Poetry Tuesday: Halflife

By Johann Christian Friedrich Holderlin, early 19th century poetry dude.

Yellow pears slope down
And wild roses brim
The rim of a lake
You gorgeous swans
So drunk on kissing
Dunk your heads in,
Sobering holy water.
Poor me where do I go for
Flowers in winter, where
On earth is there any
Sunshine with shade.
The walls stay
Speechless and cold, in wind
Creaks the weathervanes crazy.


Book Reviews: Aliens, Sherlocks, and Rogues

Copywriting Made Simple: How to write powerful persuasive copy that sells
The title does not lie, as far as simplicity goes. The first graphic shows this perfectly: a man (reader) crossing a bridge at the urging of a woman (copywriter), exactly as the text just said. It’s kindergarten level. Thankfully it doesn’t continue this way, once your intelligence gets over feeling insulted.
The chapter on structure is amusing, because it perfectly mimics the steps I take to write a book, movie, or music review.
It’s a pretty big book, so there’s no surprise that there’s a few gems in here, mostly the examples of famous or just hilarious ads. I ended up making a lot more notes than I thought I would. At the same time, there are sections I skimmed through, with the thought that “If I ever need them, I’ll look them up then, but they won’t help me now.”

Of course Syl and Rouen can’t spend even a Christmas in peace, as the dark king decides this is the perfect time to take out the fair heir and his own daughter.
This is a novella that goes between the latest book and the upcoming one, with Ro basically facing the same choice Syl did last time. No surprise she makes the same decision. What I didn’t expect was for all kinds of fairie kids to be so instrumental. If there’s one low point, it’s that for such a short book there’s so many mentions of how Syl would have been dead from her injuries had she been merely human.
It’s tough keeping up with all the magic, new and also old, but then I’m here for the fun interactions, the snarky wordplay, and there’s plenty of that here.

Taking Flight
Recent widow thinks it’s time to get her life back, starting by returning to her speaker business. Flying to Vegas, the plane she’s in runs into a huge storm, necessitating a diversion to Denver. The pilot is a fan of hers, and his plan to woo her takes off (all pun intended). Though because of their schedules they don’t get much time together—plenty of time skips, which are not ideal—they do manage to have moments in Vegas and NY before he whisks her off to Hawaii for a week of relationship building.
Everything’s happy for the first half, but it can’t last, otherwise there’d be no story. Finally something happens to destroy their happiness. Some of it is a little obvious, like when a baby’s introduced; I instantly knew where he’d end up, and I’m pretty sure most readers did too.
I liked the writing well enough, but the plot was kinda clunky. At times felt by the numbers.

Killing Jane
Ugly murders are taking place in DC, with hints—especially the intro—that it’s a Jack the Ripper copycat. But this killer seems to have info on those famous slayings, including a theory I hadn’t heard: Jack might have actually been Jane.
This started slow, and I didn’t like the main character. Even though she’s just starting out as a detective, having been promoted from beat cop, you’d think she would have grown a thicker skin. Instead she’s very touchy, as well as insecure when she’s saddled up with a much more experienced investigator. I feel like there was too much of this: too often mentioned, too often shown. There’s only so many times you can read the same character flaws over and over. Likewise, her partner can be too forgiving.
The murder scene is horrific; I tried my best NOT to imagine it, unlike most books where I’m trying to find the killer before the fictional detective does. At least this allows a reaction from the protagonist that humanizes her. Turns out she’s still got PTSD from being raped, which she did not report. It’s made obvious that this is affecting her performance, or at least her mindset as she hunts for the killer.
Once I got over the goriness, I enjoyed the craftwork. Always good when an investigation is true to life and isn’t solved in 60 minutes (40 with commercials). The story itself was good, kept me guessing, though in my defense I don’t think there were enough breadcrumbs.
In a story with many brutal elements, there’s one near the end that’s even more so. And I can’t see any reason for it. Maybe it’ll pop up in a sequel, but it annoys me the way the author piles things on, almost like she doesn’t like her main character. And after that particular tidbit, it gets even worse for her. Sheesh.
Didn’t like the ending, came out of nowhere. Felt tacked on.

Marriage Under Fire
In a short novel that takes place in Seattle, two Marines who just worked an undercover case have to jump right into the next one, pretending to be married in order to infiltrate a spy ring.
She’d be absolutely fantastic if she could dump some of the testosterone she forces on herself to deal with the men. Him I simply didn’t like at all, but I can’t say he’s all that different from most Marines I’ve known.
The whole denouement hinges on him being so in love that he forgets his training and rushes in without waiting for backup. As a former Marine, I find that far-fetched. I would almost say it ruined the book for me, but the truth is I wasn’t feeling it anyway. It couldn’t decide whether it was a spy thriller or a romance, and those two parts didn’t mesh all that well.

Murder in Keswick: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
As often happened back when Sherlock took a vacation, another mystery finds him, in this case a grisly murder, followed by a break-in at the now-widow’s house.
Unlike most attempts at writing a Sherlock novel, I enjoyed this one right off the bat. It sounds authentic. For instance, there was a clue in the laundry that rang true to Arthur Conan Doyle, subtle but I got it. What happened after, and her aim with the shotgun, only strengthened my theory. (In the end I got it right. . . except for the actual murderer. Sigh.)
Read it in a couple of hours on a burning summer afternoon. Only problem is the next day I couldn’t remember any of it.

Stage Bound
A lady ostensibly in charge of a theatre company has to juggle her boyfriend, her boss, her friends, and a mysterious new act as they put on a show. She not great at handling the pressure, but she perseveres, mostly with the help of Pez dispensers. But when things go wrong. . .
Despite the shortness, it felt really long. A lot of times it seemed like I was making no progress at all. In particular, the mechanical explanations had me skipping.
On the plus side, there were some thoroughly funny moments, and the relationships were fun to see. A couple of well-crafted erotic scenes helped too. I wish I could up the score a notch, but the main plot could have been much better. I feel like I could have cut at least ten pages off and it would have been better.

