Book Reviews: Literary Stew

The Messy Joys of Being Human
Despite the title, this is a self-help tome.
Even though my first thought as I plunged into this was “I’ve heard all of this before,” I couldn’t help noticing that it was transmitted differently.
I think the most admirable quality this author possesses is the ability to be optimistic despite everything that’s happened and continues to happen around us. On the other hand it’s got a light style that makes me wonder how much I’ll remember when I’m done.
I love that she’s a fellow grok. . . person. Someday we may share water.
Years ago this would have been called new age; now it just feels normal.

The Sign of the Serpent
This volume, second in the series, revolves around Marisol and her search for the killer of her father, as well as going after Mannix and Indra for killing the council or something.
For the most part it feels a lot like the first, which is mostly a good thing, but in the end I didn’t like this one as much. The ending was the problem, as while I enjoy puzzles, it’s only those I have a chance to solve, and I wasn’t given the opportunity here. There were simply too many switches: Is the bad guy good instead? Is the bad girl just a pawn? Mood whiplash.
As always I like Marisol, but she wasn’t nearly as smart in this one; clever, but being dumb at important times to service the plot. Annoyed by the cliffhanger ending.

Romancing the Rogue
The owner of a castle dies, having forgotten he’d taken charge of an orphan years ago. The new heir gives her a month to find a husband and move out. Her old crush shows up, but she wants nothing to do with him, whereas he realizes his mistake and wants her now.
This is an earlier book than most I’ve read by this author. It’s not as fabulous, but you can see the underpinnings of the technique and humor she would develop in her later series. Definitely worth the read.

Life, Death, and Cellos
Bad seafood leads to a corpulent conductor—I love alliteration—suffering a heart attack in the musical saddle. Then the orchestra’s problems really start. There’s a Strad involved. The new conductor is having an affair with more than one cellist.
There’s a lot of musical explanations, intended to teach us non-musicians, but even this is too technical, so it came across as boring. Listed as a mystery, but it really isn’t. Told in a tongue-in-cheek style that tries to be like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but despite some humor it’s nowhere near that level.
My fave characters are Erin and the cop who gets obsessed by the Strad. We’ll probably be seeing more of him in the sequels, which are sure to come.

Big Nate: Payback Time!
Collection #3000 or so of the long-running comic strip, featuring an almost-loveable grade school loser and his silly shenanigans.
As a former soccer goalie, I was a little insulted by the first plotline, but I’ll let it pass for now.
He wins more often than he has before, but Nate wouldn’t be Nate if he didn’t fall on his face all the time. But I like that he’s always optimistic, no matter how misplaced.
I’m so glad my father doesn’t watch YouTube. . .
Nate’s talking about how cool it would be to be a profiler while I’m watching Criminal Minds.
There isn’t much left to say. If you liked it before, you’ll like it now. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a try. Think of it as a slightly edgier Peanuts.

Book Learnin’
I’d read one of these comic collections, and gave it my highest rating, so of course I took a chance on this one.
The first section is on art, very little of it memorable. The best joke was on hat fashion.
“Giraffe pimp” snuck up on me.
A whale singing about big butts is just wrong.
Don’t tell anybody I laughed at the car/plane joke.
Do make copies of the certificate at the end.
Unfortunately this volume wasn’t anywhere near as good as the first. Even on its own it didn’t bring that many chuckles.

Lucy: Speak Out!
Is there really anything left to be said? They’re Peanuts comic strips. After doing collections loosely based on topics like dancing, these feature a certain character, though in this case Lucy is not in every plotline.
Funniest: Santa Claus and his rain gear.
I will never forgive for “barking up the wrong tree.” “Flaw in the ointment” wasn’t any better.
Never knew Marcie had a crush on Chuck.
Find out what happens when Lucy DOESN’T pull the football away. . .
At the end there’s a section on the author’s support of women’s sports.

Unicorn Bowling: Phoebe and Her Unicorn Series Book 9
Another collection of my favorite comic strip.
Phoebe nails it when she says Dad is waxing nostalgic again. He does tend to do that a lot.
Oh lord, I’d forgotten how silly Marigold looks in a bowling shirt. Makes me miss the legwarmers. . . but not the bikini.
The best plot this time around is Phoebe joining Marigold at Unicorn Camp, which turns out to not be that different from human camp, especially with Sue showing up.
So, if you’re familiar with the strip, there’s nothing new here, and that’s a good thing. If you’ve never seen it, give it a try.


marquee, music, Dire Straits, Wiltern, Wiltern Theater, Dire Straits Legacy, Wilshire Blvd, Western Ave, concert,

Dire Straits Legacy at the Wiltern

marquee, music, Dire Straits, Wiltern, Wiltern Theater, Dire Straits Legacy, Wilshire Blvd, Western Ave, concert,

On a pleasant Southern California Tuesday afternoon I was on the bus going home after physical therapy when I checked my emails and saw I had one from the Wiltern Theater. Seems they remembered I saw a Mark Knopfler concert there and figured I might like to see Dire Straits Legacy the following night, a band made up mostly of guys from the original group but with a different lead, as Mark was into his solo career and didn’t want to do the old stuff anymore. The real surprise was they were offering me a free ticket, which as I found out from talking after the show was not unusual. More on that later, though.
Of course I had nothing else to do on a Wednesday night—who does, right? Shut up—and the Wiltern is the easiest theater to get to, being across the street from a subway stop, so why not?
And indeed the next night, after the customary stop for a bean and cheese burrito at Juanita’s, followed by Miss Kitty’s soft serve, I made my way into the theater, early as always. I was surprised to find they sold Powerade at the venue, though not shocked that it was five bucks for a tiny bottle. Remembering what had happened with the exploding Sprite bottle at the Lindsey Stirling show, I took it with only a small grumble at the ridiculous price.
A bigger grumble came from my seat, which was a high chair, the kind you get in the bar section of a restaurant, that makes you feel like a little kid. Hoping my back wouldn’t hurt after, or during, I swallowed it up by remembering I got in here free.
Okay, time to take in the stage. On the left side I saw two keyboard stations, one behind the other on a platform, then what looked to be a holding pen for brass, mostly saxes. The drums of course were middle back, and there was a percussion setup on the right side of the rear. The middle and right front had guitar stands. The only thing that really stood out was the chimes in the percussion kit, with congas in the center. And it didn’t look like there was a screen at the rear, so there wouldn’t be any videos to distract me.
Rather than 8PM, the flickering of lights didn’t happen till about 8:20. But finally it was music time.

