"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library" - Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

New Cover Reveal: THE PRINCESS TRAP - Talia Hibbert

Happy Tuesday! I've teamed up with Honey Magnolia PR for a new cover reveal event for bestselling author Talia Hibbert, author of the much-loved Brown Sisters series! 

Here is the beautiful new cover for her novel The Princess Trap, a steamy romance much in need of a place on your TBR. Get your copy now!


THE PRINCESS TRAP BY TALIA HIBBERT

From bestselling author Talia Hibbert comes a story of wicked royals, fake engagements, and the fed-up office worker trapped in the midst of it all ...

Cherry Neita is thirty, flirty, and done with men. As fa as she can tell, they're ovverrated, overpaid, and underperforming - in every area of life. But a girl has needs, and the smoking-hot stranger she just met at the office seems like the perfect one-night stand.

Prince Ruben of Helgmøre is reckless, dominant, and famously filthy.
 The outcast royal is rebuilding his reputation - all for a good cause - but he can’t resist a pretty face. And bossy whirlwind Cherry’s got the face, the body, and the attitude to make Ruben’s convictions crumble. Even better, when she propositions him, she has no idea who he really is.

But when paparazzi catch the pair, erm, kissing in an alleyway, Ruben's anonymity disappears faster than Cherry's knickers. Now the press is in uproar, the palace is outraged, and Ruben's reputation is back in the gutter. There's only one way to turn this disaster around - and it involes Cherry, some big fat lies, and a flashy diamond ring. On her left hand.

Unfortunately, Cherry isn't pleased with Ruben's 'fake engagement' scheme ...

And neither is the king ...

The Princess Trap is a steamy, diverse royal romance featuring a take-no-sh*t heroine and a misunderstood hero fighting to survive at the palace. There's fake relationship fluff, a healthy dose of angst, and a guaranteed happily-ever-after. Please be aware: this story contains scenes of abuse that could trigger certain audiences.

#ThePrincessTrap #DirtyBritishRomance #TaliaHibbert #HonMagPR

Monday, January 4, 2021

Reading: HOUSE OF EL BOOK ONE: THE SHADOW THREAT - Claudia Gray (author), Eric Zawadzki (illustrator)

Prose (Story): This well-done, highly readable graphic novel is just book one of a proposed trilogy by DC that appears to start at the beginning of what will ultimately become Krypton's downfall as a planet. The Shadow Threat opens on a Krypton where the division between castes seems to grow every day, even as groundquakes that have the lower castes fearing the future of their planet are virtually ignored by the higer-ups, who follow the tribune's "everything's okay - no need to panic" message that's sent over the airwaves across the planet daily, almost as if hypnotizing the populace. Meanwhile, these same leaders are sending military crews out to nearby planets on a massive and seemingly urgent terraforming mission, as if the need may be coming very soon for a new planet for Kyptonians to live on - and when an intelligent, brave female soldier named Sera, along with Zahn, a member of the upper-caste who is secretly working with a militant group determined to expose whatever's really going on with Krypton, learn some startling information about themselves and the genetic makeup of generations of Kryptonians, both must work together to find a way to save a planet that seems ultimately doomed for destruction, even if their fellow Kryptonians don't seem to either understand or care about it.

Don's (Review): Though I wasn't sure about the story at first, Claudia Gray's characters and plot sucked me in pretty quickly, both as gritty as Eric Zawadzki's precise artwork that gives you a sense of the intimacy of character in some panels ... and both the beauty, and now-lost beauty of different sections of Krypton the next. Pretty much anyone who knows Superman's story knows what ultimately befalls Krypton, but The Shadow Threat gives readers a nice backstory that teases at potentially answering some of the questions that remain of the cause behind what happened to Krypton in the end. The multi-layered political, social and personal plotlines are nicely textured - especially for a graphic novel - and toward The End I rememberd this was only book one so I was ulikely to get a wrapped-up/satisfying conclusion here ... but again, was surprised when, though definitely the expected cliffhanger, the ending provided more closure to the actual events going on in this book than I expected. But seriously: 2022 for volume two?? No way! (Available January 5)  4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

December Wrap-Up: EAT IT, 2020!

Can't remember when I was so anxious before to see another year end; 2020, for so so many of us, is that ultimate year. Friends and loved ones lost to a pandemic that, insanely, other friends and loved ones refused to acknowledge, only fanning the flames and hastening the deaths of so many more. People out of work, out of money, out of time, out of hope - and so much of it easily laid at the doorstep of the mentally unstable despot who wanted to turn one of the most powerful nations on earth into his own private lap-dance, even as he flipped the middle finger to us all (none more so than his own acolytes).

But 2021 has already promised a vaccine, an end to the cancer infesting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and a restoration - even if it takes time - of some level of sanity. But 2020 remains the year we couldn't focus, or even often handle reality ... and so some of us, when we needed to, did our best to escape into the world of books, films, TV, or whatever would engage our minds from the daily news that kept playing out like Stephen King's latest bestseller.

December was a much better reading month for me; I marveled at some beautiful Christmas picture books and a really cool variety of graphic novels, read my last J. K. Rowling for all time (The Ickabog), finished the first romance novel I have ever read that didn't make me want to gag or do eyerolls throughout (Teddy Spenser Isn't Looking for Love) and discovered a debut novel that awoke so many dormant childhood memories in me of being teased as a kid for being overweight, I think everyone on earth who has ever faced that issue needs to read it (I'll Be the One). Not bad that two of the eleven books I read in December made my Top 10 of 2020 list (scroll down to check out that post), either ... and YES, as usual am behind on reviews. Working on it - please keep checking back!

Similarly, of the four new films I watched in December, one - a very funny horror-comedy that feels sort of like The Goonies meets The Lost Boys - made my Top 10 Films of 2020 list, as well (Vampires vs. the Bronx). Overall 2020 wasn't a great year of movie-watching for me, I saw only 31 new ones, a number of which were disappointing, but am already working on that for 2021, getting squarely back on my 50 Films project ... for the fourteenth year in a row!

And lastly, if you are interested in hot/interesting upcoming 2021 new releases in fiction, you can chek out my Pinterest board HERE. And keep checking it out, in fact, as I am adding to it constantly. Some very good authors and very big titles are coming to a bookshelf, library, or Kindle near you.

Meanwhile, stay safe and sane and healthy in 2021; we've come much, must too far to blow it now!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Watching: TOP 10 FILMS OF 2020!

