Book Reviews: Cheaper by the Dozen

In celebration of Labor Day—or something—here’s a mishmash of genres, including non-fiction, poetry, erotica, and comic strips to go along with three entries of my now-favorite historical romance series. . . okay, my ONLY historical romance series.

A Study in Shifters
As you might expect from the title, this has a Sherlock Holmes connection, in this case featuring a descendant of his who’s also a shapeshifter. . . except she can’t shapeshift anymore, after a bad mission she feels really guilty about.
She can still sniff like a jaguar, though. When we meet her she’s trying to solve a locked room puzzle, though there’s no speckled band in sight. She’s rich and lives in Paris, but is sent to investigate a murder in a fancy school in England; never would have thought a book about a shape shifting Holmes descendant would be full of teenage-y cliquey high school stuff.
She starts timid, still scarred by her previous failure, but as she regains her confidence I like her more and more. Given how much time was spent detailing her previous mission, it’s no surprise it has a bearing on the current one.
There’s a lot of mention of her inner jaguar, as though it’s a separate entity, as is her rational Sherlock mind. Strange to think her brain isn’t integrated, but by the end it’s somewhat resolved.
The ending felt tacked on, obviously there just to make a hook for the sequel. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this.
4/5

Saving Worms After the Rain
After starting with the history of a small town in Pennsylvania, with far too many people to keep track of, we finally get to the story of an autistic boy, who also happens to be psychic. As the book goes along and the boy grows up, I see some of the reasons for the long winded opener, though not all of them.
There are some really interesting touches with Aspen’s character that are thoroughly unexpected. I’d definitely fist bump him.
It’s a short book, but all the better for it. The only part where a longer story would have helped was the rushed romance, but other than that I’m quite satisfied.
I look forward to reading more of Aspen’s adventures, and I hope many families of autistic people read this too.
4/5

Lord of Chance—Rogues to Riches #1
Somewhere on the Scottish-English border, two people are running from their declining lives in London. They match wits in an early version of poker and she wins. In order to help each other, they pretend to be married.
Then their troubles really start.
I couldn’t believe what was written about marriage by declaration, so I looked it up. Never should have doubted, as this author has always been meticulous about her research. I can just imagine her coming across this tidbit and wondering how to use it in a novel, and of course her imagination was up to the task.
Early on I thought the lady was in for a huge disappointment. The jewels are one thing, as real as possible, but the story of where they came from isn’t necessarily true. Even though I was more or less right, the author provides yet another twist at the end.
They make the most of their marriage—except for sex—while it lasts. On the one hand I like their relentless optimism, but on the other it’s obvious it won’t be that simple, or else this would be a really short book. If there’s one thing I don’t like about her, it’s how often she puts herself down. She’s got esteem issues, we get it, which makes it difficult to accept—even though I love the idea—when she becomes a forerunner to Lucy (from Peanuts) and her psychiatry booth.
Since romances always have to end happily ever after, it’s no surprise so many things went right at the end. But it’s not really about plot as much as characters, and after a slow start this pair grew on me. One could say they earned their happy ending.
4/5

Lord of Pleasure—Rogues to Riches #2
Lord Wainwright has a reputation as a flirt, and much worse. Camellia has always tried not to be noticed, or appear in the scandal rags. A masquerade offers them the opportunity to get to know each other and fall in love without knowing who the other is.
Reputations are at stake in the second story of this series, though not in the way one would assume. In fact, part of the delight of this story are the subverted expectations, along with how they want to break free of the constraints their very opposite lifestyles have hoisted on them.
Camellia is one of my favorite heroines, forcing herself into the role of a wallflower for the sake of her family, and not complaining when her parents arrange a marriage for her, so her younger sisters can now be courted. But when she turns into Cinderella she finds she loves the role too much to give it up. To my surprise, it wasn’t that hard to like Michael as well, even if he’d been enjoying his reputation and going through life as a rich casual jerk. Seeing his change and growth is even more intriguing than hers, especially because he doesn’t do it to please the woman he’s fallen in love with.
4/5

