Book Reviews: Suns, Violins, Planets, and Song

Sunrise, Sunset
A Florida woman with balcony views shoots the sunrise and sunset. Her boyfriend and then other people add poems or words to the photos. Simple premise, elegantly done.
Enjoyed the story of each sunset being done by a famous painter, trying to figure out which one it looked like. No surprise that one went first.
“I never met a sunset I didn’t like. It means dinner’s almost ready.” Nice.
As expected, there’s a lot of rebirth and “life goes on” with the sunrise, while sunset is an opportunity to reflect. Other themes include gratitude and, of course, religion.
I’m sure most people would find these photographs great. As a professional photographer for over 25 years, I could quibble about that, but what would be the point?
Yet despite the preeeety pictures I found myself getting bored halfway through. Don’t try to read/look at this in one sitting.
3/5

Violin
Rather than a history of the violin, this is ten essays on various subjects, some a lot more fun than others.
Starts right off with how the violin was widely considered an instrument of the devil; now we know where Charlie Daniels got that idea. Another chapter talks about the violin in fiction—Sherlock Holmes made the list!—but probably because I was looking forward to it so much it didn’t live up to expectations.
Then the real problems start, with chapter 4. To understand anything that’s been said here you need a ton of knowledge about violin playing, or even music in general, particularly notation. Is this really intended for a general audience? Because I’d say there are a lot more people interested in music who don’t know anything about playing it than those who do. Because of this, entire chapters are of absolutely no interest at all. I’d just seen one of Mozart’s concertos the day before I read about it, and still had no idea what this was talking about. What should have been informative became only boring.
So there’s some interesting tidbits here, but so much of it talks in musical terms that leave us non-musicians in the metaphorical dust.
2.5/5

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do… But You Could’ve Done Better
Stories about how people broke up or were broken up with, obviously not edited, with the author including drawings to punctuate the story. That’s it. It’s like one of those Facebook links that take you to Reddit or some such.
The funniest parts were before and after the main event, like the dedication: “To that one dude, for being such an inspirational dick.” And in the blurbs, “Oh my god, you have a book!” – Hilary’s Mom.
But does she really? Other than some drawings that only highlighted the story—without adding anything original—this was all stuff sent to her. But even the stories weren’t that great. The author states in the forward that she drew a doodle in response to her own breakup, and it made her laugh and feel better; great thought, but I didn’t find much that was funny here. Sure, there were a few laughable instances, but most were either sad or simply mean.
2/5

Planet Song
An advanced long-lived race of fish base their entire civilization and economy on music, particularly sounds made by living beings. Having found the ultimate song—humpback whales—they come to Earth to take some home, in a story obviously inspired by the fourth Star Trek movie. (With a small touch of Harlan Ellison’s original draft of City on the Edge of Forever, where sound could be addicting.)
This is written on a huge scale, taking place over hundreds of years and having around thirty points of view. The main character seems to be one of the very few females of the Fahr species, who manages to work her way into a position of power and then just as quickly loses it. There’s a lot of political wrangling, both within the alien ship and the humans who finally figure out there’s trouble out there. Telescope technology is a fun running theme.
But for such a huge scope there isn’t all the much that takes place; most of it is talking. Thankfully there’s a lot of small touches of humor, and while it never gets boring I wish there could have been more to it. There’s an appendix that explains some of the aspects of the Fahr race that seemed incomprehensible while reading this book, so it might have been more helpful at the beginning.
There’s no actual ending, but since at the start it tells you this is the first of a trilogy, I didn’t mind.
3.5/5

Improper Conduct
The rich daughter of a Chicago politician runs to her first love to help her find her runaway sister. He cons her into having sex with him, not that she’s at all reluctant. In addition to that he makes her live the life of the homeless people she’s encountering—well, he cheats a bit—rather than go right out and find the sister, who’s in danger. He’s a bit of an ass, but then she’s no prize either. By the end they understand each other better, show they regret the times they acted like jerks, and come together. . . and oh yeah, remember about the sister in danger.
This was kinda bland. Can’t think of much to say about it. Actually a good story frame for the silly romance, but they spent so much time denying their feelings I got exasperated.
3/5

