Book Reviews: Magic Trees, Mayans, and Unicorns

A well-fed city is easier to govern than a hungry one.

Do You Hear What I Hear?
A Christmas tree with a mind of its own, so to speak, gets between a telepathic detective and her semi-vampire lover.
Despite the strangeness it’s actually a simple premise, leading to an examination of relationships set in a fantasy world. The characters are enjoyable, especially the cop, and that’s what’s important, since she’s the lead. She’s telepathic with her twin and maybe others, including trees, which makes things more fun. Also really liked the nymph; she’s obviously magical, but in some ways so down to earth, even in the way she walks, or struts. . . or her taste in men, for that matter.
A fun passing of time.
3.5/5

Feather
“I should have killed her already. It was my job, the thing I was hired to do. . . I was an assassin, and Jane Jones was my target.”
A supernatural being is hunting another supernatural being, only to fall in love with her. Other supernatural beings, with callbacks to previous stories, either help or hurt, depending on how they feel that day. The story begins in London 100 years ago before moving to present day NY, with the connecting device a mystical hotel where non-humans can have an erotic vacation.
There’s some explanation of the earlier story, but not enough; might have been better without it. Some good moments, but mostly meh. This doesn’t know if it’s a fantasy revenge chase story or an erotic romance.
2.5/5

Christmas Kiss
Two divorce lawyers on opposite sides of a case end up sharing a cabin in Tahoe. He wants her, she hates him but thinks he’s hot. Gee, wonder what’s gonna happen. . .
That wasn’t the only time I was less than surprised; there’s a line that goes, “I’d never been as happy as I was in that moment.” Yeah, that’s not ominous at all. . .
There’s some good stuff in here, with the protagonist constantly having to readjust her assumptions of him. . . although sometimes they’re more like rationalizations so she can feel okay about taking him to bed. In general the writing is good, with some pretty funny jokes. On the other hand, the line “I pulled my hair back into a French knot” appears four times in the first half off this novella.
As always in romance stories, lack of communication and erroneous assumptions lead to misunderstandings, causing anguish until everything can be explained at the end.
Cute, but nothing special.
3/5

Mayan Mendacity
Like in the first one, the Australian librarian/archaeologist protagonist works on bones from a dig and realizes something’s wrong, in this case in a completely grisly way.
These stories are mostly soft and inoffensive, though I’m not sure I’d call them cozies. Again like the first one, it’s her large and genetically wide family that is the best part of this, along with her extended circle of friends. Even the cats get in on it, as I had a ton of fun imagining this scene in my head:
Recalling her clumsy attempt at larceny caused Elizabeth to relive a ghost rush of adrenaline. Unbeknownst to her, Loki had accompanied Elizabeth into Nainai’s room. As Elizabeth reached for the box on the bedside table she had trodden on Loki’s tail, causing the cat to scream. Startled by the yowl, Elizabeth had dropped the box. It landed on the cat’s paw, causing Loki to screech again.
That’s a cat that lives up to its name!
There’s some recipes at the end, since there’s a lot of food talk throughout.
This was a little better than the first. Hope the next one comes out soon; already wondering what archaeological alliteration the title will be. . .
(Aztec Adversity?)
4/5

Unicorn Crossing
Another collection of my favorite comic strip, featuring the friendship of a precocious nine-year-old girl and a unicorn who thinks far too highly of herself (that might have been redundant).
Right away it starts on Halloween: costumes, pumpkins, and a secret party Marigold is planning. More importantly, it guarantees an appearance by my fave character, Todd the Candy Dragon.
There’s also a beautiful plot where Marigold goes off to a unicorn spa with her sister in that magical place known as Canada, and Phoebe finds it hard to cope without her. Though these jokes do not lean heavily on the pun side, they did prove to be my favorites this time, such as “Unioncorn!” and the especially awesome “Thrones of Ermagard.”
More than anything else I love how big the panels are; each page features one full-color four-panel strip, two panels in two rows. There’s also a glossary at the end, since Phoebe’s vocabulary is a bit higher than her grade level.
Like the previous entries, this book proves why I start every morning with this strip.
4.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Mrs. Einstein, Big Nate, and Camels

“Dude, I’m over you!” she sneered.
“Yeah, last night you were all over me!”
I’m so witty. . .

