Book Reviews: All Kinds of Detectives

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

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.
4/5

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. . .
1.5/5

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!
2/5

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.
1/5

As a whole. . .
1.5/5

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.
4/5

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.
3.5/5

;o)

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.

;o)

Book Reviews: Hockey, Adventures, and Strawberry graphics

“What do you think of when I say The Rock?”
“Gibraltar.”
“Perfect man,” she sighed.

Hockey Karma
This is the end of a trilogy, and while I don’t remember all the characters from the previous, I definitely recall the star hockey player who’s now feeling old both in body and spirit. He’s married with kids, but all he cares about is hockey and that everyone’s out to get him. Now instead of alcohol he’s taking pills, a jerk to everyone; he’s fooling himself and thinks everyone else is falling for it, which completely makes him unsympathetic, even though he’s still a good guy deep down.
The most fun part was watching the Stereotypical Freaks playing again, with Tom’s then crush/now girlfriend Jaelithe filling in for poor Jacoby on the drums. She’s also changed, from the gorgeous but rather airheaded teen to a single mom who’s got her life figured out as a reporter. The most interesting scene is the contentious interview between the female head coach and her as she and Tom try to make a long-distance relationship work.
If you’ve read the previous entry, you’ll know everything you need to know about the artwork, which was so different from the first.
For all of the time spent making Jeremiah such a jerk, his eventual redemption makes it all worth it, though barely.
4/5

Strawberry Shortcake Volume 1: Return of the Purple Pieman
It almost doesn’t need saying, but this is the most bright and colorful graphic novel I’ve ever seen!
Of course I’m coming into this completely blind, but for those of you familiar with the story, Strawberry is a dessert-maker with a lot of friends, who all have names like Sweet and Sour, though she wasn’t sour all the much. The best named is Lemon Meringue, who’s a blonde. . . of course. Strawberry isn’t very genre-savvy, as she allows Lemon to color her perfect red hair while her friends plan her party; what could possibly go wrong?
“What are you making?” “An epic fail.” And seriously, if your friend is busy taking selfies you are definitely allowed to steal her popcorn. Yeah, making hand gestures doesn’t work on the phone, blondie. And someone actually says “Squeeeee!”
The plot involves dessert-making contests, but that’s hardly the point. It’s the interactions between friends that make for some hilarious laughs. My favorite scene takes place in a subway, where Strawberry’s look of befuddlement is just perfect. The most important thing is the artwork is excellent, with each character distinctive.
4/5

A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong Volume 1: In the Bag
A mismatched pair of adventurers go into inner space.
After a flashback, we see Archer going to Armstrong’s room and finding monsters, which he beats up, ties up, then lets them watch TV so they won’t bother him. He figures out Armstrong has dropped into his magic bag, which is spewing all the monsters and such; it’s much bigger on the inside.
This has the feel of a 50s pulp. Each volume starts with a flashback, but eventually they get to the gist of the plot, where we find the old Greek god Bacchus has forgotten how to be all chill and has instead gone all Wrath of Khan.  Armstrong is immortal, having been born in Ur and surviving 6000 years. Archer wanted to kill the Devil as he’d been bred to do since birth, but when he found out that’s Armstrong they somehow became buds instead. With this dynamic, it’s interesting that Archer goes first in the title. . . and it’s amazing how HUGE Armstrong is. There’s also Archer’s sister with a redundant name, several bad guys, demons, and a talking fish dressed very dapper. Archer is incredibly innocent for a trained killer; though overused, Opie is the perfect nickname for him, especially as he swears he no longer has a crush on his almost-sister. His favorite curses are “Son of a lady dog!” and “Ah, noodle buckets!” He thinks he can use that innocence on his sister, but she’s wise to him. “What are you doing? Are you trying to puppy-dog me?”
What really makes this work is the humor. “What in the holy name of Tom Selleck is going on out there?” “Your whimpering pleases me.” In one flashback there’s dinosaurs with boxing gloves. But the best moment is the way Sister Mary-Marie saves them from brainwashed college students by shouting, “Hey, bros! All your frat brothers had sex with all your sisters and girlfriends!” Sounds even better coming from someone dressed as a nun.
That was fun, more fun than I expected.
4/5

