Book Reviews: Erotic Motorcycles, Teachers, and Time Travel

I feel like instead of the usual funny line or snippet of conversation, I should post a nude photo or some such when it’s a review of erotica. . .
Nah. There is a photo I can recommend, of Katherine Heigl in a black leather catsuit, out there in the vasty internet, if that helps.

His Human Rebel
Fourth in a well-written series of male alien master/female human slave stories, this one features a more common soldier rather than aristocracy, as well as the most delightful lead character so far.
Unlike the previous reasons for buying up humans, this time a whole bunch are brought in from a jail to help the war effort. And in fact Cambry does learn to fly, but once Lundric has her in his sights that becomes secondary. . . though she does have a hidden agenda of her own.
There’s a formula to these dominance erotica stories, so I don’t worry about the plot too much. The guys almost always act like entitled Neanderthals, so it’s the female protagonist that will make or break a book. There’s some similarities in them as well, as they start out feisty and learn to love, or at least obey. But the women are sufficiently different to make them unique and entertaining.
In this case Cambry’s pretty awesome, my fave of all the ladies in this series, and that’s saying a lot. Too bad her trust issues keep her from being honest with him—not that he’s earned it, but still—but that’s the way of most romance novels, even the sci-fi erotic ones. Lundric’s even more Neanderthal than most, especially at the beginning, but if she taught him to treat people better then I guess her “sacrifice” was worth it.
4/5

Stay After Class
College senior virgin desperately wants her cork popped before her next birthday, because a psychic told her to. She’s got her sights set on her art professor doing the honors, but the last thing she expected was for him to take her on a long frustrating journey to that point.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand it’s a well-told romance, but on the other. . . I can’t imagine her being that patient with someone who, as much as he wanted to do right by her, was manipulating her the entire way. He certainly wouldn’t have done that with an older woman, or one not as innocent. Despite his claims, it felt like this whole long timeline was more about him; she could have been more open about what her deadline and the dating app meant, but he treated her like a child far too much, and his excuse of “protecting” her was the ultimate in condescension.
As for the characters, Amanda was a lot of fun, as was her BFF. Even their emoji use was on point; the cherry with the fireworks was particularly hilarious, as well as the band-aid. As for him, he seems to be a genuinely nice guy who simply has no idea how to treat a modern woman; he seems to be stuck in some sort of weird age of chivalry, mixed with some Neanderthal “She’s mine” crap. Every other character seemed to be differing shades of evil.
I will admit the author almost got me by including a musical piece by one of my fave musicians, Jesse Cook, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t give any extra credit for that.
3/5

Slave to the MC
In the second book of a series—I did not read the first—a smart sassy part-time stripper deals with trying to pay off her mother’s debts while being the sexual plaything of an entire motorcycle gang, including the wives.
This story is unusual: it’s one thing for a submissive to be such with one master, but to be a more than willing slave to a gang, not just in sex but having her entire life controlled. . . that’s not seen often. The good thing is that, even as she fights it, she realizes she enjoys this kind of thing, which makes it a lot easier to take. She’s surprisingly introspective, and pretty damn smart, at least in her thoughts if not in her life choices.
Wasn’t particularly a fan of the story, since I hate all the gangster stuff, but some of her thoughts were intriguing, and if she’s willing—as she always is—the sex scenes are pretty hot in a primal way.
3.5/5

30th Century: Escape
A military woman from long in the future sends troops back to the 27th to fix history so humans don’t get genocided, but instead of heading the mission she slips off to the 21st to start a new life.
This story had a lot of potential, but the writing was surprisingly stilted for someone who’s published so much. On the other hand, this might be his first work of fiction, and if so the inexperience shows. The conversations feel wooden and the descriptions lack style; oddly enough, that happened more and more toward the end. Having read other sci-fi erotica recently, this simply pales in comparison. In fact, it’s odd that it is listed under erotica, as there aren’t any sex scenes until the last half, and even then it’s lackluster, pedestrian. One of the main reasons is the use of the word penis. . . exclusively; apparently the author lives in an ivory tower or cave where he’s never heard of another word for the male organ.
It’s not just the sex scenes, though; there’s not a lot of emotion in the writing, period. She cried, she felt sad, that’s it; no elaboration. By contrast, the science stuff goes on for pages. Her dissertation defense lasted far too long, making me think this was the whole point of the book, with the rest just framing. And most of the science was far over my head even when she was asked to explain it in layman’s terms. Annoying.
Some of the writing is just ridiculous. “You are the mother of the children. . .” Did you really think she didn’t know that, Jen? Another example: “Jennifer gritted her teeth, hoping she was not talking over his head. If she was, would his attraction to her die?” Seriously? What a modern 21st century woman, let alone 30th. More to the point, in the few scenes we get of the 30th century—as well as the 27th—they show worlds that don’t seem all that different from today, especially socially as compared to technologically. That makes no sense; not much thought was put into that. Another problem was all the characters I had to keep track of, particularly the women, as some of them had similar names.
I wanted very much to like this, which might account for some of the disappointment. I enjoyed the premise, all the way up to her being alone on the island. Once she was rescued it went downhill. Jennifer is for the most part a likeable lead character, though there were times when she was simply too good to be true. The anthropology and archaeology of the Pacific Islands was interesting, as it fit into my own hobbies, but in the end it didn’t lead anywhere, so I suspect it was just the author’s pet.
And it was so sad that we never saw the dolphin again. . .
2/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Non-Fic Be Sick

“Did you just fall in love again?”
“Let’s label this one ‘severe like.’”

