Travel Thursday Encores

To my surprise, someone asked me why I stopped doing my Travel Thursday blogs. Very simple answer: I ran out of stories! And due to some health issues in the family I have not traveled for almost two years now, so no new content. I had tried squeezing some more juice out of trips I didn’t blog much about, like the last one to Jordan, but that always takes a back burner to other stuff.
So instead I’m going to repost some of the old travel blogs, since there are a lot of new subscribers since then. The first few are from a trip about six years ago, when I was hired to shoot a number of places in Morocco and Tunisia, including some of the places where scenes from the original Star Wars were shot. But the first post is about where I first landed. . .

Took Iberian Airlines from Los Angeles to Madrid, the same airline I’ll be using to go to Marrakesh after an afternoon and night in the Spanish capital. This was my first time on this airline, and was pleasant enough, without any problems but lacking the outright lusciousness of Icelandair or Air New Zealand. The flight attendants seemed more peppy than most I’ve seen on a transcontinental/transatlantic flight.
Knowing I had that much time in Madrid, I knew I would immediately toodle over to the Prado museum, because I’d be visiting yet again my favorite painting in the world, Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. It’s like visiting an old friend. Before leaving I once again went through one of my favorite possessions, a giant book that has page after page of incredible closeups of the famous painting, revealing things you can’t see when you’re standing in front of the real thing, though of course it’s even more awesome being in its presence. I still remember picking this book up for about 50 American cents at a used book store a couple of blocks from the Academia San Carlos in Mexico City, then sitting in the Alameda for over an hour, simply flipping through and making delighted sounds that no doubt kept the tourists, locals, and especially the pancake vendors away from my bench.
But as I said, nothing beats seeing it in person, even when you stand there contemplating it for what seems like hours and people jostle for a better look, though careful to avoid me. For once I’m glad I look menacing. . .


Book Reviews: Sexy Missions and Floors

Mission Innocence: Fallen Angel Chronicles Book 2
A young lady, living in a place too small to be called a town or village, and beat down by her parents’ conservative and cruel treatment, is the latest target of the sex angel, the celestial being who has made it his job to bring pleasure and happiness to those in dire need of it.
This story wasn’t all that much different than the first one—though the emotional and psychological moments were dissimilar—as this involved a woman who didn’t know better, compared to one who’d shut herself off due to being betrayed. It was delightful to see her blossom so fast, though I’m not sure how realistic that would really be.
What really made me like this one more was the extra scene at the end, in the adult motel; there was no corresponding moment in the first story. It was both hilarious and touching, and of course sexy. Talk about making up for lost time!

Recently divorced and horny college professor plays with herself after class, only to find the student she’s lusting for watching her. But even though she’s tempted, she wants someone else.
First and foremost, this is told in present tense. I’ve liked such stories before, but this time it’s throwing me off.
Like most bdsm stories–as opposed to regular romance–this includes a lot of psychological examination, especially in light of her past. What annoys me is that there’s no actual ending. She’s vacillating between her lover and her student, even though the former no longer wants to be with her, but it leaves off without any closure, making me wonder what was the point the author wanted to share. The only possibility I can think of is that it was left that way for a sequel, which is not an acceptable reason.

Some Like It Hot
A sampler of some erotic works.
The first one features a woman with amnesia being reintroduced to her husband’s kinky sex life. There’s some fun banter, and she seems like an intriguing character.
#2 is about a recent—as recent as possible—Harvard grad looking for investment for her start-up. As usual in these stories, the guy she meets is a total jerk, but I’m sure he’ll somehow redeem himself by the end. It’ll have to remain a mystery, for I’m not interested, just from that little snippet of him.
#3 has a just-legal wannabe submissive at her first gathering, where a Dom instantly takes her somewhere private so they can. . . talk, as in teach her some of the things she might expect were she to consent to playing with him. As far as dominants go, he’s far from the worst, but I absolutely love her. Wouldn’t mind continuing this one.
#4 has a rebellious young woman being interviewed for a million-dollar job without knowing the guy she’s talking to is the one she slept with the previous night. This left me curious about her, and even more the situation.
#5 has a young lady eager to try submission with a guy she basically just met. Her roommate thinks she’s crazy but lets her borrow some clothes for her date and who knows what else.
Though plot wise it’s nothing special, the dialogue makes it intriguing enough for me to want to read more. For once the guy isn’t a jerk, and I definitely liked her.
#6 takes place in Hong Kong, in a ritzy hotel where the lady is overwhelmed by all the splendor before her dinner date with the rich man. But as small-town Midwest as she seems to be, and as much as she wants him, she’s strong enough to make him work for it, and he doesn’t mind. This would be an entertaining couple to follow.

