Book Reviews: Zombies, Porn Stars, and Aliens

Dimension Drift
A multi-dimensional hacker—can’t think of another way to put it—is looking for her missing sister. When her mother awakens from her depression at losing one daughter, they do their magical/science thing to call for help. Help comes in the form of an otherworldly hot guy who instantly “bonds” with her, as always happens in these kinds of stories. This takes place in a dystopian future where the authoritarian “American” government doesn’t acknowledge there’s ever been any other rulers before it, forcing them to keep a low profile. Unfortunately their pseudo-science stuff, which I didn’t understand at all, brings them to the attention of the bad guys.
Okay, once I get past the fact this is not meant to be a full story—indeed, it’s the setup for a series—I can say I enjoyed it. There’s a tendency for these kinds of characters to be too snarky, but thankfully this one wasn’t. I might have liked her friend more, though. As a lead, the personality is a little lacking. It’s also tough that all the other characters introduced—except for a really important one—will likely never appear again, at least according to the small except at the end.
So again, as a setup to an upcoming series it’s fine.

Hungry for Love
A woman falls in love while her husband is in a coma, and then her husband wakes up. . . of course. The first part consists of this new romance, but once her husband’s setting is introduced, it’s on to flashbacks about how they met.
There’s some good stuff here. Right off the bat I enjoyed the writing, which had a smoothness. The author instantly got on my good side by agreeing with me about Tolkien.
But the more I read, the less I liked. At first I felt sympathy for her, understood what she was going through. That was made even more so by the fact her two blood relatives—her father and her half-sister—are such jerks to her, and the only solace she gets is from her stepmom. But when she didn’t tell her new lover about her husband when she moved in, all sympathy was over. Even worse, the way both men behaved. . . let’s just say neither is much of a prize. Soon Jesse will no longer be allowed to blame the coma for being a jerk. Nor can Aiden blame her not telling him about Jesse; either he forgives her and moves on, or doesn’t and breaks up with her, but his passive-aggressive crap makes it seem like his daughter is the more mature member of the family. Frankly, she would have done better to start over with someone else.
I don’t want to say I was bored, but I certainly wasn’t interested in these people’s lives. I’m sure she was supposed to come across as some kind of great martyr to put up with everything around her, but that’s not how it struck me. I simply got to the point where I no longer cared.

Rated Z: Money Shot: An Anti-Romance
When a disease that turns people into something-like-zombies ravages the world, a couple of porn stars try to lead a band of survivors to safety.
This book is well named, since it starts with a porno shoot. . . in excruciating detail. The metaphors fly fast and free, but at least some of them are funny. It’s silly, not to be taken seriously. When a character comes back from the dead, the mortician doesn’t faint, actually takes it pretty much in stride after a few incredulous moments. It’s that kind of world.
On the other hand, there’s far too many characters introduced too early. Some are sympathetic, oddly enough the porn stars most of all. Anything bad that happens to Erica is fine by me. But it felt like there were far too many storylines. If I stopped reading for a day, I forgot some of the characters. The Andrew storyline could have been left out entirely. It’s a rambling plotline, enough so that I hesitate to call it a plot, more of a situation to drop characters into and see how they react. But then I doubt story was the point, and it ends in an abrupt cliffhanger.
The best thing I can say about this book is it’s got heart. . . numerous other body parts and functions as well, but mostly heart.

Oath Forger
In yet another dystopian future, a young scavenging survivor gets kidnapped by alien pirates, who take scavenging to another level. Then she’s saved by a space hunk who thinks she’s the answer to stopping an interstellar war.
Sometimes the cutesy first person tough-girl patter is hard to take, but other times it’s done perfectly. I love this character, snarky without overdoing it, even in her head. There’s been other characters like her, but the one she reminds me of the most is Wynonna Earp, for those who are fans of that show.
Despite it being labeled as an erotica, there’s actually very little sex, in fact the main character goes to great pains to remain pure, though she doesn’t mind the more foreplay parts of human/alien stimulation.
According to the blurbs, this will be a series of five books, all of them already written and released throughout the following months. It sounds like this was one giant book that got chopped up, but since this is the first, there’s no resolution here.