Every year for thirteen years, as of 2020, I have been tracking my movie watching, making sure to see at LEAST 50 new (to me, at least) films every year. I missed in 2020, big-time, watching only 31 new films (thanks, COVID); there were lots of changes to my personal life in 2020, and I found myself falling more into the world of books, finding even sitting down to watch a film difficult as I would suddenly have all the attention span of a goldfish. This, combined with the fact I saw a fair share of middling/mediocre films this year, made it easier than the books to narrow down to a Top 10 - though I still managed to include a couple of re-watches on the list, just because they are such personal favorites of mine. 

Again, these are films I WATCHED in 2020 - not that were necessarily RELEASED in 2020 - and the list is, again, in NO particular order; my opinions my own. Hopefully you've seen all of these; if not, you should. Each, in its way, is pretty terrific!

#10 - Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020/PG-13, directed by Osmany Rodriguez). A teenage boy from the Bronx fights to save his neighborhood from gentrification when he and his friends discover their entire borough is quickly being bought up by nothing short of a pack of vampires. This low-budget gem is decent on story, terrific on performances, and is in places so funny I found myself laughing out loud at the awesome "Stranger Things"/Lost Boys mash-up. Loved it!

#9 - Jojo Rabbit (2019/PG-13, directed by Taika Waititi). Waititi, of What We Do in the Shadows fame, takes his place both behind and in front of the camera (playing Hitler, no less), giving heart and soul to this WWII drama about a young boy, recruited into Hitler's army, who finds his blind loyalty tested when he learns his own mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. What will Hitler, his imaginary friend, say? With equal doses of pathos and dark humor, this brilliant, moving film is one of those few that can make you shed both happy and sad tears in its 108-minute runtime. Oscar winner for Waititi's Best Adapted Screenplay; deservedly so.

#8 - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018/PG, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman). Miles Morales is a street-savvy teen (and pretty awesome graffiti artist) in New York City who, like Peter Parker, is bitten by a spider that imbues him with super-spider-like abilities. This, however, is only the beginning of Miles's troubles, when a villain to end all villains makes it necessary for Miles to join forces with five other Spideys, each from a dfferent dimension, to stop a machine that could destroy all their realities at once. Great script, voice performances, action, story, and popping animation - it's all here, and it's all incredible to watch. Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature Film, and boy did Oscar get it right. 

#7 - Good Boys (2019/R, directed by Gene Stupnitsky). IMDb sums this one up best, I think: "Three 6th-grade boys ditch school and embark on an epic journey while carrying accidentally-stolen drugs, being hunted by teenage girls, and trying to make their way home in time for a long-awaited party." It's foul-mouthed and hilarious and probably not for everyone, but I laughed until I almost wet myself. 

#6 - Charlie Chan in Rio (1941/Not Rated, directed by Harry Lachman). REWATCH. I grew up enamored of the alternating Sherlock Holmes/Charlie Chan classic films that WGN would show on Sundays at noon, and while I know the Chan films aren't exactly politically correct (what was, in 1941, movie-wise?), to this day the nostalgia they bring and light, comedic mysteries most of them contain still keep me watching over and over. This is a personal favorite, largely due to the on-screen relationship/banter between Charlie and #2 son Jimmy, in a story where Chan goes to Rio de Janeiro to arrest nightclub chanteuse Lola Dean, who murdered a man in Honolulu ... only to find the beautiful singer stabbed to death in a houseful of suspects when he arrives with the local police in tow. One of the best in the series, and watching these always feels like going home again.

#5 - 1917 (2019/R, directed by Sam Mendes). It takes a lot for me to love a war film, and this one's a masterpiece of direction and acting, the camera following along in what Mendes was going for as a continuous-loop feel (as Hitchcock attempted in Rope), sucking viewers into the story as we watch a pair of young British soldiers at the western front on April 6, 1917, as they are tasked with the duty of taking an urgent message to another regiment - literally crossing through enemy territory at the height of the fighting - that will, if delivered, save 1600 soldiers from walking into a trap that will otherwise mean their deaths. And suck  you in the film will; not one frame is wasted as we follow the inexperienced, scared-out-of-their wits young men into the fray, feeling like we're right behind them getting a cinematic taste of the horrors of war through their eyes. Amazing, at times heartbreaking, film. Three-time Oscar winner for Best Achievement in Cinematograhy, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing - and it shows in every minute on the screen.

#4 - Knives Out (2019/PG-13, directed by Rian Johnson). Possibly the most talked-about comedy of 2019, this comedy-mystery boasts an all-star cast of familiar faces, each of them deliciously chewing scenery as we follow what happens when the elderly head of a rich and super-eccentric family is found murdered ... and pretty much every member of his whack-job of a family wanted him dead. It's a big job for the pair of detectives sent to investigate the crime, and Knives Out - feeling like a bit of a throwback to something like, say, Neil Simon's Murder by Death - quickly becomes a Clue-like game of lies and deception and ulterior motives, the plot ultimately twisting and turning until you're not exactly sure what's going on - and then sort of gasp when the final twist reveals the solution. Genuinely funny and beautifully written, while I didn't quite gush about this film as much as many of its more rabid fans have, it was still a super-easy, no-brainer of a pick for my Top 10.

#3 - Forgotten (2017/TV-MA directed by Zhang Hang-jun). I love Korean cinema so much it makes my chest ache, and this film is a perfect example of why. Here we follow a young man, Jin-seok, who has just moved into a new home with his parents and older brother, when on one rainy night soon after he witnesses his brother being forced into a van and kidnapped. The police seem to be of no help, even when Jin-Seok can provide a license plate number, and no ransom demand comes ... but nineteen days later Jin-Seok's brother suddenly reappears, perfectly fine and with no memory at all of where he has been or what happened to him. Or maybe not so perfectly fine, as Jin-seok begins to notice small tells, little changes in his brother appearance and behavior, that eventually have him convinced the man who returned home is not really his brother at all. If you've watched any modern Korean thrillers, you know that just when you think you have what's going on figured out ... nope, the film veers onto a different, wholly confusing track, and you realize (more often than not) that what you thought and what's really going on are two entirely diffeernt things. Such twists happen a few times in Forgotten, it's a film you have to sit and watch - no bathroom breaks or trips for food (unless you pause the film) if you don't want to get lost - but man oh man, is it worth it all when the truth is finally revealed. Not the most upbeat film, but a mind-blower worth your attention.

