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)

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Book Reviews: Double-Digit Graphics

Big Nate: Silent But Deadly
Another collection of the long-running comic strip featuring a hapless kid who really should know better—about everything—by now, but particularly about girls and teachers.
“Silent but deadly” was not whom I expected, but for once I was glad it wasn’t Nate.
“Are loopholes anything like Froot Loops?” First answer: I wish. Second answer: I’m hungry.
Nate finally wins one, literally. “Scoreboard!” He’s also got a super nose, so it’s nice to see him not be the butt monkey EVERY time.
4/5

Zen Pencils—Creative Struggle: Illustrated Advice from Masters of Creativity
Another volume of the fun and educational series featuring quotes illustrated, this time with a more specific perspective, as the title tells.
Van Gogh died having sold only one painting. I know that’s not the takeaway from his story, but it’s what I’ll remember.
No mention of Einstein’s wife in that entire section. Huh.
“Mortifying negative.”
Frankenstein is mentioned as the first sci-fi story, but that would be Paradise Lost.
The look on Marie Curie’s face at the gas coming in through the window. . . priceless. And her tongue sticking out in concentration. . . it’s the little things that make these stories great.
Tesla inspired by poetry is classic, literally. “Suck it, Professor Poeschl.”
Frida’s conga line of injuries, culminating in the bus crash, are truly horrific. This is the first time I’ve really seen the difference in size between Kahlo and Rivera played up; age, yes, but him being 300 pounds and her under 100 is staggering. And she really was the first Queen of Selfies.
And of course no book about creativity nowadays would be complete without Brené Brown.
4/5

Old Geezers: Alive and Still Kicking
An old man reads a letter his wife left him after her funeral, which sends him off on a road trip for revenge, followed by two friends and his very preggers granddaughter. Hilarity ensues.
It’s hard to say who exactly is the protagonist here. Could be Antoine, the one who goes off on for satisfaction. Or it could be Pierre, whom we meet first. He looks like a typical aging British civil servant, except for the way he parks. . . in the handicapped zone. That’s probably the only suit he’s ever owned, yet he’s the one worried about the fashion police. And when you consider his career. . .
Wow, someone actually used “progenitor” in a sentence.
“Everyone had a thing for Lucette at one point. You gotta admit that little minx was stacked.” It’s just so weird hearing three old men talking like frat boys. . . though I suppose it shouldn’t.
Best lines: “My (unborn) baby says bite me!” and “They’ve lost their sight, but not their hands.”
Interesting place to end it, but it does set up a sequel.
3.5/5

Valerian and Laureline
(Wow, turns out this has been a series since 1967! How have I never heard of it before? This means Han Solo could have been based on him instead of vice versa! And it was made into a film released this year?!!!
But for funsies’ sake, I’m leaving my original thoughts in.)
In a ship reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon, A Han Solo type and a beautiful redhead look for a cybernetic financial wizard. Once they find him, things get crazy.
It’s visually attractive, though not always logical. The bridge of the ship, for instance, is huge and empty with just the two of them. That is one surprised-looking fish. And my favorite line was, “Artificial intelligences love the old vintage look.”
The way I know Valerian is a parody of Han Solo is that he says, “I have a good feeling about this.”
“Your reputation pales before reality,” the Jabba-like creature tells her. I can only imagine. Have I mentioned how much I love redheads? “Your beauty is celebrated across the universe?” “It. . . it is?”
But as much as I enjoyed looking at the redhead—not as much as most of the male characters did, but still—the story was far too convoluted and seemed to be made up as it went along, much like the protagonists’ plans.
3/5

