Book Reviews: South America, More Dukes, and Unbelievable Stuff

South America Under the Skin of a Foreign Country
A widow from England spend a lot of time in South America, and writes about it.
It starts in Argentina, with tango. As basically the only dance I know, I found it amazing how the author’s views were pretty much opposite to mine. Not saying either is wrong, just incredibly different viewpoints. Something we do agree on is the great Chilean poet Neruda, so I was happy to see a section on him. I didn’t learn anything new, but I’m sure many readers had never heard of him.
Most of all, I enjoyed her insights. She’s very observant, and thankfully doesn’t go too far in extrapolating what they might mean. This style of storytelling reminds me of my blog, which is obviously very high praise. . . obviously. (Shut up.)
The one low note was the section on internet booking, which went on far too long and really brought everything to a halt.
In all, an enjoyable travelogue with a unique perspective.
3.5/5

Never Say Duke (12 Dukes of Christmas #4)
As always happens in these stories, two people who initially come off as incredibly wrong for each other end up in love and happily ever after. The fun part is the in-between.
Virginia is the kind of person who ignores your wishes when she gets it into her head that she knows better than you, but she gets away with it because she’s so charming and beautiful in her own wacky way. He, on the other hand, is quite the grump, with no enjoyment in his life other than ice cream. And that was before his injuries, which only made his disposition worse.
I’m a little miffed that the cat gets a point of view when Captain Pugboat didn’t. There’s a Mr. T, of course, because that’s how Ms. Ridley rolls. There’s also a Queen Turkey-tiara, but she’s not as important.
Considering how much of a cloudcuckoolander she is, it’s hard to imagine her so insecure. On the other hand, it makes it all the more special when she realizes he likes her the way she is.
So it wasn’t as good as the previous one, but that was one of the best historical romances I’ve ever read, so there’s no shame here.
4/5

Ripley’s Believe It or Not
A graphic novel about the famous brand.
It starts in Branson with one of the museums, where Ripley is a hologram giving the intro to the tour. Beauty and the Beast was real, in a story with too many Catherines.
From there it moves through a number of vignettes, each taken from one of the oddities in the museum.
Already knew the Phineas Gage story, though not the ultimate ending. That’s my fave part of these stories: not just explaining how they were true, but that some of these poor souls did have happily ever afters.
“Stableboys’ Sauna” is a term I wish I’d never heard. Then it turns much stranger, as we get a story about something that hasn’t happened, and might never.
Somehow one of the stories ended up in ancient Egypt, while another was a lot more expected, happening in one of my fave places, the Winchester House.
The funniest moment was the horse’s inner thought.
Because the stories are so short, they’re told in a very matter-of-fact style, just the bones. Some of them are entertaining despite that, but mostly they’re just sad, like the tale of the tallest man.
3/5

The Rose
Four British high society girls playing escort are in danger of being found out when a lot of their clients are invited to a birthday party. A statue of Aphrodite is involved, as well as an ancient goblet. The birthday girl can’t resist her Greek guest, who is really jonesing for the goblet, leading to some fantasy escapades as well as real ones.
The writing during the Greek visions is stunning. It’s hard to believe this is the same author that wrote the wonderful but completely opposite Picture Perfect Cowboy, but on the other hand it’s not. I particularly liked their patter. The heroine is a bit mannered, a touch spoiled, and prone to fits of stubbornness and posturing, but her sense of humor makes up for a lot. She’s also incredibly lucky; usually when an immortal plays with a mortal’s life, it doesn’t turn out nearly as well.
There’s a recurring gag about him having sex with a cloud, which makes me laugh every time, especially when he admits it might have only been a fog or a stiff breeze.
Some confusing turns at the end, but eventually neatly wrapped up.
4/5

From Resume To Work
As the title implies, this book aims to show you how to make a resume that will find you employment, written by someone with a lot of experience on the subject.
Thought this is a short tome filled with some duplication and a lot of references, there’s still a lot of good stuff here. It starts by explaining some of the things you might be doing wrong, why you’re being rejected, and how to correct them. From there it shows stuff you might not have known or thought about to spice up both the resume and the cover letter.
The important thing here is the author claims to know how employers think, and gives clues on that peculiar animal known as the employment psychologist. Some of their insights seem ridiculous—an accidental mistake of indentation shows the candidate has a mild form of schizophrenia?—but they’re seemingly important enough, or taken seriously enough, to be included here.
But other than that, there’s plenty enough tidbits to make it worthwhile.
4/5

;o)

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Book Reviews: I Lied Last Time

Last week I mentioned it would be the last book review of the year, but turns out there’s enough for one last—really this time, last—one. Honest.

