Book Reviews: Space Love

His Human Vessel
In the continuation of a series I’ve grown to love, an alien doctor buys a slave for breeding purposes, as his race was almost wiped out, but he’s a man—or alien—of science and claims not to want her. She knows better.
Not quite as good as the previous four in the series, but still better than most stuff in this genre. As always I enjoy the human female characters; it was easy to feel for her and her dilemma, even feel sorry for her. Despite him being the supposed authority on human females for his kind, advisor to the ruler and all that, he’s just as clueless, if not more, than the previous guys. Sometimes that was fun, sometimes annoying, but in the end it worked out well that way.
4/5

Her Mate and Master
From the same series as above, but with a twist. Unlike the previous stories, rather than buying a human slave, this young heroic alien goes undercover to rescue one of the last females of his race, who also happens to be the daughter of his sensei. Of course things don’t go as planned and they have to make a run for it, with him desperate to have her but not about to dishonor her—or rather her father—despite her obvious willingness.
Even though she wasn’t human, she wasn’t that much different than the others. The story was pretty much the same; not that that’s a bad thing, but something a little less formulaic would have been nice.
I liked the female character, but not as much as the previous human ones. The story didn’t seem as fun either, though still good.
3.5/5

Alpha’s Temptation: A Billionaire Werewolf Romance
A former hacker wants to go legit with a corporate job, and ends up trapped in an elevator with the big boss, though she doesn’t know that at the time. Turns out he knows exactly who she is, though at that point he’s not aware she’s the only person ever to beat him in cyberspace.
He’s a usual rich asshole, as well as a werewolf, the loner type. But of course he wants her, and despite all her previous feelings about men she gives in rather easily. This is one of those rare stories where I didn’t feel all that great about the heroine; I should have liked her, especially her wicked/nice personality, but she didn’t work for me. I hardly ever like the guys, and there’s no exception here.
3/5

Second to None
Seven years ago he lusted for his friend’s wife, so much that he cut himself out of their lives from the guilt. So complete is his withdrawal that he didn’t know his friend died. Now they reconnect, and of course he’s a hunky millionaire. She wants money for her children’s services center to expand to dog therapy.
This novella is classified as an erotic love story—though the sex scenes lacked any real heat—but it was the other elements I enjoyed more. For instance, I would have preferred more of her great kid. What really annoys me, though, is that this romance wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t rich.
It’s strange, because usually when I like the main characters, the story doesn’t matter as much. And I didn’t mind the story, but I still feel disappointed, partly because it was money and the death of her husband that allowed this to be a happily ever after.
3/5

Gunnar
In what is thankfully a short story, Vikings raid a village after a festival, when everyone is drunk and easy pickings. The leader goes off to rest in the previous lord’s room and finds a gorgeous blonde tied up waiting for him, expecting the previous ruler. Though a virgin, she’s smart enough to play along so as not to be punished. Blindfolded or not, she figures one is as good as another, and of course ends up enjoying it.
Feels historically accurate, but I’m not interested enough in this period to look it up myself. I do like that it was more than just straight-up sex, despite the short length. No big deal, just fun.
3.5/5

Tempted & Taken
A Russian lass, having taken a friend’s identity, is on the run in Texas, where she wants to be mentored by a rich handsome computer genius. . . and have sex with him too. He has a large improv family of brothers, mostly from his time in foster care; I have not read the previous books in this series, so that’s all I know.
These types of books are rarely about plot; all that’s needed is that it not come off as stupid. This story actually did a pretty good job of getting the leads together in a realistic way. As always, I think it’s a good book if I like the female character, though in this case I think it’s well-written anyway, with plenty of little moments to keep me entertained. There was one scene about ¾ of the way through that seemed to drone on and on, but other than the fact I don’t think a Russian mob would simply let things go without being honor-bound to revenge, that’s the only negative I have for this.
I was disappointed, however, in not getting a shot-by-shot account of the skeeball game. . .
4/5

;o)

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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)

Book Reviews: LA, Paris, West Virginia, and Fantasyland

Why LA? Pourquoi Paris?
A woman who has lived and worked in both Los Angeles and Paris talks about their differences, but more importantly their similarities, in a work full of visual comparisons.
After a long intro chapter, the book moves into diverse sections, the first of which is monuments. There are drawings, so it moves much faster. It took a while to get into this, but after the slow start I grew to love it. Really enjoyed all the comparisons between the cities, like the Arch de Triumph with the Paramount Pictures front gate. My surprising favorite was the Palais Garnier, which is the building featured in the intro of the Miraculous TV show, and reminds me of Royce Hall at UCLA, even though I know that one’s based on a church in Milan.
Two of my local faves—In-N-Out Burger and Baskin-Robbins—made it into this book! Okay, BR31 isn’t local anymore—it’s mentioned it’s the largest ice cream chain in the world—but it started in El Lay, and that’s what counts. That angle of Olvera Street is unusual, never looked at it that way.
I suppose it should be expected, considering the author’s background, that there’s a lot of fashion stuff in here, but it’s still the most boring part.
Two mistakes in the Olympics section: St. Louis was the first American city to host, and nobody calls the Coliseum the Olympic stadium.
In a thoroughly modern move, instead of street directions this book gives you GPS coordinates.
The drawings are watercolor, childish but lively. Despite the abstract nature, the subjects are surprisingly recognizable. The Colorado Street Bridge is so well drawn. Another beauty that’s done so lovingly is the Huntington. The Norton Simon is painted in such a lovely Impressionistic style that it could be hanging there.
You have to be in the mood for it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the artwork, surprising myself. I think the best word I can use to describe this is playful.
3.5/5

