Book Reviews: Racing, Cops, Post-Its, and Future War

Take Out
As much as I love Judge Deborah Knott and her incredibly extended family down in the South, I’ve always preferred this author’s Sigrid Halard series, even if it is based in Noo Yawk. It’s so much fun revisiting this universe after so many years away. All the quirky characters are here, especially the clumsiest cop that’s ever existed, the Bohemian photographer/mom who’s always a hoot, and of course Roman; if you’ve read any in this series, nothing more need be said.
This time out the squad is searching for the food-poisoning murderer of two apparently homeless men, with ties to various people on one city street. Also featured on this block is a diner and a getting-close-to-your-client business that isn’t what it appears to be; you’ll see. As always, the characters are more interesting than the plot, but it winds its merry way to a satisfying conclusion anyway. Classic Maron and Sigrid.
One note—at the end the author says this:
“Although the first eight books in this series were written in what was the current “now” at the time and with absolutely no regard to aging my characters, this book takes place in the 1990s, a year after Fugitive Colors but before Three-Day Town.”
Wish she’d said that at the beginning!
4/5

Start Your Engines (Racing Hearts #1)
Ten years ago, a racing crash killed their best friend, and put the male protagonist in the hospital. Though the cause was a cut tire, the female lead blames herself, and he blames her too, so now that they’re forced to work together on the same racing team they have to figure out how to deal with those residual emotions, as well as romance blossoming between them.
Had to laugh at how this author made up names for the races, the tracks, even the series. In Tammy Kahler’s Kate Reilly series, everything is true to life other than the names of the racers, so it’s an unusual contrast. And I’m always amazed when a writer throws in the name of a favorite movie or a band I know, in this case Halestorm.
So all in all, thoroughly enjoyable. Not the same feeling as other racing stories, like Tammy Kahler’s, but then this is a romance, not a mystery. There’s an amazing amount of psychology going on here, from the usual racing stuff to PTSD. Would have felt just the same without the romance, but then I don’t think I’m the target audience here; lack of communication rather than the usual miscommunication was the problem that popped up this time.
One thing that annoyed me was that at the beginning of chapter two there’s too many male characters introduced at once! Easy there, tiger. But that was really–well, almost–the only negative. Though the driving scenes are short and undetailed, almost treated like afterthoughts, the behind-the-scenes stuff was fun. And it’s set up for a sequel.
But I would be remiss if I did not point out something that bugged me. Though it’s made obvious that the one-dimensional villain and his cronies cause crashes and otherwise screw with the protagonists, they never get punished. There’s not even a mention of the race stewards—if there are any—checking the video evidence. And while it’s said a few times that Gabrielle checks her social media, nowhere does it say how the internet feels about the jerk antagonist. Those details would have made me feel better about the ending. At times it feels like, despite setting this in the world of auto racing, the author has no interest in it, just using it as a backdrop.
3.5/5

The Post-It Note Affair
A woman bored with her marriage finds a Post-It in her purse, which changes her life in two ways: the message buoys her spirits, and she’s totally invested in finding out who put it there, hoping it’s the hot new guy at the office.
This book starts with musings on what love is, which turned out to be pretty interesting. What’s not as intriguing is her description of her husband: “full of energy, a great listener, and he utterly adores me.” I think she just described a puppy. She pretty much says so later: “But maybe that’s why it’s just gotten, well, boring. Living with Stephen is like having a really great pet. Did I just think that? He’s everything you could want in a companion.”
Luckily it gets funny at times. “I strolled into work proud of the fact that I arrived on time. Of course, no one seemed to notice. I didn’t even get a prize for that. There should be prizes for that.” Written nicely as far as style goes, but then comes a scene where she manufactures drama with her husband. . . ugh. There’s no coming back from that on the likability scale.
This is written from the woman’s point a view, a woman who’s bored with her marriage to the point where she flirts with a guy from work. That’s fine. But, and let’s not mince words here, at times she treats her husband like crap, just because he’s boring in comparison to the new guy. Never once does she try to communicate with him about it, or figure out a way to make things better. Everything’s about her. It’s incredibly rare that I don’t like a female protagonist, but here it is. And I hardly ever complain that a story is too short, but that’s the case here. I figured out who was really sending the notes early, so I wish there had been more to make me wonder. The way the story’s written leaves only one real possibility, but also serves to make her even more unlikeable. The only thing that saved it from a lower grade was the humor.
2.5/5

