Book Reviews: Murder, Martians, and Actresses

Overheard outside UCLA hospital: “She’d be good for transplants; she hasn’t rejected an organ since high school.”

Yucatán Is Murder
There’s an intriguing murder mystery inside this book, but it’s gonna take a huge amount of editing to carve it out.
As implied in the title, this takes place in southeastern Mexico, from Merida to the coast. A freelance scientist is helping his significant other with a sociological/medical project among the native Maya. The first murder takes place and the scientist finds the body because he likes birds, in this case vultures. The police don’t care, so he takes it upon himself to solve the crime, as he’s done in previous novels, I’m sure. As expected from this kind of story, he gets himself into trouble with the killers and not only becomes a target, but gets others killed too.
I am a very fast reader, but this took forever: far too long and plodding, with overly stretched philosophical rambles and discussions as well as tons of description and scientific explanations. The most clever moment was using Mayan glyphs for a hidden message, and there’s a lot to learn from the various scientific disciplines he knows, but it’s overdone and told in a style too matter-of-fact to enjoy.

A couple is tricked into the desert to be fodder for a sniper who’s done this before, a lot. Along with another group of three they have to survive the bad guy and his assistants.
It’s hard to believe such a story, which takes place in one day and half a night, could take up so many pages. This was far more interesting and enjoyable than I would have expected, in a way reminding me of a running battle between a destroyer and a sub. There’s also plenty of psychological fun, particularly between the sniper and the protagonist but among others as well. I think it’s silly of them to push this as “The Most Gripping Suspense Thriller You Will Ever Read!” and will ultimately work against them, but it is a damned good story despite those impossible expectations.

Joi Lansing—A Body to Die For
There are plenty of actresses famous for their looks who, despite having decent careers, are quickly forgotten. This is the partial biography of one of them, as told by her last lover and self-proclaimed love of her life.
As someone who’s read a lot on TV shows of the 60s and 70s, I can name plenty of actresses who had moderate success while trying to be the next Marilyn, but Joi Lansing was never one of those names. Looking her up on the internet, one can see why this book is given that subtitle. Though wary because this was written by someone who wants to make her look good, it seems she was one of those genuinely nice people in Hollywood who, while making some friends and contacts, was swallowed up by the movie-making machine that could turn saints into assholes. If this book is to be believed, she was not one of them, keeping her upbeat demeanor and vivacity to the end. And it’s that very end that is the center of this book, making it a tough read at times. By the last chapter I was glad it was over, both her suffering and the reading.
Even though it’s a biography, this can also serve as a cautionary tale of the kind of shit rich powerful men pull on gorgeous young ladies trying to get by in the business of making movies. One can only hope the situation has gotten better, though from some of the stuff described here it’s hard to believe it can get worse.

Aoleon, The Martian Girl
An action-packed science-fiction short likely made for pre-teens, it involves a young Martian girl who is the reason for those crop circles seen on farms all the time. When she’s not very careful about being discreet she runs into a farmboy, and together they get chased by a three-legged dog and a sleepy farmer that necessitates them escaping together in her flying saucer.
There’s a wry humor here that sneaks up on you; if you’re not paying attention you might miss it. Her telepathic abilities allow them to communicate easily, so of course he has to be careful what he thinks, leading to more comedy.
The second part of the story involves various military aircraft trying to shoot them down. While the action is well written and would have fit right in with an adult genre, this is ridiculous in a book meant for kids. From all the broken glass as they sonic-boom all over the country, to the panicky fishermen that jump into the frigid water to escape a crash, to a whole Ferris wheel rolling down the street in Paris. . . can you imagine how many people must have been killed in what is portrayed as a fun romp without any consequences?
I will say the artwork is well done. It doesn’t have a real ending, just a hook for the next part, allowing this to be a quick and easy read.


Poetry Tuesday: Gaffer Speaks

Ghulam-Reza Ruhani, early 20th century Persia

I remember despotic times
those days were good, everything cheap;
life was slow, uninterfered with,
bread, farthing a loaf,
and butter, fourpence a pound.
It was quiet and carefree
on hearts in disarray,
with only a single robber in the land,
and he a king.

But now, in every hamlet, borough-council,
Chamber of Deputies and Senate House,
thieves are all called:
Milord and Your Honor!

