Book Reviews: Spanking, Shakespeare, and History

Back from three weeks of shooting sports and dodging mosquitos and party animal athletes. What’d I miss?

“Is she your new crush?”
“I object to the use of the term ‘new.’”

The Hand of Vengeance
In 2560 A.D., on a planet far away, a human doctor in a Without Borders situation gets kidnapped to save the rebel leader. Her plane is shot down and she has to survive by following the orders of the alpha who took her. Sparks of many kinds ensue, especially on her posterior.
First of all, an interesting setting for an erotica novel. On the other hand, having a stubborn educated woman forced to do what the hulking soldier tells her to is a situation rife for spanking punishment, which had become a big niche lately. Unlike some stories, there’s actual sex involved too.
Perhaps I’ve read too many of these lately, for I found the spanking parts boring. What makes this book a bit more interesting is the world building, unexpected yet welcome as a diversion, even if the plot has been done before. There’s plenty here besides the sex, is what I’m trying to say.

Strange History
This book is published by the Bathroom Readers’ Institute, which is basically all you need to know. Yup, this is one of those books you put next to the toilet to entertain yourself or your guests while busy doing other, more biologically necessary things.
This follows no pattern; might as well simply open the book to a random page. It does live up to its name, and is often funny. Some of these anecdotes are eye-opening, others made me wonder which tidbits were left out. But more than anything it supplied some moments of fun, which is all one can ask from such a tome.

Who REALLY Wrote Shakespeare?
I’ve written on this very question on this blog before, so no surprise I checked this one out. However, all those previous books were much better than this one, and I really should have taken notice of the way REALLY is capitalized in the title, as it was a foreshadowing of amateurish things to come.
With it being done first person, it’s hard to remember this is fiction. And with the writing so clumsy, it might have worked better in non-fiction form. Often the dialogue was too cutesy, bordering on cheesy. A good pun makes you groan; a bad one leaves you exasperated, and there was far too much exasperation here.
I remember writing a paper in high school where I was so glad to have it done I simply turned it in without rereading and revising, and this has the same feeling. There are so many times Jenny says, “That’s right,” that I almost felt like it was a running joke gone bad (I’m guessing the author never watched A Bit of Fry and Laurie). Their discussions, which take up most of the book, are always interrupted for food, usually with the same speech.
Despite the fact that the info dumps are for the most part done okay—though an overabundance of them that made the names too hard to keep straight—the writing itself fails stylistically. It’s quite irritating to have the dialogue mention the characters’ names every paragraph, as though it wasn’t obvious whom they were addressing from the previous passage. In addition to that, there’s so many useless moments of “said,” “answered,” “replied,” without adverbs. I would advise that an author read their words aloud to make sure they sound like a real conversation, because it sure didn’t here.
As far as the reasoning behind the theories, the arguments were presented so painstakingly—more my pain than his—that I wanted to skip ahead rather than worry if I got his point, which is new for me. As I said, I’ve read other books on this subject, so I know that some theories and facts were ignored here. All very frustrating, not the least when near the end it switches to a different narrator.
And then it ends on a strange sequel hook. . .

His Little Lapis
Oh wow, another spanking story! Yet like the one above, it works because of its setting, this time the wild west town of Culpepper Cove, just as uncivilized as all mining towns in history.
A former governess who is now a submissive whore falls for the mayor of the small town. He falls for her too, but he can’t be seen with a prostitute, right? He tries to repress his desire and of course fails miserably.
What makes this story different is the addition of the mayor’s niece, a precocious child who tugs at the fallen woman’s heartstrings. On the sly she teaches her to read, mostly with a children’s book she wrote herself. This leads into situations that force the mayor to take a deeper look at this woman, after spanking and having sex with her, of course.
All in all, a sweet little story in the setting of spanking, but ultimately not about it.


Poetry Tuesday: Spring View

Finally back, with no mosquito bites. It’s a miracle.

This one was written in Vietnam almost 1000 years ago by Tran Nhan-tong.

The willows trail such glory
That the birds are struck dumb.
Evening clouds balance above
The cave-shaded hall.
A friend comes, not for conversation
But to lean on the balustrade and watch the turquoise sky.


Book Reviews: Twilight Zone and Green Bagel Graphics

“It’s a tough job being me. Maintaining such a level of integrity in a world that increasingly devalues it. . . it’s exhausting.”

