Clean Paleo Real Life by Monica Stevens Le

Since the focus on this book is more about healthy eating after a diet, the focus isn’t on paleo so much as whole food meals. So several recipes don’t conform to the paleo diet (most are clearly noted as so). But that said, it’s still a book about healthy meals that is beautifully presented, fairly easy to make, and with a nice combination of exotic and comfort foods.

Each recipe is cleanly presented. A large italic title is often accompanied by a nicely photographed final version of the item. Prep/cook/and yield are presented but there is no nutrition information. Ingredients are listed in bold and italics. There is an introduction paragraph and then numbered paragraph steps. Most steps have only one to two sentences, so you don’t have a case where a lot of steps are crammed into one to make the recipe look ‘easier’. A callout section has notes for substitutions and other tips.

It all looks interesting and the recipes are indeed easy to follow. As with most healthy cookbooks, you’ll have to stock up on items you don’t usually use. E.g., peptides, ghee, coconut aminos, arrowroot powder, coconut yogurt, harissa paste, etc. You’ll also need to make some items in advance (the author uses her special paleo mayonaise, for example, in many recipes).

In all, very nicely presented and photographed with a diverse set of recipes. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Star Wars Book of Lists by Cole Horton

The book is very nicely presented with a suitable ‘sci fi’ layout that it complementary to the subject matter. The list themselves may or may not be interesting, though I think for more hard core fans of the Star Wars franchise a lot of this is kind of obvious. Those not super invested might have fun trying to see how many of the items on the list they could have guessed before reading that section in the book. There are plenty of images, though most are screenshots from the movies (which is the focus moreso than e.g., Rebels or Clone Wars).

There are 8 chapters of lists: Major figures of the galaxy; People, creatures, places and worlds; Vehicles and vessels; Technology and culture; Organizations and factions; Galactic events; Galactic miscellany; Behind the scenes. The end page has a cross reference list of all the subchapters. As an example, in the Technology and Culture section (Chapter 4), you’ll find lists such as: deadly droids, distinguished droids, blaster types, prisons/holding cells/labor, pastimes, food and drink, hairstyles, etc. And then under foods, you’ll get images and text about dehydrated foods, pallies, shurra fruit, quanya reserve, blue milk, spetan channelfish, green milk. The movie in which the list items was featured is also given for every list item. While there isn’t an image for every list item (e.g., two of the seven items for galactic foods did not have a photograph), there is a photograph for nearly every list item in the book. Most are screen shots.

An interesting aspect of the book is that there are several ‘comparison’ images. E.g., one showing all of Princess Leia’s hairstyles, from A New Hope to The Last Jedi. Similarly, there are images that show the aging of characters (e.g., Obi Wan through the years). Another amusing series of images show all the different facial hairs, on both aliens and humans. Heck, even the section on all the various capes is fun.

As a book of random trivia, it definitely accomplishes its purpose. We found a fun game of having someone pick a section and everyone else has to figure out the items on the list – sort of a ‘test your Star Wars knowledge’. Granted, a lot of the trivia may or may not be interesting. Do you want to read about the various forms of interrogation? Famous holograms? Hidden homes? Jabba’s staff?

In all, this is beautifully presented in full color with a wealth of screen shots to illustrate the lists. The reference in the back makes looking up the facts easier when you want specific info. Some trivia might surprise you but a lot of it you will probably skip over as uninteresting or too obviously known. It’s a book that you might want to consider getting the hard cover and keeping handy as a conversation piece on the coffee table. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Speed Bump: A 25th Anniversary Collection by Dave Coverly

This 25 year retrospective on cartoonist Dave Coverly’s work includes 300 of his best, each presented full page and most in color. Coverly’s approach to humor is very similar to Gary Larson’s Far Side – offbeat, one-panel gags often playing on words or social trends (from the prevalence of cell phones to how our pets view our modern life). The humor is never mean or incisive and operates on a more gentle and carefree level than Larson ever did, however. In that way, this collection is a nice get-away from the negatives of real life.

An added perk to this book is that several of the cartoons have a brief commentary from the artist. He touches upon themes of time and place, editorial consideration, the cartoonist process, how some earlier cartoons would never be acceptable today (e.g., a bomb squad sniffer dog after 9/11), and how fans have reacted (or overreacted) to some. The comments are brief – typically 1 or 2 sentences but interesting.