FRNK: The Beginning Begins
The first artistry we get is a delicious reproduction of cave paintings that look like the ones in Chauvet, France. Things go downhill from there.
A sullen young teen is not looking forward to his fourth adoption, figuring this family will be just as bad as the previous three. He tries to escape, but only makes things worse; in a large shot with a building filling the background, there’s a red arrow to show us where he’s falling. (Thanks for that.)
The kid goes through a glass roof, falls off a wall like Humpty, and goes head over heels down a rocky hill, but other than a band-aid is perfectly fine. Huh. After a lot of ows, they add one more “And ow!” Cute.
I love the redhead administrator for much more than the color of her hair; too bad she’s only appears at the beginning. But then they placate me with more redheads later.
It was never meant to be realistic, obviously—not with time traveling—but some of the small moments, like him running on water, are too ridiculous and didn’t need to be. He takes too long thinking it’s a theme park, then instantly jumps to the most absurd possibility. (The fact that he’s right is just a coincidence.) More than anything else, this kid is just too annoying to root for.
2.5/5

Fragments of Femininity
Seven stories about women and how they view their breasts, and how they think others view them.
Chloe: Women can be ever more vicious in the locker room than men. The protagonist is not who we think at the beginning, which is a clever touch. Easy to see how she lost control when even other women buy into the myth of bigger is better. Still, you have to figure something happened earlier—that this had to be the culmination—for her to blow up so big.
Mathilde: Middle-aged woman leaves her boring husband and kids to be with her lesbian lover and ends up in a bra-burning nude protest. Despite her long letter to her husband, there wasn’t enough background to really get how she so quickly moved on.
Alison: Famous exploitation actress wants to do serious movies. Rather than let the director screw her over by forcing her to do yet another nude scene when her contract says it’s not supposed to happen, she quits not just the movie but her career. This one’s my fave.
Sylvia: Older woman sees photos of her husband with a much younger lady. But rather than go for the divorce, she takes care of him in a fitting way, though I have to say it wasn’t all that much of a surprise.
Faith: A woman goes to an art school to see if she can pose nude, forgoing payment in favor of keeping a few of the results. At this point—being a photographer, I’ve been asked to do this before—I knew where it was going, but it was still a sad realization at the end. Of all the stories, though, I think this one is the most fitting with the topic.
Elikya: Woman in Northern Africa escapes her arranged marriage and gets lost in the desert until saved by an apprentice sculptor/witch doctor. The town is dying and badly needs rain, so he uses her to model a new talisman. If you like anthropology at all, this is for you.
Fleur: She runs a lingerie shop, insisting that her customers are more like friends. She has a diverse clientele, including a stripper who tests out all the new merch. In the end all those friends come in handy when her store gets firebombed.
Obviously some were better than others, but all told intriguing stories. What makes this book all the more interesting is it was written by a man.
4/5

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
“For Iturbide, the camera is just a pretext for knowing the world.” That quote’s not in the book, but when I did research on a photographer I’ve never heard of . . . couldn’t pass it up.
After an intro that’s quite a bit overdone, first story isn’t all that interesting, and the prose is mysterious without a cause. It’s trying to be poetic, but doesn’t say anything, too hoity-toity for its own good. The drawings are so far more impressive than the photos.
The Medusa head of iguanas was awesome, but that’s it. The photos are wonderfully grainy, but there aren’t many. And to be perfectly honest, as a professional photographer of more than 25 years, I can’t say I’m impressed by what’s shown here.
2.5/5

The Campbells: Inferno
The fun starts on the title page, with a funny image of a pirate swinging on a rope with his kids hanging on for dear life behind him. That sets the scene nicely. Actually it starts on the cover, because for a few seconds I seriously thought that was Bruce Campbell.
The way we get background is with the brother reading his older sister’s journal. Had no idea pirate kids are generally no different than suburban kids, especially when it comes to school.
The smartest character is the head leper.
“Lovedumbefied!” I like when they invent new words.
I can totally hear Bruce Campbell’s voice saying the girl’s name: Nutel-la. Though sometimes the look is more Billy Campbell. The artwork is cartoonish, with no attempt to be realistic. There’s silly dialogue and juvenile humor. One of the pirates is named Carapepino, which translates to Cucumber Face.
Too many plots, too many pirates, but it’s kinda likeable.
3/5

Emma and Violette: A Dream for Three
Two sisters are under pressure from themselves and their mom to ace the tryouts for ballet school. When one makes it and the other doesn’t, the family has to deal.
The artwork is gorgeous! I love how cinematographic it is, with characters in the foreground painted out of focus. I particularly like the way the mom’s drawn.

