Book Reviews: Double-Digit Graphics

Big Nate: Silent But Deadly
Another collection of the long-running comic strip featuring a hapless kid who really should know better—about everything—by now, but particularly about girls and teachers.
“Silent but deadly” was not whom I expected, but for once I was glad it wasn’t Nate.
“Are loopholes anything like Froot Loops?” First answer: I wish. Second answer: I’m hungry.
Nate finally wins one, literally. “Scoreboard!” He’s also got a super nose, so it’s nice to see him not be the butt monkey EVERY time.
4/5

Zen Pencils—Creative Struggle: Illustrated Advice from Masters of Creativity
Another volume of the fun and educational series featuring quotes illustrated, this time with a more specific perspective, as the title tells.
Van Gogh died having sold only one painting. I know that’s not the takeaway from his story, but it’s what I’ll remember.
No mention of Einstein’s wife in that entire section. Huh.
“Mortifying negative.”
Frankenstein is mentioned as the first sci-fi story, but that would be Paradise Lost.
The look on Marie Curie’s face at the gas coming in through the window. . . priceless. And her tongue sticking out in concentration. . . it’s the little things that make these stories great.
Tesla inspired by poetry is classic, literally. “Suck it, Professor Poeschl.”
Frida’s conga line of injuries, culminating in the bus crash, are truly horrific. This is the first time I’ve really seen the difference in size between Kahlo and Rivera played up; age, yes, but him being 300 pounds and her under 100 is staggering. And she really was the first Queen of Selfies.
And of course no book about creativity nowadays would be complete without Brené Brown.
4/5

Old Geezers: Alive and Still Kicking
An old man reads a letter his wife left him after her funeral, which sends him off on a road trip for revenge, followed by two friends and his very preggers granddaughter. Hilarity ensues.
It’s hard to say who exactly is the protagonist here. Could be Antoine, the one who goes off on for satisfaction. Or it could be Pierre, whom we meet first. He looks like a typical aging British civil servant, except for the way he parks. . . in the handicapped zone. That’s probably the only suit he’s ever owned, yet he’s the one worried about the fashion police. And when you consider his career. . .
Wow, someone actually used “progenitor” in a sentence.
“Everyone had a thing for Lucette at one point. You gotta admit that little minx was stacked.” It’s just so weird hearing three old men talking like frat boys. . . though I suppose it shouldn’t.
Best lines: “My (unborn) baby says bite me!” and “They’ve lost their sight, but not their hands.”
Interesting place to end it, but it does set up a sequel.
3.5/5

Valerian and Laureline
(Wow, turns out this has been a series since 1967! How have I never heard of it before? This means Han Solo could have been based on him instead of vice versa! And it was made into a film released this year?!!!
But for funsies’ sake, I’m leaving my original thoughts in.)
In a ship reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon, A Han Solo type and a beautiful redhead look for a cybernetic financial wizard. Once they find him, things get crazy.
It’s visually attractive, though not always logical. The bridge of the ship, for instance, is huge and empty with just the two of them. That is one surprised-looking fish. And my favorite line was, “Artificial intelligences love the old vintage look.”
The way I know Valerian is a parody of Han Solo is that he says, “I have a good feeling about this.”
“Your reputation pales before reality,” the Jabba-like creature tells her. I can only imagine. Have I mentioned how much I love redheads? “Your beauty is celebrated across the universe?” “It. . . it is?”
But as much as I enjoyed looking at the redhead—not as much as most of the male characters did, but still—the story was far too convoluted and seemed to be made up as it went along, much like the protagonists’ plans.
3/5

FRNK: The Beginning Begins
The first artistry we get is a delicious reproduction of cave paintings that look like the ones in Chauvet, France. Things go downhill from there.
A sullen young teen is not looking forward to his fourth adoption, figuring this family will be just as bad as the previous three. He tries to escape, but only makes things worse; in a large shot with a building filling the background, there’s a red arrow to show us where he’s falling. (Thanks for that.)
The kid goes through a glass roof, falls off a wall like Humpty, and goes head over heels down a rocky hill, but other than a band-aid is perfectly fine. Huh. After a lot of ows, they add one more “And ow!” Cute.
I love the redhead administrator for much more than the color of her hair; too bad she’s only appears at the beginning. But then they placate me with more redheads later.
It was never meant to be realistic, obviously—not with time traveling—but some of the small moments, like him running on water, are too ridiculous and didn’t need to be. He takes too long thinking it’s a theme park, then instantly jumps to the most absurd possibility. (The fact that he’s right is just a coincidence.) More than anything else, this kid is just too annoying to root for.
2.5/5