#2 - The Little Foxes (1941/Not Rated, directed by William Wyler). REWATCH. Lillian Hellman's iconic play of a corrupt, money-hungry family in turn-of-the-century deep south has at its apex a career-defining role for none other than Bette Davis as Regina Giddens, formerly Regina Hubbard and proud member of the ridiculously rich Hubbard family, which has been doing their best for years to bleed the local community of whatever wealth they can use to line their own pockets. Regina has a block of ice where her heart should be, never more on display than when she tries to bully her invalid husband - recently returned home after a massive heart attack - into investing in her crooked brother's latest, and even more crooked, scheme. The film doesn't hit a single false note, and while a quiet drama on its surface, watching the story unfold as Regina tries wresting control of both her family and her husband to suit her own narcissistic needs is so brilliant, it's almost painful to watch. Powerful and magnetic, especially whenever Davis is on-screen; you hate her, but can't stop watching her.

#1 - Onward (2020/PG, directed by Dan Scanlon). Pixar's brilliant and beautiful fantasy about two young male elves from the suburbs - brothers - who go on an epic quest to bring back their deceased father for just one day, ranks up there with the studios best, as the brothers encounter dangerous traps, magic spells, and a confusing map on their journey, all the while not knowing that they're completely ticked-off mother is also coming after them the entire time. To say much more wold go into spoiler territory, but both from a writing and animation standpoint this film is nothing short of stunning; a heartwarming, funny, and action-packed film that adults and kids would equally enjoy. Keep a tissue or two handy, as always with Pixar.

Reading: TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2020!

I read 91 books in 2020 - the Year from Hell for most of us - and from children's books to incredible and complex novels, it was a great year in reading for me; so much so, once I finally jotted down twenty titles I'd place among my favorites, it felt nearly impossible to narrow them down to my Top 10. Disclaimer: these are books that weren't necessarily published in 2020, I just read them in 2020. They are also in no particular order ... with the exception of my #1, which became my favorite book of the year when I finished reading it on June 1st of 2020, and never got bumped from the top spot after that.

Again, the rest are in no particular order, and I could easily have made a top twenty list; that's how good a reading year 2020 was for me. Good to know 2020 was good for something!

#10 - Death of an American Beauty by Mariah Fredericks. Book three in the Jane Prescott mystery series, set in Gilded Age New York City, finds Jane coming to the rescue of her uncle when he comes under suspicion in the grisly death of a young woman, a former resident of his women's refuge. Great writing, great mystery, all set in my favorite city, and Fredericks doesn't spare readers the slightly more grisly details of the violence rooted in real evil here. 

#9 - Dover Two by Joyce Porter. Book two in the Dover series, originally published in the 1960's, finds the belligerent, narcissistic, lazy and self-serving pompous inspector dispatched (by bossess all too happy to be rid of him) to a small village in northern England, when a young woman - shot in the head by an unknown assilant eight years ago, and left in a coma - is smothered to death in her hospital bed. Are the murderer, and attempted murderer from eight year ago, the same person? And if so, why finish off a job eight years after it was first attempted? The imcompetent, overweight and inept detective has his work cut out for him, in one of the funniest - but also nicely-plotted - mysteries I've read in years.

#8 - The Barnabus Project by The Fan Brothers (Terry, Eric and Devin). Far beneath the busy, popular store Perfect Pets - where genetically-engineered "perfect" animals are created for children and their parent to buy and take home - sits a secret lab where the rejects, or not-so-perfect pets, live as "failures" and await their fate. One such "imperfect pet" is Barnabus - half mouse and half elephant - whose dreams of wanting, even deserving a life above-ground leads him to rally his imperfect friends together to plan an escape. The only kids/picture book to make my list (in a year when I read many, many good ones), this is a wondrous, touching story, made all the more joyous a read as it contains some of the most stunning, visually breathtaking artwork you will ever find between the covers of a book. 

#7 - Tea & Treachery by Vicki Delany. The first in a new cozy mystery series finds Lily Roberts, new owner and head pastry chef of Tea by the Sea tea shop after relocating from NYC to Cape Cod, in over her head when her take-no-prisoners grandmother Rose becomes the #1 suspect when a shady local real estate developer is murdered on her bed-and-breakfast property next door. I read some terrific cozies in 2020, but the marvelously rich characters and sharp, somewhat snarky humor of this veteran mystery writer's latest series debut felt a slight notch above the rest. 

#6 - The Survivors by Jane Harper. Due for release in the US in February, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Harper's latest after its release in Australia, and while not as good as The Lost Man (my favorite read of 2019), this is a compelling mystery about a youg man named Kieran Elliot who returns to his childhood home on the seaside coastal town of Evelyn Bay, on the Tasmanian island coast of Australia, where twelve years earlier a reckless mistake occurred that cost the life of Kieran's brother Finn and his best friend. Kieran, still battling the guilt that consumes him from his role in that fateful day, finds himself front and center when a young woman is found dead on the beach soon after his arrival; a death that stirs up a lot of old memories, anger, and suspicion that threatens to tear the town apart as Kieran himself begins to question the events of that day twelve years ago. Again, not as compelling a page-turner as its predecessor, but still a cracking read from Harper.

#5 - The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James. Told in two timelines, this ghost story/mystery-thriller follows the sudden disappearance of a young woman - who worked and lived in the creepy Sun Down Motel in 1982 - and also that of her young niece, who arrives in the same small town of Fell in upstate New York in 2017, and takes the same overnight shift at the motel, determined to find out what happened to the aunt she never got to know. A creepy page-turner full of twists and turns I couldn't put down. So brilliant.

#4 - Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in 1950's Mexico, this chiller opens with beautiful, independent young socialite Noemi Taboada, who - after a frantic letter calling for help arrives from her recently-married cousin - finds herself traveling to a very remote area of the country to High Place, a crumbling, formerly-grand estate in the mountains where she finds herself unwelcomed by her cousin's husband and family, even as she immediately becomes convinced that something is very, very wrong here. This gothic thriller turns full-out horror about two-thirds of the way through, after which it becomes a rollercoaster ride that had me unable to put it down until I was done. Bizarre, genuinely unsettling, at times as creepy as a hand of rotting flesh touching your shoulder .. and wonderful. 

#3 - The Ickabog by J. K. Rowling. Like many, I became forever sworn off any new J. K. Rowling titles after her hateful and intolerant transphobic views came to light, but had for so long been curious about this originally-online project of hers - a fairy tale set in the kingdom of Cornucopia, in which greed and deception and a myth involving a great and murderous monster all theaten to topple the happy kingdom and its people - that this one became my swan song. Illustrated throughout via colorful drawings by children throughout the US and Canada who entered an online competition to be in the book, my initial frustration while reading this (the bad guys are so bad, after awhile it becomes a downer, as if nothing good happens to Cornucopia or the good peope who reside there for a long, long time) turned to fascination upon realizing that what Rowling has written here is more in keeping with the tone of a Grimm's fairy tale over the Disney-fied fairy tales many of us have grown to know today. Once I settled into that groove, I sat back and enjoyed the story like few others I have this year, especially after the "big reveal" toward the book's end. My last Rowling, but thankfully a good one; I'm just not so sure, with all the violence and death throughout, how appropriate this might be for younger kids.