Wicked Masquerade
A woman is invited to what she thinks will be an all-out orgy, immediately feeling inferior to all the supermodel types. She finds the affair more classy than anticipated, with plenty of new rules. Most people are nice to her but there’s also some jerks, especially after she attracts the attention of a famous stud. One encounter with him, with her in charge, and she’s staying for more despite her previous plans.
The erotic scenes were wonderful, but what really set this book apart was the rest: small moments of introspection, surprising humor, and the description of two people genuinely liking each other.
I always read to the end, and I’m glad I did this time, as I found this is the author’s first book. If she’s this good her first time out, I definitely look forward to the next.

Mission Inevitable: Fallen Angel Chronicles Book 3
After a quick intro in which a woman pines for more than a casual sex relationship with the man she’s fallen in love with, the action moves to the protagonist, fallen angel/hedonist Damien Fontaine, relaxing with his main squeeze, Rhiannon.
Damien is a lot more introspective than usual, making a nice parallel to the human couple in that he wonders if there’s something more than a friends-with-benefits relationship with his witch sex buddy. She’s more perceptive than she lets on, but that probably won’t be addressed till the next installment.
But back to the main story. I have to agree with Damien that she deserves better, which makes the inevitable ending still feel forced. Despite the fun in bed and on the tennis court, this one just wasn’t as good as the previous two.

The 13th Floor: Dark Dreams
Female executive has scary—and sometimes sexy—dreams featuring a supposedly nonexistent floor in her building, while working on a project with a mysterious guy and having some friends-with-benefits nights with her friend’s cousin.
Once the big twist arrived, I wondered why it took so long to get there. Despite this being short, it felt like it went on too long, with her dream coming in small pieces. Just felt like it dragged on and on.
The vampire sex scene, once I cogitated on it, seems logical, but for one who can’t stand the sight of blood, it was icky.


UCLA Beach Volleyball: Court 6

For those of you wondering–those of you who know anything about college beach volleyball, that is–yes, there’s only five pairs who play for each time. But sometimes there’s a leftover court–the furthest away, of course–and you give your freshmen or such an opportunity to play a meaningless match against the leftovers from the other team. It’s like the exhibitions after everyone’s done scoring in gymnastics.


Poetry Tuesday: Lachrimae Amantis

By Lope de Vega Carpio, 16th-17th Century Spain. Can’t help but wonder if this is where Ray Bradbury got the title for his story Frost and Fire.

What is there in my heart that you should sue
so fiercely for its love? What kind of care
brings you as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew

seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?
At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion’s ancient wounds must bleed anew.

So many nights the angel of my house
has fed such urgent comfort through a dream,
whispered ‘your lord is coming, he is close’

that I have drowsed half-faithful for a time
bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse:
‘tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.’


Book Reviews: Kid Stuff for the Kid in You

Great Cape o’ Colors: Capa De Colores
(English-Spanish with pronunciation guide)
This book contains just about every occupation that could possibly use a cloak or cape. It starts out strong but gradually becomes a bit silly or forced. By the time it gets to Little Red Riding Hood it’s exhausted all the ideas. Every page contains text in English and Spanish, with a pronunciation guide at the beginning. The artwork is basic and the grammar easy.
At the end there’s a color wheel, which is always fun. In all it’s probably a good time for little ones, even if it loses traction as it goes.
Just to add, there’s a link for extras online, but as of my reading there’s nothing on the publisher’s website on this book. Might be too new.

This Is a Taco!
There’s a squirrel named Taco. The narrator tries to teach you about squirrels, but Taco keeps interrupting, breaking the fourth and fifth wall in the process.
Yes, you run into trouble when you name animals by their favorite foods. Might work once, but not twice. By this logic, the hawk’s name should be Squirrel.
Most of the humor here revolves on either Taco not having a good contract lawyer, or the author/producers of the book ignoring the contract completely. It’s not that funny, but kids will probably find it hilarious and/or confusing. Possibly both.

My Favourite People
After the first page shows a group of people, the book goes on to describe the young protagonist’s favorites, starting with Aung Meg and ending with his parents. Everyone in the group photo—painting?—is featured, each for different reasons, from music to magic to soccer. It’s cute that there’s ethnic diversity in his family, and that one of his friends is a girl.
At the end there’s suggested activities.