In all, a nice way to spend an afternoon when you need a pickup or want to smile. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise by Gene Luen Yang, Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino, Gurihiru

These graphic novels for Avatar and Korra are just so well done. The writing, the humor, the pathos, the nuanced storytelling, even the complicated nature of the issues contained within – all superbly done. Combine that with top notch illustration work that perfectly mirrors the animated series and you have a winner here. I really have to applaud the creators for not dumbing down the series and for also staying so incredibly true to the source material. This particular volume was one of the best in terms of storytelling and humor.

Story: The Fire Lord has been defeated, Katara and Aang are a couple, Sokka is dating Suki, and Zuko is torn about how best to serve his kingdom. But there is still great unrest. At the heart of the issue are a series of Fire Kingdom colonies set up decades ago by the Fire Lord in order to subjugate the Earth Kingdom. Aang thought it best they be removed but how do you force people to leave who have lived there for generations – intermarried, assimilated, and blended? And how can Zuko demand his people abandon their homes and give up everything? But if they don’t leave, war is inevitable. The Earth Kingdom residents want them out.

There are several threads running through this book. Zuko not wanting to become his father, Aang trying to find peaceful solutions to complicated issues, Toph working to create a metal bending school, and Sokka trying to not be ‘oogied out’ by Katara and Aang calling each other “sweetie” all the time. The promise of the title is twofold: a promise that Zuko forces Aang to make (to end Zuko’s life if he becomes his father) and the promise of the new world that is about to be created at the end of the book. It is here that we see the beginnings of the world of The Legend of Korra.

The illustration work is fantastic – incredibly exuberant, humorous, and yet full of depth and nuance. It perfectly captures what made the animated series a joy to behold – the great color schemes, clean linework, and pathos written on each face. Sometimes the story is goofy, sometimes humorous, often wry, and always thought provoking. The art captures all of that beautifully.

If you’ve never read any of the Avatar novels and only seen the tv series, this is the perfect book to start. It takes place right after the animated series ended so it is a smooth transition. This is also one of the best of the graphic novels for Avatar. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher. 

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Relentless by R.A. Salvatore

This latest installment in Salvatore’s long running books on everyone’s favorite dark elf, Drizzt Do’urden, picks up where we left off in “Boundless”. Most books in this saga are divided into trilogies of sorts, and this final installment in this trilogy there is a lot that is very familiar, but also a few twists that I can hope will turn out to be interesting in the future.

First, a minor spoiler: Drizzt does not appear in the book. The end of the previous book as such is not resolved here, though there are quite a few hints on the subject. This is not the first time we’ve had a book without Drizzt in it, but it’s still noteworthy as for the first time we’re not quite sure of his fate.

Otherwise the book follows the same path as the earlier books in this trilogy: about half is following Zaknafein’s adventures in the past while the other half is on the present. As before, the past is more interesting than the present though less so than in the earlier books. We’ve reached the events of Homeland so there isn’t much new information to be had, and surprisingly seeing the same events unfold from Zaknafeins point of view is a lot less interesting than I thought it would be. I was quite disappointed that the whole training montage section is missing entirely.

As for the present, I’m never a big fan of massive army battles with thousands of demons and other high-level beings thrown around like rags. There aren’t even any interesting strategies or tactics this time around which makes it doubly boring.

I can’t talk of the conclusion without giving away spoilers but it’s questionable at best. There are some things happening that seem very “deus ex” and people acting way out of character. This might lead us to new and interesting paths though, so I’m trying to give it the benefit of the doubt.

In short, this is a typical installment in the Drizzt saga – not one of the better ones, but not one of the worst ones either. If you’ve kept up with the series all the way through, no point in stopping before this book (or likely, after it either). Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Black Song by Anthony Ryan

This second book in the Raven’s Blade series continues directly from the first book, Wolf’s Call. If you liked the first book, you won’t be disappointed here: the story and writing are as solid as ever. I love the Eastern aspects of it, even if it reads more like a kung-fu movie than honest history. I also love that when the good guys do well it’s because they were smart, not because evil is dumb.

The main plot is all about the war against the Darkblade. While never boring, it’s not the best aspect of the book – perhaps because I’ve read the whole style before in Draconis Memoria (a huge faceless horde that grows by gathering up your survivors? check. Since they are faceless zombies you can slaughter them by the thousands and not feel bad? check. You see the mind of the enemy general and he’s actually on the good side? check). Still, since the premise of the war is more of a backdrop and a driver for the events. the story is palatable.