1. Private Investigations
Can’t believe it took me so long to suss out which song this was, as it’s one of my faves. On the other hand, I’m not sure how faithful that intro was to the original. Anyhoo, one of the finest examples of music noir, played flawlessly.
2. Walk of Life
Boy, that’s a loud mix, and this is the song to show it. You may not recognize the name, but I’m sure you’ve heard this, as it’s one of the most upbeat songs ever. Recently heard it on a commercial for some pill. Not one of my faves, but no surprise to hear it here.
3. Set Me Up?
Not sure I got the title right, but it doesn’t matter because this one wasn’t familiar at all. (Research shows a song called Setting Me Up from the first album, but if you came to read this you probably already know that.)
4. Down to the Waterline
At least I know this one, even if it’s not one of my faves. This shows perfectly that, like Rush, Dire Straits songs were meant to be played live more than as a studio offering.
5. Tunnel of Love
In five songs, the guy taking Mark’s place has made guitar changes between each one.
This is one of my faves, but the intro was weird—before the waltz started—and the outro was lacking. Hyped myself up too much waiting for the piano roll. . . but with all that, still amazing to hear it live. Back in college I took a screenwriting class, and one assignment was to make a music video script, and this is the song I chose. I still have all the visuals in my head, and they played like a movie as I watched the guys on stage. . .
6. Romeo + Juliet
As always, I’m proud of myself for nailing the two finger snaps. The soprano sax outro was new. This was one of the few oldies Mark played at his concert, but that was so long ago—even if it was in the same venue—I can’t remember enough to compare. Let’s just say it’s as heartbreaking as always.
7. Sultans of Swing
The original, the one that put Dire Straits on the map. This front guy is trying very hard to be Mark, but he just wasn’t there on this one. But what he lacks in guitar chops—he’s still excellent, but can’t touch the master—he makes up in stage presence, as Mark isn’t the most demonstrative on stage. All to say that this was pretty enjoyable to watch and hear, especially the soft piano outro into the full blast finish.
8. Your Favorite Trick
Knew it as soon as the sax came out, but the conga intro fooled me. As soulful as Dire Straits ever got, and one of their most underrated songs. I even used the line about the garbage trucks in a short story years ago.
9. Jesus Trick?
The guys are apparently debuting their own song. Ideal time for a restroom break.
10. Another original
Back for this, but all I can think of is how these chairs are killing, not my back, but my knees.
11. The Bug
It still amuses me that people think this song has always been country. Nope, I enjoy saying, it’s a Dire Straits original. Not one I listen to, though. (Guess that makes me the windshield. . . never mind.)
12. On Every Street
This is the heaviest slow song ever. Like the previous, it’s from the one album Dire Straits made after their massive Brothers in Arms, which couldn’t help but be a letdown both commercially and musically, but I suppose this is one of the best cuts from it. In this particular iteration there was an awesome soprano sax outro, the entire band going faster and faster until there was nowhere left to go and mercifully ended.
13. Telegraph Road
Always wanted to hear all fourteen minutes of this live, and it did not disappoint. If I had to name one highlight, this is it.
14. Brothers in Arms
Name that tune in one note. I love this song, and it’s a natural closer, though the frontman didn’t come close to matching the soul in Mark’s voice. The brass guy was impressive, playing four instruments: alto sax, tenor sax, soprano sax, and flute.

15. Money for Nothing
They leave for a while, then come back acting like our cheers had convinced them. As always I’m amused by people in the crowd who leave at this point, not knowing better. As far as this iconic song goes, no one attempted to be Sting, but then the famous hook is enough.
16. Owner of a Lonely Heart
The bass player, who’s apparently famous, wrote this song that did sound somewhat familiar. He’s singing it, starting by saying they were courting disaster by doing this live. And of course they screw up right away. I found it amusing to see a drumstick used on a tambourine.
17. So Far Away
A thoroughly underrated song, glad they played it, though I would have thought such a slow piece would go in the middle.
18. Portobello Belle
They couldn’t leave without paying tribute to that Irish lass with the poisonous name. Of all the songs I sung along to, I sung this one the loudest.

Yes, eighteen songs—four of them as encore—in two and a half hours, no intermission. Once it was well and truly done I fullbacked my way through the exiting crowd—I was one of the youngest, though that’s not saying much—got out on the street, crossed it, took the photo you see above, and dropped into the subway. While waiting for it to take off I spoke to an older couple and found out they’d also received free tickets. Huh.
So yeah, that was fun. I know I didn’t convey how much enjoyment I had, but I’d definitely do it again. . .


Book Reviews: Kids Read the Darnedest Things

Kahlo’s Koalas
On the one hand, this teaches the littlest ones to count to ten. On the other, it does so while showcasing various styles of art, with the famous painter’s name being alliterative with a particular animal, such as in the title. This gets weird in a hurry, as it starts with Picasso.
Most favorite: Monet’s mice.
Least favorite: Pollock’s poodles.
It’s a weird way to teach numbers, and I don’t know how effective it would be.
At the end are small bios of the artists, though if the reader is just starting basic numbers, there’s no way they’re gonna be able to read this, or care when it’s read to them.

AYA and PAPAYA Meet the Big Little Creatures
This time Aya’s overexcited about a friend visiting, to the point where she claims she can’t eat. . . but immediately does when told to. Don’t get the point of that one.
It’s nice to see the friend is a boy, with a doll of his own. They go outside, pretending to be brave, but definitely afraid. All the animals seemed bigger. Some of them splash the two, or four, which looks funny.
The artwork does show the animals as large, though it could be about perspective.
Her big brother shows her there’s no need to be afraid anymore.
I suppose this could be a story about not letting your imagination go crazy, but there’s nothing else here other than a silly little story.

My Mom Always Looks After Me So Much!
In this land of sentient animals, a simian boy is being taken to the doctor by mommy to get a shot. There are other things he’d rather be doing, and feels like Mom is smothering, making him do things he doesn’t want to. But when she takes him back to the doctor for more candy, he doesn’t mind that at all.
In the waiting room, there’s a rabbit with a pan or hammer on its head. Perhaps that guy’s more in need of a psychiatrist.
Pretty straightforward. The art style paints only what’s necessary, in broad strokes, so that it feels like something’s always missing.

