Book Reviews: Dresses, Crimes, Fire, Cows, and Aliens

A Dress the Color of the Sky
A depressed self-loathing woman who can only find self-worth in sex with strangers checks into a harsh addiction clinic, wanting to save her marriage and do better for her teen son. As soon as she gets to group therapy, the story goes into flashback mode: childhood filled with abuse, moving away from daddy across the country, leaving her ducks behind. She makes a friend, and has her brother, but not exactly what you’d call a great support system. It all shows how she came to be so screwed up, but as necessary as they are to explain how she got to where she is, they sure are tough to get through.
In contrast, the chapters in rehab come across almost slice-of-life. . . if you live in a rehab facility, that is. (For the record, I don’t. . . really! I swear!)
I get why this book was written, but it’s so depressing! It’s sad, but it’s tough because there’s also a lot of funny sprinkled here and there. It took me forever to read, because every time something bad happened to her, I had to take a break.
A few days after finishing I was still conflicted. Had I known what this would be like, I would not have started it. Stories like these are just too difficult for me. But I finished it. I can’t really say I liked it, though there was nothing wrong with the writing. One of the discussion questions at the end asked which half of the book I preferred, and I can wholeheartedly say the present rather than the past. Every time I felt happy for her progress in therapy I got plunged back into her history of abuse. Just too rough.
2.5/5

Twisted Crimes
An elderly couple go to the wrong funeral and end up dead. DCI Sophie Allen—my current police crush—eventually shows up to find out why. Though the reason for the initial crime seems ridiculously slight, there’s no doubt such things do happen. That reason also makes it more difficult for the police to solve it, giving the whole team a chance to shine.
Halfway through I realized that, other than the hike with her husband (which was really work-related), there hadn’t been anything about her family in this one. Considering the previous editions and especially the last few, it seemed glaring.
I love this series. Despite the seriousness of the crimes, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The very last scene wasn’t necessary, but I’m glad it’s there. Also glad the bad guys got what was coming to them, taken down by women, and not just Sophie this time.
4/5

Evil Crimes
In this installment of the fantastic series, DCI Sophie Allen and her squad, as well as cops in other jurisdictions, track a serial killer the likes of which they’d never seen before. There’s a huge twist a little past halfway, where it seems the investigation is over, but it continues on to a great climax that I would not have expected.
Even without all the newcomers in other parts of the country, there’s a lot of detectives to keep track of, and I’ve read every book in the series! Even though that’s realistic, I wish there could have been less people to keep track of. But that’s a minor point.
The writing is as smooth as ever, Sophie is as spectacular as ever, and Rae’s really making her mark. I like that Rae’s transition, while mentioned a few times, isn’t treated as a big deal. But more than anything, it takes an excellent writer to make you have sympathy for the story’s devil.
I’m not going to say this is the best of the series, but it is my favorite.
4/5

Proving Ground
A new security agent, full of insecurities and the weight of being a legacy, is on a stakeout at an airport and then follows her prey to an illicit meet, where everything of course goes wrong. Wouldn’t be much of story if it didn’t, right?
There’s decent surveillance tradecraft in the opening chapter. . . until the end, of course. Unfortunately that’s pretty much the end of that stuff as the plot settles into a mostly usual “girl back in town dealing with family and ex” story. Then it’s about survival.
From the beginning the stubbornness is off the charts. Though there might be such people here and there in the world, most really don’t behave this way in real life, become they end up doing something that teaches them better. . . or gets them killed! Stuff like this makes me like the characters a lot less. For instance, at one point toward the end, when she’s about to do the job she’s been trained for, he again tells her she shouldn’t be doing this. I actually screamed—inside my head—“Dude, shut up! She’s doing this, so either help her or get out of the way!” I was actually wondering if there was anyone in this book who wasn’t stupidly stubborn.
But the absolutely worst moment—trying not to spoiler—happens when she’s rescued but neglects to tell anyone about (something really bad) that’s going to happen. Argh! Why didn’t she? Because then she couldn’t be the hero at the end! This sacrificed any chance I could have had of finding her competent. Also, the cool and calm bad guy, as he was established early on—and what a coincidence that she ends up in exactly the same place he does—is shown being anything but at just the right time for her to notice. Very contrived scene.
Although I enjoyed the writing, I couldn’t help but feel there was too much introspection, in what is a short book anyway. There’s always some, of course, but there was so much thinking here, often hashing out the same ground, that it probably took up half the book. And everyone’s stubbornness didn’t make me feel like rooting for them.
2.5/5