Escaped
A genius Indian version of Sherlock Holmes visits the eastern United States with his wife and brother-in-law. They find themselves embroiled in a terrorist plot while on a bus tour.
The narrator is not the protagonist, but rather the brother in law, who is cast as Watson. The wife is left to worry at home.
There’s a conspiracy, with too many characters to keep straight! The plot gets confusing, and it only gets worse as it goes along. I couldn’t keep track of all the people on the bus, let alone all the other characters. Had I not been so close to the end of what’s really a short book I would have given up.
By the time the bad guy’s revealed I had no idea who he was, and I didn’t care enough to go back.
The writing just barrels ahead, with not much room for style. It’s certainly not bad, but it not exactly scintillating either. Having one character be so matter of fact is more than enough, but most of them are. Worse, far from being a Sherlock Holmes, this guy is completely a Marty Stu.
2.5/5

Once Upon a Duke
One of many Dukes in these stories comes home for his hated grandfather’s funeral, just to retrieve a family heirloom. He finds the whole snowy mountaintop town—as mountaintop as a place can get in England, anyway—loved the old man, especially for renaming the town Christmas and making it a tourist trap. And of course he meets up with the only woman he ever wanted.
This new heroine is just as smart and snarky as the previous ones, so I’m in, and the story even more fun. All the new characters make for some confusion, but not too bad.
Erica Ridley gets me.
4/5

Kiss of a Duke
Put a famous womanizer and a female scientist in close proximity and what do you get?
Chemistry, of course, along with the classic “you make me want to be a better man” story. And that’s before biscuits enter the equation.
With all the wonderful heroines Erica Ridley has invented, I have a new favorite. Each is more and more amazing, but Penelope’s just my type. . . and that’s before biscuits enter the equation. She reminds me a lot of Nora, who was my previous fave. She’s also very similar to another fave, Bryony, but thankfully more subdued.
I am in awe of the way this author can so effortlessly come up with lines like, “It’s a lovely basket. It smells of wicker and unrealized potential.”
There is one oddity, though. In a lot of the stories by this author, the primary stumbling block was class; the men are highborn, the women “common,” and never the twain shall meet (even though they always do). But despite the same circumstances here, it’s never mentioned. The problem between them is that he’s another Lord of Pleasure. And as always in romance novels, they don’t talk to each other, which would have saved a lot of heartache.
But that’s a minor tidbit in what is one of the best books I’ve read all year.
4.5/5

Wish Upon a Duke
A perennial wallflower just wants to be noticed, especially by Christopher, the much more subdued brother of the Duke of the previous novel. Instead she agrees to play yenta for him, which has as much of an effect as you’d expect but does give us more insight into characters who will likely be up front in stories to come.
Also featured more than usual is the town of Christmas, nee Cressmouth, described as a perpetually snow-dusted mountaintop village, which is hard to imagine in hilly-but-not-too-much England.
His problem is that he’s an inveterate traveler, and being with her would mean giving that up. As someone who travels for work and loves it, I totally get where he’s coming from, though I wasn’t a fan of how insulted he got about the constellation naming. I definitely liked Gloria, but she didn’t grab my heart like Penelope or Nora or Bryony.
This book is only a disappointment in that the previous one was so frickin good. Had I read this one first. . .
3.5/5

Star Wars: Scum and Villainy
The records of three generations of cops show off some of the most colorful villains in the Star Wars universe, though at times it feels like the bounty hunters outnumber the actual criminals.
The large drawings of stakeouts and police reports take up most of the area, with some commentary attached. Sometimes you have to look carefully at the details to know what’s going on.
I found the propaganda posters hilarious, though I doubt that’s the intent. The page on tattoos was interesting, as was the podracing, but the padawan auction was chilling.
It’s interesting to see the middle of the three generations become more of an Imperial lackey than actually care about real justice.
I wonder what came first: the art or the words? There’s a few pages that show crime “evidence,” particularly smuggling, that aren’t exactly great subjects for artistic endeavors. Sometimes it’s just boxes. . . nicely drawn boxes, to be sure, but hardly the kind of thing an artist would showcase in their portfolio. I guess it’s there to add to whatever else is in the page, but this leads me to believe the author—who might also be the artist, for all I know—came up with the idea and the description before the artwork, and couldn’t think of something more intriguing to draw.
Despite not being as enmeshed in all the Star Wars stuff outside of the movies as a lot of the fans, I found this intriguing, even if I didn’t know most of the characters. I finally understand what makes the Kessel Run such a big deal, for example, as well as spice smuggling. But it’s really the variety of crimes, some of which could only happen in a universe like this, that makes this book so interesting. I’m sure I would not have enjoyed it as much had it come without illustrations.
4/5

