternates with paintings as a little girl—seemingly too little to know a word like that—tells of how she wishes her friends would be nicer to her, even if it takes arcane magic.
The poor dog is wondering what she’s doing with his bones.
It’s definitely cute and worthwhile, but I’m not sure the target audience would learn the actual meaning of the word through this. It’s not exactly spelled out, and seems to be used for many different things throughout.
3/5

Little Tails in the Savannah
As with the first, a squirrel takes a relatively dimwit dog for a trip to find out about animals. As the title tells you, this one takes place in Africa. Each page contains a three-panel comic strip with a full color painting of the animal discussed taking up most of the page.
What kind of plane gets destroyed crashing into a giraffe? A cardboard one, of course. And yes, that ball is a pile of poo. Great start. . .
Baby elephant grabbing mom’s tail=intense cuteness.
Bit of an abrupt ending; barely got to say hi to the uncle they were visiting before they were gone again in their somehow fixed air machine. Would have preferred a few more pages to make the ending better.
3.5/5

The Knights of Boo’Gar
A spoiled princess interrupts a ridiculous chess-like game between the king and his wizard—best thing that could have happened to it—to wail that the royal goat has been stolen, possibly by a cheese lover.
Example of the kind of line you can expect here: “She sobbed and sobbed, just like anyone would if they lost their goat.” The narrator’s princess-y attitude, along with the wizard’s snark. . . the king would have called it subversive, if it didn’t go over his head.
Childish puns abound. My favorite character early on, as expected, is the turtle, who likes to watch her human go crazy. (But I haven’t met the goat yet.) The princess is not just wearing a tool belt, but her favorite tool belt. (Yet she’s still majorly spoiled!) Lest you forget this is for kids, there’s plenty of boogers and farts.
“We have names and feelings just like you. We not just scary plot device.” This author really wants to get something off his chest, but then that’s no surprise when he makes religious figures the bad guys.
There’s a chapter at the end on medieval devices, which doesn’t seem to fit the story.
With only a few cartoony drawings, mostly of the king, amongst the large-print prose, it’s not enough to call this a picture book. What it is is a silly and occasionally funny story for pre-teens.
3.5/5

Sea Creatures: Reef Madness #1
Awesome subtitle that kids won’t get.
Sunday comic strip-like cartoons explain the quirks of different types of fish, with a twist comical—or attempt at comedy—ending. All the creatures think and speak, and for the most part get along, though there’s always some bad guys.
The thought of a humpback whale approaching discreetly blows my mind. . . especially while singing (though as I remember he only sings when mating).
The humor is mostly groan-inducing if you’re over 12, but since this book is meant for younger than that, it feels right. Can’t help but think, though, since this was originally done in French, something was lost in the translation.
3.5/5

The Smurfs: The Village Behind the Wall
A collection of shorts stories featuring the usual guys and one gal finding a new group of blue girls, apparently as an introduction to the new movie coming out soon! (said in announcer voice).
All the new Smurfs get a full page intro—awesome.
The new gals are terrific dancers, and good at curing the aches and pains afterward. “Hanging out with girls looks smurfly exhausting.” If you only knew, bro. . . so much for being the smart one.
Hefty is, as always, easily manipulated. “Why do I have the impression that’s exactly what she wanted?” Because you’ve never talked to a girl before, dude?
A kissing flower gets slapped for being forward. Almost feel sorry for it, considering how sad it’s drawn.
I hate it when the character is narrating what’s obviously happening, as occurred in one of the last stories. At least make it an inner monologue.
A few pages at the end tell how the Smurfs first appeared, with the humans in the story pretty much asking the same questions I did.
3.5/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Snapshots: How I Became a St. Kilda Fan

