Poetry Tuesday: My Stars

No, this was not written by a proud soccer mom, but rather by Abraham ibn Ezra (1067-1129).

On the day I was born,
The unalterable stars altered.
If I decided to sell lamps
It wouldn’t get dark till the day I died.

Some stars. Whatever I do,
I’m a failure before I begin.
If I suddenly decided to sell shrouds,
People would suddenly stop dying.


Book Reviews: Poker, Dreams, and Seductions

“I was just pointing out the inherent hypocrisy.”
“Gee, that’s so nice of you.”

The Backstage Pass
A cute short story about a woman losing her virginity to an 80s rocker, as told to her daughter’s friend.
This is part of a series, but I didn’t need the others to know what was going on, especially since it’s all explained in the small opening before Cougar Mom gets there. There’s rock-star sex, lots of descriptions of the 80s, plenty of uncomfortableness for the woman who has to listen to her mom talk about sex, but most of all it’s loaded with plenty of humor, which is ultimately what makes this a worthwhile read of about 15 minutes.

Luck, Love & Lemon Pie
A Wisconsin housewife wants to spend more time with her husband, but he’s so into poker he forgets their anniversary. Thinking that the way to connect with him is to also play poker, her plan fails big time when she eclipses him and wins a tourney that sends her to Las Vegas.
This is not a conventional plot—or I should say it’s an unconventional idea and the plot is actually quite familiar—but in this case that helps. The writing is entertaining, and for the most part the characters are fun, even the kids. Of course the protagonist has to have a snarky best friend along with a nemesis.
My only dislike was the way MJ would tell Poker Stud to leave her alone one minute and then quickly enable him by showing she was falling for his charm. But I suppose it was necessary to lead up to the breaking point before the story could be finished.

Tomas and the Galapagos Adventure
Drawn more as a cartoon than a graphic novel—but then it’s obviously for kids—this very short book has Tomas falling off his horse and dreaming about a pirate and zoological adventure on the Galapagos, just as the title says.
Tomas has a gap in his teeth “like a movie star,” his mom says. To me he looks like Zack Braff must have as a kid. At times I couldn’t tell if the writing was being snarky or was really that bad, but since I liked the line, “Bonito’s trot quickens into a canter as they gallop. . .” I’ll give it a doubtful benefit. There is one thing that’ll make adults cringe, though it won’t matter to kids (so it probably doesn’t need mentioning in a book for them, but here goes anyway): it’s disturbing to have a character go down with a concussion and not even get taken to a doctor.
On to the important part, the artwork. It’s done in broad strokes and bright colors. All the animals are smiling, except the hammerhead sharks, for whom it would be virtually impossible; the squid about to be eaten don’t look happy either. Since this is a dream, it doesn’t have to make sense, and as if to prove my point, a line says, “Are there such things as friendly pirates? There are in dreams!”
I was wondering if they might go Twilight Zone at the end, and they did.

Seduced: An Erotic Valentine Collection
Three stories of women falling in love—or back in love—with men whom they’ve known for a while.
In the first we get an Australian supermodel who comes back to the country home of the guy she can’t resist, who happens to be the brother of her psycho ex-husband. Seems hard to believe the bad guy would give in so easily after all that anger—that was a bit of a letdown—but other than that a decent story.

Next up is a British girl falling for the brother of her ex-fiancé, who died five years ago, before they could marry. Everyone feels guilty about it but keeps it bottled inside, so the requisite miscommunication ensues. He’s adamant about this not being a relationship, in order to spare her emotional pain, so he thinks. Problem is, he claims–in his mind–to be in love with her and yet does a total dick move near the end; he doesn’t deserve her.
Story was ok, but the miscommunication common in romance novels was particularly egregious. Didn’t care for it in the end.

The book concludes with the story of a woman fleeing her wedding when she finds out her fiancé is cheating, so instead she takes the honeymoon trip with her male best friend. This one falls squarely under the “Love was there all along!” cliché, making it kinda run of the mill, though for the most part I enjoyed the writing and snark. As again seems sadly requisite for the genre, misunderstandings and erroneous conclusions almost screw things up before they remember to communicate.

Overall 3/5


Poetry Tuesday: The Woods Are Wild

Francesco Petrarch, 1304-1374, Italy.

Through the midst of inhospitable wild woods,
where men at arms go at great risk,
I go safely, since nothing can frighten me
except that sun whose rays are alive with love:

And I go singing (oh, my unwise thoughts!)
of her whom heaven cannot set distant from me,
whom I have in my vision, and seem to see
women and girls with her, and they are beech and fir.

