Book Reviews: Planes, Jazz, Chickens, Smartphones

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
One of the most amazing planes in history gets yet another huge tribute. It’s comprehensive, but also has spots of boredom.
Right away there’s some photos of prototypes that led to the Blackbird, as well as shots of Area 51. Those were cool. Another good entry was the page of tail photos; my fave is the shark.
But it takes a huge fan to get through this; even I needed to take some breaks and refocus. There’s only so many angles of a plane that can be shot, so after a while it feels repetitive. Not putting this book down in any way, since it’s really comprehensive, merely stating it should be taken in small doses.
3/5

Jazz in Available Light: Illuminating the Jazz Greats from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s
As you would expect with this title, there’s a LOT of black and white photos of men—and two women—with instruments, along with some biographic material on each. They’re mostly grainy and dark, and if this was strictly a photography book it wouldn’t be very impressive. As history, however, it works better.
My most enjoyable chapter was on jazz violins. Also the drummers. But it takes someone who is a lot more of a jazz fan than I to appreciate this to its fullest.
3/5

Can Your Smartphone Change the World?
I’m sure people assumed this would be some kinda holistic manual when they saw the title. It’s so much more. What we have instead is the story of a young lady, Erinne Paisley, in western Canada who went viral with her prom dress and used the publicity to make the world better. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s from one of my favorite cities, Victoria.)
She’ll probably blush and deny it if she reads this, but even though the circumstances were different, I’m putting her in the same rarified air as her idol Malala, who is in my top ten of the most amazing and inspirational people in the world. There’s a mention of another on my list, Queen Rania; it’s almost like she was writing this book specifically to get me to love it.
There’s pop quizzes which really aren’t, rather call to actions. More importantly, there’s plenty of advice on how you can make a difference through social media.
In what’s already a thin book there’s a lot of photos, but I think in this case it benefits from being to the point rather than including any padding.
In the end, a phone is just a tool, no different than a pencil, a car, or even a gun. Whether it’s good or bad completely depends on how it’s used. What I like the most about this book is its relentless optimism. Sure, doing what she did and what she suggests is much harder than it sounds, but like the old saying goes, if you don’t play, you can’t win.
4.5/5

A Little History of Archaeology
If I have a favorite archaeology writer, it’s gotta be Brian Fagan, longtime prof at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara). Pretty sure I’ve read all of his books, and that’s saying a lot.
In this entry, Fagan is even more subtlety humorous than usual. I love his note that Layard is the only archaeologist to find two palaces in the same day. Even though I’ve been studying archaeology for nearly 40 years, there’s some names in here I’ve never come across. Others I vaguely remember, or saw the name but didn’t follow up. He’s given me a lot of stuff to research (aka more things to do when I should be working).
I’ve read a lot of books like these—some by Dr. Fagan as well—introductions to archaeological sites all over the world, written for the general public. This does that too, but it goes further in depth, especially with the personalities. I like it.
4/5

For Cluck’s Sake!
Probably not everything you ever wanted to know about chickens, but close.
It starts with a funny intro where the author gives her chicken résumé, as it were. The first photo shows an angry-looking hen, staring at the camera like it’s spoiling for a fight; actually pretty scary. The second photo shows two chickens next to each other, and the pattern in their feathers is quite mesmerizing. The third photo is of a bird with feathers on its legs; it just looks. . . wrong. But you get the gist.
A pea comb is mentioned, but not explained.
Amid all the facts there are quotes that are not about the feathered fowl, but the main noun has been changed to chicken, which more often than not fails. Thankfully the fun facts are indeed fun.
Chicks come out born ready, so to speak.
The egg did come first.
Chickens are smarter than four-year-old humans when thinking long-term.
There’s a literal pecking order; doesn’t say if this is where the phrase originated, but it figures to be.
Plenty of fun or funny stuff, but some uninteresting ones as well.
3.5/5

Fingerprints and Phantoms
Subtitled: True Tales of Law Enforcement Encounters with the Paranormal and the Strange
Told in a folksy downhome style, this is a collection of stories purported to be encounters with ghosts and such, although many lack any. Much of the first chapter has nothing more than “feelings” backing up the title. I’d hoped it would get better in that respect, but in the first third or so the most we get is a haunted hotel elevator.
The best chapter was the one about the shape-shifting dogs of South El Lay. It also seems to be the only unexplained phenomenon that didn’t happen in Utah.
One story involving a Halloween-laden murder might have been creepy due to the surroundings, but also had no paranormal trappings to it. So why is it in here? Similarly there’s a story about a woman who died for no apparent reason—at the time; autopsy findings are not mentioned—on a sidewalk after a shopping trip that cost the most famous three-digit number around. That superstition is the most ghostly thing in the story. It feels like cheating; it annoys me.
It isn’t till the end that the author mentions this is more of a book on folklore than actual paranormal. I will agree that his intention was not to prove ghosts exist, but after reading the title and subtitle, it seems disingenuous.
3/5

Greek Gods and Heroes: Meet 40 Mythical Immortals
A primer on the most famous Greek myths, though there’s bound to be a few annoyed at not being included. Purportedly a children’s book, but the vocabulary and literary content seems at youngest for teenagers, so I’m not including it in a children’s book blog.
The icons look 8-bit, perhaps on purpose, and they’re used in the table of contents, rather than names, which is awesome. Pandora is the closest to human, but even she looks weird, probably because she has practically no nose. Aphrodite is of course blonde, as is Apollo, who looks like a vain surfer dude.
The first is Gaia, showing the page format: a brief description, several other info boxes, a large graphic representation, and so on.
Always happy when I can learn some things too. For example, Themis, who isn’t as well known, was Zeus’ second wife, before Hera (good luck remembering the first!). She was the Fates’ mommy as well as the Goddess of Justice; she was the Delphi oracle before Apollo took it over.
Hera sure got the worst role of any goddess.
“Artemis rarely kills wild animals.” Oh, that’s nice. “She prefers to attack those women who disagree with her or who insult her mother.” And so much for nice. . .
I did not know Sisyphus was the father of Odysseus.
But again, I simply can’t call this a children’s book, as it goes too far into explanations that should have been much simpler for kids. This is probably better for teens, and a lot of adults will like it.
After all this, Orpheus is still my fave.
4/5

