Last week I mentioned it would be the last book review of the year, but turns out there’s enough for one last—really this time, last—one. Honest.
A genius Indian version of Sherlock Holmes visits the eastern United States with his wife and brother-in-law. They find themselves embroiled in a terrorist plot while on a bus tour.
The narrator is not the protagonist, but rather the brother in law, who is cast as Watson. The wife is left to worry at home.
There’s a conspiracy, with too many characters to keep straight! The plot gets confusing, and it only gets worse as it goes along. I couldn’t keep track of all the people on the bus, let alone all the other characters. Had I not been so close to the end of what’s really a short book I would have given up.
By the time the bad guy’s revealed I had no idea who he was, and I didn’t care enough to go back.
The writing just barrels ahead, with not much room for style. It’s certainly not bad, but it not exactly scintillating either. Having one character be so matter of fact is more than enough, but most of them are. Worse, far from being a Sherlock Holmes, this guy is completely a Marty Stu.
Once Upon a Duke
One of many Dukes in these stories comes home for his hated grandfather’s funeral, just to retrieve a family heirloom. He finds the whole snowy mountaintop town—as mountaintop as a place can get in England, anyway—loved the old man, especially for renaming the town Christmas and making it a tourist trap. And of course he meets up with the only woman he ever wanted.
This new heroine is just as smart and snarky as the previous ones, so I’m in, and the story even more fun. All the new characters make for some confusion, but not too bad.
Erica Ridley gets me.
Kiss of a Duke
Put a famous womanizer and a female scientist in close proximity and what do you get?
Chemistry, of course, along with the classic “you make me want to be a better man” story. And that’s before biscuits enter the equation.
With all the wonderful heroines Erica Ridley has invented, I have a new favorite. Each is more and more amazing, but Penelope’s just my type. . . and that’s before biscuits enter the equation. She reminds me a lot of Nora, who was my previous fave. She’s also very similar to another fave, Bryony, but thankfully more subdued.
I am in awe of the way this author can so effortlessly come up with lines like, “It’s a lovely basket. It smells of wicker and unrealized potential.”
There is one oddity, though. In a lot of the stories by this author, the primary stumbling block was class; the men are highborn, the women “common,” and never the twain shall meet (even though they always do). But despite the same circumstances here, it’s never mentioned. The problem between them is that he’s another Lord of Pleasure. And as always in romance novels, they don’t talk to each other, which would have saved a lot of heartache.
But that’s a minor tidbit in what is one of the best books I’ve read all year.
Wish Upon a Duke
A perennial wallflower just wants to be noticed, especially by Christopher, the much more subdued brother of the Duke of the previous novel. Instead she agrees to play yenta for him, which has as much of an effect as you’d expect but does give us more insight into characters who will likely be up front in stories to come.
Also featured more than usual is the town of Christmas, nee Cressmouth, described as a perpetually snow-dusted mountaintop village, which is hard to imagine in hilly-but-not-too-much England.
His problem is that he’s an inveterate traveler, and being with her would mean giving that up. As someone who travels for work and loves it, I totally get where he’s coming from, though I wasn’t a fan of how insulted he got about the constellation naming. I definitely liked Gloria, but she didn’t grab my heart like Penelope or Nora or Bryony.
This book is only a disappointment in that the previous one was so frickin good. Had I read this one first. . .
Star Wars: Scum and Villainy
The records of three generations of cops show off some of the most colorful villains in the Star Wars universe, though at times it feels like the bounty hunters outnumber the actual criminals.
The large drawings of stakeouts and police reports take up most of the area, with some commentary attached. Sometimes you have to look carefully at the details to know what’s going on.
I found the propaganda posters hilarious, though I doubt that’s the intent. The page on tattoos was interesting, as was the podracing, but the padawan auction was chilling.
It’s interesting to see the middle of the three generations become more of an Imperial lackey than actually care about real justice.
I wonder what came first: the art or the words? There’s a few pages that show crime “evidence,” particularly smuggling, that aren’t exactly great subjects for artistic endeavors. Sometimes it’s just boxes. . . nicely drawn boxes, to be sure, but hardly the kind of thing an artist would showcase in their portfolio. I guess it’s there to add to whatever else is in the page, but this leads me to believe the author—who might also be the artist, for all I know—came up with the idea and the description before the artwork, and couldn’t think of something more intriguing to draw.
Despite not being as enmeshed in all the Star Wars stuff outside of the movies as a lot of the fans, I found this intriguing, even if I didn’t know most of the characters. I finally understand what makes the Kessel Run such a big deal, for example, as well as spice smuggling. But it’s really the variety of crimes, some of which could only happen in a universe like this, that makes this book so interesting. I’m sure I would not have enjoyed it as much had it come without illustrations.
Storytime: Not-So-Brave Penguin
Percy the Penguin is the jock, not afraid of anything, and Posy is the opposite, hence the title. Of all the things she’s scared of, and it’s mostly everything, the worst is the dark, which in Antarctica can last for months. But when Percy’s in trouble Posy overcomes her fears to rescue him, and finds some dark places are more beautiful than scary.