As for characters, Al Sorna is delightful as ever – maybe bordering on too perfect, but personally I like it when the main character is actually just a good guy. The other characters (of which there are perhaps a bit too many to keep up with) all serve a decent purpose. All new characters get enough time to be fleshed out, up to the point where I’m slightly disappointed when they are pushed to the background. Most of the primary cast from the first book stays here, but the focus is rarely on them and they start to feel like supporting cast.

There are quite a few surprises in the book, primarily being the ending. If you think you know how this book is going to end, you’re most likely mistaken.

In summary, while all of Anthony Ryan’s books are good, this is one of the better ones. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Art of Star Wars Rebels by Dan Wallace

The Art of Star Wars Rebels delivers exactly what you can imagine it would be – gorgeous renderings of the concept art for the series. As with all Star Wars art books, the art itself is amazing and the care taken into the layout of the book is top notch.

Unfortunately, it’s also ‘just’ an art book. I was hoping for more insight into the making of the series and additional tidbits. While there is plenty of concept art of what characters were designed to look like, it’s really nothing that provides an in depth view into the Rebels world. For a coffee table book this is great, as it is just for browsing the pictures. There just isn’t all that much more to it.

One slight irritation that actually has nothing to do with this book is that most of the concept art of locales and vehicles is really much better than what we got in the series. The series art style is more kid-cartoony with fairly plain and flat appearance. The concept art in turn is full of wonderful detail and depth and I found myself hoping that the series would have ended up looking like that. Still, it captures the imagination, even if at times you struggle to think if you’ve even ever seen this locale in the series.

Overall, it’s a solid book for looking at the beautiful art but not much beyond it. I browsed through the thing in an hour and enjoyed myself. Can’t say I’m imagining myself doing so again in the near future though. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Cheater Code by S.A. Foxe

Cheater code is a fun little romp featuring an emotive ‘gaymer’ and his adventures in the games he’s played. The story is about growth and moving on, all taught to our protagonists through heroes of various games. Yes, it is graphic – but not in a way intended to be salacious or over-the-top. It’s just an adventure that features sex, using characters who help our lead learn to appreciate himself and what he brings to a relationship.

Story: Kennedy walks in on his boyfriend enjoying another man and is promptly told that his relationship is over. Feeling abandoned and not sharing his now ex-boyfriend’s view on their relationship, Ken falls into a slump. Until a lightning bolt on his console throws him into his favorite games. As he travels the different genres, he learns to grow beyond the needy person and instead to find his own strengths from some very self aware characters. But can he find a glitch to send him back to the real world?

Yes, this does read very much like a Marty Stu. Ken is paunchy, whiny, and clearly let things go while in the relationship. But the story has enough pathos and Ken is a likable enough hero that you don’t mind tagging along with him through the various games. From an older “Last of Us” father-figure to a cheetah as a thinly disguised Crash Bandicoot, it’s all in good fun but with a lot of conversations and sex along the way. Being a gamer (read: Console) helps to understand the genres – from Orcs and NPCs in a WoW setting, a Bioware type of Mass Effect self made hero that is just a projection of Ken’s desired self image, to a Final Fantasyesque very phallic ‘big sword’ villain that not coincidentally looks a lot like Ken’s ex. Inside jokes about the industry abound. But playing console games really isn’t needed to enjoy the journey.

The artwork is very clean and the story easy to follow. The illustrations are broadly cartoony and so fit the light mood of the story. You’ll also get a more indepth view of male anatomy than you are probably used to in a graphic novel. But I wouldn’t let that put you off enjoying the story. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Magic of Terry Pratchett by Marc Burrows

The Magic of Terry Pratchett is an interesting biography, especially considering that the author never met the man himself. Instead, everything is based on interviews from various people who did work with him across the years. Additionally, given that Pratchett has a very strong following, it was surprising to find that the author here is not a rabid fan. He’s definitely a fan, but not so much as to be completely enamored by the subject. This leads to an almost clinical review of the life (well, mostly bibliography) of Sir Terry. Personally, I found this to be mostly a good thing. While I consider myself something of a fan (I think I’ve read all discworld books twice), I’m not enough of one to want to shift through the minutia of his life, or pages and pages of glorification of his works.

The biography is laid out in clear parts: first the early history of the man, which is quite interesting and even reaches a level of narrative that seems too accurate. When Sir Terry moves on to be an established author the focus shifts more to the books themselves, publishing deals and becoming famous. The last part deals with his battle with Alzheimers which is handled with just the right amount of gravitas.

