Book Reviews: Tokyo, Swine, Cats and Dogs

Fair warning: I’m writing this while watching Lucifer, so who knows what might happen.

Last Train
Hiroshi is a forensic accountant for the Tokyo police, who gets more than he bargains for when he helps out an old friend on an investigation. Did that American throw himself in front of the train, or was he pushed?
Well plotted, with good flashbacks showing the villain’s motivation. The protagonist is also fleshed out well, with lots of light humorous touches because he doesn’t take himself too seriously. His new assistant and the sumo cops add to the small bites of hilarity, although some of that was lost in the scene that shows the Tokyo police find it perfectly okay to rough up a suspect; at least they put the shoulder back where they found it.
Michael Pronko is one of my fave non-fic writers; his essays on Japan are simply amazing. So it was a bit of a surprise to find that, in comparison to the smooth syntax of his non-fiction writings, this feels almost stilted, not nearly as graceful. It did get better as it went on, but early there was an overabundance of “He said.” Since most conversations are between two men, it’s useless, in addition to being boring. He did use “gurgled” once, which made me grin.
And the ending left me unsatisfied. The last death, be it suicide or not, doesn’t sit well with me as a fitting closeout for that character, especially after the reveal of the DVD, but maybe it’s a cultural thing. Other than that, it’s a good fun story with great characters that I did enjoy more as it went on.
3.5/5

Suit Your Selfie: A Pearls Before Swine Collection
“Gather ‘round the smartphone, kids!”
Been barely a month since I read the latest collection of groan-worthy puns featuring Pig, Goat, Rat, and friends, but it turns out this is basically the same edition with some of the more risqué strips taken out, geared toward a younger audience. Beats me which ones were removed, but I enjoyed reading through them again; “elf storage” hit me more the second time.
4/5

Life Lessons from Catsass
First and foremost, is it Cat-Sass or Cat’s-Ass? Cuz both work.
Right from the first page I get what kind of style this is. “Have you noticed how peaceful I look when you’re quiet?” instead of “Shut the f— up!” Exactly. Some of these I completely agree with, others are downright stupid, but there’s enough good stuff to outweigh the bad.
One of the bad has to be how difficult—though I suppose not impossible—to do the coloring pages on an ebook. The origami kitten toy would be hard as well. And the connect-the-dots. . . and the cutouts. . .
But some are truly hilarious!
“Stop reading and rub my belly!”
“You forgot your pants, miss.” “Is this your little sister’s dress you’re wearing?” and “Is your outfit a tribute to your grandmother?”
Remember that mean trick where you were weighing yourself and someone adds their foot on the scale? Cats invented that.
“Cats make great drug smugglers” and “Cat lovers are part of a cult.”
I’m the Allergic, so of course I had to take playful offense to some of these.
Public service announcement: do NOT send in those $150!
This feline tries his hardest to be grumpier than the famous one, but only comes off as arrogant. . . which is a typical trait for cats, after all. But all that really matters is that it’s usually funny.
3.5/5

101 Amazing Things About Dog Lovers
According to this book, there’s a new definition of “amazing.” It now includes things that are merely cute, somewhat humorous, or even mundane. Then there’s the other part of the title; quite a few of the entries were about dogs, not dog lovers.
For such a short book, this took forever to slog through. There’s some snark, thankfully; occasionally they’ll bust out a really funny one. But there’s not even close to enough to make this a worthwhile read.
The high point for me was seeing my favorite actress mentioned. Katherine Heigl has a number of charities that, among other things, pay to spay and neuter, move dogs to no-kill shelters, and do their best to find homes, especially for Chihuahuas.
Okay then, let’s address the Christian elephant in the room. Each of the 101 is followed by a quote from the bible. . . which has absolutely nothing to do with the chapter, or even with dogs! They’re obviously included just to wring a few bucks out of the credulous. And the use of the word “amazing” in the title is such obvious clickbait they should be penalized for it.
2/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Star Wars, Grumpy Cat, and Inhuman Love

“If the chef is adamant about being spicy, I can always eat tortilla chips. That’ll put him in his place.”
She wrinkled her nose at the thought of a chef being spicy.

