Book Reviews: Zombies, Porn Stars, and Aliens

Dimension Drift
A multi-dimensional hacker—can’t think of another way to put it—is looking for her missing sister. When her mother awakens from her depression at losing one daughter, they do their magical/science thing to call for help. Help comes in the form of an otherworldly hot guy who instantly “bonds” with her, as always happens in these kinds of stories. This takes place in a dystopian future where the authoritarian “American” government doesn’t acknowledge there’s ever been any other rulers before it, forcing them to keep a low profile. Unfortunately their pseudo-science stuff, which I didn’t understand at all, brings them to the attention of the bad guys.
Okay, once I get past the fact this is not meant to be a full story—indeed, it’s the setup for a series—I can say I enjoyed it. There’s a tendency for these kinds of characters to be too snarky, but thankfully this one wasn’t. I might have liked her friend more, though. As a lead, the personality is a little lacking. It’s also tough that all the other characters introduced—except for a really important one—will likely never appear again, at least according to the small except at the end.
So again, as a setup to an upcoming series it’s fine.
3.5/5

Hungry for Love
A woman falls in love while her husband is in a coma, and then her husband wakes up. . . of course. The first part consists of this new romance, but once her husband’s setting is introduced, it’s on to flashbacks about how they met.
There’s some good stuff here. Right off the bat I enjoyed the writing, which had a smoothness. The author instantly got on my good side by agreeing with me about Tolkien.
But the more I read, the less I liked. At first I felt sympathy for her, understood what she was going through. That was made even more so by the fact her two blood relatives—her father and her half-sister—are such jerks to her, and the only solace she gets is from her stepmom. But when she didn’t tell her new lover about her husband when she moved in, all sympathy was over. Even worse, the way both men behaved. . . let’s just say neither is much of a prize. Soon Jesse will no longer be allowed to blame the coma for being a jerk. Nor can Aiden blame her not telling him about Jesse; either he forgives her and moves on, or doesn’t and breaks up with her, but his passive-aggressive crap makes it seem like his daughter is the more mature member of the family. Frankly, she would have done better to start over with someone else.
I don’t want to say I was bored, but I certainly wasn’t interested in these people’s lives. I’m sure she was supposed to come across as some kind of great martyr to put up with everything around her, but that’s not how it struck me. I simply got to the point where I no longer cared.
2.5/5

Rated Z: Money Shot: An Anti-Romance
When a disease that turns people into something-like-zombies ravages the world, a couple of porn stars try to lead a band of survivors to safety.
This book is well named, since it starts with a porno shoot. . . in excruciating detail. The metaphors fly fast and free, but at least some of them are funny. It’s silly, not to be taken seriously. When a character comes back from the dead, the mortician doesn’t faint, actually takes it pretty much in stride after a few incredulous moments. It’s that kind of world.
On the other hand, there’s far too many characters introduced too early. Some are sympathetic, oddly enough the porn stars most of all. Anything bad that happens to Erica is fine by me. But it felt like there were far too many storylines. If I stopped reading for a day, I forgot some of the characters. The Andrew storyline could have been left out entirely. It’s a rambling plotline, enough so that I hesitate to call it a plot, more of a situation to drop characters into and see how they react. But then I doubt story was the point, and it ends in an abrupt cliffhanger.
The best thing I can say about this book is it’s got heart. . . numerous other body parts and functions as well, but mostly heart.
3/5

Oath Forger
In yet another dystopian future, a young scavenging survivor gets kidnapped by alien pirates, who take scavenging to another level. Then she’s saved by a space hunk who thinks she’s the answer to stopping an interstellar war.
Sometimes the cutesy first person tough-girl patter is hard to take, but other times it’s done perfectly. I love this character, snarky without overdoing it, even in her head. There’s been other characters like her, but the one she reminds me of the most is Wynonna Earp, for those who are fans of that show.
Despite it being labeled as an erotica, there’s actually very little sex, in fact the main character goes to great pains to remain pure, though she doesn’t mind the more foreplay parts of human/alien stimulation.
According to the blurbs, this will be a series of five books, all of them already written and released throughout the following months. It sounds like this was one giant book that got chopped up, but since this is the first, there’s no resolution here.
3.5/5

;o)

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Book Reviews: Sci-fi, Mystery, and Other Necessities

The Bronze Skies
After fleshing out all corners and eras of her massive Skolian universe, Doctor Asaro goes back to the beginning in the second book in the Major Bhaajan series. The first was so amazing it’s gonna be a tough act to follow, though it just might have.
I was particularly excited when the blurb mentioned Jagernauts were involved, so I was really hoping Digjan was in this! Nope, Dr. Asaro is just teasing me as usual. Instead it’s a much more seasoned psychic warrior that’s on the warpath, so Bhaaj is called in to find her before she can make another attempt at murdering one of the most important people in the empire, leading into one of Dr. Asaro’s favorite subjects, AI. In what might be called a glut of “robots will rise up and take over” stories nowadays, this one stands out, even from her own previous books like the Alpha series.
Archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, sociology, and of course the inevitable high-level math and science are all happily present here. The best parts, however, are the small moments, especially when she’s helping her people: trying to get a permit for one to sell his wares aboveground, arranging a martial arts competition between her students and an academy, and so on. They really round out her character, making her more than just a detective. At the beginning of the first book she didn’t have much personality, though she grew throughout that story; here she’s even more human, to the point where she’s even telling jokes full of sexual innuendo. It’s a bit startling, considering how tightly wound up she was in the first one. Even more so, she finds out more about the powers she’d been afraid she had at the end of the first.
This story also expands the already large scope of the undercity, but also introduces the above world other than Cries, the legendary planet where human life was transported from Earth so long ago. In the scope of the three huge space empires it’s pretty insignificant, but somehow harder to grasp. I’d been hoping this would lead to finding out what alien race seeded the planet with humans in the first place, but despite the clues in what they left behind it didn’t go that far. It did give us an archaeological site that sounds like it came right out of a video game, and the special Jagernauts that guard it. I anticipate many more stories coming out of that.
So in the end Bhaaj—Calaj too—saved the universe every bit as much as Soz, but just like her, no one will ever know. . .
4.5/5