The Other Einstein
A fictionalized autobiography of Einstein’s first wife.
The intro states, “Readers may be curious as to precisely how much of the book is truth and how much is speculation.” Uh, yeah! Having to keep reminding myself this was fiction was the main stumbling block to reading this, especially since from the beginning Albert seemed charming but self-centered. He obviously admired Mitza for her brain, and mistook it for love. And while he was a product of his times—he might have been on her side as far as attending university, but only to help himself—he seemed even more so than most. Maybe it’s fiction, but Albert comes off as a complete ass. And yes, despite this being a story about her, everything happens either in his presence or his shadow, so that it sounds like it’s all about him.
There were some funny moments, the best being when his mother accused her of getting pregnant to trap him. As her father said, “Who would want to trap an unemployed physicist?” But then there’s all the times he’s horrible to her and she rationalizes it; even with her brilliant scientific mind, she went against her instincts and fell for his charms. The fact that she kept forgiving him and buying his words is painful. I doubt the term “enabling” was in use back then, but come on, she really should have seen it all coming.
As stated above, the worst part is knowing what’s real, or more likely what isn’t. For instance, no one knows what happened to their first child. Here it says she died of scarlet fever. Even bigger, it’s stated she’s the one who comes up with the theory of relativity, when thinking about that dead child.
What was no doubt intended to be a joyful revelation of an extraordinary woman forgotten by history turned into something a lot more depressing.
Wonder if she actually ever met Curie. . .
3/5

Epic Big Nate
A massive best of, chronologically. Had no idea this strip had been around so long.
It starts with a long intro, deep into how comics get sold. This continues throughout the book, as every once in a while you get a small note from the author, like how he finds Sundays more difficult. Considering how hard it must have been to condense twenty-five years of daily jokes, it’s not surprising most of these entries are one-off, though every now and then a larger plot sneaks in, like how mold forces them to go to their rival school, then have to play a soccer match against them. As a former goalie, it was easier to understand the jokes, especially in the penalty phase.
Some of the highlights:
A little girl dresses as a witch, only to have daddy tell her to choose a more positive character. . . so she goes with devil. Perfect.
“Who did invent the high-five?” Exactly. . .
“You totally ‘Nated’ it!”
Never expected Nate, of all imaginary people, to say “Scoreboard!” but on this occasion you can’t blame him.
The gerbil was the smartest character.
There’s a pretty long Q&A; the first part is almost embarrassingly fawning.
4/5

Shadows of the Stone Benders
The plot starts with the death of an old professor killed while hiking, but the reader isn’t told how. The professor knows, though, and as a hook it’s actually pretty good. From there his rich inquisitive nephew and his semi-girlfriend try to find out what happened, and fall into a story too big and fantastical to believe.
There’s some good stuff here. I enjoyed the mythology without feeling any need to believe it. Both Jen and Pebbles were well-written; together they’d make the most amazing woman ever. I just wish the leads, who’d been so smart up to then, hadn’t turned stupid to service the climax.
Early on I was liking the descriptions, but as the book wore on they became tiring, overdoing how the women are dressed in particular; I really didn’t need to know what Pebbles was wearing every time she changed. Worse, there’s lots of signs that this is an early work, possibly even a first, without much outside input. The use of unnecessary verbs is the largest indicator, along with the descriptions. At one point the author used parentheses to hammer his point, in case we simpletons didn’t get it. Please don’t insult your reader’s intelligence, especially if you’re expecting them to keep up with the premise of your otherwise intelligent story.
This one really bugged me: “Ruefully, Pebbles cast a last forlorn look at the lonely uneaten doughnut still staring up at her from the plate and followed Anlon to the cash register and then out the diner door.” So take it with you!
But for what’s obviously a first time writer there’s a lot to like here. Great imagination, plotting, sense of humor. He should get better the more he writes.
3.5/5 (Would have been a straight 4 if not for the dumb ending.)