Book Reviews: France, Trains, and Dogs

Non-fiction flavor today.

F is for France
Really random factoids about that country everyone, especially Belgians, likes to make fun of.
The rooster is the national animal of France: yep, loud and cocky. See what I mean? Easy.
What is there to say? Some of the stuff was hilarious, just as many miss the mark. I skipped stuff like recipes and which wine goes with what, but for the most part it was entertaining enough. Certainly learned a few things, like the best baguette competition, which is ironic considering France is the #2 market for McDonald’s.

Writing Your First Novel
As always, it’s wonderful when the title tells you everything you need to know.
Despite different names for some of the terms, this is pretty much the same format as most books and classes on writing. It didn’t help that a lot of the examples were from the author’s novels, which I have not read.
On the other hand, the end section on publishing was more useful, but his calling for a full-blown block party for a launch gets a little silly.

Trains: Photography of A. Aubrey Bodine
Yup, the title does not lie.
The photographer uses an old trick, shooting from below, to make the locomotives appear powerful, even majestic. Quite frankly, it looks awesome. Just as picturesque are the white steam clouds found in almost every shot, at least when the train’s running. There’s one particularly excellent shot of a highly stylized tiny locomotive, the kind only seen in drawings. And the shot of the viaduct against the sky is gorgeous.
On the other hand, according to the introduction a lot of the clouds aren’t original, which might make Bodine the first photoshopper. (Kidding. . . there were others before him.) That ruins it for me, especially his justification, but I did my best to enjoy it anyway. Unfortunately, a lot of the photos did not get a second look from me. I like trains well enough, but I’m not the buff that this book is geared for. If you have a Sheldon Cooper-level love for the locos and cabooses, then this is definitely for you. It also helps that it’s his daughter curating this book, bringing a level of emotion to it.

Under Dogs
First and foremost, try not to get that theme song stuck in your head. . . sorry.
The first photo doesn’t show a head, just muff and paws without a face. An appropriately weird start.
Chewbacca is in there, as well as others hair piles. And a fox. Never heard of a muri; resembles an Oreo. There’s a shot of an Italian greyhound that looks like a bat.
There’s something vaguely off-putting within all this cuteness, in an uncanny valley sorta way, but I’m sure everyone knows someone who will go bonkers over this.

Champions: 15 Inspiring Comeback Stories from Sports and Life
As always, I love it when the title tells you everything you need to know.
From the first chapter on it felt like each was way too long. It’s half interview, half bio, and there’s so much extraneous that I find myself skipping over, or at least skimming, through entire pages. Don’t need to know every player’s batting average or ERA.
All the superfluous material makes it hard to keep interest throughout a chapter; pretty sure I didn’t read more than one each sitting. By the end, especially with the baseball stories, they sounded the same. Can’t shake the feeling this would have been much better if it was much shorter.


Poetry Tuesday: When She Walks By Here

Francesco Petrarch, somewhen in the fourteenth century.

When she walks by here
The grass bends down, the gentle flowers.
The mark of her foot remains in the damp ground beside water.

You have known her, the slenderness of trees.
Young green branches: making a shadowy wood
The sun breaks with its narrow shafts of gold smoke.

River, that has become her face, takes fire
Looking at me; fire from the sun has washed her.

The stones themselves are burning in my shadow.


Top15: 2017 Favorite TV Actresses

As always, remember the difference between “favorite” and “best.” This ain’t no Oscars or Emmys. . .

Katherine Heigl—Doubt
I don’t think anything can possibly happen that would change her from being my favorite actress. Too bad this show was so boring, and she was basically saddled with the same character she played on Grey’s.

