Book Reviews: Violins and Other Fantasies

Harriet Walsh: Peace Force
Origin story for a new hero in Simon Haynes’ wacky world, or I should say universe. This shows how Harriet was chosen—if that’s the right word for it—why she accepted, and how she impressed everyone—or at least a couple of robots/cars—with the way she handles her first case.
Harriet is immediately likeable, nowhere more so than when she’s having her first encounter with her talking car. I definitely like Harriet more then Hal, and Alice is preferable to Klunk, though just barely. The least said about Bernie the better; at least Steve was fun. More than anything, it’s funny, which is what I’ve come to expect from this author. The story is all light and airy, much like the Spacejock series, until two tremendously dark twists toward the end.
There’s a small blooper the first time she gets on the plane, but it’s doubtful anyone will notice. Other than that, pure fun as usual with this author.

Syl and Rouen are back, having spent the summer hunting down leftover bad stuff from the first book and dreading going back to school. It takes a while to find the main plot, and then it’s a lot like the first one, without the Big Bad, but plenty menacing anyway.
As much as I enjoyed the first one, it wasn’t for the high school drama. Got into the beginning of this one, but it doesn’t take long for the school stuff to start again, and I feel like I just can’t. Still, I enjoy the dialogue and inner musings enough to persevere.
I love small moments, like the ladies kicking autumn leaves and grinning at each other, or studying solar wind, which as usual with such seemingly throw-ins comes back to be important. But my fave scene has to be the snowball fight.
For all the ugliness that takes place, thanks to Fiann the alpha bully, you not only get a sense that these two ladies will overcome the odds, you root for them.

Out of Tune
Small town girl and two friends give out exposition on a missing girl as they hand out flyers and then join the search, finding the body soon enough.
I mention exposition because in this case it was well done, unlike most ham-fisted attempts in such short stories. There’s a Twin Peaks feel throughout, making me wonder if maybe the victim wasn’t as goodie-two-shoes as she let on.
For such a short novel, there sure were a lot of suspects; just when the cops and Riley think they know who done it, someone else pops up. It’s a little exasperating, as the author doesn’t throw breadcrumbs for the reader to play along and have a chance at solving it. But despite that it’s still worth the read, as the writing and characters are where this short is strong.

The Killing Type
A woman tells her sister her husband is trying to kill her. Sis doesn’t buy it. Next thing we know the sister is married to him. . . and then he’s dead.
This would have been an ok mystery. . . had it been 200 pages. Instead it’s told too matter-of-factly to invest in the characters. At fifty pages—not sure if the sneak peek at the end counts in that total—it’s short enough already, but then a good portion of the back end has the confession, which is told with even more abruptness. Perhaps it’s a good thing it was brief, because a full-length book in this style would not have been finished by me. More than anything, the plot is too convoluted and Machiavellian to come up with in a few seconds the way it was described at the cafe.


Book Reviews: Comic Strip Coolness

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

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

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

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

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


Book Reviews: Dresses, Crimes, Fire, Cows, and Aliens

A Dress the Color of the Sky
A depressed self-loathing woman who can only find self-worth in sex with strangers checks into a harsh addiction clinic, wanting to save her marriage and do better for her teen son. As soon as she gets to group therapy, the story goes into flashback mode: childhood filled with abuse, moving away from daddy across the country, leaving her ducks behind. She makes a friend, and has her brother, but not exactly what you’d call a great support system. It all shows how she came to be so screwed up, but as necessary as they are to explain how she got to where she is, they sure are tough to get through.
In contrast, the chapters in rehab come across almost slice-of-life. . . if you live in a rehab facility, that is. (For the record, I don’t. . . really! I swear!)
I get why this book was written, but it’s so depressing! It’s sad, but it’s tough because there’s also a lot of funny sprinkled here and there. It took me forever to read, because every time something bad happened to her, I had to take a break.
A few days after finishing I was still conflicted. Had I known what this would be like, I would not have started it. Stories like these are just too difficult for me. But I finished it. I can’t really say I liked it, though there was nothing wrong with the writing. One of the discussion questions at the end asked which half of the book I preferred, and I can wholeheartedly say the present rather than the past. Every time I felt happy for her progress in therapy I got plunged back into her history of abuse. Just too rough.

