Travel Thursday Encores: Money-Snatcher

Today on Travel Thursday, a small thing that happened on a post-Berlin-Wall-fall trip through Eastern Germany. Names would not have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, but since I don’t remember hers anyway. . .
BeeTeeDubya, this is the only time I ever had anything stolen while traveling, but as you can see, it worked out. . .

I was in a small town in northeastern Germany. I stayed only two days, but the second night I met a lovely local blonde, and we hit it off {so I thought, anyway}. We went out that night, had a ton of fun, then went off to her place for that better kind of fun.
Some time during the early morning, just after dawn, I awoke to find the naked babe reaching into my backpack. I looked at her through slitted eyes, pretending to still be asleep, and she actually did look over to make sure I was still out. Thinking I was, she moved on to my clothes, where she found my wallet and took out all the money, then thought better and put about half of the bills back, the small ones. I knew I had about 500 marks in there, so she might have gotten about 400.
I watched her go to the far side of the room and put the money in a vase on a bookcase, then go into the bathroom. After a few minutes I heard the shower start, but I waited until the sound was muffled–indicating a body was blocking the water from hitting the wall or floor–before getting up and going to the vase. Reaching in, I made sure to put my hand all the way down and grabbing everything inside, not wanting to give up a single mark. Quickly stuffing the money into my pants pocket, I went back to bed, still pretending to be asleep.
After she came out I “awoke” and told her how beautiful she looked, and that I wanted her again. She was a little put out, since she didn’t want to get sweaty again, but I managed to convince her, and let’s just say this time I wasn’t so romantic. . .
Soon after she kicked me out, saying she had to go to work, and I made my way back to my hotel, packed, and took the next train out, heading back to Berlin. Over an hour into the ride, I remembered the money and reached into my pants to put it back. . . and found myself pulling out bill after bill after bill. . . like one of those magician scarves. . .
As it turned out, she had more money in the vase than just what she stole from me. I ended up with more than 4000 marks. . .


Book Reviews: 22 Reasons Kids Love This Blog

Storytime: Astromouse
A baby mouse totally buys it when told the moon is made of cheese, and instantly decides he wants to go there. He doesn’t think it through. In the end he figures things are just fine the way they are.
It’s a pretty cute story, amusingly told. Not the twists one would expect at the end, even though the ending itself was never in question. The artwork and syntax make this a good bet for pre-kinders.

Georgia O’Keeffe
A quick colorful biography of the famous painter, meant for kids.
Broad lively artwork from the very start, where while one boy chases chickens another is being chased by a girl with a wooden sword. Unfortunately this is not Georgia; she’s over on the side playing with a snail. One panel has her and a flower on the sidewalk as the only color in a bleak scene, showing she was more into studying her surroundings than those around her. Moving to New Mexico seemed to do the trick, unlocking all her powers of observation and her ability to translate it with a brush.
Since I learned about her through Steigletz, I was glad to see him included here. And for those worried about it, the paintings she’s most famous for are not included here; it is a kid’s book, after all.
At the end are photographs of her with almost the same text as shown before, without the artwork.

Harriet Tubman
A quick colorful biography of the fearless anti-slavery heroine, meant for kids.
Some will be confused as to who is being talked about in the beginning; it isn’t till later that it’s said that she changed her name to Harriet. All of the things she’s famous for are here, along with a few facts I didn’t know about but only serve to elevate her already heroic status. It’s easy to imagine kids who’re oversaturated with today’s superheroes being swept up by her story.
At the end the text is repeated without the artwork, just elevated a bit for the adults.

If All the World
A little girl spends a year—though that’s probably a metaphor—with her grandpa, whom she clearly adores. She even wishes she could replant all his birthdays so he never grows old. But how does she cope when he’s no longer there?
Her answer probably doesn’t help with the pain, but becomes a fitting tribute, and is likely a good idea for those who have recently gone through it.
The artwork has a sketchy—as in being colored sketches, not unclear or hinky—quality to them that help the story along.

Power to the Princess
According to the blurb, these are fairy tales retold for the #metoo generation, mostly text with some cute humans colorfully drawn in the margins, plus an occasional full-page artwork.
Best line, the one that best describes what this book is about: “And that is how Belle became a princess. But not that kind of princess.”
In case you were wondering if this is written in old-style English, one of the fairies likes to say, “Well, that was awkward.” Another story contains the line, “But he was a vegetarian, so that made it weird.” Possibly my fave comes from Snow White: Her hair, pitch black, was now white as snow. “Huh, that’s a new one,” Neve said in wonder.
There are labor unions, sleep clinics, fitness centers, and a detective who’s assigned to cold curse cases. Sleeping Beauty becomes an expert in the field of narcolepsy. No one needs to tell this guy not to date a damsel in permanent distress. And someone could make a fortune teaching the woodland-creature hair-braiding class.
But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows (BTW, there isn’t one unicorn or rainbow in the entire book). Some of the modern-day counterpart jobs were farfetched; somehow Belle becomes an undercover cop! It’s great that the princesses in the Little Mermaid got married, but there was no hint of them being anything more than friends before that.
The artwork is pretty much as you’d expect it. Snow White is a little jarring at first, with the overalls and white hair. Her stepmother, on the other hand, is just my style, even with the Medusa head.