Super Scientists: 40 inspiring icons
Like previous books in these series, particularly the Greek mythologicals and the music and soccer stars, there’s little cartoon icons of each scientist in the table of contents. You can see it trying to draw kids in, but it’s hard to take seriously.
The pages are chock full of small infographs, mostly anecdotes, and a larger version of the cartoon icon.
Happy to say I learned some things, and scientists I’d never heard of.
Archimedes is shown moving a lever with one finger. Funny.
Hypatia is even more my hero(ine) now after finding out some new facts.
Pattern: a lot of early scientists had scientist parents. Then you get Kepler, whose father was a mercenary and mother was burned as a witch.
“Michael Faraday, the Electromaniac!” I think he would have liked that.
Ends with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is an interesting inclusion, as it says he’s famous for popularizing science rather than for a discovery or such. In that case, Carl Sagan should have been included as well.

Rosa Parks
This is a strange little history.
It’s good in that it goes back to her childhood, which I don’t remember ever seeing before. But the famous incident in which she refused to move to the back of the bus, while present, is glossed over. It merely shows her refusing to give up the seat, but nothing of what happened after. From there it merely says she worked for change.
Can’t recommend it if the whole point isn’t important enough to explain, especially for those who’ve never heard of it.

Ella Fitzgerald
“Ella never sang a song the same way twice.”
According to this, Ella ran away from home when she was really young, because she didn’t like her strict school. I guess it’s not important to the story, but I would have liked to see how a little girl managed, not so much money-wise, as we see her singing on the street for tips, but how she procured the place where she’s seen sleeping, etc.
I’ve read a lot of these little books, and I have to say they’re getting worse. Even though they’re meant to be read by kids, they should still have a more logical structure. It feels like a lot of random facts are tossed in without continuity.

Emmeline Pankhurst
This lady is not as famous as most in this series. I didn’t know who she was, and it takes to about halfway through the book to be told she was a suffragette.
“Deeds, not words.” One of my favorite sayings.
This one’s a little better than some of the recent ones, but still light on facts and structure. A return to the style and substance of the first few volumes would be welcome.

The Woolly Monkey Mysteries
Subtitled “The Quest to Save A Rain Forest Species.”
Through photos, diagrams, and descriptions, the efforts of scientists to protect the animals of the title in the Peruvian part of the Amazon cloud forest are documented.
Never expected to find a lecture on camera traps and nature photography! That alone made this read worth it. In fact, I found it interesting enough that I checked out the links in back to see such photos.
I’m not that familiar with reading ages, but I suspect this skews a little older than most children’s books, probably around junior high. The call to action at the end supports this theory. On the other hand, the glossary entry for DNA doesn’t make things any easier.

Bright Start – A Thank You Walk
Mom and little girl take dog for a walk. Everywhere they go they encounter someone or something that’s grateful, from the birds to a horse to a beetle.
It’s a little heavy-handed, but I doubt a kid small enough to be interested in this will notice.
Orange is the only color used other than black and white, which is strange—even the dog’s tongue is orange—but considering it’s my favorite I’m okay with it. Whether the kid reading this minds. . . you’ll have to ask them.

Bright Start – Feel Better Daddy
A little girl feels bad her dad is sick, so she dons his glasses and tie, grabs his briefcase, and says she’ll be the daddy today. Food, reading and other things are offered to make him feel better.
The characters have small bodies with big heads, and are basically sketches done in black, white, and orange, which is really interesting to me, because orange is my favorite color.
If there’s a reason for this book to have been written, it’s so kids will learn to give parents a break.
All in all, it’s just cute.

My Favorite Machine: Concrete Mixers
Large photos with small captions tell kids everything they wanted to know about concrete mixers. . . probably more.
It’s all done rather dryly—no pun—and I wonder how long the reader is going to be interested in things like the ingredients to make concrete. Probably not long enough to answer the quizzes.
I’d imagine every time a kid comes across a mixer after reading this. . . be patient, mom.

I Smile For Grandpa
A far-too-understanding kid plays with his grandpa, who has the beginnings of dementia.
I like that the fact Dad has to come along now on their walks is mentioned. Being without grandpa, for example when camping, is sad, but then the memories make him glad, which seems to be the point.
Lots of extra stuff in the back to talk about with the young reader.

That’s for Babies
Taking a cue from Toy Story, amongst others, a little girl thinks she’s all grown up and doesn’t need her toys anymore. Fortunately she wises up.
She’s really got the ego going when she says no to any kind of pancakes. And how can she think ice cream cones are for babies? Does that make me a baby? (Don’t answer that.)
The artwork is cute, but the story gets a bit silly.

Simple rhyming couplets tell the story of a rabbit who somehow manages to capture three wishes, though the whole process of that is not described. Lucky rabbit goes off to ask his friends what they would wish for, though he gets such specific answers that none of it applies to him. What he ends up doing. . . well, you could see it coming a mile away.
I wish I could give this higher marks, especially because I believe kids would like and learn from this. But the ending feels like a TV episode where the protagonists lose, only to be reprieved at the last moment by a ridiculous dues ex machina, which takes away anything that might have been learned before it.
The artwork has a vaguely 3D feel to it, though not too much. Most of it is pastel landscapes that are pleasing, if you notice them while reading the text.

The Cave
A small creature of indeterminate species is holed up in a cave, while a blue wolf tries to persuade it to come out. In the end it’s a lesson on not jumping to conclusions, which you’ll realize when you hit the Twilight Zone-like twist.
When the creature said it was hungry, right after the lightning hit the wolf, I thought for sure it was going to eat the wolf. Dark turn for a kid’s story, but it turned out okay. . . well, not so great for the wolf, but at least it’s still alive.

Maria Montessori
A scrappy little girl loves to learn, but not the way the boring teachers do it. She goes on to become a doctor, but when she’s put in charge of kids who can’t seem to learn, she comes up with a system that works, though at first it seems to consist of letting the kids do it themselves.
I’ve read most of the entries in this series, but this is only the second one where the person was unknown to me (ironically, I can’t remember who the first one was). Maybe that made it a little better, as this lady’s story is indeed inspiring.

The Story of People: A first book about humankind
As the title states, this is the history of how humans came to be and evolved into what we are today.
You can tell this is for kids when it starts with “A gigantic rock crashed into our planet” instead of “asteroid.”
I love that the handprints from the Lascaux cave are shown here. I also like that it doesn’t shy away from the history of religion, and uses BCE and CE instead of BC and AD. It also describes the Americas after the Europeans arrived as “stolen lands,” and doesn’t mince words telling the story of slavery.
It’s simple, especially the artwork, but it works. Many adults would benefit from this just as much as kids.