Though I appreciate the message and where the author’s coming from, in reality Posy didn’t rescue Percy; she just kept him company overnight. Had she not been there, Percy would have made it back the next morning on his own. So the writing’s a bit of a letdown there, a lazy out when instead a real danger, like a shark, would have made for a better story. On the other hand, Posy didn’t know that when she set out, so she was indeed brave.
The artwork is nice, if a little simplistic. There’s a couple of pages of discussion topics at the end.
Lost Railway Journeys from Around the World
The title tells all: some world-famous and some locally famous trips that are no longer among us memorialized in photos.
The introduction features some strong feelings, to the point of calling some closures “criminal” and claiming they led to deaths. The text isn’t as heavy-handed, thankfully, but there’s a lot of asides that are sometimes humorous and sometimes failing at it. It just doesn’t feel like a typical book of this class, and whether that’s good or bad depends on you.
I suppose it’s not much of a surprise that the photos from Europe are mostly black and white. And I have to keep reminding myself that those old photos of bridges were not taken from drones.
The most intriguing early on was the Lawrence of Arabia special through Jordan.
To be fair, some of these are short lines; the title doesn’t exclude them, but it doesn’t seem fair to lump them in with the Orient Express and Ghan.
My fave, from the photos and having been in the vicinity, was the Colorado-Denver & Rio Grande, though the ones in Africa looked pretty spectacular too. But even though I’m a fan of trains, I’m not this much. I had to take it in small bites, but even then it was tough to stay interested.
Stuff You Should Know About Planet Earth
A well done science primer for kids.
It starts with the five ecological spheres, which I’d never heard of. It’s intriguing, though I question why water and ice are separate.
There’s good stuff on the solar system. The cartoon-like drawings are cute, though I can’t tell who that guy is dancing on Saturn’s rings.
I already knew most of the stuff in here, but I’m 50 years old, so I’d better. On the other hand, I did learn some things, all of which tells me this is a good book for kids interested in science, those who really want to learn.
But I hope they don’t get nightmares from watching the animals fleeing the lava. . .
Who Are You Calling Weird?
The first thing you see is that this is dedicated to David Attenborough, which makes sense, as this book tackles the strangest animals. The artwork fits the theme, almost in art deco style.
The platypus has gotten enough publicity, kinda normalizing it, that it seems out of place here. Same with the sea unicorn (aka narwhal). Kiwis and sloths too, especially the latter for kids who’ve seen Zootopia a thousand times. But thankfully most of those included are indeed completely strange. A couple are compared to superheroes, though when Wolverine was mentioned I first assumed it was the animal, which is weird in its own right but not enough to make it in here.
The leafy sea dragon gets my vote for most deserving entry; seeing it moving in a video is even more so. That smelly Amazon bird sure has a good defense against humans, especially in that they taste bad. . . though by the time the humans figure that out, it’s too late.
And speaking of, so glad you stinky humans made the list! The artwork that goes with this entry is the scariest of all. . .
Little girl invites her duck friend over for a tea party. Things do not go as planned. . .
This duck is a jerk. To be fair, there have been other jerk ducks, especially in old cartoons, but this one takes it to a new level. I’m surprised the little girl held out that long. At least she didn’t reach for a shotgun.
Considering all the trouble Duck caused, he sure turned on a dime, and she forgave him way too quickly. I would have preferred less mayhem and more thought from both of them, if there was a limited amount of pages available.
Wait, was that rude of me to point it out?
Yara and her Mystery Tree
Bright watercolors and rhyming couplets tell the story of a mystery plant that has the same problem as the maples from the Rush song The Trees, which means other trees are blocking the sun. A little girl gets her mom to help uproot it to a more advantageous place, which comes back to reward them at the end.
Not only are the rhymes legit, the meter and length are perfect. The plot is fine, though it was easy to see where this was going, even for a kid.
I question the need for the bird and the ant, turning this into a fantasy when it would have been just as well straightforward, but that’s my only nitpick.
Mario and the Aliens
Tech-obsessed kid is on his computer as usual—like that’s a bad thing—when something outside grabs his attention. The title tells you the rest.
The artwork takes up most of the pages. The first few were difficult to comprehend, partly from the scale but mostly because of an almost abstract style.
It took the kid forever to think to run off, and stopped so abruptly when the aliens convinced him they were simply looking for new games. So yeah, he might be smart, but I think gullible’s a better word.
In retrospect, I can see why the aliens had such a visceral reaction to the computer, since it’s almost certain they have their own. Something’s gotta help them pilot their ship, after all. And if they thought computers were fun, they wouldn’t need to travel to look for it.
I very much doubt Mario will be satisfied with human kids as playmates after this night.
Pretty straightforward, but feel like something’s missing. Certainly okay for kids, but could have been better.