Kris Longknife Furious by Mike Shepherd

Mike Shepherd likes to theme each of his novels around a certain plot type or genre: with Furious, we get a JAG military court hearing next to a simple Die Hard type of heist. This is in addition to Shepherd exploring various cultures and societies (Japan, this time). Your enjoyment of this particular book will likely depend on whether you want pew pew space battles or can enjoy the wordplay in a typical courtroom.

Story: Kris needs to get to her grandfather Al, talk with him, and stop the foolhardly plan he is hatching to trade with the hostile aliens. Unfortunately, she’s still confined in “Siberia” and neatly tucked out of the way by her great grandfather, King Ray. But Kris has resourceful allies and she can be a very slippery princess. The problem is, where can she go that is safe when she is wanted in nearly every world as an “enemy of humanity?”

This was a fun read and is less about space battles and more about outsmarting opponents in various situations. Fortunately, Shepherd doesn’t write her outsmarting lawyers in a court of law – that would be ridiculous. For that she has help in the form of new allies. But of course, as with every where she goes (including the Musashi Imperium), she makes friends and special allies. This book was a lot more about her allies coming to her rescue rather than her miraculously saving the day – again.

This was a brutal one for the narrator – I couldn’t help but wince every time a Japanese person would mispronounce a Japanese word or name. But it is what it is and I just had to ignore the distractions since I’d rather have this narrator continue the series rather than having someone else brought in.

There is a large plot twist in the end and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

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Paris by Andi Watson, Simon Gane

While there is nothing new in this story, it has its own style and atmosphere that make for a lovely read. Set in Bohemian Paris in the late 1950s, it is a sweet tale of two young women who fall in love but are torn apart by circumstances.

Story: American Juliet goes to Paris to study art but has to survive on commissions to pay for her tuition. Enter Deborah – a British debutante with a restrictive Aunt, happy-go-lucky brother, and a realization that her life will be stifled. When Juliette is hired to paint Deborah, she becomes obsessed and the two are soon stealing away to art museums and seedy underground haunts. But Deborah’s Aunt and brother have plans for the young woman and they certainly do not entail a penniless American art student.

The art is quite fun with Juliet having a beatnik feel while Deborah looks to be the proper British heiress. The scenes around Paris are quite amusing and well worth closer inspection since there are so many micro moments happening in the background to the random people in the crowds. The illustrations are in black and white but on an off-white background. The characters are expressive and easy-to0-tell apart. The art supports the story perfectly and really sets the scenes well.

The story is cute but fun. We can see the reason why both ladies are curious about each other. The dialogue can be challenging because whole chunks are in French (which is translated in the back). It may take a few readings to get the full import of what is being said but this is a story that is enjoyable the second time around anyway.

This is a fairly quick read for the first time and rewards second reads greatly just exploring the panels and appreciating all the work the illustrator put into humorous vignettes always happening in the background. As such, this is both a rewarding quick read and an amusing reread in the near future. This is a complete story. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Decorum by Jonathan Hickman, Mike Huddleston

This is one of those incoherent messes that you either love or hate: high concept, visually confusing, narratively frustrating. Oddly enough, I felt like I had read this before and it just didn’t stick with me through all the randomness within. It’s something you want to spend a lot of time with or not at all; just be in the right mood for it. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Bootblack by by Mikaël

As with his previous work, Giant, this is a gritty and well written story about New York City. The story follows a small ‘gang’ of teens who band together to make money from shining shoes. The story is non linear and contemplative but with incredible historical accuracy and detail.

Story: Al is an immigrant from a German-Jewish family. He doesn’t want to follow his parents’ old fashioned customs and instead is proudly American. When his family die in a tenement fire when he is young, he is alone on the streets. He strikes up a friendship with fellow orphans and earns a living shining shoes. Al only wants one thing: to be good enough for a girl he is sweet on. But Al and his group soon become embroiled in a money-laundering scheme with the mafia. Then World War 2 breaks out and all their lives change.

The art is beautifully done and reflects the 1930s perfectly. I am a stickler for historical accuracy and was extremely impressed – from the costuming and hair styles to the life of the Great Depression era, the illustration work is superb. Even when taking the story into the 1940s, the characters looked updated, older, and in appropriate garb, language for that era.

