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.
3/5

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. . .
3.5/5

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.
3.5/5

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.
2.5/5

;o)

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Book Reviews: Planes, Jazz, Chickens, Smartphones

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
One of the most amazing planes in history gets yet another huge tribute. It’s comprehensive, but also has spots of boredom.
Right away there’s some photos of prototypes that led to the Blackbird, as well as shots of Area 51. Those were cool. Another good entry was the page of tail photos; my fave is the shark.
But it takes a huge fan to get through this; even I needed to take some breaks and refocus. There’s only so many angles of a plane that can be shot, so after a while it feels repetitive. Not putting this book down in any way, since it’s really comprehensive, merely stating it should be taken in small doses.
3/5

Jazz in Available Light: Illuminating the Jazz Greats from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s
As you would expect with this title, there’s a LOT of black and white photos of men—and two women—with instruments, along with some biographic material on each. They’re mostly grainy and dark, and if this was strictly a photography book it wouldn’t be very impressive. As history, however, it works better.
My most enjoyable chapter was on jazz violins. Also the drummers. But it takes someone who is a lot more of a jazz fan than I to appreciate this to its fullest.
3/5

Can Your Smartphone Change the World?
I’m sure people assumed this would be some kinda holistic manual when they saw the title. It’s so much more. What we have instead is the story of a young lady, Erinne Paisley, in western Canada who went viral with her prom dress and used the publicity to make the world better. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s from one of my favorite cities, Victoria.)
She’ll probably blush and deny it if she reads this, but even though the circumstances were different, I’m putting her in the same rarified air as her idol Malala, who is in my top ten of the most amazing and inspirational people in the world. There’s a mention of another on my list, Queen Rania; it’s almost like she was writing this book specifically to get me to love it.
There’s pop quizzes which really aren’t, rather call to actions. More importantly, there’s plenty of advice on how you can make a difference through social media.
In what’s already a thin book there’s a lot of photos, but I think in this case it benefits from being to the point rather than including any padding.
In the end, a phone is just a tool, no different than a pencil, a car, or even a gun. Whether it’s good or bad completely depends on how it’s used. What I like the most about this book is its relentless optimism. Sure, doing what she did and what she suggests is much harder than it sounds, but like the old saying goes, if you don’t play, you can’t win.
4.5/5

A Little History of Archaeology
If I have a favorite archaeology writer, it’s gotta be Brian Fagan, longtime prof at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara). Pretty sure I’ve read all of his books, and that’s saying a lot.
In this entry, Fagan is even more subtlety humorous than usual. I love his note that Layard is the only archaeologist to find two palaces in the same day. Even though I’ve been studying archaeology for nearly 40 years, there’s some names in here I’ve never come across. Others I vaguely remember, or saw the name but didn’t follow up. He’s given me a lot of stuff to research (aka more things to do when I should be working).
I’ve read a lot of books like these—some by Dr. Fagan as well—introductions to archaeological sites all over the world, written for the general public. This does that too, but it goes further in depth, especially with the personalities. I like it.
4/5

For Cluck’s Sake!
Probably not everything you ever wanted to know about chickens, but close.
It starts with a funny intro where the author gives her chicken résumé, as it were. The first photo shows an angry-looking hen, staring at the camera like it’s spoiling for a fight; actually pretty scary. The second photo shows two chickens next to each other, and the pattern in their feathers is quite mesmerizing. The third photo is of a bird with feathers on its legs; it just looks. . . wrong. But you get the gist.
A pea comb is mentioned, but not explained.
Amid all the facts there are quotes that are not about the feathered fowl, but the main noun has been changed to chicken, which more often than not fails. Thankfully the fun facts are indeed fun.
Chicks come out born ready, so to speak.
The egg did come first.
Chickens are smarter than four-year-old humans when thinking long-term.
There’s a literal pecking order; doesn’t say if this is where the phrase originated, but it figures to be.
Plenty of fun or funny stuff, but some uninteresting ones as well.
3.5/5

