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.



Book Reviews: Sci-fi, Mystery, and Other Necessities

The Bronze Skies
After fleshing out all corners and eras of her massive Skolian universe, Doctor Asaro goes back to the beginning in the second book in the Major Bhaajan series. The first was so amazing it’s gonna be a tough act to follow, though it just might have.
I was particularly excited when the blurb mentioned Jagernauts were involved, so I was really hoping Digjan was in this! Nope, Dr. Asaro is just teasing me as usual. Instead it’s a much more seasoned psychic warrior that’s on the warpath, so Bhaaj is called in to find her before she can make another attempt at murdering one of the most important people in the empire, leading into one of Dr. Asaro’s favorite subjects, AI. In what might be called a glut of “robots will rise up and take over” stories nowadays, this one stands out, even from her own previous books like the Alpha series.
Archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, sociology, and of course the inevitable high-level math and science are all happily present here. The best parts, however, are the small moments, especially when she’s helping her people: trying to get a permit for one to sell his wares aboveground, arranging a martial arts competition between her students and an academy, and so on. They really round out her character, making her more than just a detective. At the beginning of the first book she didn’t have much personality, though she grew throughout that story; here she’s even more human, to the point where she’s even telling jokes full of sexual innuendo. It’s a bit startling, considering how tightly wound up she was in the first one. Even more so, she finds out more about the powers she’d been afraid she had at the end of the first.
This story also expands the already large scope of the undercity, but also introduces the above world other than Cries, the legendary planet where human life was transported from Earth so long ago. In the scope of the three huge space empires it’s pretty insignificant, but somehow harder to grasp. I’d been hoping this would lead to finding out what alien race seeded the planet with humans in the first place, but despite the clues in what they left behind it didn’t go that far. It did give us an archaeological site that sounds like it came right out of a video game, and the special Jagernauts that guard it. I anticipate many more stories coming out of that.
So in the end Bhaaj—Calaj too—saved the universe every bit as much as Soz, but just like her, no one will ever know. . .

Beg for Mercy
Mercy went from growing up in a brothel to becoming an assassin, but retains enough humanity to chuck her assigned job when she finds a conspiracy that’s much bigger and more dangerous for what remains of the western United States. Along the way she gets involved with a legendary figure that shares a common enemy.
Yes, this is a dystopian romance/erotica, though that last part was minimal. Not unheard of, but definitely rare.
Not sure about this one. The many factions made it hard to follow, and Mercy was just too stubborn to root for. At one point she puts herself out as bait to catch the bad guy, having conveniently forgotten about the bounty on her. The action was realistic, but the sex scenes didn’t pack as much heat.

The Unity
A military leader in a sprawling authoritarian space empire questions his oath when his second-in-command tries to kill him. From there the story sprawls all over the galaxy, with a huge cast of characters and ships, far too many to keep track.
There are some nice moments, like the intro and background for Dr. Aravantis; short but sweet, and most importantly memorable. His creations were also a delight to get to know, but the negatives far outweighed them. I had huge problems with the conspiracy, and especially all the killing, alternatively making me annoyed or sad, and I don’t like that. Most of the circumstances were unnecessary, and the dead are hardly grieved over at all. In fact, the whole book seems devoid of emotion. It definitely didn’t make me want to read the sequel.

Girl, Wash Your Face
I picked this up because I’m a huge fan of Rachel Hollis, though that’s her fiction rather than her lifestyle website. So this work of self-help was new territory for me, but I was quickly relieved to find her amazing humor was still there.
This book feels like a bunch of blog posts, which for all I know is true. At the beginning there’s a section on the true but tired platitude of taking care of yourself before you help others, which by now is so overused it’s hardly a new concept. She does manage to weave several points together, which does help.
This would have been just as good without all the religious stuff thrown in. I feel the earnestness; I don’t believe anything written here is less than genuine. But I can’t be sure if that belief is there because I’m a big fan of her previous works. Nevertheless, it’s more than worthwhile reading for those who aren’t familiar with her Girl series and have no preconceived notions.

