Book Reviews: Post-Thanksgiving

Britannia Volume 3: Lost Eagles of Rome
Having moderately enjoyed the previous two entries in this graphic novel series, I wasn’t against continuing it, as just the idea of a detective in Roman times is pretty awesome. This time he’s searching for the army standards that were lost in battle against early Germans. He’s also got a female sidekick he’s hot for but won’t take advantage of, despite the fact she makes it pretty obvious she’d welcome it.
With so little real estate on each page it’s tough to show detailed detective work, but what there is, is fascinating, especially from a historical perspective.
Storywise, I find it humorous that he’s probably the smartest person in at least Rome if not further, and yet so naïve at the same time. Just about every move he made was the right one at the moment but wrong in the big picture, and he doesn’t get it until it’s told to him. Hopefully by the time the next volume comes out I’ll have forgotten how bad he screwed up so I won’t pity/disrespect him, which otherwise makes him pretty useless.
The art is pretty standard, complimenting the story but not enhancing it.

Dictionary of Dinosaurs
Colorful though not realistic drawings—some even look art deco—of dinosaurs dominate the pages, with plenty of information and graphics strewn about in the area still available.
Pronunciation, English translation, size—with a human next to it for comparison—when and where it lived, and diet are all included on each page. And it really is a dictionary, with the entries in alphabetical order.
As it turns out, very few of the lizards get drawings; I assume there’s not enough known about most of them to illustrate them accurately.
Alvarezsaurus is certainly one of the strangest looking, though we can figure out how it was named.
Ankylosaurus would look cute and cuddly if it wasn’t for all those spikes.
Bambiraptor does not mean what you think it means.
There’s quite a few variations on the old triceratops.
Giraffatitan’s name speaks for itself.
Ornithomimus doesn’t live up to its grandiose name.
Oviraptor plunders the same things I do.
Pachirhinosaurus sounds badass, but it’s hard to take it seriously when its head looks like a South Pacific god head.
Hmmm, come to think of it, I learned a lot about dinosaurs. . .

Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots
Just like there’s a site for everything on the web, there’s a doctoral dissertation for everything in the libraries of academia, or at least in the sometimes-fertile imagination of grad students. Here’s the proof, a book about sex robots, though the author would kill me if she saw me writing it so simply.
Right away in the intro there’s humor and self-awareness, which is a good harbinger. Actually, the title starts that with a pretty good pun. From there it delves into the ancient history of dildos and vibrators. Not sure what this has to do with the topic, but it’s fun, at least for a while.
As much as I’m enjoying the writing, I’m a third of the way through and the author seems to have forgotten what the book is supposed to be about in her fervor to provide historical perspective.
Getting through this becomes so tough I long for the humorous interludes, my fave being her running a conference amidst accusations of “bouncing.” Every once in a while she’ll sneak in a line like “I watch sex doll porn so you won’t have to,” and it reminds me why I keep reading till the end.
Despite the humor and conversational style, it really is more like a scientific report than anything else. I learned a lot of things, but not so many on the topic. But the important takeaway is that, even if it felt long at times, I enjoyed reading it.

Space Police: Attack of the Mammary Clans
A British police inspector—of which there seem to be thousands today—wakes up from cryo to find himself on an orbiting space station above Earth, with only one leg. There’s some mention of how he lost it, presumably in a previous book, but nothing on why they took his cryo tube or whatever it is from Earth to the space station. Seems like an excuse to have a contemporary detective move into science fiction.
Right from the start it’s trying really hard to be Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The scene with the microwave is right out of Red Dwarf. {Do I know sci-fi comedy or what?}
Though I’ve traveled through Great Britain a lot, there’s a bunch of Britishisms I’m not getting.
I wish that there was at least one character that isn’t a complete idiot, and that goes for the protagonist as well. Sigh.
This was more silly than funny, not much different than others I’ve read in this genre, except in space.


Book Reviews: More kids’ books than you can shake a stick at

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories
The Bard for kids.
Each play gets a title page, with a famous quote and a mishmash of artwork that shows some of the important points. That’s followed by a small cast of characters, and finally an illustrated text that boils the story down to its essential elements, just enough to know what’s going on.
The easiest way to describe this for Bard buffs is that it’s similar to the Lambs’ book of synopses, only for children. And it’s illustrated like a kiddie version of the Canterbury Tales.
The illustrations are more basic than the words.
The Tempest and Twelfth Night were my faves here.
Not all the plays are here, but that’s no surprise; only twelve, mostly the famous ones.

Ida and the Whale
Ida lives in a treehouse, always daydreaming as she takes in the landscape, wondering what’s out there in the world. A flying whale wakes her up and asks her to accompany him on a trip. Being a redhead, of course she takes him up on it. They go to many strange places, where the whale proves to be a philosophical genius.
The cover is funny, with a little redheaded girl next to a gigantic whale. . . and it’s still not to scale. Later on there’s a visual showing how much bigger the whale is than the treehouse, which is probably going too far, but other than that it’s mostly with her bigger than she should be. In honesty, I suppose it had to be done that way so that the two can communicate, but for someone who’s studied whales all his life—me—that’s a bit jarring, like a proofreader who can’t help but point out the errors (also me).
The prose was good, but the illustrations, seemingly childlike and impressionistic at the same time, are the key here. Those who love blue will enjoy this.

Muddy: The Raccoon Who Stole Dishes
Minimalist artwork tells the story of a bowtie-wearing raccoon who prefers foraging in garbage cans than in the woods, but then insists on eating off plates. I don’t know why his parents call him a picky eater—unless they mean picking through garbage—but that’s definitely not my definition.
Apparently raccoons are OCD about washing, with a strangely high prime number.
The ending did not go as I expected, and I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be a point to all this. Muddy did bad things and got away with them in the end; not only did the punishment backfire, he got to do even more of what got him in trouble in the first place!

Juan Castell and Aunt Sofia’s Giant Book of Please, Thank You, Welcome
Alternating between rhymes and prose, this little book tells of an upcoming visit by aliens and how the nephew of the person in charge of greeting them helps in preparing the world to be nice to them. In so doing he learns a little bit about each of the countries he’s assigned to.
This book is nice enough, with colorful art and usually well-written rhymes. I’m a little troubled by the ending, and I’m not sure why it needed magic, but perhaps it was done to make the kids more interested.

Mack’s World of Wonder. The Cutest Baby Animals
Split into two parts—farm and wild—this book features photos and some silly stick drawings of. . . yeah, you guessed it. The title does not lie!
There’s some really simple quizzes that show this is for the preschool set. Every little article starts with what the baby version of the animal is called, and how it feeds. There’s a big diversity of animals, but I was disappointed not to see a whale or dolphin. Guess they’re not cute enough.

My Favorite Pet: Ponies
Made for the preschoolers, this little book features large photos and some info about ponies. . . but you know that from the title, right?
There’s some incredibly simple quizzes, but then this isn’t supposed to be challenging, just informative, as is the small glossary.

A Day in the Life of a Raindrop
Here’s one that doesn’t actually take the title literally. Instead of some scientific info, it’s a highly stylized cartoon that. . . well, if it teaches anything, it’s strictly by accident.
The raindrop in question is strangely drawn: the body is as expected, with a slightly creepy face, legs, and arms, one of which is holding an umbrella. . . why? Is a pile of wet afraid of getting wet?
If this is for kids, why is the word “oblivious” in there? There are plenty of adults who wouldn’t know that one.
At least the rhymes are well done. Considering his bio says the author has composed hundreds of poems, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. But as a whole this seemed more like a surreal parody for easily amused teens than anything for kids.

Rattlesnake Rules
Told in rhyming stanzas, this book starts by showing off how different animals have different rules before settling into the one in the title.
Using pictographs and a bell she holds in her rattle tail, momma snake—she’s wearing a necklace though she has no shoulders—teaches the little ones all about livin’ the reptile life. There’s rules for humans too, but only one seems to be important: leave the rattlers alone!
I can just imagine a kid asking, “Mom, what does ‘Ace of Spades” mean?”
The artwork features a lot of reds, which at times makes it hard to make out the snakes. And the fact they’re always smiling—which looks more menacing than joyful—makes them look a bit creepy.
More info for the humans in back, more basic facts without rhyme, as well as myths, glossary, and so on.