The Sherlock Effect
A modern—or a few years ago, anyway—version of the great detective goes into that same business when his friend offers him start-up money. His father was such a fanatic that his middle name is Sherlock, but that’s about the only qualification he has as the two go around solving some relatively simple crimes.
Anyone familiar with Sherlock Holmes knew how the first story would end. The local cop in the second story is way too loose, telling civilians everything about the case. At least one of the characters notices, but a not very satisfactory answer is given. Basically it feels like a halfhearted attempt at recreating Arthur Conan Doyle, which is an impossible thing to attempt, let alone achieve. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it didn’t engage me; not even the inclusion of aliens managed to pull me in.

A director and the manager—and sister—of a famous actress butt heads on a new film production. She’s trying to keep her sister from falling off various wagons while he completes his magnum opus. Turns out they knew each other growing up in a small Canadian town—odds of that?—and she’s always had a crush on him.
Really easy reading! Love it when it flows so well. I particularly like how the author doesn’t beat the audience over the head with how much the characters want each other. Yes, it’s there, but it’s not overdone like a lot of books in this genre I’ve read lately.
Everything about this was pretty standard, except for the enjoyable writing. Even the sad tragic moments felt lyrical. I might have given this a higher grade if the typical jumping to conclusions wasn’t present.

Lord of Secrets: Rogues to Riches
She’s lower class and working for a rich cousin, gathering more money by drawing caricatures of the twits she sees at various events. He’s upper class but works as a fixer. He can’t figure out who the artist is. She didn’t think he would care. But then it gets personal. There’s a puppy pug involved.
This has some finely written characters and plenty of humor, but every scene is stolen by the appropriately named Captain Pugboat. There’s a great part with the two trying to teach the puppy to heel, followed by an even better moment of them dancing. This is where the romance blossoms, and is worth the read in itself. Another hilarious scene occurs when she meets his sisters for the first time. This author could be writing for sitcoms.
The plot is easily established; the point is how to get to the inevitable end, and that’s what I enjoyed here. For once it wasn’t a by-the-numbers romance; it wasn’t about obstacles they put on themselves, but rather the crap the society of the time loads on them. This wouldn’t have worked in a modern setting; they had to go against the entire social structure of the time and country they lived in, which means they truly earned their happy ending.
This is how this genre should be written.

Summer Sizzle
Two people end up renting the same house and, though they can’t stand each other, can’t fight the attraction either. He’s got a doctorate in sociology, which he gave up when his little boy was killed. She’s an accountant building up money to get an advanced degree, and nothing will deviate her from that plan. . . so she thinks.
I wanted to like her, but except for sex and the kite lessons, she’s got a bug so far up her ass she’s just no fun. This is not someone I would want to know in real life, especially when she lets her cat do all the emotionally dirty work for her. Speaking of, this may be the first feline in history I’ve ever liked. (Gimme a break, I’m allergic.) But the cat giveth, and the cat taketh away; it was a silly way to cause the inevitable trouble in the relationship, but plausible, I suppose.
Points off for “orgasmic climax.”
Doesn’t matter how great they may be, because when it comes down to it, they’re both dumb as rocks, lacking in emotional intelligence. His PhD in sociology taught him nothing. Both invented stupid reasons for artificial roadblocks. Up to that point I’d liked this, but the last quarter was a mess.
Even worse, there’s a lot of loose ends. Her lost/stolen money issue is never resolved; she doesn’t even go to the police. With his reluctance to do just that, I thought the slimy lawyer was in on it.
And speaking of that character: what good was he? To make the main guy jealous? To make him look good in her eyes? Or did the author have someone in real life they couldn’t resist throwing in as vicarious revenge?
The ending, or next to ending, I hated. Brought down the score.


Government Office Bliss

Friday morning found me walking up desolate and weed-edged Rosemead Blvd. in El Monte toward the complex of federal buildings tucked next to the freeway, across from the outdoor mall anchored by a giant Target. I had to fix some errors that had cropped up in my mom’s benefits, so that she wouldn’t lose all that lovely health care she’s getting now and make my financial burdens even worse than they already are.
Knowing the drill, I put all the stuff from my pockets into my backpack, especially the coins, and then sent it through the x-ray machine; that way when I passed through the metal detector I only had to remove my hat, my glasses, and my phone. And my belt. Have I mentioned I’ve lost 60 pounds? Luckily my shorts did not slide off. The security guard was jovial enough to joke around, so that was fun.
Having been there before, I managed to pass by the info desk this time and go to the next help person further inside. She sent me to a line that I thought was wrong, where the guy quickly told me to go back to her for a number and enter the waiting area where I’d been before and knew I was heading. Luckily that didn’t take long, especially when I saw so few people there, including no one at the no-number line; it got pretty full by the time I left. And the guy with the baby was there with someone already being served, so it was hardly a wait before I was sitting down on one side of the giant circular desk in the middle of the room holding five workers.
It felt similar to the DMV, though not as harried.
And then the worker I got, a pleasant Hispanic gentleman in his forties in glasses and tie—the only downside was the Raiders lanyard holding his ID—proceeded to take care of everything I needed, glancing between the paperwork I’d gotten in the mail and his computer. It felt like it went by so quickly, even though it was a solid half hour, and part of that was when he was searching for his staple remover. (I realized what he wanted without him saying, which surprised him tremendously. When he asked how I knew, I told him, “They don’t call me Sherlock for nothing!”)
It was such a pleasant experience—I felt like I’d made a new friend—that I stayed to fill out a survey card, giving Ernest as high praise as I could come up with on the spot. And even though the supervisor was helping someone else, when she saw me holding the yellow card she took it with a smile and a genuine thank you.
I’d budgeted two to three hours, depending when I got there, for the experience, and much like my times at the DMV, I was out quickly. As always I gazed longingly at the ice cream factory across the street, which I blame for the brain fart I had at not boarding the bus pulling to a stop in front of me, which would have left me in the same place I needed to go, and instead walking half a mile in already-warm temperatures to the other bus stop. On the other hand, that heat and sweat, along with the feelings of triumph and relief, led me to drop into the Carl’s Jr. and get my first Oreo milkshake in years.
So props to one government employee who doesn’t fit the cliché. . .


Travel Thursday Encore: Two Days—and Two Gardens—in Charleston

Couple of days in Chuck-Town with a girl named Amber, sometimes Am-brrrrr, and occasionally Am-beer. . .