A Jerk, A Jihad, and A Virus
A terrorist plot to manufacture a biological weapon is opposed by stalwart Americans of various professions and the bad guy’s own ineptitude.
Before halfway I was already saying the plot was convoluted, which in the end wasn’t needed. It was a long way to go for such a tiny climax. . . so to speak.
This author’s best feature is his humor, from university office politics to a camel spitting in the bad guy’s face, as we would have all liked to do. The characters are all well drawn, each with their individual foibles that often inspire outright laughter. In the first half my favorite character was Ann, until she went all silly on Jason for something she knew wasn’t his fault. “Sue and Ann decided you should apologize for not telling Ann you didn’t know what she was talking about.” Just like that I couldn’t stand her anymore, regardless of the “all women do it” premise. Worst of all, it had nothing to do with the story. In the same vein, all the science explanations were confusing and completely unnecessary, the writer giving in to the urge of showing off.
I tried really hard not to compare this to the author’s previous novel, which I enjoyed a lot, but found I couldn’t help it. I have to say this was not as good as the first one.
And definitely not enough camel.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Comic Strip Edition

Nothing I enjoy more than making a redhead’s face do a fair impression of the inside of a sun.

Today’s review is all about comic strip collections. Luckily I’ve previewed four of them, otherwise this would be even shorter than usual.

Razzle Dazzle Unicorn (Phoebe and Her Unicorn)
There’s not much I can say here. As stated in my review of the last book, this isn’t just my favorite strip, it’s the only strip I read. What is new here is you get big colorful panels, at least I don’t remember the last book being like that, though I might be wrong.
This volume starts at Christmas—always welcome, because it means the appearance of Todd the Candy Dragon—through summer camp, which of course features Ringo and Sue. There are goblin sightings as well, meaning Dakota has to show up too.
There’s a few pages at the end about how to make a comic strip, and a glossary of big words.
The only thing you really need to know is that this stuff is hilarious.
5/5

Big Nate: Revenge of the Cream Puffs
Despite the baseball team mentioned in the title, most of this takes place in school, where Nate—who is definitely not that big—spends all his time in detention, which leads him to write a romance novel. Other plots include a “Yo Momma” showdown and a grudge chess match, where Nate pulls a move out of my playbook; hope none of my usual opponents read this.
He’s a bit of a butt monkey, so there might be some cringing, especially with the big girl who thinks he’s her boyfriend, but luckily it’s usually laughable. Nothing goes over the top, which I think is a good thing, although some people would disagree.
4/5

Heart and Brain: Gut Instincts
A brain and a heart—hopefully from the same body—argue about almost everything, but at least make you laugh in the process. Other body parts chime in once in a while too.
Some highlights: Never trust lettuce! Hot dog vendors are heroes! Never hug a cactus! Never send the heart grocery shopping! There’s also explanations about how earworm works and why teeth grind. Boots don’t have wifi, silly, they have Bluetooth. There’s even a drawing of a butterfly with headphones, which for some reason I found both disturbing and hilarious.
I love how Brain gives in at times and actually enjoys it, even if he never admits it. On the other hand, Heart sometimes uncorks a creepy smile, especially when he literally crashes a computer.
My fave line was either “Tetris Rip-off!” or “I am the night. . .”
4/5

Man, I Hate Cursive
This is subtitled, “Cartoons for People and Advanced Bears.” As a UCLA grad, I don’t know which category I fall in.
Starts right off on the cover with a wizard trying to summon a demon and gets a lemon instead, which by its little smile seems happy to be there. Remember what they say about making lemonade. . .
But that’s really the only joke about cursive, as everything else is non-connected to everything else. There’s no long continuing stories, simply self-contained jokes like “the Far Side” and such. The closest it comes to that is sections on art, dogs, god, and so on.
“Think of math as a beautiful woman with a secret you must seduce from her.” I would have gotten much better grades had someone told me that. And I can’t wait for the opportunity to call someone a huge sillypants. But most of all, I can totally relate to the guy who has the soap slip out of his hand but catches it with the other; it’s an amazing feeling.
At times corny, but so much fun. . .
4.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: A Strange Mix, and Lindsey Stirling

Overheard at Coffee Bean:
“C’mon, she’s wearing pink! How hot could she be?”