Gina From Siberia
Unlike the husky that shows up every once in a while, Gina doggie doesn’t look like a snow dog, but living in Siberia gives you no other choice. Somehow she loves it, and doesn’t want to go when the family moves.
There’s a whole page of things she saw on the trip, some of them funny.
Dogs aren’t allowed on the train, but rather than put her in the basket, mom dresses her up as an ugly baby. Not smart. (The bio says this actually happened, so I can nitpick.) And dogs are allowed on the plane. Huh.
Knowing this is a period piece does not make seeing the hammer and sickle on the flags any less strange.
Gina does not like heat sources, considering she thinks radiators and vents are monsters. But for everyone except me, pizza makes everything better. And just like that Gina isn’t homesick anymore.
Incredibly simplistic artwork, considering it’s such a big story.

The Truth About Dinosaurs
A modern-day chicken tries to prove it’s actually a dinosaur, and in the process gives a lesson on actual dinos. It’s all done through the similarity of feet and a photo album, but don’t worry about there not being cameras to shoot the dinosaurs back then; after all, this story’s told by a talking chicken.
Dinosaur eggs look like gemstones.
This one got me with a line in the blurb: “For curious people from 4 up to 250 million years old.”
Silly, but educational.

Watermelon Madness
Noura loves watermelon so much she won’t eat anything else. (Even I have something other than bacon and ice cream once in a while!) She throws a tantrum when her mother feeds her something else, then goes downstairs in the middle of the night and scores a giant watermelon, taking it int her room and hiding it under her bed for munching in the morning. Then weird stuff happens.
If you want a kid to do something, I suppose there are worse ways of letting them know the penalty for disobeying. Could also serve as a lesson for parents to be more tolerant.

Little Tails Under the Sea
Other than the fact they’re in a sub instead of a plane, the format holds as the two little guys explore the world they find themselves in. The last one with the dinosaurs got a bit silly, so it’s good to see them back to something more realistic. . . if I can actually say that about talking animals.
As expected, they jaunt underwater, mostly staying away from other animals while describing them, giving the educational content this series always provides. And as always there’s some friendly critter that helps them out of the mess they made, though in this situation I would not have expected a polar bear.
I can just imagine the orca’s rage to be described as a big sea panda.
At the end there’s more info about each animal.
This was at least as good as the dinosaur one, though I liked the previous ones better. Nothing wrong with this one, though.

Diary of a Witch
Told in rhyme, this is a witch telling her story to her diary.
The wallpaper front page has a few sketches of scenes, such as broom, hat, cauldron, cat, but there’s also a hilarious shot of a jousting knight after a running spellcaster. See what happens when you forget your broom?
This redheaded witch has a heroic honker.
There’s an early shot of her reading about 80s glamour while complaining about her frizzy hair. Then she ditches the robe for heels and a leather miniskirt. . . kinda disturbing. The fact she’s in a fast car with a younger man might indicate her version of a midlife crisis.
So, basically she’s reexamining her life, trying to decide if being bad is a bad idea.
It’s cute, and not at all scary, but then I doubt it was meant to be.

Giant: A Panda of the Enchanted Forest
A giant panda sits in a tree, trying to stop eating and start sleeping, while other animals take in the scene. He only talks to the tree, though he’s surprised when it talks back. When an emergency strikes the forest, the two have to team up to save the day.
Pretty simple story, so it should appeal to the smaller kids, as long as they don’t get frightened. I didn’t find it particularly interesting, but then I’m not the demographic this book is going for.

Luke and Lottie. It’s Halloween!
A small brother/sister duo prepare for their first Halloween, which doesn’t bode well because they’re easily scared of the decorations.
There must not be a lot of streetlights in this neighborhood, considering the big lanterns they carry. And because they’re holding hands with Dad, they’re not gonna be able to carry their bags full of candy.
There’s one shot I love where Dad’s dressed up as a vampire and pretending to be scared of the ghost and the witch, and in the background Mom is giggling.
I learned banana ghosts desserts looks pretty cool, though not exactly mouthwatering.
Basically Halloween described to kids who’ve never seen it, or are scared of their first one. Pretty straightforward with some cute moments.

If a Dog Could Wear a Hat
A little pigtailed redhead is home in bed, apparently sick, if the thermometer and her sad face are clues. Looking for something to pass the time, she dreams in rhyming couplets of her dog doing various occupations, based on the hat the canine wears.
As you would expect, it’s too cute for words. Though relatively simple, the art shows exactly what it needs to and nothing more. Erin’s smile is so infectious, which is perfectly shown on a page near the end where she’s sitting on the floor surrounded by hats.
Ends with a twist!