Fingerprints and Phantoms
Subtitled: True Tales of Law Enforcement Encounters with the Paranormal and the Strange
Told in a folksy downhome style, this is a collection of stories purported to be encounters with ghosts and such, although many lack any. Much of the first chapter has nothing more than “feelings” backing up the title. I’d hoped it would get better in that respect, but in the first third or so the most we get is a haunted hotel elevator.
The best chapter was the one about the shape-shifting dogs of South El Lay. It also seems to be the only unexplained phenomenon that didn’t happen in Utah.
One story involving a Halloween-laden murder might have been creepy due to the surroundings, but also had no paranormal trappings to it. So why is it in here? Similarly there’s a story about a woman who died for no apparent reason—at the time; autopsy findings are not mentioned—on a sidewalk after a shopping trip that cost the most famous three-digit number around. That superstition is the most ghostly thing in the story. It feels like cheating; it annoys me.
It isn’t till the end that the author mentions this is more of a book on folklore than actual paranormal. I will agree that his intention was not to prove ghosts exist, but after reading the title and subtitle, it seems disingenuous.
3/5

Greek Gods and Heroes: Meet 40 Mythical Immortals
A primer on the most famous Greek myths, though there’s bound to be a few annoyed at not being included. Purportedly a children’s book, but the vocabulary and literary content seems at youngest for teenagers, so I’m not including it in a children’s book blog.
The icons look 8-bit, perhaps on purpose, and they’re used in the table of contents, rather than names, which is awesome. Pandora is the closest to human, but even she looks weird, probably because she has practically no nose. Aphrodite is of course blonde, as is Apollo, who looks like a vain surfer dude.
The first is Gaia, showing the page format: a brief description, several other info boxes, a large graphic representation, and so on.
Always happy when I can learn some things too. For example, Themis, who isn’t as well known, was Zeus’ second wife, before Hera (good luck remembering the first!). She was the Fates’ mommy as well as the Goddess of Justice; she was the Delphi oracle before Apollo took it over.
Hera sure got the worst role of any goddess.
“Artemis rarely kills wild animals.” Oh, that’s nice. “She prefers to attack those women who disagree with her or who insult her mother.” And so much for nice. . .
I did not know Sisyphus was the father of Odysseus.
But again, I simply can’t call this a children’s book, as it goes too far into explanations that should have been much simpler for kids. This is probably better for teens, and a lot of adults will like it.
After all this, Orpheus is still my fave.
4/5

Music Legends
A purported children’s book about the greatest stars in rock and roll history. . . supposedly. More on that coming up.
Right away there’s Elvis, who’s described as having “devilish swiveling hips.” Can’t wait for a kid to ask Mom what that means.
More than anything, I have to question the inclusion of some of these, especially with Rush not chosen. At least I’ve heard of most of them, but Blur? This book definitely skews British and Euro. Daft Punk? Well, the author is French. . . I think that after he ran out of icons, he chose his favorites. It’s just that some of these are so ridiculous it brings the whole book down.
Like the similar entry on Greek gods, this one just doesn’t feel like the children’s book it claims to be.
2.5/5

Literary Handyman
A monthly column called The Writer’s Toolbox gets collected and transformed into the Literary Handyman. Actually, the title’s kinda clever, if you stop to think about it.
There’s a moment that made me love this book: the author’s talking about how writing is a solitary endeavor, “just you and your computer. . . or typewriter. . . or clay tablet. . .” Nice.
There’s advice that’s for the most part common sense, though I’m sure most beginning writers don’t think of this stuff. (Warning: on the cover it says “for beginners,” so don’t expect anything in depth if you’ve got some years under your. . . fingers.) The important parts for me were the droplets of humor sprinkled throughout, transforming what might otherwise had been a dry read into something more memorable. It is important to remember that these were originally in a once a week or month format; it’s a lot different reading them all at once.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Rush, Librarians, and Sports

Banged a knuckle and yelled “Son of a–” Then saw a woman glaring at me with a kid, so I finished with, “Preacher Man.” (It pays to know music.)