Fragments of Femininity
Seven stories about women and how they view their breasts, and how they think others view them.
Chloe: Women can be ever more vicious in the locker room than men. The protagonist is not who we think at the beginning, which is a clever touch. Easy to see how she lost control when even other women buy into the myth of bigger is better. Still, you have to figure something happened earlier—that this had to be the culmination—for her to blow up so big.
Mathilde: Middle-aged woman leaves her boring husband and kids to be with her lesbian lover and ends up in a bra-burning nude protest. Despite her long letter to her husband, there wasn’t enough background to really get how she so quickly moved on.
Alison: Famous exploitation actress wants to do serious movies. Rather than let the director screw her over by forcing her to do yet another nude scene when her contract says it’s not supposed to happen, she quits not just the movie but her career. This one’s my fave.
Sylvia: Older woman sees photos of her husband with a much younger lady. But rather than go for the divorce, she takes care of him in a fitting way, though I have to say it wasn’t all that much of a surprise.
Faith: A woman goes to an art school to see if she can pose nude, forgoing payment in favor of keeping a few of the results. At this point—being a photographer, I’ve been asked to do this before—I knew where it was going, but it was still a sad realization at the end. Of all the stories, though, I think this one is the most fitting with the topic.
Elikya: Woman in Northern Africa escapes her arranged marriage and gets lost in the desert until saved by an apprentice sculptor/witch doctor. The town is dying and badly needs rain, so he uses her to model a new talisman. If you like anthropology at all, this is for you.
Fleur: She runs a lingerie shop, insisting that her customers are more like friends. She has a diverse clientele, including a stripper who tests out all the new merch. In the end all those friends come in handy when her store gets firebombed.
Obviously some were better than others, but all told intriguing stories. What makes this book all the more interesting is it was written by a man.
4/5

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
“For Iturbide, the camera is just a pretext for knowing the world.” That quote’s not in the book, but when I did research on a photographer I’ve never heard of . . . couldn’t pass it up.
After an intro that’s quite a bit overdone, first story isn’t all that interesting, and the prose is mysterious without a cause. It’s trying to be poetic, but doesn’t say anything, too hoity-toity for its own good. The drawings are so far more impressive than the photos.
The Medusa head of iguanas was awesome, but that’s it. The photos are wonderfully grainy, but there aren’t many. And to be perfectly honest, as a professional photographer of more than 25 years, I can’t say I’m impressed by what’s shown here.
2.5/5

The Campbells: Inferno
The fun starts on the title page, with a funny image of a pirate swinging on a rope with his kids hanging on for dear life behind him. That sets the scene nicely. Actually it starts on the cover, because for a few seconds I seriously thought that was Bruce Campbell.
The way we get background is with the brother reading his older sister’s journal. Had no idea pirate kids are generally no different than suburban kids, especially when it comes to school.
The smartest character is the head leper.
“Lovedumbefied!” I like when they invent new words.
I can totally hear Bruce Campbell’s voice saying the girl’s name: Nutel-la. Though sometimes the look is more Billy Campbell. The artwork is cartoonish, with no attempt to be realistic. There’s silly dialogue and juvenile humor. One of the pirates is named Carapepino, which translates to Cucumber Face.
Too many plots, too many pirates, but it’s kinda likeable.
3/5

Emma and Violette: A Dream for Three
Two sisters are under pressure from themselves and their mom to ace the tryouts for ballet school. When one makes it and the other doesn’t, the family has to deal.
The artwork is gorgeous! I love how cinematographic it is, with characters in the foreground painted out of focus. I particularly like the way the mom’s drawn.