Disney Manga Kilala Princess Volume 1
Two friends are competing to be school princess. They don’t particularly come off as smart, but at least they’re not airheads, just dreamers. When Kilala, who’s obsessed with all things Disney Princess and winks a lot, finds an unconscious boy in her yard, she of course kisses him, thinking she’s in Sleeping Beauty. And of course it works. He and his partner are seeking the owner of the tiara, but when they say they’re looking for someone she thinks they’re bounty hunters.
Her friend is kidnapped after winning the contest, where her not-quite-prince tells her, “Some people in our country aren’t fond of princesses.” “No way!” As she tries to save her friend she falls into Snow White’s world, and right away has to help with the cleaning. Turns out she’s a ninja now too, flying up over castle walls, albeit with a lot of help from some improbable physics. She even has some kind of weird tiny pet, that someone calls a mouse, but it ain’t no Mickey.
The whole thing is done in black and white with some shades, especially for Ariel and Belle’s hair. The best shot, albeit weird at first, features the microskirted knee-high-socks blonde teen standing next to Snow White in all her regalia.
Cute in general, though some parts don’t make sense. The artist talks about how she watched the DVDs over and over to get the drawings of the princesses right, and it shows. Despite the feeling there was something lacking because of the B&W, the artwork was excellent.
4/5

;o)

Music Review: Three New Songs From Lindsey Stirling

The Arena
My favorite Lindsey Stirling song is Take Flight, which if you strip down to just violin and piano is one of the best classical compositions of the last 50 years; yes, I love it that much, and it’s that good. My second is Roundtable Rival, which is simply a fun fusion of Celtic and folk fiddle. But I have a new #3, and that’s The Arena, which at its most basic is a tango! Howz that for musical diversity?
It’s amazing to me how even though I have no music training I can still identify verse, bridge, and chorus in an instrumental song. It’s particularly easy here: the slightly sinister-sounding intro—reminiscent of the closing notes of Jonatha Brooke’s What You Don’t Know, but not as much as the start of Shatter Me—gives way to a violin/percussion duet in the verses before moving into a small bridge with more poignant strings and four sparse but perfect piano notes. Then. . . kick it! Hard rock chorus! Thankfully the main violin melody is never overshadowed when more instruments join in here, though I wonder if Lindsey does all her orchestration; I would love to know how those four piano notes came about, because they’re spot-on.
Lindsey continues her love of high notes, but there’s also some cello-like passages that fit right with the tango theme. The last bridge has some “thicker” notes that make for possibly the most romantic sound I’ve ever heard from her, even more so than All Of Me.
And rather than telling you about the video, just watch it.

 

Something Wild (Featuring Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness)
I’ve never heard of this singer, whether he was out of the city or not. A simple violin/piano intro, surprisingly short, leads into a just as surprising soft verse, where I was not at all convinced his was the right voice for this, but when it gets powerful in the chorus it fits perfectly, to the point where I actually thought “Now I get it.”
Lindsey writes such amazing hooks, which is basically what people call the main melody nowadays. (Or should I have said peeps?) While the song in general is excellent hard pop, the violin parts have a lovely Celtic feel, especially when it’s in the lead instead of supporting the vocal melody. It took a few listens to realize that when he goes into the “Oooooooo” vocals she’s playing exactly the same melody on the violin, an amazing-sounding duet.
The chorus is much stronger than the verses lyrically as well. The main line of “Something wild calls you home” fits in perfectly with what I know of the movie this will be in. . . or anything with dragons, I guess. I particularly liked the frozen-ocean rhyme.
Here’s a video of a live performance; the sound is not great, but it gives a good sense of soft/hard musical dynamic.

 

Firefly
This is completely different, as it’s the first time Lindsey has sung on one of her own songs, not counting in the shower.
Lindsey is a good though not yet great singer. I can hear the potential there, but more vocal practice is needed to unleash it. . . which is not to say someone like Britney Spears is better, but I do believe Lindsey has higher standards. (Not that I’ve seen much of the Speared one, but I’ll bet Lindsey dances better too.) More to the point, the song is excellent; after some painful rhymes in Shatter Me, this fits together more organically, especially the main line: “Find the color in the black and white.”
In the first chorus she’s singing almost a cappella, and it’s a beautiful choice, especially with that tiny bit of reverb that makes it sound like she’s doing her own backup. Lyrically it’s a pretty simple song, with only four lines that don’t repeat; my favorite, fitting the song’s theme in more ways than one, is “A tiny fire makes me come alive.”
IMG_1042

;o)

Book Reviews: A Strange Mix, and Lindsey Stirling

Overheard at Coffee Bean:
“C’mon, she’s wearing pink! How hot could she be?”