Gillian Anderson—The X Files
Even though I’m not enjoying the reboot, I still love watching this amazing woman, and Scully will always be Scully. As much joy as she brought me during the original run, it’s her work in The Fall that is truly the highlight of her career.

Daniela Ruah—NCIS:LA
Due to the past decade or so this show has been on, I’ve run out of superlatives for this amazing actor. At first the show was more centered on her beauty and sex appeal, but since then she’s proven she has the chops to stick with the boys on this show.

Christina Valenzuela—Miraculous Ladybug
If you ever needed proof that voiceover acting can be just as compelling and amazing as on-screen work, look no further than this woman’s subtle work. From high-pitched giggles and squeals to menacing counter-threats at the show’s baddie. . . I want to say she’s so much fun to watch, but instead she’s so much fun to hear.

Melissa Benoist—Supergirl
It’s always seemed to me that playing a superhero isn’t all that hard, compared to playing the human counterpart. To put it simply, Melissa is simply better than most of the material she’s had thrown at her. Just watch her playing vulnerable human—or masquerading as human—and you’ll see what I mean.

Emily Wichersham—NCIS
I was never against Cote de Pablo, but her character got stale after a while. Emily brought a freshness and optimism that the show desperately needed, while not creating another Abby.

Kristen Bell—The Good Place
Veronica Mars was basically a good person underneath her tough façade, and always managed to do the right thing despite it. Eleanor is Veronica Mars had she grown up without that filter. Kristen makes her one of the most selfish people ever seen on TV—thankfully not all the time, she’s learning—and yet still completely loveable.

Halston Sage—The Orville
There’s a scene early on, the episode where Alara takes command, where she’s negotiating the release of the captain and first officer. Her opponent is a conceited jerk. Putting her ego aside, she lets someone else take over and, when prompted, gives the most hilarious deadpan line ever uttered. That’s all I needed to fall in love with this character, and actress.

Jaimie Alexander—Blindspot
This show had such an amazing premise but has unfortunately fallen into silly are-they-together-or-not drama that it didn’t need. But through it all Jaimie has been the bright spot, whether she’s being badass with her words or her stunts. She’s made this character almost as kickass as Lady Sif.

Abigail Spencer—Timeless
Another show that hasn’t really lived up to its premise, being too uneven in quality, but Lady Blah-Blah has been a constant rock amongst the sometimes eye-rolling writing. She had to wait a long time for this kind of leading role, but now she gets to show what she can do, and it’s a lot.

Alana De La Garza—Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders
This amazing actor just can’t catch a break. With her acting potential, not to mention those cheekbones, she should be a star, on a show that lasts forever. . . no pun to her previous show. Yet in all those one-or-two year wonders she creates delicious characters that are always fondly remembered.

Kara Killmer—Chicago Fire
If this character was real I would marry her in an instant; that’s how great a job Kara has done here. Whether she’s calming down a recalcitrant patient or hiding from a friend who’s crushing on her, this innocent-looking blonde always makes me believe whatever little silly thing the writers throw at her.

Paget Brewster—Criminal Minds
Even though Prentiss is no longer the badass she was before her fake death, there’s still plenty of fire in the character, and making her the boss allows Paget to show a completely different side to her acting prowess. I like watching her be more subtle than usual, while still enjoying the vintage emotions that sometimes still come out.

AJ Cooke—Criminal Minds
Unlike her costar above, AJ—and JJ’s—journey has been the opposite. Whereas the blonde media coordinator started out meek compared to the others—sometimes it was easy to forget she was a trained FBI agent—she’s gotten to show her grit and kickass skills in taking down bad guys, even saving her family. AJ has shown JJ can be what Prentis was before.

Melissa Rauch—The Big Bang Theory
I still say she’s the best thing about this show, even with the comedic giants in the lead. Whereas she started out a bit mousy, the character has developed into the most snarky of them all, leaving Penny in the dust. This is one time when her height—or lack thereof—helps, because you don’t expect such cutting sarcasm from someone so tiny, and it’s so perfectly delivered that it’s funny rather than painful.