Back in the mid-nineties I was on my first official trip to Australia (official=non-military-related). It was my first time in Melbourne, and I wanted to visit a friend in one of the suburbs despite the rain that wouldn’t let up my entire trip. (Is it any wonder I prefer Sydney?)
So I jump on the tram/trolley/train/whatever and end up sitting next to a lady in her 60s or so, with whom I amuse myself by pretending I’m a local and checking out how well I can do the accent.
When I got to my stop and said goodbye she looked surprised, at which point I realized I’d forgotten the accent. “Bloody Yank!” she laughed and waved as I dropped off, a nice memory as I searched for the right address to find Christina.
A few hours later I was back at the station, though in no hurry, as I had nothing planned for the rest of the day, just wandering downtown. This time I was sitting next to a big blonde guy who would not be out of place in a boxing ring in Russia or Germany, but his cheery “Good day, mate!” left no doubt he was in his natural habitat. We spent the whole ride talking, mostly on the differences between our countries, and then he asked me if I’d ever heard of Australian Rules Football.
Oddly enough I had, which surprised him. I’d actually only caught a glimpse of it on a sports news show, where a player was sitting on the grass with his right kneecap somewhere in the vicinity of his lower shin. The amazing part was that he didn’t seem to be in any pain, simply staring at this weird circumstance. . . until he drops his hand to try to smack the damned patella back into place. Still the strangest sports moment I’ve ever seen. . .
He agreed with a huge laugh, then said he was a player on a local team named St. Kilda—the Saints, as one might expect—and invited me to come watch them practice. Having found the game an interesting mix of soccer, American football, a touch of basketball, and possibly some others, I heartily agreed, and was happy I did when we walked into the stadium and the team manager asked if I wanted to dress up and play, despite not knowing what the hell I would be doing.
So of course I said yes!
It wasn’t easy. The hardest part was getting used to the ball, which was more or less shaped like an American football, but quite a bit bigger. Having been a wide receiver and kicker in high school, I eventually made some good catches, though I had no idea it was okay to whack your opponent in the back or climb all over him. The kicking was a bit more difficult, as I was used to booming it as hard as I could, not aiming at a teammate thirty meters away. The hand passing was hard too, never having seen anything like it. But I was really excited to score a goal, even in practice, because this sport has by far the best scoring salute by a referee.

Oddly enough, in this gif St. Kilda just scored!

Oddly enough, in this gif St. Kilda just scored!

My best moment was going on a long run through the midfield, barely remembering to dribble that silly-shaped giant ball, dodging a few tackles with a couple of spin moves, and then kicking on the run in the general direction of the goal. Turned out to be a forty yarder right over the last defender, and as I tried to slow down I pictured the umpire in my mind with his double-gun salute. . .
It was magical. . .
;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Wulf and Eadwacer

Subtitled: A Woman’s Lament

If you were somewhere in England in the early 700s—and who amongst us wasn’t?—you might have heard this story, or possible as a song.

It is to my people as if someone gave them a gift.
They want to kill him, if he comes with a troop.
It is different for us.
Wulf is on one island I on another.

That island, surrounded by fens, is secure.
There on the island are bloodthirsty men.
They want to kill him, if he comes with a troop.
It is different for us.
I thought of my Wulf with far-wandering hopes,

Whenever it was rainy weather, and I sat tearfully,
Whenever the warrior bold in battle encompassed me with his arms.
To me it was pleasure in that, it was also painful.
Wulf, my Wulf, my hopes for you have caused
My sickness, your infrequent visits,

A mourning spirit, not at all a lack of food.
Do you hear, Eadwacer? A wolf is carrying
our wretched whelp to the forest,
that one easily sunders which was never united:
our song together.

;o)

Book Reviews: Violins, Bricks, and Justice

(Not me. . . overheard)
“I’m wearing sweaty bags. . . what?. . . oh! Baggy sweats! Baggy sweats! LOL!”

Gone
A world-class violinist writes about growing up as a Korean prodigy in England, losing control of her life and career to various Svengali types, and most importantly the theft of her Stradivarius.
As a photographer I’ve grown attached to several of the many cameras I’ve used in my career, but never to this level. On the other hand, there aren’t any cameras almost 400 years old, let alone considered the pinnacle of technology. It’s apparently much different with violins—and not just the famous Strads—as Min Kym goes into a devastating depression when her partner in music is snatched away at a restaurant. Despite how she describes the feeling of losing her violin, you can tell that’s just the tip; her real feelings. . . there’s no words for it. And the way she wrote that scene was intense! Worthy of a thriller. I instinctively feel sorry for her, but I know she wouldn’t want that.
There’s plenty of other stuff here that’s equally painful, but just as much is uplifting, even humorous. There’s a little piece on why she loves Kreisler that was fantastic. The psychological insights, both from the violinist and the human being, are astounding, and the writing is so smooth, like a languid Vivaldi phrase.
Whoa, I’m really blown away. Far beyond any expectations when I started this. It reminds me a lot of Lindsey Stirling’s book, even though because they’re from such vastly different worlds it comes across as quite dissimilar.
This is most likely going to go on my list of top books of the year.
4.5/5

Kiss the Bricks
The first book I read in this series was Red Flags, and despite it being the fourth it was a perfect introduction, so much so I went back and read the others. I write this in order to differentiate it from this new book: do not start the series here.
This entry takes place at the most famous speedway in the world, where Kate has just set top speed in the first practice session. It turns out that a few decades before there was another female driver who’d done the same thing, and from there most of the book becomes dual, with chapters alternating between the past and the present. Because of this the action is slow to start, and if you aren’t into racing and know the good stuff is coming, it might be a bit boring. There are also some parts that are rather mean-spirited; I get that the misogyny is part of the story, but too much is depressing.
As for the mystery, I guessed the bad guy pretty early, as well as who was leaving the notes. Much more of a guess, I nailed her qualifying position. (Yes, I celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small.) And there’s a great moment in the middle of the race that, while nowhere near as good as winning the Indy 500, would be a sweet consolation for any driver, especially if you’ve followed Kate through her previous adventures. And there’s a subplot that sets up nicely for the next book, making me anxious to read that one too.
I want to stress that I still ended up enjoying it, just not as much as the previous one. At least it picked up as it went along. It’s in no way bad, but I think it’s a step back in a series that had before this improved with each outing.
3.5/5