Twisted Crimes
An elderly couple go to the wrong funeral and end up dead. DCI Sophie Allen—my current police crush—eventually shows up to find out why. Though the reason for the initial crime seems ridiculously slight, there’s no doubt such things do happen. That reason also makes it more difficult for the police to solve it, giving the whole team a chance to shine.
Halfway through I realized that, other than the hike with her husband (which was really work-related), there hadn’t been anything about her family in this one. Considering the previous editions and especially the last few, it seemed glaring.
I love this series. Despite the seriousness of the crimes, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The very last scene wasn’t necessary, but I’m glad it’s there. Also glad the bad guys got what was coming to them, taken down by women, and not just Sophie this time.

Evil Crimes
In this installment of the fantastic series, DCI Sophie Allen and her squad, as well as cops in other jurisdictions, track a serial killer the likes of which they’d never seen before. There’s a huge twist a little past halfway, where it seems the investigation is over, but it continues on to a great climax that I would not have expected.
Even without all the newcomers in other parts of the country, there’s a lot of detectives to keep track of, and I’ve read every book in the series! Even though that’s realistic, I wish there could have been less people to keep track of. But that’s a minor point.
The writing is as smooth as ever, Sophie is as spectacular as ever, and Rae’s really making her mark. I like that Rae’s transition, while mentioned a few times, isn’t treated as a big deal. But more than anything, it takes an excellent writer to make you have sympathy for the story’s devil.
I’m not going to say this is the best of the series, but it is my favorite.

Proving Ground
A new security agent, full of insecurities and the weight of being a legacy, is on a stakeout at an airport and then follows her prey to an illicit meet, where everything of course goes wrong. Wouldn’t be much of story if it didn’t, right?
There’s decent surveillance tradecraft in the opening chapter. . . until the end, of course. Unfortunately that’s pretty much the end of that stuff as the plot settles into a mostly usual “girl back in town dealing with family and ex” story. Then it’s about survival.
From the beginning the stubbornness is off the charts. Though there might be such people here and there in the world, most really don’t behave this way in real life, become they end up doing something that teaches them better. . . or gets them killed! Stuff like this makes me like the characters a lot less. For instance, at one point toward the end, when she’s about to do the job she’s been trained for, he again tells her she shouldn’t be doing this. I actually screamed—inside my head—“Dude, shut up! She’s doing this, so either help her or get out of the way!” I was actually wondering if there was anyone in this book who wasn’t stupidly stubborn.
But the absolutely worst moment—trying not to spoiler—happens when she’s rescued but neglects to tell anyone about (something really bad) that’s going to happen. Argh! Why didn’t she? Because then she couldn’t be the hero at the end! This sacrificed any chance I could have had of finding her competent. Also, the cool and calm bad guy, as he was established early on—and what a coincidence that she ends up in exactly the same place he does—is shown being anything but at just the right time for her to notice. Very contrived scene.
Although I enjoyed the writing, I couldn’t help but feel there was too much introspection, in what is a short book anyway. There’s always some, of course, but there was so much thinking here, often hashing out the same ground, that it probably took up half the book. And everyone’s stubbornness didn’t make me feel like rooting for them.

Holy Crap! The World is Ending!
“It was a fairly warm night, a typical summer evening in Southern California.” You know that when a book starts like that, things are gonna get crazy. There’s also what might be the weirdest intro ever, but it sure did the job of preparing me for what was to come.
Which was basically: Earth is about to be destroyed; there’s a way to save humanity; some aliens want to, some don’t; aliens are among us, some of them very sexy; a seemingly ordinary girl is the Chosen One to save the planet.
It’s really cutesy, and somehow it managed to go through the entire book without overdoing it, which might be the most impressive thing. Things get crazy, but oddly enough after a while they get a bit predictable, but at least it’s funnier than previous tries of this kind of story. Even the fact that Part 2 starts at 89% made me laugh. But the most humorous stuff has to be the funny/weird tiny full-color drawings. The cow will haunt me despite her innocent look, especially the one where she’s holding a rose and a bottle of alien wine. . . while wearing a space helmet. In another she’s holding an ankh; I don’t know if I find that more weird or more normal.
I love the contents of the ark of the covenant, so much better than Indy’s version. The historical stuff all goes together nicely. . . if, you know, aliens.
Somewhere along the line the author decided to redeem Inanna, and boy did it work! Big time! I love her now.
Okay, a lot of research went into this. Felt a bit giddy whenever I recognized something, like Gilgamesh. The material is obviously taken seriously by the author, which is why it’s such a surprise that this book was just so darned funny, and fun. You hear a lot about wacky adventures, but this one actually lives up to the billing. More than anything, I have no idea if I would run away screaming or fall in love if I ever met Amber.