I had no trouble telling characters apart but I saw that others did. I believe that has to do with the historical accuracy – there was not a lot of variation in styles at the time and without color, it is a bit harder to use different hair color or clothing colors. The artist makes great use of shading these black and white illustrations and the paneling and perspectives are superb.

The story is interesting and the movement between different times of Al’s life appropriate. This is the first book and I am greatly looking forward to book 2 after all that happened in book 1. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Star Wars High Republic 2: The Edge of Balance by Shima Shinya, Justina Ireland, Mizuki Sakakibara

If you’ve read the other High Republic books or comics, then this is a no-brainer. It seamlessly interconnects and you’ll find cameos of several characters. The manga art-style does reduce the characters to seeming simple-minded and it does feel targeted to a very young audience. But it also has a charm all its own while still furthering the big picture tale of the High Republic.

Story: Lily is worried about another Nihil attack and trying to get the farmers to prepare to defend the temple near their fields. With the arrival of Jedi Master Sav Malagán, Lily finally has some backup. But sabotage is crippling her efforts there so she takes a ship off planet to seek the advice of Master Arkoff, leaving her Padawan Keerin Fionn with Sav. As she soon learns, the Nihil are not done with Bianchii.

The black and white artwork has strong manga influences but still retains a bit of Western in there as well. The story is good and contains high points and tragedies. There are a wide variety of characters in the story and the arcs are interesting.

In all, a good read with a strong story. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Cats, Cats, Cats by Lapuss, Larbier, Paillat

Yes, we’ve read enough “cats are crazy” comics out there over the years (from Garfield to Tom and Jerry). This book brings a really lovely art style and the attitude that cars are both a) completely insane and b) not the brightest bulbs. The illustrations are bright, fun, Sunday-comics style that is a pleasure to read.

Each page has a ‘strip’ of several panels and they are all wordless. Most are about the contrary nature of cats: they go crazy meowing to go outside but then don’t go out when you open the door. Or they refuse to eat the fish you give them in their dish but will tear apart your trashcan getting to it later that night. Etc. etc. Yes, we’ve seen it all before but the cute artwork will put a smile on your face and this is a joy to ‘read’ to see all the fun expressions on the crazy but dim critters.

Most of the cartoons are variations on that one theme. The cover image gives an accurate example of the artwork contained inside (full color as well). In all, a great way to put a smile on your face and celebrate our feline overlords. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Wholesome Yum Easy Keto Carbaholics’ Cookbook by Maya Krampf

Other than three major detractors, this is a nice cookbook. It has photographs for every recipe, is clean and easy to read/follow, and has a nice presentation. The recipes are all variations of common foods: it’s more like a way to deal with cravings for full carb foods than necessarily what you would eat every day as part of a low card lifestyle change. The author is upfront about that and recommends her other cookbook for eating changes and for more every day keto meals.

That said, there are two things that caused me to lower my rating. One: several ingredients are from the author’s website and there are no substitutes. If you want the recipes to end up like the author wrote them, you’ll need to go shopping. The author puts this as “supporting my book” but that makes it sound optional when it isn’t: you want to make many of these recipes, you have to go to her website and spend money – or take your chances wasting your time.

The second issue is that she gives recipes that require another recipe which is conveniently only fully on her other cookbook. So., e.g., to make the Deep Dish Pizza, you need her fatdough recipe. But that recipe is fully covered in her other book and only a condensed version appears here. Hope it turns out ok for you without the full recipe – or you can buy her other book.

Each recipe has a large photograph that is well done. They all have notations if vegetarian, serving size, serves amount, storage, nutrition info (calories, fat, carbs, fiber, net carbs, protein). There are some nice tips and variations for quite a few that I found particularly helpful.

In all, without the above issues, this would be a perfect 5 for me. I am just disappointed and really tired of the marketing doublespeak, hidden agendas, upsell. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Long Train Runnin’ by Tom Jonston, Pat Simmons, Chris Epting

This is set up very much like an interview of the founding members/principles of the band Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons. There are other small interviews from various individuals: Michael McDonald, Ted Templeton, Tiran Porter, etc. but for the most part, it is Pat and Tom’s show. Each give their memories/recollections and the ghost writer wisely kept in conflicting recollections. The overall theme is one of being very laid back and egalitarian – a true brotherhood where music, not egos, was the key trait of the band.

