Book Reviews: Kid Stuff for the Kid in You

Great Cape o’ Colors: Capa De Colores
(English-Spanish with pronunciation guide)
This book contains just about every occupation that could possibly use a cloak or cape. It starts out strong but gradually becomes a bit silly or forced. By the time it gets to Little Red Riding Hood it’s exhausted all the ideas. Every page contains text in English and Spanish, with a pronunciation guide at the beginning. The artwork is basic and the grammar easy.
At the end there’s a color wheel, which is always fun. In all it’s probably a good time for little ones, even if it loses traction as it goes.
Just to add, there’s a link for extras online, but as of my reading there’s nothing on the publisher’s website on this book. Might be too new.
3/5

This Is a Taco!
There’s a squirrel named Taco. The narrator tries to teach you about squirrels, but Taco keeps interrupting, breaking the fourth and fifth wall in the process.
Yes, you run into trouble when you name animals by their favorite foods. Might work once, but not twice. By this logic, the hawk’s name should be Squirrel.
Most of the humor here revolves on either Taco not having a good contract lawyer, or the author/producers of the book ignoring the contract completely. It’s not that funny, but kids will probably find it hilarious and/or confusing. Possibly both.
3.5/5

My Favourite People
After the first page shows a group of people, the book goes on to describe the young protagonist’s favorites, starting with Aung Meg and ending with his parents. Everyone in the group photo—painting?—is featured, each for different reasons, from music to magic to soccer. It’s cute that there’s ethnic diversity in his family, and that one of his friends is a girl.
At the end there’s suggested activities.
4/5

Sid the Madeiran Wall Lizard
A lizard and his mouse buddy watch tourists do touristy things on the island of Madeira, which makes for an interesting change of perspective. He’s not bothered by their actions as long as they drip food for him and his girl lizard friend to buffet on. At the end he manages to accidentally do something he couldn’t earlier, so all the other lizards are impressed at his learning ability.
Rather than the usual bright illustrations, this book opts for a more nuanced color scheme, with an almost Impressionistic feel. There aren’t many of them, though; most of the book is written description, with some but not a lot of it in rhyme.
Overall it’s fun enough, though with more shades than most books made for this age group.
3.5/5

Chilly da Vinci
Chilly is a penguin with a knack for designing machines, like his last namesake. He’s got a ton of self-doubt, which is no surprise considering his contraptions are always failing. He’s also pretty clueless in the way of many scientists: “Why does he feel the need to throw sea junk at me? He’s wasting supplies.” It’s easy to tell because the story is told diary-style; the artwork adds to this by being in the color and style of an old yellowing journal. He’s got a loud doubter but also fans, as one young glasses-wearing penguin wants him to sign his flipper.
It’s a bit weird seeing all this technology, albeit steampunk-looking rather than modern, amongst the penguins and white Antarctic landscape.
“It’s official: my flying machines stink like rotten orca blubber in the midday sun.”
“My pullets didn’t pulley. My engine didn’t engine.”
My favorite of his inventions has to be the night-vision goggles.
This is listed as children’s fiction, but it feels like it’s reaching for an older audience.
4/5

The Enchanted Chest
Fisherman catches an unopenable chest in his net, but a guard sees it and confiscates it for the emperor, a foolish greedy power-hungry idiot. He can’t find anyone who can open it either, and gives lashes to those who fail. A lynx who can see through things is captured and brought to look into the chest, and gets some sweet revenge on the jerk, though I was expecting it to go much further.
The locksmith has a giant key as a necklace, which as a gigantic badge of office is pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, the magician has the most beautiful flowing red hair. . . and that’s about all I remember of the illustrations.
I can just hear kids asking, “Mommy, what does ‘ten lashes’ mean?” Good luck explaining that one.
3.5/5

50 Ways to Feel Happy: Fun activities and ideas to build your happiness skills
Did not know this small British book was geared toward kids until I turned the first page. It’s heavy on the arts and crafts, heavy as in tons. And if you aren’t sick of hearing about mindfulness yet, it pops up here too. Yep, they’re trying to teach that to children now, and not just mindfulness while eating or going for a walk, but to the point of feeling the toothpaste as you brush your teeth. I feel like it’s too early to get kids to think that way; let them be kids for a while! And that doesn’t seem like the best strategy to making them happy, as this book’s title suggests.
There’s a whole section on resilience, but even that’s about making bookmarks and such.
2.5/5

A Page in the Wind
If you weren’t paying attention, you would think this is a story about a baby. Instead it talks about a newly printed newspaper, but one with special powers, because it retains a central memory, as well as sensory abilities to know what each of its individual pages is seeing and feeling.
Some of the individual pages’ destinations were much more inglorious than others. There’s one point where it’s very hopeful about a woman, only to get sarcastic when things don’t work out the way it wants.
So, basically a journey through a city and all its various peoples, but also a journey through life.
The artwork, both the style and its subjects, seems very European, although the creators are from South America; if I had to choose an artist that this reminds me of, I’d pick Cezanne.
3.5/5

