Book Reviews: Comic Strippies

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm
As had been hinted back on the comic strip’s internet page, this is a new story rather than a compilation like the previous editions. I don’t know if that’s what makes the difference, and it really is weird reading a long narrative when you’re used to four-panel little stories every day, but this is the best book in the series.
No surprise that the story starts with Marigold staring at her reflection and unable to look away. There’s a unicorn summoning dance. . . why was it not shown? Argh!
“Yes, I am Phoebe’s throne thingy.” Wow, Phoebe and Marigold actually hug! She lifts her leg onto Phoebe’s shoulder.
“Bossy girls get all the goblins.”
“Then I have to warn you there may NOT be a dragon involved.” So in addition to Max’s new unicorn friend in the strips, he’s now chummy with a dragon too.
The costumes alone are worth the price of this book. Dakota would make a better Albert Einstein, though.
The extras at the end include an electricity primer, how to make a phosphorescent drink, a magic trick, and glossary.
5/5

Zen Pencils–Inspirational Quotes for Kids
Big fan, read all the previous books, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time it’s been written with kids in mind. It’s still the same format: a short visual story set around a great person or a great quote. Some highlights:
If you ever wondered where the quote about “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” comes from, it’s Confucius.
Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man In the Arena” has had a huge resurgence lately, from Dr. Brene Brown to Lindsey Stirling. Another popular one is the Native American legend of the Two Wolves.
Haven’t heard Jack London’s “Ashes or Dust” in a long time.
There’s a lot of superheroes in this.
The basketball girl crashing into the pink smiling monster is hilarious.
Robert Kennedy’s is pretty timely.
As much as I can’t stand Churchill, his was probably my fave.
In the end I didn’t feel like there was that much of a difference between this and the adult version; the stories felt the same. I suppose the artwork was geared more for kids, but this should be enjoyed by adults just as much.
4/5

Wallace the Brave
A comic strip about a kid who likes school but doesn’t want summer to end. He’s got a strange little brother, an even stranger best friend, and I’m not sure how to describe the redheaded girl, other than she’s mostly mean. His parents are surprisingly cool, especially for a tiny place like Snug Harbor. Dad in particular is surprisingly snarky.
To the highlights!
That was a mean trick by the teacher.
Didn’t take long for that big nose to get him into trouble, and even a redhead should know the expression “hornet’s nest.”
“Got two different feet.” Love it when Occam’s Razor is employed in a schoolyard.
“Oddly disproportionate skull.” Wow, big vocab. And yes, backhanded compliments hurt just as much as forehanded.
Some birds spout Greek philosophy, I prefer the one who simply says “Truth.”
“I’m more the ‘Google images’ type.”
“For realsies?” Someone stole my line!
Now I know what that salt on the streets is for. . . mmmmmm, mud pies!
“Like a wildebeest playing a broken accordion.” Yep, I’d pay to see that even if the sound is horrific.
“Science everywhere!”
There’s a kraken on the map, but not close to the sasquatch.
3.5/5

Fowl Language: The Struggle Is Real
As the title hints, this is a comic strip about a family of ducks, mostly the father, and how he copes with his ducklings, which is to say not very well but always funny.
Unlike most comic strips, which usually appear every day, this one doesn’t have a set schedule, and sometimes goes weeks without new material. That gives this collection extra appeal. Also unlike most comic strips, if you read this on the gocomics website they’ll be a link below for an extra panel/punchline at the strip’s website; thankfully those are included here.
“Maybe he’s just screwin’ with ya” is indeed the answer to why kids do anything. Also “I think he’s buffering.”
“I don’t like the way planes taste either!” Genius.
Not as much “laugh out loud” this time, though.
4/5

;o)

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Book Reviews: The Whole World Is Graphic

“Do I have to carry you?”
“Would you? Careful on the steps, I’m fragile everywhere except emotionally.”