The book is set up chronologically and for the most part, is Tom and Pat (though it felt like more Tom than Pat in the beginning and then more Pat than Tom in the end). Their youth, meeting in Northern California, and starting up the band when so much was occurring in the San Francisco/Marin County area in the 1970s takes up a good chunk of the first half. After that it’s about touring anecdotes and eventually Tom’s health issues (that would cause him to leave the band).

The Michael McDonald years don’t really come up until the last 1/4 of the book – and even then, are glossed over pretty quickly. McDonald has a few short pages where he debunks anyone saying that he was solely responsible for/took over the band’s sound at the time. But it was honestly mystifying that the time when the band had the greatest success was glossed over very quickly (almost as a nod to Tom).

At its heart, this is a story of really nice, laid back guys who weren’t into drama. As such, there is little in the way of troubles discussed and even when bandmates had to be let go because of personality issues, it was almost apologetic and quickly glossed over. As an example, Tiran’s experiences being an African American in a hugely successful band are not discussed. As such, those looking for an insightful biography of the band likely won’t find it here. It’s more a collection of memories that time has greatly softened.

The read is easy and the authors friendly and approachable. You feel like you are siting in a room and they are telling you about themselves and the band directly. It’ll leave you with a feel good impression though perhaps it can be a bit lacking in depth and drama. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Witcher: Grain of Truth by Andrzej Sapkowski, Jacek Rembis, Jonas Scharf 

This graphic novel is adapted from the short story of the same name from The Last Wish. The same story (with some modifications) also appeared on the Netflix show’s second season episode with the same name. The story is one of the stronger ones from the short stories, which in themselves are usually a bit better than the full length novels.

Story: Beauty and the Beast, but more witchery. Most of the graphic novel is a discussion between Geralt and Nivellen (the ‘Beast’) with only a small amount of action thrown in. While the ultimate conclusion is perhaps predictable, it is the ‘how and why’ which makes this story very enjoyable.

I liked the art in this novel more than some of the others of late. The style is gritty enough to suit the story but not a mess nor too gloomy and dark. Quite a bit of the story is just talking heads and the artist manages to make these segments enjoyable without distracting from the text that you’ll be reading. Appearances in this graphic novel match those in the Netflix show extremely well – I have to admit I know which one drew inspiration from which.

I would probably give this 5 stars if I had not read the story already once as a novel, and a second time seen the TV series episode. For readers who have not seen the other versions this should be considered a must among the Witcher comics. More experienced fans will still enjoy this, as did I. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Elfquest Stargazer’s Hunt Volume 2 by Wendy and Richard Pini, Sonny Strait

The collects the final comics into one volume and concludes the Stargazer’s Hunt story. The art is solid and stays true to Elfquest creator Wendy Pini, who worked closely with her husband/storyteller Richard and assistant Sonny Strait. We get long stretches of time and can see characters grow, mature, and even have children.

Story: With his memory of Cutter gone, Skywise knows only that something is missing and that he must find it. While gone, his daughter Jink grows up and is ready to learn more about her father’s and Cutter’s relationship – as then venture out to find where he went. But Skywise also has a surprise in store: he is awoken from a deep hibernation to find that he has found another planet seeded by his people. But what he finds on the surface is horrifying.

In the forward, Wendy Pini noted that Cutter was her and she modeled him on her own experiences and behaviors. But for Skywise and telling his story, her husband Richard was the model since Skywise was always based on how he thinks. So she owed a lot to Richard for keeping Skywise true to character throughout the series.

The story is mostly about Skywise and Jink. Skywise has to go through some soul searching before he feels comfortable reaching out to Cutter’s spirit; in addition, he has to grapple with the concept that his lifemate is the same person as his ‘brother in all but blood.’ Jink, meanwhile, will grow up and when the time is right, learn about her father and Cutter.