Book Review: Geek Actually

A thirteen-part serial about five modern women having each other’s backs, mostly through the internet but sometimes in person, as they deal with their jobs and men and such.
Despite each chapter having a different author, the characters had consistent voices throughout, which isn’t easy. It really does feel like a TV series, as with a big cast each episode revolves around one or two characters more than the others.

The characters:
Aditi is a first-time author who doesn’t like the pressure of having to come up with more books, or even blog posts. She fools around, with her husband’s complete support.
Michelle is Aditi’s editor, going through a divorce and discovering BDSM.
Christina is Hollywood’s oldest gofer, falling into a relationship with a loopy starlet. She’s also Michelle’s sister, though you’d never know it.
Elli is a professional cosplay geek, trying to wander through life just enough to get by until she can get back into her fantasy land. Think Kaylee from Firefly, but even more perky.
Taneesha is a video-game programmer whose company gets bought out and regrets accepting a new job where she’s just the token girl/African-American.

Episode 1: WTF
As expected, this is a relatively quick intro to four of the characters, showing them diverse in many ways but strong friends. Aditi’s one-night stand leads the way.

Episode 2: The Invisible Woman
A little more interesting than the first, with Christina added, showing what life is like on a Hollywood set for a lowly gofer. This takes up most of the chapter.

Episode 3: Boss Battles
For the first time I notice the characters are on the cover, but I can’t tell who’s who yet.
This episode was more sad than the others. Everyone’s life gets worse, though not everyone is in it.

Episode 4: The Long Con
In real life I would run fast from that actress, but she’s a hoot on paper, or pixel. I can see how Christina got sucked in.
I’m really enjoying this series. Every character is different, but I like them all. Did not expect Michelle to go to the workshop, but glad she did, as I learned some things. . . not as much as her, of course, but fun.

Episode 5: Beware of Rage Bait
Starts with funny not-spoilers, leading into a brief commentary on Buffy and Angel. Even though these are short chapters, there’s always room for some humor. The rest of this episode consisted of long phone talks to relieve stress and a couple of sex scenes. . . to relieve stress.

Episode 6: Can You Not?
This was a depressing episode, no doubt on purpose. All three storylines had problems for the ladies, and no sex. There’s rape scenes in movies and racism during fetish play, not nearly as much fun as previous chapters.

Episode 7: Pussy Bites Back
This one was more upbeat than the last, but some of the depressing storylines continue, and more pop up. There’s still enough funny moments to keep me going, but this wasn’t as fun as the earlier episodes.

Episode 8: A Dox on Both Your Houses
This goes from one problem to another, and it gets so depressing. Several times I felt like giving up. All the humor of the first few is gone.

Episode 9: Aces Wild
This was my favorite episode so far, especially compared to the last few. All kinds of relationships progressed. Revelations, eureka moments. . . fun to see good characters being upbeat about choices rather than wallowing in misery. Elli in particular has a major breakthrough.

Episode 10: Well, Actually
After some progress in the previous chapter we get the most depressing episode so far. New bad stuff along with more of the old bad stuff, and nothing positive at all for balance.

Episode 11: It’s Not Me, It’s You
Neesh with a breakthrough for the good, Aditi a breakup for the good and bad. Michelle just bad. The stories are progressing toward the finale, but it’s gonna take a lot to make this long trip worthwhile.

Episode 12: System Failure
This episode had the plotlines coming to a head right before the ending. Misunderstood sex and BDSM lead to major problems, which are then left cliffhanging for a big finish.

Episode 13: Squad Goals
Part of me is sad that their redemption—except for Aditi—didn’t match all the suffering they went through. On the other hand, that’s more realistic, and that’s what this series was aiming for the entire ride, no matter how often I wished it to be a little more escapist.

Overall: 3/5


Word Reviews: Nerd, Geek, Dork

Had been looking forward to a few days alone to get stuff done. . . and instantly strained a groin (good thing I have one left!). So of course my mind turned to cookier things, like how I would rank these three words in order of which one I least want to be called all the way to “Eh, don’t mind.”