Sid the Madeiran Wall Lizard
A lizard and his mouse buddy watch tourists do touristy things on the island of Madeira, which makes for an interesting change of perspective. He’s not bothered by their actions as long as they drip food for him and his girl lizard friend to buffet on. At the end he manages to accidentally do something he couldn’t earlier, so all the other lizards are impressed at his learning ability.
Rather than the usual bright illustrations, this book opts for a more nuanced color scheme, with an almost Impressionistic feel. There aren’t many of them, though; most of the book is written description, with some but not a lot of it in rhyme.
Overall it’s fun enough, though with more shades than most books made for this age group.

Chilly da Vinci
Chilly is a penguin with a knack for designing machines, like his last namesake. He’s got a ton of self-doubt, which is no surprise considering his contraptions are always failing. He’s also pretty clueless in the way of many scientists: “Why does he feel the need to throw sea junk at me? He’s wasting supplies.” It’s easy to tell because the story is told diary-style; the artwork adds to this by being in the color and style of an old yellowing journal. He’s got a loud doubter but also fans, as one young glasses-wearing penguin wants him to sign his flipper.
It’s a bit weird seeing all this technology, albeit steampunk-looking rather than modern, amongst the penguins and white Antarctic landscape.
“It’s official: my flying machines stink like rotten orca blubber in the midday sun.”
“My pullets didn’t pulley. My engine didn’t engine.”
My favorite of his inventions has to be the night-vision goggles.
This is listed as children’s fiction, but it feels like it’s reaching for an older audience.

The Enchanted Chest
Fisherman catches an unopenable chest in his net, but a guard sees it and confiscates it for the emperor, a foolish greedy power-hungry idiot. He can’t find anyone who can open it either, and gives lashes to those who fail. A lynx who can see through things is captured and brought to look into the chest, and gets some sweet revenge on the jerk, though I was expecting it to go much further.
The locksmith has a giant key as a necklace, which as a gigantic badge of office is pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, the magician has the most beautiful flowing red hair. . . and that’s about all I remember of the illustrations.
I can just hear kids asking, “Mommy, what does ‘ten lashes’ mean?” Good luck explaining that one.

50 Ways to Feel Happy: Fun activities and ideas to build your happiness skills
Did not know this small British book was geared toward kids until I turned the first page. It’s heavy on the arts and crafts, heavy as in tons. And if you aren’t sick of hearing about mindfulness yet, it pops up here too. Yep, they’re trying to teach that to children now, and not just mindfulness while eating or going for a walk, but to the point of feeling the toothpaste as you brush your teeth. I feel like it’s too early to get kids to think that way; let them be kids for a while! And that doesn’t seem like the best strategy to making them happy, as this book’s title suggests.
There’s a whole section on resilience, but even that’s about making bookmarks and such.

A Page in the Wind
If you weren’t paying attention, you would think this is a story about a baby. Instead it talks about a newly printed newspaper, but one with special powers, because it retains a central memory, as well as sensory abilities to know what each of its individual pages is seeing and feeling.
Some of the individual pages’ destinations were much more inglorious than others. There’s one point where it’s very hopeful about a woman, only to get sarcastic when things don’t work out the way it wants.
So, basically a journey through a city and all its various peoples, but also a journey through life.
The artwork, both the style and its subjects, seems very European, although the creators are from South America; if I had to choose an artist that this reminds me of, I’d pick Cezanne.

The Tiger’s Egg
A disgruntled tiger gets hit on the head, but loses his anger when he sees it’s an egg. Immediately he decides he’ll take care of it, then the bird which hatches from it. Eventually the little avian thinks it’s a tiger too, putting it in a dangerous situation that mirrors the opening page quite nicely.
This tiger is the old grumpy man—uncle, neighbor, etc—who secretly gives you candy when your mom’s not looking (not in a creepy way). Though it regrets letting the bird pretend to be something it’s not, he’s kind enough to let it lie till the next morning, allowing the small creature to bask in its victory. The tiger doesn’t want anyone to know about this quirk in his personality, never noticing the toucan and monkey are hanging above him, watching everything.
The artwork is rudimentary—wish the bird could have been done better—but otherwise serviceable.