Amber did her tour guide thing as she drove us to Middleton Place, letting me know the place had been established in 1741–making it the earliest extensive formal gardens in the thirteen colonies–by Henry Middleton, who was later President of the first Continental Congress. “His son was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.”
“What rich guy wasn’t?” I sighed as she pulled in.
She knew the ticket taker, but even with all the smiles I had to pay full price for both of us, and it wasn’t cheap. To the side I spotted a display with an aerial photo of part of the grounds, consisting of two large grassy expanses bisected by a tree-lined path, then what looked to be grassy terraces down to the water.
“I don’t see gardens.”
“They’re there,” she grinned. “Pwomise.”
“Hmmm. . .”
“Twust me?”
That might have worked better without the baby voice, I grinned. “Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”
I reached over for one of the complimentary maps and compared it to the photo, noticing what I’d seen earlier was on the map called butterfly lakes and rice paddies.
“I don’t like butterflies. Let’s check out the reflection pool, so I can get a shot of two Ambers for the price of one.”
“Price of NONE!” she gurgled, then looked surprised. “You don’t like butterflies? They’re so preeeety!”
“Nice, very girly.” Since she’s six-foot-two, I didn’t often get a chance to see her that way, so it was fun. I waited for her to preen, then added, “I think they look like brightly colored pieces of paper trash in the wind, but that’s only from afar. Up close–”
“Never mind, seen it.”
The next few minutes were spent wandering the grounds, chatting about unimportant things, she modeling without comment whenever I asked. At one time I mentioned how strange a part of the landscape looked, and she wondered aloud if it might have been caused by the Great Charleston Earthquake, since–
Dimpling at the chance of lecturing me, for once, she gave the statistics, no doubt memorized in grade school. “On the night of August 31st, 1886, just before ten P.M., a minute-long earthquake hit the area that damaged two thousand buildings and killed at least sixty people. At a time when the buildings in the whole city were worth $24 million, the quake caused $6 million in damages.”
“I’ve been in plenty of earthquakes, but none that lasted that long.”
She shuddered. “I never have. Hurricanes are bad enough.”
“But those last a lot longer.”
“True enough, but at least you know it’s coming! Anyhoo, the quake was so strong it damaged buildings in Ohio, and was felt as far away as Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and Cuba!” She shuddered again.
I had my doubts about the “damaged in Ohio” part, but then remembered this was well over a hundred years ago, long before building specs.
“They estimated it was a 7.3 on that scale you’re no doubt familiar with. Weird thing is, there’d never been an earthquake before that!”
“Which could explain why it was so severe,” I mused. “That rubber band stretched forever, and when released. . .”
She caught the analogy and nodded, then made a hammy pose in front of some flowers. Okay, I’d make her regret that by posting it on the internet and letting her coworkers know.
“Do you remember seeing crosses on the sides of buildings? Those are earthquake bolts.”
“Those Maltese crosses on otherwise plain walls?”
“And those are supposed to help the buildings?”
Shrug. “I majored in history, not architecture.”
“You mean engineering.”
Another shrug. “Say hi to the wood nymph.”
First I took a picture, then said, “Hi, wood nymph! Bet your human incarnation here hasn’t visited you in too long.”
“True,” she sighed, “but I’m more of a water nymph.”
“Didn’t prove it in the whirlpool. Now pose behind her so I can get both of you in the shot.”
Well, she had been the one who’d first anthropomorphized the inanimate object, and she was glad to see me play along, so she did. Though she drew the line when I asked her to kiss the statue on the lips.
But that was ok, because my attention was quickly drawn by what was floating in the lake. “Swans! Don’t you love how they look like twos?”
“Indeed! Think you can get a photo of us together?”
“Swans are notoriously unpredictable, like most beautiful creatures.” I let that hang in the air for a moment, then grinned. “I’ll shoot slow, and if the birdie doesn’t move, it should come out well.”
She didn’t bother asking what the hell that meant. “So does this mean you’ve shot swans before?”
“Sure. My dawn photo in Stockholm harbor is relatively famous. And in art circles, my shot of a wild swan painting in Amsterdam. . . that’s wild swan, not wild goose.”
“I was going with wild turkey,” she giggled. “Wanna hear the water buffalo story?”
“Indeed. You make non sequiturs fun.”
She let that go, for once. “At the end of the Civil War this place was burned and looted by Union troops, because the owner signed the Ordinance of Secession.”
“Wow, these boys really like to give autographs!”
“True!” She chortled at the imagined look on an old professor’s face when she told him that. “Anyway, of the water buffalo on the grounds, the soldiers ate five–no report if they tasted like chicken–and another six somehow ended up at the Central Park Zoo, up in Yankee territory. But you wouldn’t know much about the Civil War, being a Californian.”
“I know more than I ever wanted. It’s my least favorite time in history to study. But then, I didn’t have to major in history for that.”
“There’s a dig in there somewhere, but I choose to ignore it.”
“Did you know there was a Civil War battle fought in California?”
Her response was similar to mine when she mentioned the Great Charleston Earthquake.
Trying not to look smug, I lectured, “Happened just outside San Jose, though the plaque takes the view of the revisionists who insist it was only a battle against outlaws.”
She grinned. “Either you’re a genius for making this stuff up so quickly, or a genius for remembering all this useless trivia.”
“Double genius!”
We found ourselves in front of another alabaster statue, this one with long curly hair down the back, as I found out when I went behind it and got them both in the photo. Not noticing me, she simply stood there and pondered it quietly, seemingly gone from this world. She stood there for a few minutes before shaking herself out of it, then grabbing my hand and leading me toward what she claimed was her favorite spot.
We stood there next to a lake, looking at the carpet of red flowers on the opposite shore.
“You’re not planning on fishing, are ya?”
“Hell no!” she laughed. “Bo-ring!”
“You’re a Northern girl in disguise.”
“I’ve seen people fish in the North! They cut a whole in the ice–”
“I didn’t mean that far north.”
We walked on in silence for a bit longer, me taking photos and she standing behind me, trying to figure out exactly what I was shooting. But finally we came to a building. “That’s a hotel, or I guess they call it an inn.”
“Maybe I’ll stay there next time. . . unless you’d rather we don’t leave your apartment for three days.”
She smiled, but couldn’t let me get away with it that easily. “Thanks for assuming I’d still be single next time you visited!”
I chuckled and let her have that one, but then she blurted, just to keep the game alive, “And don’t assume I’d have a bunch of kids by then either!”
“Not unless you adopted, not-so-Suthin’ girl. I know you.”
She shuddered. “Damn right! I am never having a baby! I’ll adopt or marry a guy who already has kids.”
“I can’t see you ruining that perfect body,” I agreed, grinning and waiting for another photo op.
She didn’t bite. “You know what I told the doctor when I had my first gyno checkup?”
“I can hardly wait.”
“Shush. ‘I just have one question, doctor: how is the baby really supposed to get out of my body? Really?’”
Chuckle. “I’m gonna check your stomach for scars next time.”
“My stomach is pristine, you whiner.”
“But not other parts?”
“You’ll just have to check more carefully next time you shoot me,” she smirked, then stopped as she saw something that immediately put her in a particularly fine mood. “Don’t suppose you’d be interested in a horseyback ride?”
“Would you be willing to spring me a ride?” She almost winced, since I’d paid twenty-five dollars for each of us to get into the garden, but somehow managed to hold back. She didn’t do the pleading face that worked on Daddy either, just kept it pleasantly earnest.
“Sure. That seems to be the only way to get you to quit interrupting.”
She let that go this time, because she really wanted a ride. She even posed willingly on the chocolate mare with the white mane for some shots, then took off, twisting at full gallop to wave bye-bye, then remembering she hadn’t put on her required helmet and quickly doing so.
So I wandered around a little more while she was gone, but basically got bored and simply waited for her, then we left.
That night at the symphony she suddenly blurted, “We forgot to pick up some water buffalo cheese at the gardens!”
I shuddered. “Please don’t ever say that again. . .”
After the symphony came the haunted city tour, which is better left unmentioned. . .