The Tiger’s Egg
A disgruntled tiger gets hit on the head, but loses his anger when he sees it’s an egg. Immediately he decides he’ll take care of it, then the bird which hatches from it. Eventually the little avian thinks it’s a tiger too, putting it in a dangerous situation that mirrors the opening page quite nicely.
This tiger is the old grumpy man—uncle, neighbor, etc—who secretly gives you candy when your mom’s not looking (not in a creepy way). Though it regrets letting the bird pretend to be something it’s not, he’s kind enough to let it lie till the next morning, allowing the small creature to bask in its victory. The tiger doesn’t want anyone to know about this quirk in his personality, never noticing the toucan and monkey are hanging above him, watching everything.
The artwork is rudimentary—wish the bird could have been done better—but otherwise serviceable.
3.5/5

Sloppy Takes the Plunge
From the cover alone you can tell how cute this is going to be.
For a fairy that wears rainboots, Dewdrop is big on hygiene, to the point she won’t give a requested hug to a muddy dragon. Sloppy refuses to clean up, but when it comes time to be brave for others, he steps up.
As expected, Dewdrop is the boss here, manipulating Sloppy every step of the way to get the job done. She doesn’t expect the last twist, of course, but that makes everything more fun. The dragon may have his name in the title, but it’s Dewdrop the fairy that steals the show.
Don’t have much to say about the artwork. Nothing stands out, but of course nothing wrong with it either.
4/5

Lulu Is A Rhinoceros
A bulldog tries to convince everyone that she’s actually a rhinoceros.
Nice rhyme of “Eek!” and “freak.”
Now we now we can get brain freeze by putting the ice cream on our nose too.
This book gives yet another reason to hate pigeons. Other birds are cool, though, especially when they remove insects from your not-so-tough hide. (Not referring to the reader, of course; your skin looks silky-smooth.)
Turns out the secret is in being correctly geographically located.
Sometimes the artwork looks like stained glass, other times crayon. It’s an interesting mix.
3.5/5

The Toucan Patrol
Small boy wants to earn his badge—or scarf—by camping overnight with the troupe, but things turn out to be a lot harder than he anticipates.
Why? Because nothing makes sense in this entire story. All kinds of creatures show up, then turn into something else, seemingly to teach him to be brave or believe in himself or something, but I can’t imagine any kid who reads this will think it was worth going through all that crap thrown at him.
I was never a Boy Sprout or any of those similar organizations—unless you count the Marine Corps—so I don’t know how true-to-life this is, but if it is I’m glad I wasn’t a part of it, because the other kids are so mean to him! The adults in charge do nothing about it, either. I can’t remember drill instructors being so harsh, and they get paid to be that way! If this was based on the author’s experience, I have no idea why he’d want to remember it, let alone celebrate it.
Bright and colorful, certainly nothing wrong with the artwork, but in a way that makes the story worse.
1.5/5

Tiny Fox and Great Boar: There
Tiny Fox lives under a tree, all alone and okay with that. A boar comes along and for a while things are fine, until Fox resents this intrusion into his home. But then Boar goes away and Fox realizes he misses his new friend. All these confusing emotions! Then a scarf gets stuck in the tree and teaches life lessons.
It’s definitely cute, and kids might learn something from it. “Worthwhile” would probably be a good word for it.
Simple watercolor art, nice but no big deal.
3.5/5

Caillou Tries New Foods
Unlike all the other books I’ve read in this series, this one has an agenda. It doesn’t want your kid to try new foods, it wants them to try new healthy foods. There’s even tips for how to accomplish this, including having Caillou accompany mom to the grocery store and helping with the cooking.
If only it was really that easy. . .
3/5

Caillou Takes the Train
As the title tells ya, the little boy and his family are taking a train trip. Since they’ll be on for two days and this series is Canadian, it’s an easy guess what route this will be.
This book really does a great job of making a train trip fun. Looking out the window as it starts to move does indeed make it seem like it’s the station that’s moving, and walking on a moving train can feel like being on an amusement park ride. The views from the dome car make you think you’re on a plane, and beds magically appear.
But what about the other forty hours. . .?
4/5

The Oceanic Times
Written not so much as a newspaper as the newsletter for a condo association, with sections, games, dating profiles, and even ads, it’s both funny and educational.
I love the music section, though I don’t know why they interviewed a blue whale instead of a humpback.
“Tears of the clownfish”. . . sometimes a good pun writes itself. “Seahorsing around” is another one.
In case you don’t believe truth is stranger than fiction, take a look at an anglerfish.
4/5

;o)

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Book Reviews: Bears Doing Other Things in the Woods

My Boyfriend is a Bear
As always, I love it when the title tells you everything you need to know.
After she cuts her hair, the story goes into flashback to how they met. She goes hiking, there’s the bear, they like each other, they’re in a relationship, much of which takes place in her apartment, not the woods. There’s inherent problems with dating a bear, but love seems to conquer all.
It’s the little things that make this worthwhile, small touches of humor. Some of my faves:
As someone allergic to bee stings, I second the advice about not dating them, especially the queen.
Glad there was a mention of her favorite sundress, because otherwise it seems like all she has is that one dress that she wears everywhere. She even says she doesn’t like to wear pants, and the bear is okay with that.
There’s a list of all the things he’s broken, but never her heart, so it’s okay.
“Sup, LA?”
There’s a montage of guys she’s dated, though she sheepishly adds that it’s not a complete list.
The bear dressed in an Arcade Fire shirt. . . too much.
C’mon, Runyon is so over. Good choice with The Grove, though.
Subjecting the Bear to Downton Abbey is just cruel.
Throughout hibernation she’s trying to be somewhat normal, while at the bottom of each page there’s a series of panels showing the bear tossing and turning.
Her favorite swear word is “balls,” which on her is so cute. And she blushes when he uses “boobs” in Scrabble. His favorite word is “Grah!” but then it’s his only word.
Was surprised that the beautiful artwork on the cover was not replicated inside; not that the rest of it is bad, it’s just a lot simpler.
Everything that was said about this is true. Really sweet and optimistic. Doesn’t try to be any deeper than it is.
4/5