#2 - I'll Be the One by Lyla Lee. The only debut author on this list, I rushed to finish this YA novel before midnight on New Year's Eve because I had known - from about page nine - that it was going to make my Top 10. Set in the world of K-Pop (Korean pop music, of which I have been a fan for ... well, ten years as of 2021), this follows Skye Shin, an overweight sixteen-year-old Korean-American girl in Orange County, California, who has spent her life being told what she can and can't do (even by her own mother, no less) because of her weight, who - after dancing and singing since childhood - sets her sights on entering (and winning) the L.A.- based TV competition show "You're My Shining Star", an "American Idol"- style show that sets up its winners (one for dance, one for singing) with the opportunity to train in South Korea to become the next K-Pop sensation. But getting in is only the start of a journey that finds the young, very self-confident teen butting head-to-head with an industry that is (to say the least) unkind in its fatphobia, as Skye also has to contend with a biased judge, nasty comments from her fellow contestants, a mother who shames her for her weight at every turn ... and the famous, exceptionally handsome Korean-American model, Henry Cho, who may be her strongest competition for the dance portion of the show, even as Skye starts to realize he might just not be the pompous, stuck-up jerk she assumed him to be. Growing up a bullied and weatherbeaten fat kid myself, who never felt the approval of one of his parents, Skye Shin absolutely burst into life for me from page one, and emotionally I could not have been more invested in all she goes through during the course of this endearing, funny, poignant, and heartwarming novel that head-on tackles fatphobia and all it entails while simultenously showcasing an inpiring, confident and lovable heroine who refuses to believe in the misconception that being more means you're actually less. Just one opinon, but to me every person who has ever been more than, say, twenty pounds overweight needs to read this book; you will find so much of yourself in it, and cheering for Skye all the way. Along with great "fat rep" there is also some terrific LGBTQ+ rep going on in this one, too.

#1 - The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. As much as I enjoyed - loved - American Gothic, Goodreads users got it sooo wrong (again) this year; Grady Hendrix's insane, aggressive and visceral novel should have won best of the year in the horror category. The "Steel Magnolias meets Dracula" mash-up attributed to this book is spot-on, as it tells the story of a group of wives in the south, who've formed a book club of sorts where they read true-crime thrillers their husbands would not be happy knowing about, and what happens when one of them comes across what appears to be a genuine vampire living right next door. While set in the 1990's, author Grady Hendrix has done a masterful job of making the book - and the women's group - come off situated in a very old-fashioned, "genteel" south, which of course makes the contrast of the nasty, violent and quite bloody shenanigans to come that much more a punch to the gut to read. Not for everyone - the violence/gore level gets quite off the charts toward the end - for me this was a near-masterpiece of dark humor, full-on horror, and social parody that feels set in a world long gone by. A book I still think about, certain scenes playing over and over in my head like a movie (truly, Hendrix is a gifted writer who lays cinematic images in your head like those slimy eggs in the Alien films) to this day. Oh, how I absolutely love this book. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Reading: TEDDY SPENSER ISN'T LOOKING FOR LOVE - Kim Fielding

(BLOG TOUR SPOTLIGHT)

Prose (Story): Teddy Spenser wants to make good - more than good - at his new job as a designer and marketing guru for the up-and-coming Reddyflora, whose leap to the big time may well depend on an innovative new interactive vase the company hopes will be the latest "must-have" designer gadget in homes around the world. The obstacle? The tech necessary to give the vase it's uniquely appealing features is impossible to work into the design of the item itself - or so says the company software developer Romeo Blue, the only person in the company who managed to capture his own office instead of a cubicle, and seems to have the personality of an uptight nerd that dampens whatever attraction Teddy otherwise would have for his handsome African-American co-worker. When the two men are forced to work together to make the design and tech feasible as one, their results gain the attention of a fashion/lifestyle giant who just might back the vase and put Reddyflora into the big leagues - sending the guys on a mission to Seattle that will result in their eccentric client putting them to three challenges that test their ability to work together ... even as the two men learn more about each other and finding out that maybe they're not so unalike, after all.

Excerpt:

“Hey.”

Teddy hadn’t noticed anyone come up behind him, and he startled so violently that he almost knocked over his coffee. He spun the chair around and discovered Romeo Blue looking down at him, stone-faced.

“What?” Teddy knew he was scowling and didn’t care.

“Can we speak in my office, please?” As usual, Ro­meo’s voice was low, his words clipped. As if he refused to spare much energy to speak to Teddy.

“I’m busy right now.”

“As soon as you can then.” Romeo spun and marched back to his office, leaving its door slightly ajar.

Teddy could have followed him; Imani’s numbers weren’t so urgent that they couldn’t wait awhile. But he remained stubbornly at his desk even though he could no longer focus on the computer screen. Romeo Blue. Teddy had googled him once, just for the hell of it—not at all to dispel lingering notions that his coworker was a spy working under a really stupid alias. It turned out that Lenny Kravitz used Romeo Blue as a stage name back in the eighties, and that was more than a little weird since this Romeo resembled a young Lenny Kravitz, albeit with a darker complexion and a different clothing aesthetic. Kravitz probably didn’t wear suits from Zara. And to be honest, although Kravitz was gorgeous, Romeo was even more so, with perfect eyebrows, velvety eyes, and a mouth that—

“Nope!” Teddy stood abruptly and grabbed his coffee mug. He needed a refill.

He finished off that cup, visited the depressing bath­room he’d been fruitlessly begging Lauren to redecorate, and chatted briefly with the cute copy-machine repair­man before finally knocking on Romeo’s open door and stepping inside. And then, as always when he entered this room, Teddy glowered.

It was a fraction of the size of Lauren’s office, with barely enough room for a desk, two chairs, and a com­puter stand. Despite that, it was a real office instead of a cubicle. But what truly annoyed Teddy was that Romeo hadn’t even bothered to decorate the space. There wasn’t a single knickknack or picture, and the mismatched of­fice supplies—a black stapler and taupe tape dispenser—appeared to be from the discount bin at Staples. The only touches of personality were the three computer monitors—three of them, for God’s sake—and, of course, Romeo himself.