My Favorite Pet: Hamsters
An early primer on what’s probably the world’s cutest rodent, with facts told in photos with captions.
The first quiz was a little too simple, even for a three-year-old.
Hamster balls are to hamster wheels what yoga balls are to exercise bikes.
There’s a glossary at the end which shows just how young the audience for this book is, but it’s fun enough, and there might be facts even adults don’t know.

Swim Little Fish
A small red fish does un-fish things like jumping out of the water and getting a tan before returning to its home in a seashell, getting into bed and looking out the window at the sea full of stars.
Big bright drawings show this book is meant for the littlest of kids than can understand what they’re seeing. It’s cute enough, though if you get kids too old for this they’ll ask why fish are doing human things.

Annabel and Cat / Annabel y Gato
The simplest of drawings help tell the story of. . . well, look at the title. On the opposite page is a description in both English and Spanish. The Cat is right there with Annabel as far as activities go, from putting on plays to arts and crafts, from making snowmen to eating pancakes to going to the library. Other than the wall shadows and the safari, there isn’t anything here that would have been different had Annabel been on her own, but then it wouldn’t be as cute.

Discover Military Equipment
As always in this series, rather than drawings, it’s photographs with captions.
Starts off with throwing knives, which I’m sure every kid will now want. In general, it’s a bit strange to be teaching kids about all the different ways someone can be killed.
More than once a chapter started with “____ changed warfare,” enough times for me to think it was purposeful, though it did make it boring.

My Favorite Machine: Fire Trucks
As always, this series has photos instead of drawings, which I think makes it better (ignore the part where I’m a photographer).
Lots of beauty shots in red; just about the only blue was a light. The most interesting photos were the ones showing the equipment stored in every nook and cranny.
There’s some really simple tests, with the answers in the back, alongside a glossary with incredibly basic definitions, which show this book is meant for very young children.

Snowy: A Leopard of the High Mountains
A family of snow leopards runs away when they hear human hunters, but the youngster is separated and feeling lonesome. A marmot drops from a tree, yet is not afraid of being used as lunch. Instead they snuggle and keep each other warm, then set off with the help of other animals to get the kid feline home.
As a lesson in teamwork and helping others, it’s fine. I just don’t find it very believable—and that’s after granting animals can talk—that such cooperation could exist amongst ALL animals, especially between predator and prey.

The Flying Rock
Kid getting picked on loses it and throws a rock at the bullies, only to find he’s got more of a pitcher’s arm than he suspected, plonking one of them on the head. He runs home to tell his grandpa what he did, and gramps sits him down for a lecture and a story. That story is about how you never know if luck is good or bad until the full circumstances play out, which I had heard before as an ancient Chinese parable.
The moral of the story the grandfather gave didn’t seem to fit, but the end of the framing section did bring it together. Won’t spoiler it, but let’s just say the medical stuff might be too much for small kids to handle. Other than that, it was a good story well told.

Just the Right Size
A quick tour through the animal kingdom, differentiating by size. Example: “A ladybug can land on a tree branch, a giraffe cannot. But a giraffe can do something else that’s great.” You get the gist, the point being that every animal is good at something no matter what the size.
Ends with a lesson and an interracial family hug, which is nice but a little highhanded, and probably not going to be understood by kids small enough to read this.

10 Reasons to Love … a Lion
As the title says, this book is all about why you should think lions are cool, though that also depends on your point of view. Saying that unlike other cats they enjoy hanging out together is one thing, but it takes a totally different meaning when you’re running for your life.
Each page features a beautiful drawing, filled with color and staring lions, as well as text and captions on other animals, as well as plants.
My favorite fact was that porcupines got the lions’ number!
Pangolins sure have gotten famous recently.
Nice to look at, some fun facts. Sure to be a hit with kids.


Travel Thursday Encore: Visions of Morocco

More of that Morocco/Tunisia tour. Last one.
Stream of consciousness begins. . . now!

Marrakesh: Who said Morocco could get cold?
Buildings can’t be taller than minarets, so if you find a way up there, you can see everything, including the landscapes I spent a day shooting in the mountains nearby, surrounded by birders, including a cute Irish redhead. The days are like El Lay, the nights colder, but last year at this time I was in Iceland, so I’m definitely not complaining. Having spent time at the ridiculousness that is the Djemaa el-Fna, I stayed away from this public loony bin that is the famous square this time; both my eyes and ears would have been sore after only a few minutes. I did buy some orange juice and nuts, to contribute to the local economy, not that it needed my help. Much more photogenic—and therefore photographed—is the Souk des Teinturiers, with all the brightly covered vats for dying clothes; as always orange is my fave, though they may call it saffron. It’s been called an ocher-colored city, and now I think I know what color that is. As for the important things, the train station has a McD’s, and the whole building has wifi. No doubt the most fun I had in town was shooting the caleche, which are green horse-drawn carriages. The only thing I treated myself to, believe it or not–mostly not, if you know me at all–was a visit to a spa, where for the first time I received a four-hand massage. . . I like it! Though they sure take their scrubbing seriously. Guess it’s not as bad as a Finn whacking you with branches, but still. . . I managed to turn down the henna body wrap rather easily. I even got a hand massage, as in my hands being massaged, after overdoing it on the photos. . .