Spectacle Vol. 1
In a steampunk world; two sisters live and work in a traveling circus-type thing, until one of them is killed. That’s not the end of her story, though; she hangs around as a ghost to help her sister find the murderer.
Both funny and poignant how one sister was born at sunrise and the other at dusk. “The trend continued throughout our lives.” The dialogue is in bubbles, but the introspection and background is written throughout the page. I like it.
The older, more mature sister built a precursor computer. Very steampunk. But sometimes she can’t get out of her own way. “I have higher. . . er, different standards.” Yeah, when something happens to her I’m not the least bit surprised.
Wow, that literal ringleader. . . down to the curled shoes.
“The spirit world is closed right now.” That was an interesting twist.
“Wash your face more often and love will come your way.” Wish she’d told me that sooner.
I love mermaids, but not when they’re mean.
If there’s one downside it’s that it cuts off right in the middle, which tells you there’s more to come, but you gotta wait.
The artwork isn’t anything to write home about, but I really enjoyed the interplay between the sisters, and even if I felt more sorry for Anna than anything else, she was still my fave character.
4/5

Animosity: Evolution Vol. 1
When The Wake happens, all animals suddenly find themselves with the ability to talk and think on what was previously a human-only level. Annoyed with the way they’ve been treated, they quickly seek revenge. A month later billions of animals have taken over a city, holding off human armies on one side and dolphins on the other. Their self-proclaimed leader soon finds herself the victim of a suicide bomber. . . then things really get interesting.
For those entering the city for the first time, the entrance is set up like a refugee camp, with delousing and such, and those who pass are treated to an intro by a song-and-dance pink-dressed creature. For such a bright idea, this gets depressing in a hurry.
In the background of one of the panels is an angry-looking woman carrying a sloth. . . which makes no sense. Sloths are fun!
There’s a law firm called Hart, Ram, and Wolfe. That can’t possibly be a coincidence, can it? After that I found myself looking through each panel carefully to see if Buffy’s buddy Angel showed up next.
Ugh, why did one of the main characters have to be a bat? So ugly.
If you’re gonna do biological terrorism, a frog is the perfect animal to do the job.
That dog-like creature in charge. . . some of the philosophy she expounds is interesting, but she’s so much of a deep thinker compared to everyone else it makes her kinda ridiculous.
So many characters made it somewhat confusing, though I suppose if they were all human factions it wouldn’t be any simpler. Maybe a character page would have helped.
About a dozen pages of extras at the end, like alternate covers and progress comparisons.
3/5

Open Earth
Survivors of an environmental disaster live aboard a space station named after California, which makes total sense to me, being a lifelong Angelino. Over the course of this graphic novel, a group of young people from the first generation born in space try to figure out how to live their lives, with the emotional part being a lot harder than the sexual.
There’s an awful lot of internal narration. Wish they could have found some other way to present all the info dumps. Not sure how I feel about a world that considers Hotel California to be a classic in the way Mozart and Beethoven are, but okay.
It wasn’t the threesome that told me it was a dream, it was the burger.
I do like people who can make jokes during sex, and after.
Had some trouble identifying which were the guys, as they’re drawn rather androgynous.
Except for some slang, I understood all the Spanish.
The artwork was the weakest part, but still pretty in a watercolor-y way.
All in all, I enjoyed it more than I thought I might from the description.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Comic Strip Coolness

Moran Cartoons Vol 1 Sleeping Dogs
I remember The Far Side fondly. This strip might just top it.
Right from the first one, Prairie Dog School, you can tell this is both going to be smart—no lowest common denominator here—yet savage.
A high proportion of these actually made me laugh out loud. From the anteater that likes spicy food to the native dancer who prefers the macarena, these humorous illustrations take some kind of anthropological viewpoint and turn it on its head, like making me feel sorry for both Bigfoot and Littlefoot.
Other favorites: Art gallery. Terminator. Big bang theory. Right to bear arms. Bad dogs. Berserk Vikings. Cowboy biologists. Spock and Picard. Quacken! Light a cottage to Freya. The Flash and bugs. Blizzard of Oz. Flamenco dancing is in your blood. Do I come here often? The fall of the Roman Empire. Prickly Pear. Mailman training. Gone with the Wind. Sniper graduation parade.
But my absolute favorite is the metal detector.
The artwork isn’t much of a much, just sketch-like, but it hardly matters. And don’t think I didn’t notice that car with the lovely UCLA logo on it. . .
5/5