Maybe Romeo thought himself so decorative that his mere presence sufficed. Or he didn’t want any other objects to detract from his glory.

Also, he smelled like sandalwood, bergamot, and vanilla. Dammit.

Don's (Review): My history with contemporary romance novels - m/f or m/m - has not been a great one. Usually I have found the writing and characterizations uniformaly bad or stereotypical, and often questioned the appeal of the genre in general, as every book I picked up basically read the same - and, God knows, you knew where they were heading. Then along came Teddy Spenser and Romeo Blue, and yes the suspension of disbelief may have to be stretched a bit throughout, but for the first time it was a genuine pleasure to find a romance where the characters come off as believable as the development of the love story, all set around a bit of a crazy plot that author Fielding manages to make work for anyone who gets the kind of eccentric character Joyce Alexander - the fashion maven and potential financial backer the boys have to deal with - can be . Before writing this review I checked out some others online, and was startled by the amount of negative reviews, universally by women, who cite the unbelievability of some plot points or "insta-love" relationship between the two main characters - and couldn't disagree with them more. I was especially wary of reading an m/m romance by a female writer, but both Teddy and Romeo come off 100% real on the page as young members of the LGBTQ+ community; their relationship and how it develops, to me, a hundred times more convincing than any other single romance novel I have tried reading to this day. Further, I don't understand the "insta-love" complaints, as it's made very clear from the beginning that Teddy was attracted to Romeo from the start but thought him an uptight jerk, and from the moment a move is made to make their relationship more than frenemies, it's hardly an 'insta-love" situation when the emphasis is more on where things might go should they fail their tests or not, than coming off as any kind of HEA from the beginning. No, sorry naysayers who perhaps don't understand the community, but Teddy Spenser Isn't Looking for Love is a charming, funny, romantic, and spot-on depiction (for a change) of real LGBTQ+ characters trying to hold onto their jobs, while discovering that "working together" has more than one meaning. It's also one of my favorite reads of 2020. (Available December 29)  4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

November Wrap-Up: 94,955 words later ...

Only four books read in November; no films or new TV (though I did catch another couple of episodes of "Los Espookys" which is still sooo great!). Insane, even considering that health issues didn't help the issuue. One adult novel, two graphic novels, and a kid's book - none of them dogs, thankfully. And better still - reviews already up, inlcuding for Jane Harper's latest, currently only available in Australia!

But ... November was also National Novel Writing Month, where you sign up to compete with yourself, trying to write 50,000 words in the month of November - the first draft of a novel. I have signed up in the past, multiple times, never taking myself too seriously even though I have published before (though not anything novel length), and prior to this time never got further than about 3,000 words. But from the beginning, this round felt different. I had an idea for a cozy mystery in my head for awhile, well over a year, and wanted to try getting it out at last.

I blew by the 50k words in nineteen days! And on December 1st, at a whopping 94,955 words, I was finally able to type "THE END" with misty eyes, shocked that I was officially done - not with just the challenge, but the book itself! A HUGE accomplishment for this boy!

Now, giving it a rest for a bit, before the real work - the rewriting - begins.

Onto December! Already more than halfway through at least three books now, so detemined to make that year-end push. Also get some films and new TV under my belt. Keep turning those pages!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Reading: JULIET TAKES A BREATH - Gabby Rivera (author), Celia Moscote (illustrator)

Prose (Story): Gabby Rivera takes her much-loved novel and, along with artist Celia Moscote, transforms it into a graphic novel in which nineteen-year-old Bronx resident Juliet Milagros Palante - Puerto Rican, lesbian, and barely out of the closet - discovers her inner feminist upon reading a book by the popular feminist author Harlowe Brisbane. A heartelt email to the Portland, Oregon-based writer lands Juliet a much-needed internship for her college, so with caution to the wind and a whole lot of faith, Juliet outs herself to her family just before leaving New York, taking control of her life even if she wonders if her mother will ever speak to her again, and arrives in a new city ready for adventure ... even if unprepared for some surprises life, and Harlowe Brisbane, throws her along the way.

Don's (Review): Within a handful of pages I was instantly smitten with Julia - a thick, beautiful girl with big hair and bigger dreams. Still very much feeling her way around this thing called Life, she arrives in Portland already stressed about leaving her mother - who she now thinks might hate her - and her painfully white girlfriend behind, and from the beginning tries to go with the flow when her feminist mentor Harlowe also comes off as a bit of a nut. Juliet's naivete and shyness, even as she is determined to stay strong and get what she can from this experience, is absolutely endearing, and I was rooting for this beautiful "baby dyke" with a heart bigger than the great outdoors from first page to last (proof being that I found it hard to put the book down until I was fiished) in her struggle to find both herself and her place in the world. A wonderful, beautifully-illustrated graphic novel of trying to fit in while standing out, Juliet's story is as funny, sweet, satisfying, and heartwarmiing as its heroine herself. (Available November 25) 5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exhange for an honest review.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Reading: OLLIE'S GARDEN - Riya Aarini (author), Virvalle Carvallo (illustrator)

Prose (Story): The third book in the Carefree Ollie early reader series finds little Ollie this time as king of his own garden. Serving over its flowers, trees - and the creatures who live among them - Ollie's skills as ruler are put to the test when bickering breaks out between different factions of the ladybugs, the squirrels and chipmunks, and frogs and toads. Can Ollie, dissension growing in his garden kingdom, show the animals and insects a way to co-exist - even become friends - in order to restore peace to his land? 

Don's (Review): While I felt the first Ollie book, Ollie's Backpack, was a bit disjointed in the beginning, in the end I loved how it came together and the lesson it had in store for its reader. Ollie's Haffiness was even better, Ollie learning some genuine responsibility, and I loved how the book depicted both him and his friends, emphasizing diversity. And while Ollie's Garden fits perfectly into the series, Virvalle Carvallo's bold and colorful illustrations as charming as ever, for me this one felt a bit too "on-the-nose" in its message, also definitely honing in more to its intended audience of children, over the slightly broader appeal of the two previous editions. But then, who else is the book for?  3.5/5 stars 

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Reading: LONG WAY DOWN: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL - Jason Reynolds (author), Danica Novgorodoff (illustrator)

Prose (Story): This graphic novel, adapted from the award-winning novel by author Jason Reynolds (this time working with illustrator Danica Novgorodoff), follows fifteen-year-old Will who - as the story opens - has just lost his older brother Shawn to a gang shooting, an all-too familiar hazard where Will is from. In shock and grief, only made worse by the devastating toll Shawn's death is having on their mother, Will nevertheless remembers The Rules, passed onto him as a child by his brother - No Crying. No Snitching. Get Revenge - and is determined to live by them. Breaking into a drawer in Shawn's dresser that Will had alway been forbidden access to, the young man finds his dead brother's gun and, sure of who Shawn's killer is, sets out avenge his brother - little realizing that an act as simple as getting in an elevator and pressing the down button could prove to have reverberating effects on his life and future. Maybe even save it. 