Beg for Mercy
Mercy went from growing up in a brothel to becoming an assassin, but retains enough humanity to chuck her assigned job when she finds a conspiracy that’s much bigger and more dangerous for what remains of the western United States. Along the way she gets involved with a legendary figure that shares a common enemy.
Yes, this is a dystopian romance/erotica, though that last part was minimal. Not unheard of, but definitely rare.
Not sure about this one. The many factions made it hard to follow, and Mercy was just too stubborn to root for. At one point she puts herself out as bait to catch the bad guy, having conveniently forgotten about the bounty on her. The action was realistic, but the sex scenes didn’t pack as much heat.
3/5

The Unity
A military leader in a sprawling authoritarian space empire questions his oath when his second-in-command tries to kill him. From there the story sprawls all over the galaxy, with a huge cast of characters and ships, far too many to keep track.
There are some nice moments, like the intro and background for Dr. Aravantis; short but sweet, and most importantly memorable. His creations were also a delight to get to know, but the negatives far outweighed them. I had huge problems with the conspiracy, and especially all the killing, alternatively making me annoyed or sad, and I don’t like that. Most of the circumstances were unnecessary, and the dead are hardly grieved over at all. In fact, the whole book seems devoid of emotion. It definitely didn’t make me want to read the sequel.
2/5

Girl, Wash Your Face
I picked this up because I’m a huge fan of Rachel Hollis, though that’s her fiction rather than her lifestyle website. So this work of self-help was new territory for me, but I was quickly relieved to find her amazing humor was still there.
This book feels like a bunch of blog posts, which for all I know is true. At the beginning there’s a section on the true but tired platitude of taking care of yourself before you help others, which by now is so overused it’s hardly a new concept. She does manage to weave several points together, which does help.
This would have been just as good without all the religious stuff thrown in. I feel the earnestness; I don’t believe anything written here is less than genuine. But I can’t be sure if that belief is there because I’m a big fan of her previous works. Nevertheless, it’s more than worthwhile reading for those who aren’t familiar with her Girl series and have no preconceived notions.
3.5/5

Egyptian Enigma
Having enjoyed this author’s previous works, taking place mostly in Australia with fictionalized history tours to the old civilizations of Mesoamerica, this entry tackles Egypt, possibly the only place that would have even more fodder for stories like these. Though it follows the pattern of trying to solve an old archaeological mystery, this book has less in the way of modern conundrums. Most of the story involves who’s in the sarcophagus, but other than a stolen notebook and a break-in, there’s no real mystery until the end, and that’s only a setup for the next book.
The one thing I love the most about this character is her memory palace, and the way it works as a library. If she wants to remember something, it comes up as though brought to her by a librarian. Pretty cool. Just as fun is her amazingly diverse family, if you don’t count all the cats.
It’s funny that the author takes the time to write out the Welsh dialogue, as it’s never pronounced like it’s spelled.
Despite liking Egyptian archaeology very much, I’m not enjoying this nearly as much as I did the previous books, with the flashbacks in Mesoamerica. But if nothing else, this book rekindled my interest in the 18th and 19th dynasties of Egypt. And all the references to Buffy, Firefly, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. . . seriously, this writer is from my tribe.
Long recipes and glossary at end, along with dedications. Wait, my archaeological crush Dr. Kara Cooney was in there and I missed her? Ouch. Please don’t tell her.
There was one point I disliked. In one of the sections taking place in ancient Egypt, the rulers tasks her scribe to check the records to “seek guidance from the ancients.” He does find something similar in the past, but it never occurred to the ruler that, in this time where anyone could be a suspect in the conspiracy, this guy could make up anything he wanted. . .
4/5

The Treachery of Russian Nesting Dolls
I do hate coming to a series late—this is the fourth—but it sounded too intriguing to pass up. It starts with a bang in the red-light district of Amsterdam, and the most unusual foot chase you’ll ever read.
The main character is intriguing, which is more than I can say for the plot, which did not invest me at all. The mystery-solving had its bright spots, but then the writer ruined it by not giving me a chance to solve the case; the clue that did it was not given to the audience till after. Not fun.
Second off, I didn’t like the roller coaster ending, mostly because I didn’t see the point of it. Maybe there was something in the previous books that led to that big moment, but it doesn’t seem likely. The author has an agenda we’re not privy to, other than his obvious hatred for the latest Russian baddie in power.
2.5/5