Those were the days of liberty,
under despotism we were free.


Book Reviews: Hot Vampires, Cold War, Porn, and Heavy Metal Romance

To a donkey, straw is more valuable than gold.
(Though there’s some mention that it might have been Heraclitus.)

Subtitled: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment, and as one would expect from that, I came into this book thinking it would be a sociological study on the porn industry. It isn’t; I suppose one would read her doctorial dissertation for that, but once I adjusted that expectation, I found myself liking it more. What it turned out to be was a collection of stories about how she did her research, some of them hilarious, some gross, some both, all intriguing. If you look at the author’s photo, where she comes off as incredibly serious, you would not expect her to be in all these situations, but that belief is shattered by the stories of her childhood and college days, and of course her time on porn sets and award shows. If her goal was to prove that those  who have sex on camera for a living are people too, mission accomplished.

Vampirella Feary Tales
If ever there was a graphic novel you shouldn’t take too seriously, this is the one.
I’ve heard of this character, and might have glanced at a previous edition, but other than her glam looks and tiny costume I knew nothing about her. In this book she inherits a castle after killing a family member/bad guy. While checking out her new digs she finds a strange book called Feary Tales, which she promptly and literally falls into. Like Gumby, she becomes a part of the feary stories and must make her way through to the end to escape.
If you love puns, you must go out and get this immediately; even if you don’t, this is still chuckle- and groan-worthy enough to be fun. The running gag is that she can hear the narrator, who makes her quickly sick of the puns; in one story the guide takes it to another level by rhyming, which really ticks her off. At one point the narrator cooes, “Welcome back, gentle bleeders.” A lot of the humor is only chuckle-worthy, nothing huge, but there’s enough of it to make me enjoy it, kinda like an Airplane/Naked Gun movie.
The stories include Cinderella, featuring a Prince Charming with a gogo boot fetish, Snow White—snow way to treat your mother!—and Goldilocks and the werebears. There’s a Western with a mermaid, where she’s severely overdressed. . . Vampirella, not the mermaid. In Big Red Riding Hood, Grandma’s House is a strip club.
Despite being a full fledged vampire with witchy powers, half the time she uses her wiles, a different kind of magic. She’s full of snark, which takes the edge off her harsh demeanor. The descriptions of her are in a similar vein: voluptuous vampire vigilante, pulchritudinous protagonist, buxom beauty from beyond with vivaciously voluptuous assets (Remember, alliteration makes everything better). Considering how she’s dressed and the situations she gets into, you’d expect at least a kiss if not full-on sex, but I guess it’s not that kind of story. She’s definitely just drawn that way. . .

The Shadow: Midnight In Moscow
Some say The Shadow is the spiritual father of Batman; not having seen anything but a couple of movies about the character, just from the atmosphere and tone I can see why that’s said. That spirit continues in this graphic novel, to the point where I can hear the narrator’s voice in my head, as though this was a radio show, with dialogue appropriate to the time, for once. The artwork is just as stylized; I feel like I’m watching a film noir.
The plot really gets moving when The Shadow announces his retirement, though considering his nemesis is still alive—maybe—after not-so-killing him at the beginning, I didn’t buy it, especially since Moscow is in the title and he’s still in Noo Yawk.
Always a bit surprising when the well-dressed lady walks by the drug deal and then turns to put a bullet in the dealer’s brain. The snark is on at full power; my fave examples: “Simpson’s in the Strand has been a London landmark for over a centery. And like most culinary landmarks in the city, it’s never been any good.” And “London successfully defended itself against a nightly barrage of bombs from the Luftwaffe. . . while Paris rolled over and took the German invasion like a cheap whore.”
From Noo Yawk The Shadow and his lady friend go to London, then Paris, Berlin, and Moscow, as the title implies. Part of the plot deals with miniaturization; wish they’d done the same with this novel. It feels like a deliberate choice of style over substance. When they get to Moscow there’s a change in font, where they use Cyrillic letters in English writing. Whatever the idea is here, it doesn’t work. It feels like in trying to evoke the time and atmosphere of the original works they went overboard, so I didn’t like this as much as I would have otherwise.
I will say what happened to the bad girl at the end was delicious!