The Unquiet Grave
My love for Sharyn McCrumb—or at least her early works—battles with my dislike for historical fiction, or in this case a necessarily fictionalized version of a true legend, the story of the Greenbrier Ghost.
There’s very little here about the actual murder trial. Of course it would be pretty dry if it was just an account of the case, but this story blossoms into over 350 pages of background on the family of the murder victim as well as one of the defense attorneys, with him telling the story many years later as he’s sitting in a psychiatric facility, encouraged by his doctor to talk about what it was like being the first black lawyer in West Virginia. The two distinct storylines made it hard for me to remember one while reading the other; the book goes to exactly the halfway mark before the two threads tie together.
At one point I thought, “So many hints about how bad Zona’s husband is; wish she’d get on with it.” So yes, I’m a jinx.
This is the kind of brilliance she can bring: “The time between their first setting eyes on one another and their wedding day was both too long and too short, depending on how you looked at it.” But the dazzling nuggets of prose are too few amongst long dull descriptions. Yes, I fully admit I’m looking at this through the kaleidoscope that was her early humorous work, but even when compared to her Appalachian series this was still a more difficult read than it needed to be.
3/5

The Spellsinger Adventures Volume One
This collection consists of the first three books in Alan Dean Foster’s long-running series that features a human from our Earth falling into a fantasy world of giant talking animals. In this place he’s a musician/magician, but his spells hardly ever turn out as he’d intended; just about the only song he got right was Sloop John B, and that didn’t end well for him either. His diverse comrades—that word used to appease the dragon—include a wise old turtle, a Cockney-accented dirty-minded otter, a dapper rabbit, an angry bat, and two gorgeous but deadly human ladies. This is more than anything a comedy road adventure, with the group fighting evil and sometimes each other on their way to a face-off with the most dangerous foe any world has even seen.
The writing doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the reader shouldn’t either; just read and enjoy and don’t try too hard to make sense of it. . .
4/5

Moribund
A supposedly ordinary teen, who previously had an encounter with magical forces that left her injured, has to find her hidden power in order to defeat a bad guy from the dark side, with either the help or hindrance of a dark princess she’s falling in love with. (Wow, I can’t believe I managed to encapsulate that, because it’s a lot more complicated.)
What drew me to this book was the violin-playing lady on the cover, but in the end the instrument had very little to do with anything. Right into it there’s a lot of exposition, but it’s well done. It’s strange: I found myself enjoying this without really knowing why. There’s so much introspection going on, all talk and no action, which would usually have bored me, but the two main characters are incredibly fascinating.
There are some genuinely hilarious lines in here. My fave: What was their weakness? Kryptonite? The color yellow? A fluffy kitten? Gah!
Can I still call it over-the-top Emo when the author mentions it. . . again and again? Hell, there’s even a Kylo Ren reference.
So this is one of those stories that’s more about the writing than the plot, but in the end I found it worthwhile.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphically Challenging

Wonder Woman Vol. 3: The Truth (Rebirth)
First and foremost, don’t read this if you haven’t read the previous; you’ll be lost, because it starts with the wonderful woman all-out crazy in an asylum. How out of it is she? “I am so sorry you’re not real.” To start an issue, and especially a collected volume, with her having lost her mind. . . there really needed to be a “previously” here!
But even without that I found the story boring. For long stretches nothing happens; at times Trevor seems to be talking to her telepathically, which might be exciting to read about but fails in a visual medium.
Luckily there are some interesting moments, like, “He’s a Greek god! They’re track record with young women isn’t exactly progressive.” You’d think Diana would know better than to have tea with serpents. There’s a minotaur involved, which was the most interesting thing for a while.
“What say you come up to my virtual place sometime and I’ll help fix that credit score of yours, handsome.” Says something when the funniest character is the AI.
Wow, in the end it was a simple win. Bit anticlimactic.
I suppose this would have felt different had I read it before the movie. The story was way more convoluted than it needed to be, even without knowing the previous parts. It definitely moved slow in the first two chapters; in fact, my fave was the last. But there were a lot of cute little moments that kept me going.
Ten pages of alternate covers.
2.5/5