Ada Lovelace
A small history, intended for kids, of the famous mathematician.
Immediately I laugh on the first page, when it says her father “liked” poetry.
The thought bubbles are a little silly, both by what they contain and the fact the animals have them too.
The ending was a bit simplistic, but basically accurate.

Read to Your Baby Every Day: 30 classic nursery rhymes to read aloud
Nursery rhyme lyrics are enhanced by a work of art—apparently embroidery done by the author—to be read, or more likely sung, to babies.
It’s funny that the original version of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” contains words like “jumper” and “frock.” Definitely not written by an American. Similarly, what’s an “Itsy Wincy Spider?”
In “Hush, Little Baby,” it takes way too long to get to the good gifts. Can we just skip over to Rover from the start? I’m okay with him not barking.
The ship might have pretty things for baby and me, but it’s powered by slave mice. Just say no to pretty things.
Yeah, don’t sing “The Owl and the Pussycat” out loud.
Here’s a problem: what if you don’t know the song? How can you sing it?
Forget old Mother Hubbard; it was her dog that stole the show! Talk about playing dead! And playing the flute. And riding a goat. . . but how could it feed the cat when the cupboards were bare? (Oh yeah, she went to the market. Never mind.) With all the things the dog could do, I’m surprised all it could say was “Bowwow.”

Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women
A list of things invented by women, featuring stylized and pretty impressive artwork.
Right from the start, with the invention of the car heater, it makes me laugh; you can really see the distress of the shivering woman. Same with the dog.
Some might say that inventing dental floss trumps disposable nappies, but I guess that’s only people who don’t have kids.
Coolest invention had to be Kevlar. Or the periscope.
Sea flares and life rafts invented by different women. Add the periscope, and it seems like women rule the seas.


Top 15: Best Books of 2018

Only a couple of months late—better than last year—here’s the list of the best books I read in 2018. As always, don’t forget that I didn’t read every single book out there.
These are in chronological order from when I read them. Links will take you to my full-length review.

The Bronze Skies
Second in a new series by one of my favorite authors. Not quite as good as the first, but still superb. Possibly the craziest AI ever, and how it goes wacko. . .

Stars and Planets. Mack’s World of Wonder
A book of very simple astronomy lessons. This is excellent, for kids, but I learned some things too.

Moran Cartoons Vol 1 Sleeping Dogs
I remember The Far Side fondly. This strip might just top it. Smart yet savage. A high proportion of these actually made me laugh out loud.

Birding Is My Favorite Video Game
A one-panel comic strip concerning the animal kingdom. It sneaks up on you, but once you get over the first couple of shocks you realize this is hilarious!

Ménage à 3 Volume 1
Guy in Montreal comes home from work to find his two roommates doing each other, and more importantly about to move out, leaving him with no way to pay the rent alone. But don’t worry, they put out an ad for him, highlighting the need for applicants to have cute butts. That sets the tone for the shenanigans in the rest of this pretty huge volume.

Little Moments of Love
A tiny girl is in love with a bearded man who towers above her. Thankfully he loves her too, enough to put up with her occasionally over-the-top weirdness. How small is she? She’s so tiny she fits in his hoodie. . . while he’s wearing it. Not much dialogue, but it doesn’t need it; the visuals are that funny.

Buni: Happiness Is a State of Mind
The first image you see, besides the cover, is this strange bunny-like creature rocking out with headphones; it looks incredibly awesome. But let’s face it, this comic strip is where optimism goes to die. The pseudo-bunny starts each page happy, but just a few panels later something horrible has happened to him. . . and it’s hilarious.

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 in western Canada who went viral with her prom dress and used the publicity to make the world better.

Lord of Secrets
She’s lower class and working for a rich cousin, gathering more money by drawing caricatures of the twits she sees at various events. He’s upper class but works as a fixer. He can’t figure out who the artist is. She didn’t think he would care. But then it gets personal. There’s a puppy pug involved.
This author could be writing for sitcoms.

Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears: A Pie Comics Collection
There’s no defining plot to these hilarious bits of insanity; this is more like those one-panel strips that have a slice of life, except they’re longer. None of that matters, as this is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

The Book of Onions: Comics to Make You Cry Laughing and Cry Crying
A collection of small-paneled no-continuation comic strips, usually featuring a round head in a suit. The artwork makes you laugh, and then the caption cranks it up another notch.

{At this point in the year I made a comment that so far 8 of the 11 are comic strip collections, all but one new to me.}

Unicorn Theater (Phoebe and Her Unicorn)
The interspecies gal pals are back for another fun story, this time taking place at drama camp. The addition of Marigold’s sister Florence—now with 100% less nostril spiders—only increases the fun.
“I could not hear you over the sound of how beautiful I am.” So using this line. . .

Picture Perfect Cowboy
Total Noo Yawker gal goes to Kentucky to photograph a retired rodeo star for a charity calendar. Turns out they’re totally made for each other in a kinky way, if he can get out of his own head.
There’s a scene early on where the female photographer is taking nude photos of the clearly nervous cowboy, and yet their banter is hilarious.

Through the Red Door
Widow navigates her way through two suiters while running a bookstore with a hidden though famous erotica section. A ghost may also be involved.
This is one the best romance books I read this year.

Kiss of a Duke
Put a famous womanizer and a female scientist in close proximity and what do you get?
Chemistry, of course, along with the classic “you make me want to be a better man” story. And that’s before biscuits enter the equation.


Book Reviews: Something Erotic Going On Here

The D.I.L.F.
At first I thought the D stood for divorcee, but no such luck. It’s doctor, and in this case a newly minted male doctor in love with his best friend’s sister, who’s ten years older. She’s a nurse and they end up working at the same hospital, and he’s staying with her.
There’s some witty banter, but her inner thoughts are even better. The erotic scenes are top notch, moving from solo to shower quickie to a playing out a fantasy involving a giant dildo.
Worst part: seemingly requisite bad ex screws things up even without showing up. The angst was over the top. Too many changes of mind, considering it was a short book. Had a chance to get a higher score.