Isis Orb
Last week I reviewed a collection of Pearls Before Swine and thought I’d gotten my recommended yearly allowance of puns. So why did I pick up a Xanth? Am I that self-destructive?
In this fortieth entry in the series, we get a guy called Hapless, who is well named at the beginning, but the fact he’s willing to learn belies that. One chapter in and he’s already lost the only girl he’s ever had a chance with; Hapless indeed. He’s forced to take a quest from an ornery magician, picking up companions along the way, especially a bunch of hot babes he quickly falls in love with. Everyone wants a wish granted, although not all of them will need the magic of the Isis Orb to make it come true.
Yes, it’s as silly as expected, and thankfully fun. Nothing groundbreaking, of course; would you expect such a thing in the fortieth installment of a series? Perhaps overlong; by the end of the story Hapless had forgotten about Cylla, and so had I.
Feline never kept her promise of hunting down the rat. . .
4/5

The Only Pirate At The Party
For those of you familiar with violinist Lindsey Stirling’s hyperactive—but always cute—cheerfulness and enthusiasm, this is a distilled and bottled version of all that sunshine in concentrated form. Right off the bat she explains why it’s good to be a pirate, though not when your mom tells you to wash the dishes.
As expected, this is basically in chronological order, a good idea as we see the development of that giant personality through childhood. I’m frankly amazed by how much she remembers of those years; it’s probably just me, but I hardly remember anything from that age. Plus her father seems to have recorded every moment of her life, if you’ve ever seen the video playing during one of her concerts. The Tooth Fairy story is the best, especially her kid rationalization as to why her friend got more money than she did.
That kind of quirky thought process is showcased throughout the book, but once she gets to a certain point she also opens up about her worst moments, especially fighting an eating disorder and depression. I can see a lot of people recommending this book to those currently suffering, to let them know they’re not alone.
But the bulk of this book showcases her humor; she can even be sarcastic without sounding snarky, which is not easy. One chapter is about her experiences with alcohol and drugs; it’s as long as this sentence. If you’ve seen any of her personal videos on “The Tube,” you’ll find her just as silly here, and that’s exactly what I was looking for when I picked this up. Nothing better in a book—or a person—than a sense of humor.
The biggest laugh of many was when she thought she heard escrow and got it completely wrong. {Escrow ≠ escort.}
4.5/5

Sex Hell
New Jersey
Semi neurotic girl in New Jersey who doesn’t enjoy sex with her boyfriend makes a dumb deal with a bad witch to spice things up in the bedroom. Too bad she didn’t specify with who. . .
The gist of it: “I’ve got a desire to be younger, okay? And you’ve got a desire to have better sex. And for a small price, I can fix your problem. All I want is a little bit of your youth. Gimme about ten or twenty years; let’s call it fifteen. In exchange for that, I’ll fix your sex life. No more awkward fumbling around. No more faking orgasms— oh! oh! oh! And no more having to do anything you don’t want to do.”
And that’s before we’re introduced to Suzy Spitfire. The good news: the price gets talked down. the bad news: there’s a catch on the back end, of course.
The best thing going for this book is that there’s plenty of humor, especially when the Road Trip with Benefits hits the highway. Despite her silliness, I like Debbie, although that comes with the realization that, had she existed in real life, she’d be dead several times over. This also has one of the strangest antagonists ever, but considering all the sex, violence, and demons, the tone is incredibly light and fluffy. It’s a fun read, and that’s all that matters.
4/5

Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope
Wow, I remember Bloom County from when I was in college. Then it stopped and I never gave it another thought. It took a plea from Harper Lee—sorry for the rhyme—to bring the strip back, although I’m guessing Donald Trump had something to do with it too.
And just to make things as meta as possible, Opus has woken up from a 25-year slumber, though no one seems to have aged. Even Bill the Cat is still almost alive. There are three or four strips and then a Sunday special, with some having quotes from fans.
Yes, as expected there’s Trump right away, now known as Stormtrumper. There’s a baby on social media; that’ll end well. A penguin would indeed make a great support animal, if you can handle the stink. But no, Young Han Solo would never wear a red bowtie.
There wasn’t anything particularly new here—names of new politicians and trends plugged in, of course—but that’s a good thing.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Mostly Kid Edition

“You want to be a supermodel?”
“It’s not that I want to,” she sighed brightly, “but ya gotta work with what ya got.”