Stay tuned for part two next week, same day, same. . . you know the rest.


Poetry Tuesday: A Courtesan to her Lover

By Ksetrayya, originally written in the Telugu language (India) in the seventeenth century.
(From what I could make out doing research, “Muvva Gopala” is a name for the god Krishna, so make of that what you will.)

Who was that woman sleeping
in the space between you and me?
Muvva Gopala, you sly one:
I heard her bangles jingle.

As I would kiss you now and then,
I took her lips into mine,
the lips of that woman fragrant as camphor.
You must have kissed her long.

But when I tasted them,
they were insipid
as the chewed-out fiber
of sugarcane.

Who was that woman?

Thinking it was you, I reached out for a hug.
Those big breasts collided with mine.
That seemed a little strange,
but I didn’t make a fuss
lest I hurt you, lord,
and I turned aside.

Who was that woman?

You made love to me first,
and then was it her turn?
Does she come here every day?
Muvva Gopala,
you who fathered the god of desire,
you can’t be trusted.
I know your tricks now
and the truth of your heart.

Who was that woman?


Book Reviews: Erotic Football, Art, Sales, and Elevators

An artist/restorer gets a visit by yet another “billionaire sexiest man alive,” who takes her to dinner with the promise of a big job. Of course she falls in lust with him, and though he can have any woman he wants—and usually does—he thinks she’s perfect for him.
I’m sure you’ve heard all that before. As for the surrounding plot, it involves the billionaire’s family, and his arrogance drags her into danger. . . but you’ve heard that before too.
The writing itself was pretty good, and I enjoyed the art talk. There could have been a little more on the restoration process, but it’s okay if the author didn’t want to take a chance on being boring. I liked the main female character, but not as much as I usually do in these kinds of stories. The male lead was as douchy as they always are in these stories.
All in all, it was fine, but not particularly memorable. I’d label it a missed opportunity; more could have been done here, or at least slightly deviating from the overdone norm.

Aging quarterback butts heads with scientist testing his reflexes and gameplay. What did you think would happen between them?
No, the other thing.
There’s a lot more science in this football romance than you’d expect, but some of it’s VR, which is fun. There’s even some hilarious moments with the technology, which is surprising but definitely welcome.
Of course they’re both damaged from their origin stories, but at least they’re trying to make the world a better place in their own way. This makes them more sympathetic and likeable, especially him, though the author almost left it too late, considering his arrogance.
By far the best scene in this football romance takes place in a greenhouse, with a character that can appreciate color more than anyone else.

Better to Marry than to Burn
In a town of former slaves, the leaders say every man must marry or pay a fine, or leave with all the women deemed inappropriate. Ladies from back East are coming to town, the only real alternative. One man rejects this plan, saying it’s just a different form of slavery.
This man, aptly named Caesar, has his own plan, having put out an ad for the kind of woman he wants. He didn’t explain what he means by “legacy,” so that leads to some difficulties when the woman who answers the ad shows up. She’s not what he expected: cultured, erudite, kinky, and gay. But then she didn’t expect him to be similar (except for the gay part) despite his lack of schooling. This is not a case of opposites attract, because they realize how alike they are.
That’s the one thing I took away from this book: they recognize their similarities and rejoice in them, at least after some initial stubbornness and ego from both sides. And it’s always a pleasure to read characters that use words most people don’t know (and I do, speaking of ego).
Just tell me Purity Patrol cannot be a real thing. . .

7 Brothers and a Virgin
A rich but not spoiled young woman is being forced by her father to marry an old guy, so she runs away to a ranch run by seven brothers, hoping one of them will make her no longer a virgin.
Reverse harem is the latest rage in erotica. Hard to say what makes a good one, at least as far as the sex scenes, but you basically know how the story is going to end. It’s mostly about how the brothers handle having to share her. A lot of times it’s hard to tell all the men apart, even more so when there’s seven of them, but in this case it’s pretty good, especially with the twins.
The ending takes place six months later, with the real conclusion, especially with her father, barely mentioned in passing. That’s annoying, and seems cheap.

The Hunt
Half vampire hunts full vampires for an ungrateful town. When one mission fails the town hires another vampire hunter, leaving her to rage, and of course fall in lust for the new guy, who’s as arrogant as. . . every other male lead character in this kind of romance/erotica.
Like a lot of books in this genre, the author takes every opportunity—at least once a page—to turn an innocent phrase into sexual innuendo about how much her body wants him even though she can’t stand him. A few funny ones are good, but there’s just too much of this. At times it feels like padding, and it’s a short book as it is.
Everyone in this story is an ass, except for the female lead. Even the goddess is unworthy.
Here’s the good things. In addition to some snarky humor, the ending is incredibly original, at least something I’ve never come across. While I enjoyed this story for the most part, despite it being by-the-numbers, the ending kicked it up a notch.