Brave Thumbelina
For those who don’t know the classic story or need a recap, a lonely woman wishes for a child and gets a seed instead, which grows into a flower that gestates a tiny girl, who’s born fully dressed. After a happy time with her mom in their house, she gets kidnapped by a mother toad, which leads the little one on a long ride of adventures in the outside world. After some good times and bad times she finds herself in the perfect situation and goes to visit her mother, though the fact that Mom must have agonized about her missing daughter is curiously glossed over.
On the first page there’s a huge empty space and really tiny text. Annoying. The situation does not improve.
Little Thumbelina is drawn adorably on every page, though in somewhat of a 20s flapper style. It’s meant to be more stylish than anything else, and probably owes something to the illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s books.

Mina vs. the Monsoon
This book tells of a young Pakistani girl who is obsessed with playing soccer. Sad because the weather prevents her from going out, she tries to make the rain go away—does not sing the famous rhyme but does do a dance—with the help of her trusty, if not real, elephant. At the end she and her mom realize what every soccer-playing kid knows: it’s more fun playing in the mud.
The guide to Urdu and Hindi words would have been more welcome at the front, but at least it’s there.
Not sure what the moral is here. Seemed like a good opportunity to teach patience or acceptance of things you can’t change, but that certainly didn’t happen here.
Boisterously illustrated, with what might be too much color considering how basic the artwork is.

A mosaic on the left hides a number of items listed on the right. The fact they’re the same color makes it difficult, but certainly doable even for small children.
The second page, red, has the viewer looking for a “ladybird,” even though it’s obviously a “ladybug.” Made me chuckle.
Other than that, it’s both pretty basic yet also a nice switch on the average puzzle game.

Around The World in Every Vehicle
I don’t know how true the title is—if I tried hard enough I could probably come up with something they missed—but other than that it’s a good tour of the world, with some famous landmarks standing out.
Nice to see the Charles Bridge in Prague, though the statues left something to be desired. The Haga Sophia looks minimalist-nice. It was an inspired choice to have them drive through Europe, then have the grandparents fly in to drive the van home while they go off to see the rest of the world on faster transportation.
I love the family name: Van Go.
On some pages an incident prompts them to look at similar vehicles around the world: buses, trams, fire engines, etc. It’s hardly ever that fitting with the story, but that’s not what this book is about.
Geographical mistake: They flew around the world twice when they should have gone to Australia between Asia and North America.

STEAM Stories: Robot Repairs (Technology)
In what looks to be a series of 5 books based on the STEAM acronym, this one features the letter T for technology, in the form of robots and their care and feeding.
The robot on the cover looks hilarious!
Great name for a teacher: Miss Eureka. I liked both her look and her personality.
Told pretty simplistically, but with enough fluff to teach kids about technology, especially tools.
Simply drawn, but the better for it. More info on the procedures of each page at the end.

STEAM Stories: The Great Go-Kart Race (Science)
The title is all you need to know about this story.
The kids face various obstacles in the race, like dead batteries and muddy puddles, but no matter how long it takes to get help from a passing tractor or think their next step through, they manage to stay in the race.
Professor Know-It-All! Perfect!
The first page shows the starting line of the race, and there’s a kart in the middle with a smiling kid. . . and right behind him is another smiling kid leaning over so she can be in the shot as well. It looks hilarious.
The last few pages feature a more detailed explanation of the science involved.
The artwork is basic, but cute nonetheless. It doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling, or rather science-telling.

ABC for Me: ABC What Can She Be?
Girls can be anything they want to be, from A to Z
As one would expect, this book goes through the alphabet, choosing one profession for each letter, something girls can aspire to be. I was greatly looking forward to what Q and X would be, but they were kinda letdowns, with the adjectives representing instead of the nouns.
Luckily there’s enough description and artwork to show what each job entails, otherwise it would be really hard for a parent to explain. There’s a good mix, though I know of at least one guitarist who’d be annoyed that she didn’t get in but the keyboardist did.

My Favorite Machine: Airplanes
Like the rest of this series, the artwork consists of photos rather than drawings, a good idea in order to explain. . . well, what the title says.
Pretty complicated ideas are dealt with very simply.
Some of the photos look more like photoshop or even clip art, but they don’t detract from the simple narrative.

Fall is Coming
A rabbit and a bird go on a bike ride, take a nap, and wake up to find the day has gotten cold. Rabbit learns to dress up. . . and that’s it.
As simple as children’s books are, this one is even more so, with big illustrations and minimal text. There just isn’t much of a story. There’s certainly no lesson, as any kid old enough to read this knows what to do when they’re cold.

Knock Knock Boo Who?
A collection of Halloween themed knock-knock jokes. Yep.
Some are really simple, yet still funny, like boo who and I scream. Others make no sense. But basically they’re at the level that’ll make your small child at least chuckle.

My Cat is Sad / Mi gato esta triste
Kid thinks his cat is sad and tries all manner of ideas to bring it out of its supposed funk. It looks more like the kid is what made the cat sad—and mad—with all his shenanigans, until at the end he finally gets it right.
This cat on the cover does not look sad at all. If anything, it looks angry, claws halfway out. Once in the book the cat appears to be sleeping, except when interrupted by another erroneous idea from its human.
Before each new idea there’s the repetition of the kid saying the cat is sad and the cat sleeping, so the book’s even shorter than it looks.
If this is supposed to teach a kid not to jump to conclusions, then I’m all for it. If it was meant as something else, I totally missed it.

My Favorite Animal: Frogs
Like all books in this series, this one features photographs and facts of the animal in question. Sometimes the words are too big for the age of the reader, but they’re probably in it for the photos anyway.
There’s some simple memory quizzes and a glossary, but again, this is about the visuals.

My Favorite Sport: Skateboarding
As always in this series, this book features big bright photos and some text. A little surprisingly, though I guess it shouldn’t be, all the photos here feature young kids on the skateboards, not all of them with protective gear even though there’s a section on that.
It’s certainly informative enough, though I’ve found that most of these books have words too big for readers of the target age. On the other hand, I think they’re more interested in the photos anyway.

Owl Love You
With plenty of rhyme and nightscapes, this book shows a momma owl’s love for her little one as she teaches about the nocturnal world they live in.
Unlike a lot of rhyming books, this one keeps a very singsongy pace, as though the authors actually know how to write poetry in its proper meter.
There’s a lot of hedgehogs, possibly because they look fun to draw. Bats, not so much. The art is done in broad strokes of watercolor, not all that big a deal but fitting with the theme.


Book Reviews: Unicorns, Beagles, and Penguins

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in Unicorn Theater
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, although there are times Phoebe feels left out. I sense a lesson coming. . .
As always plenty of fave moments:
“I am very dead!” Something said at least once every play. Check out the beginning of Zootopia to prove my point.
Double unicorn stare. Those are the worst.
“Real life not dramatic enough for you?” Thanks, dad.
Whenever someone says, “Awkward!” reply with, “I find all social interactions awkward!”. . . on second thought, don’t.
Yep, that’s what “mess hall” means, alright.
“I could not hear you over the sound of how beautiful I am.” So using this line. . .
Very happy to see the electric dragon back. Max needed a fantasy buddy; even Dakota has one.
If I could give this an even higher mark, I would give it just for rhyming pomegranate.
“‘Nostrils Sisters’ sounds like a band my moms would like.” With such great choices, Max might be my fave of all. . .
A few pages at the end teach how to draw the characters; if Sue’s a little scary, good job!
I couldn’t believe it when the first full-length story ended up being better than the strips, but it works here again.

Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously
After seeing the cover, I had to read the description to find out this did not feature Abraham Lincoln, considering the beard and all. Thought it was going to be a “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” kinda thing. But no, it’s not a dead president, it’s about a guy who. . . lives anxiously, in one of the most colorful comic strips I’ve ever seen.
Best moment had to be that dour deadpan fortune teller. And wow, New Favorite Song is as dark as it gets!
There’s one strip where he relates to a cartoon character; I relate to him only because when I was in Japan I ate a pikachu burger too. (It was delicious.) Also, the Selfie.

