Top 16 Books of 2016

Yes, I usually do 15, but couldn’t cut it down.
Only a slight blurb here, but I’ve reviewed them all, so throw the title in the search box to the right and have fun.

Red Flags
Fourth in a series, first for me, featuring a female race car driver solving her cousin’s murder at the Long Beach Grand Prix. The description of running a car at over 200mph at Fontana race track is exhilarating.

Unicorn vr. Goblins
Came out just as I discovered this comic strip, which is the only one I read every morning. A self-described “weird” little girl named Phoebe makes friends with a unicorn titled Marigold Heavenly Nostrils; hilarity ensues. Goblins show up too.

Man, I Hate Cursive
Mostly simple self-contained jokes, like “the Far Side.” Sometimes corny but always fun.

Razzle Dazzle Unicorn
Continuing adventures of Phoebe and her Unicorn, as described above. Always hoping for another appearance of Todd the Candy Dragon.

Motions and Moments
Third in a series full of essays featuring an American living in Tokyo. This guy notices more stuff than Sherlock Holmes.

Dark Crimes
The best of a giant spate of detective series coming out of England. Sophie is easily my favorite police detective ever.

When Crocs Fly
Pearls Before Swine is one of the comic strips I lost touch with when my morning routine got truncated, so it was fun to revisit this in book form. Do not read if you are at all allergic to puns.

The Only Pirate At The Party
Anyone who reads this space knows I’m a huge Lindsey Stirling fan—just look at the photo at the top—but I can guarantee that had I never heard of her this book, her autobiography, would still be on this list as an amazing accomplishment. Read it for laughs, for commiseration—especially if you’ve ever suffered through an eating disorder—for the feeling of good triumphing over evil, or any other way. It’s just fun.

Wynonna Earp
You don’t need to see the cable series—I certainly didn’t—to enjoy what might very well be the best graphic novel of the year, in which a descendant of the famous lawman fights evil both human and not, and looks great doing it.

Spaceman
Dr. Mike Massimino is more famous for making fun of Howard on The Big Bang Theory than for actually going into space, but hopefully that will change as there’s more awareness of this incredibly accessible autobiography. Since a lot of people treat astronauts like superheroes—and who’s to say they aren’t?—this book goes a long way into proving they’re just like you and me too.

Baba Yaga
The Russian legend used to scare children into behaving gets a beautiful treatment, with a witty heroine drawn so cute you’ll want to adopt her.

Photographs From the Edge
Art Wolfe is the consummate nature photographer, and in this book spanning his decades in the business he proves it once again. The first photo, of the arctic fox, is stunning, and a fitting opening for what you can expect after that.

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy
The other contender for graphic novel of the year, this story from the “reimagined” version showcases Uhura as well as some new cadets, most of whom are enjoyable to get to know, even the taciturn Vulcan who unfreezes after a while; it helps that she’s got gorgeous green eyes. . .

You Had ONE Job!
A collection of photos that shows Americans not taking their jobs seriously enough to avoid even the simplest of bloopers. Nothing you can’t find on the internet, but packaged here in one place without having to do those stupid slideshows used to show off more commercials.

City of Blood
Police force in Paris look into a time-capsule-type murder, which escalates into a hunt for a serial killer. Unlike most books and especially TV shows, it doesn’t take an hour or even a few days to solve; forensics, autopsy, and interviewing all need time, and it’s given here. Also helps that the lead is completely professional—despite a family illness—rather than dour or suffering an existential crisis.

Fowl Language
A collection from a comic strip about an anthropomorphized family of ducks, with the father having trouble raising the kiddies, or ducklings. The LOL per page ratio is pretty high, as a lot of these get more than just a smile or a chuckle.

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: What He Said

By Oreruravanar, in India approximately 2000 years ago.

Her arms have the beauty
of a gently moving bamboo.
Her eyes are full of peace.
She is faraway,
her place not easy to reach.
My heart is frantic with haste,
a plowman with a single ox
on land all wet
and ready to seed.