Poetry Tuesday: Alba, With a Refrain From the Provincal

Tenth century, totally anonymous.

Two shadows now, north from the translucent
moon, from the unrisen sun west,
watcher cries warning to the unwary:
Dawn whitens over a dark sea,
leans across the hills: the light! The light!

Day lies in ambush for the unwakeful
for the sleepers to destroy them
to whom the watcher cries warning still:
Dawn whitens over a dark sea,
leans across the hills: the light! The light!

The wind blows chillier from Arcturus.
The stars gutter, dwindling toward the pole.
The Great Bear lumbers east and east.
Dawn whitens over a dark sea,
leans across the hills: the light! The light!


Poetry Tuesday: Deep In the Forest

Anonymous Swedish 17th century.

Deep in the forest there is a pond,
small, shaded by a pine so tall
its shadow crosses her surface.
The water is cold and dark and clear,
let it preserve those who lie at the bottom
invisible to us in perpetual dark.
It is our heaven, this bottomless
water that will keep us forever still;
though hands might barely touch they’ll never
wander up an arm in caress or lift a drink;
we’ll lie with the swords and bones
of our fathers on a bed of silt and pine needles.
In our night we’ll wait
for those who walk the green and turning earth,
our brothers, even the birds and deer,
who always float down to us
with alarm and startled eyes.


Selfishly Helping

I don’t do this often, but this is one of those exceedingly rare times when I feel the need for it. A couple of weeks ago something happened that’s been nagging me, and I feel that if I write about it, maybe I’ll get some closure.
I’d just gotten out of physical therapy and was heading for the bus stop when I came across an old Asian man in a seersucker suit, using a blind man’s cane as though he’s not familiar with it; I mention he was Asian because the language barrier was insurmountable. He hands me a card that says Lanai Motel, which I assume is the one I just passed, though I’ve never seen its name. I really wanted to make the next bus, but knew there’d be another one soon, so I gather his elbow in my hand and lead him toward the hotel as he talks about who knows what.
I had some trouble navigating him; I didn’t want to pull on him too hard, but he kept going in all directions. Eventually I got him on the handicap ramp of the hotel and let him walk up it alone—with cement borders on both sides, he couldn’t get lost—and go up to ring the bell and get the desk clerk. When the guy looks out the window and nods, I go back down the ramp and, sure enough, the poor guy can’t navigate the slight turn. Luckily the desk clerk, who thankfully spoke Chinese, shows up and takes over the navigation, and I leave before either can say anything.
In her book Lindsey Stirling talks about being selflessly selfless, as opposed to selfishly selfless, which she defines as doing something nice for someone for your own selfish reasons, even if it’s something as simple as wanting to feel good about yourself. So was I being selflessly selfless? Not sure. I do know that if something had happened to him—from falling down to being hit by a car—and I hadn’t helped, I’d feel horrible. Does that make me selfish? Probably. What I can’t get over is why this philosophical conundrum is getting to me so much. You’d think after a few days my brain would just let it go. . . oh crap, that song just exploded in my head again. . .
Yeah, that pretty much explains how confusing the whole thing has been. . .


Book Reviews: Families, Animals, and Science for Kids

Herodotus the Hedgehog
Herodotus likes to go on nature walks, observing his fellow wildlife. He comes across a bear worshipping; for a moment I thought he would eat the offering, but luckily he moved on. . . or unluckily, as he comes across a fox and makes the cute ball thing hedgehogs do for protection. Even cuter is his dancing.
But his encounter with the bear and his talk with the fox, coupled with a visit to the local old wise hedgehog, leads him on a spiritual quest to hear all the animist—literally!—religions. Of course everyone thinks their god is better, until he meets a monotheistic animal, and then another shows up to argue, and. . . you can imagine. But in the end it takes a 180-degree twist from what I was expecting, so I liked it.
Drawings are rudimentary; some look like they’re done with chalk, but they come off as kinda cute.

