Book Reviews: Weekend Quad

Dukkha Unloaded
Interspaced with plenty of martial arts, this novel by Loren W. Christensen isn’t as much a mystery as a police procedural, involving a Portland cop who’d recently shot a child and then saved people in Vietnam (stuff that happened in previous novels, which I have not read). Here he’s given a new job, involving bringing down some racist killers.
About halfway through his girlfriend from Vietnam–they’re not really related, we’re told–comes to town; their scenes together are the best in the book, showing off a still budding romance where they illustrate their love for each other while still able to playfully tease. Along with the PTSD, both his and one of his new martial arts students, this makes the book a lot more than just a simple police story. 4/5

Enzan The Far Mountain
A story from John Donohue about a martial artist in Noo Yawk who is hired to “retrieve” a rich Japanese girl from a bad guy who supposedly got her hooked on drugs and sex. But of course it’s never that simple, as North Koreans, a huge snowstorm, his angry brother, a victim who might be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or might not, and the past of his sensei complicate matters tremendously. As would be expected, there’s plenty of fight scenes; people get beaten up, killed, or almost killed with frequency; I found the descriptions of the various martial arts moves fascinating, but the results of the blows not so much. My only annoyance was the hero not thinking things through when he goes to rescue her and gets bopped on the head; shoulda seen that coming, bro. 3.5/5

The Experiment of Dreams
What starts as seemingly harmless experiments into dreams turns into something much more sinister. Since REM sleep is one of my many interests I found the first parts intriguing, as well as the art he’s paid to look at. But toward the end I was confused as to whether he was dreaming or not–as was the character, and as I was supposed to be, I guess–which made me feel like it didn’t work as well as the rest of the book. The end is revealed to be something a lot more pedestrian, even with some twists; couldn’t help but feeling a little let down after the more interesting first half, but it was still well worth the read. 3.5/5

The Devil Will Come
This is the second book by Glenn Cooper I’ve read, but this bears little similarity to the other. Right away it starts in the Vatican, with an archaeological mystery and a conspiracy that goes back millennia, as I’ve read far too often the last few years. There are frequent detours to Nero’s Rome and Christopher Marlowe’s England; now we know why Rome burned, though I’m sad and disappointed that one of my heroes–Marlowe, not Nero–is cast as a bad guy here. Also involved is the now-famous book by Saint Malachy, Prophesy of the Popes; this has also been overused recently, and I’m not kidding when I say the very next book I picked up–electronically–also features it.
The best part is the characters, particularly the lead and her family; I’m with her father, I can’t really see why she became a nun, but so it goes. But if Mr. Cooper made up this whole story out of the hieroglyphic monad. . . that’s as impressive a jump of imagination as Peter Shaffer coming up with Equus out of a news item of horses getting their eyes stabbed. 4/5