;o)

Book Reviews: Kiddie Megapack

“There is no happiness, only moments of happiness.”—Spanish proverb
“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”—Cesare Pavese

Grandfather Whisker’s Table
A teaching story masquerading as a history lecture, set around the famous dangerous-looking horse race in Siena, Italy. A kid who just bought his little brother a toy woodpecker is worried about losing it, so he leaves it with the moneylender, only to now worry about losing the receipt. I feel ya, bro.
The story is cute and sweet, but the artwork is strange, like the heads don’t fit the bodies and have to be tilted. And though this claims to be the forerunner to modern banks, does that automatically make it the first one? Pretty sure the word “moneylender” is in the bible.
There are small articles on the first banks, the city of Siena, and other stuff, along with a timeline, at the end. Some of it might even interest the kids reading it.
3.5/5

Lion, King, and Coin
In ancient Turkey—Lydia, to be exact—there’s a golden river, where a boy named Laos gathers the fungible metal so his father can make ornaments and his uncle can sell them. When someone wants just a piece of fruit but can only pay with a cow, Uncle has an idea, and so money is born. Nice piece on how the coins are made, along with the legend of King Midas.
The artwork is fine, but there’s one long painting of the marketplace with Laos photobombing from the side that is truly excellent. As expected, there’s a lot of golden hues.
At the end are articles on the invention of the coin, the local geography, history of commerce, and a timeline. Kinda strange topic for a history lesson for little kids, but effective.
4/5

A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech
A bare-bones bio of the great president, zeroing in on his civil rights activity, for kids. Beautiful in its simplicity as well as its watercolor paintings. It might be a call to action for those far too young to know much about the Sixties but who might draw comparisons to the present-day tensions in this country.
For someone who’s as big a fan of counterfactuals as I am, throwing in the phrase “History isn’t a straight line” is pure catnip. In this case, had older brother Joe not died in WW2, it’s possible JFK would never have become president. Try to imagine life today without, for example, a moon landing.
In the beginning the author calls him out on not doing more to support civil rights, and as a bonus at the end she explains exactly why she felt the need to do this. Had it not been for this, the book might not have been as good, or at least complete.
4/5

Hold Your Temper, Tiger!
As you can tell from the title, Little Tiger is quite the brat when he doesn’t get his way. He finally learns his lesson because, like most of us, he’s scared of Mom: “Little Tiger didn’t know what ‘or else’ meant. He didn’t want to find out.”
In the artwork there’s a red blob that stands for his temper. He doesn’t know where to hold it, but finally figures something out, saying, “I’ll never lose my temper again. I know exactly where it is.”
Simple but effective story told with simple watercolor drawings.
4/5

Sloppy Wants a Hug
As told in the title, Sloppy the Tree Dragon wants a hug, but Dewdrop the Sprite isn’t about to give him one.
It takes a while to find out why not, which hurts the story a little because Dewdrop comes off as mean; she reminded me of Lucy from Peanuts. In the end we finally find out her “very good reason,” but hey, you’re supposed to put up with your friends’ idiosyncrasies.
3/5

You Can’t Win Them All, Rainbow Fish
The pub calls this “A lighthearted look at accepting loss without losing your sparkle!” Heaven forfend someone lose their sparkle!
Rainbow should know by now that he’s not gonna be good at Hide and Seek, given his bright colors, but he’s a sore loser anyway. Hide and Seek seems kinda pointless among fish anyway, but okay. Besides, it’s the simplistic but colorful artwork that’s the best part of this story.
3/5

Use Your Words
Despite knowing numerous languages, two brothers like to talk gibberish, which pisses Mom off enough to ground them. They don’t care, they go to their room and bounce on the bed until it’s broken so bad they open a hole in reality and end up with some not-so-scary looking creatures who also like to talk gibberish.
Here’s a line you don’t read often: “Then it bent over and held both of its noses.”
The cartoony drawings are helped by the fact the story is Holi (the Indian festival) themed.
I found it a little silly at times, went to extremes for what could have been an easily-taught lesson.
3/5

Wake Up to Love, Lessons on Friendship from a Dog named Rudy
Simple paintings of a dog and his human girl: playing, relaxing, cuddling, licking. Nothing more, but then for the really small kids this is intended for, that’s all that’s needed.
3.5/5