Holy Crap! The World is Ending!
“It was a fairly warm night, a typical summer evening in Southern California.” You know that when a book starts like that, things are gonna get crazy. There’s also what might be the weirdest intro ever, but it sure did the job of preparing me for what was to come.
Which was basically: Earth is about to be destroyed; there’s a way to save humanity; some aliens want to, some don’t; aliens are among us, some of them very sexy; a seemingly ordinary girl is the Chosen One to save the planet.
It’s really cutesy, and somehow it managed to go through the entire book without overdoing it, which might be the most impressive thing. Things get crazy, but oddly enough after a while they get a bit predictable, but at least it’s funnier than previous tries of this kind of story. Even the fact that Part 2 starts at 89% made me laugh. But the most humorous stuff has to be the funny/weird tiny full-color drawings. The cow will haunt me despite her innocent look, especially the one where she’s holding a rose and a bottle of alien wine. . . while wearing a space helmet. In another she’s holding an ankh; I don’t know if I find that more weird or more normal.
I love the contents of the ark of the covenant, so much better than Indy’s version. The historical stuff all goes together nicely. . . if, you know, aliens.
Somewhere along the line the author decided to redeem Inanna, and boy did it work! Big time! I love her now.
Okay, a lot of research went into this. Felt a bit giddy whenever I recognized something, like Gilgamesh. The material is obviously taken seriously by the author, which is why it’s such a surprise that this book was just so darned funny, and fun. You hear a lot about wacky adventures, but this one actually lives up to the billing. More than anything, I have no idea if I would run away screaming or fall in love if I ever met Amber.
4/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Le Temps A Laissie

By Charles D’Orleans (1349-1465), which you have to admit is a pretty French-sounding name.

The weather’s cast away its cloak
Of wind and rain and chilling haze;
It clads itself in broideries
Of crystal sunlit rays.

There’s not a beast or bird but sings
Or cries out in its own sweet strain:
The weather’s cast away its cloak
Of wind and cold and rain.

The whole wide earth is dressed anew:
River, fountain, and brook now wear
Drops of silver, jewels of gold—
The weather’s cast away its cloak
Of wind and rain and cold.

;o)

Book Reviews: Butcher’s Dozen of Kid Stuff

Yes, I just invented “butcher’s dozen” to mean eleven. Somebody had to. . .

Stinky Cecil in Mudslide Mayhem!
A new resident to the pond, a chameleon, is fresh from a pet store and doesn’t know anything, which Cecil finds annoying. More importantly, Cecil’s house gets flooded even though it’s no longer raining. You might be able to guess the reason before you see it.
Gophers being so industrious, it’s no surprise that particular animal has a boat. And a headlamp. And a fanny pack.
Cecil pretends to be smart, but he’d be a goner ten times over without his earthworm friend.
Hmmm, maybe Bigfoot is a giant beaver (not as random as it sounds).
A long sticky tongue IS easier than a fork, especially when you have no fingers.
So anyway, this is a story about cooperation and empathy, or lack of it. Cute and educational, with extra learning at the end.
4/5

Bubby’s Puddle Pond: A Tortuga’s Tale of the Desert
Bubby’s a turtle newly brought to a home in the desert, which despite the landscape has a pond. He makes easy friends with other animals, though I thought this story would be over before it started because the hose looked a lot like a snake!
In the space of a few pages three years take place, which is tough to understand. Other than that, it’s simple enough for little kids.
Last few pages are educational: facts on desert tortoises, including adoption rules, so on.
3.5/5