I seem to hear her, hearing the branches and breeze,
and the leaves, and the birds lamenting, and the water
murmuring, running through the green grass.

Rarely did silence, and solitary awesomeness
of shadowy woodland ever please me so:
if only too much of my sunlight were not lost.


Book Reviews: Wine, Bodyguards, and Stolen Money

Best way to keep from biting your nails: change a diaper.

Dark Secret
A text for help lures a man to the top of a cathedral, where he gets whacked on the head and pushed off.
While there’s some character development, the big story here is the relationship between the detectives, both of whom have problems they’re trying to sort through. More importantly, they’re completely different people who are trying to mesh into a good team; there’s flashes of that, but still a work in progress.
There are a lot of secondary characters, suspects and witnesses and such, each with a ton of background. From local racists to Hollywood actors to a Roman centurion, there’s plenty to unravel. But even with that, the ending plot twist came out of nowhere. There was some good detective work, but I was annoyed by the lack of clues given to the reader. The conclusion needs some big coincidences to make this work, but it’s still worthwhile.
On a lighter note, I would love to ask the author if she’s a Firefly fan, as I noticed a few touches that might have been homages; there’s even a character named Nathan. But the big shout-out, if it is indeed one, goes to Star Trek, with the character named Gray Mitchell, just a letter swap away from Gary.
Not-fun fact: This publishing company had a large line of detective series in England, and while the stories are usually good, they use incredibly similar covers and titles—and all of them have the same subtitle!—to make their books look alike. Dumb marketing.

Stolen Flame
Typical middle-upper class American girl is giddy about celebrating her twenty-first birthday, to the point where when she’s tossed in a van and hooded she thinks it’s her friends taking her to her surprise birthday party. Instead she’s kidnapped for realsies as a sex slave in the fanciest brothel ever.
She’s not the only one, and the introductory scene is both creepy and somewhat intriguing. It doesn’t take long for the virgin main character, nicknamed Flame, to give in, and end up being a natural at sex, of course. But despite the setting being all about sex, there’s a budding if forbidden romance in here too, making it an unusual love story; for all that’s rough and impersonal, it’s also rather sweet. It’s also endearing how the girls bond together while captive; one gets the sense they’re gonna keep in touch for years.

Tainted Tokay
In the eleventh entry in the Winemaker series, there’s plenty of violence and chicanery both in France and Hungary; kinda makes you wonder how they keep getting into these situations. Being a wine critic doesn’t seem all the dangerous in real life, with the possible exception of getting drunk all the time.
This story did better as a travelogue than any detecting; other than some nice descriptions of Vienna and Budapest, there’s nothing special here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; if you liked the previous ones, and I did, then you’ll like this one, as I did.

Man Eater
A psycho is hired by a drug kingpin to find the hooker who stole his money. Finding her in a bar, he proceeds to knock her around rather than go get the loot, giving an angry female Hollywood producer time to beat him to a pulp and therefore earn herself an enemy and revenge plot.
But after that bang-up start it settled into mediocre plotting; this could have been over in half the pages, especially with less plot lines.
There’s tons of characters, some of which have their say and are never seen again. Ronnie, the main character, is definitely interesting, as is Ellis, but the fascinating one is the bad guy, who despite being completely insane is still highly intelligent and capable of making elaborate plans. Seeing them through is another thing, as his emotions keep getting in the way, but calling the police to her place so she could drop the alarm, allowing him to sneak in the back, was bold yet smart.
There were parts I really liked, especially the two main characters, and of course all the humor. There’s also some juicy tidbits at the way insider Hollywood works. But there was plenty I didn’t like as well, especially the entire side plot involving the drug-running brothers and the parole officer.


Poetry Tuesday: Lament for Five Sons Lost in a Plague

Abu Dhu’ayb Al-Hudhali (d. 649)

Run down by fate’s spite
My body hangs, a mantle on a broom;

With wealth enough to ease all pain
I turn at night from back to belly
Side after side after side.

Who puts pebbles on my couch when my sons died?

I tried but could not shield
Them well enough from fate
Whose talon grip
Turns amulet to toy.

Thorns tear out my eyes. I lie,
a flagstone at the feet of Time
All man wear me down
But even those my pain delights
Envy that I cannot cringe
At fortune’s spite.