The Magical Forest
A young boy named Wayta has come from far away to check out the forest when he meets another boy, Penjaga, who turns out is the guardian of the jungle.
The opening poem starts with the forest itself saying what it is—mountains, river, etc.—before ending with the classic “We are one, we should play together.” This leads to a beautiful if somewhat overdone painting of a rain forest that foreshadows the coming chapter, as happens throughout the book.
There are some lines that come across as clichés—like “Hear the voice of your heart, your voice will guide you”—but since this might be the first time a kid is reading it, that’s okay. Another is, “Be patient, brave, and have faith in yourself.” Plus be pure of heart, clear of mind, and expect the unexpected. Only by learning each lesson will he—and you—find the magical places he seeks. Much more philosophical than expected, but still at a level that children can understand.
Probably intended as a textbook, since it has discussion questions after each chapter.
Accompanying music is also available.
3.5/5

(As you will no doubt quickly notice, the following book is the Spanish version of the one above.)

El Bosque Magico
Un joven nombrado Wayta ha jornado al bosque para investigarlo cuando conoce a otro muchacho, Penjaga, quien es el guardian de la selva.
El poema que empieza el libro tiene el bosque diciendo lo que es—montañas, rios, etc.—antes de acabar con el clasico “Somos uno, deveriamos jugar juntos.” De alli sigue una bella aunque muy elaborada pintura de la selva que da idea a lo que va a pasar en el proximo capitulo; este escenario continua por todo el libro.
Hay veces que las lineas suenan como clichés—como “Que la sabiduria de tu corazon te guie en cada momento”—pero como esta es la primera vez que un niño lo esta leyendo, sale bien. Otra es, “Debes ser paciente, ser valiente, y tener fe en ti mismo.” Mas tener pureza de corazon, tener una mente clara, y esperar lo inesperado. Nomas con aprendiendo cada leccion se puede encontrar los lugares magicos que se buscan. Este libro es mucho mas filosofico que lo esperaba, pero de todos modos a un nivel que niños pueden entender.
Probablemente intentado como libro de escuela, proque tiene preguntas de discusion despues de cada capitulo.
Tambien ay musica que va con el libro que se puede comprar.
3.5/5

A Chocolate In My Pocket
A cute loving story about a father and daughter brought closer together by chocolate. Also a lesson to parents to not take their kids for granted, certainly don’t put work above them.
I’m a fan of rhymes, and these are intriguing, especially the pattern.
This sweet girl is far too good to be believed. . .
4.5/5

Danny Dingle’s Fantastic Finds: The Metal-Mobile
Pencil-like drawings, almost doodles, are interspersed throughout the story of a schoolkid whose only skills, despite his huge belief in himself, are goofing off and farting.
I think Superdog is a great name for a toad. My favorite line is “A tumbleweed rolled past.”
But seriously, there’s a lot of farting going on. And there’s only so much you can get out of a mediocre kid pretending he’s smart. The beginning of the egg chapter had me cringing.
Not sure what the message is here. Be an idiot, ignore your parents and your schoolwork, still win at the end?
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Exercise, Joy, Legalities, and Archaeology

Do you think the French and French Canadians say Monterey Jacques when ordering cheese?

Undulation: Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young
An easier gentler version of yoga for those of us whose bodies are winding down.
As with all self-help books, be it mental or physical, the first part tries to convince you why you need this. Some of them are actually well-pointed, such as the difference between pain caused by regular physical labor and internal injury. There’s also the difference between small and large movements, as well as an explanation as to who really is in charge, the mind or the body. One line really made me laugh: eels have powerful strong cores, because that’s all they have. Eels can’t fall back on arms and legs.
Obviously it takes a while to feel the effects and benefits of any physical regimen, so I can’t tell you how successful this is yet, but I can recommend this book just for the names of the exercises, some of which genuinely made me laugh out loud:
Hip hiker—Octopus—Paint your head with the floor—Follow the music—Tailbone penmanship—Coffee grinder—Caressed by waves—Barber pole—Tree tops—Train cars—Speed bump—Inchworm—Snake charmer—Tornado.
There’s an appendix that lists the exercises alphabetically.
3.5/5