Music Legends
A purported children’s book about the greatest stars in rock and roll history. . . supposedly. More on that coming up.
Right away there’s Elvis, who’s described as having “devilish swiveling hips.” Can’t wait for a kid to ask Mom what that means.
More than anything, I have to question the inclusion of some of these, especially with Rush not chosen. At least I’ve heard of most of them, but Blur? This book definitely skews British and Euro. Daft Punk? Well, the author is French. . . I think that after he ran out of icons, he chose his favorites. It’s just that some of these are so ridiculous it brings the whole book down.
Like the similar entry on Greek gods, this one just doesn’t feel like the children’s book it claims to be.
2.5/5

Literary Handyman
A monthly column called The Writer’s Toolbox gets collected and transformed into the Literary Handyman. Actually, the title’s kinda clever, if you stop to think about it.
There’s a moment that made me love this book: the author’s talking about how writing is a solitary endeavor, “just you and your computer. . . or typewriter. . . or clay tablet. . .” Nice.
There’s advice that’s for the most part common sense, though I’m sure most beginning writers don’t think of this stuff. (Warning: on the cover it says “for beginners,” so don’t expect anything in depth if you’ve got some years under your. . . fingers.) The important parts for me were the droplets of humor sprinkled throughout, transforming what might otherwise had been a dry read into something more memorable. It is important to remember that these were originally in a once a week or month format; it’s a lot different reading them all at once.
3.5/5

;o)

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Book Reviews: 22 Reasons Kids Love This Blog

Storytime: Astromouse
A baby mouse totally buys it when told the moon is made of cheese, and instantly decides he wants to go there. He doesn’t think it through. In the end he figures things are just fine the way they are.
It’s a pretty cute story, amusingly told. Not the twists one would expect at the end, even though the ending itself was never in question. The artwork and syntax make this a good bet for pre-kinders.
4/5

Georgia O’Keeffe
A quick colorful biography of the famous painter, meant for kids.
Broad lively artwork from the very start, where while one boy chases chickens another is being chased by a girl with a wooden sword. Unfortunately this is not Georgia; she’s over on the side playing with a snail. One panel has her and a flower on the sidewalk as the only color in a bleak scene, showing she was more into studying her surroundings than those around her. Moving to New Mexico seemed to do the trick, unlocking all her powers of observation and her ability to translate it with a brush.
Since I learned about her through Steigletz, I was glad to see him included here. And for those worried about it, the paintings she’s most famous for are not included here; it is a kid’s book, after all.
At the end are photographs of her with almost the same text as shown before, without the artwork.
4/5

Harriet Tubman
A quick colorful biography of the fearless anti-slavery heroine, meant for kids.
Some will be confused as to who is being talked about in the beginning; it isn’t till later that it’s said that she changed her name to Harriet. All of the things she’s famous for are here, along with a few facts I didn’t know about but only serve to elevate her already heroic status. It’s easy to imagine kids who’re oversaturated with today’s superheroes being swept up by her story.
At the end the text is repeated without the artwork, just elevated a bit for the adults.
4/5

If All the World
A little girl spends a year—though that’s probably a metaphor—with her grandpa, whom she clearly adores. She even wishes she could replant all his birthdays so he never grows old. But how does she cope when he’s no longer there?
Her answer probably doesn’t help with the pain, but becomes a fitting tribute, and is likely a good idea for those who have recently gone through it.
The artwork has a sketchy—as in being colored sketches, not unclear or hinky—quality to them that help the story along.
4/5

Power to the Princess
According to the blurb, these are fairy tales retold for the #metoo generation, mostly text with some cute humans colorfully drawn in the margins, plus an occasional full-page artwork.
Best line, the one that best describes what this book is about: “And that is how Belle became a princess. But not that kind of princess.”
In case you were wondering if this is written in old-style English, one of the fairies likes to say, “Well, that was awkward.” Another story contains the line, “But he was a vegetarian, so that made it weird.” Possibly my fave comes from Snow White: Her hair, pitch black, was now white as snow. “Huh, that’s a new one,” Neve said in wonder.
There are labor unions, sleep clinics, fitness centers, and a detective who’s assigned to cold curse cases. Sleeping Beauty becomes an expert in the field of narcolepsy. No one needs to tell this guy not to date a damsel in permanent distress. And someone could make a fortune teaching the woodland-creature hair-braiding class.
But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows (BTW, there isn’t one unicorn or rainbow in the entire book). Some of the modern-day counterpart jobs were farfetched; somehow Belle becomes an undercover cop! It’s great that the princesses in the Little Mermaid got married, but there was no hint of them being anything more than friends before that.
The artwork is pretty much as you’d expect it. Snow White is a little jarring at first, with the overalls and white hair. Her stepmother, on the other hand, is just my style, even with the Medusa head.
3.5/5

Gina From Siberia
Unlike the husky that shows up every once in a while, Gina doggie doesn’t look like a snow dog, but living in Siberia gives you no other choice. Somehow she loves it, and doesn’t want to go when the family moves.
There’s a whole page of things she saw on the trip, some of them funny.
Dogs aren’t allowed on the train, but rather than put her in the basket, mom dresses her up as an ugly baby. Not smart. (The bio says this actually happened, so I can nitpick.) And dogs are allowed on the plane. Huh.
Knowing this is a period piece does not make seeing the hammer and sickle on the flags any less strange.
Gina does not like heat sources, considering she thinks radiators and vents are monsters. But for everyone except me, pizza makes everything better. And just like that Gina isn’t homesick anymore.
Incredibly simplistic artwork, considering it’s such a big story.
3.5/5

The Truth About Dinosaurs
A modern-day chicken tries to prove it’s actually a dinosaur, and in the process gives a lesson on actual dinos. It’s all done through the similarity of feet and a photo album, but don’t worry about there not being cameras to shoot the dinosaurs back then; after all, this story’s told by a talking chicken.
Dinosaur eggs look like gemstones.
This one got me with a line in the blurb: “For curious people from 4 up to 250 million years old.”
Silly, but educational.
3.5/5

Watermelon Madness
Noura loves watermelon so much she won’t eat anything else. (Even I have something other than bacon and ice cream once in a while!) She throws a tantrum when her mother feeds her something else, then goes downstairs in the middle of the night and scores a giant watermelon, taking it int her room and hiding it under her bed for munching in the morning. Then weird stuff happens.
If you want a kid to do something, I suppose there are worse ways of letting them know the penalty for disobeying. Could also serve as a lesson for parents to be more tolerant.
3.5/5