On This Date
After an intriguing and thought-provoking intro, the book moves to one usually-long-forgotten historical anecdote a day, much more interesting than any one-small-page calendar. Some are more or less expected, even if the particular date wasn’t known, but the fun is in the topics that would usually have no right being in a serious history tome.
Some of my faves. . . okay, a lot of my faves:
March of Dimes (Wow!); Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer; Tokyo Rose; Lou Hoover; Edmund G Ross; Oppenheimer; Massacre on the Tuscarawas; Sherman and Johnston; Columbine; Jingle Bells; the low-altitude barrel roll in a 707; the birth of the Smiley; We Shall Overcome; Marshall wins Nobel Peace Prize; Jack Robinson and Pee Wee Reese (“someone with the guts NOT to fight back.”); Carson McCullers, Karen Blixen, and Marilyn Monroe walk into a lunch; Theodore Geisel (“He was a political cartoonist all his life, meaning he managed the difficult task of being amusing to kids and adults.”); Princess Bride (even Mark Knopfler gets a mention!); and “Surf music is just the sound of the waves being played on a guitar.”
Did not expect the author of a non-fiction history book to go meta, but in one entry he writes about Philadelphians booing their cricket team as a reason the capital was moved to DC. . . then, “Well, no, I was just seeing if you were paying attention.”
4/5

Rush: Album by Album
The title tells you everything you need to know: a bunch of Rush fans got together to shoot the breeze about each of the many studio albums. . . except these guys are either incredibly familiar with the band from working with them, or are musicians—some in tribute bands—music journalists, or similar.
Intriguing forward by the author, but then I’d expect no less when it comes to my favorite band. Oddly, the book isn’t all that long, even with tons of photos, from album covers to concert fliers to pages from comic books! (As graphic novels were called back then, kiddies.)
Not a fan of Dream Theater, but Mike Portnoy seems like a fun guy to hang out with: “The way most kids my age were staring at a Playboy centerfold, I was looking at a Modern Drummer centerfold and salivating over the whole kit.”
The one downside for me was a lot of musical verbiage that went way beyond my understanding, especially about drumming. Was also surprised by how short the Moving Pictures section was, considering everyone calls it the band’s seminal album. As I’m sure every reader/fan will think, they spend too little time talking about my favorites and too much on those songs I hardly ever listen to, if at all. Still, there are nice things said about The Pass and Bravado—yes, among my faves—especially Geddy claiming the latter is his fave to play live. There’s also a great feeling when someone says something I’d already thought of, such as the addendum in Ghost of A Chance. Most of all, the agreement of The Wreckers being such a beautiful song made me smile.
The last 15 pages or so list the contributors, offer a bibliography, and end with a pretty thorough index.
3.5/5

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like
Subtitled: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information
When I started this I thought it would be quick and easy; boy, was I wrong. The format is a photo of a librarian followed by a short quote, with some longer articles to break up what eventually becomes monotony, though once in a while a cute line appears, like “ultimate search ninjas.” For those who have a stereotypical view of what librarians do—or look like—this will change that completely. Very few of the women shown here, for example, wear glasses, and even though I’ve only seen one with a pierced nose in person, there’s plenty of oddly-painted hair and such in here.
But it’s the longer stories that are the highlights. The doll-lending program has to be the cutest thing ever. Amy Dickinson and Cory Doctorow chime in with great articles, but if I had to pick a best, it would be the Montana Bookmobile.
There’s also a fascinating intro, in which the author says: “What made the library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.” Nothing more to say after that. . .
4/5

Battle of Arnhem
In what might be too short to even be called a novella, a veteran of the battle recounts his experience, filled with death, destruction, stupidity, and black humor. There’s tons of tiny details, some of them incredibly interesting.
“It was explained that, when we arrived, we would most likely be disappointed as all the fun would be over.” Wonder how often soldiers have heard that.
For such a short story, there’s a ton of detail. There’s also more to it than just the battle, as after his capture the author was taken to Dresden, along with 500 other prisoners, and was there for the famous firebombing.
But more than anything it gives you the grit and emotion of being that close to an enemy who’s trying to kill you just as bad as you’re trying to kill them. This is exceedingly rare in modern warfare; even as a former Marine I find it hard to imagine what these soldiers went through.
But some things never change, like the incompetence of staff officers, whom he disses over and over.
3.5/5

Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win
Though it clocks in at 128 pages, it felt a lot longer. Formatted in tiny chapters, each section of prose is accompanied by a cartoonish painting with hard-to-read words in tiny script floating around the outsides. It mostly just states facts in a boring manner; every chapter starts with “she was born on” and then “she started to play.” They are good intros to each person, but the lack of style is such that I doubt it would inspire anyone to find out more. I realize this is for kids, but it underestimates the intelligence of its young readers.
The only chapter that I found remotely interesting—not that the women weren’t interesting, it’s the presentation that lacks—was about the final game of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, where over 90,000 spectators packed the Rose Bowl to watch the United States beat China in penalties. Why did I find this interesting? Because I was there.
3/5

;o)

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)

15 Fave Books of 2015

It’s possible for a movie critic to see every movie released, though I couldn’t imagine doing it. It’s be a lot harder for a TV critic to see everything that came out this year, though probably not impossible. But there’s no way for someone to read every book or listen to every song released.
My point is this list isn’t the best books of the year; this is simply my favorite books of the 220 or so I got to peruse this year. And to make things so much easier for me, I won’t do them in any kind of order. . . um, they might be chronological, but not from best to worse or vice versa.

Included are links to my reviews as well as the author’s website.

AlphaStephen Brayton
Female private eye in Iowa martial arts her way through
the bad guys.

Random ElementsKate Donovan
Actress/wannabe FBI agent deals with stalkers, costars, and Machiavellian series creator.

Sweet GirlRachel Hollis
She’s sweet because of the food she makes, not her disposition, but one guy tries to change that.

Cold MoonAlexandra Sokoloff
FBI agent and vigilante serial killer square off for the third time.

InsiderOlivia Cunning
Young journalist goes backstage with metal band; love somehow ensues.

Investigating SherlockNikki Stafford
Everything you wanted to know about the show, just in time for the one-off.

Citizen of the Galaxy–Robert Heinlein
One of the famous author’s sci-fi classics done as an excellent graphic novel.

I am Sophie Tucker–“Sophie Tucker
You may not have heard of this over-the-top actress from the past, but after this you’ll never forget her.

Worrier’s Guide to LifeGemma Correll
All your worries laid out in graphic form so you can laugh at them, and yourself.

History of War in 100 Battles–Richard Overy
Excellent synopses of exactly what the title says.

Secret Kindness AgentsFerial Pearson
Teens learn to be nice rather than cynical; this one will warm your heart.
(bonus—her TED talk)

The Customer Service RevolutionJohn R. DiJulius
Why it pays to be nice to your customers.

Wrapped in PlasticAndy Burns
Just in time for the Twin Peaks reboot.

Jem and the HologramsKelly Thompson
Everything a graphic novel should be: fun!

The Silver ShipsScott Jucha
This first contact story is the best sci-fi of the year!

 

Almost there. . . if this was a top 20. . .

Beauty and Chaos/Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens–Michael Pronko
Pointed articles on all the little things that make Tokyo so fascinating.

Summer of FireKitty Pilgrim
A tour of Europe while trying to hunt down a killer (or just stay alive).

Field Marshall–Daniel Allen Butler
Definitive biography of the one and only Desert Fox.

The Future of SexLexi Maxxwell
If this is indeed the future of sex, it’s in good. . . hands.

;o)

Book Reviews: Modern Women, Actors, and Movies

“Good job.”
“Bad job.”
“Oddjob.”
“Goldfinger!”
The fact she understood a James Bond reference means she’s a keeper.

The Teller
In this present tense story—I can still hear Harlan Ellison in my mind grousing, “I LOATHE present tense stories!”—a naïve redheaded bank teller in Brooklyn steals the check of a man who was just run over on the street, over a million bucks. For around half the story it’s about her guilt, but then things turn much more sinister as she’s threatened by gangsters and then kidnapped into white slavery.
The best thing here is the characters, especially the teller and the white knight detective she improbably pairs with to settle things. It isn’t till near the end that we learn who the true antagonist is, and then there’s a psychological tug-of-war to see who comes out on top, with the lead changing hands often. Perhaps a little too much plot there, but overall a satisfying conclusion.
4/5