Travel Thursday: London Apres One Night Stand

It was only as I was leaving her place that I realized arriving in a taxi last night left me with no idea where I was. But since she’d been kind enough to provide breakfast I was in no hurry to get anywhere, and as I liked to do in big cities, as long as the neighborhood looked okay, I simply wandered aimlessly for a while.
The first thing I noticed, and you know how observant I am, was all the streets had a Great before them: Great Portland Street, Great Titchfield Street, and so on. I didn’t see anything particularly great about them, but maybe I didn’t know the correct definition, at least according to the Oxford version of the language. After all, how could you communicate correctly with a people who insisted on putting a “u” in colour and flavour and such beautiful words like that?
Then I remembered that the Canadians also put in the extra vowel, though at least they pronounced it correctly. One supposedly refined lady had chided me for not pronouncing color according to the way she was taught. “Don’t you know the Queen’s English?” she berated, to which I had responded in a surprised tone, “Of course she is. How else could she be Queen?”
And then I was forced to duck.
The involuntary smile at that memory left in a hurry as I saw what the next street held, full of what the locals called furriers. I made the turn instinctively, not wanting to even acknowledge the existence of such stores. More importantly, this way I wouldn’t have to keep myself from smashing a window or torching the stores. With a bit of logic I told myself there was no way to release the furs back into the wild, but deep down I knew I’d feel a lot better, even if the dead animals felt no vindication. I could probably even talk my way out of an arrest, saying I was on a secret mission and letting some local friends fix things. Setting up a cover to infiltrate ecological terrorists! Yeah, that worked. . .
I shook my head to clear those thoughts, which were not like me at all. Apparently I didn’t shake my head hard enough, but then the next few streets didn’t make it any easier. I suddenly found myself in front of Middlesex Hospital; the names here could be quite ridiculous. A sign informed me that Rudyard Kipling had died there in 1936. . . not much of a memorial. This area seemed to be surrounded by death.
When I somehow reached Charlette Street, full of foreign restaurants, another sign told me the painter John Constable had died at #76 in 1837. Funny; the houses only went up to #74. If there had been a house there, it was dead now too.
Somehow I ended up on a street called Scala, though I very much doubted I’d been magically transported to Milan; a little opera at the right moment was always good, but this was not the right moment. Suddenly I realized some of these buildings looked familiar, but it wasn’t until I stopped in front of Pollock’s Toy Museum did I remember I’d been here before.
This museum was an exhibition of toys and dolls of many countries and periods, as well as having theaters and early experiments of what later became movies. More to the point, I remembered the beautiful and intelligent lady who’d been my guide that day. It took two or three associations in my brain to even come up with a first letter. Corinna. . . no. Camille. . . close. Camilia! Maybe. . .
Suddenly I wasn’t sure about going in, knowing there was nothing worse for a woman than the guy forgetting her name. On the other hand, maybe seeing her face in person would jog the name into my buffer. So I paid the admission and immediately looked for her. Even if I didn’t find her, I figured a good walk surrounded by toys might lift me from the low spirits inspired by what had really turned into a depressing and death-filled walk.


Poetry Tuesday: Song of a Marriageable girl

19th century poem from a member of the Pygmy tribe in Africa.

Will a man come for me?
The good spirit of the forest knows.
He could tell little Medje;
But he will not tell.
There are things it is not right to know:
If there will be dew on the grass tomorrow,
If the fish will come to the trap and be caught,
If a spell put on the gazelle
Will let my father kill it.