Red Team: Double Tap, Center Mass
After whiling away the hours in traffic talking about her relationship—and chasing after a guy who runs into a pole—the two cops who’ve been punished for something that happened in the first issue come across an entitled brat with gang bodies in the trunk of his speeding car, which of course leads to all kinds of red herrings and tangents and conspiracies before they finally discover what’s up.
In case you ever wondered, being shot in the head will not stop someone from having sex.
My fave scene was him gently ripping into the SWAT guys for failing to clear the crime scene. On the other hand, I’m getting tired of the cliché of cops not clearing crime scenes due to lazy writing. . . just sayin’. Another highlight was the stroll through the art gallery, which was all kinds of awesome.
The sex scenes are intentionally hilarious. For instance, that’s one happy voyeuristic dog on the couch! There’s funny usage of arms and legs to block naughty bits, and how can she not be the perfect woman when that kind of “pillow talk” gets her hot?
I’m surprised that such a convoluted story actually wrapped itself nicely at the end. Still a tough ride to get through, and there were a few plot holes that would have brought it to a screeching halt if they hadn’t been ignored, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared after the slow beginning.
As far as the artwork goes, these are some really bright colors for this genre.
Over twenty pages of sketches and scripts.
3/5

Lady Stuff: Secrets to Being a Woman
A series of cartoons about. . . well, you already know if you read the title.
Since this isn’t a story, it’s much easier to simply say there were a lot of hilarious moments here. This may be the funniest thing I’ve read all year. Some highlights:
The matching eyebrows (it literally made me laugh out loud).
“Pick a color” at the manicure place.
“My bed is warm.”
*Hugs sweatpants*
She lost me at “guac.”
“Summer cuddles”—not a name—is spot on.
How not to eat cookies.
Talking ice cream, no matter how cute, is friggin’ scary.
See, this is what I’ve been saying about garlic all along!
Sometimes when she’s in the blanket she looks like the cute little seal girl from Song of the Sea, but other times she looks like a nesting doll.
It’s all done in really simple drawings, but then this is about the humor, so it doesn’t matter.
4.5/5

Heart and Brain: Body Language
First, as far as the author’s pen name, I would like to point out that I’ve never met a Yeti who wasn’t awkward.
Second, I’ve read a previous collection of this comic strip, so I’m coming in with full awareness as to the brand of humor.
And most of all, Heart is so cute! And an airhead, of course. I have to assume there are plushies available.
Highlights:
“Pandora’s Web Browser.” That’s a thing.
“Give those back! I was making a point!” “Point taken.”
“They grow up so fast.”
“Protagonist!”
“Ssssshowtime!” and “Taste Buds!”
“Just song lyrics and movie quotes”. . . Yep.
See what happens when you roll your eyes. . .
Plenty of crazily humorous moments, well worth a perusal.
4/5

Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography
Yes, someone did a graphic novel on one of the biggest names in the history of religion. And it goes in-depth, with plenty of stuff that isn’t in a quick look at his life, if we assume all this is actually true, especially the lightning bolt incident. Did you know he played the lute? I didn’t. Now we both do.
Some high points:
The whole story starts on a high note, as the first illustration is a Bosch painting. Later on there’s a panel that’s right out of Escher. Bonus points from me.
For a monk, he sure knew his spycraft. Junker Jorg indeed.
There’s a Groundhog Day page to show how bored he is in exile, funny despite the repetitiveness.
“The gospel should be told as if everything just happened yesterday.”
“God. . . was absent during the bloodbath.”
The downside, at least for me, is all the religious babble. To the end he holds to his simplistic, even childish views. “There are innocent people among them. God knows well how to protect and save them. . . if he does not save them, then it is only because they are villains.” Ugh. And even if a lot of the Catholic rituals haven’t changed in over 500 years, I still don’t understand them.
As for how historically accurate it is, I can’t help but wonder. I looked for any representations of him with the hipster beard, and couldn’t find any. The wedding: tuxedo and white dress? Hopelessly anachronistic, obviously trying to appeal to a younger generation.
“Assumes a pastorate.” Some of the language sounds silly to modern ears.
I will admit I learned a lot from this, if indeed it was all true; I have my doubts on that score. He was neither a saint nor a sinner, or perhaps he was a bit of both. If this was pitched as a story, no one would buy it, but as a history lesson it works.
3/5