Death in Paris
Man does faceplant into his soup and a former lover thinks it’s murder. She and her best friend, both Americans in Paris, do the Miss Marple thing. No one believes them, of course.
The author interrupts many scenes to talk about the restaurant or café the characters are in. I like the local color when they’re out and about in the different neighborhoods, but eventually it becomes too much, especially the descriptions of the food.
I don’t know if I’m supposed to hate the husband, but I do. There’s a scene where he orders her to stop snooping, and he comes off as such a jerk. There’s an attempt at redemption, but even then he behaves like an ass rather than a loving partner.
I did like the introspection that there’s more to a person than just their crime.
I accidentally, jokingly, guessed the killer. But it truly annoyed me that she went in to face the killer instead of waiting for the police as  promised. That dropped her likeability score a few notches, and worst of all perpetuated one of the worst clichés in the genre. The story would have been much better served if she’d waited outside and the killer had tried to escape, forcing her to follow him.
I liked it, but I could tell it was a debut.
3/5

The Darkness In Faith
A female serial killer hunts bad guys, but in a completely different way than Alexandra Sokoloff’s character does. For one thing she’s married, living a double life, finding her victims on the internet and then luring them in with the promise, and sometimes reality, of sex.
When I saw this title, I thought it was going to be about faith, but that’s the character’s name.
Found it clever to introduce a male character that seems destined to be the story’s antagonist, except she polishes him off quickly and moves on to the next one. But instead of killing her latest target, she falls in love with him, apparently because he just as twisted as her. She goes as far as to tell him what made her this way, which is how we know who’s who when she gets kidnapped.
The first thing you see on cracking open this book–metaphorically if you’re Kindling it, of course–is a music playlist, which to my surprise included two bands I know, Evanescence and Halestorm. To make this truly multimedia, there’s some photos scattered throughout, which didn’t do much for me. They came across as completely generic and really didn’t describe what I was reading about, too lovey-dovey compared to the much more dramatic action. And indeed, they’re stock.
I’ve no doubt the author wants me to be on her heroine’s side, but the fact is she’s just as sick and twisted as the guys she hunts. She’s not motivated by revenge or justice; she LIKES torturing and killing. The image of her sucking a cock after she’d just cut it off. . .
Maybe she’s doing it as a twisted sort of revenge, since she was tortured when she was younger. Maybe it’s a form of PTSD, and this is the only way she can cope with it: doing to them what they did to her. Still, that might be an explanation, but it’s not an excuse.
There’s no way to be psychologically prepared for this, because the author keeps going one step further. This was too much for me, so I can’t say I enjoyed it, but the insights were sometimes fascinating.
3/5

Dominic
For those familiar with the author’s works, it doesn’t take long to discover that this story is the reverse of Stolen Flame, the first in her famous series. This time it’s told from the male’s point of view, the hard bitter security guy who can’t help but fall in love with Flame.
This book reiterates why I loved the character of Vivian so much. Even though they love each other, even though he’s become so cold in the last few years, she’s the intelligent rational one. She makes the smart decisions for them, not the emotional mistakes of the former Marine.
If I had to compare, I’d say I liked Stolen Flame more, but both benefit from the other.
4/5

How to Self Publish Inexpensive Books and Ebooks
The title tells you everything you need to know, and in keeping with that, this book itself feels inexpensive.
It’s written matter of fact, like a textbook in a class you don’t care about, even though this will only be read by those who do care. There’s plenty here on why you shouldn’t use most companies, with some grudging examples at the end of those chapters that might be okay. There’s huge sections that list publishing companies, which can make for boring reading if not outright skipping. While I’m not saying it shouldn’t be here, as for reference’s sake it’s necessary, it does render an already small book even tinier.
The most interesting chapter was on doing your own publicity.
I don’t have anything against this book other then it’s dry and boring, but then it’s basically a reference book, not meant to be exciting. Still, it didn’t give me much of an impetus to want to read it or do anything with the info.
2/5