Tangier is the Tijuana of Morocco. . .
Having once stayed at a villa in the hills, with the beautiful views of the ocean, I knew where to go to get the shots. The beaches are another place for fun shooting, but then when isn’t it? {Other than sand getting in your cameras.} Except for getting lost in this crazy medina, my fave thing in town is the American Legation Museum, which is the place where the U.S. ambassador parked his tushie for the 135 years after Morocco became the first country to formally recognize the United States of America. Today it mostly tells you about the many Americans who’d lived around here, the highlight most likely being a copy of a 1789 letter from George Washington to what he calls his “Great and Magnanimous Friend, the Emperor of Morocco.” Almost makes you wanna cry, huh?

Fes {or Fez}: Better around than inside
You know a medina is huge when it’s divided into 20 little medinas, and even the local guides get lost. Someone actually counted all the alleyways, lanes, and streets, coming close to 10,000. More interesting to me was the rumor that the town has the oldest university in the world! But since you’ve seen in the last few blogs what an archaeology geek I am, you shouldn’t be surprised I spent all of my spare time at Volubilis, which from AD45 to 285 was the capital of the local Roman province, the southernmost outpost of the vast empire. Home to at least 20,000 inhabitants during its peak, the city’s wealth was all olives and wheat. . . as well as supplying coliseums with the majority of their gladiator-fighting lions. Deserted by the 11th century, totally flattened by an earthquake in 1755, you can still see a triumphal arch, forum, and faded beautiful mosaics. Latin pop quiz: what does Volubilis mean?. . . yeah, right, you looked it up! It’s “morning glory.” Not going to go much into the history of the place, except to mention Cleopatra Selene, daughter of the famous Cleo, was married to Juba II, who was himself a descendant of Hannibal. Unfortunately Sultan Moulay Ismail raided the city’s remains in the 18th century for building materials to construct a vast nearby palace, and then the huge earthquake of 1755–same one that hit Portugal, if you’ve ever read Candide–finished it off. Today the site is about half excavated, showing off a bunch of lovely mosaics and buildings, with names like the House of the Athlete, the House of the Nymphs, the House of Dionysus, the House of the Euphebus, and the House of Orpheus. Fun to see a representation of party-animal Dionysus in the Islamic world in the mosaics, but easily my fave was the dolphin. . .

Ifrane: When you want it cold. . .
You don’t really expect a mountain resort–“little Switzerland,” they call it–40 miles from Fes, but here it is: alpine chalets, acres of trees, a mountain-fed lake, and a plaza with cafes and restaurants. They say it’s a good 30 to 40 degrees cooler than Fes in summer, and now with winter closing in, there’s a light dusting of snow. Always a big deal with the local rich, it’s even more so now that the latest king built a royal palace, plus a private university. Still, it came across as a happy place, with plenty of non-rich day-trippers getting their photos taken in the parks and going on hikes and picnics and such. I even had a pretty good steak here, with American ice cream–not mentioning corporation names–for dessert. The royal palace seems to take up most of one half of the lake, with white swans the only things getting past the guards, who do their best to look inconspicuous, though they can’t fool an expert. Fun fact: the Barbary macaque roosts in troops of 20 to 30–I woulda called it a gaggle. Unlike all other macaques, the females mate with all the males, which means they’re never sure of the offspring’s paternity. . . which means the males have to look after all the kiddies, not knowing which might be theirs. I’d tell ya to think about that in human terms, but I don’t want this blog to degenerate into porn. . . maybe later.

Oeurzazate: Don’t even try to pronounce it. . .
Hollywood, Bollywood. . . Ouarzazate? Yep, if you believe all the local tourism propaganda. They wanted to show me the huge movie studio, but I finally convinced them I was from Hollywood and seen it all. To me the most astonishing thing about the place was the quiet, and how laid-back everyone was. . . and I know you’re dying to find out: it’s pronounced War-za-zat. So it basically felt like a small vacation, with the only really important place to photo being the kasbah of Aït Ben Haddou, famous enough to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and just a fifteen minute drive from town. I’m told the site gets more than 130,000 visitors a year, but I was pretty alone as I shot crazily before anyone came along. As you might imagine, sunlight on the earthen walls makes for beautiful reflected light, but more importantly, as a James Bond fan. . . follow me if you can: the movie is The Living Daylights, toward the end when Bond and Kara are taken to Afghanistan and the crazy Russian general is making a drug deal. The Afghan resistance–the forefathers of the Taliban–attacks the Soviets and then runs off while the main actors jump into a huge plane and take off with the drugs. . . and a bad guy, and a bomb. A few minutes later Bond drops the bomb–literally–on a bridge, dropping it and the Soviet tanks. As the locals celebrate on horses, shooting their rifles into the air, in the distance you can see the beautiful hill town. . . and that’s what I was shooting.
Did not go any further into the desert on this trip. . .

