Book Reviews: End of Year Hodgepodge

Ink in Water: An Illustrated Memoir
Subtitled: Or, How I Kicked Anorexia’s Ass and Embraced Body Positivity, which works a lot better as a title.
A woman’s battle with anorexia and associated self-doubt is told through her own thoughts and encounters with friends, boyfriends, and a few others. It’s not an easy read, so if you do pick it up you’ll need to hang on to your emotional hats.
I didn’t think I would have anything in common with this character, but right away with the atheist thing. . . yeah, that’s me there. But the crippling insecurity, where she can’t get out of her own head. . . early on I’m wondering if that’s a big cause of her anorexia. I also wonder if her ex had told her why he was breaking up with her. . . maybe none of this would have happened.
I would have thought such a slow plodding bio would be boring, but it actually isn’t. After that first bit about the atheism I couldn’t commiserate with her at all, but I guess that made it better for me, as I like learning about things outside my experience.
On the other hand, I’ve never been great at reading or watching about people in pain, and this isn’t easy to get through. There’s one thing that happens about two-thirds through that’s particularly gut-wrenching. This is obviously geared toward those who can benefit from it, as a kind of self-help book, but as a memoir it’s pretty tough to handle.
3.5/5

Virtue Signaling
The famous sci-fi writer has a blog, and these are some of his posts.
Humor and honesty. That’s what you want from a political commentator, if that’s what you can call John Scalzi in this book. He probably wouldn’t call himself that; he’s self-admittedly too lazy.
One other thing: logic. Unlike most of the internet and its shoot-from-the-hip tweets, these writings take time. They’re well thought out. They look at other sides of the argument and break down why he disagrees with it, or in the infrequent case agrees. Again, that’s pretty rare, and most welcome.
4/5

Kate’s Really Good at Hockey
A young-teen redhead loves hockey. Considering the previous works from this publisher, this is not a surprise.
After a get-together with all her friends before school—it appears they’re just back from summer break—there’s long and very clunky exposition as to how she spent her time away. The scene switches to her having a hard time at hockey camp while living with a grandmother who doesn’t seem to understand her. The main players are from those hockey hotbeds of Tennessee and Ecuador. And of course there’s bullies.
Mom says such Mom things. If you’re only gonna have a few things in common with Grandma, might as well make them ice cream and bacon.
There’s a lot of repetition, but I suppose this is for kids. Most of it is pretty standard storytelling, but luckily—or unluckily, in the case of the characters—there’s a couple of major twists.
3.5/5

Fall with Olga the Cloud
Incredibly simple even for a children’s book, this tiny tome features a bored cloud that calls its friends to join her in making rain. Everyone else is unhappy with this—even a tree says it’s too much rain—and a cat uses an umbrella.
Other than to say the sun sleeps a lot in fall, and of course it rains a lot, there’s not much here that’s educational. . . there’s not much of anything at all. Even a child could read this in less than a minute. Would have been better with more effort and more story.
3/5

Dad Jokes – Assault With A Dad-ly Weapon
The title tells you—and is a perfect example of—all you need to know about the contents of this book. Some kids might giggle at this, some adults might guffaw, but basically these jokes are designed to make you groan, so with that expectation it does a really good job.
I grudgingly admit I chuckled more often than I thought I would, mostly when the punch line took me by surprise. A few of my faves:
“If you rearrange the letters of postmen. . . it makes them really angry.”
“I don’t have a dad bod. I have more of a father figure.”
“I was accused of being a plagiarist. Their word, not mine!”
“I removed the shell from my favorite racing snail, thinking it would make him faster. But it’s actually made him more sluggish.”
“My wife said she didn’t understand cloning. That makes two of us.”
“What do you get if you cross a centipede and a parrot? A walkie-talkie.”
“How many eyes does a cyclops have? None, if you’re spelling it correctly.”
“What’s blue and not really heavy at all? Light blue.”
These are the best ones. Read the rest at your own risk. You might notice, though, that most of the favorites I listed above would not be understood by most kids.
3.5/5