Isis Orb
Last week I reviewed a collection of Pearls Before Swine and thought I’d gotten my recommended yearly allowance of puns. So why did I pick up a Xanth? Am I that self-destructive?
In this fortieth entry in the series, we get a guy called Hapless, who is well named at the beginning, but the fact he’s willing to learn belies that. One chapter in and he’s already lost the only girl he’s ever had a chance with; Hapless indeed. He’s forced to take a quest from an ornery magician, picking up companions along the way, especially a bunch of hot babes he quickly falls in love with. Everyone wants a wish granted, although not all of them will need the magic of the Isis Orb to make it come true.
Yes, it’s as silly as expected, and thankfully fun. Nothing groundbreaking, of course; would you expect such a thing in the fortieth installment of a series? Perhaps overlong; by the end of the story Hapless had forgotten about Cylla, and so had I.
Feline never kept her promise of hunting down the rat. . .
4/5

The Only Pirate At The Party
For those of you familiar with violinist Lindsey Stirling’s hyperactive—but always cute—cheerfulness and enthusiasm, this is a distilled and bottled version of all that sunshine in concentrated form. Right off the bat she explains why it’s good to be a pirate, though not when your mom tells you to wash the dishes.
As expected, this is basically in chronological order, a good idea as we see the development of that giant personality through childhood. I’m frankly amazed by how much she remembers of those years; it’s probably just me, but I hardly remember anything from that age. Plus her father seems to have recorded every moment of her life, if you’ve ever seen the video playing during one of her concerts. The Tooth Fairy story is the best, especially her kid rationalization as to why her friend got more money than she did.
That kind of quirky thought process is showcased throughout the book, but once she gets to a certain point she also opens up about her worst moments, especially fighting an eating disorder and depression. I can see a lot of people recommending this book to those currently suffering, to let them know they’re not alone.
But the bulk of this book showcases her humor; she can even be sarcastic without sounding snarky, which is not easy. One chapter is about her experiences with alcohol and drugs; it’s as long as this sentence. If you’ve seen any of her personal videos on “The Tube,” you’ll find her just as silly here, and that’s exactly what I was looking for when I picked this up. Nothing better in a book—or a person—than a sense of humor.
The biggest laugh of many was when she thought she heard escrow and got it completely wrong. {Escrow ≠ escort.}
4.5/5

Sex Hell
New Jersey
Semi neurotic girl in New Jersey who doesn’t enjoy sex with her boyfriend makes a dumb deal with a bad witch to spice things up in the bedroom. Too bad she didn’t specify with who. . .
The gist of it: “I’ve got a desire to be younger, okay? And you’ve got a desire to have better sex. And for a small price, I can fix your problem. All I want is a little bit of your youth. Gimme about ten or twenty years; let’s call it fifteen. In exchange for that, I’ll fix your sex life. No more awkward fumbling around. No more faking orgasms— oh! oh! oh! And no more having to do anything you don’t want to do.”
And that’s before we’re introduced to Suzy Spitfire. The good news: the price gets talked down. the bad news: there’s a catch on the back end, of course.
The best thing going for this book is that there’s plenty of humor, especially when the Road Trip with Benefits hits the highway. Despite her silliness, I like Debbie, although that comes with the realization that, had she existed in real life, she’d be dead several times over. This also has one of the strangest antagonists ever, but considering all the sex, violence, and demons, the tone is incredibly light and fluffy. It’s a fun read, and that’s all that matters.
4/5

Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope
Wow, I remember Bloom County from when I was in college. Then it stopped and I never gave it another thought. It took a plea from Harper Lee—sorry for the rhyme—to bring the strip back, although I’m guessing Donald Trump had something to do with it too.
And just to make things as meta as possible, Opus has woken up from a 25-year slumber, though no one seems to have aged. Even Bill the Cat is still almost alive. There are three or four strips and then a Sunday special, with some having quotes from fans.
Yes, as expected there’s Trump right away, now known as Stormtrumper. There’s a baby on social media; that’ll end well. A penguin would indeed make a great support animal, if you can handle the stink. But no, Young Han Solo would never wear a red bowtie.
There wasn’t anything particularly new here—names of new politicians and trends plugged in, of course—but that’s a good thing.
4/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: The Astrologer

By Sir Thomas More (1477-1535) originally in Latin.

What is it, fool, in the tall stars you’d find
About the earthy morals of your spouse?
Why search so far? Your fears are close at hand.
For while you polled the poles for what she’d do
She did it willingly and on the ground.

;o)