Casablanca: it ain’t just a river in Egypt. . . I mean, a movie title
Hard to believe the city is only about 200 years old, making it slightly younger than El Lay. Actually more similar to Mexico City, it’s the place where the rural folk and immigrants go to make it rich. . . plus it’s known as the “big smoke.” Other than some French architecture, though, not all that great a place for sightseeing. South of Casablanca, on the other hand, is a long stretch of beach that makes up the country’s summer vacation spot; I’m told locals will pitch a tent–not a euphemism, this time–on the beach and stay there all of August. Had to spend a couple of days shooting the beaches here, and for whatever reason it was a lot more bo-ring than up in Tangier.

Tunisia for dessert
Tunisia looks exactly like it did on my last visit a few years ago, but it’s obvious to see the people are happier, maybe not so much with the government yet, but with the possibilities. Did manage to relax a couple of days on the lotus-eating island of Djerba, with its luxury hotels and casinos, as well as the place where the Mos Eisley exteriors were shot in Star Wars; turns out those were the droids you were looking for! Later, back on the mainland, I got to go to Luke’s uncle’s farm, but once again I missed Monty Python’s castle. The highlight was marching to the place where Luke stood and watched the sunset–only one sun, dammit!–while listening to John Williams and the London Symphony playing the music. . . with the Family Guy version in my head, to my chagrin.

Hmmmmm. . . off to pop the Star Wars DVD into the slot. . . see ya when I come up for air. . .


Book Reviews: Graphic Gauguin and Grabbings

Please Don’t Grab My P#$$y: A Rhyming Presidential Guide
Four-line rhyming stanzas attempt to teach the Trumpster Dumpster and other asses like him what shouldn’t be touched without permission. Each little poem ends with a euphemism for the one word you would expect, some of them quite confusing.
I am a rhyming fanatic; I’ve even called out my fave musicians when they cheat on this, so it’s no surprise when I say that some of these attempts are atrocious. Maybe that explains why some of those that do rhyme make no sense whatsoever.
A few of the highly impressionistic drawings are lovely and funny, but most are just there.
If there’s one thing to take away here, it’s that this sets some high expectations and doesn’t meet them. Nowhere near as funny as the publicity pretends. A little bit more thought, and maybe not so lowbrow, and it might have hit the sweet spot.

Queen of Kenosha
Small-town musician in Noo Yawk tries to return a wallet and get pistol-whipped for her troubles. It leaves her open to an offer she can’t refuse.
I’ve read this author’s previous works, which took place in the hockey world, and it’s the same format here. The artwork is especially similar, but the story is completely different and much more ambitious, in fact maybe too much. There’s been plenty of Nazi conspiracy stories over the decades, but I can’t remember seeing one where they’re basically dropped into what’s always been a “commie” plot.
Though it’s an overused talking point, the difference between a black-and-white follow-orders-at-all-costs viewpoint and a don’t-have-to-kill-everyone approach is done well here.
Each issue has recommended songs, with one on each playlist by the fictional protagonist, so of course you can’t hear it. Another is “Both Sides Now”; I sure am getting tired of that song, it’s everywhere. And you’d think that since this takes place in the early 60s, songs from that era would be a better choice. I haven’t noticed any connection between the songs and the action, but I was amused by the inclusion of a Pretenders song. But it’s the insertion of a good Dire Straits song that made everything okay.
When on the big mission, they dress all in black but don’t paint their faces, neck, and hands. Worse, her blonde hair is loose. Author fail on the spycraft.
More than anything, there’s a huge plot twist at the end. . . which I’d guessed about halfway. I was hoping I was wrong, thinking it too contrived, too much of a coincidence, but it happened anyway. Actually not that big a deal in this book, but in the sequel it’ll be huge, and it won’t sit right then.
At the end are the lyrics to the made-up songs by the protagonist. Since this is a collection of all the issues, I don’t know if the lyrics were included with the song, but in this volume I would have liked to read them when the title was first unveiled.
There’s a lot of good stuff here, but also much that could have been done better.