Egyptian Enigma
Having enjoyed this author’s previous works, taking place mostly in Australia with fictionalized history tours to the old civilizations of Mesoamerica, this entry tackles Egypt, possibly the only place that would have even more fodder for stories like these. Though it follows the pattern of trying to solve an old archaeological mystery, this book has less in the way of modern conundrums. Most of the story involves who’s in the sarcophagus, but other than a stolen notebook and a break-in, there’s no real mystery until the end, and that’s only a setup for the next book.
The one thing I love the most about this character is her memory palace, and the way it works as a library. If she wants to remember something, it comes up as though brought to her by a librarian. Pretty cool. Just as fun is her amazingly diverse family, if you don’t count all the cats.
It’s funny that the author takes the time to write out the Welsh dialogue, as it’s never pronounced like it’s spelled.
Despite liking Egyptian archaeology very much, I’m not enjoying this nearly as much as I did the previous books, with the flashbacks in Mesoamerica. But if nothing else, this book rekindled my interest in the 18th and 19th dynasties of Egypt. And all the references to Buffy, Firefly, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. . . seriously, this writer is from my tribe.
Long recipes and glossary at end, along with dedications. Wait, my archaeological crush Dr. Kara Cooney was in there and I missed her? Ouch. Please don’t tell her.
There was one point I disliked. In one of the sections taking place in ancient Egypt, the rulers tasks her scribe to check the records to “seek guidance from the ancients.” He does find something similar in the past, but it never occurred to the ruler that, in this time where anyone could be a suspect in the conspiracy, this guy could make up anything he wanted. . .

The Treachery of Russian Nesting Dolls
I do hate coming to a series late—this is the fourth—but it sounded too intriguing to pass up. It starts with a bang in the red-light district of Amsterdam, and the most unusual foot chase you’ll ever read.
The main character is intriguing, which is more than I can say for the plot, which did not invest me at all. The mystery-solving had its bright spots, but then the writer ruined it by not giving me a chance to solve the case; the clue that did it was not given to the audience till after. Not fun.
Second off, I didn’t like the roller coaster ending, mostly because I didn’t see the point of it. Maybe there was something in the previous books that led to that big moment, but it doesn’t seem likely. The author has an agenda we’re not privy to, other than his obvious hatred for the latest Russian baddie in power.

The Telling Image: Shapes of Changing Times
This is a picture book that wants to be more than that.
The first part reads like Intro to Human Anthropology. There’s an intriguing observation about shapes, the round and the square in Liberia shown as examples. One gorgeous photo brought good memories of Stonehenge, before it was fenced off. The Big Dipper-Great Bear-laptop thing was a bit forced, though that was quickly overshadowed by the most beautiful shot of a spiderweb ever.
This is definitely not something you should read in one sitting, with numerous philosophical discussions that will make you pause to think. This isn’t a coffeetable book that gets opened to look at pretty pictures; the photos here serve to highlight the text.

Love and Laughter
Right at the start, when the author introduces herself, she writes, “In the pages that follow, we’ll talk frankly (because I don’t know how to be anything else!). . . My name is Beth Liebling, and I’m a sappy, emotional, hopelessly optimistic romantic. I believe in happy fairy tales and forever love.” She also mentions that she’s a divorce lawyer. . .
A very conversational intro leads to exactly the same in the main part of the book. It’s important to go into this expecting it to be fun rather than a serious discussion about sex, though the title should have been enough of a clue. At one point she compares romance to going to the theater, then being in a play with your partner. It’s a little trite, but her enthusiasm is infectious.
There’s artwork, sometimes small shots of lingerie as chapter headers, but other times full drawings that seem cartoonish, which works in this setting. Some of the jokes are hokey, and sometimes she goes out of her way for a joke that isn’t really there, but on the other hand I prefer earnestness to sullen any day.
And that’s it exactly. More than just fun, it’s optimistic. I can easily imagine her responding the exact same way in person at her shop.


Book Reviews: Errrrrotic

Endless Chase—Dalakis Passion, Book 5
In what is book 5 of a series I haven’t dipped into before, a semi-supernatural woman goes to Transylvania to avenge the murder of her parents, and finds something much different than vengeance.
This is one of those stories where the two leads look at each other and instantly fall in love, thus saving a lot of time on “getting to know you” and dates and stuff. They even have psychic sex at one point. Halfway there’s a pretty weird twist involving the female protagonist, but that’s about the only unexpected moment. There’s a lot of characters, no doubt introduced in the previous books, but my fave is the priest, and that’s coming from an atheist.
This was a bit difficult to judge. It went on longer than I expected, especially after the final battle. It’s a strange romance, and that’s saying a lot in this genre. And if the title is a pun on his name, too bad the author didn’t use it in the story.

