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)

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Book Reviews: Lawyers, Profilers, Assassins, and Diplomats

Derailed
This is a small prequel to a novel I’ve already read, in which a “chosen one” teen had to fight dark forces to save the world. . . stop me if you’ve heard this before. This story tells about the first meeting between the probably doomed lovers, events that were mentioned in the previous book. Syl has a huge crush on violin-playing Rouen, going to her concert and then heavily involved in the train crash that brings them together and separates Syl from her friends.
Gotta admit, it feels kinda weird reading this after the main event. What I most liked about the main book was the humor, and that’s as evident here. It does explain why the dark fae can’t sense her, but I would have liked more on Glamma. More than anything, I wasn’t able to really picture the train crash and its aftermath, which made it difficult to follow.
3/5

Proof
Second book in a series about a former hacker/now-ethical lawyer who keeps finding herself in huge conspiracies but can never back down. This one is different in that she’s no longer with a huge law firm, now doing the attorney version of the down-on-her-luck private investigator. In this story she realizes her late grandmother’s watch has been stolen, and tracking it down leads to much bigger crimes that threaten her life and those of her friends.
I love how this author, in both books, takes a small detail and turns it into an entire plot. That takes skill and imagination. But unlike the first one, this time it felt a little more convoluted than it needed to be. I didn’t like it as much as the first, especially in the beginning, but since it was on nursing homes and that’s important to me right now, I kept reading. Thankfully in the end that didn’t turn out to be an issue. There were some intriguing new characters and everything wrapped up in the end.
3.5/5

Profiling Nathan
Cold female FBI agent falls for tattoo artist to whom she’s delivering a message. Not very likely, but that’s what makes these stories fun, right?
Right off the bat she says, “I was recruited during my last year of college and started training at Quantico right after graduation. That was sixteen years ago.” By I quickly forgot that, because she reads younger. As for him, he’s got quite a past, including some fantasy elements that tie in to the rest of the series, which I have not read, but that only comes into play here once.
Throughout the entire story it was hard to pinpoint if this was a procedural or a romance; turned out to be the latter, as there are many scenes that were strictly getting to know each other and didn’t advance the plot at all. This is especially true of the entire nudist colony setting. After finishing the romance part, it sets up for the next sequel.
I really like that this isn’t a 300-page epic like most in the genre, filled with thoughts of “I want to, but I can’t!” The romance, plus the murder mystery/serial killer plot that I figured out by chapter four—writer made it a little too obvious—took about 120 pages.
4/5

Twisted Threads
An abstract intro with rhyming couplets does nothing but prove that this author is quirky.
A Japanese mafia assassin—female and reluctant—gets one last assignment before she can be free. All she has to do is figure out which one of the passengers on a cruise ship killed a family member of the boss. Who would have guessed that an assassination mission would somehow turn into a star-crossed romance?
Unfortunately there were far too many characters introduced when the story gets to the ship. With all the setting and introductions I was completely bored. Halfway through a mysterious figure is introduced, as if there weren’t enough characters already. The last part got confusing and ever so complicated, too convoluted. Still not sure what happened or who did what. Not at all surprised at who showed up on the plane at the end.
On the other hand, the writing was pretty good. There’s one point where the main character is “eating” a tear. That’s awesome. I did like the main characters, her more than him. Snippets about her past were confusing, but that’s probably because this is part of a series that I haven’t read.
All in all, a shorter, tighter book would have been better.
3/5

Undiplomatic Episodes
A career diplomat for Great Britain discusses some of his adventures and accomplishments in a surprisingly conversational and occasionally humorous manner.
I started this book in August; I finished it in December. Part of that is attributed to its awfully slow start. Until the end it’s a chronological autobiography (the last section is on epic parties) and the dullest parts are at the beginning, especially his school years. His time in Iran, for example, was a thousand times more interesting.
Here’s a nice example of his writing style: “This was at a time when the Cold War was still going strong and the Russian bear was still very much growling.”
But there were some moments that didn’t ring true. . . not that I thought they were lies, but I can’t believe he was that cheery during certain mishaps. Only in retrospect can it feel like a great adventure.
Bats, roaches, giant toads, claustrophobia=least favorite parts.
There’s a much needed break in the middle, photos and drawings and a couple of maps.
I’m not trying to make light of it, but as someone unfamiliar with the whole thing, it seems like it doesn’t take much to get knighted.
All in all it was mostly fun and well told, although it was sometimes tough getting through the lists of food served at parties, what the royals were wearing, or what birds were spotted. I particularly enjoyed the travel descriptions, especially when he talked about places I’ve been and loved, like Dubrovnik, Finland, and Australia. Never got to see much of Iran outside the archaeological sites, so learning about that was fun too.
But I will forever question his sanity, because of that bat cave expedition. . .
3.5/5