Door-to-Door Sales (The Open Door Book 1)
The title refers to an escort agency womaned by very different sisters. The stories tell about the encounters of the employees as well as prospectives.
The first story is the trope of the young virgin getting a hooker for his birthday, and even though it’s told in a rather terse present tense without much embellishment, it’s still satisfying.
Story #2 is another oft-told story, that of the audition. It’s the humor that sells this one. What I like about this author is that she can do a complete description, especially of people, without making long paragraphs out of it. It’s necessary for such short stories, but I’ve seen plenty of others fail at it.
#3 features a male escort with a huge endowment, which makes him feel like a freak. It’s an interesting change of pace.
Ending this first volume is the story of an employee who seems disillusioned, perhaps doing the job longer than she expected she’d be going out. It’s a bit sad, but neither the customer nor her bodyguard bat an eye, showing she’s a pretty good actress.

Door-to-Door Sales (The Open Door Book 2)
The continuing adventures of the employees of a Las Vegas escort agency.
The first story features a quick visual tryout, followed by a group interview, in which all four of the prospectives make a pile of sex while the owners try not to seem affected, and fail miserably. As far as the new employees go, it’s nice to see people enjoying sex, as well as wanting to make their partners enjoy it too.
That story is quickly followed by the owners, having become aroused by the show, running off to be with their own lovers. The psychology here is intriguing, considering the ladies are as different in their tastes as their looks.
The third story is a sequel to the one in the first volume about the male escort with the large. . . accoutrement. This one is rather sweet, oddly enough.
This volume ends with one of the older escorts teaching newbies, along with his crush, who despite having sex with him all the time has still friend-zoned him.

Taking Command
Rebel hijacks a top-model spaceship and thinks he’s gotten away with it, but finds a hot reporter he’d failed to notice on his initial sweep. So of course they fight both each other and the obvious instant attraction. There’s a little more plot to it, but it’s mostly about them and their failure to communicate. . . like every other story in this genre.
Is it wrong that I wanted the booty-bot to join them? Funny how she wants to use the bot more than him.
There’s some stuff I liked, but just as much that I thought could have been done better. It came out pretty standard, as though the author was playing it safe. And except for the sexbot, this could have easily taken place in a non-science-fiction setting.

Private Prick
Kinda flighty redhead gets stuck in her building’s elevator and promptly loses it, though due more to men problems than claustrophobia. Then the super drops through the trap door and first frightens her, then satisfies her. A lot of stories would end there, but not when the “crazy chick” can screw with the guy some more.
I really wish this main character wasn’t so erratic, if not completely batcrap (her own word), but at least the writing is keeping me here, being snarky sarcastic in the most brilliant way.
In the end I did like it, though I don’t think I would’ve been as forgiving as he. I wish there’d been a better reason for the hiccup in their buffing romance, though.