Caillou: Happy Holidays!
The adorable little scamp with seemingly hundreds of books/stories under his belt—without ever growing older—now takes on Christmas, with a special calendar that shows traditions from around the world.
Cheese pancakes in Austria? Never heard of them, but now I’m hungry.
His little sister takes regifting to a whole new level!
As always, these simple stories will be enjoyable for kids.
3.5/5

Caillou Plays Hockey
As always, I love it when a title tells you everything you need to know.
Though he looks tiny in comparison, Caillou is not afraid to play against bigger kids, who in a reversal of the trope are not mean to him. Of course it helps if he learns how to play first, so he practices with his dad and best friend, imagining scoring the game winner in some big competition, something all athletic competitive kids do, although he seems a bit young for it.
And that’s where it ends. No real finish to it.
3/5

Where is Bear Going?
A small bear goes on a quest and is joined by friends along the way, each stop adding another body part to what they’re going to see. Perhaps the point is for the child reading this to guess, but I couldn’t. Still, it’s cute enough for kids to enjoy.
3/5

Johnny
Johnny’s the nicest being ever, but because he’s a big hairy spider everyone’s afraid of him (wow, the author KNOWS me!).
No real ending to the story, unless you count eating a whole cake by yourself. There’s a lesson here for readers, but the other characters in the story don’t get the chance to learn it.
3/5

Caillou Loves his Mommy
Despite all his toys, the little boy insists on his mom putting down her newspaper to play with him. But it’s during hide-n-seek that their relationship really shines.
The kid is as cute as always, but there’s less of a story here than usual. It’s really just a series of things he wants his mom to do with him. No lesson, either.
3/5

Caillou Loves his Daddy
In this edition, Caillou wants to be just like Daddy, making it different than Mommy’s story.
The first page has the cute little kid asking a question that sounds a lot like the birds and bees, but luckily Dad was smarter than that. After a glimpse through the photo album he wants to dress like Dad, work like Dad, and so on. Then Grampa shows up and makes things more interesting.
This was a lot more interesting than the Mommy volume, but still not as good as those with actual stories.
3.5/5

Caillou at the Sugar Shack
After the last couple of pedestrian entries in the series, this volume actually has a story, where the cute little kid goes to see how maple is harvested from trees. Once warm inside, they get to make yummy stuff out of their crop. This kid, and to a lesser extent his little sister, bring the cute to such levels that it’s almost sweeter than the syrup.
This, along with the hockey book, do the most to prove this series is set in Canada.
4/5

Discover Baby Animals
Pictures of baby animals highlight one fact about what they like to do. Some are more obvious than others. There are three different types of monkeys included. Guinea pigs are an interesting insertion.
The photos are so cute you hardly pay attention to the text, pandas and hedgehogs in particular. Rats not so much. Should get some really small kids interested.
4/5

Professor McNasty’s Collection of Slimes
Rhyming couplets tell the story of young siblings who want to buy some slime. They even take odd jobs from the lady next door to raise the money, the text proving how serious they are by including, “There’s no time for fun.” Unfortunately, like most things bought on the internet, some assembly is required. Even more importantly: read the friggin’ instructions!
Some people will appreciate the rhymes, others won’t. For me it made the story cuter, which is necessary when you’re battling slime, even in a comic context. The illustrations made it even more fun. I did find it annoying that Mom was most worried about her dress.
4/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Two By Shikibu

Not Lady Murasaki, who wrote The Tale of Genji, but rather Lady Izumi; apparently the fact they had the same last name meant nothing in 10th-11th century Japan.
The first one tells exactly why so many people have trouble with meditation. The second is left to interpretation.