Future War: Preparing for the New Global Battlefield
This review is a bit difficult for me, as I read an excellent book with the same title some years ago. Despite all attempts at not comparing, I have to admit some expectations seeped through, and the fact that they turned out to be on completely different paths didn’t help.
That other book was talking about weapons of the future, and there’s a little bit of that here: sonic waves, lasers, and other non-lethal newfangled inventions that DARPA’s working on. Twice the author lists historical military breakthroughs, but in both cases misses one of the most elementary and essential: stirrups.
But other than that small section on tech, this book is really one long surprising treatise on the philosophical, moral, and ethical implications of war in the future, rather than a description of actual warfare. There isn’t much about the tactics necessary to fight the new enemy that has made terrorism synonymous with warfare, for example. In fact, the ideas presented are not new, such as the chapter on leadership, and have always been a part of warfare since the Ancient Greeks. Perhaps he sees a need to remind people of it, and that’s fine up to a point, but the author belabors these opinions time and time again. If I’m smart enough to pick up this book, I’m smart enough not to be beat on the head over and over with the same kick. Plus it’s more likely a case of preaching to the choir of anyone interested in reading this book. For instance, he makes the point that people who are unaffected by war—in this case the American people—don’t care about the issues surrounding it. I wrote a paper on this very subject years ago, about Bosnia and Croatia and the bombing of Serbia, and I’m not exactly a military expert, so I have to say I learned very little here.
2.5/5

;o)

Netflix Fun: Department Q: Keeper of Lost Causes

Overview
Ever since the Dragon Tattoo made its mark on the world—no pun—there’s been an explosion of mystery books, movies, and TV shows from Scandinavia. I think I’ll call it EuroNoir, when you add in the new waves from Germany and France.

Writing
Great, another brooding damaged cop. He’s great with facts and conjecture, not so much with people. I’d make a sarcastic remark about that being new, but why bother?
The plot is both difficult and, ultimately, ingenious. It’s hard to believe there are people crazy enough to plot such an elaborate revenge after so many years, especially over something that happened as a child, but then this villain was clearly never in his right mind. On the other hand, he did have a clear view of what killed his parents, and I have to believe the cause of the crash could have been written better; even a little girl couldn’t have been so dumb, and how come she wasn’t wearing a seat belt?
As I will mention more below in the directing section, the opening scene, involving a shootout, was all kinds of wrong. The three cops deliberately do not wait for the backup they know is coming. Once inside they find a dead body and put away their weapons. I was actually shouting at the screen, “You haven’t cleared the building yet!” and a second later guess what happens.
There isn’t all that much that’s funny here, but at the same time it wasn’t nearly as dark as I thought it would be, especially considering the first part and the hostage situation.

Directing
There’s a big fail at the very beginning: the shootout is simply not well done, in that you can’t tell who gets shot—other than the bald guy—or where they come from. At first I thought it was the main character who caught the bullet in the head, but even had he survived that he didn’t have a scar after that. More to the point, I should not have had to wonder.
But props are deserved for the shots in the pressure chamber. It would be a pun to call it atmospheric, but even if the interior views were not done inside an actual chamber, they were appropriately claustrophobic.