Snoopy: Boogie Down!
There’s been so many of these books that it’s hard for them to come up with a new theme. This one doesn’t really matter till the end.
Right away there’s a pun worthy of making me wonder if the guy from Pearls Before Swine got the idea here.
I hate bugs, but I’ll adopt the one who knows more than Lucy and Sally.
Never saw the character Eudora before. I like her, especially her fishing style.
The disguised drop shot made me chuckle before I could stop it.
There’s a special section at the end featuring the history of dance in the strip.

Curtain Call
French guy wants to get back to the woman and child he abandoned during a trip to Africa, so he plans an armored car heist with possibly the one person the least in contact with reality in the whole world.
This story feels like it could have been told a lot quicker if it wasn’t for all the frequent asides and explanations as to why things are the way they are. The narrator mentions the armored car robbery he’s planning, but nothing happens for the first half, other than long justifications as to why everyone is racist and/or a homophobe. And that’s only a few of the ways this gets so depressing. Plus I really hated the ending; why didn’t he just do that in the first place?
I’ve read a couple of others by this author, and while it feels like the same kind of narrative, this time it’s even more so. The artwork is of a kind as well, which on the one hand makes it consistent but on the other means the books are not getting better.

Hellicious TP Vol 1
It’s the cute little kids that always get ya, even if they are the devil’s granddaughter. Make it a bored kid—named Cherry—with the power to harvest souls and you get a recipe for. . . well, whatever passes for a disaster in Hell. This ain’t no cuddly Dante story.
“What is that thing, and why is it. . . cute?” I feel ya, dude. I almost feel sorry for the poor death metal musician, though anyone who makes that kind of noise can’t expect much better.
Mom is about as hot as one can expect a horned demon to be.
Cherry grinning maniacally while on a mound of those she’d just killed was almost funny, but the fact is this tried to make me laugh every page and mostly failed. Even the ad for cassettes missed the mark. It should have been better, considering the premise.

Loading Penguin Hugs
Uneven comic strip collection that basically boils down to cutesy motivational cartoons.
Starts with a ghost hug. “You can’t feel it, but it’s there!” I call it a virtual hug, but okay.
Reasons to get out of bed was fun.
I’m gonna try really hard to forget just how much penguins smell. Thankfully I only saw one in here, though it wasn’t giving hugs. Lots of cuter animals, though. (Just occurred to me the penguins might still be loading, considering the title.)
“I made brief contact with a dog!” might just be too cute, as is “I’m awesome trash!”
“Self-love hedgehog” made me think of something completely different.
This will likely end up being TOO sweet even if you’re not all that cynical.


Book Reviews: Tokyo Cops, Loving Lords, and Indie Films

The Moving Blade
In Tokyo a thief breaks into an American’s home during his funeral, stealing some computer files and adding some netsukes and money to his pocket. A tall foreigner follows him and takes him down with, of all things, a sword. That leads to a giant conspiracy of greed in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.
Found it difficult keeping the characters straight, as I am not used to Japanese surnames. That was a problem at the beginning, where everyone’s introduced, but also at the end, when Jamie’s looking for help and everyone’s tracking the bad guy. The conspiracy was also a bit of a problem, because at times it was, oddly enough, too big to follow. Near the end it got a bit overwhelming because of the multiple storylines, but thankfully the book takes the time to wrap things up and solidify relationships without it feeling like a sequel hook.
Wish there had been more on the netsukes, as I find them much more interesting than swords. But then, they’re harder to kill with. . .

Lord of Temptation
The previous entry in this series featured a lot of Hawkridge, a titled but destitute man with more honor—or ego—than is good for him. This story is different in that it’s a regret and fix plot, where the characters have a past they must overcome.
This isn’t the best book in the series, but it is the sweetest. Of course it helps when there’s an adorable ten year old girl as a large secondary character. From a historical perspective, the balloon scene was lovely.

Lord of Vice: Rogues to Riches #6
The last Grenville finally gets her own story, a rich girl/poor boy tale where for the first half of the book he doesn’t know who she really is. It isn’t until he discovers her true identity that his ego and pride get in the way, but then she isn’t perfect either.
In a series full of incredible women, Bryony is my favorite. She was always funny and irreverent, but never ditzy. Quite the opposite, as she turns out to be a financial genius. Here she gets to be the star and takes full advantage. Even more amazing is Max’s sister, Frances. She sounds like someone who could easily fit into the 21st century.
The male protagonist, someone who’s appeared in most if not all of the previous stories, is fully accepting of such unorthodox female creatures, but still has a bug about titles and aristocracy rather than money.
My least favorite character throughout, the mother, got off way too easily, especially since she’d been through something similar with her opera-singing daughter.
But even though the problems are more creative, they’re still due to miscommunication and jumping to conclusions, as are 99.9% of the situations in this genre. I might have given this the highest score otherwise.
My two faves in this series have been the last two, which is how it should be.

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.
As always in this genre, the happily ever after never happens on the first try. What makes this different from most who try and fail spectacularly is that his problem completely makes sense, and is solved just as perfectly. This might be the best romance novel I’ve ever read.
The short story at the end, which is more like a deleted scene from the novel, has a completely different vibe to it, but is equally hilarious. Good to see the nascent Dom on the other side of it, from a psychological view.

Theirs to Protect
A lawyer flirts with a couple of cops while getting coffee. She runs into them again later and things get sexy, followed by things getting serious.
Plenty of humor, which is the most welcome thing here. The plot peters out quickly, but then it is a short story, just long enough for meet cute—twice—two sex scenes, and some angst.

Exposed: The Education of Sarah Brown
An innocent librarian goes to Europe and lets herself be instantly seduced by a photographer. Then she gets caught up in a child slavery ring and things go downhill fast.
While for the most part I enjoyed the story, especially the descriptions and dialogue, it’s written too matter of fact, with little style. Choppy, without flow, making good things feel almost boring.
On to better stuff. I like how complex Sarah is, even in her abandonment issues, but I really love Elsa. The difference in her personality when she’s not being a Domme is wonderful to see. I like when the author repeats one of my fave lines: “free food always tastes better.” The police scenes were also well done.
What I didn’t like story-wise was all the coincidences. Of all the people in Berlin and Amsterdam—and even between the two cities—the same half dozen people keep running into each other. Add Barcelona and things become another level of ridiculous. Strains credulity far too much.
I knew what would happen when Tony joined in, but it was still a good way to lead to the inevitable conclusion.

The Red Ledger Part 1
English teacher in Rio is trying to enjoy Carnaval despite an overeager friend with benefits. Instead her life is forever changed by an old boyfriend, who can’t remember her and has another reason for seeking her out.
It’s a short book, which is surprising when I consider how slow it moves, how often it rehashes the same ground. He needs something from her, but it takes him far too long in his alpha haze to ask her for it. As expected, there are twists and turns in the plot so no one knows who to trust.
Always happy when my alma mater UCLA is mentioned.
Warning: this ends in a huge cliffhanger! It struck me that this was a longer book reduced to smaller portions.

Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out
Considering the title, there’s very little sex, especially in the first half. Most of it feels like a meditation handbook.
Once it does get to sex. . . maybe I’m just different, but she talks about issues—for example, don’t be afraid of eye contact—that in my experience seem strange. To me they’re just natural, everyday things. Why would anyone be afraid of eye contact during sex? I just don’t get it.
The section I most enjoyed was on threesomes. It was the most honest, but it took me forever to get there.
By the end—and it took me months—it felt like only a small amount of people who start this will get through. It’s targeted very specifically: if you’re into meditation and crystals and such, this is for you. Everyone else might get something, but will have to hunt long and hard for it.

True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking
Don Coscarelli is a name I’ve heard of plenty, but his movies are basically a blank to me because I can’t stand the horror genre. The main reason I picked up this book was Bubba Ho-Tep, and having read Bruce Campbell’s version of events, it was fascinating to see it from the other side, so to speak.
This is one of those rare books where you feel like you’re sitting with the author, listening to his stories over lunch, much the way he describes meeting filmmakers when he was young, name-dropping Coppola, Cage, and most importantly Trumbull. It’s just fun, especially if you have any interest in how movies are made. All the more exciting when it’s low budget; gives young filmmakers hope. But at the end he cautions that things are harder than ever for indies, even though production costs have plummeted.
Lots of fun fascinating stories, but ends with the death of one of the main actors.