Poe: Stories and Poems
Seven of the master’s most famous works rendered in visual form. Being a huge Poe fan might skew my opinion, but since my very favorite story isn’t in here, I don’t think it’ll be a problem. Was going to try to keep my comments to just the graphic novel’s depiction, but as usual my questions about the stories crept in when I wasn’t looking.
Masque of the Red Death:
Starts, appropriately enough, with a depiction of what the plague does to a human body. This is easily the most colorful of the stories, as it should be, considering the party rooms. This is also the most straightforwardly told, but that may be because it’s the first one.
As I’ve wondered in the past, why did Poe name this protagonist Prospero? And how did the plague enter the sealed fortress after a few months had gone by?
Cask of Amontillado:
I will say the coloring in these scenes, particularly the burial basement, are accurate if not beautiful to look at: mostly darkness, with only the harsh yellow of artificial light to illuminate it. And I always thought Poe was being ironic, or sarcastic, in calling that unfortunate character Fortunado.
Annabel Lee:
This is the first story where the characters are dressed modern rather than period. This artwork makes the whole theme seem even sadder, from the shot of him on his knees sobbing into the ocean to his finished fortress of sand. It feels like no woman has ever been mourned more.
The Pit and The Pendulum:
The story is all black with white lines, since he’s trapped in the dark, until he finds the pit. The rats were a little too realistic for my taste. And this has always been one of my least favorite Poes, as I’m not a fan of the “saved in the nick of time” trope.
The Telltale Heart:
This has always been the go-to when it comes to showing the power of guilt. If anything, it’s a little too on-the-nose here, not subtle at all, but then there weren’t that many pages to work with.
The Bells:
Really isn’t much you can do artwise to show bells. Bells can be happy or sad, but they’re just the tool. The bright orange of the fire looks nice, though.
The Raven:
The protagonist looks just like Poe in these grayscale drawings. The raven is exquisitely drawn, with patterns in its wings. This poem isn’t as visual as the others, so not as much to work with here, though I thought the artist could have made more use of the references.
Ends, rather fittingly, with his grave.
The artwork is more picture book that graphic novel. As you’d expect, it’s literally and metaphorically dark. But I do have to admit that the images make the reading go by faster.
At the end the author explains some of his choices, accidentally answering some of my own questions.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Non-Fic Be Sick

“Did you just fall in love again?”
“Let’s label this one ‘severe like.’”

{Apologies for the title. My editor insisted.
No, I don’t have an editor.}

A Way of Life: Zen Monastics at Work and at Play
Photographs of a Vietnamese monastery through the eyes of an American.
The shots are often grainy, which lends itself well to the documentary aspect of the book. One of the first shots shows two women in profile walking past a lake, a red bridge before them. The background is foggy. It’s beautiful.
But mostly it’s about the monks. There’s a bald one with glasses, smiling as he/she paddle a rowboat. The masked monk on a riding lawn mower seems a little incongruous. There’s shots of them playing basketball, volleyball, badminton, hopscotch, and some sort of hackey-sack in a parking lot. Not what is expected from a monastery. There’s also a music section, the highlight of which is the little girl watching the cello player.
Some of the photos are complimented by sayings or poems, which does serve to make them a little more special, but even though there’s some beautiful images here, most of the photography looks like stuff taken at a backyard family party. Not all that interesting, unless the point was somewhere in the vein of, “Look, they’re just like us!”
3/5

Directing the Sitcom Joel Zwick
There’s nothing else that could explain this book any better than the title it already has. Mr. Zwick, who’s been doing this for decades, gets asked questions and answers them, period. A big part of this is the questioner, who is also in the business of show, as Tom Hanks puts it in the foreword—Yay for Bosom Buddies!—knows exactly what to ask the experienced director.
But despite the short length, it took forever for me to get through this. Sometimes it became too technical; I know some of the stuff as a professional photographer, and I’ve been on set shooting stills, but at times it just went right over my head. Oddly enough, less than half the book talks about the shoot itself—or as they call it, the film school portion—which I’m guessing is what most people are looking for when they buy this book. The highlights of this section are explanations of camera terms, such as extreme close up and cowboy, along with four camera setups, perfectly illustrated with basic drawings.
In the end, I liked the stories about the actors and other Hollywood people more than the craftwork.
3/5

Big Nate: A Good Old-Fashioned Wedgie
Just in case the title isn’t enough, the cover shows a kid giving another kid a wedgie. Believe it.
I’ve read this comic strip before, and despite the fact the main character is a total butt monkey it’s pretty funny, even hilarious at times. In this edition Nate’s back on the baseball team, though quickly benched for rapping from the outfield, falls in love for the millionth time, sees a past crush return from Seattle, offers to help dad with his manscaping, helps his buddy with a diet, binges on X-Files, and talks like Stewie from Family Guy.
Best lines:
“Historians are still debating that.” Works every time.
“Scooby Doofus!” Wish I’d thought of that.
4/5

If My Dogs Were a Pair of Middle-Aged Men
I can’t tell you anything more concerning what this book is about that isn’t already in the title; I do love it when it’s so on point.
Some of these jokes hit a little too close to home, some are kinda gross, but mostly it’s just taking usual dog behaviors and ramping them up to hilarious heights through rudimentary artwork that somehow makes it even funnier. The pooping and bathtime scenarios go into “I can’t believe he went there but I’m laughing so hard” range.
3.5/5