Acting
Think Dr. House, if he was even more weary yet dogged.
Though the lead is good, probably the best performance goes to his assistant, Assad. Considering how the main character was at the beginning, it’s telling that by the end he and Assad are almost buddies—he even cracks a smile—especially after all the crap Assad has to put up with from him.
Another contender for best performance has to go to the victim, who stayed strong enough after three years of captivity and atmospheric pressure to shoot him the finger. It was hard to reconcile the character in the flashbacks where she’s a young vibrant politician to how she was by the time she was rescued, but she does a great job in showing the fortitude. It’s almost insane.
A special mention also goes to the actor playing the victim’s brother, a mentally impaired young man who then had to suffer through the added horror of seeing his sister abducted. There’s a moment where he goes from almost catatonia to screaming in horror that you can’t help but be amazed. . . once your heartbeat settles down.

Cinematography
As to be expected from this type of movie, it’s dark and brooding, showing parts of Copenhagen tourists don’t see. This is one of my favorite towns, and while I didn’t expect shots of the Nyhavn or the Little Mermaid, I didn’t recognize one single vista, not even in the establishing shots. Other than their brief trip to Sweden, you don’t see the beauty of Scandinavia.
But once resigned to that, it’s easier to make out individual choices. There are some shots, for example, that come right out of the horror genre. Almost as creepy are some of the establishing shots in the insane asylum, though the garden certainly looked cheery in the sunlight. Perhaps the most intriguing set was the basement office, with its labyrinth-like stacks of beige files; at times it looked like a sepia filter.

Music
Right away the tone is set with the creepy atmospheric music accompanying the opening credits. Other than that there’s nothing to talk about, as I don’t remember hearing another note the whole way through. . . which is not to say there wasn’t any music, it simply didn’t penetrate my brain.

“Feel”
After a slow start the movie gets better and better, until by the end you’re rooting for them to find her. It helps that it stops being about the detective and his hangups—other than a few brushes with Assad—and narrows its focus to the mystery.
6.5/10

;o)

Book Reviews: Empathy and Emojis

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?
Many years ago I saw Alan Alda on a TV show, something about scientific frontiers. While that’s mentioned in this book, he focuses on one particular subject, that of empathy.
It all started with an encounter at the dentist’s, where the man couldn’t get his point across to his patient because he couldn’t stop thinking like a dentist. From there Mr. Alda moved to doctors, stating, “People are dying because we can’t communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another.” Another great quote is, “Not being truly engaged with the people we’re trying to communicate with, and then suffering the snags of misunderstanding, is the grit in the gears of daily life.” There’s some fascinating points where he talks about using acting practices to get doctors and others to communicate better. It didn’t take long for the realization to hit: “Developing empathy and learning to recognize what the other person is thinking are both essential to good communication.”
Here’s a little hint to make this book more interesting: read it in his voice, feel it reverberating inside your skull.
Most of the chapters are small, some only describing an encounter, story, or lesson that led to his conclusions, but it seems to work fine. In explaining how to better explain things, he explained everything really well. Even a book about making communication accessible can be full of jargon, but thankfully this one wasn’t.
4/5

Emoji Adventures Book 5: The Pet Unicorn
Told in first person by a kid/emoji named Annie, this story revolves around her and three others—Dot, her sister with heart-shaped eyes; Kevin, her evil twin; and Billy, a soccer-playing poop—who try to find a unicorn to claim the missing poster reward, only to find it cooler to have an actual unicorn to play with.
It takes a while to get to the first photo, with the quartet inside the fro-yo shop, showing them to be actual emoji heads on stick bodies, with hands to hold ice cream cones (but no stomachs). And yes, Billy is a poop emoji. Annie is a cute brunette with a big smile. Once I see it I can accept this ridiculous reality and treat the story as it was intended. On the other hand, the unicorn is full-bodied, not an emoji (how many times do I have to write that word?). Not forgetting other parts of social media, the chapter titles are hashtags. (Dumpster pasta should have been a hashtag too.) And of course they literally live in Emojiville.
There’s plenty of humor here, which is really the only thing it needs. Examples:
“The Ancient Egyptians were a lot more sparkly than people think.” I know exactly who to spring that line on.
“All I want to do is take this unicorn to a field of flowers and braid its mane.”
“Shakes her mane around like she’s at a heavy metal concert.” But later it’s said that unicorns like Taylor Swift, which pretty much explains everything.
And I’d gotten so into thinking of them as kids that I didn’t get their disgust when the unicorn licked Billy.
Quite an enjoyable little story, though I can’t help but think it would have been just the same without the emoji conceit. If there’s a moral here, it’s on the last page: always take the reward money. The author lists his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at the end; bet he gets inundated with emoji suggestions for the next book. And I can’t help but wonder if the upcoming Emoji movie is based on one of these books (is Sir Patrick Stewart really playing the poop?).
4/5