Travel Thursday: She puts the Ice in Iceland, part 3

The next morning we left our room to brace the chill air again, heading for the appropriately named Blue Café, The Brit lugging her laptop along and grumbling at me for not doing the same. . . until I informed her I’d already done my internet check for the morning.
“Oh do shut up,” she muttered, making me wonder if she had a hangover, though I would have imagined her workout would have taken care of that, or rather she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish much exercise with one.
The Blue Café claimed to be the centre of the action–the British spelling, I noticed with amusement–though at this time in the morning there wasn’t much of that yet. Once inside we found it brighter than it really needed to be, with floor-to-ceiling windows making it look even more spacious, the direct opposite of the romantic ambiance of both the restaurant and the bar last night. Since this place was open to anyone and everyone, it had to be that big, and even had an outside porch, for those really that crazy, but again we were too early to have to deal with much of a crowd.
With a grin as I looked over the menu, I told her, “Do everyone a favor and stick with tea this morning. The last thing you need is more wine. . . or beer, you typical Brit.”
She introduced me to her favorite finger, then got that mischievous smile of her own as she intoned, “I’ve never had sushi for breakfast. . .”
I didn’t care; I wasn’t planning on kissing her, though the smell might make me sick. It was no surprise to me when she added a salad to her order, but then neither was she taken aback when, taking a page from her dinner wine order, I ordered both a bacon and egg sandwich as well as a ham and cheese sandwich when I couldn’t decide between them. I was assured the bread was made from scratch just a few minutes ago–as was the sushi, which I didn’t need to know–but that hardly mattered to me as for a moment I wondered if the milk, as well as last night’s steak, was imported. . . and if the cows knew each other. Luckily I let it pass quickly and easily, being hungry enough to dig in right away.
And of course I had ice cream after, topping it off with nuts to make a drumstick without the stick, enjoying it for itself as well as the annoyance factor it gave her. Slurping on an orange/vanilla smoothie as we walked out, with her snarking about someone other than her needing a trip to the gym, we headed back to the hotel room, though only to change into swim attire for another round of burning stinky water.
A few minutes later she led the way back to the Blue Lagoon, as usual making a face at having to shower first, once she stored her overclothes in a locker. Don’t they realize how much colder it feels with your hair wet?
“Ever listen to Raining Jane?” she tossed off on the way to the water.
Snort. “Are you serious? I’m the one who told you about them!”
“Not true!”
“You wouldn’t know anything about music if it wasn’t for me.”
“What a slanderous lie!”
“That’s a slanderous lie!”
Snort. “You’re suffering from narcissistic affectation.”
Using what I remembered from her snootiest accent, I Oxbridge’d, “I’m sure I have not the slightest idea what that means.”
Sighing, she swam–or paddled–away, not about to admit she had no idea how to counter that, especially when I did the accent almost better than her. In the distance she saw what looked to be a cube floating in the water, and as she floated closer–pushing off with her feet, basically walking with her torso bent forward, as the water was shallow–she quickly found it to be the Lagoon Bar, which most likely had exactly what she needed right now.
For a moment she remembered she had no pockets in her swimsuit, but just as quickly she recalled the bracelets we’d been given were pretty much credit cards. So with a grin she got in line, quickly realizing this really had all the makings of a bar as she was quickly hit on, rejecting all offers that would let her cut ahead because she said she was having fun flirting with all her boys. . .
And even more fun watching all the boys puff up like peacocks. . .
Luckily she soon became hungry for lunch, though she did promise to see them again in the afternoon. Finding me quickly–alone–we headed back to the showers, once again grousing at the amazingly strict code of hygiene that required guests to shower before and after bathing. It didn’t help that the shower water flowing through the plumbing was just as stinky as the lagoon, though I felt better when I noticed all the beautiful women around me smelled just as bad-eggy as me.
Once past that, I remembered something about the lunch buffet having what they called “steak of the day,” which I figured I could live with as long as they didn’t put anything disgusting on it, and the thought of some different kind of fish brightened her as well.
“So,” she fake-perked after grabbing our goods from the long buffet table and sitting, “have you wondered what makes people want to vacation here?”
I swigged from my ever-present 7-up. “Look at that girl over there–why do you think she’s here?”
Dreading that it might be the redhead, relieved when it wasn’t, The Brit did her best to stare without being noticed. “Why does any single girl show up here? To party!”
“Wouldn’t she be in the bar? Or in the bar out in the water?” Like you, I didn’t need to add, since she blushed anyway. “Besides, she’s reading.”
“So she’s on a relaxing vacation.”
“Far cheaper places for that. Keep going.”
“Maybe she’s hoping to Mr. Right! Fall in love, live happily ever after.”
“Did you get that from the book she’s reading?”
“Hadn’t noticed,” she admitted, though now looking closer. Not knowing it, she gauged from the title that it was some kind of cross between fantasy and romance. Just your type, she grinned, but knew I wouldn’t let her off that easily. “So she believes in fairytales. Maybe she’s hoping for fate to sweep her away, a kiss of kismet. . .” I made a face at that last one, but she seemed to be on a roll. “Hoping for love at first sight, she imagines her knight in shining armor: abs of steel, hair longer and thicker than hers, emerging from the stinky water to pick her up and carry her away.”
“Betcha she orders ice cream for dessert.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? I can’t see how you eat so much, as well as drink that drink you have in front of–”
“Watch me chug this 7-up like it’s tequila!”
She winced involuntarily, then gave me her patented glare, which I’d seen enough times to be vaccinated against. Knowing she was doomed to failure there, she sighed, “Fine, let’s go to the bar again.”
“Really? Do they have AA in England?”
“That attempt at alliteration did not work,” she informed me, as always missing the point on purpose. “You can take photos from the viewing platform.”
“Don’t teach your grandpa to suck eggs,” I returned easily, “even if he smells like them today.”
“Don’t we all. . .”
This time I didn’t bother to pretend to get a drink, letting her cover for me by flirting with the bartender–a different one from last night, I noticed. Making sure to use the wide-angle lens, in case someone accused me of bathing beauties being my sole interest, I let my mind wander a bit more over the subject she’d brought up earlier. Despite how well I’d eaten here, people didn’t travel to Iceland for the food; there was Italy and France and so on for that. No, tourists flocked here for the glorious nature, the unique and stunning views. So with that thought I changed lenses and shot like I was being paid to do so.
Concentrating on the photographic always made me feel better. From up here it was easy to observe why Iceland’s terrain was often compared to the surface of the moon: landscapes cut by giant glaciers, charred by molten lava. . . it wasn’t at all hard to get why NASA brought astronauts here to prepare them for missions on that other rock. Again I wondered just how those famous horses could ride through such rough and downright treacherous terrain, but then I figured a thousand years of genetics would make even the wildest animal surefooted. Couldn’t be as hard as those goats who liked to cling to fjords all over Norway and Alaska and probably New Zealand too, for all I knew.
And then I had to keep from giggling as I remembered those silly tree-climbing goats in Morocco. . .
But finally I was done, and the bartender must have said the wrong thing, for she flounced away from him and back toward the exit at the same moment I arrived there. For once I didn’t bother to ask, or even make a snark, even though I had one prepared, something about a girl being really repulsive if she couldn’t score with a bartender. . .
Instead we walked back out into the cold in silence, then stopped to look around. Finally she sighed, “Let’s go back to our room and. . . rest. And I really mean that. It’ll get me in the mood for another long soak in the afternoon.”
“You’re not bored of it?”
“Not at all!” She looked positively shocked by the very idea. “Are you?”
“Immensely. Let’s go look at the activities board in the lobby first.”
But as we made our way there we were passed by a long train of tourists, doing what tourists did best: taking tours. To me it seemed rather silly–if you were already here, you might as well take a dunk in the water–but obviously not everyone agreed with the sentiment, or the price. Instead we had to flash bored looks at photographers and voyeurs wearing parkas before heading back to shelter to continue their “Worldwide tour of Iceland,” as I termed it and she giggled.