Little Book of Lagom: How 2 Balance Your Life the Swedish Way
There are a lot more uses for Goldilocks now than there used to be, even astronomically speaking, and this could be one of them, as it is a philosophy of “not too much, not too little, just right.” Having visited Sweden often, I can attest that a lot of people really do think this way. . . which is one of the reasons I visit so often.
There’s tips to make your home more energy-efficient. There’s a crafts article on how to turn an old t-shirt into a tote bag, as well as other clothes that can be reincarnated as draft stoppers or rugs. The part about storing your clothes vertically in the drawers was a revelation, as was the advice to eat before shopping for groceries. On the other hand, the recipes meant nothing to me, as almost every one has ingredients I’m allergic to or can’t stand. Same with the garden.
Like many advice books, there’s a lot of what’s usually called common sense, even if it isn’t. . . common. It really doesn’t feel much different than other similar books, simply using the Swedish connection as a way to supposedly differentiate.
3/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Snapshots: Amman

Exactly one year ago today I landed in the capital of Jordan for about the fourth or fifth time in my life, can’t remember. (I say exactly, but time zones and stuff.)
With only half a day remaining after settling in, I thought about hanging out at the entrance to the Royal Palaces on the off chance of running into the amazing Queen Rania, a lady I hold in as much esteem as Valerie Kondos-Field (Gymnastics coach at UCLA) and Katherine Heigl. But before I left the hotel I saw on her Twitter that she was in Norway, so that’s that. I suppose I can’t blame her for wanting to get away from a possibly crazed fan. Maybe the king will want to talk Star Trek. . .?
Did you know that Amman was the original Philadelphia? Now you can impress with your knowledge of trivia at the next party. There’s still a lot more brotherly love in this city than the current one, as I saw plenty of times once I finally ventured outside and made my way past a ton of embassies, arriving downtown just in time for dinner, which with my stomach was not an easy thing to find. After that I took a taxi up to the Citadel, as there was no way these knees were going to make it up that hill, especially so early in the trip when I should seriously be conserving my limited energy. I spent some minutes getting every conceivable angle of the Temple of Hercules, as well as the Hand of Hercules (a little creepy), before settling in to shoot the sunset.
Feeling the first pull of jetlag, I dropped off the hill and found a taxi to take me back to my hotel, figuring I’d have time right before I left the country to peruse the amphitheater and all the museums, which other than maps are pretty much my crack.
Perhaps it was the excitement I always get at the beginning of a trip, or else my internal clock set itself perfectly when I went to sleep around 10PM local time, but the next morning my brain was perfectly tuned to the time zone and I was smiling as I had a quick breakfast of oranges, grapes, and even pineapple (!) before heading off south, ultimate destination Petra, followed by Wadi Rum and Aqaba.
;o)

Book Reviews: Art and Oddities

The tattoo sealed the no-deal.

Photographs from the Edge
Travels To The Edge is most likely my favorite travel show, in no small part due to the awesome theme song (still waiting for it to be released. . . someday. . . just sayin’). More importantly, as a travel photographer this show gives me ideas where to shoot next, as well as fond memories of previous shoots. But this book is even better at that, as most of these shots are from places not visited by the TV show. Art Wolfe’s philosophy is that he wants to shoot places that haven’t been photographically exploited before, which is hard to do nowadays, considering it doesn’t take long to reach any spot on Earth in this modern world.
Each photo comes with a description of how it came about: camera and lens, f/stop, exposure, ISO. The fact he took the time to document all that while shooting, especially back in the film days, makes my head hurt. Each page also has a photo tip, which in a book this large is an astonishing number of tips. One of these says his workhorse lens is an 80-200; that’s the one I use the most too, so I had a momentary geek-out. (But I’m feeling much better now.)
On to the important stuff. The first image is of an arctic fox, and it’s beautiful, a perfect opener. Another shot that stayed with me was of a small house and some trees looking amazingly tiny as a mountain looms straight up behind them. I also learned more about hyenas than I ever expected. And as much as I know I shouldn’t laugh at his scare on Easter Island. . . I laughed. There are hundreds more, and while it’s impossible for all of them to be awesome, considering everyone’s taste is different, this is a stunning and fitting document to what I consider an underappreciated modern photographer.
For fans of his show, think of this as a “best of” episode, told chronologically. I read this with his voice in my head.
4.5/5