Don's (Review):  I read Jason Reynold's moving, heartbreaking and deeply profound novel about a year ago, unable for weeks to shake its effect on me (to this day, remembering it sends me back to the dream-like state that overcomes you when reading it). Told in free verse as opposed to a straight narrative made the novel all that much more powerful, putting the reader into Will's head from his first words, but I did wonder how that writing style would work in this form. Sure enough, the book's narrative has been changed up a bit to accommodate the graphic novel, but the words are no less powerful - the story no less sugar-coated in the face of reality - and illustrator Danica Novgorodoff's choice of watercolors, blues and reds and purples runing and smearing into each other over beautiful line drawings that capture the mood of life in the city, the devastation of life where Will and his family live in particular, give the words and story a whole other level of visual impact beyond the novel. While the novel remains my favorite, its mark left permanently on my soul just by reading it, the graphic novel is no less brilliant, and no less a must-read. Not so much a companion piece, or even off-shoot of the book, this is more a gutwrenching visual representation of what it's like to live in Shawn and Will's world - if you're allowed to live in it at all.  5/5 stars

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Reading: THE SURVIVORS - Jane Harper

Prose (Story): Kieran Elliot has returned home to Evelyn Bay, on the Tasmanian coast, with girlfriend Mia and baby Audrey in tow, to help his mother Verity after it's been decided that Kieran's dad Brian - diagnosed with dementia some years back - is to be put into a convalescent home. Kieran wants his parents closer to him, in Sydney, but comes to help in the transition closer to home ... even as the memories of a horrible accident twelve years earlier, during a storm, still has him losing sleep from guilt and pain. On that day, Kieran had become stranded out by the caves during the worst of the storm, and in trying to save him Kieran's brother Finn - along with Finn's friend Toby - died when the stormy sea capsized their boat. From his brother's death to the now-chilly relationship with his mother to his dad's descent into mental illness, Kieran feels responsible - and when, soon after his arrival in town, a young server at a local restaurant/bar, in town only for the season, is found strangled to death on the beach, the crime in the normally-peaceful Evelyn Bay opens up old wounds and new investigations that may or may not tie into the unsolved disappearance of a teenaged girl twelve years ago, during that same storm ... as well as answer what really may have happened the day Kieran found himself stranded in the ravaging waves; the day Finn died.  

Don's (Review): I was introduced to Jane Harper with The Lost Man, her standalone mystery release last year that blew the very head off my shoulders, going on to become my favorite read of 2019. A genuine masterpiece. Though I knew I had her two previous titles to read, I was amped upon hearing about The Survivors, and did my best to get my hands on a copy even though it's not released in the States until February 2021. Here, we follow a guilt-ravaged Kieran as he comes back home to help his parents, reuniting at the same time with the core gang of friends he knew back then - including Sean, brother of Toby who died on the same boat as Kieran's brother Finn, and Olivia, whose little sister Gabby was the girl disappeared in the wake of the record-breaking storm twelve years ago, only her backpack washing up on the beach days later. When Olivia's co-worker is found strangled, the police can't help finding some common threads between her murder and Gabby's disappearance, and as we read on Kieran himself tries to cope with his recurring memories and guilt of that awful day - while at the same time, following clues and facts that don't quite fit together in his own quest for answers, even if they're answer he might not want to know. Another masterful mystery from Harper, with a tense ending following revelations both surprising and sad in order to get there. While not quite The Lost Man - I felt the book could have been edited down just a bit more, tightening up the suspense and condensing some scenes that went on a bit - The Survivors still solidifies Jane Harper as a master of her craft. I'd read a dissertation on the benefits of dryer lint, were she to write it. 4.5/5 stars

Monday, November 2, 2020

October Wrap-Up: Let's Get Graphic Here

Having moved in late September - then adding the burden of a roommate I hadn't intended on, who is one of the most difficult people I've ever lived with - plus working again, when you put all this with the upcoming elections, I found my concentration wavering throughout the month. Unable to focus for long on novels for some reason, I realized I also had a hefty bunch of graphic novel and manga ARCs I had to complete because they were releasing soon ... so that's where we went for the majority of the month!

Which didn't end up being a bad thing, either. But starting with Vivien Chien's cozy mystery novel, Killer Kung Pao, the month started off with an awesome cozy mystery - one of my favorites of this series! From there on, I got to hang out with the Teen Titans awhile ... also a distant relative of Mary Shelley ... and even discovered a really unique, interesting twist on the iconic Sherlock Holmes nemesis, Professor Moriarty!


Not even realizing how much this was gearing me onto some serious Halloween reading, I then picked up volume one of Tokyo Ghoul - which blew me the heck AWAY - before segueing into a couple of kidlit titles with another creepy graphic novel in-between.

Also got two episodes into a new Brazilian series on Netflix - "Spectros" - and again, more creepiness. So far, so good!


Sadly, no reviews done for October yet. In fact, not quite caught up with September! So if still reading this, please check back for those reviews ... and for November? God knows. I am determined to finish more novels, definitely, but also am doing NaNoWriMo for November (eee!) - and, quite frankly, all of it would most likely go to hell depending on how the elections go. I write this the day before Election Day, scared to death about what may happen should this election be "won", or worse yet stolen, again by a lunatic.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Reading: MIRKA ANDOLFO'S MERCY: THE FAIR LADY, THE FROST, AND THE FIEND - Mirka Andolfo

Prose (Story): Collecting the first six issues of the popular comic, this graphic novel opens in Woodsborough, Washington in the late nineteenth century, during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, in which Woodsborough is anything but thriving. A few years prior a horrific accident causing the deaths of many locals - including its owner - closed the Swanson mine, and the city and its people have been trying, mostly without success, to bounce back since. Which makes it all the most puzzling when the beautiful, extremely wealthy, ivory-skinned beauty Lady Hellaine arrives in town with her faithful butler Goodwill, immediately settling into the impoverished city via one of the deserted mansions in town. Throwing a big party, Lady Hellaine becomes the envy of every woman and catches the eye of every man in town ... while at the same time arousing nothing but suspicion in Lady Swanson, widow of the deceased mine owner, who is a big supporter of the oppressed and downtrodden - and wonders from the start what Lady Hellaine's ultimate plans are. Underscorng everything else, there is a creature that is going around under cover of darkness, making the streets of Woodsborough run red with blood as it goes on a killing spree that seems to only worsen with the start of the falling snow. Who are the mysterious hunters stalking this creature? Could there be a connection with this creature and Lady Hellaine? And what does a wealthy woman of breeding want with a poverty-stricken town beset by a murderous creature like Woodsborough?