101 Things to Do Instead of Playing on Your Phone
I love it when the title tells you everything you need to know. However, I’m reading this on a tablet, so it was a little hard remembering it’s meant to be a physical book, which makes things like Draw a Selfie and Coloring very difficult, though not as impossible as Cutting out the Paper Airplane.
Kids’ games abound, my faves being I Spy and Cloud Zoo. Smile at someone, see if they smile back. Play Fashion Adviser has too much opportunity to turn to the dark side. I particularly like the Giving Awards one, though the fun in it is coming up with the right awards.
But there’s also quite a bit of stuff like Write Your Grocery List for Tonight’s Meal or Bucket List where it’s the same as doing it on the phone, and would be simpler. Still, most of it is fun stuff, as well as things to think about.
4/5

Wolf
A philosophy grad student at Northwestern, who despite seemingly being a good girl keeps getting into perilous dumb situations and poker games, comes across the dead body of her advisor just as he was planning to ruin her career. In addition to that there’s a Russian mafia plot that makes things convoluted, with too many characters to keep straight and flashbacks that spoil the flow.
But the author’s main purpose in writing this story is the rape culture and drugging found in colleges today, especially at frats. There’s an avenger that kicks ass—literally—but unfortunately she’s not the main character. Instead we get Jessica, the Montana cowgirl philosopher with a love of Nietzsche, who at least three times in this story passes out, either stone drunk or drugged. Yet at the end there she is getting drunk again. Did the author really intend to make her protagonist seem so stupid? Or is it trying to impart the belief that even the smartest can fall prey to drugs and evil guys. . . over and over and over? Still, you’d think that, short of admitting she was an alcoholic, she’d learn not to drink so much. It’s hard to respect people, especially those who think of themselves as so intelligent, who can’t figure things out.
Despite that the writing is pretty good, with plenty of droplets of humor. There’s a cute mention of Star Trek: The Next Generation near the end that fans will love.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Berlin, Virginia, Canada, and fantasy

Federico Fellini: The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

Night Train to Berlin
The wife of a top cop in Paris is approached by a stranger quoting Scarborough Fair. That starts a chain of events that leads to a possible terrorist attack in Berlin on the Ides of March.
Though the plot, especially where it eventually lands at the end, is intriguing, the getting there was a lot tougher. There’s quite a few boring info dumps, and I skipped a whole section that was clearly an ill-disguised author diatribe. The end-of-chapter foreshadowings were annoying and amateurish. The thing about ventricles was cute, but the author had to keep going and make it boring. And once the big thing happens in the middle of the book, it slows down quite a bit.
Good plot, some amateurish touches. Author should get better with more experience.
2.5/5

LaCour’s Destiny
An accountant investigates some shady money stuff at her company, which leads her to search for a disappearing employee. Things get dangerous.
Early on it had the feeling of a romantic comedy about to explode, but it never really settled into a particular genre. That’s not necessarily bad, but it made this story feel unfocused. For someone who claimed never to have done anything worse than walking out on a few blind dates, she sure took to lockpicking, and breaking and entering, easily; no moral qualms at all. She also recovered awfully quickly after almost being killed. And wow, she maced herself. Butt monkey much?
The mystery was too convoluted, and I hate it when the protagonist doesn’t figure it out. Kinda cheap to have the killer go off the deep end and basically confess. Felt like it was longer than it needed to be. Enjoyed the main character most of the time—though it was hard to get past her choice for favorite football player—but the plot and the large amount of suspects was confusing.
2.5/5