The Telling Image: Shapes of Changing Times
This is a picture book that wants to be more than that.
The first part reads like Intro to Human Anthropology. There’s an intriguing observation about shapes, the round and the square in Liberia shown as examples. One gorgeous photo brought good memories of Stonehenge, before it was fenced off. The Big Dipper-Great Bear-laptop thing was a bit forced, though that was quickly overshadowed by the most beautiful shot of a spiderweb ever.
This is definitely not something you should read in one sitting, with numerous philosophical discussions that will make you pause to think. This isn’t a coffeetable book that gets opened to look at pretty pictures; the photos here serve to highlight the text.
3.5/5

Love and Laughter
Right at the start, when the author introduces herself, she writes, “In the pages that follow, we’ll talk frankly (because I don’t know how to be anything else!). . . My name is Beth Liebling, and I’m a sappy, emotional, hopelessly optimistic romantic. I believe in happy fairy tales and forever love.” She also mentions that she’s a divorce lawyer. . .
A very conversational intro leads to exactly the same in the main part of the book. It’s important to go into this expecting it to be fun rather than a serious discussion about sex, though the title should have been enough of a clue. At one point she compares romance to going to the theater, then being in a play with your partner. It’s a little trite, but her enthusiasm is infectious.
There’s artwork, sometimes small shots of lingerie as chapter headers, but other times full drawings that seem cartoonish, which works in this setting. Some of the jokes are hokey, and sometimes she goes out of her way for a joke that isn’t really there, but on the other hand I prefer earnestness to sullen any day.
And that’s it exactly. More than just fun, it’s optimistic. I can easily imagine her responding the exact same way in person at her shop.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: As Graphic as You Wanna Be

Algeria Is Beautiful Like America
A French lady of Algerian descent wants to visit the old homeland, see where her parents and grandparents grew up. Everyone’s telling her not to go, mostly because it’s a dangerous country, but as it turns out there’s a more embarrassing reason as well.
There’s a lot of background about her family before she goes; she doesn’t get to Algeria till part two. The best of that is a cute moment when she does the bunny ears on her mom in a family photo.
Things change once she gets to Algeria, with intriguing drawings of her being touristy, like the one with the chipmunk-like mascot. I haven’t been to Algiers in years, but something should have looked familiar, especially since like her I go to all kinds of museums.
The guy driving her from Algiers is such a downer, but I guess the character is necessary for the story. It’s interesting that’s this is trying to teach a history no one outside of France and Algeria—and probably most people there—knows about, and for the most part wouldn’t care. But especially on the long drive—well, early on in the flashbacks too—it’s presented kinda boring.
But there’s still plenty of great moments. The cowboy scene was funny, and I love the photo of her posing with the city sign. I did notice the guy was sitting on an ancient column, so yay me. My fave character was the woman at the end, in the old family apartment.
Unusual for a graphic novel, there were lots of footnotes, though most written too small to read.
Most of the artwork is basic pencil, black and white, though at times it’s starkly beautiful. Some panels are in color, the photos she takes; they even have the camera info on them, which is cute. The images on the computer did not get the same treatment, sadly. The best drawings were of the main character swimming, at the end. Then the header for the next chapter shows her face with wet hair.
In the end, despite some tired passages, it was pretty enjoyable. But except for the part about the cowboy, I don’t understand the title, what America has to do with it. . .
3.5/5

Stalag-X
Humanity is fighting aliens and losing badly. One of the few survivors of a battle is a prisoner who prevents the crew from self-destructing when boarded, which leads them to be taken to a prison colony.
Felt like it could have taken place in the Starship Troopers universe—especially with the big monster, the base, and the rallying cry (won’t even mention the Dizzy character)—with a little bit of Battlestar Galactica and V thrown in. One of the aliens is affectionately nicknamed Mengele, and for good reason.
The first “surprise twist” wasn’t much of a surprise, but the second one was. More to the point, the story gets too confusing. Would have liked it more streamlined. Ends in a cliffhanger, of course. And for once in my life I wish an author could have resisted putting some “alien sex” in there.
I can’t think of anything special to say about the artwork. As far as the rest of the presentation, at times the prose was too small to read. At the end there’s a short story about one of the characters, with only the occasional artwork, mostly words.
3/5

Eleanor & the Egret
A painting is stolen, a feather the only evidence. The detective has a cat as an assistant. The tiny dog in the sweater only says “Arf.” There’s a touch of steampunk, but in a world where animals talk, it hardly matters.
Early on there’s a hint that the reason for the plot is bigger than just stealing paintings, and while I’m glad for that, wish there’d been more to it, not left so far along. The second theft was ingenious, done in a way that could never otherwise be accomplished without a bird accomplice. . . especially a big bird. I wish said bird was smarter, though. Her disguises are cute, but don’t really hide her.
There’s a bird-shaped dialog bubble, but there’s also small bubbles of information about obvious things; it’s annoying, especially “Kiss.” The only ones I didn’t mind were the hearts, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known about that particular plot point. The only other thing that annoyed me was the shots of the victims toward the end, showing both “songwriter” and “musician.” Are you saying songwriters can’t be musicians, silly?
Cutesy tale, but in the end not much more than that.
There’s a cover gallery, the best of which features Eleanor painting amid a field of poppies.
3/5