Undercover with the SEAL
Former SEAL gets assigned to ostensibly bodyguard a Hollywood starlet, though in truth the job is something much different. All of that, of course, is a setup for them to have sex and fall in love.
I am so loving her; she’s a wonderful character, and not—completely—like you’d except considering her occupation. Some time was taken to give her hidden depths. Any story featuring a dumb-looking blonde actually being the smartest person in the room works for me.
And the topic is heady, timely.
But the rest is relatively standard. Despite it being called an erotica, there’s only one sex scene; yes, it’s a short book, but there were chances for more. No real surprises.

A reluctant werewolf can’t stop himself when he hears the howls.
But he’s not the best part of this. Amanda is the kind of heroine I love: demure, almost bashful, but with an inner strength and fire.
As for him, I find it strange when the human and the animal within have separate voices, as though they’re truly not one single being.
For such a short novel there were many machinations, perhaps too many villains, and therefore too many characters to keep track of. One of the heel turns seemed too abrupt, and the sex scenes didn’t have all that much heat considering the supernatural aspects. Overall it was a relatively pleasant read, as long as the expectations weren’t too high.

Bakra Bride: Tapestries, Book 2
A woman whose life has crumbled when doing the right thing falls into another world, where brothers find her and plan to keep her, but only if she agrees.
She’s a scrappy though badly used lady, very likeable. One of the guys is equally empathetic, but unfortunately he’s not the main; that goes to the caveman-type guy.
Over the years I’ve read plenty of stories where someone from our reality gets transported to another world or time. I don’t think I’ve ever read about it happening via a tapestry. Paintings yes, but not this.
I’ve sadly come to expect a silly lack of communication being a barrier before the inevitable happily ever after, but this one was worst than most. Everyone jumps to the wrong conclusion and is too stubborn to talk about it. Perhaps one of these days an author will shock me and make an unhappily ever after, because this was annoying enough to bring down my enjoyment of the entire book.

Blazing Hot
Typical arrogant firefighter gets hurt saving a dog and ends up in the care of a hot blonde nurse, who’s hurt from a previous tragedy. The usual ensues.
I want to stress that there’s nothing wrong with this book, just that it doesn’t stand out in any way. It basically plugs its characters into a standard plot, gives them a huge attraction for each other and a few made-up roadblocks because they can’t get out of their heads and communicate with each other, and then resolves it. By the numbers.

Virgin Fix
Freewheeling chopper guy returns to Florida to find his old boss ready to hand over the business to him, and that might include his sexy virgin ward. But of course nothing is ever that easy. . .
While this is nicely written, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done hundreds of times before. She can’t stand him, then falls hard for him. He wants his freedom, but she gets under his skin and he has no idea how or why. Stuff happens that could be solved if they were simply honest with each other. As much as I hate to put it this way, it was by the numbers.
Except for one thing, and this was quite a negative: letting the attempted rapist get off so easily. . .

Virgin Pass
Quarterback on his last legs comes back to where he started his career for one last season. There he finds the coach’s daughter all grown up, and is even working for his agent.
Even though this is just past novella length, there’s so much extraneous philosophizing, mostly about how he shouldn’t even though he wants her so much, that it quickly gets boring. Even worse, it basically rehashes the same ground over and over. She’s given a little more character, but not all that much. My favorite touch was her teaching him some football stuff.


Book Reviews: Kids Are

The Boy and the Egg
In what looks like a European town, a boy finds an egg and takes it home, wondering what will come out of it. It ends up being nothing he could have imagined.
Cute story, with a good twist. Nicely drawn, though nothing here really stands out.

Cody Eats Everything
Cody’s a dog that’ll eat everything, including rocks. And poop.
This isn’t really a story, just a list of what this crazy dog will eat. Might have been shorter to list what he doesn’t, if anything. This is for really little ones to learn to read, with easy words and plenty of repetition. Simply drawn as well.

Happy Easter Little Hoo
The little owl is looking for Easter eggs. There’s plenty to find, most of them easy, so play along.
This is more like a hidden thing game book than a story. Nice for what it is.

Kat Makes
Kat makes food, architecture, art, slime, and a lot of other things. As you might imagine, she’s not the cleanest kid ever.
Like others in this series, it’s not an actual story, just a list of the things Kat makes. Of course there’s a lot of repetition. Once you’re okay with the fact that this book is designed to teach really little ones to read, then it can be enjoyed for what it’s worth.

Little Hoo Has the Flu
Disclaimer: I had a cold when I read this, but not the flu.
As the title screams, the little owl is sick. His mom takes care of him. His friends come over to play, find out they can’t, and return later with gifts and get-well cards. Hoo feels better.
The first shot shows Hoo sick in bed, but smiling. . . no. Has this author never had the flu? Maybe this is done to make little readers feel better when they’re sick, but it seems dishonest.
Funny how he has a huge red spot in the middle of his face, like a runny nose, but there’s no nose to be seen.
At the end you can make and print out your own get-well card.

Mole Goes to the Beach
Amidst large drawings and a smiling sun, Mole does all kinds of beach-related activities.
There’s no actual story here, just a list of things the animal in question likes to do when near the ocean.
I wonder if it ever crossed the author’s mind that a mole, unlike a dog or cat, would be an unfamiliar animal to the tykes reading this. “Mommy, what’s a mole?” There’s nothing explaining what an actual mole is like, because most of them don’t go to the beach.

Monsters Move
Monsters do a lot of things, usually in rhyme, including mixing and grooving and making noise. And let’s not forget feather tickling and farting.
Like others in this series, it’s not an actual story, just a list of the ways in which monsters move. Of course there’s a lot of repetition. Once you’re okay with the fact that this book is designed to teach really little ones to read, then it can be enjoyed for what it’s worth.

My Favorite Pet: Mice
Photos of the animal in question fill this book, with a little bit of text to go along. They sleep, eat, and clean themselves a lot. Their environment, food preferences, and the like are all shown.
Both the reading and the quizzes are appropriately easy for the target age level. In fact, the quizzes might be too easy.

My Favorite Sport: Tennis
Photos backed with a little text explain all the rules and nuances of the game to kids.
Some of the captions are simple enough, while others go into more detail, like teaching how to serve. There are some quizzes that aren’t that hard, as long as the reader is paying attention. There’s one caption that uses the word “practice” four times, which makes it difficult to read.
There is one error: when explaining “deuce,” it says the next player to win two points in a row wins the game, but that’s not necessarily true.
There’s one shot at the end of a smiling kid who looks about the same size as the racket he’s holding. It’s really cute.