Sam in Winter
A 9 year old kid who still likes being read to in bed—he particularly enjoys the vampire rabbit stories—can read his dog’s mind, or at least his howls.
Sam is a pretty weird dog. I’ve trained a lot of canines, but I’ve never seen one like this. Then he disappears and Kix can’t think about anything else. It’s hard to believe this book can be so big with a really simple premise, but then the scene where they search in the snow went on forever. There’s an interesting bit on doggie dementia, but even though I mostly enjoyed this, I feel it dragged too much. There were a couple of times when I almost gave up on it, because other than the walking around parts, everything was Kix’s thoughts.
Where this story takes place is never really told, and the fact the author is Dutch doesn’t help. There are too many places in the world that get so cold and snowy. Finally First Nations told me it was Canada, and then I remembered what a Chinook was from when I went to Calgary for the ‘88 Olympics. Wish they would have simply said so, though.
There’s a few simple sketches amongst the text. The photo at the end, with the author and the dog who inspired this story, is a great touch.
3/5

A World Away
A bookish academic finds a sword that glows, and while studying it one snowy night she’s trapped in the museum with some thieves. She gets knocked out and ends up in another world where she gets to play Red Sonja, when she’s not the sexual plaything of the local general as they fight demons and dragons and such like.
There’s not much style to start, and probably in an effort to make it different it’s told in present tense. It felt like typical 80s escapist fantasy, where the disenchanted end up in another world via a magic gate, magic cupboard, etc. Unlike those, this one doesn’t bother to explain how she switched realities; no magic portals, just the sword.
Not great by any means, and a bit Mary Sueish with a British accent, but I did find myself enjoying the fish out of water aspects. This could have easily turned bad. The writing got better, but I was never comfortable with the present tense; didn’t see any need for it at any point.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Graphic is the Future

“Do you mind if I start eating?”
“Have at it!” Grin. “Very polite of you to ask. Your parents taught you well.”
Snort. “This was a do-it-yourself project.”

Control
A detective in DC is playing pool with her partner when around the corner two cops are shot while trying to save a kid from hanging. Great start. The assassin is so cool and collected he slips right past them without a problem. Being DC, politics gets in the way during the hunt, and there’s a big conspiracy involved.
There were some moments I really liked. For instance, I do enjoy when clichés are turned on their head or expanded, such as “I’m an open book. Big print, lots of pictures.” A senator is caught having sex with a tied-up woman while a dominatrix looks on, and he has the gall to say, “This isn’t what it looks like!”
But on the other hand, for being a smart detective sometimes she’s just dumb. For one, she makes the same mistake as her partner, going off after the bad guy without backup. There’s one page with a bunch of panels showing off rain and her walking in it, which seemed like too much.
Not at all sure how I feel about the ending. Her remarks at the ceremony were awesome, but what she did with the evidence and the new job offer doesn’t seem compatible. I really wanted to like this more, but in the end I realized it just wasn’t very original. The villain wasn’t that special either.
3/5