James Bond: Casino Royale
I’ve been hesitant to try any more Bond graphic novels, as except for the one on Leiter they’ve all been so bad I didn’t come close to finishing them. But I figured since this story was already written it couldn’t be screwed up too badly. In fact it wasn’t screwed up at all, bringing back good memories of reading it for the first time, but not the movies, thankfully.
What’s most impressive is how condensed the text is while still telling the story. There’s a famous line that’s kept in, with Bond driving the car “with almost sensual pleasure.” I must be the only guy who doesn’t get that, but it’s cool to see it in there. It’s more surprising that also included is the long talk on good and evil toward the end. There’s even little factoids running through his brain—and on the page—right out of Sherlock.
“You ought to be tortured every day.” I love Mathis.
A thought I’ve had before: I wonder if any editor ever told Fleming to “cut all the stuff with the girl” at the end.
The illustrations are in an artsy 60s style. The text is in italics, making it difficult to read, but in the end it’s worth it.
3.5/5

Magnus: Between Two Worlds TP
An AI kills its owners, then hides in a VR world, thinking no human can catch him there. The plot is nothing new, but the world where it takes place is—unless you count the unimatrix place where some Borg go in Star Trek: Voyager—which is what makes it so intriguing. The other good part is the protagonist, a virtual reality blade runner/AI psychologist who’s a very likeable character.
Not surprised about the dog, or the cat for that matter. . . okay, later on I’m surprised about the dog. There’s a really funny elevator scene that for me was the highlight. Her backstory is told as she tries to keep someone alive in the AI world, which is cleverly done.
Good use of the now-overdone phrase “The end of the beginning.” Ends with a set-up for a sequel.
Though the artwork left a lot to be desired, especially in brightness, the story was good, as was the dialogue.
3.5/5

Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom
As the title suggests, a murder takes place at a fat camp for kids.
As always, the first part is taken up with character introductions, though some of them aren’t all that well done. I thought Gwen would be my early favorite, despite the fact I usually don’t like nurses, but she turned out to be a disappointment for a number of reasons, especially the smoking. And she’s not very smart either, considering she’s always doing things she shouldn’t right where the kids can see her. Hello? You’ve got forest all around you! In the end I liked the outdoorsy girl most of all, but wow, that was a gory murder scene, especially for a graphic aimed at kids.
This is actually well plotted, and well done, more logical than most police procedurals. If I had been able to tell all the camp counselors apart—too many of them to keep track—I might have solved the murder myself. In retrospect, the clues were there, which is more than you can say for most mystery novels nowadays. On the other hand, “talking villain syndrome” strikes hard.
“Trying to get back to my birth weight.” Okay, that was funny.
There’s plenty of extras. I particularly enjoyed the story of how it all came about. Knew one of the writers had to be a mystery fan, and thankfully she read the right ones, considering what she said about plot. Also well done is the description of the final coloring process, explaining the lighting coming from the fire.
“Well done, yearbook staff.” Even the creator bios are fun.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Ran Out of Erotic Metaphors

Alpha’s Prize: A Werewolf Romance
“My eyes crack open, gritty and sore. I’d rub them if I weren’t in wolf form. Where am I? I rise and knock against metal bars. Oh fates. I’m in a cage—a fucking cage.”
That early sentence says a lot, though from the title you probably didn’t need the wolf mention. A female werewolf on vacation in Mexico gets imprisoned by the local pack to breed with their young alpha; seems inbreeding’s a thing. But because this is a romance. . . well, you can figure it out.
There are a lot of viewpoints used, especially at the start. I get the need to introduce all the main characters, but it was a little confusing. But more than anything, I really wish this book had been more FUN. Everyone’s miserable, even when the story shifts to Paris.
I’m more used to Ms. Rose’s sci-fi, which I like a lot more than this werewolf stuff. The main male character started out as a douche but redeemed himself, so that’s a good point. I liked her from the start. There’s some interesting cultural stuff amid different locales, but despite the good writing, I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as I feel I should have.
3/5

Zandian Pet
As in the last installment of this series, the female lead is not a human slave that her dom eventually falls in love with, but one of the last surviving Zandian females. In fact, she’s the sister of the main female character of the previous book. This one is accidentally found in a sex den that caters to aliens. She doesn’t mind, as she’s been in what she considers worst situations before.
This chapter of the long-running series was, in a word, typical. It should not have been, given where it started, but it has definitely settled into a formula, which is too bad. It always consists of the two protagonists making dumb decisions. The sex is great, the bondage well done for those into that, but I wish the psychological aspects were done better. One thing that kinda bugs me is that the guy in these romances is always the first one who spots her!
3/5

Off Limits
The execute assistant has the hots for her billionaire boss, who on the one hand can’t forget his dead wife and the other has nothing but one-night stands.
A quarter of the way through and I was completely bored. Various cycles of “Will-they-won’t-they” are interspersed with “yes-they-will,” leading to regrets and starting the cycle again. Hardly anything else takes place or matters. With all that introspection, it was easy to get distracted. One of the bright spots was the discussion on flowers, which was surprisingly deep and funny, one of those moments that is in no way necessary to the story but adds to the enjoyment. That, however, was more of an exception.
It’s amazing to me how these books, which are basically about the start of a relationship, can last for so many pages. I liked some of it, mostly because I liked her. As usual, I didn’t like the dominating ass she’s into. Just felt like it went on for too long.
3/5