Breaking the Rules
A woman comes home to El Lay when her mother gets sick, and in between taking care of her and looking for a job she joins her brother at the gym and falls in lust for the owner, who used to be tease her when they were kids.
Amara is an interesting mixture of contradictions. Sometimes she’s sassy, other times shy. Abhors violence, but has the hots for a professional fighter. Worried about reputation, but preferring one-night-stands to relationships. I often fall in love with the women in these stories, but there’s something special about Amara that pushes her into the category of most memorable even with all those strange traits.
As for the book, I like the funny moments, the banter. If it wasn’t for the first half being all “we can’t,” boring me after a while, this would have been truly excellent, even with the whiny petulant older brother.

Training Sasha
A young woman who kinda grew up in an S&M club still has the hots for the new owner after five years, even though he treats her horribly. But then she’s a submissive, so that seems to work for her. Unfortunately he’s a dom into pain rather than sex, so he doesn’t want to have anything to do with such an innocent, even if she is curious about the lifestyle. It doesn’t help that her brother works at the club.
Like some of the most annoying of this genre, it does the “I can’t!” mental speech over and over. The fact that it’s the man doing it doesn’t make it any less annoying. Even worse, I do believe this is a new record for the most stubborn, stupidest character I’ve ever read, and that is saying so much. . .
I know I harp a lot about misunderstandings and no communication being so overdone in romances—there really wouldn’t be any without them—but it’s particularly sad when one party for the most part isn’t allowed to voice her thoughts anyway.
I didn’t think I was going to end up liking the ending, but thankfully the author did a masterful job of redeeming what looked to be the biggest asshole in literary history. Still wish the ride there had been more enjoyable, though.

A woman who strips to pay for her degree doesn’t want to quit the job when she’s graduated and working as a therapist, for several psychological reasons as well as money. That old saying about counselors receiving counseling to know what it’s like doesn’t apply here, as she seems to have more problems than her patients. The biggest of those hang-ups is a fear of love, which she mentally discusses over and over, but it also turns out she as well as her fellow therapist had an eating disorder.
On the other gender side is a guy who appears to be simply smitten by her, but the truth is much more sinister. She’s right to wonder why he’s so hot for her, even if it’s not what she thinks.
At first it’s confusing as to why there’s an occasional chapter written by another guy; it took me a while to realize it was someone else. That guy’s a real downer, even beyond how closed off the primary two are. At least at the end it all makes sense, a good job of tying it all together. But seriously, these people are so damaged they induce sadness, even pity, much more than any rooting for their sputtering romance. Even if they end up happily ever after, it’s not enough to overcome this.
I’ve complained about how introspective some of these books are, but I can forgive it this time because she’s a therapist. On the other hand, despite it being a relatively short book full of that, I still grew annoyed at how often they got together and then he huffed out. I liked the writing more than the structure; don’t want to say plot, because it’s actually an intriguing premise, but the repetition made it difficult to stay invested.

Switch It Up
What an intriguing premise!
White hat hacker breaks into a sex club’s website, finds a Sim, and gets so mad at something that she goes right to the club in real life to give the owner a piece of her mind. Then the fun begins.
Despite all the erotica I’ve read, including plenty of power and domination stuff, this is the first book I’ve seen full of the phycology of the switch. It’s pretty interesting, especially the fact it’s a male. Most menage stories feature the two guys with the girl only; rarely do the guys play with each other too. That made this different.
I’m always amazed that stories like these go so long. There’s a section where she’s talking about anatomy, and it’s so matter-of-fact that it’s kinda jarring compared to the previous playful nature. But in the end her being a hacker wasn’t that important; would have been cool to see more scenes of her doing her stuff, maybe catching more bad guys. Overall it was more than okay, but I still feel Maddy’s character was shortchanged a bit. Would have preferred more of her.