Woman Without Fear
A neurotic self-conscious woman is drinking in a bar the night before her big software presentation when a very confident chemist wants to try his experimental happy pills on her. Also a present tense story, though not first person, because you need to get the snail’s point of view. . . yep, you read that right; I learned a lot more about snails than I ever expected to, or wanted.
At around the halfway mark I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen: would she become addicted, or were they placebos? The fact that I was invested enough to speculate tells me how much I was enjoying this.
Despite her crippling anxiety and her love for snails the protagonist comes off as very likable, especially when she strikes up a friendship with the hotel maid, though I think the only reason this is part of the story is so the maid can take a pill and show it works for her too. But the writing style and setting—you never really leave the hotel—were a little below what I desire, though I would have still happily given this a 4. . .
Except for the ending: it’s incredibly ambiguous, and in conjunction with the relative shortness of pages makes me think the story was cut in half, thus setting up a sequel. There were many possibilities as to what really happened, which is fine for a next-to-last chapter, but readers expect the story to be neatly tied up at the end. I felt cheated, and will probably not be reading the sequel; this drops my grade to
3/5.

Character Kings 2: Hollywood’s Familiar Faces Discuss the Art & Business of Acting
This is basically a series of interviews with a few of what are called “character” actors, those whose name you don’t know but as soon as you see their photo you think, “Hey, it’s that guy from that thing!” (BTW, I saw a documentary on Netflix with that title on the same subject, but there was no overlap in the actors chosen; perhaps they were in Character Kings 1, which I have not read.)
Though there’s plenty of great acting and Hollywood notes, I did get tired of the author asking the same questions over and over. It mostly consisted of “How did you get started in acting?” and “How did you get that movie?” which showed a lot of times it’s more about who you know than how good you are. I was surprised by how many different answers there were to “How do you audition?” with some being contradictory to the previous, but then I suppose you have to go with what works for you. There are tons of photos—how much does each photo weigh?—as well as a selected filmography, though it mostly consists of the films discussed, leaving off some I would have liked to have seen included.
3.5/5

We Don’t Need Roads
While I’m not a fan of Back to the Future the way I am, say, of Star Wars or Twin Peaks—since I’ve reviewed similar books here—I liked it well enough to give this a try. On the other hand, because I haven’t seen them over and over, there’s too many things I don’t remember, but that’s not the book’s fault. I don’t know if it’s common knowledge amongst the fandom, for example, that another actor shot about half of the movie before it was decided he wasn’t working out and was replaced by Mr. Fox. Probably even less known is the accident while filming a hoverboard sequence, which nearly cost a stuntwoman her life, but then it’s said that the studio tried to cover it up.
There’s plenty of photos here, but the best part is the interviews, especially Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd, who according to this doesn’t do much publicity. Of particular note is the times Spielberg would go to the studio hierarchy to fight for something he believed in, not knowing the movie had an almost-blank check. Definitely a lot of fun even if you’re not a fan of the series.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Grow Up and Travel, Mysteries and Cookies

I’m gonna live forever. . . dammit, jinxed it.

How to Act Like a Grown-Up
The title says it all: short chapters dealing with the behavior that should be exhibited in situations as diverse as stores, cell phones, driving, Facebook, interviews, sex, voting, watching movies. Not only are the chapters short, the entire book is too, with certain passages repeated in large print, so it’s over pretty quickly. And why is the accompanying graphic a woman’s shoe?
I have no complaints about the text or the ideas. This is a well-written and meaningful book for our times, though it is sad to realize how much it is needed. Yet it’s for that very same reason that I doubt it will do much good. The author writes, “It’s no insult to find out you’ve been wrong. It stinks, but try to be happier that you learned the truth instead of bummed out that you were wrong.” This is the most important passage, because it personifies the hopelessly optimistic tone of this book. Everything is well said, and most people would benefit from reading it. . . but the problem is most people won’t read it because they don’t think they need it, and those who do read it will never admit any of this applies to them. The entire time I was reading I felt like this was all great, but no one is going to follow this advice. And that made me sad. . .
3.5 pushed up to 4/5