The Traveling Sex Game
If you see a suitcase or purse or such with ribbons hanging from it, it could mean the owner plays a sex game. Ribbons signify what kind of sex you want. It’s supposed to be an anonymous hookup, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
This book is basically sexual vignettes reminiscent of Penthouse Forum, held together by small bits of reporting and sexual psychology. After the reporter’s intro to the game and a few interviews, the book moves to individual stories. Unfortunately this guy’s writing style didn’t do it for me; felt like he didn’t have much experience writing. The sex scenes were kinda matter of fact; obviously these were hookups and not romances, but they could have been longer.
2.5/5

Saved
A woman not-so-mysteriously comes back from the dead, only to find her reunion with her fiancé is not how she thought it would be. (I don’t feel that’s a spoiler, because with the dream at the beginning overdoing it to such a huge degree, the “major” twist wasn’t at all surprising.)
In a genre known for stubborn characters, this one goes beyond. I’ve climbed mountains more pliable than this guy. I liked her, but most sane women would have cut their losses no matter how deeply in love they might have been.
Just when he has a breakthrough, thanks to the last person he or we would expect, things go to crap again. Despite it being a cliché, this part was well done.
There were several parts I really liked, but more that I couldn’t stand. The last fight scene was too convoluted to picture. There’s a lot less erotica than expected, which is too bad because those scenes were written the best.
As a former Marine, the soldier patter made me laugh.
3/5

His Human Bride
Funny: when I started this I had no idea it was a sequel to a book I’ve already read.
In the first book, a nurse/scientist helps a Roswell alien escape captivity and flees with him off Earth, wanting to help cure his people of an epidemic. Now, after spending pretty much all of the voyage having sex, she faces her toughest challenge: his mother, the queen. After a quest, needed because momma gave the thumbs down, it’s time for the final judgement.
As is pretty much expected from a romance, even if this one comes with a generous heap of erotica, there’s plenty of misunderstandings to go around, although this one has a bit of an excuse in that alien species think differently. On the brighter side, the characters are likeable, and no matter how stubborn Mom can be, she’s heaps better than the scientists and soldiers of the previous book.
But my favorite part is at the end: “I have to thank Carrie Fisher. I don’t know her. I never met her. But she inspired me so much it seems wrong to publish a book without thanking her. Thank you, Princess.”
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Double-Digit Graphics

Big Nate: Silent But Deadly
Another collection of the long-running comic strip featuring a hapless kid who really should know better—about everything—by now, but particularly about girls and teachers.
“Silent but deadly” was not whom I expected, but for once I was glad it wasn’t Nate.
“Are loopholes anything like Froot Loops?” First answer: I wish. Second answer: I’m hungry.
Nate finally wins one, literally. “Scoreboard!” He’s also got a super nose, so it’s nice to see him not be the butt monkey EVERY time.
4/5

Zen Pencils—Creative Struggle: Illustrated Advice from Masters of Creativity
Another volume of the fun and educational series featuring quotes illustrated, this time with a more specific perspective, as the title tells.
Van Gogh died having sold only one painting. I know that’s not the takeaway from his story, but it’s what I’ll remember.
No mention of Einstein’s wife in that entire section. Huh.
“Mortifying negative.”
Frankenstein is mentioned as the first sci-fi story, but that would be Paradise Lost.
The look on Marie Curie’s face at the gas coming in through the window. . . priceless. And her tongue sticking out in concentration. . . it’s the little things that make these stories great.
Tesla inspired by poetry is classic, literally. “Suck it, Professor Poeschl.”
Frida’s conga line of injuries, culminating in the bus crash, are truly horrific. This is the first time I’ve really seen the difference in size between Kahlo and Rivera played up; age, yes, but him being 300 pounds and her under 100 is staggering. And she really was the first Queen of Selfies.
And of course no book about creativity nowadays would be complete without Brené Brown.
4/5

Old Geezers: Alive and Still Kicking
An old man reads a letter his wife left him after her funeral, which sends him off on a road trip for revenge, followed by two friends and his very preggers granddaughter. Hilarity ensues.
It’s hard to say who exactly is the protagonist here. Could be Antoine, the one who goes off on for satisfaction. Or it could be Pierre, whom we meet first. He looks like a typical aging British civil servant, except for the way he parks. . . in the handicapped zone. That’s probably the only suit he’s ever owned, yet he’s the one worried about the fashion police. And when you consider his career. . .
Wow, someone actually used “progenitor” in a sentence.
“Everyone had a thing for Lucette at one point. You gotta admit that little minx was stacked.” It’s just so weird hearing three old men talking like frat boys. . . though I suppose it shouldn’t.
Best lines: “My (unborn) baby says bite me!” and “They’ve lost their sight, but not their hands.”
Interesting place to end it, but it does set up a sequel.
3.5/5