Lady Mechanika V.1: Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse
She’s a half-mechanical steampunk Lara Croft chasing down a demon, but all is not as it seems. She makes enemies wherever she goes as she tries to figure out her origins, especially when another mechanical girl dies after running from some goons and a hot evil redhead.
Did I say steampunk? This is steampunk on steroids.
As often happens, especially in operas but also stories like this, she’s standing around talking to the corpse rather than escaping, so a bad guy comes along and beats her to the prize. And right after it happens again; wish the author didn’t make it so contrived. This was my least favorite part.
There are some excellent touches, though. She infiltrates the bad guy’s lair with a ridiculous flying machine, made by an inventor—Cockney sidekick, of course—who’s afraid of clowns; it’s the first time we see Mechanika laugh, and it goes a long way to making her more likable. She laughs again at the carnival, but it really comes full force when she whines, “I’m pleasant!” Would have thought she relished her bad-ass reputation. But most of all, the way she keeps humoring the kid that insists she’s not who she claims is simply endearing. Also very cool how Lewis and the doctor become instant friends.
The artwork is sometimes overdone, as one might expect from steampunk, but still gorgeous, even considering the muted colors that at times feel like sepia. There’s something that looks weird yet somehow right about her wearing a derby with goggles on them. And in the cover gallery at the end it’s just plain weird to see Mechanika standing like she’s posing.
More importantly, this is in my top three of most beautifully drawn and colored graphic novels I’ve ever seen. And it didn’t occur to me till the end–mostly due to that cover gallery–to notice all the elaborate costumes she wears, mixing Victorian finery with steampunk leather and such.
She also has an inordinate amount of hats. . .
4/5

The Sound of the World By Heart
Impressionistic watercolor scenes of Noo Yawk background a story of a photographer who plans to go sixty-two days with no verbal interaction. (As a fellow photographer I wish I could do that with the models I work with.)
Things are strange to start, as there’s an unseen narrator, rather than the guy we’re following actually doing the talking, or thinking. It’s not till page 43 that she introduces herself; up to then there was no idea if the voice was male or female. She claims to hear his thoughts; telepathy or imagination? Is it the famous lady from the painting? She does say she’s French, after all. At some point it changes to first person, and it works better, but then it switches back.
I was wondering how he communicated when needed; turns out he passes notes. Would have been easier to use his ubiquitous phone, but either way it feels like cheating.
The conceit of having a redhead who appears in the photos—in color, even though the shots are B&W—felt spooky at first, but at the same time intriguing. Not so the dream sequence; that was just disturbing.
I’m of the opinion this graphic novel was longer than it needed to be. There’s a lot of white empty space; the drawings don’t come close to taking up all the room on the page. There’s also far too many drawings of him drinking coffee while walking with his headphones, which makes things a bit boring. And the crashing marbles analogy was just silly.
Joan is smart; talking to the painting would be weird, but telepathy is normal? But then there are plenty of times when he does or says something that makes me think this is either all a dream or he really is crazy, and not just because of the voices in his head. And there’s no way I’m buying the city theory, but then I hate Noo Yawk.
Even though it did a good job at resolving some of the seeming inconsistencies at the end, I was still left far too confused. Couldn’t tell if it was real or not, if it actually happened at all, but I guess I wasn’t supposed to know; that wasn’t the point of the story.
3/5

Wraithborn V.1
After a fight-filled intro there’s a flashback to how Melanie became such a badass, because she certainly wasn’t in high school. She’s firmly entrenched in the “reluctant hero” trope, but at least she’s amusing, especially for a wallflower, at times scared of her shadow but also willing to stand up for those who can’t. The part where she says, “Um. . . nice doggies?” got an actual LOL out of me, and I can’t believe I just used that damned acronym.
There’s nothing here that’s particularly new, though. The bad guy has minions and an evil laugh, and can’t seem to stop talking. And why are the redheads always evil? But despite it being an old story, I kinda liked it.
Cover gallery at the end.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Violins, Bricks, and Justice

(Not me. . . overheard)
“I’m wearing sweaty bags. . . what?. . . oh! Baggy sweats! Baggy sweats! LOL!”