There is quite a bit of time dilation here so we get to see several characters grow up, have children, and eventually die. This includes Cutter and Leetah’s third child, Vehnka’s daughter, a very adult Sunstream and Ember, and of course Leetah taking over the Mother of Memory role in the tribe. At the same time, technology is progressing to where we have a ‘1920s’ type of civilization (very Indiana Jones) trying to discover more about a mysterious area housing a giant tree and protected by a band of humans called the Insect Tribe (and led by Shuna’s descendant).

There are the usual indulgences here as the Pinis draw from personal experiences and try to pigeonhole the characters into fitting a model of themselves. It’s just something you get used to but creates odd and uncomfortable tangents (as with the Cutter/Timmain situation). As well, how many people really want to follow MORE human stories as with the Insect Tribes in this volume. Finally, there is a statement about nuclear annihilation that Skywise must deal with in his travels.

The art is beautiful and the coloring even more so. Those of us who grew up with black and white Elfquest (at least until the first Starblaze graphic novel) can’t help but appreciate that we get these in color now. This series is clearly a labor of love that hasn’t been pushed down to other artists or assistants who only have the Pini’s supervision. Stargazer’s Hunt feels like classic Elfquest in every way (sometimes very dated ways, admittedly).

In all, this was a pleasure to read and expanded the Elfquest road even more. Thankfully, there were hints that more is likely to come, likely in terms of exploring other characters.. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Apex Legends: Overtime (Collects Comics 1-4)

This ended up being a disappointment to many; not because of the story but because the illustration work just didn’t work for Apex Legends. All the Legends were posed/drawn like a Marvel superhero rather than an Apex Legends character. Some were horribly misdrawn (Bang has a Frankenstein head and Loba has braids growing out of the top of hers ) and others looked nothing like their game counterpart (Rampart especially looked off). But the story was a decent one that had a Kurosawa type of plot that showed the same timeline from several different angles. What was inexplicable in one story suddenly became known from a different characters’ perspective. I did like the plot but had such a hard time with the art – several panels were laugh out loud funny at how silly or poorly illustrated they ended up being.

Story: Mirage and Crypto team up to help Crypto retrieve a mysterious computer. Cue Revenant there to murder the delivery man (and perhaps Mirage and Crypto as well). Octane and Lifeline head to a rave but get more than they encountered when Pathfinder shows up and ends up getting his consciousness swapped into Lifeline’s Doc at the same time she is shot. Bangalore is at a victory party with Gibraltar and Loba when she spots someone wearing her brother Jackson’s jacket. Rampart and Wattson see Caustic holding a suspicious bag and follow him only to uncover a secret lab where he is conducting cruel experiments on prowlers. Wraith, meanwhile, stumbles upon Revenant and Crypto/Mirage battling and decides to help Mirage. Cue rampaging loose prowlers, explosions, fights among Legends and thugs, and transport ship crashes.

So, as noted, this is very similar to the storytelling in the Japanese movie Roshoman in which there are several perspectives to the same sequence of events. E.g., there are rampaging prowlers in the city as seen by Lifeline and Octane – but we don’t learn until many chapters later how that came about (with Rampart, Caustic, Wattson). Similarly, a crashing ship on Loba/Bang/Gibby seems incredibly random until explained a few chapters later with the perspective of Mirage/Crypto/Revenant storyline. All storylines converge in the end. It does make for some confusing but good storytelling that is rewarding upon rereads.

There were a lot of memes made about the illustration work (Bangalore especially as she was drawn) in the Apex community after the first issue. Sadly, the work just didn’t improve. The most insightful reviews noted that it felt like it was drawn solely from character models and without a lot of understanding of the characters and how they move. Crypto ended up looking too much like Gambit from Xmen, Bangalore like the Bride of Frankenstein, Wraith like a younger and prettier superhero. All the posing and fights were comic cliches. Honestly, it was just a mess. I didn’t even like the shading, which turned faces into distorted features rather than adding depth. Fights and battle were very confusing, with more posing than actual battling.