As far as the character, at first she comes off as rigid but shows another side after. At least she listens, if only to her husband. I like the little sister, who still has some innocence, and plays with teddy bears. But my fave character is the dad, who awesomely takes his daughter to the theater. The astronaut and the tree were her best costumes.
Just to prove it’s Paris, there’s the Bridge of Locks.
The girls have every right to be confused, that works well. But I was completely surprised by how confident and understanding the guys were, not at all what you’d expect from teen boys. Maybe it’s because the writer/artist is a man.
For such a short piece, there were some loose threads. Might have worked better without the romance or hip-hop angle, though the last one was over quickly enough.
The artwork is definitely the highlight.
3.5/5

Harmony: Memento
After two arrogant brothers in Ancient Greece have a tiff, the story goes to. . . 4000 years later! Yeah, good luck understanding that.
A young woman is stuck in a cellar, later an attic, being taken care of by an old man who claims to have found her unconscious, but she can’t remember anything.
Best part about her character is her sense of humor, like “This time I really do think I fried my brain.” She’s smarter than she looks, with the “changing clothes” gambit.
I like the part with the bird, and the glass of water. But it really is a strange story, going from fantasy and supernatural to military sci-fi. It ends with a “to-be-continued” vibe and what looks to be a back-cover blurb that gives a lot more info than the actual story.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Erotic Bartenders, Painters and Santa

Double Trouble
“This time, he won’t take no for an answer.”
This is not the way to start any book.
A bartender is tricked by her sister into putting herself into a charity auction. The sister knows damn well there’s a rich guy who wants her, so she’s basically pimping her out for donations.
The story had barely started and I already hated this mother-fucker. He’s a sadistic dom, but luckily—and conveniently—she turns out to be a closet sub. Then his brother appears. . .
The descriptions of the renovated mansion are tedious. I skipped them; not here for architecture. Other than that, this is excellently written, with plenty of genuinely funny moments, particularly in her introspection. My favorite parts were the amazing lead female character and the intriguing sex scenes. The only downside for me was the lead male character at the beginning, but even he got better. Even the sister got better, though I would have never forgiven her.
3.5/5

The Submissive Muse
One year after her dom husband died, a woman plans her suicide, only to be stopped when she discovers what might be a dead body in the barn. Then it gets complicated.
I’m conflicted about this one. As usual when it’s a good book, I liked the female protagonist, and didn’t care for either of the guys; since they were so opposite from each other, maybe someone in between would have worked for me. The story itself is well written, if a little long; felt more drawn out than necessary, with quite a bit of fluff. Took a long time to get to any erotica or bdsm; it reads more like the journal of three damaged people. The timing of her finding him in the barn just as she’s about to off herself is a little too big of a coinkidink. But even with that I enjoyed some of the psychological aspects, more so her submissiveness than his illness.
3/5

Sexting St. Nick
Cam girl falls for new customer, and of course vice versa, so much so that they take it offline. Then things really get weird.
Despite the shortness of the story there was more than enough to make the leads, as well as the elves and her best friend, likeable. Not so sure about the Frosty one, though.
Even though there’s plenty of real and virtual sex, this really is a cute romance. Her past was told small but heavy, and certainly made understanding her easier.
If only the motorcycle had been shaped like a reindeer with a red headlamp. . .
4/5