Storytime: Not-So-Brave Penguin
Percy the Penguin is the jock, not afraid of anything, and Posy is the opposite, hence the title. Of all the things she’s scared of, and it’s mostly everything, the worst is the dark, which in Antarctica can last for months. But when Percy’s in trouble Posy overcomes her fears to rescue him, and finds some dark places are more beautiful than scary.
Though I appreciate the message and where the author’s coming from, in reality Posy didn’t rescue Percy; she just kept him company overnight. Had she not been there, Percy would have made it back the next morning on his own. So the writing’s a bit of a letdown there, a lazy out when instead a real danger, like a shark, would have made for a better story. On the other hand, Posy didn’t know that when she set out, so she was indeed brave.
The artwork is nice, if a little simplistic. There’s a couple of pages of discussion topics at the end.
3/5

Lost Railway Journeys from Around the World
The title tells all: some world-famous and some locally famous trips that are no longer among us memorialized in photos.
The introduction features some strong feelings, to the point of calling some closures “criminal” and claiming they led to deaths. The text isn’t as heavy-handed, thankfully, but there’s a lot of asides that are sometimes humorous and sometimes failing at it. It just doesn’t feel like a typical book of this class, and whether that’s good or bad depends on you.
I suppose it’s not much of a surprise that the photos from Europe are mostly black and white. And I have to keep reminding myself that those old photos of bridges were not taken from drones.
The most intriguing early on was the Lawrence of Arabia special through Jordan.
To be fair, some of these are short lines; the title doesn’t exclude them, but it doesn’t seem fair to lump them in with the Orient Express and Ghan.
My fave, from the photos and having been in the vicinity, was the Colorado-Denver & Rio Grande, though the ones in Africa looked pretty spectacular too. But even though I’m a fan of trains, I’m not this much. I had to take it in small bites, but even then it was tough to stay interested.
3/5

Stuff You Should Know About Planet Earth
A well done science primer for kids.
It starts with the five ecological spheres, which I’d never heard of. It’s intriguing, though I question why water and ice are separate.
There’s good stuff on the solar system. The cartoon-like drawings are cute, though I can’t tell who that guy is dancing on Saturn’s rings.
I already knew most of the stuff in here, but I’m 50 years old, so I’d better. On the other hand, I did learn some things, all of which tells me this is a good book for kids interested in science, those who really want to learn.
But I hope they don’t get nightmares from watching the animals fleeing the lava. . .
4/5

Who Are You Calling Weird?
The first thing you see is that this is dedicated to David Attenborough, which makes sense, as this book tackles the strangest animals. The artwork fits the theme, almost in art deco style.
The platypus has gotten enough publicity, kinda normalizing it, that it seems out of place here. Same with the sea unicorn (aka narwhal). Kiwis and sloths too, especially the latter for kids who’ve seen Zootopia a thousand times. But thankfully most of those included are indeed completely strange. A couple are compared to superheroes, though when Wolverine was mentioned I first assumed it was the animal, which is weird in its own right but not enough to make it in here.
The leafy sea dragon gets my vote for most deserving entry; seeing it moving in a video is even more so. That smelly Amazon bird sure has a good defense against humans, especially in that they taste bad. . . though by the time the humans figure that out, it’s too late.
And speaking of, so glad you stinky humans made the list! The artwork that goes with this entry is the scariest of all. . .
3.5/5

How Rude…
Little girl invites her duck friend over for a tea party. Things do not go as planned. . .
This duck is a jerk. To be fair, there have been other jerk ducks, especially in old cartoons, but this one takes it to a new level. I’m surprised the little girl held out that long. At least she didn’t reach for a shotgun.
Considering all the trouble Duck caused, he sure turned on a dime, and she forgave him way too quickly. I would have preferred less mayhem and more thought from both of them, if there was a limited amount of pages available.
Wait, was that rude of me to point it out?
3/5