Little Tails Under the Sea
Other than the fact they’re in a sub instead of a plane, the format holds as the two little guys explore the world they find themselves in. The last one with the dinosaurs got a bit silly, so it’s good to see them back to something more realistic. . . if I can actually say that about talking animals.
As expected, they jaunt underwater, mostly staying away from other animals while describing them, giving the educational content this series always provides. And as always there’s some friendly critter that helps them out of the mess they made, though in this situation I would not have expected a polar bear.
I can just imagine the orca’s rage to be described as a big sea panda.
At the end there’s more info about each animal.
This was at least as good as the dinosaur one, though I liked the previous ones better. Nothing wrong with this one, though.
3.5/5

Diary of a Witch
Told in rhyme, this is a witch telling her story to her diary.
The wallpaper front page has a few sketches of scenes, such as broom, hat, cauldron, cat, but there’s also a hilarious shot of a jousting knight after a running spellcaster. See what happens when you forget your broom?
This redheaded witch has a heroic honker.
There’s an early shot of her reading about 80s glamour while complaining about her frizzy hair. Then she ditches the robe for heels and a leather miniskirt. . . kinda disturbing. The fact she’s in a fast car with a younger man might indicate her version of a midlife crisis.
So, basically she’s reexamining her life, trying to decide if being bad is a bad idea.
It’s cute, and not at all scary, but then I doubt it was meant to be.
3.5/5

Giant: A Panda of the Enchanted Forest
A giant panda sits in a tree, trying to stop eating and start sleeping, while other animals take in the scene. He only talks to the tree, though he’s surprised when it talks back. When an emergency strikes the forest, the two have to team up to save the day.
Pretty simple story, so it should appeal to the smaller kids, as long as they don’t get frightened. I didn’t find it particularly interesting, but then I’m not the demographic this book is going for.
3/5

Luke and Lottie. It’s Halloween!
A small brother/sister duo prepare for their first Halloween, which doesn’t bode well because they’re easily scared of the decorations.
There must not be a lot of streetlights in this neighborhood, considering the big lanterns they carry. And because they’re holding hands with Dad, they’re not gonna be able to carry their bags full of candy.
There’s one shot I love where Dad’s dressed up as a vampire and pretending to be scared of the ghost and the witch, and in the background Mom is giggling.
I learned banana ghosts desserts looks pretty cool, though not exactly mouthwatering.
Basically Halloween described to kids who’ve never seen it, or are scared of their first one. Pretty straightforward with some cute moments.
3.5/5

If a Dog Could Wear a Hat
A little pigtailed redhead is home in bed, apparently sick, if the thermometer and her sad face are clues. Looking for something to pass the time, she dreams in rhyming couplets of her dog doing various occupations, based on the hat the canine wears.
As you would expect, it’s too cute for words. Though relatively simple, the art shows exactly what it needs to and nothing more. Erin’s smile is so infectious, which is perfectly shown on a page near the end where she’s sitting on the floor surrounded by hats.
Ends with a twist!
4/5

My Favorite Pet: Hamsters
An early primer on what’s probably the world’s cutest rodent, with facts told in photos with captions.
The first quiz was a little too simple, even for a three-year-old.
Hamster balls are to hamster wheels what yoga balls are to exercise bikes.
There’s a glossary at the end which shows just how young the audience for this book is, but it’s fun enough, and there might be facts even adults don’t know.
4/5

Swim Little Fish
A small red fish does un-fish things like jumping out of the water and getting a tan before returning to its home in a seashell, getting into bed and looking out the window at the sea full of stars.
Big bright drawings show this book is meant for the littlest of kids than can understand what they’re seeing. It’s cute enough, though if you get kids too old for this they’ll ask why fish are doing human things.
3.5/5

Annabel and Cat / Annabel y Gato
The simplest of drawings help tell the story of. . . well, look at the title. On the opposite page is a description in both English and Spanish. The Cat is right there with Annabel as far as activities go, from putting on plays to arts and crafts, from making snowmen to eating pancakes to going to the library. Other than the wall shadows and the safari, there isn’t anything here that would have been different had Annabel been on her own, but then it wouldn’t be as cute.
3.5/5

Discover Military Equipment
As always in this series, rather than drawings, it’s photographs with captions.
Starts off with throwing knives, which I’m sure every kid will now want. In general, it’s a bit strange to be teaching kids about all the different ways someone can be killed.
More than once a chapter started with “____ changed warfare,” enough times for me to think it was purposeful, though it did make it boring.
3/5

My Favorite Machine: Fire Trucks
As always, this series has photos instead of drawings, which I think makes it better (ignore the part where I’m a photographer).
Lots of beauty shots in red; just about the only blue was a light. The most interesting photos were the ones showing the equipment stored in every nook and cranny.
There’s some really simple tests, with the answers in the back, alongside a glossary with incredibly basic definitions, which show this book is meant for very young children.
3.5/5

Snowy: A Leopard of the High Mountains
A family of snow leopards runs away when they hear human hunters, but the youngster is separated and feeling lonesome. A marmot drops from a tree, yet is not afraid of being used as lunch. Instead they snuggle and keep each other warm, then set off with the help of other animals to get the kid feline home.
As a lesson in teamwork and helping others, it’s fine. I just don’t find it very believable—and that’s after granting animals can talk—that such cooperation could exist amongst ALL animals, especially between predator and prey.
3/5

The Flying Rock
Kid getting picked on loses it and throws a rock at the bullies, only to find he’s got more of a pitcher’s arm than he suspected, plonking one of them on the head. He runs home to tell his grandpa what he did, and gramps sits him down for a lecture and a story. That story is about how you never know if luck is good or bad until the full circumstances play out, which I had heard before as an ancient Chinese parable.
The moral of the story the grandfather gave didn’t seem to fit, but the end of the framing section did bring it together. Won’t spoiler it, but let’s just say the medical stuff might be too much for small kids to handle. Other than that, it was a good story well told.
3.5/5

Just the Right Size
A quick tour through the animal kingdom, differentiating by size. Example: “A ladybug can land on a tree branch, a giraffe cannot. But a giraffe can do something else that’s great.” You get the gist, the point being that every animal is good at something no matter what the size.
Ends with a lesson and an interracial family hug, which is nice but a little highhanded, and probably not going to be understood by kids small enough to read this.
3.5/5