Valerian and Laureline
(Wow, turns out this has been a series since 1967! How have I never heard of it before? This means Han Solo could have been based on him instead of vice versa! And it was made into a film released this year?!!!
But for funsies’ sake, I’m leaving my original thoughts in.)
In a ship reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon, A Han Solo type and a beautiful redhead look for a cybernetic financial wizard. Once they find him, things get crazy.
It’s visually attractive, though not always logical. The bridge of the ship, for instance, is huge and empty with just the two of them. That is one surprised-looking fish. And my favorite line was, “Artificial intelligences love the old vintage look.”
The way I know Valerian is a parody of Han Solo is that he says, “I have a good feeling about this.”
“Your reputation pales before reality,” the Jabba-like creature tells her. I can only imagine. Have I mentioned how much I love redheads? “Your beauty is celebrated across the universe?” “It. . . it is?”
But as much as I enjoyed looking at the redhead—not as much as most of the male characters did, but still—the story was far too convoluted and seemed to be made up as it went along, much like the protagonists’ plans.
3/5

FRNK: The Beginning Begins
The first artistry we get is a delicious reproduction of cave paintings that look like the ones in Chauvet, France. Things go downhill from there.
A sullen young teen is not looking forward to his fourth adoption, figuring this family will be just as bad as the previous three. He tries to escape, but only makes things worse; in a large shot with a building filling the background, there’s a red arrow to show us where he’s falling. (Thanks for that.)
The kid goes through a glass roof, falls off a wall like Humpty, and goes head over heels down a rocky hill, but other than a band-aid is perfectly fine. Huh. After a lot of ows, they add one more “And ow!” Cute.
I love the redhead administrator for much more than the color of her hair; too bad she’s only appears at the beginning. But then they placate me with more redheads later.
It was never meant to be realistic, obviously—not with time traveling—but some of the small moments, like him running on water, are too ridiculous and didn’t need to be. He takes too long thinking it’s a theme park, then instantly jumps to the most absurd possibility. (The fact that he’s right is just a coincidence.) More than anything else, this kid is just too annoying to root for.
2.5/5

Fragments of Femininity
Seven stories about women and how they view their breasts, and how they think others view them.
Chloe: Women can be ever more vicious in the locker room than men. The protagonist is not who we think at the beginning, which is a clever touch. Easy to see how she lost control when even other women buy into the myth of bigger is better. Still, you have to figure something happened earlier—that this had to be the culmination—for her to blow up so big.
Mathilde: Middle-aged woman leaves her boring husband and kids to be with her lesbian lover and ends up in a bra-burning nude protest. Despite her long letter to her husband, there wasn’t enough background to really get how she so quickly moved on.
Alison: Famous exploitation actress wants to do serious movies. Rather than let the director screw her over by forcing her to do yet another nude scene when her contract says it’s not supposed to happen, she quits not just the movie but her career. This one’s my fave.
Sylvia: Older woman sees photos of her husband with a much younger lady. But rather than go for the divorce, she takes care of him in a fitting way, though I have to say it wasn’t all that much of a surprise.
Faith: A woman goes to an art school to see if she can pose nude, forgoing payment in favor of keeping a few of the results. At this point—being a photographer, I’ve been asked to do this before—I knew where it was going, but it was still a sad realization at the end. Of all the stories, though, I think this one is the most fitting with the topic.
Elikya: Woman in Northern Africa escapes her arranged marriage and gets lost in the desert until saved by an apprentice sculptor/witch doctor. The town is dying and badly needs rain, so he uses her to model a new talisman. If you like anthropology at all, this is for you.
Fleur: She runs a lingerie shop, insisting that her customers are more like friends. She has a diverse clientele, including a stripper who tests out all the new merch. In the end all those friends come in handy when her store gets firebombed.
Obviously some were better than others, but all told intriguing stories. What makes this book all the more interesting is it was written by a man.
4/5

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
“For Iturbide, the camera is just a pretext for knowing the world.” That quote’s not in the book, but when I did research on a photographer I’ve never heard of . . . couldn’t pass it up.
After an intro that’s quite a bit overdone, first story isn’t all that interesting, and the prose is mysterious without a cause. It’s trying to be poetic, but doesn’t say anything, too hoity-toity for its own good. The drawings are so far more impressive than the photos.
The Medusa head of iguanas was awesome, but that’s it. The photos are wonderfully grainy, but there aren’t many. And to be perfectly honest, as a professional photographer of more than 25 years, I can’t say I’m impressed by what’s shown here.
2.5/5

The Campbells: Inferno
The fun starts on the title page, with a funny image of a pirate swinging on a rope with his kids hanging on for dear life behind him. That sets the scene nicely. Actually it starts on the cover, because for a few seconds I seriously thought that was Bruce Campbell.
The way we get background is with the brother reading his older sister’s journal. Had no idea pirate kids are generally no different than suburban kids, especially when it comes to school.
The smartest character is the head leper.
“Lovedumbefied!” I like when they invent new words.
I can totally hear Bruce Campbell’s voice saying the girl’s name: Nutel-la. Though sometimes the look is more Billy Campbell. The artwork is cartoonish, with no attempt to be realistic. There’s silly dialogue and juvenile humor. One of the pirates is named Carapepino, which translates to Cucumber Face.
Too many plots, too many pirates, but it’s kinda likeable.
3/5

Emma and Violette: A Dream for Three
Two sisters are under pressure from themselves and their mom to ace the tryouts for ballet school. When one makes it and the other doesn’t, the family has to deal.
The artwork is gorgeous! I love how cinematographic it is, with characters in the foreground painted out of focus. I particularly like the way the mom’s drawn.