Don's (Review): Number one mention needs to go the striking, incredibly beautiful cover art of this graphic novel; truly, maybe the most amazing cover of everything I read this year. Thankfully, the interior illustrations are just as lush, the story more complex than expected, even starting as early as the rather ... odd hints of all that was going on when the accident happened at the mine, right up to the end of a story that touches on so many issues, from family and loyalty to love and death to the rights of the privileged compared to the rights of the poor. And while I felt the story lost its way just a little at the end, going a bit over-the-top, this visually stunning graphic novel is never dull, often violent/gory, and simply tells a great yarn. Highly recommended. (Available December 8) 4/5 stars 

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Reading: NIGHT NIGHT, NORMAN - Marie Dimitrova (author), Romi Caron (illustrator)

Prose (Story): A lushly-illustrated children's picture book, perfect for bedtime reading, about a young girl - Ellie - and the horse she loves, dotes on, and cares for - Norman - and what happens when, one evening, Norman becomes curious enough about where Ellie goes and what she does at night, he works his way out of his stall to find out.

Don's (Review): This is a very simple, no-frills, straightforward story, perfect to read little kids before bedtime, that should elicit conversations about what our pets do at night when we sleep. In this case, Norman the horse actually works his way into Ellie's house, and the shenanigans he gets up to once there should bring smiles to the faces of readers young and old, all while emphasizing the bond of a little girl and the horse she obviously and deeply cares for. Romi Caron's bold and vibrant illustrations are both comical and packed with color, and while for adults the story might be a little too basic/simplified, kids should eat up this sweet-natured, uplighting tale of pets and their young owners who love them. 3/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Reading: TOKYO GHOUL, VOL. 1 - Sui Ishida

Prose (Story): Ken Kaneki, a shy-to-the-point-of-introverted collge student in modern-day Tokyo, often hangs out with his more popular, outgoing best friend in a cafe frequented by a girl he's secretly had a crush on. When fate seems to itervene, the two of them officially talking, Kaneki finds out her name is Rize, and she seems as interested in him as he is in her. But this is a Tokyo where humans share the streets and neighborhoods with ghouls - creatures who look, sound and act just like humans ... except for their insatiable appetite for human flesh. When Kaneki decides to walk Rize home that night, a deadly attack results in emergency surgery for the college student, who wakes up in the hospital safe and whole - and the world's first human/zombie hybrid. Caught between two worlds - neither of which he feels he belongs in - volume one of this bestselling, hugely-popular manga series covers Kaneki's difficult adjustment to the "rules and regulations" of a ghoul's life ... including trying to fight off his ever-growing craving for human flesh.

Don's (Review): Having heard so, so much about this series - and it's subsequent films and anime TV series - for years, I was thrilled to get my hands on this volume, and am happy to say it lived up to (even surpassed) all my expectations. The stark black-and-white artwork is stunning, story replete with characters that breathe to life on the page, and Sui Ishida does an amazing job of making Ken Kaneki, in so short a time, one of the most endearing characters I've read in a while. You feel for this guy and the new, visceral and gory world he has to maneuver in, his deepest desire only to be human again even as you bleed for the guy because it's never going to happen. Supporting characters are just as strong (and surprsing), and I found myself glued to every panel throughout, to the point of being genuinely upset when I was done, and there was no more to read beause I didn't have volume two (especially given the teaser to it at the end of volume one). Terrific, scary, heartbreaking, darkly comic - and, I think (would have to look through  the list to be sure), my favorite manga/graphic novel read of 2020.  5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Reading: ASH & THORN VOL. 1: RECIPE FOR DISASTER - Mariah McCourt (author), Soo Lee & Jill Thompson (illustrators)

Prose: Putting together issues 1-5 of the popular comic series, this is volume one of a graphic novel where the Apocalypse is at hand, and the world's only chance at a savior comes in the form of ... a crotchety old African-American gal with dreads named Lottie Thorn, who - along with her equally old trainer/mentor, Lady Peruvia Ashligton-Voss - drinks coffee and bakes a lot, in between Lottie honing her skills in kicking bad-ass creatures, preparation for the biggest of Big Bads to come.

Don's: Storywise, there's a lot to like here; I was originally drawn to reading it when I saw it compared to "The Golden Girls" meets "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - and indeed, Lottie is built like Dorothy and has the same lack of tolerance for stupidity or baddies, while the chubby Lady Peruvia kind of feels like a Rose with more brains. The banter between these two is fun, as is the story, much of about Lottie's efforts to train even as she's already forced to fight monsters already seeping over into our world prior to the big invasion, as the graphic novel both plays up and pokes fun at various tropes of the genre. For me, though, the story just seemed a bit padded in the middle, to where I wasn't rushing to pick it up for some time, before finally getting to the final battle - and subsequent hint at a sequel - all of which, while fun reading it, afterward left me with wanting more. I'd also kind of fallen for the book's cover art, but to me inside the book the illustrations weren't up to the same style; darker, coarser, and with muted tones, the artwork is well-done and fits the mood of the dramatic part of the story, but for this reader didn't also reflect the wonderfully dry sense of humor sprinkled throughout, as well. Definitely worth a read, but will wait and see what volume two has in store before deciding to continue on with the series.  3/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Reading: MORIARTY THE PATRIOT, VOL. 1 - Ryosuke Takeuchi (author), Hikaru Miyoshi (illustrator)

Prose (Story): In 19th-century Britain class division has never been more pronounced, with nobles making money from and feeding off of the working class to maintain their lifestyle, while treating those who work to the death for them worse than animals. But for once, a noble is noticing the injustices of his class; first-born son Albert James Moriarty is disgusted with his nobility - even more with his own family's penchant for greed, and cruelty for the sake of fun - and when he talks his parents into adopting a pair of orphan brothers, noticing the more-than-unique level of intelligence of one of them who shares Albert's hatred of the rich and desire to level the playing field of the rich and the poor, a plan is set in motion. A plan that includes the destruction of Albert's own family ... and gives rise to the birth of the manipulative and highly-intelligent sociopath who would eventually become the arch-enemy of none other than the one and only Sherlock Holmes.