Autumn, on Retreat at a Mountain Temple
Although I try
to hold the single thought
of Buddha’s teaching in my heart,
I cannot help but hear
The many crickets’ voices calling as well.

Although the Wind
Although the wind
blows terribly here
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of the ruined home.

;o)

A Different Violinist

Flashback Friday to a phot I took of a violinist not named Lindsey Stirling or Hilary Hahn or Rachel Barton Pine. . . mostly because I’ve never had the opportunity to shoot them.

This is Lili Haydn, at the pavilion in McArthur Park, just west of downtown Los Angeles. I remember it was on my birthday, but I don’t remember the year. I just love her interplay with Romeo the drummer.

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Next Morning

Someone who probably didn’t want to remain anonymous wrote this in seventh-century India.

Next morning
When a damnfool parrot–
right before her parents–
starts to mimic
last night’s cries of love,
the girl leaps up,
blushing,
clasps her hands to
start the children dancing–
jangle of her bracelets
drowning out
the parrot’s calls.

;o)

Book Reviews: Erotic Bartenders, Painters and Santa

Double Trouble
“This time, he won’t take no for an answer.”
This is not the way to start any book.
A bartender is tricked by her sister into putting herself into a charity auction. The sister knows damn well there’s a rich guy who wants her, so she’s basically pimping her out for donations.
The story had barely started and I already hated this mother-fucker. He’s a sadistic dom, but luckily—and conveniently—she turns out to be a closet sub. Then his brother appears. . .
The descriptions of the renovated mansion are tedious. I skipped them; not here for architecture. Other than that, this is excellently written, with plenty of genuinely funny moments, particularly in her introspection. My favorite parts were the amazing lead female character and the intriguing sex scenes. The only downside for me was the lead male character at the beginning, but even he got better. Even the sister got better, though I would have never forgiven her.
3.5/5

The Submissive Muse
One year after her dom husband died, a woman plans her suicide, only to be stopped when she discovers what might be a dead body in the barn. Then it gets complicated.
I’m conflicted about this one. As usual when it’s a good book, I liked the female protagonist, and didn’t care for either of the guys; since they were so opposite from each other, maybe someone in between would have worked for me. The story itself is well written, if a little long; felt more drawn out than necessary, with quite a bit of fluff. Took a long time to get to any erotica or bdsm; it reads more like the journal of three damaged people. The timing of her finding him in the barn just as she’s about to off herself is a little too big of a coinkidink. But even with that I enjoyed some of the psychological aspects, more so her submissiveness than his illness.
3/5

Sexting St. Nick
Cam girl falls for new customer, and of course vice versa, so much so that they take it offline. Then things really get weird.
Despite the shortness of the story there was more than enough to make the leads, as well as the elves and her best friend, likeable. Not so sure about the Frosty one, though.
Even though there’s plenty of real and virtual sex, this really is a cute romance. Her past was told small but heavy, and certainly made understanding her easier.
If only the motorcycle had been shaped like a reindeer with a red headlamp. . .
4/5

Painting Class
An art teacher in her forties finally has an exhibition of her work, where one of the female gawkers is a past student who had the hots for her. The teacher feels similarly and takes her student home for a bout of body painting and anything that might come out of it.
It’s a short tale, but considering it only consisted of two scenes—three, if you count the preview of the sequel—the length was perfect. From the hesitant flirting in the art gallery to the gentle sparring to finding out if the other is interested and what the boundaries are, this was just a fun read. The art-making is given just as much importance as the lovemaking, reminding me of an old four-hour French movie with a slightly similar design.
4/5

;o)

Travel Thursday: After Arlington Garden

After the visit to Arlington Garden that I blogged about last week I decided to go further north to one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, and for the first time go behind Huntington Hospital rather than the usual Fair Oaks route. I was amazed that in the span of three blocks there was so much gawking to be had.

The famous fork in the road. Read about it, seen photos. Life complete.

Considering my preferences for what is commonly known as weak tea, I’d better not go in there.

How libraries start out.

;o)