As far as the character, at first she comes off as rigid but shows another side after. At least she listens, if only to her husband. I like the little sister, who still has some innocence, and plays with teddy bears. But my fave character is the dad, who awesomely takes his daughter to the theater. The astronaut and the tree were her best costumes.
Just to prove it’s Paris, there’s the Bridge of Locks.
The girls have every right to be confused, that works well. But I was completely surprised by how confident and understanding the guys were, not at all what you’d expect from teen boys. Maybe it’s because the writer/artist is a man.
For such a short piece, there were some loose threads. Might have worked better without the romance or hip-hop angle, though the last one was over quickly enough.
The artwork is definitely the highlight.
3.5/5

Harmony: Memento
After two arrogant brothers in Ancient Greece have a tiff, the story goes to. . . 4000 years later! Yeah, good luck understanding that.
A young woman is stuck in a cellar, later an attic, being taken care of by an old man who claims to have found her unconscious, but she can’t remember anything.
Best part about her character is her sense of humor, like “This time I really do think I fried my brain.” She’s smarter than she looks, with the “changing clothes” gambit.
I like the part with the bird, and the glass of water. But it really is a strange story, going from fantasy and supernatural to military sci-fi. It ends with a “to-be-continued” vibe and what looks to be a back-cover blurb that gives a lot more info than the actual story.
3/5

;o)

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Book Reviews: Dresses, Crimes, Fire, Cows, and Aliens

A Dress the Color of the Sky
A depressed self-loathing woman who can only find self-worth in sex with strangers checks into a harsh addiction clinic, wanting to save her marriage and do better for her teen son. As soon as she gets to group therapy, the story goes into flashback mode: childhood filled with abuse, moving away from daddy across the country, leaving her ducks behind. She makes a friend, and has her brother, but not exactly what you’d call a great support system. It all shows how she came to be so screwed up, but as necessary as they are to explain how she got to where she is, they sure are tough to get through.
In contrast, the chapters in rehab come across almost slice-of-life. . . if you live in a rehab facility, that is. (For the record, I don’t. . . really! I swear!)
I get why this book was written, but it’s so depressing! It’s sad, but it’s tough because there’s also a lot of funny sprinkled here and there. It took me forever to read, because every time something bad happened to her, I had to take a break.
A few days after finishing I was still conflicted. Had I known what this would be like, I would not have started it. Stories like these are just too difficult for me. But I finished it. I can’t really say I liked it, though there was nothing wrong with the writing. One of the discussion questions at the end asked which half of the book I preferred, and I can wholeheartedly say the present rather than the past. Every time I felt happy for her progress in therapy I got plunged back into her history of abuse. Just too rough.
2.5/5

Twisted Crimes
An elderly couple go to the wrong funeral and end up dead. DCI Sophie Allen—my current police crush—eventually shows up to find out why. Though the reason for the initial crime seems ridiculously slight, there’s no doubt such things do happen. That reason also makes it more difficult for the police to solve it, giving the whole team a chance to shine.
Halfway through I realized that, other than the hike with her husband (which was really work-related), there hadn’t been anything about her family in this one. Considering the previous editions and especially the last few, it seemed glaring.
I love this series. Despite the seriousness of the crimes, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The very last scene wasn’t necessary, but I’m glad it’s there. Also glad the bad guys got what was coming to them, taken down by women, and not just Sophie this time.
4/5

Evil Crimes
In this installment of the fantastic series, DCI Sophie Allen and her squad, as well as cops in other jurisdictions, track a serial killer the likes of which they’d never seen before. There’s a huge twist a little past halfway, where it seems the investigation is over, but it continues on to a great climax that I would not have expected.
Even without all the newcomers in other parts of the country, there’s a lot of detectives to keep track of, and I’ve read every book in the series! Even though that’s realistic, I wish there could have been less people to keep track of. But that’s a minor point.
The writing is as smooth as ever, Sophie is as spectacular as ever, and Rae’s really making her mark. I like that Rae’s transition, while mentioned a few times, isn’t treated as a big deal. But more than anything, it takes an excellent writer to make you have sympathy for the story’s devil.
I’m not going to say this is the best of the series, but it is my favorite.
4/5