Book Reviews: Every Day Is Kids Day

Gwen the Rescue Hen
A hen dreams of flying, but is rudely woken up by a tornado that sends her out into the world. After being ignored by a giant artificial version of herself, she’s befriended by a boy, and more shenanigans ensue.
I had imagined from the title that the hen would be rescuing others, but not so. The story is silly but endearing, especially the way the boy and the hen hang out.
The artwork is strange, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For one, the start is done negative style: the background is black and the lines are white inside the chicken coop. Said chicken coop shows long lines of hens at work, but on first impression they looks like music staffs.
Special section at the end on chicken facts. Did not know chickens can see in UV! Imagine the research to find that out. . .

This Is a Whoopsie!
Everything you ever wanted to learn about moose—including the plural—from the clumsiest, most self-effacing example.
Like with reindeer, the other moose kid him, but unlike Rudolph, this guy has no self-esteem. After a while it gets a bit boring to hear him say they should get someone else to tell this story.
“As soon as this page turns, go for it!” As if it wasn’t apparent yet, there is no fourth wall here. Whoopsie’s yell blocks some words, while his fall shatters letters so that it’s impossible to see what’s been said. Annoying for those of us with vast curiosities, but there’s some laughs in trying to fix it.
Finally he learns to go with what he’s best at. Even his bird friend sheds a tear at the end.
The artwork is serviceable, getting the job done without trying to be more than that.

Who Did That? A Whodunit for Children
This isn’t really meant as a whodunit, as any children who know about a particular animal will figure it out. . . and if they don’t know the animal, it won’t mean anything to them anyway. No, this is about a moral, or how a child can be smarter than adults by being simplistic, or something like that.
The story’s also simplistic. It’s a cute tale, but it’s doubtful that this will become one of those books that a kid will want to read or have read to them over and over. Let’s hope the townspeople are smart enough—doubtful—to rebuild using steel.
The artwork is simple as well, though there’s a hilarious shot of a beaver on a Vespa!. . . that’s smaller than him.

Diary of a Monster
A three-headed eight-limbed monster tells its diary about itself, which seems rather strange, when you consider the monster should be the only one reading it.
From what I gather, this was originally written in Spanish. I’m always wary about rhyming translations, ever since college where I had to read The Odyssey in rhyming couplets. Some of these verses come in five lines and no rhyme, which only makes things stranger. Even the ones that rhyme are frequently forced.
I can’t help but think this would have been done better without attempting poetry, but also from a better perspective than a diary; perhaps the monster telling another monster, maybe a baby one, would have been a better way to go. Because as it stands, even though it’s about a talking monster, it should make more sense.

The Bedtime Battle
One’s a blonde princess, the other a brunette tomboy, but they’re BFFs, and together they fight off trolls and work on faster ways of communication, amongst other things. But there’s still time for tea parties and sleepovers, though the latter is interrupted throughout the night by monsters. After a variety of ways to get rid of them, they finally hit on a solution.
It’s never clear if this is some fairy-tale kingdom or just the imaginations of two creative girls, but I guess it doesn’t matter. They’re really different, but they’re best friends. Period.

Little White Fish and the Beautiful Sea
Everything is colorful, including the titles, to contrast the main character. The tiny sea creature wanders around its small part of the ocean while all the others talk about what they think is the most beautiful object in the sea.
The book ends with a classic friendship motif, but more than anything it’s likely to inspire trips to the aquarium, whether the parents had that in mind or not.

Discover Thanksgiving
Like most if not all of the books in this series, there’s less drawings and more photographs, in this case full of turkeys and families gathered around the table. From the history to the traditions to the food to the traffic to football, it’s all in here, a lot of stuff considering the few pages.
Parents should be wary of the last photo, or they might find their little ones demanding pumpkin pie.

I Like!
Both dancers and vine swingers are featured at the start of this book about things kids like to do, ending with a friendship note.
Incredibly simple, but that’s the point, as this is designed to be one of the first books a child picks up when starting to read. The artwork is fun enough, but not the point; this is made for reading out loud.

I Say Thanks
In rhymes that play out over several pages, this book mentions various things to be thankful for, such as food and family and various activities. Aww, the dog didn’t get thanked. . .
Just like others in this series, this tome is designed for those little ones just starting on their reading journey, so there’s a lot of repetition. Should be read out loud.

The Magic Trapdoor
A hole under his bed leads a boy to a place full of dinosaurs, which he then draws when he gets back home.
In the intro the parent is told that the big print is for the kids to read, while the smaller boxed words are nonfiction background on what is featured on the page. This works very well.
There’s a note at the end about the latest research, which is interesting, and leads to a weblink, should the child want to learn more. And they probably will.

Tongue Twisters
A simple drawing is a paired with a classic tongue twister
Hard to figure what age group these are meant for when most adults would have a hard time, but I suppose kids would enjoy trying it. I’d never heard the one about the butter, and almost made it to the end.

Jurassic Giants
As expected, the T-Rex is the star. Seems like half the book is dedicated to that most famous of old lizards. The comparison to the size of a bus was the best I’ve seen; I knew they were big, but not that big. Not quite as much but still impressive was the drawing showing its height equivalent to three elephants standing on each other.
Giganotosaurus looks like T-Rex’s bigger meaner brother. Would probably beat him in a fight, but—and this is weird to say—T-Rex had him on smarts.
There are bright drawings of well-defined dinosaurs, which is good because all the info dumps are dry, like a lecture.
Holy cow, a crocodile the size of a bus! That’s somehow scarier, since crocs are current and dinosaurs are only seen in movies and at the museum.
Nice glossary at the end, along with instructions on how to build your own T-rex, hopefully not to scale.
I’m giving the text a three for being lackluster though somewhat informative; I feel like it’s not interesting enough to keep the attention of the kids who’d be reading this. The artwork, though, earned a solid four. (I was told there’s be no math. . .)

Monster Sharks
This one sets a different tone than the Jurassic Giants entry right from the beginning, describing the first animals on Earth as “Probably weren’t a lot of fun at parties.” Thankfully it did keep things less serious than that other book.
Megalodon takes center stage, of course. Described as torpedo-like for its speed, it was big and strong enough to take down whales. I’ve seen the skeletons, but that fact brings its size into better perspective.
Fork Tail, Sharp Nose, Ironing Board. . . and you thought Hammerhead was weird.
There’s some nice bits of trivia, particularly the possible inspiration for a famous maritime tongue-twister.
My main complaint with the Jurassic Giants book was its dry lecturing tone. This one inadvertently addresses that, being much more conversational. But even though this has more fun stuff to it, eventually all the info makes it feel overwhelming. Still really good, especially the artwork.
There’s a glossary and instructions for making your own giant prehistoric shark, not to scale.

One Day, So Many Ways
Some of you might be old enough to remember the Day In The Life book series, where photos from all over the world described the differences, and ultimately the similarities, between different cultures. This book does the same, only with children and drawings.
Done chronologically, this shows different homes around the world as they wake up and prepare for breakfast, then through the rest of the day. It’s hard to imagine the kids in the poorer regions looking so happy all the time, but then this isn’t exactly meant to be realistic.
I love that quiet time in California consists of yoga. But the sport to play in the Galapagos is basketball? Some entries are kinda silly, as though running out of inspiration, but for the most part they show kids around the world doing what most kids do, which is likely the point.
There’s a lot of info packed in here, but most of it is captions on the drawings, so many that they seem to overflow the pages.
At the end there’s a list of countries, flags and small details on each, all topped by a Russian girl doing a handstand.

Simone de Beauvoir
The latest in the children’s series featuring introductions to famous women, this entry teaches about a lady whose name is more familiar than her accomplishments.
There’s an interesting dichotomy to her father, wherein he’s very progressive in wanting his daughter to have an education and get a job, but apparently it was all because he was lazy.
“Mind-mate” as well as soulmate. Nice. She didn’t marry that more-famous philosopher, which must have been shocking at the time but is a perfect example of her philosophy.
For those who have read the previous books in this series, it’s easy to notice this is done in a different art style. Everyone’s always smiling, except when her book comes out.
I guess as an introduction it’s okay, and it certainly peaks interest in learning more. “Mother of Feminism” is a nice touch. But I felt there could have been a little more here.