BigFoot Goes on Big City Adventures
Find out about 10 cities around the world—don’t know how Mayapan in Mexico made the cut—and then search for the elusive BigFoot in the same way you would for Waldo.
Biggie is incredibly difficult to find, but at least he’s always in his famous pose, which helps a little. It’s also good that he’s always in context, unlike the koalas on top of the Sydney Opera House. What doesn’t help is the art style, which is watercolory/Impressionistic, sometimes not sharp enough for details. The rampant unicorns were easier to find, as were just about every other thing except the footprints. Some of the objects were a little silly, though, like the presidential pens. I eventually had to zoom in quite a bit to find him. For those with the physical version, hope you’ve got glasses or a magnifier, but now that you know what you’re getting into, it’s nothing but fun.
Some of the factoids explain what are simple concepts, so this book seems to be targeted for kids, even if it claims all ages.

My Daddy and Me
A small cute list of things kids like to do with the masculine parental unit, with different animals playing the parts, shown in big cartoony art. Designed for beginning readers, it’s meant to get the child thinking about their own experiences with Daddy. It’s sweet.
Somehow it seems very wrong to see alligators wearing clothes. . .
The “buy me” page at the end mentions something about how the pages can be folded to reveal new images, like the old MAD magazines, but it obviously doesn’t work on digital.

My Mommy and Me
As expected, this follows the exact same format as the Daddy edition, a list of things certain animal kids like to do with the feminine parental unit, shown in big cartoony art.
Designed for beginning readers, it’s meant to get the child thinking about their own experiences with Mommy. It’s sweet.
Tigers love new shoes.
The “buy me” page at the end mentions something about how the pages can be folded to reveal new images, like the old MAD magazines, but it obviously doesn’t work on digital.

What a Nice Car!
A mouse supposedly “finds” a car and takes off in it to find the owner. Along the way he meets up with a zoo’s worth of different animals, all of whom join him in this supposedly honorable quest.
There’s no mention that the best place to find a car’s owner is right where the car was found. The owner’s probably wondering what happened to it as they drive it further and further away.
The text is the same for every page, which no doubt works for a kid learning to read but will likely bore everyone else. Surprisingly, everyone lives happily ever after, watching the sunset.
The artwork looks a lot more minimal than most.

AYA and PAPAYA Find Happiness
It takes about half the book and a look in the mirror for Aya to realize what’s wrong with her. It seems rather obvious, though, and doesn’t explain why. She and her dolly go looking for happiness in some strange places.
Sneaky little message of empowerment.
The artwork is almost 3-D, with some of the characters drawn like those in Song of the Sea, especially the mom. There’s a cute shot of the dynamic duo upside-down while looking under the bed.


Food Review: In-N-Out

I’ve always found that who you eat with can affect the taste of the food. In some cases that includes the staff; if I have a happy joyful waitress, it makes the memory of the meal better, as opposed to a surly server who’d rather be somewhere else. As far as In-N-Out goes, it probably wouldn’t matter because the food is so good, but absolutely everyone I’ve ever seen working there is chipper and glad they’re bringing culinary joy to their customers. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s part of the reason they’re hired, as I imagine they can pick and choose from all the applications they get.
As you would expect from previous food postings, as well as other ramblings, my food orders are simple and plain: either a double-double plain cheese-only or a Flying Dutchman. And of course you’re asking what that is, which could lead us to a long discussion about the not-so-Secret Menu, but you can look that up yourself. A Flying Dutchman is the plainest of the plain: two slices of cheese between two beef patties. . . and that’s it, not even the bread. They give you a fork for this. More importantly, you can taste the freshness.
I am a connoisseur of fries, so I know what I’m talking about when I say these are pretty good but will never taste like the heavenly type they have at McD’s. They’re not supposed to; they have a completely different vibe. They’re earthy, with no preservatives. If you stand where you can see the back of the cooking area, you can watch someone—probably a newbie—placing a fresh potato into a slot and working what looks like a giant juicer to split it into fries. Since I like my baked potatoes plain as well, I’m used to this fresh kind of taste and enjoy these well enough to not be pining for the candy-like treat served at the place mentioned above.
A lot of people go here for the shakes, but I have my own particular kind of liquid refreshment. In a world dominated by Coke and Pepsi, especially in chain fast food joints, In-N-Out is the only place that has 7-Up. I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned how much I love 7-Up, right? Liquid Candy is not going too far as a description.
But more than anything it’s the ambiance. You rarely see angry people here, and it’s a lot easier to talk to those at the next table. To be fair, I can’t remember seeing anyone losing it at McDonald’s, but when you hear about stuff in the news, it’s never here. Again to be fair, there are less of these around, which is a fact that obviously helps with the freshness. It’s well documented that they don’t build these if there supply place is too far away. Another thing you never heard about at In-N-Out is employees spitting—or worse—into the food. The vibe is too good for that. Plus it’s so bright and cheery inside, with the yellow zigzags and palm trees; it’s easy to notice how dark McDonald’s looks in comparison.

5/5 (Did you expect anything different?)


Book Reviews: South America, More Dukes, and Unbelievable Stuff

South America Under the Skin of a Foreign Country
A widow from England spend a lot of time in South America, and writes about it.
It starts in Argentina, with tango. As basically the only dance I know, I found it amazing how the author’s views were pretty much opposite to mine. Not saying either is wrong, just incredibly different viewpoints. Something we do agree on is the great Chilean poet Neruda, so I was happy to see a section on him. I didn’t learn anything new, but I’m sure many readers had never heard of him.
Most of all, I enjoyed her insights. She’s very observant, and thankfully doesn’t go too far in extrapolating what they might mean. This style of storytelling reminds me of my blog, which is obviously very high praise. . . obviously. (Shut up.)
The one low note was the section on internet booking, which went on far too long and really brought everything to a halt.
In all, an enjoyable travelogue with a unique perspective.