November Fox – Book 1. Following Joy
This novel was both interesting and weird on many levels, though thankfully most were entertaining. The philosophical ramblings tend to be too much once in a while, but basically it’s an enjoyable ride as we follow a young female rock star through many worlds and even time, all the while searching for some kind of enlightenment, semi-guided by a floating Rubik’s Cube that makes the subtitle literal.
November—thankfully we find out about the name early—turns out to be a happy loopy girl, the kind who says good morning to the furniture and singsongs to herself about everything she sees. On her travels she meets an elephant who speaks in a German accent and only wants cake. This guy is a hoot! Inspired characterization. At one point Captain Picard of Star Trek makes a cameo, and the Borg are mentioned, which makes November the nerdiest rock star ever.
I found it weird that there was an omnipresent voyeur narrating what’s going on with the protagonist. This narrator is even stranger than November, and talks—writes—way too cutesy and mannered. There’s a strange fascination with time, which here is called tick-tock, or cake time, depending on the character. By the end I was thinking I liked November’s story and Erica’s notes much more than the Architect’s philosophical ramblings, and could have done without them.
There was also a promise of music and/or video which could be accessed via an app, but even though there was animation at some points it didn’t work as promised.
Most importantly, November—the character—was so enjoyable. Her story could have been told just as well without the frames, but obviously that’s not what the author wanted.
4/5

Legal Asylum: A Comedy
The wacky behind-the-scenes travails of a state law school trying to be reaccredited and make the top five nationally at the same time leads to hilarity, though only for the readers, not the characters.
The main character is the dean of the law school, a driven and attractive woman who wants to be on the Supreme Court and have sex with just about everyone—compatible goals, I guess. But even with her leading the way there were so many points of view! To my surprise I rather like the member of the accreditation committee who writes notes to be transcribed like Cooper and Diane from Twin Peaks. I liked the tone of the whole thing; it’s not hilariously funny, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like when the chancellor takes Viagra at the wrong time. There’s an interesting tangent on commercialism and Chinese aspirations too.
I wanna root for the Dean of Sexiness, but she’s not exactly sympathetic. And her obsession with being top 5, even if she has an incredibly selfish reason for it, is so ridiculous I can’t stand her. At one point she beats up two librarians and gets away with it, which is the main problem I had with the plot.
Funny how I only moderately liked it as I was reading it, but the ending was uplifting enough to push it slightly higher.
3.5/5

Olmec Obituary
Archaeological mystery? I’m there!
While there is a main character, and a mystery to solve—eventually—the best part is the interplay within her giant family, which has so much genetic mix: Chinese, Welsh, Berber. There’s plenty of supporting cast as well, from fellow librarians to an archaeologist she Skypes with; my favorite was the meek geneticist. But I wrote a note about halfway through where I said I didn’t know what the mystery is supposed to be, or if there was one, which is my main problem with the plot.
Food plays an important part in this family’s life, so there’s recipes—completely incomprehensible to me, of course—and a glossary at the end. But once I look back at it I find I enjoyed it, even though I had some difficulty following the chain of evidence. Didn’t think I would like the Olmec sequences, but it turned out the ballcourt-playing princess was the most interesting character of all.
3.5/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Egrets

From 9th Century China, by Tu Mu

Snowy coats and snowy crests and beaks of blue jade
Flock above the fish in the brook and dart at their own shadows,
In startled flight show up far back against the green hills,
The blossoms of a whole pear tree shed by the evening wind.