From Ice to Ashes
A thief forced to go legit on a spaceship quits when his mom gets sick, and goes right back to stealing when he’s back on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
There’s a gruesome fight scene to start, and it’s not called back until half the book had passed, so I had to go back to remember it. The story doesn’t get any less grisly, mostly because Kale always tries to come off as tough with nothing to back it up. It’s really just sad, and a bit depressing, though I figured the author had done this so he could grow later on.
It took a while for the plot to show up, by which time I was wondering if I should continue. Fortunately it got better. . . until a big plot point about three-quarters in, which I absolutely hated. Like this whole book wasn’t depressing enough. . . I get that it’s done to set up the protagonist, make him angry. But how is this going to make me want to read more of this? Perhaps the words I should use is invested. I invested in this character, only to be tossed aside.
There’s nothing wrong with the writing, which is as good as the previous outing from this author that I’ve read (though I don’t remember that other book being like this). The world building in particular is done well, despite never getting a good picture in my mind of life on Titan, or on the spaceship. The plot is a bit weak, and it’s obvious there’s going to be a series, considering the ending. I just didn’t like the depressing tone throughout.
3/5

Tough Justice
In the prologue a mad bomber tries to blackmail a man into going public with his sins in order to keep the bomb from going off. We never hear about those two again, as the rest of the story has FBI agents looking for the bad guy, with little to go on except that at each bombing someone was told to leave before things go boom.
It’s difficult to give a grade to part of a story, though it helps to know going in that it wouldn’t finish here. The set-up was okay, and there’s good characterization of the lead, though I do wonder what’s causing this sudden—welcome—surge in fictional female FBI agents.
3/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Snapshot: Copenhagen Thermometer

Having been born and raised in Southern California, I reach for a hoodie when it gets into the 60s. Oddly enough, I like cool weather, as long as I’m warmly dressed. My hands and feet don’t like it, but my legs don’t mind, which is why often you’ll catch me wearing shorts with gloves. As long as my nose and ears can take it, and the wind isn’t so bad, I’m good to go even in the low 50s.
Of course I did some skiing in the local mountains, shot the Vancouver Winter Olympics—really wasn’t that cold—and most of all did Arctic training in the Marines, where I learned the secret to going to the bathroom in freezing weather: don’t. But that was with the highest tech gear available, and with all the running around I was actually sweating as long as the wind chill didn’t get through the balaclava. So I have been in cold weather before, even ridiculous stuff—I only lasted two hours on Antarctica, but that was partly due to the smell of the penguins—but am in no way used to it.
It was early November as I took the shuttle to LAX, wearing my heaviest jacket because it wouldn’t fit in my luggage. Of course it had to be 104 in the city of beautiful angels that day, but by the time I landed in London it was exactly half that, so I ended up needing the jacket and was glad I’d put up with the sweat to start.
A few weeks later I was in Copenhagen, fully enmeshed in the story A Ton of Redheads, which you will find earlier in this blog history. It was a rare evening alone, so for once I didn’t have a redhead telling me which club to head to. Instead I wandered from the center of town, where the train station was, though not taking the Stroget this time, as I knew it well by now. I’m sure my fantastic sense of direction kept me from getting too lost—could always grab a taxi back anyway—but all these years later I can’t remember just where I was when I stopped to take a photo of something most tourists probably didn’t notice.copen
If my math isn’t as bad as usual, that thermometer on the building had it in the low 40s, but that was early in the evening, and the night was just starting. Take a look at the little kid in the right foreground, blimped up like the Michelin Man, to tell you what his parents thought about the forecast. (I later went over to see what he’d found on the ground that was so interesting, but it must have moved on.) I do remember walking down that street, looking for anything that caught my eye like I do in Berlin or Zurich or many other places. Perhaps I wrote something down in my journal about it, but there’s nothing that comes to mind in my brain about anything I saw there, which means nothing bad happened either. As long as I kept walking I didn’t feel much cold, until my ears and nose couldn’t take it anymore. At a certain point, not having any fun, I said screw it and flagged down a taxi to my hotel, knowing I had a full day of redheaded fun to come once the sun came up. . . and warmed things up a bit.
;o)