{Apologies for the title. My editor insisted.
No, I don’t have an editor.}

A Way of Life: Zen Monastics at Work and at Play
Photographs of a Vietnamese monastery through the eyes of an American.
The shots are often grainy, which lends itself well to the documentary aspect of the book. One of the first shots shows two women in profile walking past a lake, a red bridge before them. The background is foggy. It’s beautiful.
But mostly it’s about the monks. There’s a bald one with glasses, smiling as he/she paddle a rowboat. The masked monk on a riding lawn mower seems a little incongruous. There’s shots of them playing basketball, volleyball, badminton, hopscotch, and some sort of hackey-sack in a parking lot. Not what is expected from a monastery. There’s also a music section, the highlight of which is the little girl watching the cello player.
Some of the photos are complimented by sayings or poems, which does serve to make them a little more special, but even though there’s some beautiful images here, most of the photography looks like stuff taken at a backyard family party. Not all that interesting, unless the point was somewhere in the vein of, “Look, they’re just like us!”
3/5

Directing the Sitcom Joel Zwick
There’s nothing else that could explain this book any better than the title it already has. Mr. Zwick, who’s been doing this for decades, gets asked questions and answers them, period. A big part of this is the questioner, who is also in the business of show, as Tom Hanks puts it in the foreword—Yay for Bosom Buddies!—knows exactly what to ask the experienced director.
But despite the short length, it took forever for me to get through this. Sometimes it became too technical; I know some of the stuff as a professional photographer, and I’ve been on set shooting stills, but at times it just went right over my head. Oddly enough, less than half the book talks about the shoot itself—or as they call it, the film school portion—which I’m guessing is what most people are looking for when they buy this book. The highlights of this section are explanations of camera terms, such as extreme close up and cowboy, along with four camera setups, perfectly illustrated with basic drawings.
In the end, I liked the stories about the actors and other Hollywood people more than the craftwork.
3/5

Big Nate: A Good Old-Fashioned Wedgie
Just in case the title isn’t enough, the cover shows a kid giving another kid a wedgie. Believe it.
I’ve read this comic strip before, and despite the fact the main character is a total butt monkey it’s pretty funny, even hilarious at times. In this edition Nate’s back on the baseball team, though quickly benched for rapping from the outfield, falls in love for the millionth time, sees a past crush return from Seattle, offers to help dad with his manscaping, helps his buddy with a diet, binges on X-Files, and talks like Stewie from Family Guy.
Best lines:
“Historians are still debating that.” Works every time.
“Scooby Doofus!” Wish I’d thought of that.
4/5

If My Dogs Were a Pair of Middle-Aged Men
I can’t tell you anything more concerning what this book is about that isn’t already in the title; I do love it when it’s so on point.
Some of these jokes hit a little too close to home, some are kinda gross, but mostly it’s just taking usual dog behaviors and ramping them up to hilarious heights through rudimentary artwork that somehow makes it even funnier. The pooping and bathtime scenarios go into “I can’t believe he went there but I’m laughing so hard” range.
3.5/5

;o)

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Overview
This movie is what I wished Supergirl had been.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the series, but I don’t love it, feel so many things could have been done better from the outset. This movie gets them right.
One more thing: I’m not a fan of superhero movies. I watched the first two Avenger movies because of Joss Whedon, caught the first Thor on TV due to Natalie Portman, and one rainy afternoon when my plans were cancelled I saw the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Caught glimpses of an Iron Man on TV, but that’s basically it: never seen a Spiderman or Hulk, and the only Batman I ever saw was because Uma Thurman was in (boy, did that suck). So yeah, this was unusual, especially seeing it in the theater.
The day before this I mentally shrugged as I flicked on Doctor Strange on Netflix. Perhaps the fact that I couldn’t stand most of it inspires me to give Wonder Woman such a high grade, but that’s doubtful; even without that waste of time, The Wonderful Woman was superior in every way.

Writing
As always, this is where it starts. The plot goes back to World War One, and for the most part is a slice of life in the giant conflict until the two supernatural beings butt heads. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing groundbreaking either. And since the character had already been introduced in a previous movie, it was necessary to find a frame to set what is really a prequel, and the photo did the job perfectly.
Thankfully both the writing and directing are just as interested, if not more so, in the characters as the story and effects, especially but not limited to Diana. While most movies, even superhero ones, have humorous moments, they abound here, most of it coming from Diana not having the slightest idea how to behave with people who didn’t have the same idyllic upbringing as her on the Amazon island—when Steve first shows up, then amongst the crowds in London—particularly with men. My favorite was her trying to get through the revolving door at full charge. There isn’t that much humor after that, other than a few moments with the motley crew assisting them. But even more so, there’s some beautifully poignant instances within the ugliness of war, of which the most endearing is Diana telling an obviously shell-shocked Charlie to stay, because otherwise no one would sing for them. The acting is fantastic here, both their faces perfect, but it’s the words that make the moment memorable.
While most superheroes seem to have a personal motivation for doing what they do, be it vengeance or wanting to prove themselves, I very much like that the writers made Diana’s inspiration, as naïve as it is, simply wanting to do what’s right. And while it’s one thing to write a strong character who can also be romantic and funny, they gave her a special quality not often seen: kindness. There aren’t many superheroes who show compassion, but she has it in abundance.
It’s always hard to tell how much of the battle scenes is scripted, as writers usually throw in the kitchen sink and then see it whittled down due to safety or budgetary restraints. But if there’s one moment from the final battle that had to be in the original script, it’s her levitating over Ares, showing him she wasn’t the least bit bothered after all his attacks. He’s obviously disturbed by that, goaded into overplaying his hand, launching basically everything he had at her, never figuring it would rubber right back at him.