Travel Thursday Encore: Putting the Machu in Picchu part 3

That afternoon we were strolling by the railroad tracks, hand in hand, on the ten minute walk to the part of Aguas Calientes that contained the tourist amenities. Despite the hunger, she was in the mood to try something other than the hotel restaurant, possibly something local; she was as adventurous in her gastronomic exercises as I wasn’t.
Though still feeling the hunger pains, her brain managed to function better now, knowing the beast would be fed soon, so she was able to take in the town. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been somewhere so poor-looking, then realized it reminded her of a movie western set. It felt really out of place, then she remembered Butch and Sundance going down to Bolivia and giggled.
Maybe because her shopping hunger had no room for engagement, or more likely because none of the trinkets did anything for her, she didn’t stop to look at the souvenirs and artisan works lining the street as we approached the busy section of town, still holding hands. That would probably change later, she smirked; once her stomach was full, she figured she’d give in to the buying urge that was presently lying dormant inside her, like an alien monster.
The crowd was mostly made up of tour groups and smaller units of backpack-laden hikers, some of which crashed into each other as they gawked at her. Despite the natural blush, she was well used to it, and enjoyed it, as long as the attention was limited to sight; rarely did anyone say worthwhile words about her beauty. And she knew I didn’t mind the looks either, as long as they kept their distance as well.
“They’ve fixed the place up since I’ve been here,” I murmured, pointing to the little plaza that in most Latin pueblos signified the very down of downtown.
“I need to take a photo,” she decided. “You told me once that this was Peru’s version of Katmandu, so I want something for comparison when you take me there.”
“Most people only go to Katmandu on the way to climbing Everest.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t plan on doing that.”
“But I guess we can go on a walking tour for a few days after the next trip to the Taj Mahal. Either way, go ahead and take your photo.”
“Don’t suppose you’d go pose over there, in front of that. . . whatever that statue is.”
“If you want to catch the whole square, I’ll be too far for anyone to tell who it is, so just shoot.”
“Okay okay, stop being so bossy.” She quickly framed the shot and took it before I said anything else, then grinned and jumped over to kiss me, kicking up a heel like a cliché. “Okay, no more side trips. Me need food!”
“I too. Remember when we arrived that the train station platform has tables for dining? There’s probably a good restaurant there.”
“I was too tired to notice anything at that point. And trains kick up a lot of dust. And I don’t want to walk that far. What else ya got?”
“Let’s find out. Did you at least see the market stalls when we got off the train?”
“Hmmm, you’d think I would, but I didn’t. Why?”
“I was watching as we approached, and they actually had to move their little portable stores off the train tracks so the train could park.”
“Wow! They really have no other place to set up?”
“Not if they want to be right there to hit up the weary traveler as soon as they step off.”
“Yes, I can see their marketing strategy. By the by, I am not looking forward to the train back down. I got enough of the scenery on the way up.”
“I can scrounge up another way.”
“We are not taking a bus!”
Of course not. It’ll be faster and even more scenic.”
“What is it?”
“A surprise.”
She pouted, but only for a second. “Promise it’ll be good?”
“Then I’m forced to trust you.”
“There’s a pizza place.”
“I did not come all this way to eat pizza,” she said primly, no longer grinning.
“There. That place.”
She looked. “Yes.”
It being brunch time in a place that never heard of brunch, we were seated immediately, and the service wasn’t all that different than it would be, if not in the States, then at least in other places around the world used to tourists. The waitress even spoke some English, and just like that Katarina was snacking on the bread pieces while I waited for my corn on the cob order that I’d placed immediately before checking out the main menu.
“They serve trout all the way up here? Really?”
“It’s flown in, of course,” the waitress smiled as she dropped off the corn on the cob, then quickly scurried away.
Katarina looked at me blankly, but I simply smiled and said, “I like her,” as I dug into my appetizer. The corn looked a bit different here, but turned out to be just as tasty, to my relief.
“Good thing for you they grow it up here,” she laughed.
“Corn was the staple crop in this hemisphere before the Spaniards, but only with the Incas was it sacred.”
“No wonder you like them.”
“They saved the very best lands for it. It even became a symbol of power, more so than even coca, or potatoes.”
“Your other fave,” she laughed, seeing no need to point out which one. Attentive but still very hungry, she reached over to grab the hunk of cheese that came with the corn. “It looks weird, all white and puffy, and those kernels are huge. How does it taste? Like corn?”
“There’s a corny base taste, yeah, but it also tastes sweeter than usual, with a little milk thrown in. Not as good as the corn I had in Rotorua, New Zealand, but at least top five.”
She grinned as she remembered that old conversation, especially about the entry at #3, and the corn girl who’d served it–and herself–to me at a festival in the Midwest. Thinking of that luscious redhead. . . that quickly went away as the waitress came back to take our main order.
Having a backup ready in case the description turned her off, she asked the waitress about the Pachamanca.
The girl was efficient. “That’s a classic mountain dish that goes all the way to the Incas, it means ‘Mother Earth’ in Quechua. Several types of meat, potatoes, peppers, herbs and cheese are baked in a hole over hot stones, with banana leaves placed between the layers. It is cooked underground because the Incas worshipped the earth, and to eat directly from it was a way of honoring the Mother Goddess and giving thanks for her fertility.”
“That’s perfect!” she squealed. “I’ll have that.”
She waitress smiled and ticked a note on her pad. “What soup would you like?”
“Hmmm, what’s sopa a la criolla?”
I smiled at her perfect pronunciation, but she was too hungry to reply with anything more than a return smile, listening to the waitress instead.
“That is a basic soup, but you may find it different because it used quinua as its grain.” Going on before she could be asked, she explained, “The word means ‘moon’ in Quechua. It expands four times its original volume when cooked and thus has more protein than any other grain, so you can see why we like it so much.”
“Is there a moon god that’s in love with the Mother Goddess?” I grinned.
“I hope so!” the waitress giggled.
Playing along, Katarina said, “There is now. I’ll have that.”
“Great. And you, sir?”
Not having enjoyed alpaca meat the last time I was here, I went with the regular beef steak, not worrying about how long it would take, since the corn was fighting an efficient holding action on my hunger.
Katarina looked at the cob husk left on my plate and sighed, wondering if she should have ordered a quick appetizer too. “What’s six inches long and makes me happy?”
I considered, then went with, “Just about anything, Earth Goddess.”
We’d quickly grown to love the silences between them when we’d first met, but she didn’t want that right now. “So, is there other stuff to do here besides Machu? And orchids,” she quickly remembered.
“There are other sites, mostly harder to get to, but also nowhere near as dramatic as Machu. Any tourists going there would think them anticlimactic. Like someone looking at any other model after watching you.”
“I was with ya before you said that,” she assured him, biting her inner cheek to keep from laughing.
“There’s plenty of places to hike, that don’t take four days. There’s one that goes up to that other mountain over there, got some good shots of Machu once. And if I can remember where that other one starts, there’s a waterfall that’s just your style at the end of it.”
“So, you wanna tell me the story about walking the Inca trail now?” But before I could answer, she suddenly cursed.
“What’d you do now?”
“Do you remember that as soon as the gardener left, we were all alone up there? Or even before he got there, when it was still dark? Who else could say they fucked at Machu Picchu?”
I smiled. “I love a sexually adventurous girl.”
“Especially if she’s yours, right?”
“Wouldn’t be any fun if she was someone else’s.”
Her eyes danced at that, but she kept a straight face. She also kept quiet for a while, because she was too busy eating, until finally she shouted, “I want dessert! And no donuts this time!” While perusing the dessert menu, she came across something she thought was amusing, though as usual with me the jury would always be out. “Says here this restaurant also owns another one near the railroad tracks called Toto’s House.” She grinned. “I know how much you hate the Wizard of Oz, but. . . dinner?”
Holding up my fork, which contained a chunk of steak, I asked, “Aren’t you afraid of what kind of meat they’d serve at a place called Toto’s?”
I watched carefully as her face slowly turned green, and knew I’d blundered.
“Ya know,” she rapidly dropped the menu, “I think I’m full.”
“You are not! Watch, I’ll distract you, and in less than a minute you’ll have forgotten.”
Less than fifteen minutes later–tough walk uphill and a stop for a snack to tide her over–though she was definitely not counting–she was luxuriating in a private room, lying face down and naked. It had taken her a bit to decide just what kind of massage she wanted, though the last thing she needed right now was the Energizing one that topped the list. Of course she had no idea what an Inca Massage would be, but was leaning toward one called Altitude Problems, for good reason, when she was informed she could have a mix of all of the above. She was so tired and eager for some hand-healing that she simply agreed to that and flopped down on the bed, then moaned when she realized she forgotten to take her clothes off first.
If she had any doubts beforehand as to the usefulness of hanging out with a guy on an expense account–yes, me–they were certainly dissuaded now as she undid her boots and dragged her jeans down her legs, not exactly gently, leaving the white socks on because she knew they looked so cute. It was tougher working off the blouse and bra, and then she basically had to just drop her undies, but soon enough she was really zoned out and giving herself up to the bliss.
It seemed like only seconds later she was awakened by the soothing breeze of condor feathers being waved over her. After being told it was an Inca tradition, she wondered what I would think of that. . . then realized she hadn’t given me a moment’s thought since she’d undressed. For just a moment she was mortified, since I’d been so kind as to pay for the whole thing, then realized I’d probably gone off to have my own massage. Yeah, but he’s probably thinking of me, she sighed, vowing never to let me know she’d broken her own rule.
Getting off the table with an audible groan, she reached for her clothes, only to find they were nowhere in sight. Instead the masseuse held a fluffy-looking blue robe out to her with a smile as well as outstretched arms. Shrugging inwardly, she donned the offered uniform and followed the still-smiling lady through a short labyrinth to the outdoors, where she saw me slowly slipping into the pool, looking like I wasn’t wearing anything either.
Laughing, she barely took enough time to throw the robe off before diving in, almost scaring me. But she turned out to be the one frightened as she realized her skin was sizzling from the volcanic-like water.
“Remember when you asked me what the town name meant?” I grinned when she broke the surface and did a jitterbug that would make any synchronized swimmer envious.
“And you said you’d tell me later, so I’m gonna assume it means ‘hot water,’ right?”
“This is exactly why I defend you when people say you’re not smart!”
“Thanks for that!” No longer impersonating a blowfish, seemingly getting used to the heat, she turned to wrap her arms around my neck and kiss me hotly, though not as hotly as the water, she giggled to herself.
We looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, and then I took in the whole view. The water had darkened her fair hair, and it lay tight to her head and across the brow in flat honey-gold tendrils, as if it had been sculpted.
Suddenly, as usual thinking things well after the fact, she glanced around frantically, her hands moving to cross her chest and block the view. I laughed, then used my own body to cover hers, wet rubbery skin slicking against hers as I whispered, “Relax. I paid for them to turn away anyone else who wanted to dip in here.”
“I was wondering why we were alone. That makes me feel guilty, but I can live with it.”
“Don’t. There are other pools, just not with a view of the sugarloaf.”
She turned quickly, being half-mermaid, then gasped. “I hadn’t noticed! Tell me what it’s like to climb it,” she sighed.
Leaning into her back, I murmured, “Do you want to hear about the Sacred Rock?”
Somehow managing to giggle and moan at the same time, she managed to gasp, “Been there, done that.”
“Never stopped you before. . .”
“Um. . .”
“To the left of the Sacred Rock is a path that leads to the gateway to Huayna Picchu. Even though it looks steep, even those in pretty bad shape can climb it in an hour.”
“How fast can you climb it?”
“If I was racing, about fifteen minutes.” I noticed the way she was staring at the Old Mountain. “Get there early, avoid the sun and the climbers. Get better photos that way, too.”
“How many people can fit up there at once?”
“Not many. There’s a booth where they make you sign in, and if you don’t come back quickly enough they’ll send the next people up, telling them it’s okay to throw them off.”
“Well, not really.”
Seeing an inflatable rubber animal next to her, she scratched for it and placed it on the concrete ledge underneath her breasts, then leaned forward to stare at the view.
“Last climbers at one, and if you’re not down by three, they’ll come and getcha.”
“The view, the view,” she sighed, fighting to keep her eyes open and looking through the clouds at the top of the mountain.
“There’s a platform at the top, directly overlooking the ruins and the forested mountains. But most people don’t know there’s a tunnel that takes you to a rocky perch that has full-circle views. There’s even less room in there, and I for one could spend hours up there shooting, if the people waiting weren’t about to throw me off.”
“They wouldn’t dare,” she whimpered,
“But you don’t want to climb it when it’s rainy. Those stone steps are even more slippery than the ones at Blarney Castle. Remember I told you about that?”
“The girl who told the guy to kiss her ass!”
“That’s her. It’s so steep it’s frightening coming down, but there’s a turnoff that no one knows about, an hour’s walk to the Temple of the Moon. The trail dips down into the cloud forest and then climbs again, so you gotta ignore your groaning thighs.”
She did manage to giggle a little there, though she was close to being completely out of it.
“Right above the river, about halfway down the peak, there’s a mysterious group of caverns and niches with the most beautiful stone work you’ve ever seen–”
“Better than the Alhambra?”
“Apples and oranges, though there are a few thrones around the altar.”
“For me, the Moon Goddess!” she screeched, then promptly fell asleep.
{To be continued, with an orchid walk, a hike to a waterfall, and a pretty scary trip in a helicopter}