Don's (Review): A beautifully-illustrated manga tracing the rise of a young orphan with a hatred for nobles and desire for equality for all, who would become a professor while still in his teens and a Crime Consultant not above murder (execution?) of members of the piggish upper class as a means to an end. Just the start of a new series, readers are treated to Professor Moriarty as a young boy, manipulating a young noble tired of his life into aiding in the slaughter of his entire family, only to claim the orphaned Moriarty and his brother as his own blood to authorities afterward, securing their futures. It's only the beginning of the now-Moriarty brothers rise to destroying the rich and elevating the poor, and while this volume feels as if it only gives readers a bare-bones beginner's view of what our young professor is capable of doing - in terms of serving his country and making a better future, no matter how - the underlying genesis of the mad genius he would become before coming across Sherlock Holmes is there. Side characters and other villains - including Sebastian Moran - add dimension to the story, and by the end as a reader you really have a flavor for just how creepy one skinny like blond guy can be - and why he commands respect and fear from those who serve him. Wonderfully done, darkly funny at times, violent and edgy, and a delicious treat for anyone who ever wanted to see the one-percenters get what they deserve - even in 19th-century England. 4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Reading: MARY: THE ADVENTURES OF MARY SHELLEY'S GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT GRANDDAUGHTER - Brea Grant (author), Yishan Li (illustrator)

Prose (Story): Mary Shelley is a typical modern-day teen, if maybe a bit on the dark side. If she is dark, though, she had a reason: the overbearing legacy of being the great-times-5 granddaughter of none other than the Mary Shelley, the woman who became a legend by shocking society when she penned the iconic horror novel Frankenstein. Teen Mary is feeling the pressure of her lineage - for generations the female descendants of Mary Shelley have all proven themselves ambitious, successful novelists or writers - but somehow that bloodline seems to have run out in Mary, who doesn't want to be anything as much as she just wants to be. But when out late one night on the streets of her hometown in the rain, Mary come across a handsome young man limping her way. And when she finds out he's limping because he's holding his own severed foot in his hand - and has come to Mary asking her to re-attach it - the former goth-girl who spent so much time rejecting her heritage discovers that maybe she does have her own special talent, after all. Not to mention an affinity for attracting monsters.

Don's (Review): An interesting premise that, after a slightly slow start in building its world, blooms nicely into an original graphic novel about a young girl who believes she's pretty much coasting through life - not to mention trying to keep her pushy mother, aunt, and grandmother from driving her crazy by telling her she must be wonderful, somehow - who learns, with the help of a cute and possibly-dead boy, a Harpy, and a stuff bunny possessed by the spirit of Shirley Jackson, that her special gifts, indeed, might be the most important of all - not to mention save the monser community from extinction. The premise is great and mostly works, artwork suitably dark with shades of black and blue and purple, the writing especially strong in letting readers feel Mary's angst as a teen. If anything, I just wished for things to go on after the generally fulfilling Big Finale ... so much so that, if anything, I'm hoping at some point for a sequel. Oh yeah, and I seriously want my own Shirley Jackson-possessed bunny! Some toy manufacturer should seriously jump on this! 4/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Reading: TEEN TITANS GO! ROLL WITH IT - Heather Nuhfer & P.C. Morissey (authors), Agnes Garbowska & Sandy Jarrell (illustrators)

Prose (Story): Robin corrals the rest of the Teen Titans together for a rousing game of Basements & Basilisks, a D&D-style role-playing game with (naturally) Robin as the Basement Boss. But when Robin goes (naturally) goes overboard, drunk with power, and makes the game so difficult it's pretty much impossible to win, the rest of the Titans rebel, finding in a new Basement Boss who gives them a much easier time in the game ... so much so, Robin begins to realize that the other Titans are so into their fantasy world now - led on by a new BB who may not have the best of intentions - that his friends may just stay in there forever, ignoring their duties as crimefighters in Jump City.   

Don's (Review): While I have never played D&D or ever got into that gaming world, I still enjoyed watching Robin's ego leap out of control yet on cue - as well as watch the little guy try to reign it in again long enough to save his friends, especially as he caused the problem in the first place! The story is pretty standard - Robin as BB means an impossible-to-defeat game, the new BB making the game so ridiculously easy, the Titans get addicted - but for me, the real meat of the story is when the new BB's true identity is revealed, and the stakes ratchet up high for what might happen to Jump City if the Titans are lost in her world for good. I love a strong villain going up against the Titans, the more nefarious the better as it brings out Robin's crazier antics, and though I thought the second half of this graphic novel moved must faster than the first, time with the Titans is always well-spent; those kids are crazy! (Available November 10) 3.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received a free ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Reading: KILLER KUNG PAO - Vivien Chien

Prose (Story): Book 6 in Vivien Chien's wonderful Noodle Shop cozy mystery series takes crime closer to home when, during Lana Lee's hair coloring appointment at the Asian Accents salon just down the way from her own family-owned Ho-Lee Noodle House in the Asia Village shopping plaza, a fellow salon customer - the notorious Mildred "Millie" Mao, known for frivolous lawsuits and stirring up trouble wherever she goes - is electrocuted via her foot bath. When it's learned that the only woman disliked more in Asia Village than Millie Mao - June Yi, co-owner of Yi's Tea and Bakery, who'd just gotten into a minor traffic accident with Millie the day before, and made no pretense of how much she hated the woman - was also a customer in the salon that morning, seen nearby Millie just before her death, the case seems cut-and-dried even for Lana's cop boyfriend, Adam Trudeau ... until June's sister comes begging Lana for help in clearing her sister of murder, the put-upon restaurant manager grudgingly taking on another case.  

Don's (Review): How I love this series, and couldn't be happier finding the bulk of this one takes place on Lana's home turf at Asia Village, so we can spend even more time with the Mahjong Matrons, Lana's family, and the other residents and business owners inhabiting the amateur sleuth's world. Author Vivien Chien impresses upfront with the deliciously original method of murder, and throughout the rest of the book as well, as we - along with Lana - go back and forth on trying to decide whether the hateful, mean-spirited June Yi actually is guilty of murder, or not. Red herrings, potential side motives, and recurring characters from past books in the series all rev up to a denouement this reader found both very suspenseful, surprising, and hugely satisfying. Perhaps my favorite in the series so far, Killer Kung Pao is another winner for both author Chien, and the always likable Lana Lee. 4.5/5 stars

NOTE: I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.