Circles of Delight: Classic Carousels of San Francisco
In this photo book three vintage carousels in San Francisco are photographed, with a format of a general photo on one page, followed by a close-up. Each merry-go-round gets its own chapter, with the figures further divided into jumping, standing, and chariot.
Of the first carousel my favorite was the tiger, the sculpture and color so beautiful. I don’t know much about these devices, so I have no idea if giraffes, ostriches, pigs, deer, and even bunnies are common, but these made me smile.
The second carousel is housed in a glass building, which makes it so much brighter, especially for photographs. Unfortunately its pieces weren’t as lovely as the first one’s, so that was a bit of a letdown.
The third has the most dramatic drawings on the horses, and even features a unicorn and a sea dragon, plus a tiger with a mermaid on it. The camel looks amused.
There’s no doubt both the craftsmanship and the photography is gorgeous, but it takes a serious merry-go-round buff to make it through the whole volume in one sitting without losing focus.
3.5/5

Anatomy of a Song
Interviews with the people involved in the writing and recording of many hit songs. This is by no means encyclopedic, as there were quite a few tunes I thought merited attention, but perhaps it’s as simple as not being able to get interviews. One of the artists mentions their 2015 tour, so this is definitely up to date.
Most of the articles were pretty standard, which made one in particular stand out: not only was Joni Mitchell interviewed, so was the guy she wrote “Carey” about, a trip down memory lane that takes us all the way to the Greek Islands.
The thing is, not being a musician or a sound tech meant there was a lot here I didn’t understand. But what I did understand, I liked. Too bad there were so few songs I got excited about, but of course that’s in the ear of the beholder.
3.5/5

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
I have a friend on Facebook who constantly posts articles from this website, and since I usually found them interesting enough to click through, I felt the same about this book, though from the times I checked it out on the internet it felt like a tonier international version of Roadside America.
As expected, each page contains a strange destination, with some filler blurbs of other interesting places that didn’t make the cut for their own article. Interspersed with the locations are a few articles on the places, or the science—or bogus—of the contraptions that make the place interesting, and so on. I found “Constructed Languages,” playing off the Esperanto museum in Vienna, the most interesting of the articles, along with “Everything’s bigger in Australia.”
While I was reading I was anxious to find places I’d been to, but to my chagrin I topped out at about three dozen (a surprising number of them in Austria, Munich, New Zealand, Mexico, and Scandinavia). In the London extras there was a mention of the Temple of Mithras, which I’d been hoping would get a page, so that was disillusioning. I was simultaneously disappointed and relieved when there was no photo of Archie the Giant Squid, though from the drawing it may be too big to capture in one shot. One of the nicer photographed entries is Skellig Michael, though I have to wonder if this book was in the planning before the new Star Wars movie, as that would seem like an automatic mention. Another highlight for me was that John Frum, Tom Navy, and Prince Phillip—all our favorite cargo cults—are mentioned near the end.
There’s not much else to say. If you like to travel and visit weird museums and locations, this is exactly what you’ve been wanting.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Mermaids, Edens, and Beauty

She claimed my music selections were like a dinner of only desserts.
I hope that’s a compliment. . .

Urban Mermaid
Problems of a shy young female mermaid who can’t find a guy. Then she finds a guy, but he’s human, which is a big no-no in the quasi-human/quasi-fish community.
There’s a cute interesting prologue on how mermaids came to be, but basically this is a love story, which is different than a romance, as they get together relatively early in the story. In fact, about a third of the way through they’re already engaged, and you wonder what’s gonna take up the rest of the book. It’s actually kinda amazing that there’s so much here, but it never stops being interesting.
There’s one point where he takes a mysterious phone call, where it seems he’s going to sell her out to a Sea World-type place, but that’s about the only time when we’re made to wonder about his sincerity. Everything else is about his doubts as to how he’ll fit in with a mermaid community. She has them too, though she’s generally feisty and pugnacious enough to persevere.
I will say the writer went way overboard on the wedding dress description, but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed this. Every once in a while there’s a touch of humor, always surprising but never snarky. Even the wedding was fun. I’m looking forward to the sequels, where I hope there’s more interaction with dolphins.
4/5