;o)

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: Loud Comic Strips in Stitches

Lunarbaboon: The Daily Life of Parenthood
This turned out to be a collection of strips about a strange man—or is he really half baboon?—who does his best to raise his three-year-old son and baby with the occasional help of his almost-as-strange wife.
The strips I read usually make me chuckle; a few of these did actually—not metaphorically—make me laugh out loud. Some border on brilliant. My faves:
“Your belly is so silly.”
“Ask that guy!”
“#1 Trekkie!”
“How much do you love mommy and daddy?” Less than last time.
“The floor is made of lava!”
The realization that if you look like your dad did, you’re gonna look like him. . .
“Junk food night!”
But if I had to pick one fave, it would have to be how ice cubes can cure a booboo.
This is likely the funniest strip I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot. And now that I’m checking it out every morning, I wish it came out more often.
5/5

Stitched #1: The First Day of the Rest of Her Life
A stitched-up girl is reborn, with no memory of her previous life, in a strange cemetery, where she meets friends and foes. As she’s running away from the tomb where she woke up she barrels into a mansion where ghosts are having a to-do, and they don’t mind her dropping in. But when a ghost tells you to run from another ghost, you should run. Fast.
Always love a character who says “Yikes!” and “What the little apples was that?” But my fave line of Crimson’s is “Saving my stitched butt.” I am loving how easily she makes friends, but Wisteria, the shy non-confrontational werewolf, is my fave.
The win here is with the great writing, both dialogue and characterization.
“You only live once! I think.”
“I am not a witch. I’m a ‘magic technician.’ Way cooler.”
“It smells like mold and lavender and. . . mad things.”
The artwork is fun, the colors amusing, but it’s the writing that really shines here. Even the character bios at the end are funny. It’s not a stretch to say this is an early contender for graphic novel of the year.
(There’s also 20-page previews of other books, which seems excessive.)
4.5/5

The Loud House #1: “There Will Be Chaos”
Apparently this is a TV show on Nickelodeon, so no surprise I missed it. The main character is the middle child, which is really saying something when there’s 11 children. . . all girls but you. And everyone’s name starts with L.
This starts with something more books should: “Meet the Loud Family.” With this many characters it’s definitely a necessity. Thank you!
It turns out to be a choose your own path adventure thingie. . . not fantastic on digital. It’s really just a bunch of short silly vignettes featuring the various sisters. The good stuff here is in the small touches, like the poster of a band called Smooch; awesome. I like that the sister with the most feminine name—Lana—is the tomboy/wrench wench. But under no circumstances should handshakes, even funny ones, take double-digit panels.
A few pages of an interview with the creator and previews of other comics round it out.
Some funny stuff, but unlike most, there’s not much for adults to laugh at here, strictly for kids.
3.5/5

Pearls Hogs the Road
It’s a Pearls Before Swine collection. Nuff said; I’m there.
Starts with a cool intro to say that Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) wrote three of the strips. But as to the comics themselves, all I can tell you is that if you love puns, this is your jam. Even if they make you groan, it’s still a good time.
So what makes this different than reading them in the newspaper or online? Besides having them all in one place and not having to click? Author commentary! It’s just as funny, like throwing your kid in the water to test out the theory that nurse sharks are the most harmless breed. And of course there’s an “except for you, reader” line in there.
Some of the best:
Close up of a lemming, his widdow hands curled into fists. . .
Sweater-neckers; yes, totally agree.
Elizabeth Hurley and Ron Cey in the same strip? Wow. . . even included the mustache. (On Cey, not the lovely still-crush-worthy Ms. Hurley.)
“Please don’t criticize my wheelhouse.” Been there.
Abraham Lincoln tweets!
“To infinity and bed, bath, and beyond!”
“Everything happens for a raisin.”
“Bombast cable!”
Definitely agree on the oyster thing. Eerie how sometimes Pastis and I are in telepathic communication. . . not to mention we’re about the same age and grew up in the same area. We probably met as kids.
End with a special extra: Pearls Without Rat. And then Pig. And Goat. And others. It’s surreal and funny in a completely different way.
Public Service Announcement (more of a warning): on the back cover—or last page if digital—do not look at the tramp stamp! For your own sanity!
5/5

;o)

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)