A Year With Lindsey Stirling

In late April of last year my old musical buddy Meiko sent an email about her latest album being made with the help of a platform called PledgeMusic—first time I’d heard of it. After I signed up for that I noticed on the side it gives you recommendations for other artists, and one of those was Anna Nalick; been years, but yeah, sign me up! Then amongst others I checked out but didn’t like came a recommendation for someone I’d never heard of, Lindsey Stirling.
So I clicked on that, and it looked promising, since I love violin. At the time the artwork hadn’t been shown, so I had no idea what this was going to be about. I liked the title of the sample track, Crystalize, so I clicked on it and. . . it didn’t work. So I bookmarked the page for later, since I was in the middle of preparing for two weeks of photography in Jordan. So: packing, equipment check, visa, doctor checkup, etc.
Didn’t think much about it until after the trip to Jordan, where I found myself in a hotel room in Paris on May 28, with a two-day stopover before coming home to El Lay. As some of you know by now, I’m not a fan of this place—the only reason I’d come here on my own is if the Louvre had a yard sale—so I decided to see if I could sleep during the day and stay up all night for a very good reason.

It worked! I had no jetlag when I got back home.
More importantly, as soon as I got to my desktop in my living room, before answering all the emails and stuff, I went over to pledge Lindsey’s new album, and the rest is. . . herstory?

;o)

Book Reviews: More Kids’ Stuff

I think I’ve read more kiddie books this year than in my entire life, including when I was a kid.

Want to Know. Whales
Pretty watercolor drawings of a small boy who spends his time looking for whales at the beach.
From there it turns into factoids about whales—why they’re not fish, different types, etc.
All cutesy as expected, but can’t help but wonder if it might be too advanced for five-year-olds, especially at the end with the quizzes.
3.5/5

Princess Lemonella
From grumpy baby to sullen teenager, this princess never smiles. When the kind and queen put her up for royal marriage, princes from other fairy tales show up, asking her to let down her hair, offering her glass slippers and mattresses, and so on, but she’s not buying it.
It’s not till one guy ignores her by riding by that she gets interested, stopping him to find out why he’s not in the princess sweepstakes. Turns out he’s a sullen prince who’s also being forced to marry, and when they discover they’re exactly the same they. . . laugh. It’s beautiful.
If I had to describe this artwork I would go with mildly Impressionistic. Certainly not bad, just a tad different than most other kiddie books. It’s too bad the only time we can really like her doesn’t happen until the end; I wonder if kids will be able to keep their attention on this till then.
3.5/5

The Five Fierce Tigers of Rosa Martinez: A Tale of Healing
A sick little girl has five guardian tigers in her head, each with a different job/quirk/personality. There’s a leader, the efficient one, the funny, the one who was “far more interested in being right than being happy,” and the one who has trouble staying in one place. Thankfully there’s a flashback as to how they came into being, thanks to her grandfather/shaman.
Somewhere in the middle the job of the tigers is revealed, then it all makes sense.
Really nothing much to say here. The good is in the world building, as well as the characters. The plot itself is straightforward. The artwork is good enough, and thankfully the tigers are easy to tell apart.
3.5/5

A Wish Come True
Sick little boy—so sick his friends can’t see him in the hospital—gets a visit from the wish fairies, also known as the Make-A-Wish® Foundation. What he wants to do is catch bad guys, and when he’s better he gets his wish, starting with a visit to a fire station. That’s followed by some police training, including cuffing his own dad.
When they go out on a call I instantly thought it had been set up so the kid would catch the bad guy, but no, it was an actual police call! What? You let a little kid do that? Even though it turned out okay in the end, that’s just ridiculous, and ruined what was looking to be a very good book grounded in reality. Dropped a point.
Ends with the history of the Make-A-Wish® Foundation.
3/5

Kobee Manatee: Shipwreck Sea Friends
A manatee and his buds swim off to play in a shipwreck, meeting all kinds of sea creatures along the way. The manatee wears a vest and beret, the seahorse has a huge red bouffant. While exploring the wreck, the manatee gets trapped inside and needs to be rescued. Many try to help, but it takes size to save the day this time.
Each page had fun facts, with the first one the most interesting: the wreck they explore, despite being over 100 years old, was made of steel and had electricity! The sawfish is a ray, even though it looks like a shark, so even adults can learn stuff here.
As you might expect, blue is the predominant color. Having never been in water further down than a couple of feet—except for the ride at Disneyland—I’d imagine the sea is not so bright and colorful that far down, which should have been included in the fun facts, but kids will enjoy looking at this strange new world.
4/5