Yara and her Mystery Tree
Bright watercolors and rhyming couplets tell the story of a mystery plant that has the same problem as the maples from the Rush song The Trees, which means other trees are blocking the sun. A little girl gets her mom to help uproot it to a more advantageous place, which comes back to reward them at the end.
Not only are the rhymes legit, the meter and length are perfect. The plot is fine, though it was easy to see where this was going, even for a kid.
I question the need for the bird and the ant, turning this into a fantasy when it would have been just as well straightforward, but that’s my only nitpick.
4/5

Mario and the Aliens
Tech-obsessed kid is on his computer as usual—like that’s a bad thing—when something outside grabs his attention. The title tells you the rest.
The artwork takes up most of the pages. The first few were difficult to comprehend, partly from the scale but mostly because of an almost abstract style.
It took the kid forever to think to run off, and stopped so abruptly when the aliens convinced him they were simply looking for new games. So yeah, he might be smart, but I think gullible’s a better word.
In retrospect, I can see why the aliens had such a visceral reaction to the computer, since it’s almost certain they have their own. Something’s gotta help them pilot their ship, after all. And if they thought computers were fun, they wouldn’t need to travel to look for it.
I very much doubt Mario will be satisfied with human kids as playmates after this night.
Pretty straightforward, but feel like something’s missing. Certainly okay for kids, but could have been better.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Unicorns, Beagles, and Penguins

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in Unicorn Theater
The interspecies gal pals are back for another fun story, this time taking place at drama camp. The addition of Marigold’s sister Florence—now with 100% less nostril spiders—only increases the fun, although there are times Phoebe feels left out. I sense a lesson coming. . .
As always plenty of fave moments:
“I am very dead!” Something said at least once every play. Check out the beginning of Zootopia to prove my point.
Double unicorn stare. Those are the worst.
“Real life not dramatic enough for you?” Thanks, dad.
Whenever someone says, “Awkward!” reply with, “I find all social interactions awkward!”. . . on second thought, don’t.
Yep, that’s what “mess hall” means, alright.
“I could not hear you over the sound of how beautiful I am.” So using this line. . .
Very happy to see the electric dragon back. Max needed a fantasy buddy; even Dakota has one.
If I could give this an even higher mark, I would give it just for rhyming pomegranate.
“‘Nostrils Sisters’ sounds like a band my moms would like.” With such great choices, Max might be my fave of all. . .
A few pages at the end teach how to draw the characters; if Sue’s a little scary, good job!
I couldn’t believe it when the first full-length story ended up being better than the strips, but it works here again.
4.5/5

Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously
After seeing the cover, I had to read the description to find out this did not feature Abraham Lincoln, considering the beard and all. Thought it was going to be a “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” kinda thing. But no, it’s not a dead president, it’s about a guy who. . . lives anxiously, in one of the most colorful comic strips I’ve ever seen.
Best moment had to be that dour deadpan fortune teller. And wow, New Favorite Song is as dark as it gets!
There’s one strip where he relates to a cartoon character; I relate to him only because when I was in Japan I ate a pikachu burger too. (It was delicious.) Also, the Selfie.
3.5/5

Snoopy: Boogie Down!
There’s been so many of these books that it’s hard for them to come up with a new theme. This one doesn’t really matter till the end.
Right away there’s a pun worthy of making me wonder if the guy from Pearls Before Swine got the idea here.
I hate bugs, but I’ll adopt the one who knows more than Lucy and Sally.
Never saw the character Eudora before. I like her, especially her fishing style.
The disguised drop shot made me chuckle before I could stop it.
There’s a special section at the end featuring the history of dance in the strip.
3.5/5

Curtain Call
French guy wants to get back to the woman and child he abandoned during a trip to Africa, so he plans an armored car heist with possibly the one person the least in contact with reality in the whole world.
This story feels like it could have been told a lot quicker if it wasn’t for all the frequent asides and explanations as to why things are the way they are. The narrator mentions the armored car robbery he’s planning, but nothing happens for the first half, other than long justifications as to why everyone is racist and/or a homophobe. And that’s only a few of the ways this gets so depressing. Plus I really hated the ending; why didn’t he just do that in the first place?
I’ve read a couple of others by this author, and while it feels like the same kind of narrative, this time it’s even more so. The artwork is of a kind as well, which on the one hand makes it consistent but on the other means the books are not getting better.
2/5