Starr and the High Seas Wedding Drama
Not sure how old the main character is, but let’s say pre-teen Starr and her family join her grandmother on a cruise where she’s getting married. Starr isn’t keen on the marriage and, with the help of the groom’s granddaughter Ivy, schemes to mess up the blessed day.
Starr takes her name too seriously; she wants to be a movie star, whereas Ivy plays a mean electric guitar. At first reticent to get to know each other, they bond for all the wrong reasons. At one point they justify their actions by saying they’re putting the grandparents’ “love to the test.” Yeah, that’s not ominous at all.
The story is good, but the presentation is what sets it apart. The characters are beautifully drawn, and I mean that literally. The perfect drawings continue all the way down to the cute dolphin chapter header. The graphics are great too, most of them funny. One invitation reads “Dress fancy!” while a chapter heading screams, “Go team!” It’s like good emoji choice.
All very cute and perfect for upper grade school, maybe junior high.
4/5

Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong
The first in a pretty long series of detective novels for kids, with a few drawings sprinkled amongst the text.
Every Sherlock—which is almost his real name, close enough for him to insist on it—needs a sidekick, so he builds a talking robot; what could be better, right? His dad blunders in at the wrong time and inadvertently names the robot perfectly.
Besides science and solving crimes, Sherlock’s great passion is food; he’s chubby compared to his older sister, though he’d never admit it. It’s a bit tough understanding all this unknown food, though there is a glossary at the end. All of this leads to more fart jokes than one would expect.
The background is interesting; the writers are Americans who moved to Singapore, which is where the novel is set. There’s plenty of humor, especially from the robot. Sherlock isn’t perfect, thankfully; he just a smarter-than-average kid who learned how to put his nerdiness to good use.
Along with the glossary, mostly of cooking terms, there’s a character study at the end. I’d put the reading age of this around third grade and above.
3.5/5

Sherlock Sam and the Ghostly Moans in Fort Canning
Second in the series, but the first isn’t necessary to understand this one.
Like the first one, this has a lot of food, but it’s mostly historical, taking place in an old fort that’s now a monument I’ve actually visited in Singapore. Sherlock and his old pals, as well as a new one, find strange goings-on while on a school field trip. It’s amazing how no one—other students, teachers—ever question Watson, like everyone has a robot following him around. And I’m sure that new recording app won’t come in handy at all. . .
Of course he and his sister don’t get along. Perfect example: he can’t give her any kind of compliment, at least not right now. “I’ll only tell her when I’m older. And taller.” Twice.
If you’re equipped to deal with a zombie attack, you’re ready for anything else that might happen. But there’s no evidence of zombies: no disturbed graves, upturned soil, overturned headstones. . . or choreographed dancing. I’m loving this writer. . .
I love the drawing that shows the difference—sorta—between the sandwich in the backpack and in his stomach. Even better is when Sherlock and Dad strike a Gangnam/MC Hammer pose when they’re shouting “Science!” I’m surprised they didn’t so the song. . . Blinded Me With Science, not. . . never mind.
As though having caught a good rhythm, this one builds on the first and is even better.
4/5

When Crocs Fly
Now we get to the non-kid part.
A collection of comic strips of the long running Pearls Before Swine, it’s a good introduction for those who’ve never enjoyed this pun-heavy hilarity as well as people who want an economy-size dose of these wacky animal characters.
Particular jokes to be on the lookout:
Pig shaking hands with a scorpion. . . so perfect. (I have to laugh, because otherwise I’d cry at the memory of being bitten on the hand. . . twice.)
Yeah, spoiler alert on Abraham Lincoln’s assassinat. . . oops, sorry.
Take it as a gibbon. . . almost spewed.
I feel the same way about the Paris sights.
I really don’t feel sorry for the penguin who lost his wife.
French fries go to a happy place.
Puns. . . so many puns. . .
4.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Beagles and Unicorns, Hostages and Robots

“I’m from one of the Baltic countries. Care to guess which one?”
“Do I get three guesses?”
“No!”
(Yes, I’m a geography nerd.)

Snoopy: Party Animal!
It really is impossible to say something about Peanuts that hasn’t been said over the past 50 years. The humor isn’t edgy, and sometimes the joke’s pretty obvious, but a huge proportion of the time you chuckle, snicker, or outright laugh. Kids will get the jokes too.
One sticks in my mind: Snoopy sleeping on his doghouse when a football smacks him on the stomach. After that he sleeps with a helmet covering his torso. Every time he gets tickled is a highlight as well. Okay, one more: Snoopy being asked what he would do if he was in the woods and spotted a rabbit. With a big smile he sticks his paw out to shake. . .
Again, nothing groundbreaking, just funny.
4/5