I read the whole biography in one sitting, which could be one of the first times I’ve done so on a non-fiction piece. I very much liked the approach the author took and almost never got bored with too much detail – yet also rarely felt that something was skimmed over. The beginning and the end of the biography are the strongest, and there is a fascinating insight into publishing in the middle. And just enough of a touch on all the best Discworld novels to bring up good memories. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Disney Frozen: The Graphic Novel by Cecil Castelucci and Pacia Antista

This is what you would expect from a Disney graphic novel: beautifully illustrated and with clean storytelling. There are no new scenes but the book adds depth to the animated movie’s various scenes. We get much more about the parents, for example, than seen in the movie. It’s a little bit more mature in that it doesn’t feel like a watered down retelling as you will find in kids books.

Otherwise, this holds fast and true to the story. Because it is a graphic novel, there is a bit more detail. The dresses have more embellishments, Anna’s freckles are more pronounced, and backgrounds have a lot more depth. In all, a quality telling of the movie that I think even grownups will enjoy. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Dragon Age Volume 3: Blue Wraithby Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Fernando Heinz Furukawa, Michael Atiyeh

As someone who absolutely loved all three Dragon Age games (yes, even II), I struggle to figure out why I have a hard time keeping interested in the comics. They are very canon, stay true to the stories and characters from all three games, and are a much needed bridge while we wait for IV. But for some reason, they feel both static and all over the place at the same time. Nothing much happens and yet it feels like we jump around so much between characters that I never get a chance to really get into their story or get behind them. The pathos of the storytelling is somehow missing: there is something being lost in translation from lore to illustration work. It was doubly problematic with Fenris in this third story arc – a character I adored from the game but didn’t recognize here.

Story: As the inquisition’s motley crew continue their journey to catch the sarcophagus artifact, they come across a slaughter at the hands of the ‘blue wraith.’ Turns out, the Blue Wraith is Fenris and he is on the hunt for a fellow elf who is playing his own double game with the Tevinter mages. At stake is the red lyrium sarcophagus – the machine that transformed Fenris into the tattoo’d monster that he is now. But with Tevinter, elves, the Inquisition, Qunari, and even Orlais interested, the caravan safeguarding the sarcophagus is in jeopardy from all.

This volume collects issues 1-3 of the Blue Wraith arc. It’s an ongoing story so I do encourage readers to have gone through the previous two volumes first in order to understand the story and the characters thus far. For the most part, it is Fenris’ story as Vaea allies with him in order to stop him from being reckless and endangering her own mission. But it allows us to get more backstory on Fenris, especially since he knows the artifact intimately.

The illustration work is fine. I just kind of prefer the game Fenris to how he looks here (which is completely different). It’s hard to associate the comic with the game when his appearance has changed so completely. It didn’t bother me as much with Starkhaven’s Prince Sebastian or Varuus but here it is very frustrating. The rest of the illustration work is fine. Although I appreciate an artist’s distinct vision, this simply isn’t a style I enjoy. The artwork is at times cartoony and other times very busy. I kind of wish the story had stayed true in the design aspects as it has in the story/lore aspects in these graphic novels.

I do love the Dragon Age series a lot and will continue to follow the comics. There is always the hope that these characters will play parts in DA:IV in some way. But with the game not coming out before April 2021, there is still a long wait to go. These will have to do until then. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Do You Feel Like I Do by Peter Frampton

This memoir is a very quick and easy read: two thirds “I played with XX famous musician” and 1/3 personal/musical memoir. Frampton certainly collaborated with a huge host of big names in his career – from Ringo to Bowie, and it is clear he’s a genuine and nice, laidback kind of guy. There are no big reveals here, no inside story. A lot of the bad he’s at peace with and so doesn’t discuss much at all. So what you get are a lot of memories playing with various people across the decades and how he came to terms with the doubled edged sword of having the number one selling record (at the time) and live album of all time.

The book is mostly chronological, though there are some memories appearing randomly in places. It details growing up a generation after the deprivation of WW2 in England, how he was the right age/place to become part of the British rock wave begun with the Beatles, and mostly it just feels like he walked into the perfect situations to further his success and career. Looking deeper, it becomes obvious that he is a nice and decent person who was definitely very good at playing the guitar. And so other musicians gravitated to him and knew they could trust him (in a business where drugs, alcohol, money, and women turn nice guys into destructive balls of selfishness).