My Brother Tom
Tom is not like other brothers, being born premature and having to stay in the hospital. Angels appear outside the window. Nice simple paintings make the text easy to follow for the very young, though I wonder if this is a situation too scary—or too hard to grasp—for that age.
This is not a book about coping with loss or anything like that. In fact, it’s a fundraiser for a charity that provides support for those who find themselves in this situation.
3.5/5

Little Kangaroo
Not-so-little Roo doesn’t want to leave Mom’s pouch, where it’s warm and she gets fed and doesn’t have to do her own jumping. Mom tries to convince her that there’s so much beauty in the world, but she’s not interested. The art shows them in all kinds of places—forests, deserts—and they even share an ecosystem with elephants, whom Little Roo calls stupid. Birds, butterflies, monkeys, none of them get her attention until at the end she finds something that’s fun to do. . . outside.
The dedication states “For all the little ones who will let go of their moms (and for all the moms who manage to let go of their little ones)” and that pretty much says it all.
3.5/5

The Only Way I Can
A rabbit sees a bird flying and wants to do that. When he asks for help, the bird pretty much screws with him until Rabbit figures out how to use his powerful legs in another way. At the end the bird is impressed by rabbit’s running ability, but goes home before he gets any crazy ideas.
The artwork is fine, but if there’s a point to this story, it eludes me. Perhaps be happy with what you have or who you are?
3/5

My Good Morning
A rhyming story about how a little girl manages to get up and be ready for school every morning before her parents, without the benefit of coffee. Proves that you have to be born that way in order to be a morning person.
There’s a lot of cuteness here, from her mismatched socks to the artwork to the fact no big deal is made that this is a mixed-race family. The ending is particularly “Awwww!”
4/5

I Don’t Want a Rabbit
The little boy really doesn’t, but not for any reason you’d expect, unless you were a social worker trained to deal with sad kids.
Not much to say about this one, other than the artwork is incredibly cute, starting from the cover. Eventually the kid figures it out and accepts his new pet, but has to do it without any guidance from his parents, which seems weird. The bunny was almost human in the way it acted, and was able to withstand all of the kid’s plots to get rid of him. It’s a cute story, but something seems missing.
3/5

Come Be Wild With Me
In this case the wildness of the title is not in how you act, but where you go. “You must unplug to reconnect” is the first thing you read, while the last is, “When we’re good and ready, we’ll return to the world—happier boys and girls.” In between is all the things that can be done when you go for a walk in the woods.
The artwork is black and white with the sun and leaves in color. Looks quite stark.
3.5/5

Chocolate Mixer
A little girl sings—and rhymes well—about her parents and which parts of her body come from each, like her nose and toes. She has friends who are both chocolate and vanilla—her words—but seems fascinated the most by those things that are mixed like her.
Basically saying “Be yourself” with a lot of bright artwork.
3.5/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Snapshots: Amman

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

Word Reviews: Nerd, Geek, Dork

Had been looking forward to a few days alone to get stuff done. . . and instantly strained a groin (good thing I have one left!). So of course my mind turned to cookier things, like how I would rank these three words in order of which one I least want to be called all the way to “Eh, don’t mind.”

First the dictionary meanings.

{Geek: a peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward.}
Hey, I’m all three! Yay! Do note that the original meaning of this word was “circus performer who bites the heads off chickens.” Now I don’t feel as bad.

{Nerd: a person considered to be socially awkward, boring, unstylish, etc.}
Only one fits me! Okay, two, but I’m never boring!

{Dork: a silly, out-of-touch person who tends to look odd or behave ridiculously around others.}
Me, ridiculous? Never!

Right away there’s a problem: “Dork” doesn’t really fit in with the other two, at least not as tightly as those two do with each other. “Nerd” and “Geek” seem pretty specifically geared toward those who love science fiction and fantasy, gaming, tech, and so on. But “Dork” could be about anything, or about nothing, simply a perception of not being cool. But that very non-specificity hurts its reputation, as some people will gladly take the mantle of nerd or geek proudly; there’s no similar cachet to being a dork.
So that solves the worse, but there’s more fun ahead, as we have to figure out if we’d rather be a geek or a nerd. They’re actually so similar than at least in two dictionaries I checked they’re synonyms for each other. So since that’s no help, it’ll have to come down to personal preference. . . no, that’s no good either. I’ll just have to go with instinct without being able to explain it.
So I’m going with nerd as best, then geek, then dork.
Phew! That was more exhausting than I thought!

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Air

In honor of seeing Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba last week, here’s one of his little ditties, of which there must be thousands.

The air
pregnant with rainbows
shatters its mirrors
over the grove.

;o)

Book Reviews: Tokyo, Swine, Cats and Dogs

Fair warning: I’m writing this while watching Lucifer, so who knows what might happen.