As for what this adds to the lore: honestly not much. We get a bit of Mila for Crypto and Bangalore still hunting for Jackson. Jackson is now in game and likely this is a preview of Mila coming into the game in the near future as well. Pathfinder, Mirage, and Wraith are lonely and feel like they don’t have friends. Lifeline and Octane still have a complicated, if dumb, relationship. Gibraltar just wants to save everyone and Wattson is still mad at Caustic. Rampart has connections in the City. That’s about it.

In all, I’ll read any comic from the Respawn team because I know the lore writer does an excellent job. I do wish the artwork was better and showed the characters as they look in game. And I don’t think the Marvel/DC superhero look was a good one for this game. So keep those expectations in mind when deciding if you want to read this.

Note: Collects all four in the series in the story arc OVERTIME. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Kris Longknife 9.5: Welcome Home/Go Away

A nice look at the end of Daring but from a different perspective: Kris’ grandfather Trouble. We get a nice view into the great relationship that Ruth and Trouble share as well as their concern for Kris and her well being. This is also a bridge that explains how Kris ends up in “Siberia” and separated from her friends and Jack in the next book, Furious.

This is a short novella but meaty enough to be worth the read. It will give more insight into Trouble as well as how deep King Ray has his head buried in the political machine. The theme of the book is that Ruth’s love saved Trouble but when Ray lost his wife Rita, he lost too much of his humanity at the same time.

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Kris Longknife Daring by Mike Shepherd

With this 9th book, Shepherd manages to keep the plot interesting and moving forward. There are some big issues with characters behaving inexplicably (e.g., Admiral Kratz goes from loving father of two girls/thoughtful man to impulsive, intractable, and a bad role model for Vicky) that frustrated but the space battles were quite entertainment enough to make up for it. I listened to the Audible narration and the narrator (who does the entire series) is consistent and makes it easy to distinguish characters.

Story: Kris wants to get as far away from the politics as possible – and ends up going into uncharted space to try to find what is killing Iteechee ships. What she finds is unimaginable: a moving alien civilization whose mission appears to be to destroy and then devour all life and resources on planets they encounter. Worse, the aliens shoot first, won’t communicate, and are on a trajectory to destroy a world bearing bird-like sapiens. Can Kris turn away and let the world be destroyed or does she start a war with a civilization that produces world-sized battle ships?

The book had an interesting trajectory of Kris finding a world that had been obliterated fairly recently and then the alien ship that did the destroying. Although she has the Peterwald destroyers as well as some battle ships from her grandfather, they are tiny compared to the behemoth they would have to fight if they want to save that world. She also has civilians on board in the form of Cara and the boffins who make the decision even harder.

The running joke is, of course, that Kris is constantly being told not to start a war but always seems to be doing so. The battles this time were quite exciting and there was also the thrill of the unknown alien prowess (rather than the usual villain just being stupid and full of hubris (read: Peterwald)).

There is more character development, especially on the relationship between Kris and Jack. But also Vicky learning from Kris (for good or bad) and how each character reacts to the threat/how they should deal with it.

In all, I am still enjoying the series. It’s not high literature or even high science fiction. But it is a nice diversion, especially in audiobook format.

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I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

This really does have hit written all over it and should be made into a movie or Netflix series. I was greatly reminded of the charm of Legally Blonde mixed with so many of the snarky YA books set in the South. This is one part mystery, one part YA romance, and one part ode to the LGBQT community. The read is quick and the characters interesting. The audiobook narration is excellent and a great way to really get into the feel of down South with all the accents. You really get much more out of the audiobook than if you just read this (and the narrator does a very good job with the book).

Story: Chloe Green is a bit obsessed with her perfect Alabama belle classmate: Shara Wheeler. The two have had a rivalry since Chloe moved to Alabama from Southern California: who will be the best in each of the tests and get the coveted valedictorian slot in their highly conservative, old fashioned, parochial school. But then Shara suddenly kisses Chloe romantically and then disappears. To discover the mystery, Chloe will team up with Shara’s football player boyfriend as well as Shara’s rebel outcast next door neighbor. For it turns out that that Shara also kissed them before leaving and all three are a part of the “I kissed Shara Wheeler” club. Shara has left some clues in pink envelopes to help the Scooby Gang solve the mystery.