Gauguin: Off the Beaten Track
The foreword tells you that this isn’t about the artist as much as about the guy who was his generation’s version of a hippie, though by this time in his life he’d become more cynical.
The graphic novel starts with paintings being sold at auction for what seem to be really low prices, though back then it could have been a lot. They’re won by a smug-looking accountant type, and then we go back two years to the sight of Gaugin sleeping on a ship with roaches crawling all over him. Lovely. From there the story switches between his arrival on the small island and the previous guy showing up after his death.
Some of the friends he makes are interesting. It’s fun to see him interacting with people from Vietnam, India, and of course the locals, though they’re all different too.
“You’ve lost your mind!” “And you never had one to begin with!”
“You must—” “When I hear ‘you must,’ I rebel!”
There some slight x-rating to a couple of panels, but the artwork is done in such a non-realistic style—even looks like Gaugin painted it—that’s it’s hardly noticeable and pretty much inoffensive. . . which kinda sums up this book. It paints a different side of the artist who’s only famous for these paintings, who is not in the consciousness of most like Picasso or such. It’s interesting, but not more than that.

An unconventional new cop—with tats, piercings, etc.—in a small town in Sweden works on missing persons case. We get to see what happened to that missing person, and it’s not nice, so we’re given a sense of urgency for the cop and her partner to get there and save the day.
She knows most of the players, which is handy, though who knows if that’s a great idea, were she to run into someone she actually likes. There’s also an idiot too-much-testosterone older cop who looks like he came out of any American police show. The book ends with a small discussion on the Swedish subculture that was the background for the story, which was interesting enough to make me look it up.
The writing, or should I say the translation, is pretty good, except for too many fake-sounding instances of “Ha ha.” The artwork was a bit Day-Glo for my tastes, but since the protagonist is a fan of superhero comics that’s not a big deal. And even though the story was a bit by-the-numbers, the characterizations, especially the lead, made it worthwhile.

A Sea of Love
A comedy of errors at sea: an old fisherman sets off on what he thinks is just another day at work, and then one thing after another goes wrong. In the meantime, his wife doesn’t give up looking for him, and her adventures are a lot more fun.
Right away it makes me laugh with how huge the fisherman’s eyes are with the glasses on. It starts with the typical morning routine, with recognizable moments between the married couple, going from mad to laughing in a second. Totally sympathize with him on the sardine situation. The part where he meets up with the bigger boat seemed to take forever to get through, could have been done quicker. And never fire a flare near an oil tanker. . . just sayin’.
She doesn’t take off her ridiculous hat in the swimming pool; funny. Her housekeeping/cooking skills make her a star. She was smart all the way to interrupting Castro’s speech, a misstep not only for her but for the book; too ridiculous, though not as much as her becoming an internet sensation. Still, it was nice to see her having as much of a role as he did.
Some funny moments, some poignant. Neither the fisherman nor his wife ever give up; it’s inspiring. Even the bird carries out its agenda without fail. The ecological lessons are rousing in a different way, more of a call to action.
The artwork isn’t meant to be realistic, almost caricature but not over the top.
I think this could have been 25% shorter, and I would have liked it more.

Lady Mechanika, Vol. 4: Clockwork Assassin
Okay, I’m gonna pretend the Day of the Dead volume never happened. Also a bit sad I missed the Free Comic Book Day edition, but what can you do?
A mysterious lady who could easily pass for Mechanika slashes an industrialist on an empty street. Luckily for Mechanika it’s her “admirer” Detective Singh who’s on the case, but after two more murders even he’s not sure of her innocence.
I love that Harry says he’s the brains and she’s the brawn, and Mechanika doesn’t object.
“Umph. That was graceful. Executed with all the poise of a proper lady.” I keep saying it every time: my favorite trait of Lady Mechanika is her always surprising sense of humor.
The bad guy is not that hard to guess, but then I’m not here for the story. The real reason to be here is the artwork, particularly but not just the renderings of Lady Mechanika.
The girl reminds me of Emma Watson. . . or a certain witch she played.
So, nothing that screams out new, but more of the same good stuff.
As always, there are extra visual goodies at the end; I will never believe Mechanika stopped moving long enough to pose for them.

Infinity 8 Vol. 1: Love and Mummies
In a plot far too confusing to be summarized here, a spaceship cop is sent outside into a space junkyard to find out what’s going on, and hopefully tell the reader too.
It’s one thing for her to be wearing such a tight spacesuit—justifiable, but not likely—but the uniform she wears on the job is ridiculous, and leads me to not be able to take her seriously as a security agent. Another female agent is dressed the same way, cleavage practically falling out. Bad job by the artist there, but who knows what he’s thinking.
Lots of scenery porn in the shape of. . . well, a lot of different shapes of aliens. The ship is shaped like a high-heeled shoe!
Best line: “Kiss my ass.” “Okay. Is that how humans do it?”
Though it happens a lot in these stories, I still don’t like how Captain Obvious she is. Turns out she’s kinda dumb too. An officer never gives up their weapon!
Brightly painted, especially for being in space.
After a page of in-story commercials, some of them funny, there’s a big sign that says “14 pages of extras!” Cute, but too late to make a difference.