Directing
Like a referee in a sporting event, I’m of the belief that if I don’t remember much about what the director did, then it was a good job. I can’t think of any particular scene in this movie that stands out from that perspective. Of course I’ve seen Patty Jenkins’ other film—being a Charlize Theron completest—and while it was thoroughly deserving of the acting Oscar, some of that is always attributable to the directing.
In this case she shows a more than knowledgeable grasp of special effects and battle scenes, as well as comedy and sweet moments, some of them romantic but others not. Perhaps it’s the pacing that deserves the most merit, with enough respite given between the grittier moments for the audience to rest and reset. More to the point, this did not feel at all like 2 hours and 20 minutes.
If there’s one particular moment that deserves some mention, it would have to be when Diana finally realizes what Steve had said to her—she hadn’t understood him due to momentary loss of hearing—just before the plane blows up above her. The view of the explosion over her shoulder—even though she’s lying on the floor—followed by the quick cut to her face is perfect, as is leaving the camera on her for longer than usual so Gal could run through all the emotions of the moment, which are discussed in the next section.

Acting
There’s an easygoing rapport between Gal and Chris, but my favorite relationship, brief as it is, is between her and Lucy Jones. It’s easy to tell when Diana is appreciating Etta’s humor; it feels like they instantly became sisters. This is the first relationship she’s formed with a woman not from her island, and she seems happy to realize things won’t be that much different from that particular standpoint. The men, of course, are a different matter.
As I mentioned above, the moment when Diana tells Charlie he needs to stay because otherwise there’d be no one to sing for them is superb. It’s easy to see how much he needed that validation, especially after freezing during sniper duty. Gal’s face is so perfectly sweet, and you can see in his eyes that he’ll follow her anywhere from that moment on. There’s an earlier scene when Steve tells the boys that the money’s run out and they should go home, and they all refuse, partly because they’re enjoying themselves but mostly because Steve’s their guy and they’re loyal. But in this instant it becomes Diana’s gang, though it helps that Steve becomes her follower as well.
As for possibly Gal’s best acting moment, if it’s not the one I just mentioned, it would have to be the same as I wrote about in the directing section above. Right before her heroic second wind, when she’s seemingly trapped and out of the fight, she takes a sideways glance and sees Sameer, Charlie, and Chief huddled together, preparing to die, and feels like she let them down. Then the plane explodes above her, and there’s so much to see in her face—disbelief, sorrow, rage—all culminating in the moment when she realizes her destiny, even more so than her No Man’s Land trek.

Cinematography
Other than island of the Amazons, there’s surprisingly little in the way of landscapes, unless you count the trenches. Even the establishing shots are dark and moody. On the other hand, walking through the London of 100 years ago is always a pleasure; particularly enjoyable were the train station shots, reminding me of the similar scene from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Though the colors aren’t as dark as the broodiness of other such films, there’s definitely a lot that’s muted. Every yellow, for instance, seems to comes out as an earth tone. That’s fair in the trenches and No Man’s Land, but there were other places where I would have wished something different. In fact, the only place I can remember being at all bright is the German reception, where she dances with the secondary big baddie while the sword is tucked down the back of the beautiful blue dress she stole from the rich matron outside. And though it’s a bit of a cliché, the fire they’re looking at as Steve tries to pseudo-romance Doctor Poison is gorgeous to watch.
The stuntwork, especially the battle on the island, is spectacular, with some tricks I don’t think I’ve ever seen. The firing-arrows-while-swinging moment, as well as the jump/flip with multiple arrows, are wonderfully realized, the latter all the better for the slow motion. Wonder Woman’s battles—the trenches, the town, inside the baddies’ base—are more imaginatively staged than expected, but of course it’s the final battle between the gods that takes the cake. Throwing cars around is always gonna look good, especially when you’re not Hulk-sized.
I don’t have individual sections for wardrobe, makeup, hair and the like, but as a photographer I have to take a moment to mention how incredible—even more so than usual—Gal looks in London once they’ve finally figured out her style. In the trenchcoat, with her hair back, her amazing facial bone structure is in perfect display. I’ve been photographing models for almost a quarter of a century, and I’m often baffled at how popular certain supermodels are, when I would never want to shoot them. This look shows exactly why she was so successful in her previous career.

Music
Unless it’s John Williams, it’s hard to differentiate—or perhaps it’s easy to write the style—between the music, especially the main themes, in superhero movies. Which is why the moment that stands out the most is Wonder Woman’s first battle, when she throws off her overclothes—finally revealing her costume—practically runs up the trench ladder into No Man’s Land, and singlehandedly attacks the German lines. Whereas most of the time you’d get the battle cry—think Indiana Jones—in this case it’s anything but; it’s so soft and heartfelt that at times it’s almost a dirge, which perhaps stands for a loss of innocence, but somehow adds to the enormity of the moment much more than bombastic horns and the like. Most times music supports a scene; this is one of the rare ones that adds to it. Something similar happens after the climactic scene, when it’s time to decompress before the celebration. And bringing in her theme from the Batman/Superman movie, with Tina Guo’s crazy cello, the moment she bursts into the enemy HQ was perfectly timed.
And Ares of course gets an appropriately evil-sounding theme.
In the end I would qualify this soundtrack as for the most part happily restrained.
As always I stay through the credits, not always looking for easter eggs, mostly enjoying the music. The full theme is appropriately heroic and triumphant, but then it changes to a song that in and of itself isn’t bad, except it completely confirms why I can’t stand Sia’s vocals. You do get that we’re supposed to understand what you’re saying, right?

