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)

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.
3.5/5

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.
4/5

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.
3.5/5

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.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Lies, Angels, Traps, and Emily

“You win! Your prize is you get to have sex with me!”
“I’ll take the equivalent in cash!”
Someone handed her a dollar.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett
A teenage loner in small-town Pennsylvania tries to solve the mystery of the death of the local prom queen type in what luckily only bears superficial resemblance, mostly in the intro, to Twin Peaks.
There’s actually very little about the mystery; it’s mostly about the protagonist, who has a unique way of seeing the world. A lot of meandering, especially in her mind, but I suppose that’s a teen’s life. There’s a good meditation on being out of control and the unfairness of life, “do everything right and still get killed by a drunk driver” kinda thing. The only time the character really annoyed me was when she thought, “Even if the monster killed me, at least I would die having the best day of my life.” The fact that being scared was the one thing that made her feel so alive. . . I’d liked her up to then, but that just made me feel sorry for her.
Likeable despite her quirks, and the same can be said for this book.
3.5/5

A Shadowing of Angels
The story of a hostage rescue in Iraq, showing how complicated such missions can be. After a prelude in Afghanistan, to show the protagonists’ cred, the plot quickly goes to the long preparations necessary to carry out such an assignment, with only the last few chapters the actual mission.
Oh oh. Despite the excellent craft, the writing is stilted from the start. Descriptions are overly long and at times too technical, especially with things like munitions. In contrast, the scene where the two main characters blurt out their feelings for each other is short and perfunctory, though happening only after numerous similarly-sounding moments of “she hoped that she would one day be able to tell him.” Stop beating me over the head with this, please.
So it’s not exactly polished prose. There are small touches that tell me this author has not been writing long; even the moments when they’re simply thinking of each other read inexperienced writer. The other problem I had was grasping the battlefield, which felt too big, too much to take in, confusing at times.
But what saves this is the tradecraft. I particularly enjoyed the main character in pregnant disguise. Gritty as needed but not overdone, and the writing will only get better in the next book.
3.5/5

The Trapped Girl
A body pulled up in a fishing trap turns out to be a much deeper—no pun—mystery than anyone thought, especially the detectives.
The main character—not counting the investigators—goes from supposed victim to possible serial killer and back, and everywhere in between. From being conned into marriage—though I never understood her husband’s motive for that—to becoming a new woman in more than a changing-identities-kinda way, her story was well done and the best part of the novel.
I love reading mysteries set in places I’m familiar with, and Seattle has always been a favorite, squeeing about spots I’ve been. In this book there’s a prominent scene up in the Alki Point lighthouse, which I’ve been to but never for an occasion like this. Now I feel like an intruder.
So this turned out to be one of the best mystery novels I read this year, keeping me guessing throughout. The killer was well thought out, and I loved detective Tracy, which is the most important thing.
4/5

The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson: America’s Favorite Recluse Just Got a Life!
Life lesson: You can never go wrong by starting with a James Bond parody.
If the famous poetess were alive today, how different would her life be? She’d probably still be a recluse, but having much more fun with it due to social media. The author takes snippets from Emily’s life and poems to show what could have been.
Some highlights:
Angie Dickenson made the family tree.
“(Dogs) are better than human beings, because they know but don’t tell.” Her dog can speak, but only says “Ruh-ro.” (Okay, he says “Woof!” once.)
Emily as advice columnist? Fashionista? Top chef?
There’s Facebook, Instagram, dating websites, emojis, apps like Spinterest, and of course Twitter, because she liked birds. There are pages that only contain silhouettes, as well as exhortations for book donations for the museum library.
The drawings are simple sketches, but really that’s all that’s needed.
Some good stuff, but not quite as funny as it thinks.
3/5

;o)