First the dictionary meanings.

{Geek: a peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward.}
Hey, I’m all three! Yay! Do note that the original meaning of this word was “circus performer who bites the heads off chickens.” Now I don’t feel as bad.

{Nerd: a person considered to be socially awkward, boring, unstylish, etc.}
Only one fits me! Okay, two, but I’m never boring!

{Dork: a silly, out-of-touch person who tends to look odd or behave ridiculously around others.}
Me, ridiculous? Never!

Right away there’s a problem: “Dork” doesn’t really fit in with the other two, at least not as tightly as those two do with each other. “Nerd” and “Geek” seem pretty specifically geared toward those who love science fiction and fantasy, gaming, tech, and so on. But “Dork” could be about anything, or about nothing, simply a perception of not being cool. But that very non-specificity hurts its reputation, as some people will gladly take the mantle of nerd or geek proudly; there’s no similar cachet to being a dork.
So that solves the worse, but there’s more fun ahead, as we have to figure out if we’d rather be a geek or a nerd. They’re actually so similar than at least in two dictionaries I checked they’re synonyms for each other. So since that’s no help, it’ll have to come down to personal preference. . . no, that’s no good either. I’ll just have to go with instinct without being able to explain it.
So I’m going with nerd as best, then geek, then dork.
Phew! That was more exhausting than I thought!


Book Reviews: Exercise, Joy, Legalities, and Archaeology

Do you think the French and French Canadians say Monterey Jacques when ordering cheese?

Undulation: Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young
An easier gentler version of yoga for those of us whose bodies are winding down.
As with all self-help books, be it mental or physical, the first part tries to convince you why you need this. Some of them are actually well-pointed, such as the difference between pain caused by regular physical labor and internal injury. There’s also the difference between small and large movements, as well as an explanation as to who really is in charge, the mind or the body. One line really made me laugh: eels have powerful strong cores, because that’s all they have. Eels can’t fall back on arms and legs.
Obviously it takes a while to feel the effects and benefits of any physical regimen, so I can’t tell you how successful this is yet, but I can recommend this book just for the names of the exercises, some of which genuinely made me laugh out loud:
Hip hiker—Octopus—Paint your head with the floor—Follow the music—Tailbone penmanship—Coffee grinder—Caressed by waves—Barber pole—Tree tops—Train cars—Speed bump—Inchworm—Snake charmer—Tornado.
There’s an appendix that lists the exercises alphabetically.

November Fox – Book 1. Following Joy
This novel was both interesting and weird on many levels, though thankfully most were entertaining. The philosophical ramblings tend to be too much once in a while, but basically it’s an enjoyable ride as we follow a young female rock star through many worlds and even time, all the while searching for some kind of enlightenment, semi-guided by a floating Rubik’s Cube that makes the subtitle literal.
November—thankfully we find out about the name early—turns out to be a happy loopy girl, the kind who says good morning to the furniture and singsongs to herself about everything she sees. On her travels she meets an elephant who speaks in a German accent and only wants cake. This guy is a hoot! Inspired characterization. At one point Captain Picard of Star Trek makes a cameo, and the Borg are mentioned, which makes November the nerdiest rock star ever.
I found it weird that there was an omnipresent voyeur narrating what’s going on with the protagonist. This narrator is even stranger than November, and talks—writes—way too cutesy and mannered. There’s a strange fascination with time, which here is called tick-tock, or cake time, depending on the character. By the end I was thinking I liked November’s story and Erica’s notes much more than the Architect’s philosophical ramblings, and could have done without them.
There was also a promise of music and/or video which could be accessed via an app, but even though there was animation at some points it didn’t work as promised.
Most importantly, November—the character—was so enjoyable. Her story could have been told just as well without the frames, but obviously that’s not what the author wanted.