Painting Class
An art teacher in her forties finally has an exhibition of her work, where one of the female gawkers is a past student who had the hots for her. The teacher feels similarly and takes her student home for a bout of body painting and anything that might come out of it.
It’s a short tale, but considering it only consisted of two scenes—three, if you count the preview of the sequel—the length was perfect. From the hesitant flirting in the art gallery to the gentle sparring to finding out if the other is interested and what the boundaries are, this was just a fun read. The art-making is given just as much importance as the lovemaking, reminding me of an old four-hour French movie with a slightly similar design.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Space Love

His Human Vessel
In the continuation of a series I’ve grown to love, an alien doctor buys a slave for breeding purposes, as his race was almost wiped out, but he’s a man—or alien—of science and claims not to want her. She knows better.
Not quite as good as the previous four in the series, but still better than most stuff in this genre. As always I enjoy the human female characters; it was easy to feel for her and her dilemma, even feel sorry for her. Despite him being the supposed authority on human females for his kind, advisor to the ruler and all that, he’s just as clueless, if not more, than the previous guys. Sometimes that was fun, sometimes annoying, but in the end it worked out well that way.
4/5

Her Mate and Master
From the same series as above, but with a twist. Unlike the previous stories, rather than buying a human slave, this young heroic alien goes undercover to rescue one of the last females of his race, who also happens to be the daughter of his sensei. Of course things don’t go as planned and they have to make a run for it, with him desperate to have her but not about to dishonor her—or rather her father—despite her obvious willingness.
Even though she wasn’t human, she wasn’t that much different than the others. The story was pretty much the same; not that that’s a bad thing, but something a little less formulaic would have been nice.
I liked the female character, but not as much as the previous human ones. The story didn’t seem as fun either, though still good.
3.5/5

Alpha’s Temptation: A Billionaire Werewolf Romance
A former hacker wants to go legit with a corporate job, and ends up trapped in an elevator with the big boss, though she doesn’t know that at the time. Turns out he knows exactly who she is, though at that point he’s not aware she’s the only person ever to beat him in cyberspace.
He’s a usual rich asshole, as well as a werewolf, the loner type. But of course he wants her, and despite all her previous feelings about men she gives in rather easily. This is one of those rare stories where I didn’t feel all that great about the heroine; I should have liked her, especially her wicked/nice personality, but she didn’t work for me. I hardly ever like the guys, and there’s no exception here.
3/5

Second to None
Seven years ago he lusted for his friend’s wife, so much that he cut himself out of their lives from the guilt. So complete is his withdrawal that he didn’t know his friend died. Now they reconnect, and of course he’s a hunky millionaire. She wants money for her children’s services center to expand to dog therapy.
This novella is classified as an erotic love story—though the sex scenes lacked any real heat—but it was the other elements I enjoyed more. For instance, I would have preferred more of her great kid. What really annoys me, though, is that this romance wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t rich.
It’s strange, because usually when I like the main characters, the story doesn’t matter as much. And I didn’t mind the story, but I still feel disappointed, partly because it was money and the death of her husband that allowed this to be a happily ever after.
3/5

Gunnar
In what is thankfully a short story, Vikings raid a village after a festival, when everyone is drunk and easy pickings. The leader goes off to rest in the previous lord’s room and finds a gorgeous blonde tied up waiting for him, expecting the previous ruler. Though a virgin, she’s smart enough to play along so as not to be punished. Blindfolded or not, she figures one is as good as another, and of course ends up enjoying it.
Feels historically accurate, but I’m not interested enough in this period to look it up myself. I do like that it was more than just straight-up sex, despite the short length. No big deal, just fun.
3.5/5

Tempted & Taken
A Russian lass, having taken a friend’s identity, is on the run in Texas, where she wants to be mentored by a rich handsome computer genius. . . and have sex with him too. He has a large improv family of brothers, mostly from his time in foster care; I have not read the previous books in this series, so that’s all I know.
These types of books are rarely about plot; all that’s needed is that it not come off as stupid. This story actually did a pretty good job of getting the leads together in a realistic way. As always, I think it’s a good book if I like the female character, though in this case I think it’s well-written anyway, with plenty of little moments to keep me entertained. There was one scene about ¾ of the way through that seemed to drone on and on, but other than the fact I don’t think a Russian mob would simply let things go without being honor-bound to revenge, that’s the only negative I have for this.
I was disappointed, however, in not getting a shot-by-shot account of the skeeball game. . .
4/5