Stay With Me
A woman having an affair in San Francisco has her boyfriend tell her that he’s moving back to New York and they were all about sex, so she doesn’t tell him she’s preggers. Years later he comes back into her life, now engaged to her distasteful cousin yet still thinking he has all power over her.
The attempt at suspense in the second part was ridiculous; who else could it possibly be coming back into her life? Other than that the writing is well done. The bad news is, as much as I really want to like this character, I can’t. She’s so stuck on this asshole it’s actually painful to read. And there’s no redeeming him, he’s far too disgusting. At a certain point I thought, “If this ends with them together it’ll ruin the whole thing.” Then I wanted to go to the end and check, but somehow refrained.
Near the end it changed to his point of view for the first time, which was jarring.
This was a hard one to judge. The story is not too bad. Perhaps if the male character wasn’t such a complete ass, it might have worked; I wonder if the author being Italian had anything to do with it. The fact is this guy is so unredeemable that I cannot picture any woman putting up with his shit. She doesn’t seem to suffer from the kind of low self-esteem that would lead her to this. I found myself having no respect for her, and that ultimately doomed this.
2/5

Endangered Edens
Basically a travelogue heavy on animal encounters: Puerto Rico, the Arctic, Costa Rica, and Everglades.
This is a short book even before you take into account all the photographs, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. The writing is entertaining enough, and there’s no heavy evangelizing; he gets his point across without dropping anvils on your head, or even your foot.
The photo of the polar bear paw print is amazing, seemingly more so than shots of the bear itself as far as trying to understand the size. I just wish there’d been even more on the Arctic drilling; on the one hand I don’t want it to go into the proselyting I mentioned wasn’t here, but it was so thoroughly beyond the scope of anything I could have imagined. . .
Thoughtful and entertaining. Light, but all the better for it.
4/5

The Beauty Volume 1
A graphic novel concerning an STD that makes you beautiful, so of course just about everyone wants it. And then there’s those who don’t want it and are militant about it, to the point of bombings and other forms of terrorism. When a Beauty dies on the subway, seemingly combusting from inside, the protagonists are sent to investigate. There’s also a conspiracy led by a politician—of course—and an assassin who’s seen far too many Day of the Dead celebrations.
As you might expect, there are Beauties everywhere. The female cop is a gorgeous redhead, the male cop’s wife is a gorgeous brunette, and so on. The cop looks a little delicate, which is why it’s funny that she’s the testosterone-fueled potty-mouthed Alpha. In this area the artwork is marvelous, better than any I’ve seen.
There was one point where I wondered if I missed something: why did the male cop and his wife break up? Did she cheat? Did she suspect him of cheating? How did they get the disease? I had to reread this, because it’s too subtle; I know what I’m supposed to think happened, but it could have been done with a little less subtlety and still not insulted my intelligence. . . or lack thereof.
Extras: all the covers and bios.
Really enjoyed it, and not nearly as much in the horror genre as the forward had me dreading.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Grow Up and Travel, Mysteries and Cookies

I’m gonna live forever. . . dammit, jinxed it.

How to Act Like a Grown-Up
The title says it all: short chapters dealing with the behavior that should be exhibited in situations as diverse as stores, cell phones, driving, Facebook, interviews, sex, voting, watching movies. Not only are the chapters short, the entire book is too, with certain passages repeated in large print, so it’s over pretty quickly. And why is the accompanying graphic a woman’s shoe?
I have no complaints about the text or the ideas. This is a well-written and meaningful book for our times, though it is sad to realize how much it is needed. Yet it’s for that very same reason that I doubt it will do much good. The author writes, “It’s no insult to find out you’ve been wrong. It stinks, but try to be happier that you learned the truth instead of bummed out that you were wrong.” This is the most important passage, because it personifies the hopelessly optimistic tone of this book. Everything is well said, and most people would benefit from reading it. . . but the problem is most people won’t read it because they don’t think they need it, and those who do read it will never admit any of this applies to them. The entire time I was reading I felt like this was all great, but no one is going to follow this advice. And that made me sad. . .
3.5 pushed up to 4/5