Water Memory
A woman and her daughter move into the clifftop house where she lived as a small child until her father died. There are legendary monsters involved, and a curse.
“Jellyfish tart?” After reading that, I had to go get some fresh air before I could continue reading.
I didn’t feel the suspense the authors were obviously going for here, but the historical aspects were fun. The mom/daughter bond is fantastic; they have a great relationship. I was feeling an Irish vibe, but that may be the influence of Song of the Sea, since there’s a lighthouse nearby. A sign is in French, but everything screams New England or Canada. In the end it turned out the sign was the clue.
The kid’s funny. After nearly drowning in a cave, lying on the beach as she recovers, she tells the scavenging seagulls, “Don’t even think about it!” Her explorations keep getting her into danger, as well as her belief in her “Total ninja stealth!”
The artwork has a dreamy romantic vibe, plenty of blue watercolor to symbolize the sea, except during the storms.
About a dozen pages at the end about the making of the book, how it originated, with some beautiful photos.
4/5

Spencer and Locke
A detective with a—possibly—imaginary talking blue panther as a partner look to solve a murder and kidnapping. That’s all the plot that’s necessary.
There’s a flashback to the detective as a kid, getting smacked around by his mom. This is in comic strip form; if you’re familiar with a strip about a boy and his imaginary cat, you know how this looks. Locke says Spencer has idiosyncrasies; sure, what talking blue panther doesn’t? We’re told right away about Spencer’s “condition,” so we don’t have to wonder about it the rest of the way.
Now for the fun stuff.
“Captain’s Log, Stardate. . .” That came outta nowhere.
Want to have a science-fiction interlude? Feed your protagonist a multiple-drug overdose. I get the feeling that dinosaur is gonna drop on someone. . .
Turned out to be a surprisingly easy, quick read. I enjoyed it despite some plot holes, which is not an easy thing to say when there’s a giant blue talking panther walking around. The psychology, his motivation for becoming a cop, was well done.
The italics were surprisingly hard to read. As for the art, there’s gritty urban landscapes, not quite film noir but close, as well as bright cheery childhood interludes. During the science-fiction portion it’s bold pulp-comic color.
Each chapter has extras: cover gallery, character designs, script pages, and so on.
3.5/5

If You Give a Man a Cookie
In the long tradition of “For want of a nail” stories, this one is just what the title says, all the repercussions of what a man will want if you give him a cookie. It’s full of clichés (none of which fit me, thankfully), considering not every man has a mustache or likes fishing.
From a guy’s perspective, I have to ask why she’s wearing heels when making cookies and generally just walking around the house. I’m trying not to be mean-spirited here, but I can’t help but think that’s exactly where this story’s coming from, which was likely done as a catharsis for the author.
I think the only opinion that matters here is her husband; hope he laughed, because I didn’t find much funny here.
2.5/5

Taproot
Sensitive florist is kinda crushing on a girl and getting advice from two friendly ghosts, one of whom might be in love with him. Plus he’s being poltergeisted by another. Then it flashes back a year to when they met in what turned out to be one of the strangest love stories ever.
I don’t know if it’s part of the story, but Blue is really androgynous. Until someone says “He,” I had no idea. And the reaper is a woman! A supernatural being who texts. A strange sight, a smiling skull and crossbones, is also present.
The epilogue was cute, but probably unnecessary, or at least anticlimactic. Despite its length it’s a quick easy read. Though the colors at first seem like muted earth tones, in actuality they’re quite bright. Don’t like the way Chloe’s drawn, though; her facial expressions are just weird.
3.5/5

Tyrannosaurus Ralph
Teen skateboarder is about to be crushed by a bully with a tuba—aka honk-kazoo—then has to be rescued by a barrio inventor, who puts his brain into a t-Rex so he can save the planet by participating in an intergalactic gladiator competition. Got it?
Best named alien: Lord Knuckle-Dragger. Best line: “I don’t think the red food likes you. It’s trying to get away.”
I love the faces drawn on the scared dinosaur; not exactly king of the giant lizards here. And his versions of “Yikes!” are “Oh crudsicles! Crud monkeys! Crud crumbs!” Sensing a theme. . . but you gotta draw the line at “crud-waffles.”
Lugnut has to be the most submissive human being ever to refer to himself in the third person.
I would have liked to see Joona’s story instead. It was okay, though went too far into silly at times. The big fight was surprisingly entertaining, but his lack of emotional control got tiring quickly.
Seven pages of extras.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphic Heathens and Passions

Britannia: We Who Are About To Die
In what seems like a small prelude but isn’t, a young slave girl is about to be raped, but like me notices the knife nearby and kills her attacker. In the meantime there’s a new cult in Rome that the rich kids are joining, only some of them are the ones being sacrificed, so the world’s first official detective has another case, and this time doesn’t have to go all the way to Britannia to solve it. Eventually it gets personal. . .
Good of them to have recaps before every issue; every comic should do that.
This story is not as strong as the first one, but then it’s more about the moments. With the Wonder Woman movie and especially the way women all over the world are responding to it, it’s amusing to see the same thing happening in Ancient Rome with a female gladiator. I don’t remember ever reading about any such archaeological evidence found, but it wouldn’t be surprising to find there were hucksters like the one here outside the Colosseum, selling souvenirs. My favorite line had to be “By Mithras!” Having studied that cult, it made me laugh.
The last part is “silent,” which makes it more intriguing. Too bad it took him long enough to realize who, or what, the bad guy was, which was a letdown.
3/5