The Fishing Lesson
A tourist sees a sleeping fisherman and wonders why he’s not out fishing. Taking him for lazy, he builds an elaborate fantasy of wealth. I knew where this was going, as this is a story I’ve heard before, albeit much simpler. That being said, most kids probably haven’t, and the illustrations of course add to it. The first one looks like something out of Escher, with orange fish, but after that they’re brightly colored.
In this world the click of a camera is a hostile sound, so as a photographer I take offense to that, but it’s still well done.

Stars and Planets. Mack’s World of Wonder
A book of very simple astronomy lessons. My fave is the moon chapter, described alternately as a pie and a banana. Each page ends in a simple question. After a thorough accounting of the features surrounding the earth, it moves to the rest of the solar system, followed by the whole universe and space travel.
Fave facts: Mars’ moons look like potatoes, and Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is bigger than Mercury and looks like a pizza. And here’s one I didn’t know: most of the moons around Uranus are named after Shakespeare characters, including Juliet and Miranda.
The coloring here is strange. Sometimes the outer space sky is white, other times orange. (Maybe the author—Mack—is Dutch!) One illustration shows the moon over Monument Valley, but other than that most of the artwork is relatively abstract.
This is actually excellent. It’s for kids, but I learned some things too.

Want to Know. The Bicycle
Even as a former cyclist I never knew there was so much to learn about bikes. Informative, though I doubt most kids would care about famous cyclists. Even shows how to fix a flat.
Liked this a lot. Well done.

Smallest kid in the family doesn’t know what an air show is when Dad says they should go. They try to explain about helicopters and jets and so on (then he trips over the dog). He doesn’t want to go because the descriptions make him think of monsters; guess no one had photos or the internet to show him.
There’s a great shot of him gazing skyward in wonder from the backseat of the car as they approach the show. Some of the aircraft are lovingly rendered, especially the fighters with animal faces painted on the front. There’s even an Osprey, everything done in bright watercolor.
I loved the helicopter pilot. It’s a short kids’ story, but she still stood out. The book was well told; it might have even been the author’s story of how he became a pilot.
As a bonus, there’s a list of airplanes featured throughout the book at the end.

Discover Ancient Egypt
With text explaining a photo, or a photo helping the text, this book expounds the latest theory on how the pyramids were built, then talks about mummies and sphinxes. It’s really simple, which makes it perfect for the age level it targets. I remember getting into Egyptology as a teen, but it would have come sooner if there’d been a book like this around.

Pandora’s Box
Told in rhyme, it’s the story of a female penguin who finds a box under the ice, then tries all manner of ways to open it. Everyone warns her not to, but once they see she’s not going to stop they help her. It’s kinda adorable, especially the whales and their useless fins.
Pandora is a great name for a penguin, especially one with a polka-dot bow on her head; she might be buddies with Minnie Mouse. She can also ice skate instead of waddling like her brethren and sistren, of which there are many.
That’s a surprised-looking fish in her mouth.
Mmmm, the jackhammer was a little too much. (Surely the fact that my neighbor is using one at this moment has nothing to do with that opinion.) Another annoyance is that the author admits the Northern Lights can’t happen at the south pole, but it would have been a lot easier just to say Southern Lights, which is a thing too.

Good for You, Ladybug
Apparently this is a series written forty years ago in Italian, so unfortunately it has nothing to do with Miraculous Ladybug. Instead it’s a little kids’ book about a fun-loving polka-dot bug who uses umbrellas, hats, giant spoons, and trumpets in her everyday life.
Of all the children’s books I’ve reviewed, this has to be the simplest yet. Whatever the youngest age a child can read and comprehend pictures is, this is the book for them. And that’s not putting it down in any way, in fact it’s kinda beautiful in its simplicity.