Hellicious TP Vol 1
It’s the cute little kids that always get ya, even if they are the devil’s granddaughter. Make it a bored kid—named Cherry—with the power to harvest souls and you get a recipe for. . . well, whatever passes for a disaster in Hell. This ain’t no cuddly Dante story.
“What is that thing, and why is it. . . cute?” I feel ya, dude. I almost feel sorry for the poor death metal musician, though anyone who makes that kind of noise can’t expect much better.
Mom is about as hot as one can expect a horned demon to be.
Cherry grinning maniacally while on a mound of those she’d just killed was almost funny, but the fact is this tried to make me laugh every page and mostly failed. Even the ad for cassettes missed the mark. It should have been better, considering the premise.
2.5/5

Loading Penguin Hugs
Uneven comic strip collection that basically boils down to cutesy motivational cartoons.
Starts with a ghost hug. “You can’t feel it, but it’s there!” I call it a virtual hug, but okay.
Reasons to get out of bed was fun.
I’m gonna try really hard to forget just how much penguins smell. Thankfully I only saw one in here, though it wasn’t giving hugs. Lots of cuter animals, though. (Just occurred to me the penguins might still be loading, considering the title.)
“I made brief contact with a dog!” might just be too cute, as is “I’m awesome trash!”
“Self-love hedgehog” made me think of something completely different.
This will likely end up being TOO sweet even if you’re not all that cynical.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphic Gauguin and Grabbings

Please Don’t Grab My P#$$y: A Rhyming Presidential Guide
Four-line rhyming stanzas attempt to teach the Trumpster Dumpster and other asses like him what shouldn’t be touched without permission. Each little poem ends with a euphemism for the one word you would expect, some of them quite confusing.
I am a rhyming fanatic; I’ve even called out my fave musicians when they cheat on this, so it’s no surprise when I say that some of these attempts are atrocious. Maybe that explains why some of those that do rhyme make no sense whatsoever.
A few of the highly impressionistic drawings are lovely and funny, but most are just there.
If there’s one thing to take away here, it’s that this sets some high expectations and doesn’t meet them. Nowhere near as funny as the publicity pretends. A little bit more thought, and maybe not so lowbrow, and it might have hit the sweet spot.
2/5

Queen of Kenosha
Small-town musician in Noo Yawk tries to return a wallet and get pistol-whipped for her troubles. It leaves her open to an offer she can’t refuse.
I’ve read this author’s previous works, which took place in the hockey world, and it’s the same format here. The artwork is especially similar, but the story is completely different and much more ambitious, in fact maybe too much. There’s been plenty of Nazi conspiracy stories over the decades, but I can’t remember seeing one where they’re basically dropped into what’s always been a “commie” plot.
Though it’s an overused talking point, the difference between a black-and-white follow-orders-at-all-costs viewpoint and a don’t-have-to-kill-everyone approach is done well here.
Each issue has recommended songs, with one on each playlist by the fictional protagonist, so of course you can’t hear it. Another is “Both Sides Now”; I sure am getting tired of that song, it’s everywhere. And you’d think that since this takes place in the early 60s, songs from that era would be a better choice. I haven’t noticed any connection between the songs and the action, but I was amused by the inclusion of a Pretenders song. But it’s the insertion of a good Dire Straits song that made everything okay.
When on the big mission, they dress all in black but don’t paint their faces, neck, and hands. Worse, her blonde hair is loose. Author fail on the spycraft.
More than anything, there’s a huge plot twist at the end. . . which I’d guessed about halfway. I was hoping I was wrong, thinking it too contrived, too much of a coincidence, but it happened anyway. Actually not that big a deal in this book, but in the sequel it’ll be huge, and it won’t sit right then.
At the end are the lyrics to the made-up songs by the protagonist. Since this is a collection of all the issues, I don’t know if the lyrics were included with the song, but in this volume I would have liked to read them when the title was first unveiled.
There’s a lot of good stuff here, but also much that could have been done better.
3/5

Gauguin: Off the Beaten Track
The foreword tells you that this isn’t about the artist as much as about the guy who was his generation’s version of a hippie, though by this time in his life he’d become more cynical.
The graphic novel starts with paintings being sold at auction for what seem to be really low prices, though back then it could have been a lot. They’re won by a smug-looking accountant type, and then we go back two years to the sight of Gaugin sleeping on a ship with roaches crawling all over him. Lovely. From there the story switches between his arrival on the small island and the previous guy showing up after his death.
Some of the friends he makes are interesting. It’s fun to see him interacting with people from Vietnam, India, and of course the locals, though they’re all different too.
“You’ve lost your mind!” “And you never had one to begin with!”
“You must—” “When I hear ‘you must,’ I rebel!”
There some slight x-rating to a couple of panels, but the artwork is done in such a non-realistic style—even looks like Gaugin painted it—that’s it’s hardly noticeable and pretty much inoffensive. . . which kinda sums up this book. It paints a different side of the artist who’s only famous for these paintings, who is not in the consciousness of most like Picasso or such. It’s interesting, but not more than that.
3/5