“Feel”
This is what makes it more than just a great movie. Go online and look at all the photos of little girls dressing up as a superhero they can actually look up to. All that would have meant nothing if the film sucked, but in addition to not sucking, it had an undeniable spirit, not just good triumphing over evil, but the feeling that it’ll all work out if we pitch in together and do what’s right.
Whereas nowadays superheroes are written as jerks—I’m looking at you, Ironman, but Thor and Batman and others too—it’s a breath of fresh air to see an origin story that not only starts with innocent happiness but also ends with the hero not completely giving in to the cynicism caused by the trials she’s been through. Yes, she stops superheroing for a century, but in that time there’s no indication that her love for humanity has gone away. There’s something in the framing moments, when she receives the photo Bruce Wayne sent her, that shows she does still believe in the ideals she was brought up with, as confirmed by the one man who taught her most about humanity and she’s now staring at for the first time in a hundred years: Steve Trevor.
One last note, though not about the movie: this was the first time I’ve sat in the recliner seats at a movie theater, and though I’ve been to other movies where the whole place shakes when there’s a big explosion, I felt it a lot more here, and I am not a fan of it! So there. . .

Overall
8.5/10

;o)

Book Reviews: Big Steaming Plate of Graphics

Generation Zero V.2: Heroscape
Having read the first one, and remembering thinking “To hell with the plot, where’s the next hilarious joke?” I gobbled this one up eagerly. And in case I’d forgotten, there’s the always-great “The story so far” on the first page.
The first volume had a superhero vibe, but this one turns fully sci-fi as the team has to go into other realms/worlds/reality spaces to take down the evil corporation that has taken over the town of Rook, Michigan. Unfortunately there’s a lot of talking and little action at first; it takes them being turned into anime to get things rolling. There’s also less funny, though there were still some hilarious moments, like the scary pregnant Stepford smiler, “I second your ‘hrm,’” and “You are all so totally under arrest. . . obvs.”
If anything, the whole story was even more confusing than the first one. More importantly, it just wasn’t as much fun as the first.
3/5

Lady Mechanika Steampunk Coloring Book V1 & 2
“For ladies and gentlemen of all ages.” Nice.
Mechanika is one of the loveliest graphic novels ever drawn, so it’s no surprise the first attempt to franchise it is coloring books of the “Beautiful Victorian heroine.” Sounds like a perfect description.
These appear to be originals rather than taken from the graphic novels, as the first drawing is of an underwater scene not previously shown. (Even in the iron swimsuit she’s curvy and hot.) In most shots she’s holding a revolver in a Charlie’s Angels pose. On the other hand, the gorgeous redhead baddie from the first story makes an appearance, as well as others, so there’s that.
In the second volume the famous jeweled bird makes an appearance, as well as the infamous jetpack, and her costumes become even more outlandish, befitting every kind of climate on Earth. But the best drawings are the ones where she’s being Action Girl rather than just standing there posing. One of the drawings has her in a small skirt, stockings, and a cape; can’t help but wonder if her lower legs were included she’d be in knee-high boots, because it had a distinct 60s vibe.
It’s intriguing looking at these pencil drawings and imagining how they’re gonna turn out.
“Liked the artwork? You’ll love the stories!” Which is no doubt what this is about, right? Getting more people to read the graphics.
3.5/5

Dollface V.1
She’s known as “The Ball Jointed Witch Hunter,” which definitely sounds unique.
A spirit called Lila has come from the time of the Salem Witch Trials to the present, now housed in the body of a 3-D printed hottie. The title of the book is well named, as along with her pink hair and sexy maid’s outfit her face does indeed look doll-like, thankfully not in a creepy way. She’s got a human sidekick and a formerly human sidekick, who now looks like a reject from a ghost cosplay convention. The Necromicon is in there too, and Weird Science and Bride of Frankenstein are mentioned on the same page.
When she wanders into a bar, fielding compliments for the first time, she comes across an enemy when the witch icon pops into her head. Another time she throws herself off the roof and makes a perfect landing, celebrating with a woo-hoo that shows she learned about living in this century quickly. And her exclamation of “Oh fuck beans!” was particularly fun.
Unfortunately the action slows down in the middle as the story goes into a huge flashback to explain how she was built and her spirit came to inhabit the sex doll body. It also shows how Ivan became a ghost blob.
The authors must have thought that, in a story full of witches, animated dolls, and ghosts, nothing needed to make sense. Not true. And sadly it’s not nearly as funny as it hopes to be.
10 pages of covers and bonus.
2.5/5

Flash Gordon: Kings Cross
After a clever recap of past events via radio and movie trailers, the setting remains the movie theater as—is that The Phantom? Yes, twice; he’s got a redheaded sidekick now—they capture a poacher before heading off to Mandrake’s place to see what the next big crisis is. In the meantime Flash has to rescue Zarkov from some Russian goons. Then all they need is for Dale to show up so the plot can get moving, concerning tidal waves striking every coastline in the world.
Now that Dale’s become so serious, I like redhead Junior Phantom, so full of snark. Some of the best moments include:
“Close your eyes and think queenly thoughts.” “Really?” “Well, close your eyes, anyway.”
“Don’t apologize for loving me, darling.” Can’t believe Flash said that with a straight face.
Never expected to see Flash—or anyone—riding a giant bat.
This was not an easy slog; if it wasn’t for the humor I’m not sure I could have made it through. Got too silly in places.
15 pages of extras.
3/5