With the character of Chloe, we have the usual outcast: someone who grew up in a more liberal and modern environment of Los Angeles having to navigate the old fashioned and conservative values of a Christian high school (that one of her mothers attended). Chloe chose the school because of its excellent track record of getting students into top level universities – but she has to fight a lot of intolerance to be there. McQuiston is hard on the school’s staff but does not condemn Christianity or make a statement to that effect.

There is a LOT of representation here. Gay, lesbian, bi, non binary, trans – all have voices here and something to say. The staff is, of course, anti-LGBQT and Shara will soon learn they have their own issues to deal with – the most important one being that Shara’s father is the principle and doesn’t seem concerned about Shara’s disappearance.

In all, this is a very enjoyable read. As with McQuiston’s last book, it does drag in the end and goes on a bit too long after the original arc is completed and the mystery solved. But all the characters are nuanced and flawed and there are several good love stories here. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Bright by Jessica Jung

This was perhaps the most misogynistic book I’ve read in a long time. The running theme is that girls are a) petty; b) snide; c) always jealous; and d) manipulative or manipulated; e) really really shallow and stupid. Boys, of course, are sweet but dumb and their only fault can be naivete. The story itself is just a long Mary Sue of wish fulfillment by Jessica Jung: “if I could have the perfect job, it would be as both an idol in the world’s biggest K-Pop group and a fashion designer (and everyone will be amazed at my talent). My perfect boyfriend would be Korean American, from an Ivy League School, work in the fashion industry in a powerful position, and be incredibly handsome and without girls all over him that I’d have to fight off.” Most of the characters come off as shallow or ridiculously unrealistic.

Story: Five years after her debut, Rachel feels she is doing well in the group. But she’d also really like to start a fashion line of purses. Then she meets Alex – a young and very wealthy financier whose clients are from the fashion industry. With his help (read: connections), she can get her Rachel K. purses into important stores. Unfortunately, her bandmates in Girls Forever are jealous of her new line and want to kick her out of the group.

The truly remarkable aspect of the book is how many ways Jung finds to make her bandmates look stupid, petty, or vicious. Jealousy of boyfriend, of her younger sister getting success, of her fashion line, even of how she doesn’t get caught breaking rules as much as the others (e.g., with boyfriends). It was an endless parade, included all the other girls in the group, and I was getting whiplash reading how each girl tries to screw her over. Rachel does not have one friend anywhere, female or otherwise. It made the corporate greedy executives look boring in comparison when they tried to screw her over too. Apparently, the only female you can trust is either family (sister/mother) or a much older mentor.

Of course, since this is wish fulfillment, she finds the perfect boyfriend who does nothing but support her and create opportunities. At least in the previous book, she fought her own battles. Here, she has a Prince Charming to pave the way for her newfound talent in fashion design to show to the best designers. Meanwhile, she spends most of the book being a patient angel and not doing anything mean to her bandmates while they try to destroy both of her careers, sabotage her, steal from her, injury her on purpose, and leak stories to the press to ruin her reputation.

The first book was just ok – I wanted more about the inside of the K-Pop industry but it ended up being more about Jessica Jung’s personal grievances and how female idols are treated differently than male. This second book is just a Mary Sue with a heavy misogynistic theme. In both books, their lives are shallow, they act on impulse, and there is little to no thought processes going on in anyone’s heads. It’s enough to make you give up faith in the next generation. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Kris Longknife Redoubtable (#8) by Mike Shepherd

With this 8th book, we conclude the second arc (dealing with the new jump points/pirates). Kris is still healing from the bomb attack that nearly killed her last book and has adopted a much more mature mien as a result. She’s a lot more serious and contemplative, giving us some good character development.

Story: Kris ends up in the outskirts of Peterwald territory and finds herself in the middle of a bad situation. A colony is overtaxed with refugees fleeing a nearby and important Peterwald world where corruption has got out of hand. It’s a delicate situation for Kris: she doesn’t dare overstep her bounds but she also can’t look away from the atrocities being committed on two worlds: a vicious warlord on one and a callous political leader on the other.

So far, Kris has had to deal with being a green navy recruit with the Longknife legacy/drama and until now, being a captain exploring new areas and rooting out pirates and warlords. With the arrival of the iteechee, her universe just got a lot bigger and she now has a reason to really hold those fuzzy jumpoints close.