Star Wars on Trial: The Force Awakens Edition
Two supposed experts—never heard of them—argue as to why Star Wars is so great and why it isn’t. There’s a droid judge. Other people I’ve never heard of testify—the original meaning, not the urban slang—to that effect with their own essays, and then get cross-examined.
I’m surprised by how much of this tediousness I enjoyed. Helps that there was plenty to laugh at, especially between the councilors. I managed to annoy myself by thinking one side had a great point and then instantly the rebuttal had me thinking, “That’s true too!” I loved that the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was mentioned, as all of George Lucas’s catalog was fair game.
But let’s be honest: this is an old book masquerading as a current edition, supposedly given a makeover due to the new movie. Not true. With renewed interest in the series they could have simply been honest about it.
3/5

Misadventures of Grumpy Cat Volume 1
Collection of eleven stories in graphic form about that annoyed feline of internet fame, drawn very lifelike, along with her little brother Pokey. At a certain point I thought: if she has a spiritual ancestor, it would be Eeyore, except that donkey just didn’t want to do anything, whereas Grumpy will go out of her way to make Pokey look like an idiot. In the first story Grumpy pretends to be a ghost just to scare Pokey and get revenge for not sharing treats; for someone who doesn’t care for anything, that’s a lot of effort. So something brings her pleasure, even if she’s still being a jerk about it.
There’s a sarcastic sense of humor that permeates the book, especially toward the end. Nickelback recording a Creed cover? Amityville and Full House mashup? At least one of these authors had a lot of personal grumpiness to get out.
There’s some extra covers at the end, but by then I’d reached my limit; there’s only so much grumpy a reader can take.
3/5

Mated with the Cyborg
In the future humanity comes across alien races, some of them nasty. A former Special Ops-type guy goes undercover as the titular cyborg to get info on said bad guys, or even try to kill off their leaders. So of course he finds himself falling for the “princess” of the story, who’s shunned because she’s not like the others; this was a nice take on Twilight Zone’s Eye of the Beholder.
This may be listed as romance or erotica, but I see it as a sci-fi thriller with some sex scenes. The way the alien culture is portrayed, with its militancy and especially its religion, espousing rewards in the afterlife, isn’t subtle at all, but I suppose that’s the point.
Overall I found myself liking it, despite the couple of times the human was so besotted he failed at operational procedure and almost got them killed. Kinda reminded me of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, had the show been on cable.
4/5

First Bite
A stripper in the South trying to win custody of her little brother gets dumped over the phone by her high and mighty boyfriend, then promptly meets a new guy that same night after popping out of a giant cake. He’s not what he seems.
This is another entry in the growing field of not-quite-human erotica, and since it’s told in alternating first person you get both their thoughts as they fall hard for each other. There’s a deliciously wicked sense of humor, especially from her; he’s frequently stuck in the usual alpha male role, but even though she’s into him instantly she retains her image and self-worth, which is unusual in these kinds of stories.
As this is the first of a new series, it ends in a cliffhanger, before he can tell her his secret or she can inform him about her little brother. Half a point off for that, but overall a nice read.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Wildcats, Hockey, Nazis, and Road America

One of my favorite sentences ever:
Hell for him would be seeing his enemies piled high with naked cheerleaders.