Great Divide
An apocalypse leaves the human race unable to touch each other and hearing the voices of those they killed, however accidentally. One survivor goes into a bar—it’s both a joke and it isn’t—and gets taken for a literal and figurative ride. From there it’s one survival test after another.
When I was halfway through I noted that I hadn’t found any point to this yet, as though the journey is the actual plot. I think the dog is the hero of this story, because the otherwise main character is best described here: “It’s hard to go more than a few hours without punching him in the face.”
The best line is “A big box of post-apocalypse puppies.” There’s a Star Wars reference that took me a moment to get. And I love that the biggest piece of currency is a Vampirella comic.
There’s also a dozen pages of exclusive digital content, starting with weblinks to music, coloring pages, an excerpt from a book written by one of the bad guys, and a collection of short stories. Then there’s variant covers and ads, especially for Army of Darkness, which was worth a good chuckle.
3/5

Infinite Seven V.1
Whenever someone gets kicked out of a plane, you always know a flashback is coming.
The basic plot of this story is: What happens when you kill an assassin? You get his job in the assassin squad, though you still have to go through virtual reality testing and the hazing of your fellow assassins, like the woman who shows plenty of bare midriff, even more cleavage, but has a mask over her face. She’s actually pretty intriguing, compared to the German who thinks he’s Ah-nold and names his gun Long Tall Sally.
The author didn’t do his research, or is stuck in the James Bond mode. These are not assassins, they’re mercenary soldiers. Assassins don’t get into firefights, trading quips along the way; they go in silently and take out their target without anyone finding out they were there until they’re gone.
Those making quick appearances include Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch edition), Bruce Lee, George Washington, Chuck Norris, Alien, Clint Eastwood, Chucky, and the bridge of the Enterprise.
There’s a cliffhanger, but it’s pretty ridiculous.
The plot is purposefully too outlandish to be believable, but that’s okay; the problem is in the details. As they say, fiction has to make sense, and there’s too much lazy writing here.
2/5

A Is for Asteroids, Z Is for Zombies
Instead of a good night story, a kid asks his dad about asteroids destroying the planet. Dad remembers a book a crazy relative gave them and checks it out before reading it aloud, a thoroughly smart move.
Though it masquerades as a children’s book, don’t you fall for it either. The looks the dad gives as he reads are priceless. Then, thoroughly scared, he hides in the most ironic place.
This author could teach a class on rhyming, especially with how badly it’s done in today’s music. Every letter gets a stanza, except Z, because zombies are so bad they need seven.
You need a particular brand of humor to enjoy this; I sure did.
4/5

Artful
The book that would nowadays be described as a spinoff of Oliver Twist gives pre-Victorian London a supernatural twist, as the one and only Dodger helps a woman he finds wandering the streets, which leads to much more than saving her from a territorial hooker.
For a non-streetwise lady who picked the wrong place to have a Roman Holiday, Trina sure figured out how to play him easily. Eventually she’s captured by vampires, led by Mr. Fang—really?—so the Artful one has to go save her again, for once sacrificing himself and his future prospects for the good of someone else.
So, turns out Fagin is a vampire. Okay. I suppose that explains a lot, as does what he eventually becomes. Van Helsing looks like he belongs on a ranch in Wyoming, not London. Besides, his son with the relevant name has a bigger part. Dracula wasn’t much of a villain here, used and then sunburned without much of a fight. But apparently vampires can use The Force.
“You’re the hero of this adventure.” Not much meta there.
As a sequel to Dickens, this falls far short. It’s an okay historical vampire story using characters mostly already created, but wouldn’t have been much different without them. It’s simply a literary shortcut. It’s too bad, for I’ve enjoyed this author’s Star Trek novels in the past.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Kid Detectives and Monsters

Little Detectives At School
Like they did in their previous book at home, the Little Detectives are tasked with looking for specific items from a list, this time in crowded classrooms. It’s a simple concept but a popular one, as there are plenty of similar computer-based games for the kiddies to graduate to when they’re older. For now, this should keep them occupied.
4/5

Nile Crossing
Even more than three thousand years ago kids had anxieties about the first day of school. Here we follow a small boy as his father takes him across the river to his new school. He’s excited for something new, but wants to cling to the old.
“The words we do not say fill the hush of dawn.” Kind of an oxymoron—though you can argue it works the same as “The silence speaks volumes”—but sounds beautiful. I recommend you read it out loud. Another line I love: “Not a bad start, as the serpent said when he swallowed the toe of the hippopotamus.” The whole story has a very poetic style, though I’m wondering what age group this is recommended for, as it might be too much for most.
The painting style isn’t meant to be lifelike, especially as far as the humans, but the landscapes, and particularly the skies, are beautiful.
At the end it leaves the first-person perspective and visual style to talk about the classroom and his making a new friend. The author’s and illustrator’s notes are quite informative, making me want to read it all over again from this new perspective. It even includes a glossary.
4/5

Plume
For those who read this blog regularly—stop laughing—this book is by the same author as The Blue Hour, which featured more style than substance while portraying beautiful landscapes. That kinda happens here too, although with a very different subject.
The book starts with a spread containing numerous feathers, to show how different they can be. Each page after that has a painting of a bird and its feather on a white background. And in every shot there’s a bit of a cat stalking it. That’s it.
Thought it’s beautifully drawn, I don’t know how entertaining this would be for kids. The plumes might be dissimilar, but a little one would have to be looking really hard to get that. Maybe they’d have more fun finding the cat on each page.
2.5/5