Motorcity
An unconventional new cop—with tats, piercings, etc.—in a small town in Sweden works on missing persons case. We get to see what happened to that missing person, and it’s not nice, so we’re given a sense of urgency for the cop and her partner to get there and save the day.
She knows most of the players, which is handy, though who knows if that’s a great idea, were she to run into someone she actually likes. There’s also an idiot too-much-testosterone older cop who looks like he came out of any American police show. The book ends with a small discussion on the Swedish subculture that was the background for the story, which was interesting enough to make me look it up.
The writing, or should I say the translation, is pretty good, except for too many fake-sounding instances of “Ha ha.” The artwork was a bit Day-Glo for my tastes, but since the protagonist is a fan of superhero comics that’s not a big deal. And even though the story was a bit by-the-numbers, the characterizations, especially the lead, made it worthwhile.
3.5/5

A Sea of Love
A comedy of errors at sea: an old fisherman sets off on what he thinks is just another day at work, and then one thing after another goes wrong. In the meantime, his wife doesn’t give up looking for him, and her adventures are a lot more fun.
Right away it makes me laugh with how huge the fisherman’s eyes are with the glasses on. It starts with the typical morning routine, with recognizable moments between the married couple, going from mad to laughing in a second. Totally sympathize with him on the sardine situation. The part where he meets up with the bigger boat seemed to take forever to get through, could have been done quicker. And never fire a flare near an oil tanker. . . just sayin’.
She doesn’t take off her ridiculous hat in the swimming pool; funny. Her housekeeping/cooking skills make her a star. She was smart all the way to interrupting Castro’s speech, a misstep not only for her but for the book; too ridiculous, though not as much as her becoming an internet sensation. Still, it was nice to see her having as much of a role as he did.
Some funny moments, some poignant. Neither the fisherman nor his wife ever give up; it’s inspiring. Even the bird carries out its agenda without fail. The ecological lessons are rousing in a different way, more of a call to action.
The artwork isn’t meant to be realistic, almost caricature but not over the top.
I think this could have been 25% shorter, and I would have liked it more.
3.5/5

Lady Mechanika, Vol. 4: Clockwork Assassin
Okay, I’m gonna pretend the Day of the Dead volume never happened. Also a bit sad I missed the Free Comic Book Day edition, but what can you do?
A mysterious lady who could easily pass for Mechanika slashes an industrialist on an empty street. Luckily for Mechanika it’s her “admirer” Detective Singh who’s on the case, but after two more murders even he’s not sure of her innocence.
I love that Harry says he’s the brains and she’s the brawn, and Mechanika doesn’t object.
“Umph. That was graceful. Executed with all the poise of a proper lady.” I keep saying it every time: my favorite trait of Lady Mechanika is her always surprising sense of humor.
The bad guy is not that hard to guess, but then I’m not here for the story. The real reason to be here is the artwork, particularly but not just the renderings of Lady Mechanika.
The girl reminds me of Emma Watson. . . or a certain witch she played.
So, nothing that screams out new, but more of the same good stuff.
As always, there are extra visual goodies at the end; I will never believe Mechanika stopped moving long enough to pose for them.
3.5/5

Infinity 8 Vol. 1: Love and Mummies
In a plot far too confusing to be summarized here, a spaceship cop is sent outside into a space junkyard to find out what’s going on, and hopefully tell the reader too.
It’s one thing for her to be wearing such a tight spacesuit—justifiable, but not likely—but the uniform she wears on the job is ridiculous, and leads me to not be able to take her seriously as a security agent. Another female agent is dressed the same way, cleavage practically falling out. Bad job by the artist there, but who knows what he’s thinking.
Lots of scenery porn in the shape of. . . well, a lot of different shapes of aliens. The ship is shaped like a high-heeled shoe!
Best line: “Kiss my ass.” “Okay. Is that how humans do it?”
Though it happens a lot in these stories, I still don’t like how Captain Obvious she is. Turns out she’s kinda dumb too. An officer never gives up their weapon!
Brightly painted, especially for being in space.
After a page of in-story commercials, some of them funny, there’s a big sign that says “14 pages of extras!” Cute, but too late to make a difference.
2.5/5