Book Reviews: As Graphic as You Wanna Be

Algeria Is Beautiful Like America
A French lady of Algerian descent wants to visit the old homeland, see where her parents and grandparents grew up. Everyone’s telling her not to go, mostly because it’s a dangerous country, but as it turns out there’s a more embarrassing reason as well.
There’s a lot of background about her family before she goes; she doesn’t get to Algeria till part two. The best of that is a cute moment when she does the bunny ears on her mom in a family photo.
Things change once she gets to Algeria, with intriguing drawings of her being touristy, like the one with the chipmunk-like mascot. I haven’t been to Algiers in years, but something should have looked familiar, especially since like her I go to all kinds of museums.
The guy driving her from Algiers is such a downer, but I guess the character is necessary for the story. It’s interesting that’s this is trying to teach a history no one outside of France and Algeria—and probably most people there—knows about, and for the most part wouldn’t care. But especially on the long drive—well, early on in the flashbacks too—it’s presented kinda boring.
But there’s still plenty of great moments. The cowboy scene was funny, and I love the photo of her posing with the city sign. I did notice the guy was sitting on an ancient column, so yay me. My fave character was the woman at the end, in the old family apartment.
Unusual for a graphic novel, there were lots of footnotes, though most written too small to read.
Most of the artwork is basic pencil, black and white, though at times it’s starkly beautiful. Some panels are in color, the photos she takes; they even have the camera info on them, which is cute. The images on the computer did not get the same treatment, sadly. The best drawings were of the main character swimming, at the end. Then the header for the next chapter shows her face with wet hair.
In the end, despite some tired passages, it was pretty enjoyable. But except for the part about the cowboy, I don’t understand the title, what America has to do with it. . .

Humanity is fighting aliens and losing badly. One of the few survivors of a battle is a prisoner who prevents the crew from self-destructing when boarded, which leads them to be taken to a prison colony.
Felt like it could have taken place in the Starship Troopers universe—especially with the big monster, the base, and the rallying cry (won’t even mention the Dizzy character)—with a little bit of Battlestar Galactica and V thrown in. One of the aliens is affectionately nicknamed Mengele, and for good reason.
The first “surprise twist” wasn’t much of a surprise, but the second one was. More to the point, the story gets too confusing. Would have liked it more streamlined. Ends in a cliffhanger, of course. And for once in my life I wish an author could have resisted putting some “alien sex” in there.
I can’t think of anything special to say about the artwork. As far as the rest of the presentation, at times the prose was too small to read. At the end there’s a short story about one of the characters, with only the occasional artwork, mostly words.

Eleanor & the Egret
A painting is stolen, a feather the only evidence. The detective has a cat as an assistant. The tiny dog in the sweater only says “Arf.” There’s a touch of steampunk, but in a world where animals talk, it hardly matters.
Early on there’s a hint that the reason for the plot is bigger than just stealing paintings, and while I’m glad for that, wish there’d been more to it, not left so far along. The second theft was ingenious, done in a way that could never otherwise be accomplished without a bird accomplice. . . especially a big bird. I wish said bird was smarter, though. Her disguises are cute, but don’t really hide her.
There’s a bird-shaped dialog bubble, but there’s also small bubbles of information about obvious things; it’s annoying, especially “Kiss.” The only ones I didn’t mind were the hearts, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known about that particular plot point. The only other thing that annoyed me was the shots of the victims toward the end, showing both “songwriter” and “musician.” Are you saying songwriters can’t be musicians, silly?
Cutesy tale, but in the end not much more than that.
There’s a cover gallery, the best of which features Eleanor painting amid a field of poppies.

James Bond: Casino Royale
I’ve been hesitant to try any more Bond graphic novels, as except for the one on Leiter they’ve all been so bad I didn’t come close to finishing them. But I figured since this story was already written it couldn’t be screwed up too badly. In fact it wasn’t screwed up at all, bringing back good memories of reading it for the first time, but not the movies, thankfully.
What’s most impressive is how condensed the text is while still telling the story. There’s a famous line that’s kept in, with Bond driving the car “with almost sensual pleasure.” I must be the only guy who doesn’t get that, but it’s cool to see it in there. It’s more surprising that also included is the long talk on good and evil toward the end. There’s even little factoids running through his brain—and on the page—right out of Sherlock.
“You ought to be tortured every day.” I love Mathis.
A thought I’ve had before: I wonder if any editor ever told Fleming to “cut all the stuff with the girl” at the end.
The illustrations are in an artsy 60s style. The text is in italics, making it difficult to read, but in the end it’s worth it.

Magnus: Between Two Worlds TP
An AI kills its owners, then hides in a VR world, thinking no human can catch him there. The plot is nothing new, but the world where it takes place is—unless you count the unimatrix place where some Borg go in Star Trek: Voyager—which is what makes it so intriguing. The other good part is the protagonist, a virtual reality blade runner/AI psychologist who’s a very likeable character.
Not surprised about the dog, or the cat for that matter. . . okay, later on I’m surprised about the dog. There’s a really funny elevator scene that for me was the highlight. Her backstory is told as she tries to keep someone alive in the AI world, which is cleverly done.
Good use of the now-overdone phrase “The end of the beginning.” Ends with a set-up for a sequel.
Though the artwork left a lot to be desired, especially in brightness, the story was good, as was the dialogue.

Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom
As the title suggests, a murder takes place at a fat camp for kids.
As always, the first part is taken up with character introductions, though some of them aren’t all that well done. I thought Gwen would be my early favorite, despite the fact I usually don’t like nurses, but she turned out to be a disappointment for a number of reasons, especially the smoking. And she’s not very smart either, considering she’s always doing things she shouldn’t right where the kids can see her. Hello? You’ve got forest all around you! In the end I liked the outdoorsy girl most of all, but wow, that was a gory murder scene, especially for a graphic aimed at kids.
This is actually well plotted, and well done, more logical than most police procedurals. If I had been able to tell all the camp counselors apart—too many of them to keep track—I might have solved the murder myself. In retrospect, the clues were there, which is more than you can say for most mystery novels nowadays. On the other hand, “talking villain syndrome” strikes hard.
“Trying to get back to my birth weight.” Okay, that was funny.
There’s plenty of extras. I particularly enjoyed the story of how it all came about. Knew one of the writers had to be a mystery fan, and thankfully she read the right ones, considering what she said about plot. Also well done is the description of the final coloring process, explaining the lighting coming from the fire.
“Well done, yearbook staff.” Even the creator bios are fun.


Book Reviews: A Case of Non-Fiction

Is Canada Even Real?
“It is particularly this kind of conundrum—where the government is a) planning a fiftieth birthday party for a commercial, and b) cannot find the commercial—that inspires the wonderment of this book’s title.”
As a frequent visitor to the Great White North, I figured I was well-versed in things Canuckian, but there was a lot of stuff in here I’d never heard of. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as funny as promised, as well as being thoroughly uneven in its entertainment value.
Thankfully there was some humor, as right away the author, J.C. Villamere, tells that the last name rhymes with “spill-a-beer.” The first “hoser” also comes early.
The first chapter is about Canadian music. Neither Rush nor Stan Rogers is mentioned. That puts this writer’s qualifications in serious doubt. Didn’t know if I should bother continuing, but I persevered. Rush is eventually mentioned, about halfway through, but the damage had been done.
There’s a whole section on mascots, particularly the former Montreal Expo guy and some snowman. But there’s a lot that’s completely uncipherable, probably to a lot of younger Canadians as well. And it doesn’t help that there’s quizzes, which I hated.
Despite the links at the end, keep going so you don’t miss the photo of the happy/relieved-looking mascot coming out of the porta potty. If only this book had such high humorous standards throughout.
Guess I’m not as much of a Canucklehead as I thought. . .

She Can Find Her Way
A collection of short reminisces from women about traveling.
Don’t go camping with the Lost aficionado. The story about getting lost was quirky fun, easily my fave. Marry Me was so sad in its inevitability.
For an empowering title, a few of these stories turned out badly for the protagonist.

Health Radar’s Encyclopedia of Natural Healing
Basically what the title says: a large collection of articles about prevention and treatment of various ailments, with a bent toward non-chemical solutions.
The good news is that this book is a lot more conversational and citizen friendly than most in this genre. Unfortunately there’s a lot of repeating. Every disease has its section, and every time something like acupuncture or turmeric is indicated, it’ll say the whole thing again. Makes this a reference book, not something to read cover to cover, but I suppose the title already explains that. Still, it’s well worth reading the info at least one time.

The Case Against Fragrance
“It’s not a question of whether the ingredients are carcinogenic, but whether they’re carcinogenic (enough).”
I realize I’ve been waiting for this book my whole life. I never felt I was crazy for being allergic to scents, as the author mentions, but I did wonder how prevalent it was. Reading this during allergy season makes it all the more imperative. On the other hand, I don’t know how to review this without the inherent bias of being one who greatly suffers from exactly what this author warns about.
This book flows so much better than most science-y non-fiction I’ve read recently, probably because it’s written by a novelist. The writing is much smoother—friendlier—than other fact-based books written by actual scientists. This is a huge plus, as despite an intriguing topic I generally give up in those. This was an easy read in comparison.
This is probably the most important line in the book, especially for those who don’t believe there’s a problem: “Even if you don’t like what’s in the air, you can’t choose to stop breathing.”
What’s most interesting is that, after making a huge case against perfumed products and especially the non-caring individuals who make them for profit, this book is still very optimistic. There’s one phrase where she explains that it’s possible that us who have these allergies are the lucky ones, compared to those who don’t get immediate symptoms and don’t know something is harming them. Just one allergy attack belies that, but the thought is appreciated. What I really liked was the allusion that many years ago no one would have thought something as powerful as the tobacco industry would be forced to adjust their products, advertising, and influence, and the same could happen to the perfume industry.