Roger Is Going Fishing
Roger is riding his bike with Emily in back and Bob (a dog) in the basket in front. They’re loaded down with fishing gear, which makes that much weight on a bike not a good idea even before you throw in the cobblestones. Either bored and evil or not watching what she’s doing, Emily is hooking people and stuff as they bike through town in a heavy rain. Roger always tells her not to fish until they get to the lake, for all the good that does. Pretty soon there’s an angry mob following them like a Benny Hill skit. Even the cow is after them. I feel sorry for the sax player in those high heels.
Cute enough, but not much to it. Seems like everyone was too forgiving in the end.
The artwork isn’t meant to be realistic, so it looks a bit strange to start. It basically comes across as drawings on a white background with some parts watercolored.
3/5

The Call of the Swamp
A couple told they couldn’t have kids find Boris by the edge of a swamp and claim him as their own, without actually checking to see if his real parents are around. After a few years he smells his previous environment and wonders how his life would have been had he grown up there. But after he’s been in the swamp a while he feels homesick for his human parents and house.
Right away it was mentioned that Boris had gills, yet he lives out of water without a problem. I guess the author doesn’t expect kids to get that, but then why bother mentioning it?
As an allegory for adoption, it’s pretty good. Some of the details could have been better, though.
The art is somber gray and yellow, not visually appealing at all, certainly not the bright colors kids expect.
3/5

The Warli People
A rare children’s non-fiction book, about a society that existed in what is now India in 10th century BCE.
In addition to farming and hunting and fishing, they also harvested salt from the sea; hadn’t heard of a civilization doing that so early. The women were artists, drawing on the mud walls. . . or would that be carving? The background of the mostly stick-figure art is orange, which does look enough like mud, as well as brown and other earth colors.
This is like Anthro 101 for pre-schoolers, with more older-level info at the end.
Interesting point: no myths or gods in the artwork, only regular people doing their daily tasks.
4/5

When a Wolf Is Hungry,
A wolf has a hankering for rabbit and heads into town to find a perfect victim. He’s dressed in a tux, then rides a bike; that would be weird even for a human.
On his way to the rabbit’s apartment, he forgets his knife in the elevator, where it’s scooped up by a literal turkey. Every time he goes back home for another weapon, each bike ride increasing his hunger, a friendly neighbor in rabbit’s building co-ops the instrument of death.
The final twist was unexpected, both food and social wise. But I was never convinced as to his carnivore credentials; he’s far too much of a pushover to be a real wolf.
The artwork is perfectly cartoon.
3.5/5

It’s Hard to Swim
Ellie, a purple weinerdog, thinks canines don’t belong in the water, but despite that Doggie is placed in some kind of swimming device and pushed in. Then she’s imagining all the things in the deep water that would enjoy a doggie snack before realizing there was nothing to worry about at all, just the opposite.
A cute little story told in rhyme; don’t be afraid to try out new things is what it’s basically saying. The artwork is exactly what you would expect.
3.5/5

Max and Bird
Max is a cat who wants to be friends with Bird. . . and then eat him. Bird doesn’t think that’s a great idea, mostly because he’s so young he hasn’t learned to fly yet. They make a deal to postpone the eating and be friends for a while first.
They go to the library, which has a whole section on flying. . . but it’s so big they can only reach the bottom shelf. Too bad they can’t fly. . .
It took so long to finally fly that Max forgot all about eating his friendly snack, and wouldn’t have remembered had Bird not been dumb enough to remind him. But then Max wouldn’t have had his existential moment. . .
It’s a rather silly story; I can just picture little kids saying, “That doesn’t make sense!” Compared to most others, this artwork is rudimentary.
3/5

Boston Monsters
In another edition of the “find monsters, not Waldo” books, the hunt leads the reader to places like the ducklings sculpture in the Public Garden, New England Aquarium, Bunker Hill, and the Tea Party port, and ends up being subversively educational. If you’re a monster in Boston, where would you hang out? Fenway, of course, home of the biggest of all monsters.
These were harder to find than the previous books, because I couldn’t tell if some of them were monsters or not; not enough detail, or too far away.
4/5

Texas Monsters
Don’t know why they chose Texas, as there are places with a lot more famous landmarks, plus this covers a whole state when previous editions were in only one city. Even then there weren’t that many famous places; the Alamo—the only obvious one—Houston Space Center, and Route 66 are the features.
On the bright side, more monsters per page!
3.5/5

Washington DC Monsters
DC would seem the most logical choice to set a find-the-monsters book—other than El Lay—though sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart from the politicians.
The first puzzle is at the Capitol, but the scene is so big depth-wise it’s hard to make out if those are monsters in the back or not. There’s a similar problem with the Lincoln Memorial, where the people look tiny and it’s hard to differentiate. On the other hand, the Air and Space Museum, Zoo, and Museum of Natural History were easier to discern as well as beautifully painted.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Empathy and Emojis

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?
Many years ago I saw Alan Alda on a TV show, something about scientific frontiers. While that’s mentioned in this book, he focuses on one particular subject, that of empathy.
It all started with an encounter at the dentist’s, where the man couldn’t get his point across to his patient because he couldn’t stop thinking like a dentist. From there Mr. Alda moved to doctors, stating, “People are dying because we can’t communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another.” Another great quote is, “Not being truly engaged with the people we’re trying to communicate with, and then suffering the snags of misunderstanding, is the grit in the gears of daily life.” There’s some fascinating points where he talks about using acting practices to get doctors and others to communicate better. It didn’t take long for the realization to hit: “Developing empathy and learning to recognize what the other person is thinking are both essential to good communication.”
Here’s a little hint to make this book more interesting: read it in his voice, feel it reverberating inside your skull.
Most of the chapters are small, some only describing an encounter, story, or lesson that led to his conclusions, but it seems to work fine. In explaining how to better explain things, he explained everything really well. Even a book about making communication accessible can be full of jargon, but thankfully this one wasn’t.
4/5