Silence
Whereas a few years ago Sweden became a hub for mysteries translated to English, now it’s Germany’s turn; this is the fifth or sixth I’ve read in the past year. The premise is simple: man finds photo, has daddy issues, piques a journalist’s curiosity. But of course things are never that simple, especially because there’s another narrative going on, taking place during World War 2.
For a while the journalist is the protagonist, but when she’s killed this turns from a history mystery to a murder mystery. The new lead is a small town cop derisively described as a “small-town sheriff” who talks to cats. Oh boy. . .
This could have easily been two separate stories, but thankfully they tied together very well. The last twist did indeed surprise me; nothing told me it was coming. And the killing of the journalist turned out to be. . . probably not a spoiler, but why take the chance?
Altogether a well-written book; setting and plot in particular stand out. The one place that could have been improved was the dialogue in helping to set each character apart, especially in the historical storyline; there’s a character guide in the beginning, but I was hoping not to have to refer to it as often as I did.
4/5

Sweet Girl
Admitting I read this rom-com is seriously gonna cut into my macho cred. . . oh, waitaminute, I don’t have any! Never mind, as you were.
Like a confection, I enjoyed this book in two large bites. The best way to describe Max, the main character, is to say that if I had met her in real life I would have turned around and run away as fast as possible. And kept on running. Reading about her is much safer, though I still cringed a few times at how she lets her anger, ego, and stubbornness rule her decision-making, mostly to hide her insecurities and her past.
She starts off as a bartender—when all the alcoholic description popped up I let out a little groan—but conversely this made it easier to accept all the food stuff—no pun—when she gets a job managing a famous pastry chef’s operation. Okay, I’d probably try the pretzel and potato chip brownie, but that’s it. Everyone has her jumping through hoops, but for once she wants something bad enough to keep her mouth shut and work to achieve it.
The other plot is the romance, with a guy whom she at first can’t stand—of course, wouldn’t be a rom-com without that. Other than the reveal of who the “competition” was at the end—saw it coming from the moment she arrived—it was a fun ride, and I figure it’s extra good because I didn’t care for all the food stuff—again, sorry—yet still loved it. I’m going to give Rachel Hollis a big compliment, or rather two, by comparing her to a couple of my favorite authors, Caprice Crane—though not to her level of snark—and Meg Benjamin.
5/5

Fifteen Minutes to Live
The title is misleading, but in a good way, writing-wise; in the reality of the story it’s just as sad.
If you’ve seen the movie “Memento” you know what’s at play here; interestingly, this book came out before the movie, but I’m not sure about story on which the movie was based. In this one it’s a woman who’s suffering from the inability to make new memories, plus she can’t remember anything after high school, which is why she runs off to the guy who was her boyfriend at the time.
There are several subplots that play into her illness, the most important one having to do with a predator teacher. There were parts that left me confused, as confused as the characters; most of it was okay, but it really left me gasping for comprehension at the end until it was explained, but my point is I shouldn’t have needed the explanation. This drops the score from 4 to 3.
The characterization of her illness is well done, at least I would imagine it is without researching the subject. There were many disparate characters, most of which were well-written. And it was kinda fun for me to read a story that basically took place in my backyard, not just Southern California but the Pasadena/Glendale area.
Though I was annoyed to find this is actually from 1998; President Clinton and Daryl Strawberry are mentioned.
3/5

The Amazing Journey
Like a lot of kids, Austin goes on a long vacation before starting college; unlike them, he goes with his father. A trip through Hawaii, Korea, China, Tibet, Nepal, India, London, and Paris makes up this book.
As always, it’s the small touches that sell a travel memoir. I had a good laugh at the obsequiousness of the Chinese tour guide, and mentioning, “This is Mr. Wong. He will be our driver. He is one of the very best.” Yeah, they do that a lot in China, and though I didn’t enjoy my trips there, this was a great moment. Particularly liked his description of the base camp of Everest, seeing the giant mountain without its usual clouds; been there, both literally and physically. What made that section difficult to read was the knowledge that the poverty of the area just got worse, considering the giant earthquake last week.
Always reminded of the diversity of views when I found myself thinking the opposite to his remarks about London and Paris, especially about wandering in each city and its museums. It would have helped if someone told him there was a back door to the Louvre, but he found another way.
What was intriguing was his mention of a few incidents like his eye-stare with a Chinese soldier and his defense of a poor horse, which gave off more of a “look at me, I’m such a good person!” vibe. His son also exhibited a dangerous amount of ego in not telling about his illness, but I suppose in a way that simply makes them more human in the reader’s eyes.
4/5

;o)