Never Say Duke (12 Dukes of Christmas #4)
As always happens in these stories, two people who initially come off as incredibly wrong for each other end up in love and happily ever after. The fun part is the in-between.
Virginia is the kind of person who ignores your wishes when she gets it into her head that she knows better than you, but she gets away with it because she’s so charming and beautiful in her own wacky way. He, on the other hand, is quite the grump, with no enjoyment in his life other than ice cream. And that was before his injuries, which only made his disposition worse.
I’m a little miffed that the cat gets a point of view when Captain Pugboat didn’t. There’s a Mr. T, of course, because that’s how Ms. Ridley rolls. There’s also a Queen Turkey-tiara, but she’s not as important.
Considering how much of a cloudcuckoolander she is, it’s hard to imagine her so insecure. On the other hand, it makes it all the more special when she realizes he likes her the way she is.
So it wasn’t as good as the previous one, but that was one of the best historical romances I’ve ever read, so there’s no shame here.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not
A graphic novel about the famous brand.
It starts in Branson with one of the museums, where Ripley is a hologram giving the intro to the tour. Beauty and the Beast was real, in a story with too many Catherines.
From there it moves through a number of vignettes, each taken from one of the oddities in the museum.
Already knew the Phineas Gage story, though not the ultimate ending. That’s my fave part of these stories: not just explaining how they were true, but that some of these poor souls did have happily ever afters.
“Stableboys’ Sauna” is a term I wish I’d never heard. Then it turns much stranger, as we get a story about something that hasn’t happened, and might never.
Somehow one of the stories ended up in ancient Egypt, while another was a lot more expected, happening in one of my fave places, the Winchester House.
The funniest moment was the horse’s inner thought.
Because the stories are so short, they’re told in a very matter-of-fact style, just the bones. Some of them are entertaining despite that, but mostly they’re just sad, like the tale of the tallest man.

The Rose
Four British high society girls playing escort are in danger of being found out when a lot of their clients are invited to a birthday party. A statue of Aphrodite is involved, as well as an ancient goblet. The birthday girl can’t resist her Greek guest, who is really jonesing for the goblet, leading to some fantasy escapades as well as real ones.
The writing during the Greek visions is stunning. It’s hard to believe this is the same author that wrote the wonderful but completely opposite Picture Perfect Cowboy, but on the other hand it’s not. I particularly liked their patter. The heroine is a bit mannered, a touch spoiled, and prone to fits of stubbornness and posturing, but her sense of humor makes up for a lot. She’s also incredibly lucky; usually when an immortal plays with a mortal’s life, it doesn’t turn out nearly as well.
There’s a recurring gag about him having sex with a cloud, which makes me laugh every time, especially when he admits it might have only been a fog or a stiff breeze.
Some confusing turns at the end, but eventually neatly wrapped up.

From Resume To Work
As the title implies, this book aims to show you how to make a resume that will find you employment, written by someone with a lot of experience on the subject.
Thought this is a short tome filled with some duplication and a lot of references, there’s still a lot of good stuff here. It starts by explaining some of the things you might be doing wrong, why you’re being rejected, and how to correct them. From there it shows stuff you might not have known or thought about to spice up both the resume and the cover letter.
The important thing here is the author claims to know how employers think, and gives clues on that peculiar animal known as the employment psychologist. Some of their insights seem ridiculous—an accidental mistake of indentation shows the candidate has a mild form of schizophrenia?—but they’re seemingly important enough, or taken seriously enough, to be included here.
But other than that, there’s plenty enough tidbits to make it worthwhile.


Book Reviews: I Lied Last Time

Last week I mentioned it would be the last book review of the year, but turns out there’s enough for one last—really this time, last—one. Honest.

A genius Indian version of Sherlock Holmes visits the eastern United States with his wife and brother-in-law. They find themselves embroiled in a terrorist plot while on a bus tour.
The narrator is not the protagonist, but rather the brother in law, who is cast as Watson. The wife is left to worry at home.
There’s a conspiracy, with too many characters to keep straight! The plot gets confusing, and it only gets worse as it goes along. I couldn’t keep track of all the people on the bus, let alone all the other characters. Had I not been so close to the end of what’s really a short book I would have given up.
By the time the bad guy’s revealed I had no idea who he was, and I didn’t care enough to go back.
The writing just barrels ahead, with not much room for style. It’s certainly not bad, but it not exactly scintillating either. Having one character be so matter of fact is more than enough, but most of them are. Worse, far from being a Sherlock Holmes, this guy is completely a Marty Stu.

Once Upon a Duke
One of many Dukes in these stories comes home for his hated grandfather’s funeral, just to retrieve a family heirloom. He finds the whole snowy mountaintop town—as mountaintop as a place can get in England, anyway—loved the old man, especially for renaming the town Christmas and making it a tourist trap. And of course he meets up with the only woman he ever wanted.
This new heroine is just as smart and snarky as the previous ones, so I’m in, and the story even more fun. All the new characters make for some confusion, but not too bad.
Erica Ridley gets me.

Kiss of a Duke
Put a famous womanizer and a female scientist in close proximity and what do you get?
Chemistry, of course, along with the classic “you make me want to be a better man” story. And that’s before biscuits enter the equation.
With all the wonderful heroines Erica Ridley has invented, I have a new favorite. Each is more and more amazing, but Penelope’s just my type. . . and that’s before biscuits enter the equation. She reminds me a lot of Nora, who was my previous fave. She’s also very similar to another fave, Bryony, but thankfully more subdued.
I am in awe of the way this author can so effortlessly come up with lines like, “It’s a lovely basket. It smells of wicker and unrealized potential.”
There is one oddity, though. In a lot of the stories by this author, the primary stumbling block was class; the men are highborn, the women “common,” and never the twain shall meet (even though they always do). But despite the same circumstances here, it’s never mentioned. The problem between them is that he’s another Lord of Pleasure. And as always in romance novels, they don’t talk to each other, which would have saved a lot of heartache.
But that’s a minor tidbit in what is one of the best books I’ve read all year.

Wish Upon a Duke
A perennial wallflower just wants to be noticed, especially by Christopher, the much more subdued brother of the Duke of the previous novel. Instead she agrees to play yenta for him, which has as much of an effect as you’d expect but does give us more insight into characters who will likely be up front in stories to come.
Also featured more than usual is the town of Christmas, nee Cressmouth, described as a perpetually snow-dusted mountaintop village, which is hard to imagine in hilly-but-not-too-much England.
His problem is that he’s an inveterate traveler, and being with her would mean giving that up. As someone who travels for work and loves it, I totally get where he’s coming from, though I wasn’t a fan of how insulted he got about the constellation naming. I definitely liked Gloria, but she didn’t grab my heart like Penelope or Nora or Bryony.
This book is only a disappointment in that the previous one was so frickin good. Had I read this one first. . .