10 Reasons to Love … a Lion
As the title says, this book is all about why you should think lions are cool, though that also depends on your point of view. Saying that unlike other cats they enjoy hanging out together is one thing, but it takes a totally different meaning when you’re running for your life.
Each page features a beautiful drawing, filled with color and staring lions, as well as text and captions on other animals, as well as plants.
My favorite fact was that porcupines got the lions’ number!
Pangolins sure have gotten famous recently.
Nice to look at, some fun facts. Sure to be a hit with kids.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphic Gauguin and Grabbings

Please Don’t Grab My P#$$y: A Rhyming Presidential Guide
Four-line rhyming stanzas attempt to teach the Trumpster Dumpster and other asses like him what shouldn’t be touched without permission. Each little poem ends with a euphemism for the one word you would expect, some of them quite confusing.
I am a rhyming fanatic; I’ve even called out my fave musicians when they cheat on this, so it’s no surprise when I say that some of these attempts are atrocious. Maybe that explains why some of those that do rhyme make no sense whatsoever.
A few of the highly impressionistic drawings are lovely and funny, but most are just there.
If there’s one thing to take away here, it’s that this sets some high expectations and doesn’t meet them. Nowhere near as funny as the publicity pretends. A little bit more thought, and maybe not so lowbrow, and it might have hit the sweet spot.
2/5

Queen of Kenosha
Small-town musician in Noo Yawk tries to return a wallet and get pistol-whipped for her troubles. It leaves her open to an offer she can’t refuse.
I’ve read this author’s previous works, which took place in the hockey world, and it’s the same format here. The artwork is especially similar, but the story is completely different and much more ambitious, in fact maybe too much. There’s been plenty of Nazi conspiracy stories over the decades, but I can’t remember seeing one where they’re basically dropped into what’s always been a “commie” plot.
Though it’s an overused talking point, the difference between a black-and-white follow-orders-at-all-costs viewpoint and a don’t-have-to-kill-everyone approach is done well here.
Each issue has recommended songs, with one on each playlist by the fictional protagonist, so of course you can’t hear it. Another is “Both Sides Now”; I sure am getting tired of that song, it’s everywhere. And you’d think that since this takes place in the early 60s, songs from that era would be a better choice. I haven’t noticed any connection between the songs and the action, but I was amused by the inclusion of a Pretenders song. But it’s the insertion of a good Dire Straits song that made everything okay.
When on the big mission, they dress all in black but don’t paint their faces, neck, and hands. Worse, her blonde hair is loose. Author fail on the spycraft.
More than anything, there’s a huge plot twist at the end. . . which I’d guessed about halfway. I was hoping I was wrong, thinking it too contrived, too much of a coincidence, but it happened anyway. Actually not that big a deal in this book, but in the sequel it’ll be huge, and it won’t sit right then.
At the end are the lyrics to the made-up songs by the protagonist. Since this is a collection of all the issues, I don’t know if the lyrics were included with the song, but in this volume I would have liked to read them when the title was first unveiled.
There’s a lot of good stuff here, but also much that could have been done better.
3/5

Gauguin: Off the Beaten Track
The foreword tells you that this isn’t about the artist as much as about the guy who was his generation’s version of a hippie, though by this time in his life he’d become more cynical.
The graphic novel starts with paintings being sold at auction for what seem to be really low prices, though back then it could have been a lot. They’re won by a smug-looking accountant type, and then we go back two years to the sight of Gaugin sleeping on a ship with roaches crawling all over him. Lovely. From there the story switches between his arrival on the small island and the previous guy showing up after his death.
Some of the friends he makes are interesting. It’s fun to see him interacting with people from Vietnam, India, and of course the locals, though they’re all different too.
“You’ve lost your mind!” “And you never had one to begin with!”
“You must—” “When I hear ‘you must,’ I rebel!”
There some slight x-rating to a couple of panels, but the artwork is done in such a non-realistic style—even looks like Gaugin painted it—that’s it’s hardly noticeable and pretty much inoffensive. . . which kinda sums up this book. It paints a different side of the artist who’s only famous for these paintings, who is not in the consciousness of most like Picasso or such. It’s interesting, but not more than that.
3/5

Motorcity
An unconventional new cop—with tats, piercings, etc.—in a small town in Sweden works on missing persons case. We get to see what happened to that missing person, and it’s not nice, so we’re given a sense of urgency for the cop and her partner to get there and save the day.
She knows most of the players, which is handy, though who knows if that’s a great idea, were she to run into someone she actually likes. There’s also an idiot too-much-testosterone older cop who looks like he came out of any American police show. The book ends with a small discussion on the Swedish subculture that was the background for the story, which was interesting enough to make me look it up.
The writing, or should I say the translation, is pretty good, except for too many fake-sounding instances of “Ha ha.” The artwork was a bit Day-Glo for my tastes, but since the protagonist is a fan of superhero comics that’s not a big deal. And even though the story was a bit by-the-numbers, the characterizations, especially the lead, made it worthwhile.
3.5/5

A Sea of Love
A comedy of errors at sea: an old fisherman sets off on what he thinks is just another day at work, and then one thing after another goes wrong. In the meantime, his wife doesn’t give up looking for him, and her adventures are a lot more fun.
Right away it makes me laugh with how huge the fisherman’s eyes are with the glasses on. It starts with the typical morning routine, with recognizable moments between the married couple, going from mad to laughing in a second. Totally sympathize with him on the sardine situation. The part where he meets up with the bigger boat seemed to take forever to get through, could have been done quicker. And never fire a flare near an oil tanker. . . just sayin’.
She doesn’t take off her ridiculous hat in the swimming pool; funny. Her housekeeping/cooking skills make her a star. She was smart all the way to interrupting Castro’s speech, a misstep not only for her but for the book; too ridiculous, though not as much as her becoming an internet sensation. Still, it was nice to see her having as much of a role as he did.
Some funny moments, some poignant. Neither the fisherman nor his wife ever give up; it’s inspiring. Even the bird carries out its agenda without fail. The ecological lessons are rousing in a different way, more of a call to action.
The artwork isn’t meant to be realistic, almost caricature but not over the top.
I think this could have been 25% shorter, and I would have liked it more.
3.5/5