Silent Night
The famous nativity story told for very young kids, using the lyrics as a backdrop to the rudimentary artwork. Includes the rarely heard third verse.
What is there to say? If this is simply an illustrated version of the carol, that’s fine, but if this is meant as an introduction to this religion. . . not so much. Kids being curious, they’re likely to ask about the words they don’t know, of which there are plenty.

A Hundred Kisses Before Bedtime
A small chick does exactly as the title says, but rather than giving them all to one person, the kisses are spread around, starting with a crocodile! You would think that would be the last kiss in that short life, but in this world crocs don’t eat. Pigs mix with giraffes, monkeys, and lions; there’s even a penguin! Most of the animals have to be in on it, otherwise the chick couldn’t reach high enough for a peck. On the other hand, rarely are the animals, especially the elephant, drawn to scale when compared to the future chicken.
The chick tells the dog good night, but the sun is high in the sky behind them.
Quite a few animals need to be told to shut up.
It’s all really sweet, but you just know kids are smart enough to see the inherent logic problems and ask their nonplussed parents.

Duck Is Stuck
Animals work together to get a waterfowl out of the ice he’s stuck in, though everyone greets him with the same, ultimately rude, question.
Right away there’s a problem: the text is tiny! There’s plenty of room to make it bigger without messing up the artwork.
At the start there’s a page with the ducks sitting in a lake, but one of them is upside down, the webbed yellow feet sticking out. It made me chuckle. Another shows Duck breaking the fourth wall, looking startled to find himself in such a predicament. Nice to see that even a life-threatening situation isn’t taken too seriously.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ
This has to be the strangest idea for a children’s book. . . maybe not so much for a kid growing up in South Korea, but still. . .
Vegetation and animals can do whatever they want at the border’s no-man’s-land, but not people. A grandfather is a unifying figure in the story, as he climbs to the observatory to take in the view over and over. The reader is led to believe he’s looking at the landscape and all the animals described, but of course it’s so much more than that.
Despite the small article in the back, a parent should be prepared to explain to the young reader why grandfather can’t go over there.
Best part of this is the artwork, done in the beautiful style of this part of the world.


Lindsey Stirling, concert,

Lindsey Stirling Evanescence Concert, part 3

Time for the main event, though if you tell Amy I said that I’ll make up stuff about your teenage years.

The Arena
Lindsey’s biggest hit—at least video-count wise—from Brave Enough opens the show with a montage of her career, ups and downs, all the way to Dancing With the Stars. I’m happy the previous videos and special effects are gone, having never liked or understood them. More importantly, the first song is always where I settle in and let the experience wash over me, to the point where I sometimes forget to breathe. I still have a problem with her playing the secondary line in the chorus, though; as before, you can barely hear the main melody on the backing track.

Moon Trance
I think this is the third version of this famous song to be on tour, featuring new headstones—except for Piers Morgan, of course—and less elaborate zombiefying. (Did I just invent that word?) Had it not been for the visuals, and maybe the almost-creepy pizzicato, this might be mistaken for a joyful song.

Lindsey is honored to be in our presence; she said so. She does a lot of the same moves as before, though without her shadow backup dancers. Instead there’s artsy-beautiful fluid shots on the giant screens, lovely but not as much fun as the previous iteration.

She’s looking at me. . . sideways. A little creepy. . .

Shatter Me
As I’d predicted before the first show, it was indeed Amy Lee doing the vocals live. As much as I love her, it takes some getting used to after hearing Lzzy Hale’s harder-edged throaty roar so many times.

Basically these are here just to prove I did indeed have second-row seats, you blasphemous unbelievers!

Lost Girls
As expected, the sequel follows. This is a perfect example of how the whole show felt a little bit. . . less than the Brave Enough tour. This is not a knock, as I’ll gladly watch Lindsey live anytime, but the feel is just different, more stripped down than the previous versions.

Take Flight
I finally get to see my favorite song live! I still like the DVD version better, but this was more enjoyable than the second interpretation. Seeing Lindsey so high up in the air, like an angel topping a Christmas tree, makes me think of a long ago video when she was introducing her first dancers: Steve-o lifts her up above his head and she lets out a hilarious yelp. This was much higher, but I guess she got used to it.

The only song she never misses, now without limbo backbend.

Roundtable Rival
Crowd fave, of course. Everybody clap your hands!

Hold My Heart
Should have expected ZZ Ward to show up, but I didn’t; this was more surprising than when she did it on the Brave Enough tour. Lindsey only did one magic trick this time, and the colorful costumes were missing, but it’s always fun to watch her pop up from under the curtain, and then hear her after, talking about how she’s a witch rather than a magician.

First Light
After some nerd-credential talk, she asks everyone for their lights, fitting with this song. Rather than use the flashlight on my phone, I put on my lighter app—it even waves in the breeze—but I doubt it could be seen from the stage.
An unsung hero of a song, the new live one from Brave Enough that got its video release during this tour. I always forget to list this when asked for my faves, but it’s definitely up there. Only got a snippet of a vid before she ran away. . .

No elaborate Indian costumes, no levitating chair. Same background vids. Just pure fun, although I did notice it was cut short, and there was no telltale “squeal” that is my favorite note of the entire song.

Don’t Let This Feeling Fade
Still my least favorite song, and done in its entirety this time, unlike the Brave Enough tour when it was paired with Roundtable. I’d be okay with an instrumental version of this. . .

Beyond the Veil
A little weird to hear this song as the encore rather than the opener, but it does kick things back up after the usual “let’s pretend it’s over, then come back” routine. It’s certainly one of the most dramatic-sounding songs in her arsenal, and is a perfect lead-in for the only cover of the night.

Phantom of the Opera Medley
Nice to see her bring back this one from her early days. She adds too many flourishes for it to be a singalong, but considering the voices around me that’s probably a good thing.

So there it is. This was not as majestic as the Brave Enough show, but then it was never going to be, due to a shorter running time to accommodate the other two acts. There also wasn’t enough time to put on the more elaborate stagecraft, so no complaints here. Evanescence made it a musical extravaganza rather than just a Lindsey Stirling night, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
Took me three hours to get home, mostly due to having to wait for the observatory bus, but that’s another story. . .


Book Reviews: Nine More Kiddie Tomes

Cutie Saves Miss Bunny
In the latest installment featuring the Chihuahua that loves to explore the desert, we see a flashback of how she’s rescued from the shelter, then back in the present goes outside in time to help a bunny escape a bobcat.
There’s a hilarious shot of a drunk-looking Cutie on her back, though instead of alcohol she’s gorged on food. She doesn’t look any better when excited, though it would help if she didn’t appear cross-eyed.
As one would expect when bunnies are concerned, there’s carrots. There’s innovative use of carrots. And carrot cake. And who knew rabbits liked music so much?
Fun enough for the little ones, especially if they have a tiny dog.

Poof 123: Touch & Learn Numbers
The kid astronaut faces a crisis when the numbers he’s working with don’t like each other any more. Through rhyme and chemistry, he gets them back together.
This is for really small kids, as in those just barely learning numbers and reading. It’s as simplistic as possible, but I guess that’s a good thing. There is a risk of slightly older kids rejecting it, with cries of “I’m not a baby!”

Anne Frank
In keeping with the “Little People, Big Dreams” series, this is a small children’s book on one of history’s most tragic figures.
Right away there’s facts most people don’t know; for example, she was born in Germany and had a sister, two facts I was unaware of.
The shot of her looking up at the “camera” was disconcerting, but then this isn’t supposed to be roses and unicorns. There’s a bird motif that comes off as both sweet and sinister.
After the story is over there’s a timeline, repeating the text but this time with photos instead of drawings.
Especially poignant if you’ve ever been to the museum in Amsterdam.