Poetry Tuesday: Last Night Without Sight of You

By Sa’di, 13th Century Persia.

Last night without sight of you my brain was ablaze.
My tears trickled and fell plip on the ground. That I with
sighing might bring my life to a close they would name
you and again and again speak your name till
with night’s coming all eyes closed save mine whose every
hair pierced my scalp like a lancet. That was
not wine I drank far from your sight but my heart’s
blood gushing into the cup. Wall and door wherever
I turned my eyes scored and decorated with shapes
of you. To dream of Laila Majnun prayed for
sleep. My senses came and went but neither your
face saw I nor would your fantom go from me.
Now like aloes my heart burned, now smoked as a censer.
Where was the morning gone that used on other nights
to breathe till the horizon paled? Sa’di!
Has then the chain of the Pleiades broken
tonight that every night is hung on the sky’s neck?


Book Reviews: Planes, Jazz, Chickens, Smartphones

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
One of the most amazing planes in history gets yet another huge tribute. It’s comprehensive, but also has spots of boredom.
Right away there’s some photos of prototypes that led to the Blackbird, as well as shots of Area 51. Those were cool. Another good entry was the page of tail photos; my fave is the shark.
But it takes a huge fan to get through this; even I needed to take some breaks and refocus. There’s only so many angles of a plane that can be shot, so after a while it feels repetitive. Not putting this book down in any way, since it’s really comprehensive, merely stating it should be taken in small doses.

Jazz in Available Light: Illuminating the Jazz Greats from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s
As you would expect with this title, there’s a LOT of black and white photos of men—and two women—with instruments, along with some biographic material on each. They’re mostly grainy and dark, and if this was strictly a photography book it wouldn’t be very impressive. As history, however, it works better.
My most enjoyable chapter was on jazz violins. Also the drummers. But it takes someone who is a lot more of a jazz fan than I to appreciate this to its fullest.