Legal Asylum: A Comedy
The wacky behind-the-scenes travails of a state law school trying to be reaccredited and make the top five nationally at the same time leads to hilarity, though only for the readers, not the characters.
The main character is the dean of the law school, a driven and attractive woman who wants to be on the Supreme Court and have sex with just about everyone—compatible goals, I guess. But even with her leading the way there were so many points of view! To my surprise I rather like the member of the accreditation committee who writes notes to be transcribed like Cooper and Diane from Twin Peaks. I liked the tone of the whole thing; it’s not hilariously funny, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like when the chancellor takes Viagra at the wrong time. There’s an interesting tangent on commercialism and Chinese aspirations too.
I wanna root for the Dean of Sexiness, but she’s not exactly sympathetic. And her obsession with being top 5, even if she has an incredibly selfish reason for it, is so ridiculous I can’t stand her. At one point she beats up two librarians and gets away with it, which is the main problem I had with the plot.
Funny how I only moderately liked it as I was reading it, but the ending was uplifting enough to push it slightly higher.

Olmec Obituary
Archaeological mystery? I’m there!
While there is a main character, and a mystery to solve—eventually—the best part is the interplay within her giant family, which has so much genetic mix: Chinese, Welsh, Berber. There’s plenty of supporting cast as well, from fellow librarians to an archaeologist she Skypes with; my favorite was the meek geneticist. But I wrote a note about halfway through where I said I didn’t know what the mystery is supposed to be, or if there was one, which is my main problem with the plot.
Food plays an important part in this family’s life, so there’s recipes—completely incomprehensible to me, of course—and a glossary at the end. But once I look back at it I find I enjoyed it, even though I had some difficulty following the chain of evidence. Didn’t think I would like the Olmec sequences, but it turned out the ballcourt-playing princess was the most interesting character of all.


Book Reviews: Everything’s Graphic

Time Share
If you read the blurb and expected this to be like “Back to the Future”. . . you’re right. The first panel alone made me think it. A little later there’s a part—let’s call it homaged—from “Terminator.” And just to make sure, there’s this line: “Roads? We don’t need roads!”–“We do too need roads! Dumbass!”
I wish I could tell you what this was about, other than time travel, but it would be easier to tell you what it’s NOT about, as the plot jumps around everywhere without rhyme or reason. If it wasn’t for the humor I would have quit just a few pages in. One of the characters says, “I am so lost. . . figuratively speaking, I mean. . . okay, literally too.” Join the club.
So I stuck around for the jokes, having given up on trying to make sense of it. There’s silly stuff, like “Teddy! Move!”–“Okay, but I’ll need some boxes!” Then there’s the ever-popular “Hooray for A.N.A.L.!” and “I’m keeping my eye out. . . also my penis.” We find out about the author’s fixations with the lines, “Perhaps I could interest you in some mouth pleasure?” and “Is he requesting. . . mouth love?” How naïve is the defective robot guy? He says things like, “You said a swear!” And I also “have so much sympathy for Pac-Man right now. . .” My two faves were “I was too follow to drugged” and “Horse’s ass of the apocalypse!” which was the most brilliant thing I’d read that day.
Even the cops get their jokes, like playing “One two three not it!” “We’re coming in! I can’t guarantee Frank won’t shoot anyone.”–“Jesus, Al, let it go.” “Target evaluation: Kinda sad, really.” And what are “medium warning shots?”

Brickleberry V.1—Armoogeddon
According to the recap—one huge star just for including it!—this is about how alien cows took over the planet, with one guy particularly happy about it because of the love that dare not moo its name. The protagonist looks like Peter Griffith if he REALLY let himself go, but hey, he’s the hero, gotta root for him. And since cows are racist too they make really good bad guys here.
“Steve, you’ve returned.” Oh boy, this writing is not instilling confidence early on.
Some of the jokes you can spot from a continent away. For example, I had a feeling the scientist was screwing with him about inserting all the stuff from the time machine. Likewise the “Who’s your daddy?” twist. Thankfully a lot of it is inspired funny lunacy, like the hero’s weapon of choice being a t-shirt cannon; awesome in some circumstances, not so much in others. And spike strips should not be used on humans! Owwie! (There’s a close-up, in case you had any doubts.)
“Way to think on your feet, Wayne Brady.” Wow, that’s a reference I never thought I’d see. Definitely not often Amazon and Obama get slammed back to back, and that’s probably a good thing.
Plotwise there’s nothing new here—except with cows—and a lot of it doesn’t make sense, but it’s so madcap the sense is it was never meant to in the first place. Just be on the lookout for the jokes, which are sometimes too-far or too-soon but always hilarious.