There is a lot of action on two worlds and as usual, Kris has to problem solve her way out of it. More and more, she is delegating to subordinates or splitting them up to attact different points of the problem. More and more, we are seeing Vicky Peterwald in the picture.

There is some character development -Jack really figuring out his feelings for the princess, Vicky growing as she orbits Kris, Abbie’s maternal instinct’s kicking in over Cara, Penny moving on, and Kris sobering to the reality that she has been very foolish in the past and likely won’t get away with that in the future. Her injuries in her leg affect/carry on in this novel.

Note: I listened to the audio version and the narrator (who is there for the entire series) does an excellent job as usual. The audio was a bit off in this one, however, and she sounded like she was in a wind tunnel. It is quite distracting in the beginning.

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The Folding Book by Janelle Cohen

Just by flipping through a few pages and seeing how nicely organized all the information was, I knew this was going to be a solid book. It has step-by-step photographs of every foldable item and it is all color coordinated by male/female/children/linens/travel. Going through the book is extremely easy and since the folding technique foundation is the same for nearly every item, incredibly easy to pick up and start using.

The book is broken down as follows: introduction; getting started; the technique; folding basics; feminine; masculine; baby; kid; linens; travel. The sections do have more than clothes: e.g., the baby section has tips on folding elastic-sided crib sheets (something I thought would always be impossible to do nicely) and the travel section discusses travel cubes. There is a nice section on getting started, the technique’s foundation, how this folding style means all your clothes are nicely laid out but also easy to find and manage (e.g., you can easily see which t-shirt is in the row), and then a glossary of folding terms rounds out the extras. Each section is broken down by item type, with the Basics section covering unisex items such as tank tops, shirts, casual pants, socks.

There is a good variety of clothing types – from no-show or ankle socks to pajama sets, beanie hats to bandana bibs. The linen sections included robes, towels, comforters, aprons, tablecloths, etc. Each section is photographed on a color-coordinated background: e., the linens are all photographed on a purple background and masculine on blue. It makes it super easy to find the section you need. The entire book is nearly fully photographic with each step clearly photographed, numbered, and with concise one-sentence directions. The font is large and easy to read. It really is a snap to use the book.

In all, I am highly impressed. This is very easy to use, effective, efficient, and one of the best designs/presentations I have seen in a long time. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Twist on Tofu by Corinne Trang

This is a nicely presented cookbook with a variety of recipes for tofu. It is not vegan but you can substitute out as needed. It is suitable for those who have not had tofu before and those who want more variety with their tofu dishes. Although there are some interesting and more exotic recipes, most seemed to be geared toward replacing meat in very traditional American dishes.

The book breaks down as follows: tofu 101; starts, sides, small plates; soups and salads; sandwiches and more; baked or braised; one-dish meals; sweets. The introduction is fairly quick and mostly describes the two types of tofu (regular vs silken). It has several pages of photographs of how to cut tofu in squares and rectangles (which honest felt silly).

Each recipes comes in 3 colors: a green title and introduction, numbered steps in fairly small paragraph form, ingredients in brown, and then tips. About every other recipe has a photograph – seems like less than half. But the photographs there are large, often full page and professionally done. Some recipes may require steps that also have small photographs – e.g., one on tofu sushi has steps on how to layout the ingredients on the seaweed, roll it, and then cut it.

There is no nutritional information, preparation time, cooking time, or other helpful/needed statistics. Most of the recipes are going for taste over health, so e.g., salad dressing are made with seed oils rather than olive oil and agave nectar over Stevia.

In all, there is a variety of recipes, they are cleanly laid out, and easy to follow. The ingredients are not too exotic (nor are the recipes) and there is an index at the back with more information on various ingredients used in the recipes. But the lack of nutrition information is a serious issue and the inclusion of e.g., 3 pages of photographs on how to cut tofu into squares seems silly when half the recipes don’t have photographs at all. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Lady Murasaki’s Tale of Genji: The Manga Edition by Sean Michael Wilson, Inko Ai Takita

This is a nice introduction to a thousand year old story – one that doesn’t follow a traditional narrative and has a huge cast of characters spanning several lifetimes. In order to take such a huge story and bring it down to something accessible and enjoyable, the adaptors and artists chose to focus on just Genji’s life and indeed the manga ends with his death though there is so much more in the original story. Many characters were removed to keep the focus on Genji’s life and I applaud the effort and result here to make this an enjoyable read. The illustration work is superb.