As far as the character, at first she comes off as rigid but shows another side after. At least she listens, if only to her husband. I like the little sister, who still has some innocence, and plays with teddy bears. But my fave character is the dad, who awesomely takes his daughter to the theater. The astronaut and the tree were her best costumes.
Just to prove it’s Paris, there’s the Bridge of Locks.
The girls have every right to be confused, that works well. But I was completely surprised by how confident and understanding the guys were, not at all what you’d expect from teen boys. Maybe it’s because the writer/artist is a man.
For such a short piece, there were some loose threads. Might have worked better without the romance or hip-hop angle, though the last one was over quickly enough.
The artwork is definitely the highlight.
3.5/5

Harmony: Memento
After two arrogant brothers in Ancient Greece have a tiff, the story goes to. . . 4000 years later! Yeah, good luck understanding that.
A young woman is stuck in a cellar, later an attic, being taken care of by an old man who claims to have found her unconscious, but she can’t remember anything.
Best part about her character is her sense of humor, like “This time I really do think I fried my brain.” She’s smarter than she looks, with the “changing clothes” gambit.
I like the part with the bird, and the glass of water. But it really is a strange story, going from fantasy and supernatural to military sci-fi. It ends with a “to-be-continued” vibe and what looks to be a back-cover blurb that gives a lot more info than the actual story.
3/5

;o)

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

A Dress the Color of the Sky
A depressed self-loathing woman who can only find self-worth in sex with strangers checks into a harsh addiction clinic, wanting to save her marriage and do better for her teen son. As soon as she gets to group therapy, the story goes into flashback mode: childhood filled with abuse, moving away from daddy across the country, leaving her ducks behind. She makes a friend, and has her brother, but not exactly what you’d call a great support system. It all shows how she came to be so screwed up, but as necessary as they are to explain how she got to where she is, they sure are tough to get through.
In contrast, the chapters in rehab come across almost slice-of-life. . . if you live in a rehab facility, that is. (For the record, I don’t. . . really! I swear!)
I get why this book was written, but it’s so depressing! It’s sad, but it’s tough because there’s also a lot of funny sprinkled here and there. It took me forever to read, because every time something bad happened to her, I had to take a break.
A few days after finishing I was still conflicted. Had I known what this would be like, I would not have started it. Stories like these are just too difficult for me. But I finished it. I can’t really say I liked it, though there was nothing wrong with the writing. One of the discussion questions at the end asked which half of the book I preferred, and I can wholeheartedly say the present rather than the past. Every time I felt happy for her progress in therapy I got plunged back into her history of abuse. Just too rough.
2.5/5

Twisted Crimes
An elderly couple go to the wrong funeral and end up dead. DCI Sophie Allen—my current police crush—eventually shows up to find out why. Though the reason for the initial crime seems ridiculously slight, there’s no doubt such things do happen. That reason also makes it more difficult for the police to solve it, giving the whole team a chance to shine.
Halfway through I realized that, other than the hike with her husband (which was really work-related), there hadn’t been anything about her family in this one. Considering the previous editions and especially the last few, it seemed glaring.
I love this series. Despite the seriousness of the crimes, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The very last scene wasn’t necessary, but I’m glad it’s there. Also glad the bad guys got what was coming to them, taken down by women, and not just Sophie this time.
4/5

Evil Crimes
In this installment of the fantastic series, DCI Sophie Allen and her squad, as well as cops in other jurisdictions, track a serial killer the likes of which they’d never seen before. There’s a huge twist a little past halfway, where it seems the investigation is over, but it continues on to a great climax that I would not have expected.
Even without all the newcomers in other parts of the country, there’s a lot of detectives to keep track of, and I’ve read every book in the series! Even though that’s realistic, I wish there could have been less people to keep track of. But that’s a minor point.
The writing is as smooth as ever, Sophie is as spectacular as ever, and Rae’s really making her mark. I like that Rae’s transition, while mentioned a few times, isn’t treated as a big deal. But more than anything, it takes an excellent writer to make you have sympathy for the story’s devil.
I’m not going to say this is the best of the series, but it is my favorite.
4/5

Proving Ground
A new security agent, full of insecurities and the weight of being a legacy, is on a stakeout at an airport and then follows her prey to an illicit meet, where everything of course goes wrong. Wouldn’t be much of story if it didn’t, right?
There’s decent surveillance tradecraft in the opening chapter. . . until the end, of course. Unfortunately that’s pretty much the end of that stuff as the plot settles into a mostly usual “girl back in town dealing with family and ex” story. Then it’s about survival.
From the beginning the stubbornness is off the charts. Though there might be such people here and there in the world, most really don’t behave this way in real life, become they end up doing something that teaches them better. . . or gets them killed! Stuff like this makes me like the characters a lot less. For instance, at one point toward the end, when she’s about to do the job she’s been trained for, he again tells her she shouldn’t be doing this. I actually screamed—inside my head—“Dude, shut up! She’s doing this, so either help her or get out of the way!” I was actually wondering if there was anyone in this book who wasn’t stupidly stubborn.
But the absolutely worst moment—trying not to spoiler—happens when she’s rescued but neglects to tell anyone about (something really bad) that’s going to happen. Argh! Why didn’t she? Because then she couldn’t be the hero at the end! This sacrificed any chance I could have had of finding her competent. Also, the cool and calm bad guy, as he was established early on—and what a coincidence that she ends up in exactly the same place he does—is shown being anything but at just the right time for her to notice. Very contrived scene.
Although I enjoyed the writing, I couldn’t help but feel there was too much introspection, in what is a short book anyway. There’s always some, of course, but there was so much thinking here, often hashing out the same ground, that it probably took up half the book. And everyone’s stubbornness didn’t make me feel like rooting for them.
2.5/5