Skin & Earth HC
In a near-future Earth ecologically devasted, a young redhead goes from college through a nice neighborhood and reveals that she’s part of a lesser caste, to the point where she has to wear a mask so that she doesn’t breathe on this society’s higher-ups. A guard at the checkpoint back to the poor area, who should be more sympathetic considering he’s no highborn, provides further exposition while trying to bully her.
Of course she’s in love with a jerk. There’s a lot of talk and exposition, but nothing much happens. She doesn’t seem particularly smart, considering she tried to take a tattoo off with a knife. Then she meets a mysterious woman in a dream and they go off to get their revenge on the guy.
I did do a little research after reading the intro; turns out this is written by a musician, and the main character is kinda based on her, at least the visuals; the artwork, especially her red hair, is very true to life. The rest of the eye candy is okay, not meant to be realistic.
Favorite line: “I’m never drinking again!. . . boobs look nice, though.”
Other worthy utterings:
“It’s like some fucked-up Renaissance painting.”
“Show him what it’s like to fuck with a goddess.”
“Are you saying you’re forever years old? You look good!”
“I don’t know what this is all code for, but if you’ve got pills, I’ll take them.”
“You have a dangerous blend of sadness and curiosity.”
“I have other plans!” (I need a plan.)
Good use of chain metaphor.
Problem: if she’s not wearing the mask, how does anyone know if she’s a pink or a red? And I don’t mean her hair.
More to the point: each chapter has a Qcode for songs that go with the book, but as of my reading of this review copy, they only take you to the same general website of what looks to be the publisher. No worries, I found them on youtube, with a couple having videos. I found the songs, like many nowadays, overproduced; acoustic versions might be better, but there are some good hard-rocking melodies in there. As for the videos, one of them shows her making the artwork, while another has a couple of the panels recreated in real life, like the part when her “ghost” leaves her body.


Travel Thursday Encore: Morocco is Better than Rococo. . .

So, turns out I did write something substantial about that trip six years ago! Probably because of the visits to the Star Wars locales. From what I’ve heard some of them have deteriorated, been knocked down and built over, or simply drowned by the encroaching Sahara, which makes me all the more glad I got to see them.

Moorish proverb: He who does not travel will not know the value of men.

I’ve said this many times, but it certainly bears repeating: all the photos I take during these trips are the property of the company who pays me to go to such places and take photos, so I’m not allowed to show them. Some photographers scream bloody murder when they hear this, claiming they would never sell out in such a manner. I don’t agree, mostly because I’ve already been to most places, taken my own shots. I certainly don’t work 24/7, so I get plenty of time to explore on my own, as well as meet up with old friends, or see them compete in the Olympics or World Cups; had I not agreed to such a stipulation at Athens 2004, for example, I would have been sitting on my couch watching one of my favorite people in the world having a gold medal placed around her neck instead of taking a photo from about 30 feet away. Most importantly, I get paid for it! More than I would have made at home for the same amount of time and shooting. And I certainly haven’t paid for a vacation in years. . .
Okaaaay, on to da show!

Like most photographers, and possibly most people, wandering a medina, with a maze of mysterious alleys, is the most fun. Souks can be fun too, if you can take the incessant screaming for your attention and your dollars. {FYI: medina=old town; souk=marketplace. You’re welcome.} Morocco is probably the most Westernized Arabic/Muslim country, so there’s plenty that looks similar, yet still enough different for fun.
As always I tend to meander, in writing as well as in person, so here go a few interesting tidbits. Despite my knowledge of classics and archaeology, for example, I hadn’t known the Romans had been here, after the fall of Carthage. Said Roman colony was known as Ifrikiya in medieval times, which is the name “Africa” comes from. Cool, huh? Also, Berbers are named after the word “barbarian,” not the other way around; wonder how they feel about that.
Unfortunately, for a guy who likes walking around, traffic here reminds me of India, which is saying a lot. Even though I know this promise won’t last when I get back home, right now I feel like I’ll never complain about bad El Lay drivers again. I’m glad, at least, that I’m not driving; here’s an example. There aren’t that many roundabouts in the US, because there’d be too many macho accidents, but around the world you basically wait for an opening in the circular traffic before heading in. Not here; priority is given to those entering. Stupid and dangerous, even if you’re trying to cross the street. . . but then, I’m told this is a French invention, so go ahead and blame them.
The social stuff is a lot more. . . intriguing. For instance, the one time I was on the train, I quickly found that no one seems to get the point, or even the idea, of reserved seating. That’s just irritating, not shocking. . . no, shocking is reserved for sitting in an internet café next to some teenager watching hardcore porn. . . and no one around, especially the women, seem surprised. Suddenly the hotel’s wireless fee doesn’t look so bad. . .
Didja know that in Brazil it’s impolite to make the “OK” sign with your hand? Whereas at home I might wave my hand in the air, here the only way to ask someone to come over is by placing the palm down and literally sweeping the hand backward. Takes some getting used to. . .
Once again–I wished I’d told them I’d been to Morocco before–I was told about the Maezt-Dar L’Oudou, which I had them write down, as my French is rusty enough to be nonexistent. Basically translating to “Goat of the Lavatories,” it’s a spirit or poltergeist that inhabits toilets, and it only comes out at night, as you might expect. So there I am being told this in the restaurant as I needed to head to the head, so if you thought I was going to stick around to ask how to ward this bastard off–“Rukhsa, ya Mubariqin,” or “With your permission, O Blessed Ones”–you’re in for a long wait. Besides, I love to live on the edge. . . the edge of what, that’s the mystery.
On a non-completely-unrelated note, orange juice is everywhere, the national drink other than mint tea. I love oranges; I hate mints. I also love the hotel bathrooms. . .
And while we’re on the subject of bodily intake—and not the outtake—I was joined in one souk visit by a young lady of indeterminate European origin who was staying across the hall from me at the hotel. Being much more experimental than me–I asked if she meant more than just food, but she only grinned–she was easily persuaded to try a supposed local delicacy: animal penis. She didn’t even ask which animal, dove right in, making for yet more jokes I had to quash before they reached my mouth. . . though I couldn’t hold out when she claimed it was actually pretty good: “Knew it wasn’t your first time.” And then the guys in the stall laugh and tell her it wasn’t, just a trick they play on foreigners, which reminded me of my archaeology professor’s story about eating raw bat in a warrior ceremony on a desolate Pacific island, but we don’t have time for that now.
In fact, this intro has taken over, become its own blog entry, so more next week.