Lady Mechanika, Vol. 4: Clockwork Assassin
Okay, I’m gonna pretend the Day of the Dead volume never happened. Also a bit sad I missed the Free Comic Book Day edition, but what can you do?
A mysterious lady who could easily pass for Mechanika slashes an industrialist on an empty street. Luckily for Mechanika it’s her “admirer” Detective Singh who’s on the case, but after two more murders even he’s not sure of her innocence.
I love that Harry says he’s the brains and she’s the brawn, and Mechanika doesn’t object.
“Umph. That was graceful. Executed with all the poise of a proper lady.” I keep saying it every time: my favorite trait of Lady Mechanika is her always surprising sense of humor.
The bad guy is not that hard to guess, but then I’m not here for the story. The real reason to be here is the artwork, particularly but not just the renderings of Lady Mechanika.
The girl reminds me of Emma Watson. . . or a certain witch she played.
So, nothing that screams out new, but more of the same good stuff.
As always, there are extra visual goodies at the end; I will never believe Mechanika stopped moving long enough to pose for them.
3.5/5

Infinity 8 Vol. 1: Love and Mummies
In a plot far too confusing to be summarized here, a spaceship cop is sent outside into a space junkyard to find out what’s going on, and hopefully tell the reader too.
It’s one thing for her to be wearing such a tight spacesuit—justifiable, but not likely—but the uniform she wears on the job is ridiculous, and leads me to not be able to take her seriously as a security agent. Another female agent is dressed the same way, cleavage practically falling out. Bad job by the artist there, but who knows what he’s thinking.
Lots of scenery porn in the shape of. . . well, a lot of different shapes of aliens. The ship is shaped like a high-heeled shoe!
Best line: “Kiss my ass.” “Okay. Is that how humans do it?”
Though it happens a lot in these stories, I still don’t like how Captain Obvious she is. Turns out she’s kinda dumb too. An officer never gives up their weapon!
Brightly painted, especially for being in space.
After a page of in-story commercials, some of them funny, there’s a big sign that says “14 pages of extras!” Cute, but too late to make a difference.
2.5/5

Skin & Earth HC
In a near-future Earth ecologically devasted, a young redhead goes from college through a nice neighborhood and reveals that she’s part of a lesser caste, to the point where she has to wear a mask so that she doesn’t breathe on this society’s higher-ups. A guard at the checkpoint back to the poor area, who should be more sympathetic considering he’s no highborn, provides further exposition while trying to bully her.
Of course she’s in love with a jerk. There’s a lot of talk and exposition, but nothing much happens. She doesn’t seem particularly smart, considering she tried to take a tattoo off with a knife. Then she meets a mysterious woman in a dream and they go off to get their revenge on the guy.
I did do a little research after reading the intro; turns out this is written by a musician, and the main character is kinda based on her, at least the visuals; the artwork, especially her red hair, is very true to life. The rest of the eye candy is okay, not meant to be realistic.
Favorite line: “I’m never drinking again!. . . boobs look nice, though.”
Other worthy utterings:
“It’s like some fucked-up Renaissance painting.”
“Show him what it’s like to fuck with a goddess.”
“Are you saying you’re forever years old? You look good!”
“I don’t know what this is all code for, but if you’ve got pills, I’ll take them.”
“You have a dangerous blend of sadness and curiosity.”
“I have other plans!” (I need a plan.)
Good use of chain metaphor.
Problem: if she’s not wearing the mask, how does anyone know if she’s a pink or a red? And I don’t mean her hair.
More to the point: each chapter has a Qcode for songs that go with the book, but as of my reading of this review copy, they only take you to the same general website of what looks to be the publisher. No worries, I found them on youtube, with a couple having videos. I found the songs, like many nowadays, overproduced; acoustic versions might be better, but there are some good hard-rocking melodies in there. As for the videos, one of them shows her making the artwork, while another has a couple of the panels recreated in real life, like the part when her “ghost” leaves her body.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Violins and Other Fantasies

Harriet Walsh: Peace Force
Origin story for a new hero in Simon Haynes’ wacky world, or I should say universe. This shows how Harriet was chosen—if that’s the right word for it—why she accepted, and how she impressed everyone—or at least a couple of robots/cars—with the way she handles her first case.
Harriet is immediately likeable, nowhere more so than when she’s having her first encounter with her talking car. I definitely like Harriet more then Hal, and Alice is preferable to Klunk, though just barely. The least said about Bernie the better; at least Steve was fun. More than anything, it’s funny, which is what I’ve come to expect from this author. The story is all light and airy, much like the Spacejock series, until two tremendously dark twists toward the end.
There’s a small blooper the first time she gets on the plane, but it’s doubtful anyone will notice. Other than that, pure fun as usual with this author.
4/5

Ouroboros
Syl and Rouen are back, having spent the summer hunting down leftover bad stuff from the first book and dreading going back to school. It takes a while to find the main plot, and then it’s a lot like the first one, without the Big Bad, but plenty menacing anyway.
As much as I enjoyed the first one, it wasn’t for the high school drama. Got into the beginning of this one, but it doesn’t take long for the school stuff to start again, and I feel like I just can’t. Still, I enjoy the dialogue and inner musings enough to persevere.
I love small moments, like the ladies kicking autumn leaves and grinning at each other, or studying solar wind, which as usual with such seemingly throw-ins comes back to be important. But my fave scene has to be the snowball fight.
For all the ugliness that takes place, thanks to Fiann the alpha bully, you not only get a sense that these two ladies will overcome the odds, you root for them.
3.5/5

Out of Tune
Small town girl and two friends give out exposition on a missing girl as they hand out flyers and then join the search, finding the body soon enough.
I mention exposition because in this case it was well done, unlike most ham-fisted attempts in such short stories. There’s a Twin Peaks feel throughout, making me wonder if maybe the victim wasn’t as goodie-two-shoes as she let on.
For such a short novel, there sure were a lot of suspects; just when the cops and Riley think they know who done it, someone else pops up. It’s a little exasperating, as the author doesn’t throw breadcrumbs for the reader to play along and have a chance at solving it. But despite that it’s still worth the read, as the writing and characters are where this short is strong.
3.5/5