A Flicker of Hope
A short candle—with eyes and mouth and arms and legs—is depressed, with a literal dark cloud hanging over it, full of the kinds of problems facing kids and teens today. Some are more important than others, but all hurtful. It takes the light of another candle, and even then a few tries, to get the stubby one to see the light.
Of all the usually non-sentient objects being given life in a children’s book, I’d have to say candles are the strangest.
The point here is to not be ashamed to ask for help, because others have been through the same.
Ends with a couple of pages about the power of hope, meant for adults so they can pass it on to their kids.
3.5/5

What Does A Princess Really Look Like?
A little girl does not settle for simply being a princess or a ballerina; nope, she has to be a mashup. Sometimes she dances with her two dads, though it doesn’t say if they are co-regents.
“Inside the head is where our smarts are.” Never heard it put that way, but I like it.
She’s funny and creative—she is a lefty, after all—and I love the way she’s drawn, especially when lying down. The illustrator captures a child’s joyful being in the way she kicks her legs up. It’s all so incredibly cute, even when things don’t work out exactly as she’d hoped.
Ends with a space to draw your own perfect, or not so perfect, princess, along with a Twitter/Instagram hashtag. Reading the author’s bio shows why, but because he’s a therapist who works with kids, it’s okay.
4/5

Who Will Roar If I Go?
African animals are introduced in beautiful subdued watercolor as the words tell the reader about them and the difficulties they face in the modern world.
The elephant has the best page.
If this had been written in prose I would have been okay with it, but a lot of the rhymes are either forced or simply done by throwing in a useless “you see” or such. The awkward cadence and differing lengths make it hard to singsong. It feels like an attempt to emulate Dr. Seuss by someone who’s never written a poem before. . . at least not a good one.
Come for the art. . .
3/5

The World’s Best Jokes for Kids Volume 1
Right before the first joke appears, there’s a warning sign, literally. It reads: Danger! This book contains a lot of silly, corny, brilliant, and funny jokes. Guess which of those four adjectives is the most on-the-nose.
What do you call a bear with no ears? B. Yes! Spelling jokes are my kind of humor. And computer humor: what do you call a bee from the United States? USB.
Even when the joke itself doesn’t hit the mark, the illustrations make up for it. There’s the joke so old it was sorta the title of an REO Speedwagon album, but if you look at the way the fish is looking up at the guy trying to tune it. . .
Then there are others, like the Frozen and Bison jokes, that are pretty cringy—I was warned, after all—but would probably make some kids laugh.
Sometimes there’s a joke like Nutella, irrelephant, and perman-ant that make me wonder how many kids would get the humor, since they might be too young to know those words. Even I don’t know what a stomata is.
They used one of my favorite jokes, about time flying and then fruit flying. Don’t know what that says about me, especially when they include the poultry in motion line.
I will go as far as to say this made me chuckle more often than I thought I would, though it certainly brought the groans as well.
4/5
P.S. There’s also The World’s Best Jokes for Kids Volume 2, because one collection of groaners wasn’t enough. But it appears they used up all the good ones in the first volume, because this one wasn’t anywhere near as good or funny. Went through almost half of the book without laughing once, and didn’t even groan that much, because there just wasn’t anything there. At that point I gave up.

The Cookie Eating Fire Dog
Childlike watercolors and a little prose tell the story of Dan, who isn’t so much a fire dog as he is a fireMAN who happens to be a dog. From the title I assumed he’d be like the other Dalmatians, but right on the first page it says he wears the boots, coat, and hat that make the firefighter’s uniform. He can’t speak, though he does cry a lot when he doesn’t get cookies. Eventually he proves his worth while at the same time buckling down and getting serious about his job.
Little of this story makes sense, but then I suppose the age group this is directed to doesn’t care about that very much. Still, despite the occupation this is about, which a lot of little kids find exciting, there isn’t much here to remember. It does end with a few pages on fire safety, as well as a recipe for ginger snaps.
3/5

Dynomike: What’s Heartfulness?
In one of the most brightly colored children’s books I’ve ever seen, a tiny dinosaur on a tricycle plays with a few friends, their exploits recorded in rare stanzas where all four lines use the same rhyme, at least on the first page. The mom of one of the friends is sick and they brainstorm ideas to make her better.
Doesn’t feel like heartfulness is explained all that well, at least not in the story; there’s a page on it after. Don’t know why it was so important the friend didn’t find out what they had done.
Cute, but I think the message could have been a little clearer. Perhaps this was designed so the kid would ask the parent to explain.
3/5