In post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, what appears to be the only human woman left is fighting to stay alive as cavemen and every other kind of animal try to kill her. Then we go back to how it all happened: trying to get rid of religion in the brain wiped out all modern DNA. . . oops.
This story is done incredibly dark, even with the protagonist’s still-cynical optimism. She wants to find the cure, but gets trapped by a group of unchanged humans, who of course are worse than everyone else. The story even goes into space, which is no refuge from the disease; it is particularly not recommended to devolve in a space suit.
There’s two particular panels I remember: a really scary shot of a couple having sex while over her shoulder you see a horde of attackers, and the battle with the monster after crashlanding, which reminded me of Starship Troopers.
As for the plot, there’s a lot of ranting on how the world will be if we don’t change. Most of all, there’s a lot of—and more, to use today’s buzzword, graphic—violence depicted, more than usual even for something in this genre. The artwork is obviously expert, but it really comes off rough.
Almost 40 pages of extras, mostly early sketches and script.

Twilight Zone: Shadow & Substance
A very thick graphic novel containing eleven stories of varying interest and technique.
#1: Like a few Twilight Zone episodes, a man goes back to his hometown to find nothing has changed. Unlike those, this one was not well-thought-out and suffers even without those comparisons. 1.5/5
#2: A man in an alien prison wants nothing more than to escape, especially when he sees several people being taken up into the sky and returned emotionally damaged. This story is much better. Great plot twist, although the ending was foreshadowed. 4/5
#3: A young “Republican” senator who filibusters a help the poor bill ends up in the 1930s, alone and poor and needing to see what it’s like. . . except he’s too arrogant and thinks his mission is to stop the New Deal. A particularly dark twist means he won’t learn his lesson. 3/5
#4: A Renaissance Faire-loving professor ends up back in time and realizes it’s not exactly how he dreamed it. “I may have slightly romanticized all this.” 3.5/5
#5: “The Secret Over-sharer.” Amazing title, but this story is about what happens when you overdo the cure to social media overload. Best line: “Want to see if I ever go out with you again?” 4/5
#6: “Hangnail on a Monkey’s Paw.” Another great title, but the story is confusing; I don’t think the author communicated the story from his head to the page well enough.
#7: Another one that’s very similar to an original episode, down to the punchline, and incredibly heavy-handed on the way. Would have been poignant if I didn’t have to dodge all the falling anvils. 2/5
#8: Some special google glass lets a Trump see what people are really like, even souls as they depart their meat houses. A pack of slightly used chewing gum if you can guess what happens when he looks in the mirror. 3.5/5
#9: Clownface takes on a whole new meaning for a soulless banker. 3.5/5
#10: An eager boy in the 50s who moved into a new neighborhood wants to join the local kids’ club. They’re even crueler than you’d expect to him. But the ending left me befuddled, if that actually was an ending. 2/5
#11: Yup, comics are dangerous. This one was just too silly to take seriously at all. 2.5/5
10 pages of alternate covers.
Overall: 3/5

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening
This graphic novel review is a little different in that I’m doing each episode separately.
A one-armed young woman is about to be sold into slavery when she’s claimed by someone who apparently knows the future. Then it turns out she wanted to infiltrate that place. She has powers, but they only work when she’s in extreme danger or pain. And she has no compunctions about killing or torture, part of her journey of revenge.
“I like you better on fire.” An even better line is, “To quote the poets, we’re fucked.” What do you expect from a cat with two tails? And when you see what it’s talking about, you’ll agree.
The artwork is amazingly beautiful, especially the female humans. (Yes, I’m biased toward this species.) All the more impressive in that the colors have a sepia tone.

According to the publicity blurb, this is “set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk.” I didn’t particularly see that, but now that I think about it I can agree with it.
After the introduction-filled first episode, this one seems like filler. The best moment was the cat trying to fake how powerful it was. And though not as much as the first, the beautiful artwork is still the main event here.
At the end a different cat gives a history lecture, which might have been better off included at the beginning of the first. After that there’s letters from fans, comments, a bit of a newsletter, some script pages, and a sneak peek to the next episode.

This episode starts with a flashback—getting a bit tired of them, would prefer more linear—where we finally see how—and why—she lost her arm. Not fun to watch. More fun is finding that this world contains unicorns as well as talking cats and monsters.
Wow, the bad guys in this story are incredibly bad, even the minions. They get what they deserve, but not until after they deserve it. And most of them are humans; go figure.
Like the previous, there’s a history lecture and fan letters.