Last Train
Hiroshi is a forensic accountant for the Tokyo police, who gets more than he bargains for when he helps out an old friend on an investigation. Did that American throw himself in front of the train, or was he pushed?
Well plotted, with good flashbacks showing the villain’s motivation. The protagonist is also fleshed out well, with lots of light humorous touches because he doesn’t take himself too seriously. His new assistant and the sumo cops add to the small bites of hilarity, although some of that was lost in the scene that shows the Tokyo police find it perfectly okay to rough up a suspect; at least they put the shoulder back where they found it.
Michael Pronko is one of my fave non-fic writers; his essays on Japan are simply amazing. So it was a bit of a surprise to find that, in comparison to the smooth syntax of his non-fiction writings, this feels almost stilted, not nearly as graceful. It did get better as it went on, but early there was an overabundance of “He said.” Since most conversations are between two men, it’s useless, in addition to being boring. He did use “gurgled” once, which made me grin.
And the ending left me unsatisfied. The last death, be it suicide or not, doesn’t sit well with me as a fitting closeout for that character, especially after the reveal of the DVD, but maybe it’s a cultural thing. Other than that, it’s a good fun story with great characters that I did enjoy more as it went on.
3.5/5

Suit Your Selfie: A Pearls Before Swine Collection
“Gather ‘round the smartphone, kids!”
Been barely a month since I read the latest collection of groan-worthy puns featuring Pig, Goat, Rat, and friends, but it turns out this is basically the same edition with some of the more risqué strips taken out, geared toward a younger audience. Beats me which ones were removed, but I enjoyed reading through them again; “elf storage” hit me more the second time.
4/5

Life Lessons from Catsass
First and foremost, is it Cat-Sass or Cat’s-Ass? Cuz both work.
Right from the first page I get what kind of style this is. “Have you noticed how peaceful I look when you’re quiet?” instead of “Shut the f— up!” Exactly. Some of these I completely agree with, others are downright stupid, but there’s enough good stuff to outweigh the bad.
One of the bad has to be how difficult—though I suppose not impossible—to do the coloring pages on an ebook. The origami kitten toy would be hard as well. And the connect-the-dots. . . and the cutouts. . .
But some are truly hilarious!
“Stop reading and rub my belly!”
“You forgot your pants, miss.” “Is this your little sister’s dress you’re wearing?” and “Is your outfit a tribute to your grandmother?”
Remember that mean trick where you were weighing yourself and someone adds their foot on the scale? Cats invented that.
“Cats make great drug smugglers” and “Cat lovers are part of a cult.”
I’m the Allergic, so of course I had to take playful offense to some of these.
Public service announcement: do NOT send in those $150!
This feline tries his hardest to be grumpier than the famous one, but only comes off as arrogant. . . which is a typical trait for cats, after all. But all that really matters is that it’s usually funny.
3.5/5

101 Amazing Things About Dog Lovers
According to this book, there’s a new definition of “amazing.” It now includes things that are merely cute, somewhat humorous, or even mundane. Then there’s the other part of the title; quite a few of the entries were about dogs, not dog lovers.
For such a short book, this took forever to slog through. There’s some snark, thankfully; occasionally they’ll bust out a really funny one. But there’s not even close to enough to make this a worthwhile read.
The high point for me was seeing my favorite actress mentioned. Katherine Heigl has a number of charities that, among other things, pay to spay and neuter, move dogs to no-kill shelters, and do their best to find homes, especially for Chihuahuas.
Okay then, let’s address the Christian elephant in the room. Each of the 101 is followed by a quote from the bible. . . which has absolutely nothing to do with the chapter, or even with dogs! They’re obviously included just to wring a few bucks out of the credulous. And the use of the word “amazing” in the title is such obvious clickbait they should be penalized for it.
2/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Erotic Paris, NY, Hawaii, Elsewhere

“Come straight home after school! No stopping for ice cream or tramp stamps!”
“Space already taken,” she smiled sweetly on her way out.

A New York Minute
A TV personality whose dream of having her own talk show came true finds it gone when a big corp buys up the network and cancels the show. Her wallet and ego force her to accept a contract with the new owners, not knowing she’ll get a job she hated earlier in her career—at least it’s in Hawaii—and be put in the proximity of a guy she can’t stand/wants to have sex with.
Yes, it’s one of those plots where the two characters—arrogant guy, arrogant girl—hate each other but can’t deny the sexual attraction, and angry sex somehow becomes love. Even though I could see why she was so mad, it got tiring after a while. Of course what happened between them might not have if there wasn’t someone way worse to make her look so good in comparison, and it’s not like he’s a prize either, at least till the obligatory redemption. The positive note I have for her is that, even though she had every right to hate Bridgette, she earned my respect when she admits the girl actually does pretty well in front of the camera.
For having a plot I can’t stand, I actually enjoyed the writing quite a bit. I didn’t expect to like these characters considering how they started, and they’re still not amongst my faves, but their witty banter grew on me.
3/5