Star Wars: Scum and Villainy
The records of three generations of cops show off some of the most colorful villains in the Star Wars universe, though at times it feels like the bounty hunters outnumber the actual criminals.
The large drawings of stakeouts and police reports take up most of the area, with some commentary attached. Sometimes you have to look carefully at the details to know what’s going on.
I found the propaganda posters hilarious, though I doubt that’s the intent. The page on tattoos was interesting, as was the podracing, but the padawan auction was chilling.
It’s interesting to see the middle of the three generations become more of an Imperial lackey than actually care about real justice.
I wonder what came first: the art or the words? There’s a few pages that show crime “evidence,” particularly smuggling, that aren’t exactly great subjects for artistic endeavors. Sometimes it’s just boxes. . . nicely drawn boxes, to be sure, but hardly the kind of thing an artist would showcase in their portfolio. I guess it’s there to add to whatever else is in the page, but this leads me to believe the author—who might also be the artist, for all I know—came up with the idea and the description before the artwork, and couldn’t think of something more intriguing to draw.
Despite not being as enmeshed in all the Star Wars stuff outside of the movies as a lot of the fans, I found this intriguing, even if I didn’t know most of the characters. I finally understand what makes the Kessel Run such a big deal, for example, as well as spice smuggling. But it’s really the variety of crimes, some of which could only happen in a universe like this, that makes this book so interesting. I’m sure I would not have enjoyed it as much had it come without illustrations.

Storytime: Not-So-Brave Penguin
Percy the Penguin is the jock, not afraid of anything, and Posy is the opposite, hence the title. Of all the things she’s scared of, and it’s mostly everything, the worst is the dark, which in Antarctica can last for months. But when Percy’s in trouble Posy overcomes her fears to rescue him, and finds some dark places are more beautiful than scary.
Though I appreciate the message and where the author’s coming from, in reality Posy didn’t rescue Percy; she just kept him company overnight. Had she not been there, Percy would have made it back the next morning on his own. So the writing’s a bit of a letdown there, a lazy out when instead a real danger, like a shark, would have made for a better story. On the other hand, Posy didn’t know that when she set out, so she was indeed brave.
The artwork is nice, if a little simplistic. There’s a couple of pages of discussion topics at the end.

Lost Railway Journeys from Around the World
The title tells all: some world-famous and some locally famous trips that are no longer among us memorialized in photos.
The introduction features some strong feelings, to the point of calling some closures “criminal” and claiming they led to deaths. The text isn’t as heavy-handed, thankfully, but there’s a lot of asides that are sometimes humorous and sometimes failing at it. It just doesn’t feel like a typical book of this class, and whether that’s good or bad depends on you.
I suppose it’s not much of a surprise that the photos from Europe are mostly black and white. And I have to keep reminding myself that those old photos of bridges were not taken from drones.
The most intriguing early on was the Lawrence of Arabia special through Jordan.
To be fair, some of these are short lines; the title doesn’t exclude them, but it doesn’t seem fair to lump them in with the Orient Express and Ghan.
My fave, from the photos and having been in the vicinity, was the Colorado-Denver & Rio Grande, though the ones in Africa looked pretty spectacular too. But even though I’m a fan of trains, I’m not this much. I had to take it in small bites, but even then it was tough to stay interested.

Stuff You Should Know About Planet Earth
A well done science primer for kids.
It starts with the five ecological spheres, which I’d never heard of. It’s intriguing, though I question why water and ice are separate.
There’s good stuff on the solar system. The cartoon-like drawings are cute, though I can’t tell who that guy is dancing on Saturn’s rings.
I already knew most of the stuff in here, but I’m 50 years old, so I’d better. On the other hand, I did learn some things, all of which tells me this is a good book for kids interested in science, those who really want to learn.
But I hope they don’t get nightmares from watching the animals fleeing the lava. . .

Who Are You Calling Weird?
The first thing you see is that this is dedicated to David Attenborough, which makes sense, as this book tackles the strangest animals. The artwork fits the theme, almost in art deco style.
The platypus has gotten enough publicity, kinda normalizing it, that it seems out of place here. Same with the sea unicorn (aka narwhal). Kiwis and sloths too, especially the latter for kids who’ve seen Zootopia a thousand times. But thankfully most of those included are indeed completely strange. A couple are compared to superheroes, though when Wolverine was mentioned I first assumed it was the animal, which is weird in its own right but not enough to make it in here.
The leafy sea dragon gets my vote for most deserving entry; seeing it moving in a video is even more so. That smelly Amazon bird sure has a good defense against humans, especially in that they taste bad. . . though by the time the humans figure that out, it’s too late.
And speaking of, so glad you stinky humans made the list! The artwork that goes with this entry is the scariest of all. . .

How Rude…
Little girl invites her duck friend over for a tea party. Things do not go as planned. . .
This duck is a jerk. To be fair, there have been other jerk ducks, especially in old cartoons, but this one takes it to a new level. I’m surprised the little girl held out that long. At least she didn’t reach for a shotgun.
Considering all the trouble Duck caused, he sure turned on a dime, and she forgave him way too quickly. I would have preferred less mayhem and more thought from both of them, if there was a limited amount of pages available.
Wait, was that rude of me to point it out?

Yara and her Mystery Tree
Bright watercolors and rhyming couplets tell the story of a mystery plant that has the same problem as the maples from the Rush song The Trees, which means other trees are blocking the sun. A little girl gets her mom to help uproot it to a more advantageous place, which comes back to reward them at the end.
Not only are the rhymes legit, the meter and length are perfect. The plot is fine, though it was easy to see where this was going, even for a kid.
I question the need for the bird and the ant, turning this into a fantasy when it would have been just as well straightforward, but that’s my only nitpick.

Mario and the Aliens
Tech-obsessed kid is on his computer as usual—like that’s a bad thing—when something outside grabs his attention. The title tells you the rest.
The artwork takes up most of the pages. The first few were difficult to comprehend, partly from the scale but mostly because of an almost abstract style.
It took the kid forever to think to run off, and stopped so abruptly when the aliens convinced him they were simply looking for new games. So yeah, he might be smart, but I think gullible’s a better word.
In retrospect, I can see why the aliens had such a visceral reaction to the computer, since it’s almost certain they have their own. Something’s gotta help them pilot their ship, after all. And if they thought computers were fun, they wouldn’t need to travel to look for it.
I very much doubt Mario will be satisfied with human kids as playmates after this night.
Pretty straightforward, but feel like something’s missing. Certainly okay for kids, but could have been better.


Book Reviews: End of Year Hodgepodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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