Birding Is My Favorite Video Game
A one-panel comic strip—I guess you would need at least two panels to make a strip, but whatever—concerning the animal kingdom. It sneaks up on you, but once you get over the first couple of shocks you realize this is hilarious!
Bird call mnemonics! Cool! But there’s no way I’ll remember them.
That is not the word I would use for the turkey vulture.
The three-way crash on the tree was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
A new contender for world’s smallest violin!
“Parasitism is the sincerest form of flattery.” Wow.
Snakes fall prey to talking villain syndrome.
“The blood of mighty dinosaurs courses through my veins!”
Best wedding photo ever!
Attenborough gets his table turned!
I can’t believe how many times such easy jokes made me laugh so hard! Even something as simple as Top 10 posts and dating profiles!
“Snakes are typically self-governing.” Wow again! And “Many birds do not recognize its authority.” By the way, the horny one “only thinks of you as a friend.”
What would a turtle butt selfie look like?
Species index at the end, including Reading Attenborough.
5/5

Ménage à 3 Volume 1
Guy in Montreal comes home from work to find his two roommates doing each other, and more importantly about to move out, leaving him with no way to pay the rent alone. But don’t worry, they put out an ad for him, highlighting the need for applicants to have cute butts. That sets the tone for the shenanigans in the rest of this pretty huge volume.
Cute girl gets her face stuck in new girl’s cleavage. No better way to introduce a character. I don’t think it’s going to matter how cute her butt is.
“Less talk, more waffle.”
Generally I hate tats, but that Canadian beaver is awesome. So’s the anger thermometer.
Don’t hug a new desk until you know where it’s been.
It’s good to be bi. . .
Of the three in bed, the cat looks the most surprised to be caught.
“Don’t worry your tight little buns about that.” Not the character I expected to say that. . . no, never mind, just not the one I wanted to.
Zii’s makeout warmups are hilarious.
Smartest stripper ever!
Ah, that proctologist excuse. . .
Of all the musical acts in the world, Red Hot Chili Peppers having a wardrobe malfunction would be the last choice. . . except for maybe the Red Hot Chili Pipers.
Wow, that Charlie Brown parody. . . no words.
“Didi’s not in this? Bah, I’ll come back when you’re done.” Get out of my mind, dude.
Over three hundred pages, all those opportunities, all those girls. . . and he still can’t get laid. . .
4.5/5

Little Moments of Love
A tiny girl is in love with a bearded man who towers above her. Thankfully he loves her too, enough to put up with her occasionally over-the-top weirdness. How small is she? She’s so tiny she fits in his hoodie. . . while he’s wearing it.
Each page is in the standard four-panel comic strip format, and there’s rarely any dialogue, but they are superb in showing the little things in relationships that make humans fall in love, or stay in love, despite obstacles. It’s sweet and charming and most of all hilarious.
The one that really got to me was when she says she remembered everything. . . while he waits for her to come back for her purse. The almost-embarrassed smile is just perfect, especially considering how broad the artwork is.
Sometimes she’s a little mean and tries to pass it off as endearing, like putting her cold hands on him, or zip-tying him to a chair. I don’t know if her fetish is his butt or his beard. . . though I suppose it could be both. I definitely don’t want to spend hump days with her. Thankfully the cuteness outweighs those moments, like the “It’s my lips!” routine. There are tiny touches throughout that makes this all the more special, like when she grabs onto the edge of the panel with her tiny adorable hands. His best moment is showing off his kissing-forehead magic to his friend; his thumb is the perfect capper.
“Nope. Never letting go.”
The quick shower thing was right on the mark; at least the author can make fun of herself.
And that’s probably the cutest author pic ever. . .
4.5/5

Buni: Happiness Is a State of Mind
The first image you see, besides the cover, is this strange bunny-like creature rocking out with headphones; it looks incredibly awesome. But let’s face it, this comic strip is where optimism goes to die. The pseudo-bunny starts each page happy, but just a few panels later something horrible has happened to him. . . and it’s hilarious.
Some of my faves to look out for:
Sushi and hugs: both so wrong. . .
I will never forgive this author for what he did to the redheaded mermaid!
Christmas delusion. . .
Cupid’s arrow doesn’t work on squirrels.
Easter Bunny has quite a racket.
This is the first person/animal/fictional creature I’ve seen who can have just as much fun playing with a popped balloon.
Books attacking TVs could become a thing.
Sharks are dangerous out of water too.
If T. Rexes had keytars, they would not have gone extinct.
Tinder is great for pollination.
4.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Erotic Hacks, Dragons, and Chateaus

X Marks the Spot
A woman wants to move on, but her husband won’t let her. She’s interested in a guy from her past, but some well-meaning shenanigans by friends make for a huge misunderstanding, and now she’s not sure which one she wants.
I almost gave up on this, as I found the writing style boring from the beginning. But then. . . I want to hate the author for that big twist, and what it does to Abi, but it’s actually kinda brilliant. On the other hand, I can’t stand that this genre is seemingly required to make so many characters real assholes, but Liam is particularly gifted in that regard.
When I got through the first half I didn’t think I would enjoy this as much as I eventually did. The writing got better, the characters became smarter and kinder, and even the supposed bad guy grew into something better. I pretty much guessed where the sex would end up going, and that was done well too. Thoroughly pleasantly surprised after muddling through that annoying start.
3.5/5