Gone
A world-class violinist writes about growing up as a Korean prodigy in England, losing control of her life and career to various Svengali types, and most importantly the theft of her Stradivarius.
As a photographer I’ve grown attached to several of the many cameras I’ve used in my career, but never to this level. On the other hand, there aren’t any cameras almost 400 years old, let alone considered the pinnacle of technology. It’s apparently much different with violins—and not just the famous Strads—as Min Kym goes into a devastating depression when her partner in music is snatched away at a restaurant. Despite how she describes the feeling of losing her violin, you can tell that’s just the tip; her real feelings. . . there’s no words for it. And the way she wrote that scene was intense! Worthy of a thriller. I instinctively feel sorry for her, but I know she wouldn’t want that.
There’s plenty of other stuff here that’s equally painful, but just as much is uplifting, even humorous. There’s a little piece on why she loves Kreisler that was fantastic. The psychological insights, both from the violinist and the human being, are astounding, and the writing is so smooth, like a languid Vivaldi phrase.
Whoa, I’m really blown away. Far beyond any expectations when I started this. It reminds me a lot of Lindsey Stirling’s book, even though because they’re from such vastly different worlds it comes across as quite dissimilar.
This is most likely going to go on my list of top books of the year.
4.5/5

Kiss the Bricks
The first book I read in this series was Red Flags, and despite it being the fourth it was a perfect introduction, so much so I went back and read the others. I write this in order to differentiate it from this new book: do not start the series here.
This entry takes place at the most famous speedway in the world, where Kate has just set top speed in the first practice session. It turns out that a few decades before there was another female driver who’d done the same thing, and from there most of the book becomes dual, with chapters alternating between the past and the present. Because of this the action is slow to start, and if you aren’t into racing and know the good stuff is coming, it might be a bit boring. There are also some parts that are rather mean-spirited; I get that the misogyny is part of the story, but too much is depressing.
As for the mystery, I guessed the bad guy pretty early, as well as who was leaving the notes. Much more of a guess, I nailed her qualifying position. (Yes, I celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small.) And there’s a great moment in the middle of the race that, while nowhere near as good as winning the Indy 500, would be a sweet consolation for any driver, especially if you’ve followed Kate through her previous adventures. And there’s a subplot that sets up nicely for the next book, making me anxious to read that one too.
I want to stress that I still ended up enjoying it, just not as much as the previous one. At least it picked up as it went along. It’s in no way bad, but I think it’s a step back in a series that had before this improved with each outing.
3.5/5

From Ice to Ashes
A thief forced to go legit on a spaceship quits when his mom gets sick, and goes right back to stealing when he’s back on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
There’s a gruesome fight scene to start, and it’s not called back until half the book had passed, so I had to go back to remember it. The story doesn’t get any less grisly, mostly because Kale always tries to come off as tough with nothing to back it up. It’s really just sad, and a bit depressing, though I figured the author had done this so he could grow later on.
It took a while for the plot to show up, by which time I was wondering if I should continue. Fortunately it got better. . . until a big plot point about three-quarters in, which I absolutely hated. Like this whole book wasn’t depressing enough. . . I get that it’s done to set up the protagonist, make him angry. But how is this going to make me want to read more of this? Perhaps the words I should use is invested. I invested in this character, only to be tossed aside.
There’s nothing wrong with the writing, which is as good as the previous outing from this author that I’ve read (though I don’t remember that other book being like this). The world building in particular is done well, despite never getting a good picture in my mind of life on Titan, or on the spaceship. The plot is a bit weak, and it’s obvious there’s going to be a series, considering the ending. I just didn’t like the depressing tone throughout.
3/5

Tough Justice
In the prologue a mad bomber tries to blackmail a man into going public with his sins in order to keep the bomb from going off. We never hear about those two again, as the rest of the story has FBI agents looking for the bad guy, with little to go on except that at each bombing someone was told to leave before things go boom.
It’s difficult to give a grade to part of a story, though it helps to know going in that it wouldn’t finish here. The set-up was okay, and there’s good characterization of the lead, though I do wonder what’s causing this sudden—welcome—surge in fictional female FBI agents.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Magic Trees, Mayans, and Unicorns

A well-fed city is easier to govern than a hungry one.