Jane Austen
This edition of the “Little People, Big Dreams” series features one of England’s most famous authors.
As always in these books, I learn things too, for example that she came from a family of 8. Don’t know why I find that surprising, but I do. Luckily her father, who was a tutor, let her and her sister attend the classes, something rare for girls in those days.
Big new fact: Pride and Prejudice came from a real incident in her life.
Even though I’ve never been a fan of her works, this served to humanize her a bit.
As always, the book ends with a timeline and repeated text, with photos instead of artwork.

Mother Teresa
Another book in the “Little People Big Dreams” series.
I wonder if most people ever thought of Mother Teresa as anything but a religious and social figure. Who was she before that? This little book for little kids provides some answers.
For one, she was from Macedonia, though I don’t know if back then it was one independent country or part of Greece and others. When a new priest came to town, who’d worked in India, it inspired her to become a nun and help people. First she went to a convent in Ireland, then off to India; wonder how different things would be had she stayed on the Emerald Isle.
There’s one illustration that features many of the clichés of India, like the snake charmer, with her in the middle, dressed as a nun and smiling.
As you can imagine, this is mostly about her helping the poor.
Like all of these books, there’s a timeline that repeats the text but is accompanied by photos instead of artwork. This time, for whatever reason, I enjoyed the photos here more than in other books.

Jane Goodall
In this interesting entry of the “Little People Big Dreams” series, we see how the famous scientist became fascinated by animals and went off to Africa instead of college, where she was in the right place at the right time to meet a famous scientist and launch her career.
This is my favorite in the series, even though I’ve never had an affinity for animal science. This one’s more inspirational, and will probably get a lot of little girls interested in the environment and saving the animals.

Lucy Maud Montgomery
In yet another entry of the “Little People Big Dreams” series, we get the first one about a historical person I didn’t know.
Right away she’s adorable with her redheaded pigtails.
Considering what a rough life she had—mother dying, father abandoning her, grumpy grandparents—she somehow managed to have a happy childhood, which seems like a bigger lesson than her career as a writer.

I Spy the 50 States
A bald eagle guides the reader over all 50 states and DC. Each page features people, places, and things endemic to the state, as well as three things starting with the same letter, just like the game referenced in the title. Thankfully a lot of them are captioned.
Can’t help but wonder why New Hampshire got a ladybug, and no other state did, but then I suppose it’s easy to run out of ideas with the tiny states.
The eagle appears in every state. Football and baseball players appear in many, provided there’s a team there. Tennessee gets a porcupine.
Some are obvious, a few are funny, but without context it’s hard to see what the author’s getting at with the more obscure drawings.

The Skies Above My Eyes
The cover made me think this would be about astronomy, but it stays on Earth, at least in the beginning, urging the reader to look up whenever they’re outside. From there it indeed goes higher and higher, all the way to the edge of the solar system, before literally returning to Earth, checking out things like clouds and birds that were missed on the way out.
Educational in a fun way, well-written, but the background is incredibly full and distracting. It seems to all be in shades of blue. It brings an artsy side to science, but it might be too much at once.


Book Reviews: Cheaper by the Dozen

In celebration of Labor Day—or something—here’s a mishmash of genres, including non-fiction, poetry, erotica, and comic strips to go along with three entries of my now-favorite historical romance series. . . okay, my ONLY historical romance series.

A Study in Shifters
As you might expect from the title, this has a Sherlock Holmes connection, in this case featuring a descendant of his who’s also a shapeshifter. . . except she can’t shapeshift anymore, after a bad mission she feels really guilty about.
She can still sniff like a jaguar, though. When we meet her she’s trying to solve a locked room puzzle, though there’s no speckled band in sight. She’s rich and lives in Paris, but is sent to investigate a murder in a fancy school in England; never would have thought a book about a shape shifting Holmes descendant would be full of teenage-y cliquey high school stuff.
She starts timid, still scarred by her previous failure, but as she regains her confidence I like her more and more. Given how much time was spent detailing her previous mission, it’s no surprise it has a bearing on the current one.
There’s a lot of mention of her inner jaguar, as though it’s a separate entity, as is her rational Sherlock mind. Strange to think her brain isn’t integrated, but by the end it’s somewhat resolved.
The ending felt tacked on, obviously there just to make a hook for the sequel. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Saving Worms After the Rain
After starting with the history of a small town in Pennsylvania, with far too many people to keep track of, we finally get to the story of an autistic boy, who also happens to be psychic. As the book goes along and the boy grows up, I see some of the reasons for the long winded opener, though not all of them.
There are some really interesting touches with Aspen’s character that are thoroughly unexpected. I’d definitely fist bump him.
It’s a short book, but all the better for it. The only part where a longer story would have helped was the rushed romance, but other than that I’m quite satisfied.
I look forward to reading more of Aspen’s adventures, and I hope many families of autistic people read this too.

Lord of Chance—Rogues to Riches #1
Somewhere on the Scottish-English border, two people are running from their declining lives in London. They match wits in an early version of poker and she wins. In order to help each other, they pretend to be married.
Then their troubles really start.
I couldn’t believe what was written about marriage by declaration, so I looked it up. Never should have doubted, as this author has always been meticulous about her research. I can just imagine her coming across this tidbit and wondering how to use it in a novel, and of course her imagination was up to the task.
Early on I thought the lady was in for a huge disappointment. The jewels are one thing, as real as possible, but the story of where they came from isn’t necessarily true. Even though I was more or less right, the author provides yet another twist at the end.
They make the most of their marriage—except for sex—while it lasts. On the one hand I like their relentless optimism, but on the other it’s obvious it won’t be that simple, or else this would be a really short book. If there’s one thing I don’t like about her, it’s how often she puts herself down. She’s got esteem issues, we get it, which makes it difficult to accept—even though I love the idea—when she becomes a forerunner to Lucy (from Peanuts) and her psychiatry booth.
Since romances always have to end happily ever after, it’s no surprise so many things went right at the end. But it’s not really about plot as much as characters, and after a slow start this pair grew on me. One could say they earned their happy ending.

Lord of Pleasure—Rogues to Riches #2
Lord Wainwright has a reputation as a flirt, and much worse. Camellia has always tried not to be noticed, or appear in the scandal rags. A masquerade offers them the opportunity to get to know each other and fall in love without knowing who the other is.
Reputations are at stake in the second story of this series, though not in the way one would assume. In fact, part of the delight of this story are the subverted expectations, along with how they want to break free of the constraints their very opposite lifestyles have hoisted on them.
Camellia is one of my favorite heroines, forcing herself into the role of a wallflower for the sake of her family, and not complaining when her parents arrange a marriage for her, so her younger sisters can now be courted. But when she turns into Cinderella she finds she loves the role too much to give it up. To my surprise, it wasn’t that hard to like Michael as well, even if he’d been enjoying his reputation and going through life as a rich casual jerk. Seeing his change and growth is even more intriguing than hers, especially because he doesn’t do it to please the woman he’s fallen in love with.

Death in Paris
Man does faceplant into his soup and a former lover thinks it’s murder. She and her best friend, both Americans in Paris, do the Miss Marple thing. No one believes them, of course.
The author interrupts many scenes to talk about the restaurant or café the characters are in. I like the local color when they’re out and about in the different neighborhoods, but eventually it becomes too much, especially the descriptions of the food.
I don’t know if I’m supposed to hate the husband, but I do. There’s a scene where he orders her to stop snooping, and he comes off as such a jerk. There’s an attempt at redemption, but even then he behaves like an ass rather than a loving partner.
I did like the introspection that there’s more to a person than just their crime.
I accidentally, jokingly, guessed the killer. But it truly annoyed me that she went in to face the killer instead of waiting for the police as  promised. That dropped her likeability score a few notches, and worst of all perpetuated one of the worst clichés in the genre. The story would have been much better served if she’d waited outside and the killer had tried to escape, forcing her to follow him.
I liked it, but I could tell it was a debut.