The hardest aspect of the book is that you have to read between the lines to understand the difficult parts of his life. E.g., he says he became an alcoholic but all you really read of how that affected him was when he said he got plastered one night and realized he would have to go to AA. He never chose to be with groupies and instead was monogamous but also failed to keep marriages (and again, he doesn’t really go into why they failed, perhaps to protect his children from the fighting that would result of trying to find blame). Similarly, he had several managers (nearly all of them, if you read between the lines) steal a lot of his earnings. But then he’ll dismiss that as “well, but without them I likely wouldn’t have made as much anyway.” In many ways, Frampton can be very hard to pin down; he is very sanguine about most topics and clearly doesn’t dwell on the negative.

I think most people will remember him for the Frampton Comes Alive album. He doesn’t go into a lot of detail about the making of the album but it is clear that its success had a deleterious effect: he had to compete with himself for the rest of his career. As well, at the same time the album hit success, the media focused on his looks and turned him into an idol – alienating his male rock audience and diluting the skill of his music.

The book is very current to the end, discussing Covid 19 lockdown issues and his deteriorating health. It was fun reading about all the people he has played with and their mutual respect. But that was a lot of the autobiography and it mostly came down to “he liked me and my music and I liked him and his music.” As such, they could pretty much have been just listed since there wasn’t perhaps all that much to discuss about the collaborations. E.g., Frampton went on the Glass Spider tour with Bowie and all we hear about it is that Bowie would call him out by name and that he enjoyed it. And yeah, that Bowie is a great guy. If Frampton had bad/poor collaborations or was snuffed/insulted by other musicians, it isn’t in here. If anything interesting happened on the various tours, we would only get rare snippets unless it was a major known incident (such as the plane crash in South America).

So although Frampton is candid about his life, it’s about the positives. I don’t think he’s hiding anything; rather, he’s just the type of guy who doesn’t let things bother him too much and so doesn’t dwell on them. Great for him but perhaps not as interesting for readers.

As a sidenote, I was a tween when his albums hit but my mother and her best friend just loved him. Her friend even tried to get a license plate in California that said, “ImInYou” but it was rejected as being too salacious by the DMV. The I’m In You album was a disappointment to Frampton (he said his head just wasn’t in it after the success of Comes Alive) but it was certainly everywhere at the time. So while Frampton really hated becoming an idol rather than a musician, being an idol meant a lot to so many women at the time. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Skip Beat 44 by Yoshiki Nakamura

For those who want more Kyoko and Ren scenes, this book has quite a few. Unfortunately, none furtherered the relationship and nearly the entire volume was about the repercussions of Ren’s return from Guam and finding Sho kissing Kyoko.

Story: Filming is about to begin on Lotus in the Mire. Kyoko’s persistence with the swordsmaster has secured her a spot and now she is consumed with pre-production. When Sho demands that she give him pickled vegetables right before he is to go overseas, she gives in to his request. But she was too friendly with Sho, trying to get rid of him fast, and the exchange was witnessed by Ren. Now, Ren worries Kyoko has fallen in love again with the man to whom she vowed revenge. And Ren is caught in his own ‘scandalous’ kiss with a mature actress.

This is a pretty straightforward volume full of the usual cliche misunderstandings. There is a nice appearance by the president in all his showgirl glory at the end, providing a bit of some needed humor amidst the pathos. But Kyoko is finding it difficult to concentrate on her acting with the swirling emotions engulfing her at the moment. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Now & When by Sara Bennet Wealer

Now & When feels like a very ambivalent book: characters lack growth and motivation, the plot lacks organic growth, and it feels like it was trying to be one thing but ended up something else. That isn’t to say that it is not a light and pleasant read; rather, that there are problems with the narrative and clarity that can be frustrating. A lot of the issues I had with the book made sense after I read the end notes, where the author describes writing a very different book (a much more somber one during the time she lost her parents) but turned it into a rom-com at the request of her editor. It explains the lack of focus and inexplicable actions of many characters.

Story: Skyler Finch has the perfect boyfriend, two great best friends, and loving parents. Money is a bit short thanks to layoffs and closure at the big mill, but the family is doing ok. Then Skyler’s old phone begins to randomly glitch and shows her a future high school reunion website that very obviously could not be faked. As Skyler tries to change the future, she finds the consequences might be more dire than she had expected.

The magical realism isn’t really explained and isn’t meant to be pondered – it just is. Much as with Marty McFly and Back To The Future when he sees himself disappearing in a picture of his family, Skyler as well is trying to figure out why the future is sending her very specific info and notifications. She shows it to her friends and they kind of blow it off, despite all realizing that there was nothing faked. I found that to be very odd and hard to get past. It was reactions like that (or non-reactions) that took away the magic and made it a shrug.