Can Your Smartphone Change the World?
I’m sure people assumed this would be some kinda holistic manual when they saw the title. It’s so much more. What we have instead is the story of a young lady, Erinne Paisley, in western Canada who went viral with her prom dress and used the publicity to make the world better. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s from one of my favorite cities, Victoria.)
She’ll probably blush and deny it if she reads this, but even though the circumstances were different, I’m putting her in the same rarified air as her idol Malala, who is in my top ten of the most amazing and inspirational people in the world. There’s a mention of another on my list, Queen Rania; it’s almost like she was writing this book specifically to get me to love it.
There’s pop quizzes which really aren’t, rather call to actions. More importantly, there’s plenty of advice on how you can make a difference through social media.
In what’s already a thin book there’s a lot of photos, but I think in this case it benefits from being to the point rather than including any padding.
In the end, a phone is just a tool, no different than a pencil, a car, or even a gun. Whether it’s good or bad completely depends on how it’s used. What I like the most about this book is its relentless optimism. Sure, doing what she did and what she suggests is much harder than it sounds, but like the old saying goes, if you don’t play, you can’t win.

A Little History of Archaeology
If I have a favorite archaeology writer, it’s gotta be Brian Fagan, longtime prof at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara). Pretty sure I’ve read all of his books, and that’s saying a lot.
In this entry, Fagan is even more subtlety humorous than usual. I love his note that Layard is the only archaeologist to find two palaces in the same day. Even though I’ve been studying archaeology for nearly 40 years, there’s some names in here I’ve never come across. Others I vaguely remember, or saw the name but didn’t follow up. He’s given me a lot of stuff to research (aka more things to do when I should be working).
I’ve read a lot of books like these—some by Dr. Fagan as well—introductions to archaeological sites all over the world, written for the general public. This does that too, but it goes further in depth, especially with the personalities. I like it.

For Cluck’s Sake!
Probably not everything you ever wanted to know about chickens, but close.
It starts with a funny intro where the author gives her chicken résumé, as it were. The first photo shows an angry-looking hen, staring at the camera like it’s spoiling for a fight; actually pretty scary. The second photo shows two chickens next to each other, and the pattern in their feathers is quite mesmerizing. The third photo is of a bird with feathers on its legs; it just looks. . . wrong. But you get the gist.
A pea comb is mentioned, but not explained.
Amid all the facts there are quotes that are not about the feathered fowl, but the main noun has been changed to chicken, which more often than not fails. Thankfully the fun facts are indeed fun.
Chicks come out born ready, so to speak.
The egg did come first.
Chickens are smarter than four-year-old humans when thinking long-term.
There’s a literal pecking order; doesn’t say if this is where the phrase originated, but it figures to be.
Plenty of fun or funny stuff, but some uninteresting ones as well.

Fingerprints and Phantoms
Subtitled: True Tales of Law Enforcement Encounters with the Paranormal and the Strange
Told in a folksy downhome style, this is a collection of stories purported to be encounters with ghosts and such, although many lack any. Much of the first chapter has nothing more than “feelings” backing up the title. I’d hoped it would get better in that respect, but in the first third or so the most we get is a haunted hotel elevator.
The best chapter was the one about the shape-shifting dogs of South El Lay. It also seems to be the only unexplained phenomenon that didn’t happen in Utah.
One story involving a Halloween-laden murder might have been creepy due to the surroundings, but also had no paranormal trappings to it. So why is it in here? Similarly there’s a story about a woman who died for no apparent reason—at the time; autopsy findings are not mentioned—on a sidewalk after a shopping trip that cost the most famous three-digit number around. That superstition is the most ghostly thing in the story. It feels like cheating; it annoys me.
It isn’t till the end that the author mentions this is more of a book on folklore than actual paranormal. I will agree that his intention was not to prove ghosts exist, but after reading the title and subtitle, it seems disingenuous.

Greek Gods and Heroes: Meet 40 Mythical Immortals
A primer on the most famous Greek myths, though there’s bound to be a few annoyed at not being included. Purportedly a children’s book, but the vocabulary and literary content seems at youngest for teenagers, so I’m not including it in a children’s book blog.
The icons look 8-bit, perhaps on purpose, and they’re used in the table of contents, rather than names, which is awesome. Pandora is the closest to human, but even she looks weird, probably because she has practically no nose. Aphrodite is of course blonde, as is Apollo, who looks like a vain surfer dude.
The first is Gaia, showing the page format: a brief description, several other info boxes, a large graphic representation, and so on.
Always happy when I can learn some things too. For example, Themis, who isn’t as well known, was Zeus’ second wife, before Hera (good luck remembering the first!). She was the Fates’ mommy as well as the Goddess of Justice; she was the Delphi oracle before Apollo took it over.
Hera sure got the worst role of any goddess.
“Artemis rarely kills wild animals.” Oh, that’s nice. “She prefers to attack those women who disagree with her or who insult her mother.” And so much for nice. . .
I did not know Sisyphus was the father of Odysseus.
But again, I simply can’t call this a children’s book, as it goes too far into explanations that should have been much simpler for kids. This is probably better for teens, and a lot of adults will like it.
After all this, Orpheus is still my fave.

Music Legends
A purported children’s book about the greatest stars in rock and roll history. . . supposedly. More on that coming up.
Right away there’s Elvis, who’s described as having “devilish swiveling hips.” Can’t wait for a kid to ask Mom what that means.
More than anything, I have to question the inclusion of some of these, especially with Rush not chosen. At least I’ve heard of most of them, but Blur? This book definitely skews British and Euro. Daft Punk? Well, the author is French. . . I think that after he ran out of icons, he chose his favorites. It’s just that some of these are so ridiculous it brings the whole book down.
Like the similar entry on Greek gods, this one just doesn’t feel like the children’s book it claims to be.

Literary Handyman
A monthly column called The Writer’s Toolbox gets collected and transformed into the Literary Handyman. Actually, the title’s kinda clever, if you stop to think about it.
There’s a moment that made me love this book: the author’s talking about how writing is a solitary endeavor, “just you and your computer. . . or typewriter. . . or clay tablet. . .” Nice.
There’s advice that’s for the most part common sense, though I’m sure most beginning writers don’t think of this stuff. (Warning: on the cover it says “for beginners,” so don’t expect anything in depth if you’ve got some years under your. . . fingers.) The important parts for me were the droplets of humor sprinkled throughout, transforming what might otherwise had been a dry read into something more memorable. It is important to remember that these were originally in a once a week or month format; it’s a lot different reading them all at once.