The Darkness In Faith
A female serial killer hunts bad guys, but in a completely different way than Alexandra Sokoloff’s character does. For one thing she’s married, living a double life, finding her victims on the internet and then luring them in with the promise, and sometimes reality, of sex.
When I saw this title, I thought it was going to be about faith, but that’s the character’s name.
Found it clever to introduce a male character that seems destined to be the story’s antagonist, except she polishes him off quickly and moves on to the next one. But instead of killing her latest target, she falls in love with him, apparently because he just as twisted as her. She goes as far as to tell him what made her this way, which is how we know who’s who when she gets kidnapped.
The first thing you see on cracking open this book–metaphorically if you’re Kindling it, of course–is a music playlist, which to my surprise included two bands I know, Evanescence and Halestorm. To make this truly multimedia, there’s some photos scattered throughout, which didn’t do much for me. They came across as completely generic and really didn’t describe what I was reading about, too lovey-dovey compared to the much more dramatic action. And indeed, they’re stock.
I’ve no doubt the author wants me to be on her heroine’s side, but the fact is she’s just as sick and twisted as the guys she hunts. She’s not motivated by revenge or justice; she LIKES torturing and killing. The image of her sucking a cock after she’d just cut it off. . .
Maybe she’s doing it as a twisted sort of revenge, since she was tortured when she was younger. Maybe it’s a form of PTSD, and this is the only way she can cope with it: doing to them what they did to her. Still, that might be an explanation, but it’s not an excuse.
There’s no way to be psychologically prepared for this, because the author keeps going one step further. This was too much for me, so I can’t say I enjoyed it, but the insights were sometimes fascinating.

For those familiar with the author’s works, it doesn’t take long to discover that this story is the reverse of Stolen Flame, the first in her famous series. This time it’s told from the male’s point of view, the hard bitter security guy who can’t help but fall in love with Flame.
This book reiterates why I loved the character of Vivian so much. Even though they love each other, even though he’s become so cold in the last few years, she’s the intelligent rational one. She makes the smart decisions for them, not the emotional mistakes of the former Marine.
If I had to compare, I’d say I liked Stolen Flame more, but both benefit from the other.

How to Self Publish Inexpensive Books and Ebooks
The title tells you everything you need to know, and in keeping with that, this book itself feels inexpensive.
It’s written matter of fact, like a textbook in a class you don’t care about, even though this will only be read by those who do care. There’s plenty here on why you shouldn’t use most companies, with some grudging examples at the end of those chapters that might be okay. There’s huge sections that list publishing companies, which can make for boring reading if not outright skipping. While I’m not saying it shouldn’t be here, as for reference’s sake it’s necessary, it does render an already small book even tinier.
The most interesting chapter was on doing your own publicity.
I don’t have anything against this book other then it’s dry and boring, but then it’s basically a reference book, not meant to be exciting. Still, it didn’t give me much of an impetus to want to read it or do anything with the info.

The Book of Onions: Comics to Make You Cry Laughing and Cry Crying
Another 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.
Right off the bat, the first page, “A Love Story for the Ages,” made me laugh. Good start.
Other faves:
Jogging! I’m on the side of the animals.
What do guitars have to do with capital punishment? Find out here!
“Tell me I’m beautiful.” That’s the second Mirror Mirror on the Wall joke I’ve read this month, and both were awesome.
Kleenex and gun-toting pandas, back to back.
So many more I could have mentioned, but had to draw the blurry line somewhere. Just go check it out for yourself.

Emotions Explained with Buff Dudes
An unconventionally drawn comic strip that’s more the thinking kind of humor than strictly LOL. For example, there’s a great one on how life gets better when you lower your standards. And speaking of that character, it’s not good when Life is the antagonist.
Some faves:
“Never again” was too poignant.
I love the Godzilla boop.
Pessimism is the new “Why are you hitting yourself?”
The internet does not like being cheated on.
Gee, I wonder if this author has student loans!
Emotion is scarier than logic. I’ve always said that too.
Brains, looks, or skinny?
Cup ramen is cute as well as patient.
Told you spiders were asses.
The art is simpler than most comic strips. The main character looks about eight years old. Neither of those facts is a bad thing here.

Stupid Poems 14
I’m not a fan of stupid, but when someone is this self-aware. . . I figured it was worth a shot. Thankfully these turned out to be the fun type of stupid, evidenced by the opening entry, rhyming couplets featuring an opera dragon’s missing part.
Some of the rhymes are forced, and meter is rarely enforced—damn, that’s catching—otherwise this would have been truly fantastic. . . but then they wouldn’t be stupid.
Swan Knight is my fave. The author is obviously an opera fan; good thing I am too, but there’ll be a few people who will have no idea what’s going on in some of these.
The milk one was thought provoking, though I’d be more interested in the first guy who thought a lobster could be eaten.
As far as the love poem goes, I wonder if it’s occurred to him that the problem with his love life might be him making up stupid poems about her. . .

Lord of Night—Rogues to Riches #3
Aristocrat—former aristocrat, now—runs boarding school for unfortunate girls. Early version of cop saves her and a new charge from a ruffian. He’s more interested in finding out who’s been pilfering from rich homes. . . you can guess where this is going.
Best scene: Dahlia and Heath “shaking hands.”
Though I like the main characters, as well done as all the others in this series, I’m not into this story the way I was with the previous two, plus the other I read out of order. It’s hard to pinpoint why I feel that way; perhaps the peripherals weren’t as interesting, though the boarding school certainly had its fun moments. Still worth the read, though.


Book Reviews: Graphic Monkeys and Immortals

Banana Sunday
A teenage girl takes her three talking simians, given IQ boosts by her mad scientist father, to high school with her. Hilarity ensues for most but not all.
I liked Kirby from the first panel; the other main primates are a mixed back. One has a massive ego, another thinks only of mating (with human high school girls), and the third is even more Neanderthal than the students. Kirby makes a BFF who right away says she can’t be trusted, while a guy gives her a concussion with his locker door and then asks her out. And of course there’s a mean alpha, though this one is redheaded instead of blonde.
“For whom the bell does clique.” Nice to see the orangutan can talk about something other than physics.
“Donuts are friends!” “Ducks are good poopers.” “Butterflies don’t fart.” Go-Go just might be the wisest of all.
A lot of the humor is of the two-people-having-different-conversations variety, though I do agree with Chuck about Atlantis. Add his sarcasm and he’s me.
So all in all, a pretty strange read, but funny and heartwarming too. Glad I read it. And remember, only good gorillas are ticklish. . .

Mortals and Immortals of Greek Mythology
A stylized version of the famous myths. Each character has their story told in prose on a colorful background, while illustrations paint the edges. They’re kinda Avant Garde, but some are delightful. The stories are not quick teasers, but take up a few pages of small script.
Hera is drawn as a redhead, which kinda figures, considering her temper.
One of my favorite drawings features Zeus looking annoyed. It’s small and easy to miss, but all the more impressive because of it; the details are exquisite.
Demeter in the wheat field looks amazing.
The story of Helen is told kinda funny, and the drawings add to it. Of course Aphrodite is always naked, and had no doubt she’d win. Atalanta is a story less told, but just as entertaining, as long as you don’t mind downer endings.

Louca 1: Kickoff
Everyone has something they’re good at. . . except this guy. Unless you count making the girl of his dreams angry and/or injured, he can’t do anything right, not even cheating. I don’t think there can possibly be anyone in real life as much of a butt monkey as this, but then this isn’t real life. This comes more into focus when a friendly ghost—not in a white sheet—shows up to help him with classes and, more importantly, soccer. Unfortunately the ghost is a bit of a jerk too, especially the way he peeks into the girls’ locker room.
Little kid #1: “Is he dead?” Little kid #2: “I don’t think so. He’s still drooling.”
Someone doesn’t seem to know the red card rule, but the diving header was drawn beautifully. . . the first one, anyway.
This volume ends before we find out if he gets together with Julie! Darn.
The cartoonish illustrations fit in perfectly with the story, which is a standard coming-of-age believe-in-yourself thing. Luckily the humor was mostly on the mark.