;o)

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Book Reviews: Loud Comic Strips in Stitches

Lunarbaboon: The Daily Life of Parenthood
This turned out to be a collection of strips about a strange man—or is he really half baboon?—who does his best to raise his three-year-old son and baby with the occasional help of his almost-as-strange wife.
The strips I read usually make me chuckle; a few of these did actually—not metaphorically—make me laugh out loud. Some border on brilliant. My faves:
“Your belly is so silly.”
“Ask that guy!”
“#1 Trekkie!”
“How much do you love mommy and daddy?” Less than last time.
“The floor is made of lava!”
The realization that if you look like your dad did, you’re gonna look like him. . .
“Junk food night!”
But if I had to pick one fave, it would have to be how ice cubes can cure a booboo.
This is likely the funniest strip I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot. And now that I’m checking it out every morning, I wish it came out more often.
5/5

Stitched #1: The First Day of the Rest of Her Life
A stitched-up girl is reborn, with no memory of her previous life, in a strange cemetery, where she meets friends and foes. As she’s running away from the tomb where she woke up she barrels into a mansion where ghosts are having a to-do, and they don’t mind her dropping in. But when a ghost tells you to run from another ghost, you should run. Fast.
Always love a character who says “Yikes!” and “What the little apples was that?” But my fave line of Crimson’s is “Saving my stitched butt.” I am loving how easily she makes friends, but Wisteria, the shy non-confrontational werewolf, is my fave.
The win here is with the great writing, both dialogue and characterization.
“You only live once! I think.”
“I am not a witch. I’m a ‘magic technician.’ Way cooler.”
“It smells like mold and lavender and. . . mad things.”
The artwork is fun, the colors amusing, but it’s the writing that really shines here. Even the character bios at the end are funny. It’s not a stretch to say this is an early contender for graphic novel of the year.
(There’s also 20-page previews of other books, which seems excessive.)
4.5/5

The Loud House #1: “There Will Be Chaos”
Apparently this is a TV show on Nickelodeon, so no surprise I missed it. The main character is the middle child, which is really saying something when there’s 11 children. . . all girls but you. And everyone’s name starts with L.
This starts with something more books should: “Meet the Loud Family.” With this many characters it’s definitely a necessity. Thank you!
It turns out to be a choose your own path adventure thingie. . . not fantastic on digital. It’s really just a bunch of short silly vignettes featuring the various sisters. The good stuff here is in the small touches, like the poster of a band called Smooch; awesome. I like that the sister with the most feminine name—Lana—is the tomboy/wrench wench. But under no circumstances should handshakes, even funny ones, take double-digit panels.
A few pages of an interview with the creator and previews of other comics round it out.
Some funny stuff, but unlike most, there’s not much for adults to laugh at here, strictly for kids.
3.5/5

Pearls Hogs the Road
It’s a Pearls Before Swine collection. Nuff said; I’m there.
Starts with a cool intro to say that Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) wrote three of the strips. But as to the comics themselves, all I can tell you is that if you love puns, this is your jam. Even if they make you groan, it’s still a good time.
So what makes this different than reading them in the newspaper or online? Besides having them all in one place and not having to click? Author commentary! It’s just as funny, like throwing your kid in the water to test out the theory that nurse sharks are the most harmless breed. And of course there’s an “except for you, reader” line in there.
Some of the best:
Close up of a lemming, his widdow hands curled into fists. . .
Sweater-neckers; yes, totally agree.
Elizabeth Hurley and Ron Cey in the same strip? Wow. . . even included the mustache. (On Cey, not the lovely still-crush-worthy Ms. Hurley.)
“Please don’t criticize my wheelhouse.” Been there.
Abraham Lincoln tweets!
“To infinity and bed, bath, and beyond!”
“Everything happens for a raisin.”
“Bombast cable!”
Definitely agree on the oyster thing. Eerie how sometimes Pastis and I are in telepathic communication. . . not to mention we’re about the same age and grew up in the same area. We probably met as kids.
End with a special extra: Pearls Without Rat. And then Pig. And Goat. And others. It’s surreal and funny in a completely different way.
Public Service Announcement (more of a warning): on the back cover—or last page if digital—do not look at the tramp stamp! For your own sanity!
5/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: What She Said

Kaccipettu Nannakaiyar, from the Classical Tamil Anthologies (c. AD 50-300).