;o)

Book Reviews: Everything’s Graphic

Time Share
If you read the blurb and expected this to be like “Back to the Future”. . . you’re right. The first panel alone made me think it. A little later there’s a part—let’s call it homaged—from “Terminator.” And just to make sure, there’s this line: “Roads? We don’t need roads!”–“We do too need roads! Dumbass!”
I wish I could tell you what this was about, other than time travel, but it would be easier to tell you what it’s NOT about, as the plot jumps around everywhere without rhyme or reason. If it wasn’t for the humor I would have quit just a few pages in. One of the characters says, “I am so lost. . . figuratively speaking, I mean. . . okay, literally too.” Join the club.
So I stuck around for the jokes, having given up on trying to make sense of it. There’s silly stuff, like “Teddy! Move!”–“Okay, but I’ll need some boxes!” Then there’s the ever-popular “Hooray for A.N.A.L.!” and “I’m keeping my eye out. . . also my penis.” We find out about the author’s fixations with the lines, “Perhaps I could interest you in some mouth pleasure?” and “Is he requesting. . . mouth love?” How naïve is the defective robot guy? He says things like, “You said a swear!” And I also “have so much sympathy for Pac-Man right now. . .” My two faves were “I was too follow to drugged” and “Horse’s ass of the apocalypse!” which was the most brilliant thing I’d read that day.
Even the cops get their jokes, like playing “One two three not it!” “We’re coming in! I can’t guarantee Frank won’t shoot anyone.”–“Jesus, Al, let it go.” “Target evaluation: Kinda sad, really.” And what are “medium warning shots?”
2/5

Brickleberry V.1—Armoogeddon
According to the recap—one huge star just for including it!—this is about how alien cows took over the planet, with one guy particularly happy about it because of the love that dare not moo its name. The protagonist looks like Peter Griffith if he REALLY let himself go, but hey, he’s the hero, gotta root for him. And since cows are racist too they make really good bad guys here.
“Steve, you’ve returned.” Oh boy, this writing is not instilling confidence early on.
Some of the jokes you can spot from a continent away. For example, I had a feeling the scientist was screwing with him about inserting all the stuff from the time machine. Likewise the “Who’s your daddy?” twist. Thankfully a lot of it is inspired funny lunacy, like the hero’s weapon of choice being a t-shirt cannon; awesome in some circumstances, not so much in others. And spike strips should not be used on humans! Owwie! (There’s a close-up, in case you had any doubts.)
“Way to think on your feet, Wayne Brady.” Wow, that’s a reference I never thought I’d see. Definitely not often Amazon and Obama get slammed back to back, and that’s probably a good thing.
Plotwise there’s nothing new here—except with cows—and a lot of it doesn’t make sense, but it’s so madcap the sense is it was never meant to in the first place. Just be on the lookout for the jokes, which are sometimes too-far or too-soon but always hilarious.
3.5/5

Big Nate: What’s a Little Noogie Between Friends?
This comic strip is consistent in bringing the funny, and that’s all you can ask. Whether it’s soccer, table football, Star Trek: The Next Generation. . . Nate always finds a way to pull a screw-up from the jaws of victory. You’d think it couldn’t get any worse for him than his crush moving away, but when he ends up at the movies next to his nemesis—and they’re mistaken for a couple!—noogies hardly seem to matter at that point.
4/5

Bizenghast Collectors Edition V.1
After a newspaper cutting to set the scene—thank you for that!—the story is told through pencil sketches and grayscale, in which an orphan girl claims ghosts haunt her. Deemed crazy, she escapes her aunt’s house with a boy and they explore a cemetery, finding an underground cathedral-like place that they really should not have entered. From there each chapter takes them on a different mission to help bring peace to ghosts, picking up some snarky advisors along the way.
She might have been a crazy shut-in, but she’s got an amazingly huge wardrobe, while her guardian moans about not having money. She even spouts life lessons such as: “I can do anything with the right outfit.”
That snarky little mask-faced creature easily steals every scene. Communism is bad for your eyes. . . or is that television? He was the most entertaining, with lines like, “Remember we’re parked in level. . . ocean.”
There’s over 500 digital pages and the story’s still not over! Though to be fair the drawings and panels are bigger than most. Toward the end the format changes to a more serialized story, which rapidly becomes confusing.
While the artwork is minimalist, some of the drawings are beautiful. Dinah at one point is wearing a peacock inspired dress that would have been so beautiful in color.
The author included some notes at the end, basically celebrating weirdness; this is not the first time I’ve heard a creator refer to a second version of their work as a “director’s cut.”
To put it succinctly, this was more interesting than I expected.
3.5/5

;o)