Book Reviews: An Actual Dozen of Kid Stuff

If You Want to Fall Asleep
A little mouse can’t fall asleep, even with all the advice mom gives. He’s got plenty of make-believe characters to help—or hinder—his attempt, though the words rarely match the visuals.
Basically a paean to the power of imagination. Nothing particularly special about the artwork, but nothing wrong with it either; it does the job.

Fred Wants to Play
Fred’s fellow fishy friends don’t want to play with him when he’s really hyper, which he describes as having something bouncing around inside him. He tries to be cool, but can’t hold it in; must be hard to paint a frightened face on a tiny fish. He gets sent away and is sad. . . till he finds a new friend, of course, and they start a band.
Fred is an octopus—albeit an albino—so there’s plenty of underwater visuals. Some of the better ones are background events that have nothing to do with the story. I do wonder who made the sawfish the final authority, and what the sharks had to say about it.
On the down side, the text is tiny!

The Toad Who Loved Tea
Rhyming couplets set the scene for this kiddie romp, featuring a creature exactly as described in the title. But first we see how the toad brags about her adventures until challenged by a crow with the aim of a Cy Young winner, who then bullies the toad into going to a town full of—gasp—humans!
The Eeyore of this group is named MuddyBum. Awesome. The rest of them are as gullible and easily swayed as. . . well, humans. Tungtang is a bit of a sneak and doesn’t care about the havoc she causes. Other great names include Lord and Lady Lobsterpants and Brittanicus.
Best part was the on-point description of smoking, as well as the awesome town slogan: “The town where our smiles make up for the constant rain.”
Fun, and funny.

Harvey’s Hideout
A little muskrat is making a racket while building a raft, and his sister tells him to stop it so she can write a poem. They really don’t like each other, even after Daddy’s punishment. It takes loneliness to get them to stop with the bickering.
Wow, that first page is really brightly painted! The author is very specific about the decorations of the secret den, and the illustrator made sure the visuals matched, which might be the most fun part.
So treat your siblings well. . .

Time to Get Ready, Bunny!/¡Es la hora de alistarse, Conejito!
Simple paintings illustrate a bunny—who sleeps with a toy bunny, a little weird—doing everything but getting ready to go out—not wanting to get out of bed, dress correctly, eat breakfast, etc.—all in both English and Spanish.
Pretty simple all around. Not sure what this will do other than show children new ways to procrastinate, as I didn’t see any moral or lesson.

Let’s Hatch Chicks!
A chicken decides—yes, that’s the word used—she wants to become a momma. With more words than is usual for these kinds of stories, along with the requisite bright artwork, this book tells the story of how that happens.
The explanation of how some eggs become chicks and some don’t wasn’t well done; even I didn’t understand it. Here it’s a long process, with help from humans and other chickens. There’s also fun facts and such throughout, as well as descriptions of what’s going on, told outside the story. There’s even a day-by-day account of what’s happening inside the egg. There’s also a chapter on playing with the chicks, and not just for the kids.
It’s all matter-of-fact and definitely informative, but I don’t know how much fun kids would find this.

Emma Has a Dilemma!
Making quite a visual with blonde sausage curls, overalls, and a bratty face, Emma has a breakdown at getting an F over not knowing the difference between nouns and pronouns. By the looks of her stern parents, she has reason to fear. Luckily there’s a grammar fairy to teach her on a magical chalkboard, all done in rhyme.
This is the first book by a mother/daughter combo intent on a series about teaching grammar. It’s a little fanciful and the rhymes are sometimes forced, but overall it seems like a better way of learning this subject than the usual stodgy version.

Little Pierrot Vol. 2: Amongst the Stars
More of the same philosophical little boy who loves the moon and has a talking snail as a best friend. It’s almost a comic strip, but it’s a lot more metaphysical than outright funny.
Some highlights:
Who’s slower? A snail, or a kid dressed as a snail?
We’re all in agreement: everyone loves Emily.
A good point: werewolves and ghosts are phony, but talking snails exist?
Timing is everything when girls come to your bench at lunch. . . or when you’re fishing a sandwich out of the garbage.
Bagpipes make it rain!
The artwork is at times striking, somewhere between Impressionistic and watercolor, but always in muted earthtones.