Proving Ground
A new security agent, full of insecurities and the weight of being a legacy, is on a stakeout at an airport and then follows her prey to an illicit meet, where everything of course goes wrong. Wouldn’t be much of story if it didn’t, right?
There’s decent surveillance tradecraft in the opening chapter. . . until the end, of course. Unfortunately that’s pretty much the end of that stuff as the plot settles into a mostly usual “girl back in town dealing with family and ex” story. Then it’s about survival.
From the beginning the stubbornness is off the charts. Though there might be such people here and there in the world, most really don’t behave this way in real life, become they end up doing something that teaches them better. . . or gets them killed! Stuff like this makes me like the characters a lot less. For instance, at one point toward the end, when she’s about to do the job she’s been trained for, he again tells her she shouldn’t be doing this. I actually screamed—inside my head—“Dude, shut up! She’s doing this, so either help her or get out of the way!” I was actually wondering if there was anyone in this book who wasn’t stupidly stubborn.
But the absolutely worst moment—trying not to spoiler—happens when she’s rescued but neglects to tell anyone about (something really bad) that’s going to happen. Argh! Why didn’t she? Because then she couldn’t be the hero at the end! This sacrificed any chance I could have had of finding her competent. Also, the cool and calm bad guy, as he was established early on—and what a coincidence that she ends up in exactly the same place he does—is shown being anything but at just the right time for her to notice. Very contrived scene.
Although I enjoyed the writing, I couldn’t help but feel there was too much introspection, in what is a short book anyway. There’s always some, of course, but there was so much thinking here, often hashing out the same ground, that it probably took up half the book. And everyone’s stubbornness didn’t make me feel like rooting for them.
2.5/5

Holy Crap! The World is Ending!
“It was a fairly warm night, a typical summer evening in Southern California.” You know that when a book starts like that, things are gonna get crazy. There’s also what might be the weirdest intro ever, but it sure did the job of preparing me for what was to come.
Which was basically: Earth is about to be destroyed; there’s a way to save humanity; some aliens want to, some don’t; aliens are among us, some of them very sexy; a seemingly ordinary girl is the Chosen One to save the planet.
It’s really cutesy, and somehow it managed to go through the entire book without overdoing it, which might be the most impressive thing. Things get crazy, but oddly enough after a while they get a bit predictable, but at least it’s funnier than previous tries of this kind of story. Even the fact that Part 2 starts at 89% made me laugh. But the most humorous stuff has to be the funny/weird tiny full-color drawings. The cow will haunt me despite her innocent look, especially the one where she’s holding a rose and a bottle of alien wine. . . while wearing a space helmet. In another she’s holding an ankh; I don’t know if I find that more weird or more normal.
I love the contents of the ark of the covenant, so much better than Indy’s version. The historical stuff all goes together nicely. . . if, you know, aliens.
Somewhere along the line the author decided to redeem Inanna, and boy did it work! Big time! I love her now.
Okay, a lot of research went into this. Felt a bit giddy whenever I recognized something, like Gilgamesh. The material is obviously taken seriously by the author, which is why it’s such a surprise that this book was just so darned funny, and fun. You hear a lot about wacky adventures, but this one actually lives up to the billing. More than anything, I have no idea if I would run away screaming or fall in love if I ever met Amber.
4/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Le Temps A Laissie

By Charles D’Orleans (1349-1465), which you have to admit is a pretty French-sounding name.

The weather’s cast away its cloak
Of wind and rain and chilling haze;
It clads itself in broideries
Of crystal sunlit rays.

There’s not a beast or bird but sings
Or cries out in its own sweet strain:
The weather’s cast away its cloak
Of wind and cold and rain.

The whole wide earth is dressed anew:
River, fountain, and brook now wear
Drops of silver, jewels of gold—
The weather’s cast away its cloak
Of wind and rain and cold.

;o)

Book Reviews: Butcher’s Dozen of Kid Stuff

Yes, I just invented “butcher’s dozen” to mean eleven. Somebody had to. . .

Stinky Cecil in Mudslide Mayhem!
A new resident to the pond, a chameleon, is fresh from a pet store and doesn’t know anything, which Cecil finds annoying. More importantly, Cecil’s house gets flooded even though it’s no longer raining. You might be able to guess the reason before you see it.
Gophers being so industrious, it’s no surprise that particular animal has a boat. And a headlamp. And a fanny pack.
Cecil pretends to be smart, but he’d be a goner ten times over without his earthworm friend.
Hmmm, maybe Bigfoot is a giant beaver (not as random as it sounds).
A long sticky tongue IS easier than a fork, especially when you have no fingers.
So anyway, this is a story about cooperation and empathy, or lack of it. Cute and educational, with extra learning at the end.
4/5