;o)

Graphic Book Reviews: Dolls, Unicorns, and Bond Buddies

How to Be Perfectly Unhappy
This book argues—for a surprising amount of pages—that there’s a whole spectrum of emotion between happy and unhappy. Fair enough, but it’s a lot of pontificating on what’s really a simple theme. And yet it’s oddly captivating, especially the comparisons made to Pluto and an alien having fun making colorful walls.
“Stay-in-the-same-placers.” I do love new words.
It argues that “meaningful” and “compelling” don’t make for happiness, but it’s what some of us like to do anyway. He uses running, reading books, working as examples of things that don’t make him happy but he enjoys doing. (I’ll go along with reading.) “I’m not unhappy. I’m just busy. I’m interested.”
Some of the artwork is cute, but it doesn’t add much. . . except for the colorful wall. That was pretty awesome.
3.5/5

Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy: Disco Fever
In this story, talking animals play superhero in a universe where chickadees are more evil than wolves, and eagles are afraid of spiders. That, along with fish landing on the windshield, is why the super pair are avalanched by a cargo of disco balls.
Running is always plan B, but yeah, it should be plan A.
“Sorry, Frank.” Yeah, keep your lasers to yourself.
Squirrel claws to the ass will defeat all superheroes.
“You’re really cheesy, but you’re right.” Howz that for a moral?
At the end the good wolf explains why dancing is good for you. . . and then Rabbit teaches disco, with moves even I haven’t heard of.
With a disco ball giant robot, nothing is too ridiculous here. Incredibly silly, but all the better for it.
3.5/5

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story
As always, I love it when the title hits it right on the spot.
I thought the cover showed some kind of sea monster, until I saw the girl peeking out from under the blanket.
In a strip-like storytelling, a young woman in college goes through everyday stuff from an introvert’s point of view. Being an introvert myself, I understand a lot of these. On the other hand, some go a little too far. The total lacking in self-confidence would be a different thing than simple introversion, wouldn’t it?
She has the best boyfriend an introvert could possibly have, who then turns into a husband. After finishing her dissertation and the stressful wedding comes the first real job. . . not exactly what you’d expect from someone who just got an advanced degree.
Oddly enough, she’s such a sweet person I wish I could get to know her better, all the while knowing she wouldn’t want to.
She apologizes to boxes. . . empty boxes.
Some genuinely funny moments, others quite touching. I don’t know if it’ll make extroverts more understanding, but it’s worth a try.
4/5

James Bond: Felix Leiter
A post-shark-encounter Leiter is in Tokyo, working for the Japanese to identify an old enemy/colleague/lover who’s off the grid. There’s a flashback with Bond, and then we find out why Tiger didn’t keep his end of the bargain in helping to catch his gorgeous adversary.
“You had me at ‘Not the French.’”
About halfway there’s a major plot twist that, quite frankly, was easy enough to guess. Though the story doesn’t actually end in a cliffhanger, there’s enough left unresolved that you’d certainly expect a sequel, especially when there’s a character like Alena to write about.
Tight hands and sphincters are a necessity when you’re pretending to be James Bond.
Too bad the writer made what was a proud character such an idiot, as he admits plenty of times. Then there’s the serious inferiority complex. It’s one thing to make the protagonist complicated, quite another to make him seem like a butt monkey.
Brightly painted poppy fields are a sharp contrast from Tokyo, which has a Blade Runner vibe. . . or maybe it’s all the rain. Florida is also brightly lit, but Helsinki looks like an impressionist painting.
There a whopping 35 pages of extras! Variant covers, author interview, and what looks to be the entire script of the first chapter.
3/5