Big Nate: What’s a Little Noogie Between Friends?
This comic strip is consistent in bringing the funny, and that’s all you can ask. Whether it’s soccer, table football, Star Trek: The Next Generation. . . Nate always finds a way to pull a screw-up from the jaws of victory. You’d think it couldn’t get any worse for him than his crush moving away, but when he ends up at the movies next to his nemesis—and they’re mistaken for a couple!—noogies hardly seem to matter at that point.

Bizenghast Collectors Edition V.1
After a newspaper cutting to set the scene—thank you for that!—the story is told through pencil sketches and grayscale, in which an orphan girl claims ghosts haunt her. Deemed crazy, she escapes her aunt’s house with a boy and they explore a cemetery, finding an underground cathedral-like place that they really should not have entered. From there each chapter takes them on a different mission to help bring peace to ghosts, picking up some snarky advisors along the way.
She might have been a crazy shut-in, but she’s got an amazingly huge wardrobe, while her guardian moans about not having money. She even spouts life lessons such as: “I can do anything with the right outfit.”
That snarky little mask-faced creature easily steals every scene. Communism is bad for your eyes. . . or is that television? He was the most entertaining, with lines like, “Remember we’re parked in level. . . ocean.”
There’s over 500 digital pages and the story’s still not over! Though to be fair the drawings and panels are bigger than most. Toward the end the format changes to a more serialized story, which rapidly becomes confusing.
While the artwork is minimalist, some of the drawings are beautiful. Dinah at one point is wearing a peacock inspired dress that would have been so beautiful in color.
The author included some notes at the end, basically celebrating weirdness; this is not the first time I’ve heard a creator refer to a second version of their work as a “director’s cut.”
To put it succinctly, this was more interesting than I expected.


Book Reviews: Bad Jobs, Erotic Wonderland, and Online Dating

There are only 10 kinds of people: those who can read binary and those who can’t.

You Had One Job!
A few days ago a friend posted a photo on Facebook of a row of bottles of vinegar with the labels upside down, of course captioning it with this title. Timing being everything, here’s a whole book on it.
It’s wonderful to see something that’s exactly as described: a collection of photos showing work failures that never should have happened. You could scour the internet for days and possibly see all these, but it would take a lot of work and time, so it’s much better having it in this convenient package, especially since they come with captions, mostly unnecessary but sometimes elevating the photo. And when the author says exactly what I would have, there’s a partly creepy, partly triumphant sensation running through me. Case in point: “Pay your parking fee before existing.” I went existential too.
The forward contains this gem: “We’re not judging; we’re just laughing at how hard you failed at doing your job. Okay, maybe we’re judging you a little, but you still got paid, right?”
Star Warts? Really?
Best one: A Halloween costume of Spock with Kirk’s face on the package. (The fact the author was able to knowingly joke about both Star Wars and Star Trek means she’s part of my tribe.)

Girls on Campus
Lesbian erotica in a college setting, of varying degrees of well-written-ness. Some were usual—sorority pledge, library—others pretty inventive—swimming pool, garden in the rain.
Really nothing more I can say.

The Circlet Treasury of Erotic Wonderland
An erotic version of Alice In Wonderland? That would have been great, but unfortunately that’s not what happens here. Instead there’s short stories, some of which take place in that universe, but too many don’t. And while there are some that are pretty good, the majority fell flat. Worse than anything, too many of them weren’t erotic at all.
I suppose that in a story about Wonderland, things will get weird, but unlike Lewis Carroll, some of these were too far out to understand. It says a lot when the hottest scene features Alice with a wasp.
Can’t help but feel a bit disappointed.

ONLINE DATING: The Good, The Bad, and the Hopeless
Well, at least it’s short. . .
There was very little good here, but definitely plenty of bad and hopeless. Out of the first twenty chapters, there was at most three dates that might qualify as good, so technically the title didn’t lie. But those bad ones weren’t bad enough to be funny, mostly cringeworthy. Even worse was the writing; the casual style feels forced, the attempts at humor fall flat. Writing “just kidding!” right after the attempted joke belongs in a text or tweet, not a book. And I try not to harp on grammar, knowing a lot of what I’m reading is not the final copy, but there’s simply too many misused commas, typos, unclosed quotations, etc. Schakowsky’s 1812 Overture—seriously?
More than anything, I found this author thoroughly unlikable. He stereotypes women—the Ph.D., the Indian princess—then tries to sound so lofty for overcoming his perceptions. Maybe next time don’t make judgements beforehand.
Here’s a perfect example: “This meeting / date did not proceed as expected. Usually the dominant party (almost always the male… at least on my dates) sets the stage for the beginning, the middle, and the end of this initial encounter. The female by nature is considered the gentle gender and politely cooperates with the self-appointed take-charge male. Exceptions to this routine are rare, but when they do occur . . . they can be devastating to the supposedly dominant gender. Totally unexpected, the male finds himself in a subordinate position and cannot function in his usual dominant manner.”
Maybe it’s just because he’s of an older generation, but he’s not that much older than me.
I’m surprised I made it to the end; usually when a book is this bad I give up on it. That’s why I rarely give bad reviews.