Book Reviews: Revenge Of

In this story by Neil Cross, a man with terminal cancer sets out to apologize to people he feels he wronged. only to find his grade school sweetheart missing and supposedly killed by her husband.
I enjoyed it for the most part, though nothing particularly screamed at me. Toward the end I found it becoming a bit sadistic, and there’s some killings which probably didn’t need to be there. The last twist annoyed me as well. 3.5/5

The Iraq Lie
It’s gonna be hard for me to give an impartial review, because this disclosure by Joseph M. Hoeffel, former representative from Pennsylvania, basically confirmed what I’d suspected all along. On the other hand, the writing here is quite bad, and incredibly repetitive–this could have been then length of a pamphlet had not the exact same phrases been used over and over, and half of it was quotes and notes. Yet it was still hard getting through.
Loved what he said, hated how he said it. I’d give it a five for content–the first time it’s said–but a one in writing ability, and possibly a negative in editing, if indeed there was any. 2/5

The Perfect Corpse
A strange tale from Giles Milton about finding a man frozen in Greenland for 70 years and the desire to reanimate him. . . to make money, of course. From there things get even more strange, involving mistaken identity, plenty of World War 2 history, and a killing spree. Much of interest, though some of the characters are relatively stereotypical. As usual, women flock to British accents. . . 4/5

Fatal Destiny
There’s been female bounty hunters before, but never one that was rich and didn’t need the money, did it for other reasons. On the other hand, it seems like every woman who became a cop did it because their mother had been killed and no one was investigating. And of course she has to have friends still on the force, as well as enemies, among them an ex/again-lover. So while I didn’t find anything new in this mystery by David DeLee, the writing, particularly the descriptions of Columbus as well as her fortress of solitude–complete with monkey–makes this a worthwhile read. 3.5/5 pushed to 4 stars