Eye Of The Drone Vol. 2
Not nearly as sinister as the title suggests. This is a graphic novel about a couple of kids with a pet lynx and falcon going around the world looking for all 36 types of cats in the world, starting in Russia. This is the second volume in a planned series of 8, each taking place in a different part of the world.
Before it starts there’s a really funny image of a frog in common teenager position looking at a tablet. But this is definitely not a story with humor, in fact it seems deadly earnest. This is not one of those stories where I can say you can read it without needing to peruse the first one, because the backstory to their mission and why they’re drawn like early computer game animation stills is never explained. And it does need explaining, for at one point one of the humans says, “We’re 3-D. We don’t have to follow the rules that apply to fleshly people.” And no one in universe has a problem with talking animals, especially a lynx walking through the station and boarding a train. Then there’s the evil corporation against these environmentalists, the chief bad guy sporting a scar on his face, of course.
There are other touches that made me a bit annoyed, though I should temper that with the knowledge than the kids for which this is intended won’t care. A lot of stuff is left out; at one stop they look for a place to stay, at the next it’s not even mentioned, just goes from “Let’s sleep” to “Next morning.” And it’s highly unlikely those police officers in northern China speak English so well. Things liven up toward the end, when they’re joined by a mischievous redheaded fairy, or soporific butterfly, depending on her mood. And of course the story doesn’t end cleanly, but at least you’re told there’s gonna be six more volumes.
There are educational asides on some pages, plus a cat appendix, photos, links to Facebook, and so on at the end. There’s no doubt as to the earnestness of the author in trying to get her message across, and again I state that it will be great for kids, but I still think it could have bene done better.
3/5

The Hockey Saint
College hockey player who lives with his grandmother gets a partial scholarship, named assistant captain, and finds out where his idol lives. Quite an opening chapter. From there he meets his hero, who takes him to surprising places, as long as he doesn’t tell. There’s a conspiracy by the rival team to get the goods on the hockey star, and the kid has to decide which side to pick.
Each chapter comes with a recommended song list; I didn’t try it, but the one song I did know, Rush’s Limelight, was well chosen.
It’s a nice story, with an upbeat ending. But it’s hard to believe a guy this secretive would open up and spill all his secrets to a teen fan. This is more like a kid’s fantasy, especially the hero’s redemption at the end.
The artwork is fine, nothing special but definitely good enough. As long as the reader has no illusions about it being far from reality, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
3/5

The Brandenburg Quest
Named after the protagonist’s surname, this tells the story of a young man in Germany who sees an American movie about WW2 and learns things he wasn’t told in school. He goes off to interview a bunch of former Nazis—finding them rather easily, it seems—trying to figure out if one of them in particular, who was rumored to have died at the end of the war, actually escaped and is planning to take Germany into the Fourth Reich.
Written as a screenplay, oddly enough; it fails in that there are no acts, just one similar interviewing scene after another. It’s interesting to find out that German schools did not teach the truth about World War 2 well into at least the 1970s; I think this book takes place in 1986, according to something mentioned, but not sure. So for all the time were kids told the Holocaust was a lie, if they ever heard about it at all?
There’s an early mention of the main character going off to Munich and checking out the Glockenspiel; I love that place, so it made me smile. But that was the only happy moment I had. This might be okay as a book, but unlike the comments at the beginning it would never make a good movie. Too much repetition—most of the story is the protagonist interviewing one former Nazi after another—and very little action. If some Hollywood producer got his hands on this, he would add a lot of James Bond action scenes to it anyway.
2.5/5

Braking Points
Female racer once again gets involved in a murder investigation, is suspected and has to clear her name, all while handling a boyfriend, a crash on the course that injures a popular driver, rabid fans, crappy journalists, and old friends.
This is the second in the Kate Reilly series, though it’s the third one I’ve read. This one starts at Road America, which is one of my favorite courses. Like the other books, the murder mystery is okay but really isn’t the point. Considering the author’s job in real life, this is meant as a treatise on the difficulties faced by women in the racing world today, and in a broader perspective all the workforce.
Once again I thoroughly love Kate as a character. It’s cute how girly she gets about joining Twitter, and there’s something satisfying about the occasional tweets; not so much hilarious or noteworthy, more like humanizing her. Sadly there’s also a lot of internet crap sent her way, so much so that she has to hire publicity specialists. The author always gives Kate a lot to handle off the track, but this time it might have been too much, as we’re introduced to her jerk cousins who will show up in later books as well as all those mentioned above.
There’s a lot of racing scenes in this one, even more so than the others, and this time it’s not all fun for our heroine. Usually the track is the place where she can get away from all her problems, but in this case bad things happen just as often as the good, although the good does make for a happy ending.
4/5

;o)