The Insider
Innocent—as in still a virgin—reporter gets a gig writing a behind-the-scenes story about a metal band, with seemingly everyone against her. By the end of the first day she’s no longer a virgin, so yes, this is a modern-day romance.
There isn’t much plot here, simply the bass player and the reporter apparently falling in love while he teaches her about sex. Even though she’s been pretty sheltered growing up, Toni is spunky and doesn’t mind being teased, once she realizes that’s what everyone’s doing. It’s that same naïve demeanor that ingraciates her with the cynical musicians and their assistants. Once she’s comfortable with that she gives as good as she gets, and her sense of humor is scintillating. And as expected she’s more open and fun in her journal entries, where she shows she can have no filter.
Truth be told, as much as I liked the romance—when they weren’t being idiots; every time he says something sweet, he follows it up by being an ass—and the erotica, the part I found most fascinating was the BTS look at the makings of a rock concert, as well as the stories told by the band members, showing them to be more human than their fans will ever credit them. I can only imagine the author had an experience similar to her heroine—I don’t mean sexual—to get that kind of info; according to her website she’s got plenty of previous stories about rock stars. The most amazing scene for me was the sound check; I know a few guys who do this for a living with whom I have to share this part of the story. But that scare near the end wasn’t right!

The cover of this short tome shows Einstein in front of a chalkboard with his famous equation over his head in small letters, while he points at “LOL=Laugh out loud.” Which is not an equation, but a translation. The author calls himself The Professor, which he certainly could be, but it’s not like he’s THE only one.
In the introduction it states that the average six-year-old laughs 300 times a day, while the average adult is between 15 and 100. So the basic premise here is everyone should laugh more.
The idea is wonderful; the execution, not so much. The problem: I hardly ever laughed. The only time I ever actualled LOL’d was the story about the guy who wanted his pants cut. I more often groaned, and not in a good way, at the cheesiness of the jokes.


Poetry Tuesday: The Angry Bride

16th century Korean anonymous

Six crock bowls the bride smashed
In a fit of temper on her wedding night.
Are you going to replace them? mother-in-law asked.
The bride replied: Your son has smashed beyond repair
The vessel I brought from home.
Weighted one against the other,
The balance would seem quite fair.


Book Reviews: Buddhism and Prison Ships

Totie Fields
I’ve been on a diet for 2 weeks and all I’ve lost is 2 weeks.

Hadn’t realized until the last moment, but with books on yoga, Tokyo, New Guinea, and ancient Japan. . . definitely an accidental theme here.

Ours to Embrace: ES Siren 7
It’s the 7th in the series, not all by this author; a shared universe, I believe they call it. There’s a prison ship going from Earth to another planet, and all the stories take place on this platform. This particular plot deals with a shuttle pilot and one of the prisoners, of course a gorgeous woman. There seems to be a lot of backstory to her, no doubt in previous books, while he’s easy enough to grasp: just think Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds.
Though there’s a conspiracy by a few of the prisoners to not just escape but take over the ship, at heart this is a romance, with the usual jumping to conclusions and bad choices that get in the way of what they want. Setting it on a prison ship heading to a new world is certainly different, but the plot feels more complicated than it really needs to be. I can’t help thinking I would have enjoyed this more had I read the previous ones.

The Superyogi Scenario
At first I thought the premise was corny—yoga can turn you into a superhero!—but it ended up being very enjoyable, in a science-fiction kinda way. I mean, is that really any different than being bitten by a radioactive spider or shot in a rocket from a dying world on the other side of the galaxy? Why not?
I had a few questions about the first scene: If she can shapeshift, why does she need to change clothes? And why bother disguising yourself if there aren’t going to be any survivors/witnesses? These are the types of little things that annoy me, but fortunately the writing gets better. Later on a magnificent new character is introduced, only to be killed off by the end of the chapter; fortunately she got better too.
There are a few well-done drawings of the main characters in their superhero uniforms, but I didn’t like them much, because they didn’t seem to match the earlier word descriptions. And quite frankly they didn’t show off the beauty of these two ladies that had been an integral part of their characters since we were introduced to them.
Parts do get a bit silly, but if you don’t take it too seriously you’ll be fine with it. There are bad yogis who want to destroy the world, or at least New York, with a main villain we never meet who has brainwashed others to do his bidding. Instead of all these characters being Superman, they each have their own unique powers, which makes things a lot more interesting. There’s a lot to like here, but it could have been better, or will be, once the author has more experience; I’d be shocked if there aren’t sequels.