Sloppy Takes the Plunge
From the cover alone you can tell how cute this is going to be.
For a fairy that wears rainboots, Dewdrop is big on hygiene, to the point she won’t give a requested hug to a muddy dragon. Sloppy refuses to clean up, but when it comes time to be brave for others, he steps up.
As expected, Dewdrop is the boss here, manipulating Sloppy every step of the way to get the job done. She doesn’t expect the last twist, of course, but that makes everything more fun. The dragon may have his name in the title, but it’s Dewdrop the fairy that steals the show.
Don’t have much to say about the artwork. Nothing stands out, but of course nothing wrong with it either.

Lulu Is A Rhinoceros
A bulldog tries to convince everyone that she’s actually a rhinoceros.
Nice rhyme of “Eek!” and “freak.”
Now we now we can get brain freeze by putting the ice cream on our nose too.
This book gives yet another reason to hate pigeons. Other birds are cool, though, especially when they remove insects from your not-so-tough hide. (Not referring to the reader, of course; your skin looks silky-smooth.)
Turns out the secret is in being correctly geographically located.
Sometimes the artwork looks like stained glass, other times crayon. It’s an interesting mix.

The Toucan Patrol
Small boy wants to earn his badge—or scarf—by camping overnight with the troupe, but things turn out to be a lot harder than he anticipates.
Why? Because nothing makes sense in this entire story. All kinds of creatures show up, then turn into something else, seemingly to teach him to be brave or believe in himself or something, but I can’t imagine any kid who reads this will think it was worth going through all that crap thrown at him.
I was never a Boy Sprout or any of those similar organizations—unless you count the Marine Corps—so I don’t know how true-to-life this is, but if it is I’m glad I wasn’t a part of it, because the other kids are so mean to him! The adults in charge do nothing about it, either. I can’t remember drill instructors being so harsh, and they get paid to be that way! If this was based on the author’s experience, I have no idea why he’d want to remember it, let alone celebrate it.
Bright and colorful, certainly nothing wrong with the artwork, but in a way that makes the story worse.

Tiny Fox and Great Boar: There
Tiny Fox lives under a tree, all alone and okay with that. A boar comes along and for a while things are fine, until Fox resents this intrusion into his home. But then Boar goes away and Fox realizes he misses his new friend. All these confusing emotions! Then a scarf gets stuck in the tree and teaches life lessons.
It’s definitely cute, and kids might learn something from it. “Worthwhile” would probably be a good word for it.
Simple watercolor art, nice but no big deal.

Caillou Tries New Foods
Unlike all the other books I’ve read in this series, this one has an agenda. It doesn’t want your kid to try new foods, it wants them to try new healthy foods. There’s even tips for how to accomplish this, including having Caillou accompany mom to the grocery store and helping with the cooking.
If only it was really that easy. . .

Caillou Takes the Train
As the title tells ya, the little boy and his family are taking a train trip. Since they’ll be on for two days and this series is Canadian, it’s an easy guess what route this will be.
This book really does a great job of making a train trip fun. Looking out the window as it starts to move does indeed make it seem like it’s the station that’s moving, and walking on a moving train can feel like being on an amusement park ride. The views from the dome car make you think you’re on a plane, and beds magically appear.
But what about the other forty hours. . .?

The Oceanic Times
Written not so much as a newspaper as the newsletter for a condo association, with sections, games, dating profiles, and even ads, it’s both funny and educational.
I love the music section, though I don’t know why they interviewed a blue whale instead of a humpback.
“Tears of the clownfish”. . . sometimes a good pun writes itself. “Seahorsing around” is another one.
In case you don’t believe truth is stranger than fiction, take a look at an anglerfish.


Book Reviews: Bears Doing Other Things in the Woods

My Boyfriend is a Bear
As always, I love it when the title tells you everything you need to know.
After she cuts her hair, the story goes into flashback to how they met. She goes hiking, there’s the bear, they like each other, they’re in a relationship, much of which takes place in her apartment, not the woods. There’s inherent problems with dating a bear, but love seems to conquer all.
It’s the little things that make this worthwhile, small touches of humor. Some of my faves:
As someone allergic to bee stings, I second the advice about not dating them, especially the queen.
Glad there was a mention of her favorite sundress, because otherwise it seems like all she has is that one dress that she wears everywhere. She even says she doesn’t like to wear pants, and the bear is okay with that.
There’s a list of all the things he’s broken, but never her heart, so it’s okay.
“Sup, LA?”
There’s a montage of guys she’s dated, though she sheepishly adds that it’s not a complete list.
The bear dressed in an Arcade Fire shirt. . . too much.
C’mon, Runyon is so over. Good choice with The Grove, though.
Subjecting the Bear to Downton Abbey is just cruel.
Throughout hibernation she’s trying to be somewhat normal, while at the bottom of each page there’s a series of panels showing the bear tossing and turning.
Her favorite swear word is “balls,” which on her is so cute. And she blushes when he uses “boobs” in Scrabble. His favorite word is “Grah!” but then it’s his only word.
Was surprised that the beautiful artwork on the cover was not replicated inside; not that the rest of it is bad, it’s just a lot simpler.
Everything that was said about this is true. Really sweet and optimistic. Doesn’t try to be any deeper than it is.