Southern Rose
Short but enjoyable encounter between a Union officer and a Southern spy. They have a past, and it looks like they’ll have a long future too.
What I don’t understand is why she played so coy and he so rough at the beginning. I get that she was worried about what might happen to her, but by the time they meet up for a few minutes later everything seems to have changed, though nothing really did.
This is weird to say, but this might have been better as one scene rather than two.
3/5

Through the Red Door
Widow navigates her way through two suiters while running a bookstore with a hidden though famous erotica section. A ghost may also be involved.
It’s interesting that of her two new beaus, it’s the “hot” one she instantly bonds with, because he lost his spouse too.
Probably the most fun character is the professor’s assistant—at least for a while—the kind of person who’s fun to read about but would annoy the crap out of me in real life.
The writing is really smooth, the dialogue humorous. While there were some genre clichés near the end, as a whole the plot flowed organically, and everything tied together well at the finish.
This is one the best romance books I read this year.
4.5/5

The Moon’s Pull
Crazed werewolf is killing humans in a Wyoming town. Sane werewolf doesn’t want to kill the bad one, but needs to stop him somehow while falling in lust with the human detective investigating the murders.
Even though it’s short, there’s a bunch of extraneous description. I really don’t care about the color of the detective’s pants or the killer’s hair. And despite the relative shortness of the book, it’s made even shorter by the inclusion of several sex scenes in a row. Nothing wrong with sex scenes, quite the opposite, but they could have been better spaced.
Worse, there were a lot of extra commas, and in general the whole thing was stilted, with no style. Things run together in a jumble. It became a chore to read, and I probably would have given up had I not known it was so short, and had several erotic scenes to look forward to. The flashback scene was badly integrated. The author, and definitely this relatively famous publisher, should have invested in an editor.
But if there’s one part I particularly disliked, it was this ridiculous passage:
“Why doesn’t he go to the bigger cities where criminals are more rampant?” Sam asked.
“Because, my sweet,” Quentin replied. . . “A smaller town draws less attention.”
Huh?
2/5

Science Fiction: A Novel
Quite an all-encompassing title.
The first chapter introduces a galaxy-wide version of a cooking reality TV competition, in which a part of the loser becomes next year’s main ingredient. The next chapter shows an earthling with some cooking skills being scared out of his mind at a strip club. You can see where this is going.
It’s definitely silly, but I can’t say it’s funny enough. Like a lot I’ve seen recently, it’s trying really hard to be the next iteration of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–this one even more so—and falling way short. The ship’s drive is a huge example. And all this before I read the end, where he actually thanks Douglas Adams.
I do like how he turned the info drop on the ship into an infomercial.
Anyway, there were some cute moments, and I eventually liked Bridget, but it never hit the heights it set.
3/5

Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World
Well-drawn semi-cartoons show some of the most impressive places in the world, both natural and manmade. The drawings take up two pages and are full of small details, but very few of the sites get that treatment. For instance, the first section is Australia and Oceania, showing a map of the region with all the places featured, but only Uluru gets its own section.
I was very glad to see my two favorite places in the world—The Alhambra in Spain and the Glowworm Caves in New Zealand—make the list. Throw in the Charles Bridge in Prague, Petra, Chichen-Itza, Torres del Paine, and Ludwig’s Castle and I’m completely happy with this. The drawing for that last one is particularly well-detailed, but on the other hand the Alhambra left a bit to be desired, since I know it so well.
Can’t believe they filled two pages of notes and art on the Marianas trench.
At the end there’s two pages of things to search for amongst what you just saw, as well as an index.
All in all, great fun and a pleasant way to teach kids about the world.
4/5

Egypt Magnified
Very detailed drawings of ancient Egyptian life fill pages, and it’s up to the reader to find ten small things on each page. Apparently printed books include a magnifying glass, but I doubt digital ones will.
I’ve seen plenty of books like this one, as well as apps for both kids and grownups, where the point is to find what’s hidden in the artwork. This one goes further in that the drawings are much more intricate, and the details not everyday familiar, which makes it more challenging.
The most important takeaway here is that it’s wonderful when a children’s book can be both educational and fun simultaneously.
4/5

;o)

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