Dejah Thoris: The Gardens of Mars
Young Martian princess wants to bring her dying—and drying—planet back to life. There’s allies and enemies and enemies-turned-allies, all which make the plot last longer than it really needed to.
Even at my most. . . “licentious teenager,” I still wondered why women like Red Sonja were dressed so ridiculously for combat. One could argue that this is how the original version was done so many decades ago, but these metal bikinis, diaphanous gowns, and ridiculous platform heels could use an upgrade, especially with a woman as writer. And isn’t it a wonder that all these men gaze upon her and feel nothing? She’s not meant to titillate the in-world males with her wardrobe, which makes this the very definition of fanservice. And can you imagine the heat stroke and sunburn wearing that golden armor in the desert?
Funniest line: “Uh-oh.” Also “It would be against their custom to kill prisoners. . . I think.”
I applaud the main character’s courage and morals, but the author keeps showing her lack of maturity, as well as too-highly-developed ego, over and over. People die helping her and, like a royal, she’s not bothered all that much by it.
The living chess game turned out to be a big disappointment.
Almost 30 pages of extras at the end, for which I was glad, as I was tiring.


Book Reviews: Not Comic Strippers

Dad: Daddy’s Girls
One father, four daughters. As a man in a similar family situation told me, “I have no idea what god I offended.” Don’t know if it helps or hurts that they each have different mothers. (Though I have no doubt some male readers are pounding their chests with a V sign and muttering, “Respect!”)
Though not in traditional comic strip form, there’s one mini-story per page, with about eight panels each, usually pitting man against girls. You can guess who wins most of the battles. Luckily it’s all pretty good-natured.
A heart attack scare means he wins. . . until he finds out he has to take suppositories.
My favorites are the athletic little redhead and the baby who, even when she can’t walk, beats the old man at a dance video game.
Things can be tough for a teenaged girl—or younger—when her middle-aged father’s an actor in commercials; bad enough he’s the Sniffle Guy, but modeling underwear. . .
I can commiserate with him about putting together kids’ toys feeling like building a log cabin, but I’m glad he didn’t complain about reading to all his daughters, not just the baby.
“I admit it. I’m not the perfect father you thought I was.” Truer words. . .
Despite the sometimes-not-so-playful acrimony, there’s an underlying gentle sweetness to it all. Makes it more than worthwhile.
And if I ever meet a woman named Pandora, I’m definitely calling her Panda. . .

Big Nate Goes Bananas!
Another volume of the comic strip featuring the loveable loser who is completely different than Charlie Brown.
Some of the plots are recurring, such as the name of the baseball team—Cupcakes is infinitely worse than Cream Puffs—and Nate actually sticking up for his sister, while others I haven’t seen before, like uncle Ted babysitting, and Nate being a trendsetter.
But really, after so many, what is there left to say? If you liked these in the past, you’ll like this one too. If you haven’t seen it before, check it out. They’re usually funny.

Sister BFFs
The title tells you all you need to know, and the cover informs as to how basic the artwork is.
My fave line: “You monstrosity!” Other highlights:
There’s a panel that is unintentionally funny to everyone outside Britain, or I guess the Commonwealth: Whoever could have thought it would be a good idea to have separate spigots in a sink for the hot and cold water?
They make up by watching cat memes.
“You’ve a stubborn face, but I’ve done my best.”
“Instead of losing a ball, you gain a ball.”
Some of the text conversations are funny, others go too long.
“Just a normal braid, yeah?” “Obviously.” Uh, no. . .
They do love to body-slam each other. They’re worse than big brothers, and that includes fart stuff. And poo stuff.
It’s actually my job to wear and review pajamas. I’m at work.”
“Why do my hands smell like vegan people?”
I can do without the sound effects that describe exactly what I’m looking at, like “shuffle.”
Back to the artwork. The hands and feet are incredibly tiny compared to the rest of the body, making for proportions that look strange. They both have permanent duck lips. There are times when too much is stuffed into a bubble, making it incredibly hard to read.
All in all, funny enough for a gander. Makes me glad I never had a sister. . .

Sharky Malarkey: A Sketchshark Collection
Since it’s a collection, there are different sections, some better than others. They shall be named: Megan, shark, lady, and dance party.
Obviously Megan is the first, which serves as a good intro for the kind of humor in this book. One of my favorite lines was, “Interrupt me again and I will leave you at the nearest Scientology center!” Another good one is “He’s a Man’s man!” Some of the jokes don’t work, some are too meta, but for the most part this is an entertaining collection. The best jokes are probably the most ridiculous ones.
BUT. . .
It’s bad enough that Megan has the cat from hell—oh, wait, that’s all of them—but she keeps a cat while being ALLERGIC to them? See that flying out the window? That’s any sympathy I might have had.
I didn’t find the shark section funny at all. The only one where I nodded had to do with dogs and babies. Oh well, guess I can’t make a “jumping the shark” remark there.
On to the lady section. The “vertical mermaid” is going to give me nightmares. When someone likes you because you’re “real,” don’t ask them what they mean.
Even the finale dance party gets meta.
I wish I could give it a higher grade, because I did enjoy parts, but there were other sections that I would have skipped over had I known how much I wouldn’t like them. Oh well.

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 these are longer. None of that matters, as this is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
On to the best jokes.
Right off the bat I laugh at the joke that names this collection: how cold the porridge is, and how many there are, and why.
Frogs can do anything with social media.
“I like my glass a little stained.” What started off as a bit of social commentary turned into a well-crafted and slightly naughty joke. Awesome.
“East Hell?” Sure.
Some of these are more incredibly clever than LOL funny, like the Shakespeare lost opportunities.
“Aw, I’m their boo!” I can picture Trump in that role.
That thing about certain badly-named animals. . . totally me.
Yep, don’t trust that road-crossing chicken!
Puppies are so an element.
I admit I had the same thought about Little Red Riding Hood.
Murder-spikes and rainbow tails of pain. Perfect.
Totally get the Rudolph thing.
The dragon that barfs peanut butter could get a job anywhere, even if it is chunky. . . especially since it’s chunky.
“Let me check the rescue/sexual favor exchange rate first.”
Something felt really good inside when I read the blurb on the back and saw that the author writes for The Onion.

Ozy and Millie
Being a huge fan of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, I couldn’t resist checking out the previous strip the author did, and unfortunately I couldn’t keep myself from making some comparisons. Still, it was more than funny enough on its own.
The dragon is either “wise or messing with everyone.” Author’s words. Ozy is way too Zen even for a cartoon. Millie somehow reminds me of Phoebe, but more in her look than in her manner. Personality-wise they’re completely polar opposites. Their moms, on the other hand, are a lot alike, and I’m okay with that. On the third foot, Phoebe’s dad and the dragon have nothing in common. Maybe the dragon and the unicorn. . .
On to the best parts.
There’s little difference between a hippie and a vase.
“I really don’t understand laws.” “Yes, I’ve noticed that about you.”
I’m with Millie: I’d like a six-foot-tall grape too.
There’s a lot more academic philosophy here than in. . . any comic strip ever.
I don’t think the Tao would have approved of stealing a cookie, but Ozy was right to take it.
“You are a little girl.” “Oh right.”
I wanna see what an exaggerated sigh looks on paper!
“The DMV administrator shoots like an Imperial stormtrooper.” I very much doubt that sentence will ever see the light of day in any other situation. Similarly, the glossary at the end is unlikely to be repeated.
At the end there’s a tutorial on how to draw the characters. Remember, “He’s a chill fox.”
The artwork doesn’t vary all that much, though it does seem to have more diversity than the unicorn one. The one thing I didn’t like was the dragon’s font; it was difficult to make out.
If this had been written by someone else, or if I’d seen it before I became a fan of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, I probably would have liked it a lot more. The problem is in not being able to stop myself from comparing. Still a solid read, though.

Little Pierrot Vol. 3
The further adventures of a too-smart kid and his snail sidekick, this time finding him in puppy love with a classmate.
This is the second in this series I’ve read, and much like that other one, this collection of comic strips isn’t so much a LOL kinda thing as much as designed to get a slight chuckle and a thoughtful stare. For example, all the kids dress strangely, but Emily looks like she’s all grown up. . . in the 19th century. Too bad it wasn’t real.
There’s a strange yet beautiful illustration of some kind of mythical creature—maybe a tiny troll—and a soccer ball.
Things grow quickly out of hand in the “Can you see that?” game. An elephant with wings dancing ballet would usually be at the end of such a joke, not at the beginning.
I didn’t find this one as entertaining as the previous, possibly because it was trying to be more adorable than usual with the first love thing.