Bubby’s Puddle Pond: A Tortuga’s Tale of the Desert
Bubby’s a turtle newly brought to a home in the desert, which despite the landscape has a pond. He makes easy friends with other animals, though I thought this story would be over before it started because the hose looked a lot like a snake!
In the space of a few pages three years take place, which is tough to understand. Other than that, it’s simple enough for little kids.
Last few pages are educational: facts on desert tortoises, including adoption rules, so on.
3.5/5

Caillou: Happy Holidays!
The adorable little scamp with seemingly hundreds of books/stories under his belt—without ever growing older—now takes on Christmas, with a special calendar that shows traditions from around the world.
Cheese pancakes in Austria? Never heard of them, but now I’m hungry.
His little sister takes regifting to a whole new level!
As always, these simple stories will be enjoyable for kids.
3.5/5

Caillou Plays Hockey
As always, I love it when a title tells you everything you need to know.
Though he looks tiny in comparison, Caillou is not afraid to play against bigger kids, who in a reversal of the trope are not mean to him. Of course it helps if he learns how to play first, so he practices with his dad and best friend, imagining scoring the game winner in some big competition, something all athletic competitive kids do, although he seems a bit young for it.
And that’s where it ends. No real finish to it.
3/5

Where is Bear Going?
A small bear goes on a quest and is joined by friends along the way, each stop adding another body part to what they’re going to see. Perhaps the point is for the child reading this to guess, but I couldn’t. Still, it’s cute enough for kids to enjoy.
3/5

Johnny
Johnny’s the nicest being ever, but because he’s a big hairy spider everyone’s afraid of him (wow, the author KNOWS me!).
No real ending to the story, unless you count eating a whole cake by yourself. There’s a lesson here for readers, but the other characters in the story don’t get the chance to learn it.
3/5

Caillou Loves his Mommy
Despite all his toys, the little boy insists on his mom putting down her newspaper to play with him. But it’s during hide-n-seek that their relationship really shines.
The kid is as cute as always, but there’s less of a story here than usual. It’s really just a series of things he wants his mom to do with him. No lesson, either.
3/5

Caillou Loves his Daddy
In this edition, Caillou wants to be just like Daddy, making it different than Mommy’s story.
The first page has the cute little kid asking a question that sounds a lot like the birds and bees, but luckily Dad was smarter than that. After a glimpse through the photo album he wants to dress like Dad, work like Dad, and so on. Then Grampa shows up and makes things more interesting.
This was a lot more interesting than the Mommy volume, but still not as good as those with actual stories.
3.5/5

Caillou at the Sugar Shack
After the last couple of pedestrian entries in the series, this volume actually has a story, where the cute little kid goes to see how maple is harvested from trees. Once warm inside, they get to make yummy stuff out of their crop. This kid, and to a lesser extent his little sister, bring the cute to such levels that it’s almost sweeter than the syrup.
This, along with the hockey book, do the most to prove this series is set in Canada.
4/5

Discover Baby Animals
Pictures of baby animals highlight one fact about what they like to do. Some are more obvious than others. There are three different types of monkeys included. Guinea pigs are an interesting insertion.
The photos are so cute you hardly pay attention to the text, pandas and hedgehogs in particular. Rats not so much. Should get some really small kids interested.
4/5

Professor McNasty’s Collection of Slimes
Rhyming couplets tell the story of young siblings who want to buy some slime. They even take odd jobs from the lady next door to raise the money, the text proving how serious they are by including, “There’s no time for fun.” Unfortunately, like most things bought on the internet, some assembly is required. Even more importantly: read the friggin’ instructions!
Some people will appreciate the rhymes, others won’t. For me it made the story cuter, which is necessary when you’re battling slime, even in a comic context. The illustrations made it even more fun. I did find it annoying that Mom was most worried about her dress.
4/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Two By Shikibu

Not Lady Murasaki, who wrote The Tale of Genji, but rather Lady Izumi; apparently the fact they had the same last name meant nothing in 10th-11th century Japan.
The first one tells exactly why so many people have trouble with meditation. The second is left to interpretation.

Autumn, on Retreat at a Mountain Temple
Although I try
to hold the single thought
of Buddha’s teaching in my heart,
I cannot help but hear
The many crickets’ voices calling as well.

Although the Wind
Although the wind
blows terribly here
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of the ruined home.

;o)