Heathen V.1
Aydis is the heroine of this story, clad in a bikini under a fur coat out in the snow. She’s telling stories to her horse—not so farfetched, as it turned out—as exposition about her quest, which is to save Brynhild—as the chief Valkyrie is spelled here—and maybe kiss her. But of course things are never that easy, especially when mythological creatures are involved; in her case, she might be lucky that becoming a plaything of the gods is the worst thing that happens to her.
It doesn’t take long to find some hilarious characters, in this case the two wolves who bicker like an old married couple. “I liked him.” “Me too. I’m glad we didn’t eat him.” The horse they’re talking about, Saga, might be my fave equine of all time, even if he’s described thusly: “Oh that’s right, you’re not the flying kind of horse, just the annoying kind.”
Best line: “Let’s walk off that stutter.”
Norse mythology is a bit different than usual here. This Freya, for example, reminds me of Aphrodite—playful yet plotting—when the two goddesses of love are usually so different. And just because I’ll never have another chance in my entire life to say this, “Don’t hate the Freya, hate the game.”
The cliffhanger did its job; I want more. This was thoroughly enjoyable; I liked just about every character, except for some of the gods. The artwork is not typical, somewhat like sketches that have been watercolored, but it works well with the stark landscapes featured here.
About 10 pages of other covers to finish things off.
4/5

Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte
Fair warning: I HATE the Day of the Dead. . . or better to say it scares the crap out of me. The scariest night of my life was one of these festivals on the tiny island of Janitzio in Lake Patzcuaro, in the state of Michoacan in Mexico, where this whole thing originated. So I’m gonna try really hard not to let that affect me, but I doubt I’ll succeed.
A curandero—think witch doctor—leads Mechanika to a small Mexican town on the night of the festival. Among the people she meets is a little girl who’s incredibly adorable. . . when she’s not in skullface. As I’ve mentioned in previous stories, it’s amazing how good she is with kids.
This is a weird story in a literary sense as well; by the end of the first issue she would have usually been in a few fights, and the villain introduced. This time it doesn’t happen till much later, with everything before it some sort of exposition, either hints at her reasons for being there or the author delving really deep into the traditions. For example, “Life is only a dream, a temporary holiday. Every minute here is a gift.”
As always there’s a few fun moments, usually at the Lady’s expense. For one, we see her dancing, which is so out of the ordinary for her that it’s pretty shocking. She has been to fancy dances back in England, but that was undercover; this time she had no other reason to do it but to enjoy herself, and it actually looks like she does.
Best line: “She threw a tortilla at him. . . and he ate it.” I can picture him catching it in his mouth. And I find it completely hilarious the local catholic priest is also engaged in this pagan heresy ritual.
But the one thing I’ve always hated about these stories is how many innocent people have to die so Mechanika can learn a lesson or feel the urge of revenge. This one ramps it up to 11; I’m mad at the author for making me care about all those people and then wiping them all out for no other reason than to send the Lady on a rampage. Feels almost like a betrayal.
Toward the end it more than makes up for the lack of action early. There’s quite a bit of her backstory early on, but none of it is in context. No surprise she spares the last guy, seeing herself in him, but as far as her development, that’s about it. This was so completely different than the previous stories it hardly feels like the same character; for one thing, she didn’t get to play dress up more than once.
Despite an abundance of colors that are actually quite typical if you’ve ever traveled through Mexico, most of this story takes place at night, and there’s green phosphorescence everywhere, so artistically it’s not as interesting as the previous editions.
A few pages of covers as usual at the end.
3/5

Grand Passion
A Bonnie and Clyde-type pair of thieves hit the same town over and over, always disguised differently so that they’re never recognized (narrator knows well enough, though). They even have sex on a bed of stolen money every time. One day their luck runs out and during the shootout, as they kill each other’s partner, the newly widowed cop and the female half of the duo fall into instant lust. But because he killed her partner, she has to get revenge no matter how much she wants him, because some code expects her to.
It’s one thing for the characters to speak in accents, but here the narrator does as well, and it’s annoying; perhaps it’s a case of the British writer overdoing it. The sex scene is all kinds of weird, yet it makes sense in the twisted perverted logic they’re using. This cop may be upstanding—unlike the others, it’s made clear long before it becomes a part of the story—but he’s an idiot. Doesn’t matter how “in love” he is, he loses situational awareness way too often in the gunfights. But calling it “The Battle of Buttercup Lane” is all sorts of awesome.
Best lines: “That. Is. Insane.” “Yeah, I know. Welcome ta “Me.’”
Didn’t love this—that last twist was no surprise at all—but it had some humorous moments amongst all the darkness. As a police procedural it’s lacking, but then what can you expect from a “one good cop” story where even he doesn’t turn out to be so good after all?
There’s over 20 pages of bonus material, including sketches and scripts, one of which describes the solo “making love on money” scene, with the author telling the artist, “This’ll be a fun page for you to draw.” Hope it was true.
3/5