Beauty and Chaos
Here’s a book of essays on Tokyo, told by an American who’s lived there for a while now. It reads like blog entries, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly better written than most blogs, not including this one (up to you to guess if I’m joking).
I’ve been to Japan a half dozen times, but never for more than a few days, certainly not long enough to gain the type of insights he has on the culture. His is an interesting point of view, a Westerner in Tokyo but someone who’s lived there for years, more than just a tourist, so he fills the inbetween.
There’s a whole chapter on how people hold themselves up on trains; he says women have better balance, even in heels, holding on to the straps with their fingers, while men use the whole palm. That’s the kind of close detail you can expect in this book. There’s also a piece on why Japanese women go even more overboard with pink than American women, yet the color is also used to attract men to sex stuff. And everything else is white, black, or grey. Hmmm. . .
This book is filled with interesting tidbits that most people, including the residents, wouldn’t notice. There’s a chapter on how ubiquitous maps are, which I certainly don’t remember from my trips to Tokyo, and I would have remembered, cuz I love maps. . . which is why I’m enjoying this anyway, vicariously. Another entry talks about shopping bags, including how they would save civilization in a major earthquake; that’s too silly even for Japan. But for someone who’s never been there, or only for a short time as a tourist, it gives a sense of wonder, almost like science-fiction, reading about a whole new world. And isn’t that what travel books are supposed to do?

Lost in Shangri-La
This is one of those amazing true stories that you would think everyone has heard of but has been lost in the mists of history. In World War Two the United States has established bases in New Guinea, and a few soldiers and WACs go off on a joyride to look at the almost Stone Age natives in a hidden valley in the interior. The plane crashes and most of the passengers are killed, with only three survivors. This story is about how they managed to stay alive, befriend some natives, and ultimately be rescued from this desolate area too high for choppers, too hilly for planes, and weeks away by foot from any outpost.
As one would expect there’s a lot of background in the beginning, setting the scene. Once the crash happens the story narrows down to what the three do to survive, as well as asides on why the natives are always at war with each other, and a piece on a white explorer in the area that none of the players here knew about. Frankly, I’m quite surprised the author managed to get so many pages out of this, as the whole thing could have been told much more succinctly, especially once the rescue operation gets underway, with medics and troops parachuting in to keep the survivors safe from what turned out to be friendly natives.
The way they’re finally rescued left me incredulous. Still can’t believe it worked.

Wow, this is not your typical comic book/graphic novel. For one thing, it’s historical, set in 13th century Japan. For another, there’s no superheroes or such, unless you count the main character, a Buddhist monk, and his attempts at social change, dealing with a government that doesn’t care.
Though not by any means a Buddhist, I’ve read some of the main texts, so it’s not surprising for me to find some familiar stuff, like the old story about collecting mustard seeds from a house that has not experienced death in order to bring the dead back to life. Such familiarity helps set the scene, but its really jarring to believe this takes place 800 years ago when the writing is modern and simple, with the occasional “Whoa!”
My favorite line: “There’s a ghost in the outhouse!”
As far as the story goes, there’s three chapters that give examples of his attempts to make things better for the population, especially the poor. Not knowing how true to history these episodes are, I wonder if the people in this time period really were that gullible, believing all the lies told about Nichiren. As for the Buddhist priest himself, he considers himself so enlightened yet is incredibly stubborn. He knows people who have much to lose aren’t going to listen to him; he knows he’s in danger from them, but he never changes his strategy. As much as I would have liked him to succeed, I’m not at all surprised he didn’t. But I suppose since these events actually happened, I shouldn’t be criticizing the book for them.
All in all this is a quick easy read, though perhaps there’s too many characters to keep track of for too long; there’s a guide for that at the end, which I think proves my point. Some of the story was interesting, others not so much. I doubt the lack of color had anything to do with that, but yes, it’s in black and white.


Poetry Tuesday: Four Kinds of Men

Succinct little ditty by an ancient Persian known as Khosravani, back in the days where the years still only had three numbers (okay ,okay, c960AD).

There are four kinds of men who’ll get no fee from me
Since I’ve seen not a scrap of profit from their arts
The doctors with their drugs, the pious with their prayers
Magicians with their spells, stargazers with their charts.