Hoppy’s Big City Adventure
Hoppy the Frog takes a nap in the middle of the pond, so of course a storm floats him off to the big city.
The first three pages are completely alike except for a different animal giving Hoppy the same warning about the storm. Did not like that; could have at least used different words. Smacks of laziness more than repetition for the sake of learning.
In one page the author used “Began to—” four times! Argh!
This is perfectly fine for kids, but in comparison to most other children’s books, this just isn’t as well written.

Hooray for Mommy
The little girl wonders what her mom does while she (kid) is at school, picturing her (mom) doing things she (kid) would do, like watch fish or getting ice cream. In reality she has a corporate-looking job, though she’s certainly no conventional mother, which looks like the point of the story: don’t be afraid to be different. In fact, the book starts out saying that some moms are perfect, though it’s not meant as a compliment.
Nice improv with the pirate hook hand.
Activities at the end include dressing up a drawing of yourself, selecting books, making a shopping list, and animal match-ups.

Hooray for Daddy
This book starts by stating that every daddy is different, and that’s a good thing. After that it shows things the kid likes doing with his dad. The most memorable is a funny shot of sad dad with his kite stuck in a tree while the kid laughs his ass off. At the end there’s activities such as drawing and going through a maze.
In general I preferred the Mommy book, which simply had more heart to it. Not that this one’s bad, but it’s inevitable when there’s two books in the same series to compare them.

My Mum the Police Officer
The title is pretty clear on what this is about.
I like that the kid says “The sun is still asleep.” Adorable. Also adorbs is grandma plays cops and robbers with him, and when the boy looks incredibly happy when Mom—I mean, Mum—calls, and I can’t help but notice it’s not on a cell phone.
Very diverse police force; even the K-9 unit is represented. Mom is shown doing traffic duty, and there’s a pigeon at her feet mimicking her arm motions. There’s a list of jobs police do, although I’m sure they’d rather not include paperwork. Even more so, the last job shown is cleaning the street with a broom; the union’s gonna have something to say about that. . .
The artwork is almost modern Impressionistic, with thick brush strokes. Beautiful in its own way.

Hooray for Grandpa
Boy hangs out with grandpa. Their entire relationship seems to consist of the kid saying something and grandpa listening, then offering some advice. They do some things together too, but not much compared to that dynamic.
Oh no! Gramps is one of those idiots who plays music full blast! Try to make him sympathetic after that! Even the cat laughs at his air-conducting.
Like the others in the series, there’s activities at the back. The first one’s the toughest, though the stringed instrument one is a trick question.
Overall I just got the feeling this one wasn’t quite as good as the others, but still acceptable.

A small bearlike creature is working on a construction site while teaching the young reader about moving dirt from one place to another.
I’ve said this before, but this might indeed be the most simplistic book ever, even if it is for kids. There’s one small line of dialogue on each page, describing what’s being shown, but in the fifteen pages of this book, it takes till page eleven for the scenery to change. Every one features the scoopy truck Diggy is using, without it changing position; other machines move around a bit behind it, but the truck stays there the whole time. Probably just me, but that smacks of laziness. That dropped my enjoyment of it, though of course a child would have a completely different point of view.

Sir Tim Wants a Dragon
Tim is a little kid who thinks he’s a knight. Told he can have a pet, he decides on a dragon, though his logic is faulty; knights kill dragons, not keep them as pets. Plus it’s really hard to find a dragon at the local pet store.
Mom looks amused throughout, except when mice enter the discussion, so that’s a plus.
Pretty lucky coincidence to end it, but a cute story overall.

The Captain’s Favourite Treasure
I appear to be in a nitpicky mood, as I can’t help but notice on the opening illustration that the main kid character is wearing a paper hat in a rainstorm.
Wow, whole families of pirates! And they’re all so polite! Captain Crank is actually Bluebeard, or maybe Tealbeard.
Um, which are the Jigs and which are the Saws?
Trying to put myself in the mindset of the kid, I would think he’d be pretty mad about going on such a wild goose chase. He might have enjoyed visiting all those places if he wasn’t so worried about finding the treasure.