Silence
Whereas a few years ago Sweden became a hub for mysteries translated to English, now it’s Germany’s turn; this is the fifth or sixth I’ve read in the past year. The premise is simple: man finds photo, has daddy issues, piques a journalist’s curiosity. But of course things are never that simple, especially because there’s another narrative going on, taking place during World War 2.
For a while the journalist is the protagonist, but when she’s killed this turns from a history mystery to a murder mystery. The new lead is a small town cop derisively described as a “small-town sheriff” who talks to cats. Oh boy. . .
This could have easily been two separate stories, but thankfully they tied together very well. The last twist did indeed surprise me; nothing told me it was coming. And the killing of the journalist turned out to be. . . probably not a spoiler, but why take the chance?
Altogether a well-written book; setting and plot in particular stand out. The one place that could have been improved was the dialogue in helping to set each character apart, especially in the historical storyline; there’s a character guide in the beginning, but I was hoping not to have to refer to it as often as I did.
4/5

Sweet Girl
Admitting I read this rom-com is seriously gonna cut into my macho cred. . . oh, waitaminute, I don’t have any! Never mind, as you were.
Like a confection, I enjoyed this book in two large bites. The best way to describe Max, the main character, is to say that if I had met her in real life I would have turned around and run away as fast as possible. And kept on running. Reading about her is much safer, though I still cringed a few times at how she lets her anger, ego, and stubbornness rule her decision-making, mostly to hide her insecurities and her past.
She starts off as a bartender—when all the alcoholic description popped up I let out a little groan—but conversely this made it easier to accept all the food stuff—no pun—when she gets a job managing a famous pastry chef’s operation. Okay, I’d probably try the pretzel and potato chip brownie, but that’s it. Everyone has her jumping through hoops, but for once she wants something bad enough to keep her mouth shut and work to achieve it.
The other plot is the romance, with a guy whom she at first can’t stand—of course, wouldn’t be a rom-com without that. Other than the reveal of who the “competition” was at the end—saw it coming from the moment she arrived—it was a fun ride, and I figure it’s extra good because I didn’t care for all the food stuff—again, sorry—yet still loved it. I’m going to give Rachel Hollis a big compliment, or rather two, by comparing her to a couple of my favorite authors, Caprice Crane—though not to her level of snark—and Meg Benjamin.
5/5

Fifteen Minutes to Live
The title is misleading, but in a good way, writing-wise; in the reality of the story it’s just as sad.
If you’ve seen the movie “Memento” you know what’s at play here; interestingly, this book came out before the movie, but I’m not sure about story on which the movie was based. In this one it’s a woman who’s suffering from the inability to make new memories, plus she can’t remember anything after high school, which is why she runs off to the guy who was her boyfriend at the time.
There are several subplots that play into her illness, the most important one having to do with a predator teacher. There were parts that left me confused, as confused as the characters; most of it was okay, but it really left me gasping for comprehension at the end until it was explained, but my point is I shouldn’t have needed the explanation. This drops the score from 4 to 3.
The characterization of her illness is well done, at least I would imagine it is without researching the subject. There were many disparate characters, most of which were well-written. And it was kinda fun for me to read a story that basically took place in my backyard, not just Southern California but the Pasadena/Glendale area.
Though I was annoyed to find this is actually from 1998; President Clinton and Daryl Strawberry are mentioned.
3/5

The Amazing Journey
Like a lot of kids, Austin goes on a long vacation before starting college; unlike them, he goes with his father. A trip through Hawaii, Korea, China, Tibet, Nepal, India, London, and Paris makes up this book.
As always, it’s the small touches that sell a travel memoir. I had a good laugh at the obsequiousness of the Chinese tour guide, and mentioning, “This is Mr. Wong. He will be our driver. He is one of the very best.” Yeah, they do that a lot in China, and though I didn’t enjoy my trips there, this was a great moment. Particularly liked his description of the base camp of Everest, seeing the giant mountain without its usual clouds; been there, both literally and physically. What made that section difficult to read was the knowledge that the poverty of the area just got worse, considering the giant earthquake last week.
Always reminded of the diversity of views when I found myself thinking the opposite to his remarks about London and Paris, especially about wandering in each city and its museums. It would have helped if someone told him there was a back door to the Louvre, but he found another way.
What was intriguing was his mention of a few incidents like his eye-stare with a Chinese soldier and his defense of a poor horse, which gave off more of a “look at me, I’m such a good person!” vibe. His son also exhibited a dangerous amount of ego in not telling about his illness, but I suppose in a way that simply makes them more human in the reader’s eyes.
4/5

;o)