The Killing Type
A woman tells her sister her husband is trying to kill her. Sis doesn’t buy it. Next thing we know the sister is married to him. . . and then he’s dead.
This would have been an ok mystery. . . had it been 200 pages. Instead it’s told too matter-of-factly to invest in the characters. At fifty pages—not sure if the sneak peek at the end counts in that total—it’s short enough already, but then a good portion of the back end has the confession, which is told with even more abruptness. Perhaps it’s a good thing it was brief, because a full-length book in this style would not have been finished by me. More than anything, the plot is too convoluted and Machiavellian to come up with in a few seconds the way it was described at the cafe.
2/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Road trip to the Moon

RoadTrip America Arizona & New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips
As the title tells ya, here’s side trips off what can be boring landscapes along the main throughways, in a vehicle the author named the Dirty Queen. Sounds like an oxymoron, but okay.
The first part features side trips off Interstate 10, which is a great idea, as long stretches of this road can lull you to sleep, especially when driving.
Some highlights:
Carlsbad Caverns is an oldie but goodie.
For Roswell there’s a green alien dressed as a mariachi playing a trumpet. That’s an image I’ll never get out of my head, thanks a lot.
I feel an urge to go see the world’s largest pistachio. . . right now!
The thing about the spelling of “chile” and Texas was hilarious.
Spaceport is cool, but not for four hours, as I recall. I’d rather spend that time at the cliff dwellings.
The Coronado Scenic Trail byway looks like just the thing to make me throw up, but if you like roller coasters, this one’s free.
Given a choice between photographing hoodoos and the Shootout at the OK Corral. . . well, I think the choice is obvious. I do find it hilarious that the Tombstone newspaper is called “The Epitaph.”
I need to go see Oak Creek Canyon NOW!
I’ve traveled extensively through both states, and this book told me about places I haven’t seen, and now want to visit. For that alone this book is worth the money.
4/5

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon
There are some really long bios on the astronauts, which start interesting but drag far too long. Makes it feel like a standard bio, but I suppose the title should have warned me. Everything that happened to bring the astronauts’ lives to the launch is important, but it’s still at about the halfway point of the book, when the massive rocket actually takes them into space, that things really get interesting. . . just like in real life, I suppose.
I do like that there’s so much here about the wives in the time up to and including the launch, even more so than the astronauts themselves, with their macho “I’m not scared” attitude.
At this point it turns from biography to something more akin to a very technical science fiction novel.
In the middle of the flight the author pauses for a chapter on how the year 1968 had gone, musically as well as politically and socially. I guess it resonated with me because it’s the year I was born, though of course I don’t remember it. RFK was assassinated only a month before my birth, not far from where my parents lived, and as someone who enjoys counterfactuals—what ifs—it’s easy to speculate what might have happened: no Nixon presidency. On the other hand, there’s no way to gauge how far civil rights would have gone if MLK hadn’t been shot. The chapter mentions the Beatles and Stones, but at the end there’s Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower, and put in this perspective, the lyrics hit home like never before.
It’s a tough road, but if you make it through the first half there’s plenty of reward. Definitely think said first half could have been shorter.
Such a poignant way to end it. . .
3.5/5

Eric Stanton & the History of the Bizarre Underground
I enjoy finding out about new artists, and here’s one I had no idea existed.
Right off I can say there’s lots of bondage drawings and comic strips amongst biographic text. Bettie Page shows up, as kinda expected. Exactly halfway through Spiderman gets makes an appearance.
To be honest, it feels like this artist is being celebrated more for longevity than any special artistry. This book is kinda fringe, good for the people interested in the subject. I wasn’t as much as I thought I would be, so I didn’t find it that entertaining in the end.
2.5/5

The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes: Essays on Victorian England, Volume Two
This book basically takes one small item from a Holmes story and makes a small lecture out of it, but doesn’t really have anything to do with Sherlock. Each small entry feels like something out of the Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia (which I proudly own) or wiki; in fact, according to the notes at the end of each chapter, some of the information down here is indeed gathered from Wikipedia.
Three of the first five essays cover sports.
While not putting down the research work that went into making each article, much more info could be found by a simple internet search. One can imagine the author never running out of topics in which to write these very short treatises, as only a mention in a Holmes story is required for inclusion.
3/5

National Parks of the USA
This book is geared for kids, but has plenty of info for the adult as well, starting with a brief history of how the park system came about.
After a map showing the locations in the east, each park gets a few pages, the first a stylized poster-like painting, followed by stats and facts. The same scenario is then played out with the central, southwest, Rocky Mountains, and West, although the Virgin Islands seems to be misplaced. At the end is an A-Z of animals and an index, as well as a plea to help protect the parks.
It’s pretty to look at, and the information is nicely presented. I’m not happy with the font, which looks kinda like italics but tougher to read, but everything else was well done.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Sexy Missions and Floors

Mission Innocence: Fallen Angel Chronicles Book 2
A young lady, living in a place too small to be called a town or village, and beat down by her parents’ conservative and cruel treatment, is the latest target of the sex angel, the celestial being who has made it his job to bring pleasure and happiness to those in dire need of it.
This story wasn’t all that much different than the first one—though the emotional and psychological moments were dissimilar—as this involved a woman who didn’t know better, compared to one who’d shut herself off due to being betrayed. It was delightful to see her blossom so fast, though I’m not sure how realistic that would really be.
What really made me like this one more was the extra scene at the end, in the adult motel; there was no corresponding moment in the first story. It was both hilarious and touching, and of course sexy. Talk about making up for lost time!
4/5

Watched
Recently divorced and horny college professor plays with herself after class, only to find the student she’s lusting for watching her. But even though she’s tempted, she wants someone else.
First and foremost, this is told in present tense. I’ve liked such stories before, but this time it’s throwing me off.
Like most bdsm stories–as opposed to regular romance–this includes a lot of psychological examination, especially in light of her past. What annoys me is that there’s no actual ending. She’s vacillating between her lover and her student, even though the former no longer wants to be with her, but it leaves off without any closure, making me wonder what was the point the author wanted to share. The only possibility I can think of is that it was left that way for a sequel, which is not an acceptable reason.
3/5