Spectacle Vol. 1
In a steampunk world; two sisters live and work in a traveling circus-type thing, until one of them is killed. That’s not the end of her story, though; she hangs around as a ghost to help her sister find the murderer.
Both funny and poignant how one sister was born at sunrise and the other at dusk. “The trend continued throughout our lives.” The dialogue is in bubbles, but the introspection and background is written throughout the page. I like it.
The older, more mature sister built a precursor computer. Very steampunk. But sometimes she can’t get out of her own way. “I have higher. . . er, different standards.” Yeah, when something happens to her I’m not the least bit surprised.
Wow, that literal ringleader. . . down to the curled shoes.
“The spirit world is closed right now.” That was an interesting twist.
“Wash your face more often and love will come your way.” Wish she’d told me that sooner.
I love mermaids, but not when they’re mean.
If there’s one downside it’s that it cuts off right in the middle, which tells you there’s more to come, but you gotta wait.
The artwork isn’t anything to write home about, but I really enjoyed the interplay between the sisters, and even if I felt more sorry for Anna than anything else, she was still my fave character.

Animosity: Evolution Vol. 1
When The Wake happens, all animals suddenly find themselves with the ability to talk and think on what was previously a human-only level. Annoyed with the way they’ve been treated, they quickly seek revenge. A month later billions of animals have taken over a city, holding off human armies on one side and dolphins on the other. Their self-proclaimed leader soon finds herself the victim of a suicide bomber. . . then things really get interesting.
For those entering the city for the first time, the entrance is set up like a refugee camp, with delousing and such, and those who pass are treated to an intro by a song-and-dance pink-dressed creature. For such a bright idea, this gets depressing in a hurry.
In the background of one of the panels is an angry-looking woman carrying a sloth. . . which makes no sense. Sloths are fun!
There’s a law firm called Hart, Ram, and Wolfe. That can’t possibly be a coincidence, can it? After that I found myself looking through each panel carefully to see if Buffy’s buddy Angel showed up next.
Ugh, why did one of the main characters have to be a bat? So ugly.
If you’re gonna do biological terrorism, a frog is the perfect animal to do the job.
That dog-like creature in charge. . . some of the philosophy she expounds is interesting, but she’s so much of a deep thinker compared to everyone else it makes her kinda ridiculous.
So many characters made it somewhat confusing, though I suppose if they were all human factions it wouldn’t be any simpler. Maybe a character page would have helped.
About a dozen pages of extras at the end, like alternate covers and progress comparisons.

Open Earth
Survivors of an environmental disaster live aboard a space station named after California, which makes total sense to me, being a lifelong Angelino. Over the course of this graphic novel, a group of young people from the first generation born in space try to figure out how to live their lives, with the emotional part being a lot harder than the sexual.
There’s an awful lot of internal narration. Wish they could have found some other way to present all the info dumps. Not sure how I feel about a world that considers Hotel California to be a classic in the way Mozart and Beethoven are, but okay.
It wasn’t the threesome that told me it was a dream, it was the burger.
I do like people who can make jokes during sex, and after.
Had some trouble identifying which were the guys, as they’re drawn rather androgynous.
Except for some slang, I understood all the Spanish.
The artwork was the weakest part, but still pretty in a watercolor-y way.
All in all, I enjoyed it more than I thought I might from the description.


Poetry Tuesday: On the Slope of Hua Mountain

Anonymous Chinese ditty from almost 2000 years ago.

O flowery mountain slopes,
Now that my lover is dead
How can I live out my lonely life?

O my lover, if you still love me,
Open your sealed coffin for me,
And take me with you.

Why is it, with the world full of men
I am desolated, and long only for you?

I wish I were the ivy,
Climbing high in the pine tree,
And you were the moving clouds,
So we could see each other
As you pass by.