Lily Pond
Rhyming couplets tell the story of Lily Pond, who is not a place but rather a frog. She likes to think about the future—jobs, marriage, kids, travel—on the eve of her eighth birthday.
The highlight of the text is an interesting manufactured rhyme for “twice.”
From the cover it’s easy to see how the artwork is going to be, and it’s fun. The clay models look strikingly 3-D even on paper or pixel. This book is worth it just for that.

Calling Dr. Zaza
A little girl plays doctor with her toys in what might be the most brightly colored book I’ve ever seen. She’s got the costume and all the accoutrements needed in the medical profession, like they’d been given to her for her birthday or something.
What I didn’t like was little Zaza going through the entire book without a single change of expression, like she’s just going through the motions and can’t wait to do something else. The artwork itself is colorful though broad, without much specificity. On the one hand that might be because it’s targeted for little kids, but on the other hand the subject matter might be more suitable for those a little bit older.

Celebrate with Zaza
One of Zaza’s toys is having a birthday, so it’s a perfect excuse to throw a party.
I’m confused: wouldn’t the present she got for the toy be considered regifting?
Unlike the previous book in this series I read, Zaza does appear to be smiling a few times. On the other hand, the colors are a lot more muted than that previous one.

Good Morning, Harry – Good Night, Daddy
In this story a little boy goes through life with mom, grandma, brother, and dog, while his father works as a conductor on an overnight train. They meet at the end of the book, in the morning.
Interesting rhymes. I found it strange that the kid just goes through life as though this situation was normal—probably doesn’t know any better—and not once does the story mention he’s missing his dad.
Bright enjoyable artwork, especially the first drawing, with a landscape full of birds and a setting sun, the characters tiny in the middle. It’s reversed at the end, with the sunrise, still as beautiful.


Book Reviews: Graphics and Comics

I’m Not Your Sweet Babboo!
I don’t have to describe Peanuts to you, do I? Of course not. So I’ll just mention some of my fave jokes.
The book starts with Sally talking to a building. . . and the building thinking, if not talking back, the same way Snoopy does. So all is normal.
Peppermint Patty enrolls in dog obedience school. That’ll end well. At least that’s different than the usual fare.
There’s a cat called World War II.
It’s a really good friend who holds your head after your grandfather tells you that reading too much will make your head fall off.
There’s an almost-Goth girl named Truffles.
Snoopy’s not a rescue pilot, he’s the actual chopper. Woodstock is the pilot.
Tree-biting is a thing not limited to woodpeckers.
Bunny-print needlepoint is the thing to do when on guard duty.
The Beagle has landed!
Ends with fun facts about helicopters, with some heavy scientific explanations. Even shows how to make one. . . out of paper, that is.

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Dog Men
Starts off with everyone dying, but of course that doesn’t last.
I’m not heavily familiar with this long-running series, only read a few here and there, so I don’t know how often Dresden goes out of town, but in this one he leaves the comfy confines of Chicago for rural Mississippi. The bigger mystery is how such a huge dog can be so calm in a VW bug for such a long ride.
Dresden makes a good point about his heart breaking and his stomach heaving being a comfort whenever he sees violence or its aftermath, but then that might be part of the stubbornness he admits to. I would have come up with that same reply if Listens-To-Wind hadn’t beaten me to it.
“You’re kidding, right?” “Yes.” Stoic old native American my ass. I was thinking more Yoda, but they went with an Indiana Jones reference instead.
“I was ready. I was confident. Usually that meant I was fucked.”
“I’ve seen golems covered with less mud.” Classic.
So many references! Scooby, Silence of the Lambs, Usain Bolt, Alien, Lord of the Rings. . . ANOTHER Indy reference.
There’s a lot that’s good here, and funny. But I am getting tired of going through so many stories without Dresden learning. All his obtuseness and anger-management issues get boring after a while. There’s no hero arc; it’s more of a flatline.