My lover capable of terrible lies
at night lay close to me
in a dream
that lied like truth.

I woke up, still deceived,
and caressed the bed
thinking it my lover.

It’s terrible. I grow lean
in loneliness,
like a water lily
gnawed by a beetle.

;o)

Book Reviews: Berlin, Virginia, Canada, and fantasy

Federico Fellini: The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

Night Train to Berlin
The wife of a top cop in Paris is approached by a stranger quoting Scarborough Fair. That starts a chain of events that leads to a possible terrorist attack in Berlin on the Ides of March.
Though the plot, especially where it eventually lands at the end, is intriguing, the getting there was a lot tougher. There’s quite a few boring info dumps, and I skipped a whole section that was clearly an ill-disguised author diatribe. The end-of-chapter foreshadowings were annoying and amateurish. The thing about ventricles was cute, but the author had to keep going and make it boring. And once the big thing happens in the middle of the book, it slows down quite a bit.
Good plot, some amateurish touches. Author should get better with more experience.
2.5/5

LaCour’s Destiny
An accountant investigates some shady money stuff at her company, which leads her to search for a disappearing employee. Things get dangerous.
Early on it had the feeling of a romantic comedy about to explode, but it never really settled into a particular genre. That’s not necessarily bad, but it made this story feel unfocused. For someone who claimed never to have done anything worse than walking out on a few blind dates, she sure took to lockpicking, and breaking and entering, easily; no moral qualms at all. She also recovered awfully quickly after almost being killed. And wow, she maced herself. Butt monkey much?
The mystery was too convoluted, and I hate it when the protagonist doesn’t figure it out. Kinda cheap to have the killer go off the deep end and basically confess. Felt like it was longer than it needed to be. Enjoyed the main character most of the time—though it was hard to get past her choice for favorite football player—but the plot and the large amount of suspects was confusing.
2.5/5

Sam in Winter
A 9 year old kid who still likes being read to in bed—he particularly enjoys the vampire rabbit stories—can read his dog’s mind, or at least his howls.
Sam is a pretty weird dog. I’ve trained a lot of canines, but I’ve never seen one like this. Then he disappears and Kix can’t think about anything else. It’s hard to believe this book can be so big with a really simple premise, but then the scene where they search in the snow went on forever. There’s an interesting bit on doggie dementia, but even though I mostly enjoyed this, I feel it dragged too much. There were a couple of times when I almost gave up on it, because other than the walking around parts, everything was Kix’s thoughts.
Where this story takes place is never really told, and the fact the author is Dutch doesn’t help. There are too many places in the world that get so cold and snowy. Finally First Nations told me it was Canada, and then I remembered what a Chinook was from when I went to Calgary for the ‘88 Olympics. Wish they would have simply said so, though.
There’s a few simple sketches amongst the text. The photo at the end, with the author and the dog who inspired this story, is a great touch.
3/5

A World Away
A bookish academic finds a sword that glows, and while studying it one snowy night she’s trapped in the museum with some thieves. She gets knocked out and ends up in another world where she gets to play Red Sonja, when she’s not the sexual plaything of the local general as they fight demons and dragons and such like.
There’s not much style to start, and probably in an effort to make it different it’s told in present tense. It felt like typical 80s escapist fantasy, where the disenchanted end up in another world via a magic gate, magic cupboard, etc. Unlike those, this one doesn’t bother to explain how she switched realities; no magic portals, just the sword.
Not great by any means, and a bit Mary Sueish with a British accent, but I did find myself enjoying the fish out of water aspects. This could have easily turned bad. The writing got better, but I was never comfortable with the present tense; didn’t see any need for it at any point.
3/5

;o)