Characters are given complex set ups that are rarely explored. We get good reasons why Skyler dislikes Truman Alexander, is horrified to see that she ends up marrying him, but we don’t get reasons why she is suddenly kissing him (other than that he is superficially attractive). Similarly with Truman, we don’t get a lot of reason to appreciate why he is attracted back. Both do have verbal sparring matches but they don’t really explore the thin line between passion and loathing (as the books suggests in one scene). Truman’s horror at seeing himself married to Skyler in the future also belies why he would be kissing her suddenly. She was never someone he considered dating and it is obvious he considers her not good enough to be in his life permanently. The romance here is inexplicable and very doa. There is a LOT of tell but not enough show to back it up.

There are similar character development issues with friends Jordan and Harper. Jordan is standoffish and forthright – yet we’re told constantly that the friendship between Skyler and Jordan is in trouble. That Jordan always looks to be ready to dump Skyler at any moment. Harper, meanwhile, is the heartfelt ‘hippie’ who tries to bridge the gap between her two friends but is also suffering from mental issues herself, some suicidal serious. It means that Skyler spends a lot of the book trying to change a future in which Harper does not take her own life. The relationship of the three girls doesn’t really change much, certainly not for the positive after all the magical realism. Jordan is too busy setting up a prom to be concerned with knowing the future (other than how her hair looks) and Harper doesn’t want to see the future at all, considering it a cosmic no-no. So they weave in and out of Skyler’s life but don’t touch it as much as they should.

In all, I think the romance was definitely the weakest part. Most of the book was Skyler freaking out or Truman freaking out. Their sparring matches seem pointless. Most of the time they are together, they disagree or upset the other one. And then suddenly they kiss then break it off and pretend it didn’t happen. And oddly enough, Truman always felt like a 12 year old rather than a 17 year old. I had to keep looking at the cover to remind myself that he was nearly an adult.

I did read through the book easily in one sitting. There weren’t many slow moments and the story moved quickly enough. The hook of seeing how the magical realism would turn out kept me invested to the end. But I admit to feeling as ambivalent about the story as the story itself was ambivalent about everything. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Tools of Engagement by Tessa Bailey

There are two types of romances out there – either you want one where the leads are interested in intellect and personality (e.g., an Austen) or you want one where they are physically attracted and just want sex. This is in the latter category, with most of the romance being about how soon they can “F***” each other and how hot/gorgeous the other person. It is the third in last in a trilogy but you don’t need to have read the others – I never felt lost or that I missed anything.

Bethany is uptight and a perfectionist with a long string of failed relationships (usually due to her partner cheating on her). Wes is an insouciant Texan forced to come up to Bethany’s neighborhood in Long Island in order to take care of the young niece his half sister abandoned. When Wes stops looking at Bethany’s ‘tits’ long enough to impulsively help her with remodeling a house, both are in for more than they bargained for.

Most of the book is the two sniping and trading barbs, masking a sexual tension. Bethany is honestly not that interesting a character – trying too hard on the outside and insecure on the outside, leading to perhaps far too much time worrying about things. Wes is kind of amalgamation of various over-idealized qualities, not really realistic or full of depth. But then again, the story isn’t really about more than hot sex.

In all, I really want an attraction that goes beyond hot bodies so this was kind of a shallow read for me. But it is a light and fluffy read when you want something simple. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Truth Detector by Jack Schafer

In the beginning the author makes an important distinction about the purpose of the book: “There are dozens of books about detecting deception. This isn’t one of them.” More specifically, the book gives techniques on how to draw out sensitive information that people would ordinarily not divulge. It can be the truth, their social security number, date of birth, etc. In that way, this is more along the spirit of Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” rather than how to tell if your spouse or teen is lying to you.

Most of the techniques require a foundation of innocuousness: be naturally friendly and harmless and casually converse with individuals. Through that you open a window that allows you to use the techniques in the book to elicit the information you want from a person. Various methods include presumptive statements, empathetic statements, acting naive, and using a person’s own curiosity against them. Each of the techniques include real world examples to demonstrate how to use the them. E .g., the author sending his students into a store to see if they can get cashiers to give up sensitive info such as e.g., wedding dates (often used as passwords) or social security numbers.

The end of the book has additional techniques that can also add to your elicitation toolbox to more successfully get people to divulge things they shouldn’t/are hiding.

