Book Reviews: Smart Girls, Harlan Ellison, and Ancient Bees

“Were you the class clown?”
“Class clowns are more into physical comedy. I was a deadpan snarker.”

Smart Girl
Consistency is good.
This is the third of the series; so far we’ve had “Party Girl,” “Sweet Girl”—although that’s more about her pastry business then her actual demeanor—and now we get “Smart Girl,” and again that’s more due to her work than the way she handles her life and relationships. Despite the main character being mostly opposite of the previous two, this book has the same style, the same humor; it’s the same characters as before, but from a different point of view.
As stated, Miko is really a smartie, especially when compared to her best friends, but that’s just when she’s graphic designing. Her ridiculous plots to land Sweet Girl’s brother are bound to fail, but they’re also bound to be hilarious in their aftermath, which is exactly why I’m reading this. At one point I wrote, “Holy crap, this girl’s crazy! Serves her right if he doesn’t fall for it.” She’s neurotic dressed up as cute.
The scene that’s likely to stick in the reader’s memory is when she’s going to make herself sick in order to engage his gentleman sensibilities, sure he’ll take care of her. Of course he ends up taking the bad stuff instead, puking everywhere, and even though it was predictable I have to chastise myself for laughing so hard.
To put it succinctly, I don’t read this for the romance, I read it for the humor, and it’s another hit.
P.S. In the bio it says the writer is “so excited to be an author that she’d probably pee her pants if you actually brought it up on social media.” I suggest you take her up on this challenge. . . @msrachelhollis

Night and the Enemy
A reissue of a graphic novel from 1987—before they were called graphic novels—this takes six Harlan Ellison stories and turns them into visual art. Other than a framing device to tie them all together, and since I haven’t seen the previous edition, I don’t know if anything has been changed in this new version.
It’s difficult to figure out how to review this: should it be just the artwork, or should I include the stories, even though they were previously published without preeeety pictures? Finally I realized most people aren’t as huge Harlan Ellison fans as me, and aren’t familiar with these stories, so I went with the latter.
Run For The Stars: Druggie gets bomb planted inside him as insurance while humans evacuate an invaded planet. Improbably he survives. For night scenes, there is an incredible amount of detail; at one point it felt like I was looking at this through thermal goggles, it was so oversaturated, yet very effective.
Life Hutch: A fighter pilot is marooned on a small planet, where he finds the refuge the military has set up for exactly these kinds of situations. Unfortunately there’s a malfunctioning robot trying to kill him, and his only hope for survival is a trick often used on cats. This started out with the same look as the previous, but turned into a very grainy black and white, with occasional forays back to the original, giving it a totally different vibe. This wasn’t so much a typical graphic novel entry as an illustrated version of the original story, if you can tell the difference as easily as I can in my head.
The Untouchable Adolescents: A young race—somehow an entire species is written as teenagers—don’t want help when their world is about to be destroyed. Not that the humans are that much smarter: “Shouldn’t have any trouble getting through to them.” Sure, tempt fate. This was easily the most visual story, with very little prose; I don’t remember reading it, so I don’t know if it was a VERY short story, but this was the best example of the pictures telling the plot.
Trojan Hearse: Short and sweet and excellent, from the title on down, with the humans stealing the plans of their enemies and finding a poetic solution to the attack. This was the opposite of the previous, with the entire story printed and some ambient paintings not showing much of anything; as great as the story was, it’s a poor selection for a graphic novel, since there’s basically no “graphic.”
Sleeping Dogs: Gung-ho human commander ignores advice and scorches an entire planet, only to be met by a power far beyond his ability to fight. This was the perfect combination of graphics and prose, though I found the story not all that great, or rather the plot typical.
The Few The Proud: The last words of a soldier at his court-martial. Once again a story that’s just words and no pictures; despite the plot, there were plenty of opportunities for visuals. . . except the one about the enemy going up in flame, which I imagine is a clear reference to Vietnam. A wasted opportunity.
There’s some behind-the-scenes illustrations at the end, plus the afterwards from the 1987 edition.
Just to make it clear, despite the unevenness of the whole, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

The Tears of Re: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt
I was expecting a quick easy read from this book that is so short it would have been called a novella had it been fiction. It proved to be neither quick nor easy.
I like to think of myself as an amateur Egyptologist, though that might be pushing it; it’s one thing to memorize the gods, but to remember every pharaoh and hieroglyph seems silly. The problem here is the author assumes the reader does know all that, so I had to keep looking through other books and/or the internet to understand the context. It’s really too scholarly to enjoy, reading like a grad school paper; most lay people would probably be bored quickly. The most interesting part was the chapter on the honeybee hieroglyph, which was completely unexpected. Can’t help but wonder if this actually was some grad school term paper where someone had the bright idea of selling it to the public without revisions.
1/10th of this already short book is bibliography.

Murder, Mystery & Dating Mayhem
A simple easy breezy mystery that I got through in a couple of hours.
I’m loving the main character, but at the start she’s far too much of a butt monkey: speed dating, accidental mooning on a date, death in the family. In real life we’d be offering sympathy while trying not to laugh, but in a manufactured character it feels like too much. There’s also the hard-to-fathom relationship with her new boyfriend, who is a total Neanderthal alpha male cop, and though she shows signs of finding this unacceptable, it seems she’s so desperate for some intimacy that she put up with it; I lost some respect for her there.
The mystery involves a death which everyone calls natural causes, except there’s a few things that don’t seem right; first it’s the victim’s old friends, but eventually they manage to convince her to investigate, and she ropes said boyfriend into it too. At a certain point the plot turns environmental, but the villain is decidedly minor league and the ending is a letdown. It’s fluffy and airy and there’s not much meat here, but it did succeed in its major point: it made me laugh.
Bonus: each chapter, some of them really short, is a song title, most of which I’d never heard.



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