Holy Crap! The World is Ending!
“It was a fairly warm night, a typical summer evening in Southern California.” You know that when a book starts like that, things are gonna get crazy. There’s also what might be the weirdest intro ever, but it sure did the job of preparing me for what was to come.
Which was basically: Earth is about to be destroyed; there’s a way to save humanity; some aliens want to, some don’t; aliens are among us, some of them very sexy; a seemingly ordinary girl is the Chosen One to save the planet.
It’s really cutesy, and somehow it managed to go through the entire book without overdoing it, which might be the most impressive thing. Things get crazy, but oddly enough after a while they get a bit predictable, but at least it’s funnier than previous tries of this kind of story. Even the fact that Part 2 starts at 89% made me laugh. But the most humorous stuff has to be the funny/weird tiny full-color drawings. The cow will haunt me despite her innocent look, especially the one where she’s holding a rose and a bottle of alien wine. . . while wearing a space helmet. In another she’s holding an ankh; I don’t know if I find that more weird or more normal.
I love the contents of the ark of the covenant, so much better than Indy’s version. The historical stuff all goes together nicely. . . if, you know, aliens.
Somewhere along the line the author decided to redeem Inanna, and boy did it work! Big time! I love her now.
Okay, a lot of research went into this. Felt a bit giddy whenever I recognized something, like Gilgamesh. The material is obviously taken seriously by the author, which is why it’s such a surprise that this book was just so darned funny, and fun. You hear a lot about wacky adventures, but this one actually lives up to the billing. More than anything, I have no idea if I would run away screaming or fall in love if I ever met Amber.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Erotic Stepbrothers, Babe Geeks, and Aleins

The Billionaires: The Stepbrothers
Insurance investigator finally gets to interview an art robbery suspect, but she finds him so hot she can’t think straight. And he knows it, using the control she’s given him to get her into bed while convincing her he’s innocent. So she goes to interview his stepbrother and, guess what, same thing happens.
As would be expected, after she sleeps with them separately there are times when both have her together. If it was just about the sex it would be relatively easy to write, but when she’s in love with both and wants a threesome relationship it’s a lot harder. Happy to say this writer pulled it off pretty well, as well as making a good mystery. The parallels of the car accidents and subsequent survivors’ guilt was well done.
Enjoyed this thoroughly. I’m predisposed to liking the lead because I love redheads, but the guys were better than most in this genre and the plot was enjoyable. Just one question: what happened to the puppy during that first night. . .?
4/5

Play Crush
A young geeky—but of course hot—female techie is tasked with doing the field work to test football helmets in hopes that head injuries will be curtailed. The players love her, one—actually more than one, but only one matters in this story—in particular.
I love this girl, at least most of the time, when she’s not being a pushover. I like the set-up. The guys are okay, probably because I semi-remember some of them from a previous book. But there’s something off about this; not enjoying it like I should, given all that’s going for it. At some points it went as far as tedious. It’s easy enough to say that lack of communication is a problem, but then that happens in just about all books in this genre, so I can’t use that one here.
As I said in the other book in this series that I’ve read, it’s hard to keep track of all the players. For example, Bam feels like a giant lineman; I’m surprised each time it’s mentioned he’s the halfback. Perhaps a character sheet should be included.
The ending, and all the Star Trek jokes, made me feel better about it, but I still didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have thought.
3/5

The Roswell Affair
As you can see from the title, the Roswell crash is the setting for yet another story, this time with a hot nurse/scientist called in to interrogate a not-so-alien alien in the famous 1947 crash. Within minutes she’s in lust for him and they’re communicating through sex, which is why the military failed to establish a dialogue.
This works because the main characters are likeable, with an immediate chemistry that might actually be chemical, not just the way the word is used today. Some slight touches of the era were nice, though even for something that takes place 70 years ago it’s hard to imagine the government agents being such asses; ditto for the soldiers. Don’t think they needed to be painted with such black strokes in order for this story to work, though maybe because it was so short there wasn’t time to do anything else with them.
It turns out to be a complete Mary Sue, but since I liked it I’ll let it pass. But for such a short story it didn’t help that 10% of this is ads for other books at the end.
3.5/5

Adam: Doms of the Silver Screen Book 2
A “scream queen” actress gets a role in a “serious” production, only to find her estranged husband is directing. She doesn’t want to quit, but she doesn’t want anything to do with him either. He harasses her until she gives in. (This story takes off from the first book in the series, but reading it is not required to understand this one.)
Even though he’s the Dom of the title, the story is really more about her. There are funny moments in the first half, most of them on the set—I’ve actually seen a bed break during filming, but that actress’s reaction was far different—but there’s just one overwhelming problem, which I can boil down to: I love Nicki, I loathe Adam.
That’s really all that needs to be said. Most of these types of stories feature an alpha male who won’t take no for an answer, but this is a new low. I doubt I will ever hate a character more than I hated Adam. This might have been an okay book if he wasn’t such an unlikeable asshole.
The first book in the series, even if it was far shorter, was so much better.
2/5

;o)