Emoji Adventures Book 5: The Pet Unicorn
Told in first person by a kid/emoji named Annie, this story revolves around her and three others—Dot, her sister with heart-shaped eyes; Kevin, her evil twin; and Billy, a soccer-playing poop—who try to find a unicorn to claim the missing poster reward, only to find it cooler to have an actual unicorn to play with.
It takes a while to get to the first photo, with the quartet inside the fro-yo shop, showing them to be actual emoji heads on stick bodies, with hands to hold ice cream cones (but no stomachs). And yes, Billy is a poop emoji. Annie is a cute brunette with a big smile. Once I see it I can accept this ridiculous reality and treat the story as it was intended. On the other hand, the unicorn is full-bodied, not an emoji (how many times do I have to write that word?). Not forgetting other parts of social media, the chapter titles are hashtags. (Dumpster pasta should have been a hashtag too.) And of course they literally live in Emojiville.
There’s plenty of humor here, which is really the only thing it needs. Examples:
“The Ancient Egyptians were a lot more sparkly than people think.” I know exactly who to spring that line on.
“All I want to do is take this unicorn to a field of flowers and braid its mane.”
“Shakes her mane around like she’s at a heavy metal concert.” But later it’s said that unicorns like Taylor Swift, which pretty much explains everything.
And I’d gotten so into thinking of them as kids that I didn’t get their disgust when the unicorn licked Billy.
Quite an enjoyable little story, though I can’t help but think it would have been just the same without the emoji conceit. If there’s a moral here, it’s on the last page: always take the reward money. The author lists his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at the end; bet he gets inundated with emoji suggestions for the next book. And I can’t help but wonder if the upcoming Emoji movie is based on one of these books (is Sir Patrick Stewart really playing the poop?).
4/5

101 Things to Do Instead of Playing on Your Phone
I love it when the title tells you everything you need to know. However, I’m reading this on a tablet, so it was a little hard remembering it’s meant to be a physical book, which makes things like Draw a Selfie and Coloring very difficult, though not as impossible as Cutting out the Paper Airplane.
Kids’ games abound, my faves being I Spy and Cloud Zoo. Smile at someone, see if they smile back. Play Fashion Adviser has too much opportunity to turn to the dark side. I particularly like the Giving Awards one, though the fun in it is coming up with the right awards.
But there’s also quite a bit of stuff like Write Your Grocery List for Tonight’s Meal or Bucket List where it’s the same as doing it on the phone, and would be simpler. Still, most of it is fun stuff, as well as things to think about.
4/5

Wolf
A philosophy grad student at Northwestern, who despite seemingly being a good girl keeps getting into perilous dumb situations and poker games, comes across the dead body of her advisor just as he was planning to ruin her career. In addition to that there’s a Russian mafia plot that makes things convoluted, with too many characters to keep straight and flashbacks that spoil the flow.
But the author’s main purpose in writing this story is the rape culture and drugging found in colleges today, especially at frats. There’s an avenger that kicks ass—literally—but unfortunately she’s not the main character. Instead we get Jessica, the Montana cowgirl philosopher with a love of Nietzsche, who at least three times in this story passes out, either stone drunk or drugged. Yet at the end there she is getting drunk again. Did the author really intend to make her protagonist seem so stupid? Or is it trying to impart the belief that even the smartest can fall prey to drugs and evil guys. . . over and over and over? Still, you’d think that, short of admitting she was an alcoholic, she’d learn not to drink so much. It’s hard to respect people, especially those who think of themselves as so intelligent, who can’t figure things out.
Despite that the writing is pretty good, with plenty of droplets of humor. There’s a cute mention of Star Trek: The Next Generation near the end that fans will love.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Why Do I Read So Much Kid Stuff?

Some people are just allergic to logic. . .

Pirate John-Wolf
Plenty of ominous skull and crossbones wallpaper to start, but the first thing seen is a kinda goofy-looking dog dressed as a pirate while the text tells us about how he always feels weak. The only time he feels strong is when he’s playing and singing in his room. Then he’s whisked away to be a real pirate, where he needs to work on his courage. Luckily the pirate captain needs a musical biographer.
A silly quick story intended to help little ones overcome their fears.
3/5

The Wolf
The cover shows a family of smiling wolves, the pups roughhousing and basically being kids. It’s already apparent that this book wants people, especially kids, to look at the wild canines as something other than hungry monsters in the woods.
The text basically asks a question, such as “Where does the wolf live?” and then answers it, thereby imparting knowledge. Reviewers have mentioned the spelling mistakes, but since this was originally published in Belgium and Holland it seems to be more of a problem of translation. Still, I do wonder if the original used “coniferous” and “deciduous,” amongst other big words that are a good decade ahead of being taught in school.
Some of the artwork is beautiful and would not be out of place in a gallery of the West, like in the Autry Museum.
3.5/5

Want to Know. The Romans
At the start there’s a cartoonish drawing that displays most of the clichés about Romans, like lying on a couch drinking wine and eating grapes while slaves wash their feet; all that was missing was the palm frond fans.
After some more drawings of kids both today and in the past there’s disparate facts, beginning with the army and how they liked to inspire fear so no one would want to fight them. There are also sections on how the Romans lived, going to the market, taking a bath, the various temples, and so on.
Even the kids drank wine. Slaves are treated as a matter-of-fact occurrence. The story of Romulus and Remus is told to the very gory end. There’s an elaborate street scene that looks beautiful despite the slightly goofy style. There’s even a test at the end to see if you’ve been paying attention.
There sure are a lot of blonde and redheaded people in these drawings! With the author being Dutch, there’s a last section on Roman antiquities found in the Netherlands.
Kind of a mishmash. Not at all sure if kids would go for this, since this book is thinly veiled as opposed to those that don’t look like they’re educational.
3/5