Sister In Law
An abused child grows into a beautiful woman, but burning with an obsession for revenge on all men. She uses her beauty to get what she wants, without a care to anyone else’s feelings, usually. She’s recruited into a sinister plan to take down the President of the United States by the {NRA}, but finds herself falling in love.
Speaking in digital terms, the first 10% of this story is just setup; takes that long for the protagonist to be introduced. It’s followed by a long description of the physical and psychological problems she faced growing up. It’s a long flashback to the present, which basically explains her approach to sex and business once we get there. This lasts till 27%, which means it’s over a ¼ done before the story actually starts.
I liked the writing, with plenty of funny stuff. The problem is the pacing; almost halfway through and it’s still not at the main plot so glaringly told in the publicity blurb. Not that her life story is boring, but every once in a while I wish it’d moved on. If there’s one thing I didn’t like about the writing, it’s the clunky foreshadowing at the end of each chapter; not necessary.
The thing with Craig was a little obvious, but a good touch, not unexpected considering the people she was dealing with. I didn’t think I would like the letters to her BFF, but they really helped to make her sympathetic. After starting as a woman intent on revenge, she mellowed nicely, coming across as more human.
The book takes quite an unexpected turn right before the end, something I would have never imagined from the main character. I’m not sure I’d call it believable, but it was well done. But right after that there’s another twist, and I found her decision on that one not credible at all. I have no idea how I feel about the ending and its aftermath, at once noble and yet all the more upsetting. I have some sympathy for her, but not as much as her story would want from me. Also, I am officially saying this is not an erotica as advertised. The sex scenes are truncated, hardly even foreplay.
Although it was for the most part nicely written, as mentioned above, there were moments when I felt like this was a beginning writer, and in the author page I saw I was right. A great first effort, but not as great as it could have been.
3/5

Dragon’s Bride: Monster Ball
In this short novel—I read it in about two hours—a female dragon shapeshifter is basically forced by “The Elders” to mate with a seemingly emotionless leader, held captive until she comes into heat. And when she does. . . does she ever! Of course his cousin and her sister are involved, and there’s all kinds of secret relationships that that are bursting to unsecret themselves.
Eh. . .
At the heart of most romances, even paranormal, is a lack of communication, but this book ups that factor by a few levels. Even the thing with the supposed bad guys would have worked out if only these people talked to each other. It’s all supposed to come off as “love is inevitable” with a touch of “all’s well that ends well,” but it’s really more frustrating than anything else, and the sex scenes don’t have enough to make up for it.
2/5

The Chateau
A man whore/secret agent assassin takes his next unofficial assignment enthusiastically, infiltrating a sex cult. . . though it’s not really infiltrating if you tell the target what you’re doing. He’s there to “save” a relative of his chief from the dastardly “clutches” of the woman in charge, but of course things are never as they seem.
This author writes “bigger” than most erotica. This is my second book by her, and like that other one, it feels like an esoteric literary fiction with some sex scenes.
I always find myself thinking ahead, guessing at what twists might be coming up, and this one had a couple. For instance, I thought it would be amazing if the least likely of all characters—and it’s obvious who I mean if you’ve read this—is the mole. Looks like I might be right, but it’s left ambiguous. At least my guess about her ex-husband was spot on.
By far my least favorite part. . . it’s fine to say that he wants everything that’s happening to him, and she loves giving it to him, but that mind fuck about Colette and Soren. . . there’s no coming back from that. It’s just evil. I don’t care why she did it, I lost all sympathy for her there. He simply didn’t deserve that, as it’s not the kind of pain he’s into; no one does.
According to the small interview at the end, this book is a bit of a prequel, set in a universe where a lot of things, especially with this character, have already happened. If I wasn’t still annoyed by that twist I might have felt like reading those others.
3/5

Love Hack
A nerdy computer geek and a beautiful lady at a tech firm meet and get instantly hot for each other. . . of course. She’s got an annoying ex, and in what was probably an earlier entry in what feels like a series, there was a major computer intrusion that the company is still recovering from.
There’s some excellent writing here. During a scene where they’re making love by a fire, the paragraph about their shadows joining in was superb.
The plot was relatively simple, the ending obvious, but it doesn’t matter when the characters are both relatable and special, and the writing this much fun. . . at least that’s how I felt before the last twist, which was completely out of character and forced, just for the sake of. . . I don’t know why. It was the very textbook definition of anticlimactic. Perhaps there’s some blueprint, some book on writing these types of novels, that says they can’t live happily ever after just yet; there must be some other obstacle to overcome, after one or both act stupidly in some manner. That probably cost what was otherwise an excellent book a higher score.
Fun note: I think this author is a Judy Greer fan. First there’s the “Hi-Lo” line from The Big Bang Theory—which could also be an Evanescence/Lindsey Stirling shoutout—and then there’s the huge planner/organizer right out of 27 Dresses.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Errrrrotic

Endless Chase—Dalakis Passion, Book 5
In what is book 5 of a series I haven’t dipped into before, a semi-supernatural woman goes to Transylvania to avenge the murder of her parents, and finds something much different than vengeance.
This is one of those stories where the two leads look at each other and instantly fall in love, thus saving a lot of time on “getting to know you” and dates and stuff. They even have psychic sex at one point. Halfway there’s a pretty weird twist involving the female protagonist, but that’s about the only unexpected moment. There’s a lot of characters, no doubt introduced in the previous books, but my fave is the priest, and that’s coming from an atheist.
This was a bit difficult to judge. It went on longer than I expected, especially after the final battle. It’s a strange romance, and that’s saying a lot in this genre. And if the title is a pun on his name, too bad the author didn’t use it in the story.
3/5