Some Like It Hot
A sampler of some erotic works.
The first one features a woman with amnesia being reintroduced to her husband’s kinky sex life. There’s some fun banter, and she seems like an intriguing character.
#2 is about a recent—as recent as possible—Harvard grad looking for investment for her start-up. As usual in these stories, the guy she meets is a total jerk, but I’m sure he’ll somehow redeem himself by the end. It’ll have to remain a mystery, for I’m not interested, just from that little snippet of him.
#3 has a just-legal wannabe submissive at her first gathering, where a Dom instantly takes her somewhere private so they can. . . talk, as in teach her some of the things she might expect were she to consent to playing with him. As far as dominants go, he’s far from the worst, but I absolutely love her. Wouldn’t mind continuing this one.
#4 has a rebellious young woman being interviewed for a million-dollar job without knowing the guy she’s talking to is the one she slept with the previous night. This left me curious about her, and even more the situation.
#5 has a young lady eager to try submission with a guy she basically just met. Her roommate thinks she’s crazy but lets her borrow some clothes for her date and who knows what else.
Though plot wise it’s nothing special, the dialogue makes it intriguing enough for me to want to read more. For once the guy isn’t a jerk, and I definitely liked her.
#6 takes place in Hong Kong, in a ritzy hotel where the lady is overwhelmed by all the splendor before her dinner date with the rich man. But as small-town Midwest as she seems to be, and as much as she wants him, she’s strong enough to make him work for it, and he doesn’t mind. This would be an entertaining couple to follow.
3.5/5

Wicked Masquerade
A woman is invited to what she thinks will be an all-out orgy, immediately feeling inferior to all the supermodel types. She finds the affair more classy than anticipated, with plenty of new rules. Most people are nice to her but there’s also some jerks, especially after she attracts the attention of a famous stud. One encounter with him, with her in charge, and she’s staying for more despite her previous plans.
The erotic scenes were wonderful, but what really set this book apart was the rest: small moments of introspection, surprising humor, and the description of two people genuinely liking each other.
I always read to the end, and I’m glad I did this time, as I found this is the author’s first book. If she’s this good her first time out, I definitely look forward to the next.
4/5

Mission Inevitable: Fallen Angel Chronicles Book 3
After a quick intro in which a woman pines for more than a casual sex relationship with the man she’s fallen in love with, the action moves to the protagonist, fallen angel/hedonist Damien Fontaine, relaxing with his main squeeze, Rhiannon.
Damien is a lot more introspective than usual, making a nice parallel to the human couple in that he wonders if there’s something more than a friends-with-benefits relationship with his witch sex buddy. She’s more perceptive than she lets on, but that probably won’t be addressed till the next installment.
But back to the main story. I have to agree with Damien that she deserves better, which makes the inevitable ending still feel forced. Despite the fun in bed and on the tennis court, this one just wasn’t as good as the previous two.
3/5

The 13th Floor: Dark Dreams
Female executive has scary—and sometimes sexy—dreams featuring a supposedly nonexistent floor in her building, while working on a project with a mysterious guy and having some friends-with-benefits nights with her friend’s cousin.
Once the big twist arrived, I wondered why it took so long to get there. Despite this being short, it felt like it went on too long, with her dream coming in small pieces. Just felt like it dragged on and on.
The vampire sex scene, once I cogitated on it, seems logical, but for one who can’t stand the sight of blood, it was icky.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Kid Stuff for the Kid in You

Great Cape o’ Colors: Capa De Colores
(English-Spanish with pronunciation guide)
This book contains just about every occupation that could possibly use a cloak or cape. It starts out strong but gradually becomes a bit silly or forced. By the time it gets to Little Red Riding Hood it’s exhausted all the ideas. Every page contains text in English and Spanish, with a pronunciation guide at the beginning. The artwork is basic and the grammar easy.
At the end there’s a color wheel, which is always fun. In all it’s probably a good time for little ones, even if it loses traction as it goes.
Just to add, there’s a link for extras online, but as of my reading there’s nothing on the publisher’s website on this book. Might be too new.
3/5

This Is a Taco!
There’s a squirrel named Taco. The narrator tries to teach you about squirrels, but Taco keeps interrupting, breaking the fourth and fifth wall in the process.
Yes, you run into trouble when you name animals by their favorite foods. Might work once, but not twice. By this logic, the hawk’s name should be Squirrel.
Most of the humor here revolves on either Taco not having a good contract lawyer, or the author/producers of the book ignoring the contract completely. It’s not that funny, but kids will probably find it hilarious and/or confusing. Possibly both.
3.5/5

My Favourite People
After the first page shows a group of people, the book goes on to describe the young protagonist’s favorites, starting with Aung Meg and ending with his parents. Everyone in the group photo—painting?—is featured, each for different reasons, from music to magic to soccer. It’s cute that there’s ethnic diversity in his family, and that one of his friends is a girl.
At the end there’s suggested activities.
4/5

Sid the Madeiran Wall Lizard
A lizard and his mouse buddy watch tourists do touristy things on the island of Madeira, which makes for an interesting change of perspective. He’s not bothered by their actions as long as they drip food for him and his girl lizard friend to buffet on. At the end he manages to accidentally do something he couldn’t earlier, so all the other lizards are impressed at his learning ability.
Rather than the usual bright illustrations, this book opts for a more nuanced color scheme, with an almost Impressionistic feel. There aren’t many of them, though; most of the book is written description, with some but not a lot of it in rhyme.
Overall it’s fun enough, though with more shades than most books made for this age group.
3.5/5

Chilly da Vinci
Chilly is a penguin with a knack for designing machines, like his last namesake. He’s got a ton of self-doubt, which is no surprise considering his contraptions are always failing. He’s also pretty clueless in the way of many scientists: “Why does he feel the need to throw sea junk at me? He’s wasting supplies.” It’s easy to tell because the story is told diary-style; the artwork adds to this by being in the color and style of an old yellowing journal. He’s got a loud doubter but also fans, as one young glasses-wearing penguin wants him to sign his flipper.
It’s a bit weird seeing all this technology, albeit steampunk-looking rather than modern, amongst the penguins and white Antarctic landscape.
“It’s official: my flying machines stink like rotten orca blubber in the midday sun.”
“My pullets didn’t pulley. My engine didn’t engine.”
My favorite of his inventions has to be the night-vision goggles.
This is listed as children’s fiction, but it feels like it’s reaching for an older audience.
4/5