What Can Your Grandma Do?
There’s an upcoming talent show at the grade school, but in a twist that I’m glad we didn’t have when I was that age, it’s for the grandparents. There are cooks, painters, dancers, and so on, but Jeremy has no idea what his grandma’s special talent is. The book shows them trying several things, all failures, which makes both of them sad.
Perhaps they should have looked at the cover, where grandma is spinning a basketball on her finger. Pretty sure that even with the ballerinas and hula hoopers, she’s gonna win.
Simple story with effective artwork. Doesn’t try to overdo anything.
3.5/5

I’m Just a Little Someone
A cute little doll sitting on a shelf in a toy store is lonely, despite having all the other toys to play with; unlike Toy Story, apparently only the human-shaped toys can pretend to be people. For some reason—maybe because she looks so sad—no kids want to buy her. Finally she notices another semi-human doll across the way and invites him over to play (Sorry, it’s told in rhyme, so I had to).
It’s a cute touch that the page numbers are given as counting blocks. The art is cartoonish more than any type of realistic, but exactly the brightly-colored no-subtlety kind you’d expect for little kids. The last pages are activities—a lot of them—and author bios.
3.5/5

The Adventure of Thomas the Turtle
Between bright illustrations of forest and water a mama turtle tells her son not to go to the forbidden zone, where his dad was lost so long ago. He’s a kid, one who roughhouses with his sister; guess what happens.
Pretty simple story well told, with a message parents will love, if not kids. Even the humans come off well in this one.
4/5

Beauty and the Beast
I didn’t need to be told this was by the same illustrator as Baba Yaga, for the cover shows the same kind of extremely cute little girl face. The cover also features Beast as a goat.
The prince had a heart of stone, spoiled and selfish, and got what was coming to him from a witch who turned him into a beast. Belle’s older sister is similar, which already differs so much from the more famous version of this fairy tale. And Belle is her nickname, not given name. I’m not familiar with the original story, but I figure this was in keeping with it; do not expect the Disney version here.
Belle is a little too good to be true, but I suppose she had to be in order for her love for the Beast to be convincing.
The drawings, colored pastel-like, are gorgeous, and are of course the highlight.
4/5

My Potty
The premise of this story reminds me of the old movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, only with a little kid’s potty rather than a Coke bottle. Every animal who comes across it uses it for a different thing, none of them knowing what it’s actually for. So after finding out what it really is, does Dog feel a little bit sick after having it on his head? (Well, maybe not a dog.) And how did it not break with the elephant balancing on it like that?
Cute story, well-drawn.
3.5/5

Tobor
Ben has four animal friends to play with, but it’s boring because they don’t have minds of their own. So on his next birthday he gets a robot. Tobor is a full service babysitting/kid-playing AI in a boxy body on legs. But after a long day of playing Ben is tired of his new companion and goes back to his previous pals. And then in the middle of the night he wants to be with Tobor again.
Tobor falls from a tree and goes dark, but it doesn’t take much for a 5-year-old to repair him. Guess he just needed a reboot. And it’s a little creepy how the robot’s always smiling.
If there’s a moral here, I don’t see it.
Artwork is fine, much like a lot of others, awash with bright colors, of which Ben’s curls are the best. There’s a cool page at the front that looks like a circuit board, but much more beautiful.
3.5/5

Nick the Knight, Dragon Slayer
It’s all there in the title: kid wants to be famous by killing a dragon, goes off to fight one, but things don’t work according to plan.
The knight is barely as tall as a dragon tusk. And he’s woefully unprepared, and would be even if the dragon was much smaller. Sword too small, no shield, no armor. Every time the dragon tells him he’s lacking something, he goes back to the village to get it, but there’s always something else.
“Fighting a dragon was not as much fun as he thought.” Even though he hadn’t fought him yet. Finally they fight, albeit on a smaller field of honor.
Boy, those are some big rampant curls! Can’t fit a knight’s helmet over all that. . . oh, he doesn’t have one. Never mind.
Though it feels like a good idea, the story isn’t all that entertaining, in fact gets repetitive (and it’s only 18 pages long!). The writing is tiny even when there’s plenty of room. The artwork is the best part, bright and cheery even on the red dragon.
3/5

When Will Fall Arrive?
A bunny is worried he’ll be lonely without his best friend the hedgehog, who will be hibernating when it’s autumn. So he comes up with an elaborate plan to keep fall from happening: hide the red leaves.
His idea is heartwarming yet incredibly selfish, but of course it works out in the end.
As you might imagine, the artwork is dominated by red, especially at the end when all the leaves are gathered. Like certain cartoon ducks, they were shirts or jackets but not pants.
3/5

Little Detectives At Home
This is like the series of find the monsters books that are popular right now, but simpler, for younger children. It actually reminds me of the app game where you have to find a number of objects hidden in a landscape in a certain amount of time. The difference here is that the scenes are populated by animals acting as humans, though it’s a bit strange that, for example, you have to find a mouse, but it’s the tiny mouse, not the human-sized mouse having breakfast with the other animals. There’s bonus games at the end, to see if you were paying attention.
Simple and clear.
4/5

;o)