Skin & Earth HC
In a near-future Earth ecologically devasted, a young redhead goes from college through a nice neighborhood and reveals that she’s part of a lesser caste, to the point where she has to wear a mask so that she doesn’t breathe on this society’s higher-ups. A guard at the checkpoint back to the poor area, who should be more sympathetic considering he’s no highborn, provides further exposition while trying to bully her.
Of course she’s in love with a jerk. There’s a lot of talk and exposition, but nothing much happens. She doesn’t seem particularly smart, considering she tried to take a tattoo off with a knife. Then she meets a mysterious woman in a dream and they go off to get their revenge on the guy.
I did do a little research after reading the intro; turns out this is written by a musician, and the main character is kinda based on her, at least the visuals; the artwork, especially her red hair, is very true to life. The rest of the eye candy is okay, not meant to be realistic.
Favorite line: “I’m never drinking again!. . . boobs look nice, though.”
Other worthy utterings:
“It’s like some fucked-up Renaissance painting.”
“Show him what it’s like to fuck with a goddess.”
“Are you saying you’re forever years old? You look good!”
“I don’t know what this is all code for, but if you’ve got pills, I’ll take them.”
“You have a dangerous blend of sadness and curiosity.”
“I have other plans!” (I need a plan.)
Good use of chain metaphor.
Problem: if she’s not wearing the mask, how does anyone know if she’s a pink or a red? And I don’t mean her hair.
More to the point: each chapter has a Qcode for songs that go with the book, but as of my reading of this review copy, they only take you to the same general website of what looks to be the publisher. No worries, I found them on youtube, with a couple having videos. I found the songs, like many nowadays, overproduced; acoustic versions might be better, but there are some good hard-rocking melodies in there. As for the videos, one of them shows her making the artwork, while another has a couple of the panels recreated in real life, like the part when her “ghost” leaves her body.
3.5/5

;o)

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: Graphics and Comics

I’m Not Your Sweet Babboo!
I don’t have to describe Peanuts to you, do I? Of course not. So I’ll just mention some of my fave jokes.
The book starts with Sally talking to a building. . . and the building thinking, if not talking back, the same way Snoopy does. So all is normal.
Peppermint Patty enrolls in dog obedience school. That’ll end well. At least that’s different than the usual fare.
There’s a cat called World War II.
It’s a really good friend who holds your head after your grandfather tells you that reading too much will make your head fall off.
There’s an almost-Goth girl named Truffles.
Snoopy’s not a rescue pilot, he’s the actual chopper. Woodstock is the pilot.
Tree-biting is a thing not limited to woodpeckers.
Bunny-print needlepoint is the thing to do when on guard duty.
The Beagle has landed!
Ends with fun facts about helicopters, with some heavy scientific explanations. Even shows how to make one. . . out of paper, that is.
4/5

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Dog Men
Starts off with everyone dying, but of course that doesn’t last.
I’m not heavily familiar with this long-running series, only read a few here and there, so I don’t know how often Dresden goes out of town, but in this one he leaves the comfy confines of Chicago for rural Mississippi. The bigger mystery is how such a huge dog can be so calm in a VW bug for such a long ride.
Dresden makes a good point about his heart breaking and his stomach heaving being a comfort whenever he sees violence or its aftermath, but then that might be part of the stubbornness he admits to. I would have come up with that same reply if Listens-To-Wind hadn’t beaten me to it.
“You’re kidding, right?” “Yes.” Stoic old native American my ass. I was thinking more Yoda, but they went with an Indiana Jones reference instead.
“I was ready. I was confident. Usually that meant I was fucked.”
“I’ve seen golems covered with less mud.” Classic.
So many references! Scooby, Silence of the Lambs, Usain Bolt, Alien, Lord of the Rings. . . ANOTHER Indy reference.
There’s a lot that’s good here, and funny. But I am getting tired of going through so many stories without Dresden learning. All his obtuseness and anger-management issues get boring after a while. There’s no hero arc; it’s more of a flatline.
3/5