Hostages
A terrorist takes hostages in Washington DC, only he’s not what he seems to be. Two of the hostages end up becoming famous, though one is not who he seems either.
Something annoyed me from the start: you never get a clear sense as to when this takes place, though it’s obviously not in the present. There’s mention of the conflicts in Lebanon and Chile, plus a 1984 Volvo, so I’m thinking 80s or early 90s, but it’s irritating not knowing.
The main plot twist actually isn’t much of a surprise; I expected it and felt no satisfaction to be proven right. Oddly enough for a rather thin book, there’s a lot of padding, most of it taken up by the publicity tour the two ex-hostages take. At one point they’re watching the making of a music video based on the hostage situation, which goes to show how ridiculous the media can be. Unfortunately this point is driven over and over and loses its edge. The dialogue, especially during the interviews, is repetitive as well, with the guys always agreeing with each other to the point of boredom. I did find it humorous, though, when even the gang attacking them when they get a flat tire knows about Pizza Guy.
Glad it wasn’t expanded any further.
2/5

Unicorn vr. Goblins
A comic strip collection where a little girl has a unicorn as a best friend. Since this is the third book but the first one I’m reading, I have no idea how that happened, but it only matters that it did.
First off, the introduction by Poesy Doctorow and her grown-up Cory is awesome.
The unicorn is drawn to be femininely beautiful, almost dainty, so it’s a bit of a shock to learn, right on the first page, how snarky she can be. She has as much snark as sparkles and rainbows; coffee makes a unicorn oversparkle. . . and I never thought I would ever write that word, or that sentence. She actually looks like the blonde waitress on “2 Broke Girls,” only prettier. The unicorn can’t use contractions, making her sound more formal; it’s just off enough to be funny. And yes, unicorns should be the only equines allowed to wear legwarmers and scarves. . . especially pink. But even though she’s snarky and incredibly narcissistic, Marigold the unicorn luckily always feels amused at all those around her rather than irritated, which saves her from being annoying; it’s like she’s in on the secret.
Phoebe is also quite interesting, a little girl who really doesn’t go out of her way to make friends because she already has the bestest one ever. Of course everyone except her frenemy have no idea there’s a unicorn around, but luckily her parents and her teacher “get” her. And she does make a few friends, from the even weirder roommate at band camp to the older girl she’s in awe of to the younger girl she calls “Small Auxiliary Backup Phoebe.”
Some highlights:
Candy dragon says “Rar!” Using your horn to roast marshmallows over a campfire doesn’t sound smart, Marigold. There’s something called the Curse of the Unicorn-Adjacent. And the image of a unicorn wearing a life vest while rowing will always stick with me.
At the end there’s a primer that shows some of the other animals and magical creatures, and particularly the differences between Marigold Heavenly Nostrils and her sister Florence Unfortunate Nostrils. A recipe for questing snacks and a brief mention of what a unicorn looks like when imagined by Lewis Carroll ends the book.
The reason I’m giving this such a high score is that while other comic strip collections have made me laugh and occasionally chuckle, this one brought a ton more laughs out of me. Now I just gotta figure out how much each laugh weighs. . .
5/5

D4VE2
In a future Earth, humans are gone and there’s a robot society, though nothing at all like one would expect such a thing to turn out. Exposition shows this is a sequel; a year ago something happened and D4ve became a hero. This time a couple of humans show up to screw things up, and though he’s a supposed war hero he’s not up for the task of managing what could become a dangerous situation.
It’s like the author took all the worst traits in humans and none of the good ones to make his robots, an entire society of slackers and airheads who cuss even more than humans ever did. There’s a female with literal bazookas, as in missiles running through her and ending in giant breasts. The only sane person, and that’s in comparison to the rest, has such a huge crush on D4ve she’s pretty useless too.
Even worse is his teen son, who shows no respect for either his dad or his commanding officer, both being D4ve. (How do robots have kids? I’m afraid they’ll tell me.) Not that he’s worthy of much respect, hero or not, being the ultimate slacker, but in this world that hardly matters. At least he acknowledges the Terminator thing as the story takes him into the past, but toward the end the whole thing turns so existential I had to go to my bedroom and listen to 80s music. The entire story comes across as too cutesy, and the robot almost-names/numbers gave me a headache.
There’s some fun moments, especially in the way the robots rework human sayings, like, “You’re always gonna have that little folder in your CPU for those feelings” and “You’re gonna 404 urself” and the even better “Not to be a blue screen. . .” At one point the soldiers say, “Let’s get triggy with it.” My favorite part, being a photographer, is the guy at the closing press conference who has a telephoto lens of about a million mm.
The best way to put it is I really didn’t get it. . .
2/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Two Mysteries, Two Drawings

“You need to chill. Try a one-night stand.”
“I’ve TRIED to have one-night stands, but they always turn into relationships!”