Dollface V.2
The first volume wasn’t written all that well, but I remember enough funny moments from it to give the series another try. This time the three take a portal to El Lay and land just a few blocks from a witch. . . but not just any witch. This one’s a baby-eater. Dollface flattens the clinic she’s in, thereby killing a lot of innocent people.
At Venice Beach she lifts weights, joins a drum circle, plays volleyball, and makes other women jealous. But of course the bad guys aren’t dead yet. And even more of course, the innocent character gets killed.
“You killed my family! Prepare to die!” Why does that sound familiar?
The giant fight scene was so difficult to follow. The artwork is so angular, much like Dollface herself.
Despite some early fun, it turned into as much of a gorefest as the first one. At some point it just stopped being fun and felt more like work. Emily’s reaction was strange as well.
The artwork is brighter than most.
2/5

Be a Unicorn & Live Life on the Bright Side
As always, I love a title that tells you everything you can expect from the book.
There’s not much more to say about it. Everything is positivity, puppies and rainbows. “Eat the cake, but also eat the kale” kinda stuff. All pretty simplistic, but I imagine people often forget.
“Unicorn loves to feel the rain on his cheeks.” No, not those. . . okay, those too. And there’s an obligatory Trump joke, though a mild one. Some jokes are literal, like looking at the bigger picture. Then you get what you’d never thought you’d see, a unicorn on a stripper pole.
The artwork, especially the unicorn, is pretty rudimentary, though he does have the multi-colored horn.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: LA, Paris, West Virginia, and Fantasyland

Why LA? Pourquoi Paris?
A woman who has lived and worked in both Los Angeles and Paris talks about their differences, but more importantly their similarities, in a work full of visual comparisons.
After a long intro chapter, the book moves into diverse sections, the first of which is monuments. There are drawings, so it moves much faster. It took a while to get into this, but after the slow start I grew to love it. Really enjoyed all the comparisons between the cities, like the Arch de Triumph with the Paramount Pictures front gate. My surprising favorite was the Palais Garnier, which is the building featured in the intro of the Miraculous TV show, and reminds me of Royce Hall at UCLA, even though I know that one’s based on a church in Milan.
Two of my local faves—In-N-Out Burger and Baskin-Robbins—made it into this book! Okay, BR31 isn’t local anymore—it’s mentioned it’s the largest ice cream chain in the world—but it started in El Lay, and that’s what counts. That angle of Olvera Street is unusual, never looked at it that way.
I suppose it should be expected, considering the author’s background, that there’s a lot of fashion stuff in here, but it’s still the most boring part.
Two mistakes in the Olympics section: St. Louis was the first American city to host, and nobody calls the Coliseum the Olympic stadium.
In a thoroughly modern move, instead of street directions this book gives you GPS coordinates.
The drawings are watercolor, childish but lively. Despite the abstract nature, the subjects are surprisingly recognizable. The Colorado Street Bridge is so well drawn. Another beauty that’s done so lovingly is the Huntington. The Norton Simon is painted in such a lovely Impressionistic style that it could be hanging there.
You have to be in the mood for it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the artwork, surprising myself. I think the best word I can use to describe this is playful.
3.5/5

The Unquiet Grave
My love for Sharyn McCrumb—or at least her early works—battles with my dislike for historical fiction, or in this case a necessarily fictionalized version of a true legend, the story of the Greenbrier Ghost.
There’s very little here about the actual murder trial. Of course it would be pretty dry if it was just an account of the case, but this story blossoms into over 350 pages of background on the family of the murder victim as well as one of the defense attorneys, with him telling the story many years later as he’s sitting in a psychiatric facility, encouraged by his doctor to talk about what it was like being the first black lawyer in West Virginia. The two distinct storylines made it hard for me to remember one while reading the other; the book goes to exactly the halfway mark before the two threads tie together.
At one point I thought, “So many hints about how bad Zona’s husband is; wish she’d get on with it.” So yes, I’m a jinx.
This is the kind of brilliance she can bring: “The time between their first setting eyes on one another and their wedding day was both too long and too short, depending on how you looked at it.” But the dazzling nuggets of prose are too few amongst long dull descriptions. Yes, I fully admit I’m looking at this through the kaleidoscope that was her early humorous work, but even when compared to her Appalachian series this was still a more difficult read than it needed to be.
3/5