Pierce Brown’s Red Rising: Sons of Ares
Issue 1
With humans having colonized the solar system, there’s a very strict color-coded caste system that essentially treats the vast majority as slaves to the small elite. But there’s a rebellion growing in the lower levels, led by a guy born elite but never good enough to be accepted by them. Whether revenge or social justice, he’s ruthless.
The dialogue bubbles are in different colors, which I think stand for what caste the speaker is in. That’s about the only interesting thing I could pick out in this intro chapter.
Issue 2
The rebellion has been found out and is under attack. But before they can escape the story goes to flashbacks, explaining how Fitchner became the way he is now. It basically tries to show that survival makes one do all kinds of things they’d rather not. There’s too many memories for any of them to make a lot of sense, as each is done pretty quickly before the next one starts.
Issue 3
The scene changes from Mars to Triton, a moon still being terraformed. Fitchner is in charge of a work group, but the caste system follows him. At first it seems like he doesn’t even consider the rest of them human, having hardened his heart to survive rather than acting like an elite Gold, but when an earthquake hits he can’t help himself. This leads him to find love and family, and explains what the present-day raid is all about.
This chapter was a lot more interesting, just because it involves people more than the previous.
Issue 4
Still in flashback, Fitchner and his companions move to Mars, where he’s now in a corporate environment. But because he married a woman below his station, he’s easily blackmailed into becoming an assassin.
“I’m going to be an aunt!” Funniest moment in what is really a dreary depressing tale.
Issue 5
The flashbacks have almost caught up. Fitchner’s wife is captured by his old friend, who has become one of the brutal bureaucrats that wants to keep the bloodlines pure. Rejected by Fitchner, he wants revenge. . . but bites off more than he can chew.
There’s no way I’m expecting a happy ending here, but there really hasn’t been anything that would lead me to believe this is an actual rebellion, or that Fitchner could be any kind of leader. It totally comes off as him doing it for himself, without caring about the masses.
Issue Six
Long confusing ramble of a rescue operation to end it. By most measures it could be said that the whole operation wasn’t worthwhile. At the very end there’s a time jump to lead into the previously written story, wrapping things up finally.
This is a case of not knowing what I’m missing, because I haven’t read the previously released one; this is a prequel to that one. Despite the story it tells, there’s not much here that’s joyful, or even that new or interesting. Had I known more about it coming in I probably wouldn’t have read it.

Jimmy’s Bastards TPB Vol. 1
Right from the first glimpse of the hero you see he’s totally meant to be Bond, though on the closeup he reminds me more of Bruce Campbell.
His rescue/assistant is named Olga Trolltunnel, and is even more eye candy—to put it nicely—that any actual Bond girl. His Q is over-the-top Cockney. And his M is definitely nothing like Bond’s boss. Of course he gets a hot new assistant, though she’s not impressed by him or his methods at all. Thankfully she’s got a sly wit and plenty of sarcasm.
Some of my fave moments include the hatchet to the head, which is so old-fashioned and unwieldy it wouldn’t have fit in Dr. No, but whatever works.
Wow, that’s a huge crowd of offspring; looks like they fill a stadium.
This Rupert acts remarkably similar to Ruprecht in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
The Cockblocker is a fantastic name for a supervillain, and if it also describes his power. . .
“That’s the young bugger who rogered my wife!” Surprised this sentence only occurs once.
There’s one of the bad guys who looks so much like him I was not surprised to hear him called Junior. The temper tantrum was something else.
“Radical solution.” Nice.
“Come and get it! See how you like. . . BAM!”
“Cunt-seeking missile.” Wow. Sheer poetry.
She’s the one who does the parachute trick, not him.
Always have a puppy on standby.
This started off slow and weak, but built up steam as it went along. Thankfully it got funny, and a bit philosophical. The story didn’t finish, though.
A few pages of covers gallery.

Pico Bogue: Striking the Balance
Two kids and their parents, in sorta comic-strip-like storytelling, though more drawn out.
Before anything starts, there’s an amazing drawing of the protagonist inhabiting a tiny part of a vast landscape. It’s really beautiful. And at the end there’s a snowy counterpart, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid piggyback on a snowman before.
“You are what you eat. That makes me nasty.” Wow, tone is set from the first page. These two tiny kids are wise and snarky beyond their years.
The one where he almost gets run over by a car isn’t funny, but then I’m not sure it was meant to be.
“I’m scary as a trumpet.” Probably my fave.
He makes a certain kind of sense when he talks about Christmas gifts.
That little girl sure bounces back quickly from all those falls off the sled. And the last one proved just how amazing she is, my favorite character.
There’s a slightly impressionistic tone to the artwork, making the words and situations all the more surreal. Added to the humor of most of the jokes, it’s well worth reading.