The Handy Men
A woman defies her idiot parents by buying a small hotel by the seashore, and is in lust for the two handymen even though she knows they’re a couple. The guys want her too, but it’s never that easy, is it? Especially when three’s a crowded bed.
What always saves these silly premises is the banter, which is witty here. Loved the female main character, and thankfully the guys weren’t jerks. The parents and ex-husband were sick one-dimensional villains, but Barbie was a pleasant surprise, though I have no idea why she’s marrying the ex; he’s not that rich.
There is one plot point that annoyed me. Toward the end she’s in need of $60,000. She tries to scratch it together, and so do the guys, and there isn’t one single thought of combining. Communication, people!
But there is one part that I so thoroughly loved it inspired me to raise the score half a point. Here’s the passage:
“It’s from Jerry Maguire.”
“The‘show me the money’ movie?”
“You’re hopeless with the classics,” Dean said.
“No. The classics are movies that happened before we were born. Casablanca and Somewhere in Time.”
Dean shook his head. “Bogart didn’t get the girl, and Christopher Reeves slowly withered away and died.”
“Because of love.” Jack sighed in contentment. “Isn’t that romantic?”
“You have issues.”
“Love hurts.”
Other than it being Reeve instead of Reeves, spot on. Can’t believe my two fave movies are the example!
3.5/5

26 Hours in Paris
(I had to restart this about halfway through because a power outage screwed up the kindle and I lost all my notes; hopefully my annoyance of that doesn’t come through.)
Reporter plots a trip to Paris to write about finding love, only to have her friend/boss tell her “one true love” from the past that she’s on her way. So things do not go as she expected.
It takes one hug from this guy and all her plans evaporate; wonder what it’s like having so much power over women. Though his inner thoughts about not taking no for an answer. . . there’s a fine line between determined and psychopath, especially when they’re rich.
Having read this author’s Greece story before this one, I can say I didn’t like Kat anywhere near as much as Bethany, and Marko is a far cry from Paul and Justin. The story of his cousin is nice, but not enough to overcome how I felt about him. In the other story Paul and Justin could be jerks at times, but Marko takes that far beyond. I can honestly say I hate him. I’ve been having to deal with guys like this all my life, who screwed up women’s lives and expectations until they assumed every guy was like that.
The writing is just as excellent as the other story, though. Their banter, when he’s not being a pompous ass, is close to scintillating. There’s a few places where there’s way too much inner monologue, which was my main beef with the other book. Even Marko tells her at one point, “No thinking. . . you promised.” There’s a few really good scenes, particularly their trek up the Eiffel Tower and when Antoine makes himself the third wheel. The sex club was a strange twist though, changing the tone of what had up to then been more of a romance with sex rather than romantic erotica.
The plot twist toward the end was only to show her insecurities and have him do his “I know what’s best” routine some more, which is annoying but apparently necessary in the genre.
I probably would have liked this a little bit more if I’d read it before the Greece one; I know I’m not supposed to compare, but I can’t help it. I still wouldn’t have liked it more, though.
3/5

Atonement
Serious warning: do not read this book without having read the previous ones; it just didn’t work with so much having happened that I haven’t read, and brief mentions aren’t enough. Most of what happens here is how the three are dealing with what happened in the earlier stories.
What I do get is that a married couple have invited another man to bed with them; the two guys have been friends for years. But it’s not just so he can get it on with the wife while the husband watches; the two men are lovers with each other as well. In his inner monologue the husband isn’t so sure about this, his objections being more about his new bisexuality than jealousy. And the friend can’t understand that she actually loves him just as much and is treating him like a second husband. A lot of his introspection deals with how weird the situation is for him.
And yes, there’s so much introspection! No wonder this book is so long. In fact, this story is all introspection and sex except for his dad visiting and her quilting class, along with various parental responses to the unorthodox relationship; nothing much happens until the end. Most of her story deals with her being the happy homemaker and lover to two men, although she does get jealous at the relationship her husband has with his AA sponsor, especially when she learns something that happened in a previous book. . . which of course leads to another long introspection. It is a valid point, though; the people in AA know more about her husband than she does, even though he’s supposed to be more forthcoming with her.
In the end I’m just not sure how I feel about this. Didn’t love it, but liked it enough, mostly because of the funny moments, of which there are a lot. There’s plenty of good writing when it’s not taking forever to get to the point.
3/5

;o)