Breaking the Rules
A woman comes home to El Lay when her mother gets sick, and in between taking care of her and looking for a job she joins her brother at the gym and falls in lust for the owner, who used to be tease her when they were kids.
Amara is an interesting mixture of contradictions. Sometimes she’s sassy, other times shy. Abhors violence, but has the hots for a professional fighter. Worried about reputation, but preferring one-night-stands to relationships. I often fall in love with the women in these stories, but there’s something special about Amara that pushes her into the category of most memorable even with all those strange traits.
As for the book, I like the funny moments, the banter. If it wasn’t for the first half being all “we can’t,” boring me after a while, this would have been truly excellent, even with the whiny petulant older brother.
4/5

Training Sasha
A young woman who kinda grew up in an S&M club still has the hots for the new owner after five years, even though he treats her horribly. But then she’s a submissive, so that seems to work for her. Unfortunately he’s a dom into pain rather than sex, so he doesn’t want to have anything to do with such an innocent, even if she is curious about the lifestyle. It doesn’t help that her brother works at the club.
Like some of the most annoying of this genre, it does the “I can’t!” mental speech over and over. The fact that it’s the man doing it doesn’t make it any less annoying. Even worse, I do believe this is a new record for the most stubborn, stupidest character I’ve ever read, and that is saying so much. . .
I know I harp a lot about misunderstandings and no communication being so overdone in romances—there really wouldn’t be any without them—but it’s particularly sad when one party for the most part isn’t allowed to voice her thoughts anyway.
I didn’t think I was going to end up liking the ending, but thankfully the author did a masterful job of redeeming what looked to be the biggest asshole in literary history. Still wish the ride there had been more enjoyable, though.
3/5

Close
A woman who strips to pay for her degree doesn’t want to quit the job when she’s graduated and working as a therapist, for several psychological reasons as well as money. That old saying about counselors receiving counseling to know what it’s like doesn’t apply here, as she seems to have more problems than her patients. The biggest of those hang-ups is a fear of love, which she mentally discusses over and over, but it also turns out she as well as her fellow therapist had an eating disorder.
On the other gender side is a guy who appears to be simply smitten by her, but the truth is much more sinister. She’s right to wonder why he’s so hot for her, even if it’s not what she thinks.
At first it’s confusing as to why there’s an occasional chapter written by another guy; it took me a while to realize it was someone else. That guy’s a real downer, even beyond how closed off the primary two are. At least at the end it all makes sense, a good job of tying it all together. But seriously, these people are so damaged they induce sadness, even pity, much more than any rooting for their sputtering romance. Even if they end up happily ever after, it’s not enough to overcome this.
I’ve complained about how introspective some of these books are, but I can forgive it this time because she’s a therapist. On the other hand, despite it being a relatively short book full of that, I still grew annoyed at how often they got together and then he huffed out. I liked the writing more than the structure; don’t want to say plot, because it’s actually an intriguing premise, but the repetition made it difficult to stay invested.
3/5

Switch It Up
What an intriguing premise!
White hat hacker breaks into a sex club’s website, finds a Sim, and gets so mad at something that she goes right to the club in real life to give the owner a piece of her mind. Then the fun begins.
Despite all the erotica I’ve read, including plenty of power and domination stuff, this is the first book I’ve seen full of the phycology of the switch. It’s pretty interesting, especially the fact it’s a male. Most menage stories feature the two guys with the girl only; rarely do the guys play with each other too. That made this different.
I’m always amazed that stories like these go so long. There’s a section where she’s talking about anatomy, and it’s so matter-of-fact that it’s kinda jarring compared to the previous playful nature. But in the end her being a hacker wasn’t that important; would have been cool to see more scenes of her doing her stuff, maybe catching more bad guys. Overall it was more than okay, but I still feel Maddy’s character was shortchanged a bit. Would have preferred more of her.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: As Graphic as You Wanna Be

Algeria Is Beautiful Like America
A French lady of Algerian descent wants to visit the old homeland, see where her parents and grandparents grew up. Everyone’s telling her not to go, mostly because it’s a dangerous country, but as it turns out there’s a more embarrassing reason as well.
There’s a lot of background about her family before she goes; she doesn’t get to Algeria till part two. The best of that is a cute moment when she does the bunny ears on her mom in a family photo.
Things change once she gets to Algeria, with intriguing drawings of her being touristy, like the one with the chipmunk-like mascot. I haven’t been to Algiers in years, but something should have looked familiar, especially since like her I go to all kinds of museums.
The guy driving her from Algiers is such a downer, but I guess the character is necessary for the story. It’s interesting that’s this is trying to teach a history no one outside of France and Algeria—and probably most people there—knows about, and for the most part wouldn’t care. But especially on the long drive—well, early on in the flashbacks too—it’s presented kinda boring.
But there’s still plenty of great moments. The cowboy scene was funny, and I love the photo of her posing with the city sign. I did notice the guy was sitting on an ancient column, so yay me. My fave character was the woman at the end, in the old family apartment.
Unusual for a graphic novel, there were lots of footnotes, though most written too small to read.
Most of the artwork is basic pencil, black and white, though at times it’s starkly beautiful. Some panels are in color, the photos she takes; they even have the camera info on them, which is cute. The images on the computer did not get the same treatment, sadly. The best drawings were of the main character swimming, at the end. Then the header for the next chapter shows her face with wet hair.
In the end, despite some tired passages, it was pretty enjoyable. But except for the part about the cowboy, I don’t understand the title, what America has to do with it. . .
3.5/5