Pathfinder: Worldscape V.2
After a couple of unexplained battles where he doesn’t do nearly as well as he’d hoped—“Not gonna lie. Glad no one was around to see that”—a warrior ends up fighting in the arena against all kinds of monsters and hot babes, with his last challenge being the one and only Red Sonja. His snark of “I’m guessing they don’t call you Red because you embarrass easily” comes off just as well as you’d expect. In the meantime his friends have their own adventures in this strange universe, with all the stories eventually converging at the end, but not before other famous mythical characters show up, especially John Carter and Tarzan.
As a lifelong fan, I have to say this is the worst representation I’ve ever seen of Red Sonja, both physically and character-wise. That hair. . . she looks like she went to a stylist in the Deep South.
Best line: “Who names their planet after dirt?” Like this green guy, I’ve had the same thought. Second best: “I do like a girl in leather,” said by another girl.
In the second issue there’s a ton of backstory that hits you like a school bus—yes, there’s a reason I use that simile—all at once. But despite all this exposition, the whole thing was simply too confusing to grasp. So many sides, too many people fluid in their loyalties. . . the only way I could eventually get through it was to stop caring. It’s fair to say this would be a lot smoother if you’re familiar with these characters, either through previous editions or the role-playing game this seems to be based on. As this was my first venture into this universe, I’m sure I failed to grasp a bunch of points throughout.
Oddly enough, in the 50 or so extra pages Sonja looked a lot more like her old self. The last 20 pages are stuff like stats and stories for the role-playing game.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Semi-Sweet Sixteen Kids Books

Little Tails In Prehistory
In this edition of the adventures of the studious squirrel and ditzy puppy—don’t know how many there are in this series, but this is my third—they trade in their cardboard box plane for a cardboard box time machine, going back to check out dinosaurs instead of present animals.
As always, each page has a comic strip combined with a beautifully colored painting, usually devoted to the wildlife they’re talking to (it’s not enough that the animals can speak, but now dinosaurs from so long ago can too, in English). In an unusual twist, the usually scatterbrained puppy knows the names of all the dinosaurs, including the hard to pronounce obscure ones.
“Whew, finally a cute animal!” Forget about the giant dinosaurs, the worst animals are the tiny insects. There’s even a rudimentary attempt at explaining evolution, for the young‘uns. And their time-travel device is a new one, and this from a fan of Somewhere In Time.
As always in these books, as well as the Love series by the same author, the artwork is the whole point of this, simply beautiful renditions of animals that could hang in an art gallery, if zoos had them. The last four pages have further details on each dinosaur they encounter.
When it says that Cro-Magnons invented the comic strip, I thought they were talking about BC, then realized it was cave paintings. Duh.
3.5/5

Lalo Wants a Real Name
When his grandmother calls him to dinner Lalo pretends not to hear, because he’s playing with his white friends and he doesn’t like that name. Really though, he could have chosen much better than Bobby Brown. Still, his grandparents play along, calling him by his new moniker as they wonder if he likes the same things as Lalo did, which finally gets him thinking.
One thing I didn’t like was that even though he’s the one who lied, it was him being rude to the other kids. But at least he learned his lesson. This one hits close to home, though my ending was different; I didn’t have a little blonde girl who wanted to play with me either.
3.5/5

Discover Castles
An intriguingly different take of a tour through a castle. Starts with what needs to be done to get into the building, like crossing the moat and finding the doors, and once inside there are other things to find, like the dungeon and the crown.
Kids this age might not know all those words, but most of the pages are taken up by big photos that perfectly show what they mean.
It’s incredibly simplistic, but that’s the beauty of it, especially for the age group intended.
And in case a reader was wondering where this castle is located, that’s a Croatian flag up top in one of the shots.
4/5

Soccer is Fun
As always, good to have a title that explains it all. According to the blurb, “This book features less than 50 words and uses repetition to build confidence.” I’m not sold on that technique; I think it’s more likely to inspire boredom.
And indeed it’s incredibly simplistic, which should make it good for about three-year-olds. The rhyming was nice.
3.5/5

The Sad, Sad Monster
Small story of a hairy ball of a monster who would be sweet and happy if the other kids gave him a chance, but they’re afraid of him, which makes him. . . you guessed it, title drop. It takes a brave little girl befriending him to take away the sadness.
No beating about the bush here, the story is plainly drawn and easy to grasp. The moral: be Sara, who’s incredibly cute, even in the foreword.
4/5

It’s Snot Fair
Can you guess where this book is going from the title? If not, it’s probably for you.
Around 30 jokes featuring all sorts of bodily functions, with skeletons, snowmen, poor dumb toads, beans, the Queen, and more. Yes, they’re juvenile, but that’s the point, though I will give an extra “Yuck!” to the punchline about what’s worse than finding a worm in an apple.
I like that the author is a woman who knows exactly what she did here, as evidenced by the last page. Some of these would probably get chuckles from some teenagers, but if your husband laughs. . . you have my sympathy.
3.5/5