The Spellsinger Adventures Volume One
This collection consists of the first three books in Alan Dean Foster’s long-running series that features a human from our Earth falling into a fantasy world of giant talking animals. In this place he’s a musician/magician, but his spells hardly ever turn out as he’d intended; just about the only song he got right was Sloop John B, and that didn’t end well for him either. His diverse comrades—that word used to appease the dragon—include a wise old turtle, a Cockney-accented dirty-minded otter, a dapper rabbit, an angry bat, and two gorgeous but deadly human ladies. This is more than anything a comedy road adventure, with the group fighting evil and sometimes each other on their way to a face-off with the most dangerous foe any world has even seen.
The writing doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the reader shouldn’t either; just read and enjoy and don’t try too hard to make sense of it. . .
4/5

Moribund
A supposedly ordinary teen, who previously had an encounter with magical forces that left her injured, has to find her hidden power in order to defeat a bad guy from the dark side, with either the help or hindrance of a dark princess she’s falling in love with. (Wow, I can’t believe I managed to encapsulate that, because it’s a lot more complicated.)
What drew me to this book was the violin-playing lady on the cover, but in the end the instrument had very little to do with anything. Right into it there’s a lot of exposition, but it’s well done. It’s strange: I found myself enjoying this without really knowing why. There’s so much introspection going on, all talk and no action, which would usually have bored me, but the two main characters are incredibly fascinating.
There are some genuinely hilarious lines in here. My fave: What was their weakness? Kryptonite? The color yellow? A fluffy kitten? Gah!
Can I still call it over-the-top Emo when the author mentions it. . . again and again? Hell, there’s even a Kylo Ren reference.
So this is one of those stories that’s more about the writing than the plot, but in the end I found it worthwhile.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphically Challenging

Wonder Woman Vol. 3: The Truth (Rebirth)
First and foremost, don’t read this if you haven’t read the previous; you’ll be lost, because it starts with the wonderful woman all-out crazy in an asylum. How out of it is she? “I am so sorry you’re not real.” To start an issue, and especially a collected volume, with her having lost her mind. . . there really needed to be a “previously” here!
But even without that I found the story boring. For long stretches nothing happens; at times Trevor seems to be talking to her telepathically, which might be exciting to read about but fails in a visual medium.
Luckily there are some interesting moments, like, “He’s a Greek god! They’re track record with young women isn’t exactly progressive.” You’d think Diana would know better than to have tea with serpents. There’s a minotaur involved, which was the most interesting thing for a while.
“What say you come up to my virtual place sometime and I’ll help fix that credit score of yours, handsome.” Says something when the funniest character is the AI.
Wow, in the end it was a simple win. Bit anticlimactic.
I suppose this would have felt different had I read it before the movie. The story was way more convoluted than it needed to be, even without knowing the previous parts. It definitely moved slow in the first two chapters; in fact, my fave was the last. But there were a lot of cute little moments that kept me going.
Ten pages of alternate covers.
2.5/5

Water Memory
A woman and her daughter move into the clifftop house where she lived as a small child until her father died. There are legendary monsters involved, and a curse.
“Jellyfish tart?” After reading that, I had to go get some fresh air before I could continue reading.
I didn’t feel the suspense the authors were obviously going for here, but the historical aspects were fun. The mom/daughter bond is fantastic; they have a great relationship. I was feeling an Irish vibe, but that may be the influence of Song of the Sea, since there’s a lighthouse nearby. A sign is in French, but everything screams New England or Canada. In the end it turned out the sign was the clue.
The kid’s funny. After nearly drowning in a cave, lying on the beach as she recovers, she tells the scavenging seagulls, “Don’t even think about it!” Her explorations keep getting her into danger, as well as her belief in her “Total ninja stealth!”
The artwork has a dreamy romantic vibe, plenty of blue watercolor to symbolize the sea, except during the storms.
About a dozen pages at the end about the making of the book, how it originated, with some beautiful photos.
4/5