Dead List
Recently reviewed the second in this series, with this being the third, so it read a little easier even though I still haven’t done the first. This is one of those rare books I read in one sitting on a lazy afternoon off.
As it should be, the plot is simple: a dying lady has a kill bucket list, using such oldies-but-goodies like the blade-in-cane trick; I usta have one of those during my spinal surgery rehab, but I only used it to slice cheese.
Did I say the plot was simple? Technically it is, but there’s also a lot on the various detectives’ personal lives, not the least the lead, who is not only still with the woman he left his previous girlfriend for, but now finds someone else entirely. I almost feel sorry for the reporter gal, but the author writes her with such a horrible personality that it’s almost a relief when he cheats on her. Back to the main point, there’s a spot where the detective makes the intuitive leap, in this case killing with fire, but I couldn’t help wondering if was genuinely excellent police work or a little too convenient for the plot.
But don’t let those minor quibbles put you off; this is still a worthy addition to the pantheon of British police procedurals. Looking forward to the next in the series just so I can find out more about Officer Imogen. . .
4/5

Zen Pencils #2
In a nutty shell, the author, or rather the illustrator, takes short stories or passages written by famous people and turns then into visual narrative. A lot of hits, some misses.
The Amy Pohler piece was particularly well done, and turning Robert Kennedy’s speech into a dragonrider parable was inspired. The tomboy who wants to be a wrestler is also well presented, and this version of Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” from “As You Like It” should be shown to all those struggling to understand what The Bard meant.
Some didn’t work at all; even when the original words were potent, the artwork didn’t seem to match, or simply laid there. My favorite poem, Oxymondius, is here in a very literal adaption that doesn’t add anything to the original, but on the other hand Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou, is as powerful as its words, and hits harder with the added visuals.
The overwhelming theme here is that only by facing your fears will you defeat them.
There’s a small summary at the end of each person whose story is used. Some were new to me, and therefore a delight, especially Margaret E. Knight. . . bonus points for the accidental rhyme.
4/5

Oh, Brother! Brat Attack!
I’ve been finding a lot of comic strips I’m unfamiliar with lately, but if they’re anything like their book collections, I will be following them daily.
As the title says, the main character is indeed a brat, and though his shenanigans are often funny, you can’t help but feel for his long-suffering sister. Which is not to say she’s helpless, as she gets her own digs and practical jokes in—I find myself enjoying when she gets the best of him the most—but of course not nearly as much as her little brother. I found this funnier than most, which is saying a lot. My favorite has to be at the amusement park, where the brat thinks, “The longer the line, the better the ride!” only to be told this was the line for the ladies’ room.
As might be expected from a comic strip rather than a graphic novel, the artwork is not meant to impress with its beauty; it does its job, which is to compliment the humor, especially the reaction shots in the last panel. Despite everyday words and situations, it comes across as smarter than most, which may explain why I like it so much.
4/5

The Missing and the Dead
I’m a strong proponent of writers giving the reader a chance to solve the mystery—or as Larry Niven put it, outwit the author—before it’s explained at the end. That means you can’t pull out a secret tunnel in a locked room mystery, or have your detective use a clue to solve the mystery without it having been mentioned before. In this book most readers would have forgotten the prologue by the time they get to the meat of the mystery, but including it is exactly why this author didn’t cheat.
Former Seattle reporter now a PI in San Fran hunts for a missing man, partly because he’s got an inheritance coming to him, and party. . . well, he’s missing. This is another in a series where I’ve read two entries, but this one goes back to near-beginning, being the second. I think I liked this entry a little less than the others, but because it happened earlier in the author’s career it doesn’t bear much thinking. It was a little weird seeing characters, like his soon-to-be-girlfriend, who are new here when I feel like I already know them. But already so early on the author had a knack for entertaining plotting while giving his protagonist just enough of a sense of humor without becoming cloying.
I will say I’ve learned a lot about the San Francisco area, mostly its surroundings, from these books. Next time I go to Napa I may take the scenic route. . .
4/5

;o)