Do You Hear What I Hear?
A Christmas tree with a mind of its own, so to speak, gets between a telepathic detective and her semi-vampire lover.
Despite the strangeness it’s actually a simple premise, leading to an examination of relationships set in a fantasy world. The characters are enjoyable, especially the cop, and that’s what’s important, since she’s the lead. She’s telepathic with her twin and maybe others, including trees, which makes things more fun. Also really liked the nymph; she’s obviously magical, but in some ways so down to earth, even in the way she walks, or struts. . . or her taste in men, for that matter.
A fun passing of time.
3.5/5

Feather
“I should have killed her already. It was my job, the thing I was hired to do. . . I was an assassin, and Jane Jones was my target.”
A supernatural being is hunting another supernatural being, only to fall in love with her. Other supernatural beings, with callbacks to previous stories, either help or hurt, depending on how they feel that day. The story begins in London 100 years ago before moving to present day NY, with the connecting device a mystical hotel where non-humans can have an erotic vacation.
There’s some explanation of the earlier story, but not enough; might have been better without it. Some good moments, but mostly meh. This doesn’t know if it’s a fantasy revenge chase story or an erotic romance.
2.5/5

Christmas Kiss
Two divorce lawyers on opposite sides of a case end up sharing a cabin in Tahoe. He wants her, she hates him but thinks he’s hot. Gee, wonder what’s gonna happen. . .
That wasn’t the only time I was less than surprised; there’s a line that goes, “I’d never been as happy as I was in that moment.” Yeah, that’s not ominous at all. . .
There’s some good stuff in here, with the protagonist constantly having to readjust her assumptions of him. . . although sometimes they’re more like rationalizations so she can feel okay about taking him to bed. In general the writing is good, with some pretty funny jokes. On the other hand, the line “I pulled my hair back into a French knot” appears four times in the first half off this novella.
As always in romance stories, lack of communication and erroneous assumptions lead to misunderstandings, causing anguish until everything can be explained at the end.
Cute, but nothing special.
3/5

Mayan Mendacity
Like in the first one, the Australian librarian/archaeologist protagonist works on bones from a dig and realizes something’s wrong, in this case in a completely grisly way.
These stories are mostly soft and inoffensive, though I’m not sure I’d call them cozies. Again like the first one, it’s her large and genetically wide family that is the best part of this, along with her extended circle of friends. Even the cats get in on it, as I had a ton of fun imagining this scene in my head:
Recalling her clumsy attempt at larceny caused Elizabeth to relive a ghost rush of adrenaline. Unbeknownst to her, Loki had accompanied Elizabeth into Nainai’s room. As Elizabeth reached for the box on the bedside table she had trodden on Loki’s tail, causing the cat to scream. Startled by the yowl, Elizabeth had dropped the box. It landed on the cat’s paw, causing Loki to screech again.
That’s a cat that lives up to its name!
There’s some recipes at the end, since there’s a lot of food talk throughout.
This was a little better than the first. Hope the next one comes out soon; already wondering what archaeological alliteration the title will be. . .
(Aztec Adversity?)
4/5

Unicorn Crossing
Another collection of my favorite comic strip, featuring the friendship of a precocious nine-year-old girl and a unicorn who thinks far too highly of herself (that might have been redundant).
Right away it starts on Halloween: costumes, pumpkins, and a secret party Marigold is planning. More importantly, it guarantees an appearance by my fave character, Todd the Candy Dragon.
There’s also a beautiful plot where Marigold goes off to a unicorn spa with her sister in that magical place known as Canada, and Phoebe finds it hard to cope without her. Though these jokes do not lean heavily on the pun side, they did prove to be my favorites this time, such as “Unioncorn!” and the especially awesome “Thrones of Ermagard.”
More than anything else I love how big the panels are; each page features one full-color four-panel strip, two panels in two rows. There’s also a glossary at the end, since Phoebe’s vocabulary is a bit higher than her grade level.
Like the previous entries, this book proves why I start every morning with this strip.
4.5/5

;o)