Spencer and Locke
A detective with a—possibly—imaginary talking blue panther as a partner look to solve a murder and kidnapping. That’s all the plot that’s necessary.
There’s a flashback to the detective as a kid, getting smacked around by his mom. This is in comic strip form; if you’re familiar with a strip about a boy and his imaginary cat, you know how this looks. Locke says Spencer has idiosyncrasies; sure, what talking blue panther doesn’t? We’re told right away about Spencer’s “condition,” so we don’t have to wonder about it the rest of the way.
Now for the fun stuff.
“Captain’s Log, Stardate. . .” That came outta nowhere.
Want to have a science-fiction interlude? Feed your protagonist a multiple-drug overdose. I get the feeling that dinosaur is gonna drop on someone. . .
Turned out to be a surprisingly easy, quick read. I enjoyed it despite some plot holes, which is not an easy thing to say when there’s a giant blue talking panther walking around. The psychology, his motivation for becoming a cop, was well done.
The italics were surprisingly hard to read. As for the art, there’s gritty urban landscapes, not quite film noir but close, as well as bright cheery childhood interludes. During the science-fiction portion it’s bold pulp-comic color.
Each chapter has extras: cover gallery, character designs, script pages, and so on.
3.5/5

If You Give a Man a Cookie
In the long tradition of “For want of a nail” stories, this one is just what the title says, all the repercussions of what a man will want if you give him a cookie. It’s full of clichés (none of which fit me, thankfully), considering not every man has a mustache or likes fishing.
From a guy’s perspective, I have to ask why she’s wearing heels when making cookies and generally just walking around the house. I’m trying not to be mean-spirited here, but I can’t help but think that’s exactly where this story’s coming from, which was likely done as a catharsis for the author.
I think the only opinion that matters here is her husband; hope he laughed, because I didn’t find much funny here.
2.5/5

Taproot
Sensitive florist is kinda crushing on a girl and getting advice from two friendly ghosts, one of whom might be in love with him. Plus he’s being poltergeisted by another. Then it flashes back a year to when they met in what turned out to be one of the strangest love stories ever.
I don’t know if it’s part of the story, but Blue is really androgynous. Until someone says “He,” I had no idea. And the reaper is a woman! A supernatural being who texts. A strange sight, a smiling skull and crossbones, is also present.
The epilogue was cute, but probably unnecessary, or at least anticlimactic. Despite its length it’s a quick easy read. Though the colors at first seem like muted earth tones, in actuality they’re quite bright. Don’t like the way Chloe’s drawn, though; her facial expressions are just weird.
3.5/5

Tyrannosaurus Ralph
Teen skateboarder is about to be crushed by a bully with a tuba—aka honk-kazoo—then has to be rescued by a barrio inventor, who puts his brain into a t-Rex so he can save the planet by participating in an intergalactic gladiator competition. Got it?
Best named alien: Lord Knuckle-Dragger. Best line: “I don’t think the red food likes you. It’s trying to get away.”
I love the faces drawn on the scared dinosaur; not exactly king of the giant lizards here. And his versions of “Yikes!” are “Oh crudsicles! Crud monkeys! Crud crumbs!” Sensing a theme. . . but you gotta draw the line at “crud-waffles.”
Lugnut has to be the most submissive human being ever to refer to himself in the third person.
I would have liked to see Joona’s story instead. It was okay, though went too far into silly at times. The big fight was surprisingly entertaining, but his lack of emotional control got tiring quickly.
Seven pages of extras.
3/5

;o)