In this episode we’re introduced to talking wolves as well as monkeys; their queen gives a speech that makes me wonder if this war is as much about commerce and greed as it is about racism.
In the review of the previous episode I mentioned how the humans are incredibly bad in this story, but here we see the Archaics aren’t any better. But the worst is the monster inside her; we learn more about it this time around, as the whole book takes place in just two scenes, which made it feel shorter than the others.
As before, the highlight is the artwork, this time an old but beautiful city. There’s a series of panels under and on what appears to be an aqueduct that is some of the loveliest work I’ve ever seen.
This time the lecturing cat is making chocolate mice for the kittens; it’s almost cute. More importantly, she tells possibly the most necessary piece of info in this series yet: how the Archaics came to be.
This time in addition to fan mail we get some fan art, some of them pretty good, and original sketches from the artist whose finished work is so amazing.

As always a flashback starts things off, this time to a prison camp for kids.
The little fox is so cute at times, especially when it’s scared, which is always. With closed eyes and turned head Kippa grabs the photo the new character is holding out, then scurries back behind Maika even though she’s the scariest of them all.
“Am I safe?” (As in safe to be around.) “I think you try to be. You’re just not very good at it.”
In one of the earlier books there was a panel that showed what had to be a huge male slave comforting Maika after she got shoved around; it was a blink and you’ll miss it moment. Now in this edition that small moment is explained and expanded into the plot, making the story more exciting.
“You look like you want to kill someone.” “No, that’s her happy face.”
Despite all the gore from all the battles, the truly chilling moments are when the powerful twist events to help their own propaganda. So far this is the best episode written.
Whoa, a samurai cat! And lots more heavily armed animals. Oh oh. . .
This time the lecture is about the five different races, which proved very interesting. As always, fan mail and fan art.

On the cover the heroine—or anti-heroine—is seen on a unicorn. Nice, but it never happens in the story.
This starts—in the present, for once—with Maika buried in a sarcophagus, while the samurai cat from last time wonders what she’s thinking. . . and of course we find out.
“Monsters are people too.” Kippa is officially my favorite character.
“I beg your pardon, but that is a very rude spot to hold a cat!” All the more poignant when it’s the cat doing the whining.
Though the soldiers in earlier chapters had rifles, it wasn’t till I saw the guns here—against swords—that I really saw what a mix-up this world was.
That last battle was very confusing; couldn’t tell who was who sometimes.
The final cliffhanger. . . damn!
Another intriguing cat lecture, this time on the human who discovered the secret elixir of the gods.

Anne of Green Bagels
It’s Anne’s first day at a new school, where her seaweed bagels earn her the nickname, but she does make one friend. He keeps her sane while she worries about where her father has gone with his new pedestrian mobile home; he’s an inventor who has little grasp on reality.
The first chapter is all drawings and no words, with everything black and white and of course green. There’s a formation of flying bagels in the air. . . and then the dream ends. The second chapter has text with a few drawings, and from there the story alternates between “real life” and dreams with no words.
Anne’s dreams are sufficiently weird to be interesting. When she climbs onto a water tower there’s a ghostly figure playing violin, which introduces us to the fact that she plays the instrument. The dream ends with her playing for wolves in the desert, and like all dreams in fiction it has a bearing on real life. Another dream has her riding into a western town to have a duel with her violin against a cowboy guitarist, right out of Lindsey Stirling’s Roundtable Rival. That dream has to do with the school talent show, which takes up most of the last part of the story.
The artwork has an old-fashioned comic strip feel to it, though I have to admit a lot more was done with green than I would have thought possible.
The last few pages are a preview of another comic done in the same alternating format.


Book Reviews: All Kinds of Detectives

“Every guy notices you.”
“Even the gay ones?”
They want to be you.”