Pierce Brown’s Red Rising: Sons of Ares
Issue 1
With humans having colonized the solar system, there’s a very strict color-coded caste system that essentially treats the vast majority as slaves to the small elite. But there’s a rebellion growing in the lower levels, led by a guy born elite but never good enough to be accepted by them. Whether revenge or social justice, he’s ruthless.
The dialogue bubbles are in different colors, which I think stand for what caste the speaker is in. That’s about the only interesting thing I could pick out in this intro chapter.
3/5
Issue 2
The rebellion has been found out and is under attack. But before they can escape the story goes to flashbacks, explaining how Fitchner became the way he is now. It basically tries to show that survival makes one do all kinds of things they’d rather not. There’s too many memories for any of them to make a lot of sense, as each is done pretty quickly before the next one starts.
2/5
Issue 3
The scene changes from Mars to Triton, a moon still being terraformed. Fitchner is in charge of a work group, but the caste system follows him. At first it seems like he doesn’t even consider the rest of them human, having hardened his heart to survive rather than acting like an elite Gold, but when an earthquake hits he can’t help himself. This leads him to find love and family, and explains what the present-day raid is all about.
This chapter was a lot more interesting, just because it involves people more than the previous.
3.5/5
Issue 4
Still in flashback, Fitchner and his companions move to Mars, where he’s now in a corporate environment. But because he married a woman below his station, he’s easily blackmailed into becoming an assassin.
“I’m going to be an aunt!” Funniest moment in what is really a dreary depressing tale.
2/5
Issue 5
The flashbacks have almost caught up. Fitchner’s wife is captured by his old friend, who has become one of the brutal bureaucrats that wants to keep the bloodlines pure. Rejected by Fitchner, he wants revenge. . . but bites off more than he can chew.
There’s no way I’m expecting a happy ending here, but there really hasn’t been anything that would lead me to believe this is an actual rebellion, or that Fitchner could be any kind of leader. It totally comes off as him doing it for himself, without caring about the masses.
2.5/5
Issue Six
Long confusing ramble of a rescue operation to end it. By most measures it could be said that the whole operation wasn’t worthwhile. At the very end there’s a time jump to lead into the previously written story, wrapping things up finally.
2/5
This is a case of not knowing what I’m missing, because I haven’t read the previously released one; this is a prequel to that one. Despite the story it tells, there’s not much here that’s joyful, or even that new or interesting. Had I known more about it coming in I probably wouldn’t have read it.
2.5/5

Jimmy’s Bastards TPB Vol. 1
Right from the first glimpse of the hero you see he’s totally meant to be Bond, though on the closeup he reminds me more of Bruce Campbell.
His rescue/assistant is named Olga Trolltunnel, and is even more eye candy—to put it nicely—that any actual Bond girl. His Q is over-the-top Cockney. And his M is definitely nothing like Bond’s boss. Of course he gets a hot new assistant, though she’s not impressed by him or his methods at all. Thankfully she’s got a sly wit and plenty of sarcasm.
Some of my fave moments include the hatchet to the head, which is so old-fashioned and unwieldy it wouldn’t have fit in Dr. No, but whatever works.
Wow, that’s a huge crowd of offspring; looks like they fill a stadium.
This Rupert acts remarkably similar to Ruprecht in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
The Cockblocker is a fantastic name for a supervillain, and if it also describes his power. . .
“That’s the young bugger who rogered my wife!” Surprised this sentence only occurs once.
There’s one of the bad guys who looks so much like him I was not surprised to hear him called Junior. The temper tantrum was something else.
“Radical solution.” Nice.
“Come and get it! See how you like. . . BAM!”
“Cunt-seeking missile.” Wow. Sheer poetry.
She’s the one who does the parachute trick, not him.
Always have a puppy on standby.
This started off slow and weak, but built up steam as it went along. Thankfully it got funny, and a bit philosophical. The story didn’t finish, though.
A few pages of covers gallery.
3.5/5

Pico Bogue: Striking the Balance
Two kids and their parents, in sorta comic-strip-like storytelling, though more drawn out.
Before anything starts, there’s an amazing drawing of the protagonist inhabiting a tiny part of a vast landscape. It’s really beautiful. And at the end there’s a snowy counterpart, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid piggyback on a snowman before.
“You are what you eat. That makes me nasty.” Wow, tone is set from the first page. These two tiny kids are wise and snarky beyond their years.
The one where he almost gets run over by a car isn’t funny, but then I’m not sure it was meant to be.
“I’m scary as a trumpet.” Probably my fave.
He makes a certain kind of sense when he talks about Christmas gifts.
That little girl sure bounces back quickly from all those falls off the sled. And the last one proved just how amazing she is, my favorite character.
There’s a slightly impressionistic tone to the artwork, making the words and situations all the more surreal. Added to the humor of most of the jokes, it’s well worth reading.
4/5

;o)

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)