The Book of Onions: Comics to Make You Cry Laughing and Cry Crying
Another collection of small-paneled no-continuation comic strips, usually featuring a round head in a suit. The artwork makes you laugh, and then the caption cranks it up another notch.
Right off the bat, the first page, “A Love Story for the Ages,” made me laugh. Good start.
Other faves:
Jogging! I’m on the side of the animals.
Revenge!
What do guitars have to do with capital punishment? Find out here!
“Tell me I’m beautiful.” That’s the second Mirror Mirror on the Wall joke I’ve read this month, and both were awesome.
Kleenex and gun-toting pandas, back to back.
So many more I could have mentioned, but had to draw the blurry line somewhere. Just go check it out for yourself.
5/5

Emotions Explained with Buff Dudes
An unconventionally drawn comic strip that’s more the thinking kind of humor than strictly LOL. For example, there’s a great one on how life gets better when you lower your standards. And speaking of that character, it’s not good when Life is the antagonist.
Some faves:
“Never again” was too poignant.
I love the Godzilla boop.
Pessimism is the new “Why are you hitting yourself?”
The internet does not like being cheated on.
Gee, I wonder if this author has student loans!
Emotion is scarier than logic. I’ve always said that too.
Brains, looks, or skinny?
Cup ramen is cute as well as patient.
Told you spiders were asses.
The art is simpler than most comic strips. The main character looks about eight years old. Neither of those facts is a bad thing here.
3.5/5

Stupid Poems 14
I’m not a fan of stupid, but when someone is this self-aware. . . I figured it was worth a shot. Thankfully these turned out to be the fun type of stupid, evidenced by the opening entry, rhyming couplets featuring an opera dragon’s missing part.
Some of the rhymes are forced, and meter is rarely enforced—damn, that’s catching—otherwise this would have been truly fantastic. . . but then they wouldn’t be stupid.
Swan Knight is my fave. The author is obviously an opera fan; good thing I am too, but there’ll be a few people who will have no idea what’s going on in some of these.
The milk one was thought provoking, though I’d be more interested in the first guy who thought a lobster could be eaten.
As far as the love poem goes, I wonder if it’s occurred to him that the problem with his love life might be him making up stupid poems about her. . .
3.5/5

Lord of Night—Rogues to Riches #3
Aristocrat—former aristocrat, now—runs boarding school for unfortunate girls. Early version of cop saves her and a new charge from a ruffian. He’s more interested in finding out who’s been pilfering from rich homes. . . you can guess where this is going.
Best scene: Dahlia and Heath “shaking hands.”
Though I like the main characters, as well done as all the others in this series, I’m not into this story the way I was with the previous two, plus the other I read out of order. It’s hard to pinpoint why I feel that way; perhaps the peripherals weren’t as interesting, though the boarding school certainly had its fun moments. Still worth the read, though.
3.5/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Halflife

By Johann Christian Friedrich Holderlin, early 19th century poetry dude.

Yellow pears slope down
And wild roses brim
The rim of a lake
You gorgeous swans
So drunk on kissing
Dunk your heads in,
Sobering holy water.
Poor me where do I go for
Flowers in winter, where
On earth is there any
Sunshine with shade.
The walls stay
Speechless and cold, in wind
Creaks the weathervanes crazy.

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Last Night Without Sight of You

By Sa’di, 13th Century Persia.

Last night without sight of you my brain was ablaze.
My tears trickled and fell plip on the ground. That I with
sighing might bring my life to a close they would name
you and again and again speak your name till
with night’s coming all eyes closed save mine whose every
hair pierced my scalp like a lancet. That was
not wine I drank far from your sight but my heart’s
blood gushing into the cup. Wall and door wherever
I turned my eyes scored and decorated with shapes
of you. To dream of Laila Majnun prayed for
sleep. My senses came and went but neither your
face saw I nor would your fantom go from me.
Now like aloes my heart burned, now smoked as a censer.
Where was the morning gone that used on other nights
to breathe till the horizon paled? Sa’di!
Has then the chain of the Pleiades broken
tonight that every night is hung on the sky’s neck?

;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)

Poetry Tuesday: Aria 1

By that German master Ingeborg Bachmann

Wherever we turn in the storm of roses,
thorns illuminate the night. And the thunder
of a thousand leaves, once so quiet on the bushes,
Is right at our heels.

Wherever the roses’ fire is put out,
Rain washes us into the river. Oh distant night!
Yet a leaf that touched us now floats on the waves,
following us to the sea.

;o)