The Fairy in the Kettle
Told in bright watercolors, this story features a fairy named Leona Rose—living in Fairyland, of all places—who’s happy all the time, partially because she lives in a kettle. She’s decorated it from all the stuff she finds in the forest, painting her walls and making her bed and all kinds of goody stuff. Even the sound of rain on her metal roof made her want to dance, though it irritates her neighbors. That changes when the town is suddenly in need of a storm shelter.
That’s quite an imagination this author has, to come up with this story. Everything is perfect, from the art to the plot to the words. One of the best children’s books I’ve ever seen.
5/5

Cutie’s Big Adventures
Cutie lives in a house in the desert along with her six-year-old human—who is called Mom here—and her family. Because the kid goes to school every day, the curious  kitty . . . I mean, Cutie goes exploring to pass the time. Being also tired of dog food, the Chihuahua turns the expedition into a hunt for, of all things, spaghetti and meatballs. First mission is to find a way out of the house, and thankfully she’s smart enough to climb onto the windowsill rather than simply jump through the window.
Even talking animals seem to be just as bad as humans at communicating. And anyone who’s spent time around a Chihuahua knows that they don’t need to be scared to shake, though in this case climbing down a tree will certainly do it.
So remember to be happy for what you have, because there’s nothing like a bowl of live ants to make you long for the same ol’ puppy chow.
3.5/5

Chatur the Laundry Man
The title describes the job of the lead character perfectly: he rides around on his donkey, looking for people who need their clothes cleaned. Too bad he doesn’t work in my neighborhood. (Which reminds me I have to do laundry today; thanks!)
The donkey says, “Ya gotta take it easy, man.” More than once. His lazy attitude gets him replaced with a subservient elephant, who’s the answer to the laundry man’s entrepreneurial dreams. . . until he screws up on the day of the royal wedding.
On the one hand, karma did bite him in the ass—his ass, not the donkey—at the end, but at least the royals didn’t kill him.
The cartoonish artwork makes it just right for little kids, though I doubt many of them need to know just yet not to place their friends over profit.
3.5/5

Finding a Friend
A dog at the pound hides under a blanket while all the happy pups get adopted. When he’s curious enough to peek his snout out, a kid sees him and instantly wants him. He ends up going home with his family, though no one told him a cat would be part of the bargain. The kid and the boy grow up together. . . and that’s the whole story. At the end they ask for the reader’s help in choosing a name.
Pretty simple and easy for a little one to understand, with good rhyming.
3.5/5

The Big Plug (And How Plants and Spiders Saved the World)
The vegetation talks! And feels pain, especially when you boil them. They also like poetry and TV, and hate rats. Narrated by a cherry tree, not even the top ranked one, the story’s about global warming and how only a giant spider can do something about it.
This is a short easy read for an adult, not so much for a kid (no pictures!). Probably meant to be read out loud.
3.5/5

A Book for Benny
What do you do when you want to read but your dog doesn’t, and is hounding you to play in the rain? Take the woof to the library, of course. Not that dogs are allowed inside, but she selects several books and plasters them against the window so doggie can choose.
The most surprising thing here is that Benny the dog has a mustache. The ending, the book the dog chose, isn’t as startling, but at least it’s cute. The artwork is bold watercolors, drawn so kids can enjoy it.
3.5/5

Benji and the 24 Pound Banana Squash
A little kid is anxious to get his squash seeds planted, but when he finally does he just stares at the dirt, expecting it to grow right away, not having been told before this that such things don’t work instantaneously. Finally, after many weeks, things happen.
All the cute little animals watch, none of them taking a bite of the squash, though the ladybug does like riding it. He wants to keep what he’s grown, but that’s obviously not a good idea, so dad takes a photo and then they eat it with butter and brown sugar, which as we all know will make anything taste good. Even the dog has some. . . and speaking of the dog, the funniest part of this story is the drawing of the woof lying in a hammock.
Cute story, designed to inform little ones as to how vegetables grow, with a subtle environmental message.
4/5

Let’s Go, Bobby!
Bobby is apparently a dog who will ride any vehicle placed in front of him, and he’s always appropriately dressed for them.
The crux of this book is that the reader—little kids, that is—has to use their finger to trace the route of the vehicles. Surprisingly enough, if you don’t mind your screen getting a bit dirty, it works almost as well on an e-book, though the tactility the author wants the kid to have is not the same. Still, it’s an entertaining little jaunt amongst vehicles, from bicycles to rockets. The race track, though. . . only in a demolition derby would you have a figure eight.
3.5/5

Squirrel in Autumn
Brightly colored pages full of outdoor splendor are the backdrop for a search game as a squirrel wanders around looking for stuff to eat. In this reality, foxes and squirrels get along; of course animals talk, so I guess it’s not so strange.
Kids of this target age might not know what a toadstool is, but once they see this one they’re unlikely to forget it. . . which is good, because it needs finding on every page. Luckily there’s other stuff to search for too, mostly based on color.
Fun stuff, and subversively educational.
3.5/5