Story: Genji is the son of the emperor but only from a minor concubine. He knows he can never inherit so instead spends his life pursuing his heart. He meets many women over the years, some young, some old, most wealthy, some married, some single. There are only a few true loves over the years and the women in his life know they will always have to share him (much to their heartbreak).

Tale of Genji is the story of a man and his many conquests. Genji is considered extremely handsome and encounters no problems seducing the many women over the years. That is the pretty much the extent of the ‘plot’ here – a good looking prince and his many women. But it is a nice eye into ancient Japanese court life.

The story really has no structure and out of the hundreds of poems throughout the original, several are included here, which is a nice touch. I appreciated that since the poems are not just pretty decorations but instead are there to also tell the story.

The illustration work is beautiful – a very stunning mix of Japanese and Western styles that is smooth and elegant. Because there is so much Western influence, this is a book that will appeal to all audiences and not just manga aficionados. The work is clean, the panels neither busy nor sparse but all nicely laid out and look to be historically accurate. The perfect artist was chosen to illustrate this beloved story.

In all, I enjoyed the read. There are indeed a lot of characters and since it spans Genji’s life, it can be hard to keep track of them and then their children and their children’s children. But at its heart it is a set of love stories – Genji’s and other characters he meets in his life. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Sit up Straight by Vinh Pham

This is a book that is directed more at preventative care than fixing issues (though that is covered as well). The author takes his time to explain the different areas of the body that are most like to have chronic pain from bad posture and gives tips and motivation to start fixing them immediately. Unfortunately, the excises are introduced throughout and not in a place where they can easily be referenced (e.g., collected in the back of the book), making it difficult to actually put them into daily use without having to go back and forth through all the pages finding them. Because this is formatted and contains images, it is best for reading a physical copy or on your computer. It is hard to get through on a kindle Oasis, for example.

The book breaks down as follows: posture, pain, and a pandemic; the blueprint of your body’s posture; sixteen health landmines related to bad posture; movement is life; understanding where you stand; the posture hygiene plan; foam rolling for next-level mobility; ten common health ailments solved; the challenges facing specific groups; your spine doesn’t operate in a vacuum; turning perfect posture into an unbreakable habit; the time to start is now.

For the most part, the bulk of this book is a LOT of text. The author wants you to understand all about your spine, muscles, joints, etc. etc. He focuses on certain areas so you have to go to those areas in order to find exercises/tips. It’s not a terribly long read but I was frustrated in how it was laid out – it’s great for the first read but terrible for finding things later or referencing the exercises for a daily routine. You’ll have to read through it several times, which is incredibly annoying. The book just isn’t set up to be used, only read.

When you do get to a bunch of the exercises, there are steps and then a couple of black and white small photographs. You’ll have to read through the text carefully – the photographs are only semi helpful in understanding what needs to be done. On several of them, I was still left wondering if I was doing an exercise right or just throwing my back out more. But there is good information in here and this should help you correct the issues that either will in the future or are currently plaguing you.

I have two strong issues. One – this is one big advertising pamphlet for his business. Like some kind of subliminal messaging, the name of his company appears over and over again. You are paying for his marketing and advertising. Another issue is that he makes a somewhat racist remark (at his own Asian heritage’s expense) that I felt was incredibly offensive and unnecessary – and not the funny joke he intended.

In all, I’ll have to read this through a few more times (admittedly, I will skip through most of the medical text since I don’t need to know where the bicipital aponeurosis, sciata, or fascia are located – nor the name many of the bones in the vertebrae. And I’ll have to figure out a way to have all the exercises in one place that can make it easy to reference them and use them (so I don’t have to go pawing through the whole book looking for each of them in all the text). A saving grace is that a bunch of them are grouped together in the middle of the book (wish they were at the end). Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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