Book Reviews: Funny Ducks, Bad Future, Double Exposed

“Don’t do anything you don’t want to.”
She batted her lashes. “But then how will you owe me one?”

Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting
A collection from a comic strip about an anthropomorphized family of ducks, with the father having trouble raising the kiddies, or ducklings.
This book is funny right from the intro, where after talking to other parents the author realizes that he is in fact the only one having doubts about their ability to raise a child; it wasn’t till he stared this strip that he grasped something the baby could have told him: “A lot of people are big fat liars!”
There’s some hilarious stuff that doesn’t need anything more said about it here. Then there’s some jokes that don’t hit you right away; it takes a couple of seconds for the humor to detonate. The good thing is that the LOL per page ratio is pretty high, as a lot of these get more than just a smile or a chuckle. There’s even a nice dig on Star Wars. The art work is serviceable, good enough without getting in the way of the humorous writing, which is really the important part.

The Shape of Shit to Come
A look at the future, as regards to technology, genetics, food, weather, and so on, as told by two British guys who think they’re writing for Benny Hill or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The sad robot on the cover, reminiscent of Marvin from the latter of the abovementioned references, sets the tone nicely.
While in general this is a good overview of what the future might have in store, the inclusion of too many not-worth-it jokes had me rolling my eyes far too often. There’s some surprising scientific logic behind the often groan-worthy humor, but it’s not allowed to flourish. The worst part for me was that all the British-isms were tough to understand; it wasn’t till they mentioned a Wallace and Grommit movie that I grasped a reference. And then after all that, their conclusion is: Cheer up—it might never happen.
This could have received a higher grade had they been able to hold in the impulse to include some silly humor that kinda screwed up their whole point. While I get them trying to parry the doom-and-gloom scenarios, having someone from Monty Python or Red Dwarf ghost-write a few jokes would have helped immensely.

Tough Justice: Exposed
Female FBI agent saves suicidal guy from ledge; he’s instantly shot once on the ground. But that’s just the tip of the plot iceberg, as it is then explained that she’d gone undercover to bust a mafia, then spent two years hiding from them.
Despite the FBI team’s insistence on the possibility that it could be completely unrelated to that assignment, it’s plain that it is. There were times when I asked a pertinent question a chapter ahead of the agents, except when I asked a question that the bright but angry detective never thought of, having to do with the dead guy’s girlfriend and his missing phone. It’s actually pretty good procedural-wise, though with these obvious lapses. While this is at heart a mystery, there’s also a look into the mentality of an undercover agent after a year-long job. I would say she’s suffering from a form of PTSD, except her trust issues and such began long before.
Since this is the first of a series—or I should say miniseries, because they’re novellas—it ends in a cliffhanger, but at least it’s expected.
I liked it, but not sure if I liked it enough to continue with the series.

Hot lawyer in Seattle has sex, gets married, goes to sex clubs with her husband, gets divorced, then is really screwed over. Told as one long stream of consciousness, with the narrator in the present telling us about her past, this first-person chronicle takes some getting used to, but is ultimately worth the trip.
Can’t say I’m a fan of the format, but I ended up enjoying her journey. She would likely never realize how good she’s had it, preferring to microscope on the bad parts: how her parents suck, how her husband screwed her over. The good things in her life are basically the women she helps—though some are not worthy—her grandmother, and all the sex she has.
Toward the end it turns into a revenge fantasy come to life, where we find out who the true villain, the puppetmaster, is. The fact she enjoys sex with him doesn’t stop her from giving him what’s coming to him for all the misery he put her through, so the story ends with a sense of wrongs being righted and satisfaction being gained.
I did not think I would enjoy it this much when I started, especially the ending. Glad I stuck with it.