This Way to Christmas
An unknown narrator asks each animal—one per page—what they’re carrying in their hands or backpacks. Since the title pretty much gives it away, you can guess where this is going.
Each animal gets an adjective before its species name, with Rabbit getting the worst of it with “silly.” Owl gets to be “wise,” of course, and has the easiest job.
The artwork is as rudimentary as any I’ve seen, but that works here with the usually bleak winterscapes. The prose is also simple, fitting the age group this is going for.
4/5

;o)

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Overview
This movie is what I wished Supergirl had been.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the series, but I don’t love it, feel so many things could have been done better from the outset. This movie gets them right.
One more thing: I’m not a fan of superhero movies. I watched the first two Avenger movies because of Joss Whedon, caught the first Thor on TV due to Natalie Portman, and one rainy afternoon when my plans were cancelled I saw the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Caught glimpses of an Iron Man on TV, but that’s basically it: never seen a Spiderman or Hulk, and the only Batman I ever saw was because Uma Thurman was in (boy, did that suck). So yeah, this was unusual, especially seeing it in the theater.
The day before this I mentally shrugged as I flicked on Doctor Strange on Netflix. Perhaps the fact that I couldn’t stand most of it inspires me to give Wonder Woman such a high grade, but that’s doubtful; even without that waste of time, The Wonderful Woman was superior in every way.

Writing
As always, this is where it starts. The plot goes back to World War One, and for the most part is a slice of life in the giant conflict until the two supernatural beings butt heads. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing groundbreaking either. And since the character had already been introduced in a previous movie, it was necessary to find a frame to set what is really a prequel, and the photo did the job perfectly.
Thankfully both the writing and directing are just as interested, if not more so, in the characters as the story and effects, especially but not limited to Diana. While most movies, even superhero ones, have humorous moments, they abound here, most of it coming from Diana not having the slightest idea how to behave with people who didn’t have the same idyllic upbringing as her on the Amazon island—when Steve first shows up, then amongst the crowds in London—particularly with men. My favorite was her trying to get through the revolving door at full charge. There isn’t that much humor after that, other than a few moments with the motley crew assisting them. But even more so, there’s some beautifully poignant instances within the ugliness of war, of which the most endearing is Diana telling an obviously shell-shocked Charlie to stay, because otherwise no one would sing for them. The acting is fantastic here, both their faces perfect, but it’s the words that make the moment memorable.
While most superheroes seem to have a personal motivation for doing what they do, be it vengeance or wanting to prove themselves, I very much like that the writers made Diana’s inspiration, as naïve as it is, simply wanting to do what’s right. And while it’s one thing to write a strong character who can also be romantic and funny, they gave her a special quality not often seen: kindness. There aren’t many superheroes who show compassion, but she has it in abundance.
It’s always hard to tell how much of the battle scenes is scripted, as writers usually throw in the kitchen sink and then see it whittled down due to safety or budgetary restraints. But if there’s one moment from the final battle that had to be in the original script, it’s her levitating over Ares, showing him she wasn’t the least bit bothered after all his attacks. He’s obviously disturbed by that, goaded into overplaying his hand, launching basically everything he had at her, never figuring it would rubber right back at him.

Directing
Like a referee in a sporting event, I’m of the belief that if I don’t remember much about what the director did, then it was a good job. I can’t think of any particular scene in this movie that stands out from that perspective. Of course I’ve seen Patty Jenkins’ other film—being a Charlize Theron completest—and while it was thoroughly deserving of the acting Oscar, some of that is always attributable to the directing.
In this case she shows a more than knowledgeable grasp of special effects and battle scenes, as well as comedy and sweet moments, some of them romantic but others not. Perhaps it’s the pacing that deserves the most merit, with enough respite given between the grittier moments for the audience to rest and reset. More to the point, this did not feel at all like 2 hours and 20 minutes.
If there’s one particular moment that deserves some mention, it would have to be when Diana finally realizes what Steve had said to her—she hadn’t understood him due to momentary loss of hearing—just before the plane blows up above her. The view of the explosion over her shoulder—even though she’s lying on the floor—followed by the quick cut to her face is perfect, as is leaving the camera on her for longer than usual so Gal could run through all the emotions of the moment, which are discussed in the next section.