Poetry Tuesday: Forest Trees of the Sea

19th century anonymous Hawaiian.


No, it is not too soon.

I have seen in my heart
that sea of forest trees
of tall-masted ships returning
to Honolulu’s harbor of Mamala,
making every sea-murmur a word–
Mamala’s murmur of unresting love.

Love’s home is Diamond Head.
Love’s shelter is where Pearl Harbor hills reach out to the sea.
Love’s gaze is keen and long.

Perhaps I should write a letter.
Perhaps I should show my love by asking his:
Come back, dear love, bring ease to me,
comfort of mind.

For you I sing my song
of forest trees on the unresting sea.


Book Reviews: Violins and Other Fantasies

Harriet Walsh: Peace Force
Origin story for a new hero in Simon Haynes’ wacky world, or I should say universe. This shows how Harriet was chosen—if that’s the right word for it—why she accepted, and how she impressed everyone—or at least a couple of robots/cars—with the way she handles her first case.
Harriet is immediately likeable, nowhere more so than when she’s having her first encounter with her talking car. I definitely like Harriet more then Hal, and Alice is preferable to Klunk, though just barely. The least said about Bernie the better; at least Steve was fun. More than anything, it’s funny, which is what I’ve come to expect from this author. The story is all light and airy, much like the Spacejock series, until two tremendously dark twists toward the end.
There’s a small blooper the first time she gets on the plane, but it’s doubtful anyone will notice. Other than that, pure fun as usual with this author.

Syl and Rouen are back, having spent the summer hunting down leftover bad stuff from the first book and dreading going back to school. It takes a while to find the main plot, and then it’s a lot like the first one, without the Big Bad, but plenty menacing anyway.
As much as I enjoyed the first one, it wasn’t for the high school drama. Got into the beginning of this one, but it doesn’t take long for the school stuff to start again, and I feel like I just can’t. Still, I enjoy the dialogue and inner musings enough to persevere.
I love small moments, like the ladies kicking autumn leaves and grinning at each other, or studying solar wind, which as usual with such seemingly throw-ins comes back to be important. But my fave scene has to be the snowball fight.
For all the ugliness that takes place, thanks to Fiann the alpha bully, you not only get a sense that these two ladies will overcome the odds, you root for them.

Out of Tune
Small town girl and two friends give out exposition on a missing girl as they hand out flyers and then join the search, finding the body soon enough.
I mention exposition because in this case it was well done, unlike most ham-fisted attempts in such short stories. There’s a Twin Peaks feel throughout, making me wonder if maybe the victim wasn’t as goodie-two-shoes as she let on.
For such a short novel, there sure were a lot of suspects; just when the cops and Riley think they know who done it, someone else pops up. It’s a little exasperating, as the author doesn’t throw breadcrumbs for the reader to play along and have a chance at solving it. But despite that it’s still worth the read, as the writing and characters are where this short is strong.

The Killing Type
A woman tells her sister her husband is trying to kill her. Sis doesn’t buy it. Next thing we know the sister is married to him. . . and then he’s dead.
This would have been an ok mystery. . . had it been 200 pages. Instead it’s told too matter-of-factly to invest in the characters. At fifty pages—not sure if the sneak peek at the end counts in that total—it’s short enough already, but then a good portion of the back end has the confession, which is told with even more abruptness. Perhaps it’s a good thing it was brief, because a full-length book in this style would not have been finished by me. More than anything, the plot is too convoluted and Machiavellian to come up with in a few seconds the way it was described at the cafe.