The Enchanted Chest
Fisherman catches an unopenable chest in his net, but a guard sees it and confiscates it for the emperor, a foolish greedy power-hungry idiot. He can’t find anyone who can open it either, and gives lashes to those who fail. A lynx who can see through things is captured and brought to look into the chest, and gets some sweet revenge on the jerk, though I was expecting it to go much further.
The locksmith has a giant key as a necklace, which as a gigantic badge of office is pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, the magician has the most beautiful flowing red hair. . . and that’s about all I remember of the illustrations.
I can just hear kids asking, “Mommy, what does ‘ten lashes’ mean?” Good luck explaining that one.
3.5/5

50 Ways to Feel Happy: Fun activities and ideas to build your happiness skills
Did not know this small British book was geared toward kids until I turned the first page. It’s heavy on the arts and crafts, heavy as in tons. And if you aren’t sick of hearing about mindfulness yet, it pops up here too. Yep, they’re trying to teach that to children now, and not just mindfulness while eating or going for a walk, but to the point of feeling the toothpaste as you brush your teeth. I feel like it’s too early to get kids to think that way; let them be kids for a while! And that doesn’t seem like the best strategy to making them happy, as this book’s title suggests.
There’s a whole section on resilience, but even that’s about making bookmarks and such.
2.5/5

A Page in the Wind
If you weren’t paying attention, you would think this is a story about a baby. Instead it talks about a newly printed newspaper, but one with special powers, because it retains a central memory, as well as sensory abilities to know what each of its individual pages is seeing and feeling.
Some of the individual pages’ destinations were much more inglorious than others. There’s one point where it’s very hopeful about a woman, only to get sarcastic when things don’t work out the way it wants.
So, basically a journey through a city and all its various peoples, but also a journey through life.
The artwork, both the style and its subjects, seems very European, although the creators are from South America; if I had to choose an artist that this reminds me of, I’d pick Cezanne.
3.5/5

The Tiger’s Egg
A disgruntled tiger gets hit on the head, but loses his anger when he sees it’s an egg. Immediately he decides he’ll take care of it, then the bird which hatches from it. Eventually the little avian thinks it’s a tiger too, putting it in a dangerous situation that mirrors the opening page quite nicely.
This tiger is the old grumpy man—uncle, neighbor, etc—who secretly gives you candy when your mom’s not looking (not in a creepy way). Though it regrets letting the bird pretend to be something it’s not, he’s kind enough to let it lie till the next morning, allowing the small creature to bask in its victory. The tiger doesn’t want anyone to know about this quirk in his personality, never noticing the toucan and monkey are hanging above him, watching everything.
The artwork is rudimentary—wish the bird could have been done better—but otherwise serviceable.
3.5/5

Sloppy Takes the Plunge
From the cover alone you can tell how cute this is going to be.
For a fairy that wears rainboots, Dewdrop is big on hygiene, to the point she won’t give a requested hug to a muddy dragon. Sloppy refuses to clean up, but when it comes time to be brave for others, he steps up.
As expected, Dewdrop is the boss here, manipulating Sloppy every step of the way to get the job done. She doesn’t expect the last twist, of course, but that makes everything more fun. The dragon may have his name in the title, but it’s Dewdrop the fairy that steals the show.
Don’t have much to say about the artwork. Nothing stands out, but of course nothing wrong with it either.
4/5

Lulu Is A Rhinoceros
A bulldog tries to convince everyone that she’s actually a rhinoceros.
Nice rhyme of “Eek!” and “freak.”
Now we now we can get brain freeze by putting the ice cream on our nose too.
This book gives yet another reason to hate pigeons. Other birds are cool, though, especially when they remove insects from your not-so-tough hide. (Not referring to the reader, of course; your skin looks silky-smooth.)
Turns out the secret is in being correctly geographically located.
Sometimes the artwork looks like stained glass, other times crayon. It’s an interesting mix.
3.5/5

The Toucan Patrol
Small boy wants to earn his badge—or scarf—by camping overnight with the troupe, but things turn out to be a lot harder than he anticipates.
Why? Because nothing makes sense in this entire story. All kinds of creatures show up, then turn into something else, seemingly to teach him to be brave or believe in himself or something, but I can’t imagine any kid who reads this will think it was worth going through all that crap thrown at him.
I was never a Boy Sprout or any of those similar organizations—unless you count the Marine Corps—so I don’t know how true-to-life this is, but if it is I’m glad I wasn’t a part of it, because the other kids are so mean to him! The adults in charge do nothing about it, either. I can’t remember drill instructors being so harsh, and they get paid to be that way! If this was based on the author’s experience, I have no idea why he’d want to remember it, let alone celebrate it.
Bright and colorful, certainly nothing wrong with the artwork, but in a way that makes the story worse.
1.5/5

Tiny Fox and Great Boar: There
Tiny Fox lives under a tree, all alone and okay with that. A boar comes along and for a while things are fine, until Fox resents this intrusion into his home. But then Boar goes away and Fox realizes he misses his new friend. All these confusing emotions! Then a scarf gets stuck in the tree and teaches life lessons.
It’s definitely cute, and kids might learn something from it. “Worthwhile” would probably be a good word for it.
Simple watercolor art, nice but no big deal.
3.5/5

Caillou Tries New Foods
Unlike all the other books I’ve read in this series, this one has an agenda. It doesn’t want your kid to try new foods, it wants them to try new healthy foods. There’s even tips for how to accomplish this, including having Caillou accompany mom to the grocery store and helping with the cooking.
If only it was really that easy. . .
3/5

Caillou Takes the Train
As the title tells ya, the little boy and his family are taking a train trip. Since they’ll be on for two days and this series is Canadian, it’s an easy guess what route this will be.
This book really does a great job of making a train trip fun. Looking out the window as it starts to move does indeed make it seem like it’s the station that’s moving, and walking on a moving train can feel like being on an amusement park ride. The views from the dome car make you think you’re on a plane, and beds magically appear.
But what about the other forty hours. . .?
4/5

The Oceanic Times
Written not so much as a newspaper as the newsletter for a condo association, with sections, games, dating profiles, and even ads, it’s both funny and educational.
I love the music section, though I don’t know why they interviewed a blue whale instead of a humpback.
“Tears of the clownfish”. . . sometimes a good pun writes itself. “Seahorsing around” is another one.
In case you don’t believe truth is stranger than fiction, take a look at an anglerfish.
4/5

;o)