An Untimely Frost
An innocent actress in 1880s Chicago falls for a rogue who steals her money and smacks her around before moving on to his next victim. Broke and angry, but realizing there isn’t much she can do to catch him, she instead redirects her idealism into helping other women by answering an ad to be a Pinkerton agent. Of course it’s not easy, for even though they want women detectives now, they prefer them more seasoned with life experience. But since she’s an actress, she’s able to fool the family of Pinkertons by playing different roles until one gets accepted, and soon she’s Lilly Long, female operative.
What a fantastic character she turned out to be, so much so that I didn’t concentrate on the plot all that much. Of course she’s not perfect, being quite stubborn, especially when there’s a guy she finds attractive. The same reason she fell for the first guy keeps her from doing anything positive here; she just doesn’t know how to act around men, so she resorts to playground antics, and more often than not the guy falls into that too. But at other times her pugnaciousness is more than welcome, persevering in solving the case with humor and compassion.
The other interesting thing in this book was the settings, especially the empty house that is the basis for her case. Everyone assumes it’s haunted, more so when she finds evidence of the famous crime still in place. What was really interesting was how an empty house could elicit so much of her backstory.
There were a few twists, particularly the boxer and the preacher, that were obvious long before the reveal; I might have given this a 5, or at least a 4.5, if not for that. There were also a few instances of unnecessary verbs which the author should get better at with time. The most important takeaway, though, is that this was quite fun to read. The first ingredient in a successful story of this type is a likeable protagonist, or at least sympathetic, and Lilly is more than just that.

Winemaker Detective Mysteries #1-3
Having read and reviewed, and more importantly enjoyed, some of the newer works in this long series, I had to check out how it started once I saw those tomes were available, possibly for the first time in English.
Wish I hadn’t. I’m surprised the series lasted long enough to get there. These were dull and amateurish in comparison.

Treachery in Bordeaux
This first book is so sloppy and hamfisted, with long digressions and explanations about things that have nothing to do with the plot. Once in a while there’s a tiny clue amongst these long ramblings from the obvious author avatar, but by then you’re zooming by and miss it. There’s actually one point where the protagonist says, “Okay, I’ll stop there. I think I’ve overwhelmed you.” No kidding! As if long boring info dumps weren’t bad enough, the subjects—there’s a long piece on shoes!—had me skipping past them, which at least made for fast reading. It’s a good thing I read and enjoyed others in the series, because had I started here I would not have continued. . . zzzzzzzzz.
I’m going to give it a little bit of a break, as it was the first one, but still. . .

Grand Cru Heist
Cooker gets carjacked in Paris and ends up in the hospital, but he’s more interested in the car and his notebook than anything else.
Even after the reveal at the end, I’m confused. Couldn’t follow the “logic” of how he solved the case I didn’t even know he was on!

Nightmare in Burgundy
There’s a line near the beginning that goes, “It is an honor to be named Chevalier du Tastevin in a setting as glorious as the Vougeot château.” Is this a real thing? Because the authors make it sound so pompous. As always I’m reminded of the line, “I Wouldn’t want to be in a club that would have me as a member. . .”
Someone is graffitiing bible verses. Two “artists” are shot for it, though nobody knows why they were doing it.
Even bigger problems in this book than the previous two. Besides more of those long boring digressions, the killer turns out to be someone we never heard about throughout the entire story! This makes everything written beforehand irrelevant, along with all those long asides that already were. More importantly, it’s insulting to the reader.

As a whole. . .

Buried Crimes
Sophie Allen is back! I love this British crime series, and most of all the character; it’s like visiting an old friend. This time she’s tasked with solving a cold case involving two small bodies found in a yard.
This novel feels like the first one. After the heaviness of the past two, this was a welcome respite. The other cops also feel a bit like family now, and even though it seems like a little bit of a digression the subplot featuring the transgender cop is well done.
All in all, much better! Almost as good as the first, definitely an improvement on the previous. Less of the mildly irritating daughter too.

Dead and Buried
A girl in the 60s dies after an illegal abortion, putting the story into action fifty years later.
Calladine is back for his fifth case and is as big a mess, if not worse, than the last book. It doesn’t help that his right hand is away on maternity leave, and that he’s still falling for any pretty face that talks to him. (I expect this particular dalliance to blow up in his face in an upcoming book.)
As for the plot, there’s far too much here that’s easy to figure out, like the new officer’s motivation, the original crime, even the burial; that’s a little disappointing. There’s also some plot holes, but in general it’s as enjoyable as the first ones in the series. And of course I’m always happy to see more of Imogen.


Something Squirrely

As I’m coming up the stairs to my apartment I see a squirrel squatting right in my path, and he’s not moving. I go on the first step, he moves up one. I go up another step, so does he. He was as scared as he usually is, but apparently not enough to get out of the way!
Okay then, you’ve been warned, little one; I stopped being solicitous of his feelings and marched up, and if he gets a little heart attack it’s his fault.
Finally he goes to the edge of the stairs and makes a huge 15-foot leap to a tree, holding on to the trunk, barely. Go back to your survivor instincts, little dude, and leave the attitude at home.