It can be a hard read because it is a reminder of how easy it is for people to be preyed upon by strangers. And while you may be doing some of these techniques unknowingly, I began to feel uncomfortable about it.

In all, this will help you manipulate people without them realizing for you own gain. Whether, as in the book’s examples, you are buying a house and want more info than the realtor wants to give, trying to sell updated textbooks to a school, considering buying a diamond ring for your wife and wanting to know the markup so you can demand a discount, trying to get your teen to admit to partying while you were away, convincing a spy to become a double agent for your government, getting a contractor to admit he was taking bribes on the side, or trying to get a senator to admit he was soliciting sexual favors in a bathroom in Minneapolis. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Bleach: Can’t Fear Your Own World 1 by Kubo Tite and Narita Ryohgo

This is first in a series of light novels (in this case, a novel taking place after the events of the manga/anime). As such, there are only a couple of rough sketches and it is mostly text. It does go into detail about the set up of the Bleach world – specifics into e.g., Fullbringers, soul passes, and the hierarchy of commoners of nobles. But it has a vast series of characters to bring in for cameos and then adds new ones on top. So it is incredibly confusing (I had to have a Bleach wiki opened the whole time). As well, the time frames jump around and there is a lot of stylized writing to make it less straightforward. So yes, for consummate fans who want the story to progress further but also want more explanations of things and events after the anime/manga ended.

Story: Shūhei Hisagi is tasked with researching the Soul King invasion for his newspaper, the Seireitei Bulletin. As he goes about his business, he begins to uncover signs that something isn’t right in all 3 worlds (human, Hueco Mundo, Soul Society). Not only that, everything points to the problem originating from one of the noble houses, in the form of Tokinada Tsunayashiro.

Hisagi is the main focus through the series: loyal, hot headed, and very much a straight arrow. His connection to everything is his former Captain Tosen. Tosen had a strong relationship with Tsunayashiro’s wife and it is her death at her husband’s hands that likely drove Tosen to betray Soul Society with Aizen. But really, that is just one aspect as there are problems in the human world and Hueco Mundo that bring Hisagi into contact with quite a few Bleach characters.

Honestly, it’s a confusing mess. We don’t follow Hisagi all the time and we get perspectives from quite a few people. Of course, as the amoral villain, Tsunayashiro shows up quite a bit to show just how cruel he is and how he likes to play with his victims. It’s explained that he was disillusioned due to a secret of the noble houses and the soul king that he discovered.

In all, as much as I was looking forward to reading more about Hisagi, it was just too confusing. There are a few rough illustrations every now and then to remind you of characters. But e.g., right from the start when Hisagi goes to the Shiba household to interview Ganju, he finds Ginjo is there along with Tsukishima, under the protection of Kukaku, talking about Kaien. If you know who all those people are, then you’ll be fine. But if you don’t remember who all those people were, you’ll get an idea of what I mean by confusing. That’s not even the worse considering there are paragraphs of Ginjo and Ganju talking and that’s hard enough to read with the names so similar.
Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Last Dance by Hanna Schroy

Last Dance is a very accessible middle grade read that explores the themes of life balance, friendships, goals and dreams. The idea of enchanted slippers certainly isn’t new but Schroy gives a modern spin on the story through very stylized illustrations and a contemporary ending.

Story: Miriam only knows dance – it has obsessed her since she was a child. But years of abusing her body to be the best ballerina has finally caused her body to fail, resulting in multiple fractures that can no longer support the stress of dance. Frustrated, feeling defeated, and lost, Miriam doesn’t know what she will do now that her only dream is being taken from her. That is, until she finds a hidden room behind a mirror at the dance studio and magical slippers in a box. The spirit of the slippers promises they will help her – but is she truly ready for the price they will extract to do so?

The story has a nice build up. Miriam isn’t a very sympathetic character in the beginning; her obsession leaves no room for friendships and her bitter resentment at losing her prima position has soured her outlook. She is given a lot of character development, learning from the harsh consequences of the shoes’ spirit to grow and become more than a single dimensional person. As with all fairy tale-like stories, there is a lesson to learn from and mature. The twist with this book is that the spirit is more a manifestation of Miriam’s obsession and they together can learn to move past the current situation.

The illustration work is clean and very unique. I found it complemented the story quite well and certainly didn’t spare Miriam from herself. There are great scenes where Miriam is showing one face but there is quite a different one reflected in the mirror. The ballet scenes are beautifully realized: elegant and dreamy. The style reminded me quite a bit of Disney’s Hercules.