Acting
There’s an easygoing rapport between Gal and Chris, but my favorite relationship, brief as it is, is between her and Lucy Jones. It’s easy to tell when Diana is appreciating Etta’s humor; it feels like they instantly became sisters. This is the first relationship she’s formed with a woman not from her island, and she seems happy to realize things won’t be that much different from that particular standpoint. The men, of course, are a different matter.
As I mentioned above, the moment when Diana tells Charlie he needs to stay because otherwise there’d be no one to sing for them is superb. It’s easy to see how much he needed that validation, especially after freezing during sniper duty. Gal’s face is so perfectly sweet, and you can see in his eyes that he’ll follow her anywhere from that moment on. There’s an earlier scene when Steve tells the boys that the money’s run out and they should go home, and they all refuse, partly because they’re enjoying themselves but mostly because Steve’s their guy and they’re loyal. But in this instant it becomes Diana’s gang, though it helps that Steve becomes her follower as well.
As for possibly Gal’s best acting moment, if it’s not the one I just mentioned, it would have to be the same as I wrote about in the directing section above. Right before her heroic second wind, when she’s seemingly trapped and out of the fight, she takes a sideways glance and sees Sameer, Charlie, and Chief huddled together, preparing to die, and feels like she let them down. Then the plane explodes above her, and there’s so much to see in her face—disbelief, sorrow, rage—all culminating in the moment when she realizes her destiny, even more so than her No Man’s Land trek.

Cinematography
Other than island of the Amazons, there’s surprisingly little in the way of landscapes, unless you count the trenches. Even the establishing shots are dark and moody. On the other hand, walking through the London of 100 years ago is always a pleasure; particularly enjoyable were the train station shots, reminding me of the similar scene from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Though the colors aren’t as dark as the broodiness of other such films, there’s definitely a lot that’s muted. Every yellow, for instance, seems to comes out as an earth tone. That’s fair in the trenches and No Man’s Land, but there were other places where I would have wished something different. In fact, the only place I can remember being at all bright is the German reception, where she dances with the secondary big baddie while the sword is tucked down the back of the beautiful blue dress she stole from the rich matron outside. And though it’s a bit of a cliché, the fire they’re looking at as Steve tries to pseudo-romance Doctor Poison is gorgeous to watch.
The stuntwork, especially the battle on the island, is spectacular, with some tricks I don’t think I’ve ever seen. The firing-arrows-while-swinging moment, as well as the jump/flip with multiple arrows, are wonderfully realized, the latter all the better for the slow motion. Wonder Woman’s battles—the trenches, the town, inside the baddies’ base—are more imaginatively staged than expected, but of course it’s the final battle between the gods that takes the cake. Throwing cars around is always gonna look good, especially when you’re not Hulk-sized.
I don’t have individual sections for wardrobe, makeup, hair and the like, but as a photographer I have to take a moment to mention how incredible—even more so than usual—Gal looks in London once they’ve finally figured out her style. In the trenchcoat, with her hair back, her amazing facial bone structure is in perfect display. I’ve been photographing models for almost a quarter of a century, and I’m often baffled at how popular certain supermodels are, when I would never want to shoot them. This look shows exactly why she was so successful in her previous career.

Music
Unless it’s John Williams, it’s hard to differentiate—or perhaps it’s easy to write the style—between the music, especially the main themes, in superhero movies. Which is why the moment that stands out the most is Wonder Woman’s first battle, when she throws off her overclothes—finally revealing her costume—practically runs up the trench ladder into No Man’s Land, and singlehandedly attacks the German lines. Whereas most of the time you’d get the battle cry—think Indiana Jones—in this case it’s anything but; it’s so soft and heartfelt that at times it’s almost a dirge, which perhaps stands for a loss of innocence, but somehow adds to the enormity of the moment much more than bombastic horns and the like. Most times music supports a scene; this is one of the rare ones that adds to it. Something similar happens after the climactic scene, when it’s time to decompress before the celebration. And bringing in her theme from the Batman/Superman movie, with Tina Guo’s crazy cello, the moment she bursts into the enemy HQ was perfectly timed.
And Ares of course gets an appropriately evil-sounding theme.
In the end I would qualify this soundtrack as for the most part happily restrained.
As always I stay through the credits, not always looking for easter eggs, mostly enjoying the music. The full theme is appropriately heroic and triumphant, but then it changes to a song that in and of itself isn’t bad, except it completely confirms why I can’t stand Sia’s vocals. You do get that we’re supposed to understand what you’re saying, right?

“Feel”
This is what makes it more than just a great movie. Go online and look at all the photos of little girls dressing up as a superhero they can actually look up to. All that would have meant nothing if the film sucked, but in addition to not sucking, it had an undeniable spirit, not just good triumphing over evil, but the feeling that it’ll all work out if we pitch in together and do what’s right.
Whereas nowadays superheroes are written as jerks—I’m looking at you, Ironman, but Thor and Batman and others too—it’s a breath of fresh air to see an origin story that not only starts with innocent happiness but also ends with the hero not completely giving in to the cynicism caused by the trials she’s been through. Yes, she stops superheroing for a century, but in that time there’s no indication that her love for humanity has gone away. There’s something in the framing moments, when she receives the photo Bruce Wayne sent her, that shows she does still believe in the ideals she was brought up with, as confirmed by the one man who taught her most about humanity and she’s now staring at for the first time in a hundred years: Steve Trevor.
One last note, though not about the movie: this was the first time I’ve sat in the recliner seats at a movie theater, and though I’ve been to other movies where the whole place shakes when there’s a big explosion, I felt it a lot more here, and I am not a fan of it! So there. . .

Overall
8.5/10

;o)