Stalag-X
Humanity is fighting aliens and losing badly. One of the few survivors of a battle is a prisoner who prevents the crew from self-destructing when boarded, which leads them to be taken to a prison colony.
Felt like it could have taken place in the Starship Troopers universe—especially with the big monster, the base, and the rallying cry (won’t even mention the Dizzy character)—with a little bit of Battlestar Galactica and V thrown in. One of the aliens is affectionately nicknamed Mengele, and for good reason.
The first “surprise twist” wasn’t much of a surprise, but the second one was. More to the point, the story gets too confusing. Would have liked it more streamlined. Ends in a cliffhanger, of course. And for once in my life I wish an author could have resisted putting some “alien sex” in there.
I can’t think of anything special to say about the artwork. As far as the rest of the presentation, at times the prose was too small to read. At the end there’s a short story about one of the characters, with only the occasional artwork, mostly words.
3/5

Eleanor & the Egret
A painting is stolen, a feather the only evidence. The detective has a cat as an assistant. The tiny dog in the sweater only says “Arf.” There’s a touch of steampunk, but in a world where animals talk, it hardly matters.
Early on there’s a hint that the reason for the plot is bigger than just stealing paintings, and while I’m glad for that, wish there’d been more to it, not left so far along. The second theft was ingenious, done in a way that could never otherwise be accomplished without a bird accomplice. . . especially a big bird. I wish said bird was smarter, though. Her disguises are cute, but don’t really hide her.
There’s a bird-shaped dialog bubble, but there’s also small bubbles of information about obvious things; it’s annoying, especially “Kiss.” The only ones I didn’t mind were the hearts, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known about that particular plot point. The only other thing that annoyed me was the shots of the victims toward the end, showing both “songwriter” and “musician.” Are you saying songwriters can’t be musicians, silly?
Cutesy tale, but in the end not much more than that.
There’s a cover gallery, the best of which features Eleanor painting amid a field of poppies.
3/5

James Bond: Casino Royale
I’ve been hesitant to try any more Bond graphic novels, as except for the one on Leiter they’ve all been so bad I didn’t come close to finishing them. But I figured since this story was already written it couldn’t be screwed up too badly. In fact it wasn’t screwed up at all, bringing back good memories of reading it for the first time, but not the movies, thankfully.
What’s most impressive is how condensed the text is while still telling the story. There’s a famous line that’s kept in, with Bond driving the car “with almost sensual pleasure.” I must be the only guy who doesn’t get that, but it’s cool to see it in there. It’s more surprising that also included is the long talk on good and evil toward the end. There’s even little factoids running through his brain—and on the page—right out of Sherlock.
“You ought to be tortured every day.” I love Mathis.
A thought I’ve had before: I wonder if any editor ever told Fleming to “cut all the stuff with the girl” at the end.
The illustrations are in an artsy 60s style. The text is in italics, making it difficult to read, but in the end it’s worth it.
3.5/5

Magnus: Between Two Worlds TP
An AI kills its owners, then hides in a VR world, thinking no human can catch him there. The plot is nothing new, but the world where it takes place is—unless you count the unimatrix place where some Borg go in Star Trek: Voyager—which is what makes it so intriguing. The other good part is the protagonist, a virtual reality blade runner/AI psychologist who’s a very likeable character.
Not surprised about the dog, or the cat for that matter. . . okay, later on I’m surprised about the dog. There’s a really funny elevator scene that for me was the highlight. Her backstory is told as she tries to keep someone alive in the AI world, which is cleverly done.
Good use of the now-overdone phrase “The end of the beginning.” Ends with a set-up for a sequel.
Though the artwork left a lot to be desired, especially in brightness, the story was good, as was the dialogue.
3.5/5

Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom
As the title suggests, a murder takes place at a fat camp for kids.
As always, the first part is taken up with character introductions, though some of them aren’t all that well done. I thought Gwen would be my early favorite, despite the fact I usually don’t like nurses, but she turned out to be a disappointment for a number of reasons, especially the smoking. And she’s not very smart either, considering she’s always doing things she shouldn’t right where the kids can see her. Hello? You’ve got forest all around you! In the end I liked the outdoorsy girl most of all, but wow, that was a gory murder scene, especially for a graphic aimed at kids.
This is actually well plotted, and well done, more logical than most police procedurals. If I had been able to tell all the camp counselors apart—too many of them to keep track—I might have solved the murder myself. In retrospect, the clues were there, which is more than you can say for most mystery novels nowadays. On the other hand, “talking villain syndrome” strikes hard.
“Trying to get back to my birth weight.” Okay, that was funny.
There’s plenty of extras. I particularly enjoyed the story of how it all came about. Knew one of the writers had to be a mystery fan, and thankfully she read the right ones, considering what she said about plot. Also well done is the description of the final coloring process, explaining the lighting coming from the fire.
“Well done, yearbook staff.” Even the creator bios are fun.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Lawyers, Profilers, Assassins, and Diplomats