In all, the moral and ending might be far too pat and unrealistic in a modern world (destroying a lot of their credibility). But it is a nice story, beautifully illustrated and with plenty of avenues to discuss with tweens. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Patience & Esther by S.W. Searle

It would be hard not to like Patience & Esther: we have a sweet romance and plenty of social commentary, all told through very clean illustration work. It is a sweet story with two good people at the heart and their problems and travails having to do with the era rather than fabricated drama. The book is graphic (the author/illustrator is mostly known for her erotica) but it isn’t the focus and the story isn’t an excuse to introduce lurid elements. Nor do they ever overshadow the story.

Story: Young Patience comes from a large family and needs to send them money from her new endeavor as a maid. Even on her first day, she feels like she is failing and will get sacked. But ladies maid Esther takes her on and helps her learn all she needs to do for the Honeycutt estate. As the two women grow close, they find they are at the whims of society and the Honeycutts and fate keeps trying to separate them. But together and with the help of others, they will navigate late Edwardian society. Later, in modern time, Esther and Patience navigate the commitments of work and how it affects their relationship.

For such a simple story, there are multiple themes explored. From gender issues (suffragists, suffragettes, marriage inequality, the ‘love that dare not speak its name’), to body issues (Patience worried about not having a slim figure), Disorders (such as eating disorders), race (Esther is from India and is half Indian herself, how Indians were treated), social issues (class inequality, the high right of infant mortality) to sexual identity (whether lesbian, gay, or non-aligned). All subjects are treated with an open eye in two eras (modern and late-Edwardian) and notes are given at the end of the book for further explanation.

Illustration wise, the book is lovely. The drawings are very clean and easy to follow. There are added touches as well – such as stretch marks on Patience’s stomach – that give the book a bit more authenticity than one would expect. The coloring is similarly simple but clean, allowing the focus to always be fully on our main characters and the topics at hand.

In all, a sweet story with a lot to say. Don’t be worried about the erotica aspects – everything is tastefully drawn and there to showcase the love story that is developing. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Ghostbusters The Inside Story by Matt McAllister

I have to be honest – I had a hard time trying to figure out the point of this book. There are several detailed books on the making of the movie and even a visual guide with an annotated screenplay. So what does this book bring to the table? It feels very much like a survey of the movie – a mix of screenshots, some behind the scenes images, a few blueprints or mockups and then an endless assortment of bland and unrevealing (even self-congratulatory) written vignettes. I did not feel like I learned much and the photographs didn’t really reveal anything new (there were a LOT of “everyone group together and smile” on set quickies that don’t really reveal much other than some are in costume and some aren’t. As a visual piece, it is nicely presented. But yes, it does feel like fluff or filler.

Information wise, the book is grouped as a set of short write ups on topics. So you’ll get a few paragraphs from the actors (or their relatives, if deceased), the special effects guys, the sound technicians, puppeters, etc. From them we learn that the marshmallow gunk was heavy, they worked long hours, the leads were a pleasure to work with, and Slimer had a lot of iterations. It’s all very general stuff with very few really good sound bites that made me glad I read the book. But you’ll learn about everyone from the woman Venkman is flirting with when doing the testing at the beginning of the first movie to the hotel manager actor. Other non-human topics are the development of Slimer and the Eco-1. But to give you the idea of the fluff of the book, in the section on the music/soundtracks, it doesn’t even mention the lawsuit over the Ray Parker Jr. theme song – only that the crew listened to “I want a new drug” Huey Lewis song while on set. In fact, very few issues or negativity can be found anywhere in the book. Everyone loved everyone else and the long hours, being screamed at by Reitman, and any setback were trifles.

Visually – if you are a fan you have likely seen these images before. There are a LOT of screenshots from the movie and few actually added to the text and look to be there to add flavor. The captions for the images were even more useless – restating nearly verbatim what was written in the short paragraphs of that topic or describing the scene of a screen capture. So while it was mildly interesting to see all of Slimer or the Ghost Dogs’ iterations, it still felt slight and lacking good insight or depth.

So who will this appeal to? I would think perhaps kids who enjoyed the movie and were curious about the movie making business (since the topics are lightly glossed over and easy to read). Or someone who has never read a behind the scenes book on the movie (which, oddly enough, I have not read any of them and still feel like I did not take anything away from this book). For me, I felt like I was skimming the surface of an interesting topic but being given a very optimistic, abbreviated, and sanitized view on the topic. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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