Derailed
This is a small prequel to a novel I’ve already read, in which a “chosen one” teen had to fight dark forces to save the world. . . stop me if you’ve heard this before. This story tells about the first meeting between the probably doomed lovers, events that were mentioned in the previous book. Syl has a huge crush on violin-playing Rouen, going to her concert and then heavily involved in the train crash that brings them together and separates Syl from her friends.
Gotta admit, it feels kinda weird reading this after the main event. What I most liked about the main book was the humor, and that’s as evident here. It does explain why the dark fae can’t sense her, but I would have liked more on Glamma. More than anything, I wasn’t able to really picture the train crash and its aftermath, which made it difficult to follow.
3/5

Proof
Second book in a series about a former hacker/now-ethical lawyer who keeps finding herself in huge conspiracies but can never back down. This one is different in that she’s no longer with a huge law firm, now doing the attorney version of the down-on-her-luck private investigator. In this story she realizes her late grandmother’s watch has been stolen, and tracking it down leads to much bigger crimes that threaten her life and those of her friends.
I love how this author, in both books, takes a small detail and turns it into an entire plot. That takes skill and imagination. But unlike the first one, this time it felt a little more convoluted than it needed to be. I didn’t like it as much as the first, especially in the beginning, but since it was on nursing homes and that’s important to me right now, I kept reading. Thankfully in the end that didn’t turn out to be an issue. There were some intriguing new characters and everything wrapped up in the end.
3.5/5

Profiling Nathan
Cold female FBI agent falls for tattoo artist to whom she’s delivering a message. Not very likely, but that’s what makes these stories fun, right?
Right off the bat she says, “I was recruited during my last year of college and started training at Quantico right after graduation. That was sixteen years ago.” By I quickly forgot that, because she reads younger. As for him, he’s got quite a past, including some fantasy elements that tie in to the rest of the series, which I have not read, but that only comes into play here once.
Throughout the entire story it was hard to pinpoint if this was a procedural or a romance; turned out to be the latter, as there are many scenes that were strictly getting to know each other and didn’t advance the plot at all. This is especially true of the entire nudist colony setting. After finishing the romance part, it sets up for the next sequel.
I really like that this isn’t a 300-page epic like most in the genre, filled with thoughts of “I want to, but I can’t!” The romance, plus the murder mystery/serial killer plot that I figured out by chapter four—writer made it a little too obvious—took about 120 pages.
4/5

Twisted Threads
An abstract intro with rhyming couplets does nothing but prove that this author is quirky.
A Japanese mafia assassin—female and reluctant—gets one last assignment before she can be free. All she has to do is figure out which one of the passengers on a cruise ship killed a family member of the boss. Who would have guessed that an assassination mission would somehow turn into a star-crossed romance?
Unfortunately there were far too many characters introduced when the story gets to the ship. With all the setting and introductions I was completely bored. Halfway through a mysterious figure is introduced, as if there weren’t enough characters already. The last part got confusing and ever so complicated, too convoluted. Still not sure what happened or who did what. Not at all surprised at who showed up on the plane at the end.
On the other hand, the writing was pretty good. There’s one point where the main character is “eating” a tear. That’s awesome. I did like the main characters, her more than him. Snippets about her past were confusing, but that’s probably because this is part of a series that I haven’t read.
All in all, a shorter, tighter book would have been better.
3/5

Undiplomatic Episodes
A career diplomat for Great Britain discusses some of his adventures and accomplishments in a surprisingly conversational and occasionally humorous manner.
I started this book in August; I finished it in December. Part of that is attributed to its awfully slow start. Until the end it’s a chronological autobiography (the last section is on epic parties) and the dullest parts are at the beginning, especially his school years. His time in Iran, for example, was a thousand times more interesting.
Here’s a nice example of his writing style: “This was at a time when the Cold War was still going strong and the Russian bear was still very much growling.”
But there were some moments that didn’t ring true. . . not that I thought they were lies, but I can’t believe he was that cheery during certain mishaps. Only in retrospect can it feel like a great adventure.
Bats, roaches, giant toads, claustrophobia=least favorite parts.
There’s a much needed break in the middle, photos and drawings and a couple of maps.
I’m not trying to make light of it, but as someone unfamiliar with the whole thing, it seems like it doesn’t take much to get knighted.
All in all it was mostly fun and well told, although it was sometimes tough getting through the lists of food served at parties, what the royals were wearing, or what birds were spotted. I particularly enjoyed the travel descriptions, especially when he talked about places I’ve been and loved, like Dubrovnik, Finland, and Australia. Never got to see much of Iran outside the archaeological sites, so learning about that was fun too.
But I will forever question his sanity, because of that bat cave expedition. . .
3.5/5

Little Book of Lagom: How 2 Balance Your Life the Swedish Way
There are a lot more uses for Goldilocks now than there used to be, even astronomically speaking, and this could be one of them, as it is a philosophy of “not too much, not too little, just right.” Having visited Sweden often, I can attest that a lot of people really do think this way. . . which is one of the reasons I visit so often.
There’s tips to make your home more energy-efficient. There’s a crafts article on how to turn an old t-shirt into a tote bag, as well as other clothes that can be reincarnated as draft stoppers or rugs. The part about storing your clothes vertically in the drawers was a revelation, as was the advice to eat before shopping for groceries. On the other hand, the recipes meant nothing to me, as almost every one has ingredients I’m allergic to or can’t stand. Same with the garden.
Like many advice books, there’s a lot of what’s usually called common sense, even if it isn’t. . . common. It really doesn’t feel much different than other similar books, simply using the Swedish connection as a way to supposedly differentiate.
3/5

;o)