Book Reviews: I Lied Last Time

Last week I mentioned it would be the last book review of the year, but turns out there’s enough for one last—really this time, last—one. Honest.

A genius Indian version of Sherlock Holmes visits the eastern United States with his wife and brother-in-law. They find themselves embroiled in a terrorist plot while on a bus tour.
The narrator is not the protagonist, but rather the brother in law, who is cast as Watson. The wife is left to worry at home.
There’s a conspiracy, with too many characters to keep straight! The plot gets confusing, and it only gets worse as it goes along. I couldn’t keep track of all the people on the bus, let alone all the other characters. Had I not been so close to the end of what’s really a short book I would have given up.
By the time the bad guy’s revealed I had no idea who he was, and I didn’t care enough to go back.
The writing just barrels ahead, with not much room for style. It’s certainly not bad, but it not exactly scintillating either. Having one character be so matter of fact is more than enough, but most of them are. Worse, far from being a Sherlock Holmes, this guy is completely a Marty Stu.

Once Upon a Duke
One of many Dukes in these stories comes home for his hated grandfather’s funeral, just to retrieve a family heirloom. He finds the whole snowy mountaintop town—as mountaintop as a place can get in England, anyway—loved the old man, especially for renaming the town Christmas and making it a tourist trap. And of course he meets up with the only woman he ever wanted.
This new heroine is just as smart and snarky as the previous ones, so I’m in, and the story even more fun. All the new characters make for some confusion, but not too bad.
Erica Ridley gets me.

Kiss of a Duke
Put a famous womanizer and a female scientist in close proximity and what do you get?
Chemistry, of course, along with the classic “you make me want to be a better man” story. And that’s before biscuits enter the equation.
With all the wonderful heroines Erica Ridley has invented, I have a new favorite. Each is more and more amazing, but Penelope’s just my type. . . and that’s before biscuits enter the equation. She reminds me a lot of Nora, who was my previous fave. She’s also very similar to another fave, Bryony, but thankfully more subdued.
I am in awe of the way this author can so effortlessly come up with lines like, “It’s a lovely basket. It smells of wicker and unrealized potential.”
There is one oddity, though. In a lot of the stories by this author, the primary stumbling block was class; the men are highborn, the women “common,” and never the twain shall meet (even though they always do). But despite the same circumstances here, it’s never mentioned. The problem between them is that he’s another Lord of Pleasure. And as always in romance novels, they don’t talk to each other, which would have saved a lot of heartache.
But that’s a minor tidbit in what is one of the best books I’ve read all year.

Wish Upon a Duke
A perennial wallflower just wants to be noticed, especially by Christopher, the much more subdued brother of the Duke of the previous novel. Instead she agrees to play yenta for him, which has as much of an effect as you’d expect but does give us more insight into characters who will likely be up front in stories to come.
Also featured more than usual is the town of Christmas, nee Cressmouth, described as a perpetually snow-dusted mountaintop village, which is hard to imagine in hilly-but-not-too-much England.
His problem is that he’s an inveterate traveler, and being with her would mean giving that up. As someone who travels for work and loves it, I totally get where he’s coming from, though I wasn’t a fan of how insulted he got about the constellation naming. I definitely liked Gloria, but she didn’t grab my heart like Penelope or Nora or Bryony.
This book is only a disappointment in that the previous one was so frickin good. Had I read this one first. . .

Star Wars: Scum and Villainy
The records of three generations of cops show off some of the most colorful villains in the Star Wars universe, though at times it feels like the bounty hunters outnumber the actual criminals.
The large drawings of stakeouts and police reports take up most of the area, with some commentary attached. Sometimes you have to look carefully at the details to know what’s going on.
I found the propaganda posters hilarious, though I doubt that’s the intent. The page on tattoos was interesting, as was the podracing, but the padawan auction was chilling.
It’s interesting to see the middle of the three generations become more of an Imperial lackey than actually care about real justice.
I wonder what came first: the art or the words? There’s a few pages that show crime “evidence,” particularly smuggling, that aren’t exactly great subjects for artistic endeavors. Sometimes it’s just boxes. . . nicely drawn boxes, to be sure, but hardly the kind of thing an artist would showcase in their portfolio. I guess it’s there to add to whatever else is in the page, but this leads me to believe the author—who might also be the artist, for all I know—came up with the idea and the description before the artwork, and couldn’t think of something more intriguing to draw.
Despite not being as enmeshed in all the Star Wars stuff outside of the movies as a lot of the fans, I found this intriguing, even if I didn’t know most of the characters. I finally understand what makes the Kessel Run such a big deal, for example, as well as spice smuggling. But it’s really the variety of crimes, some of which could only happen in a universe like this, that makes this book so interesting. I’m sure I would not have enjoyed it as much had it come without illustrations.

Storytime: Not-So-Brave Penguin
Percy the Penguin is the jock, not afraid of anything, and Posy is the opposite, hence the title. Of all the things she’s scared of, and it’s mostly everything, the worst is the dark, which in Antarctica can last for months. But when Percy’s in trouble Posy overcomes her fears to rescue him, and finds some dark places are more beautiful than scary.
Though I appreciate the message and where the author’s coming from, in reality Posy didn’t rescue Percy; she just kept him company overnight. Had she not been there, Percy would have made it back the next morning on his own. So the writing’s a bit of a letdown there, a lazy out when instead a real danger, like a shark, would have made for a better story. On the other hand, Posy didn’t know that when she set out, so she was indeed brave.
The artwork is nice, if a little simplistic. There’s a couple of pages of discussion topics at the end.

Lost Railway Journeys from Around the World
The title tells all: some world-famous and some locally famous trips that are no longer among us memorialized in photos.
The introduction features some strong feelings, to the point of calling some closures “criminal” and claiming they led to deaths. The text isn’t as heavy-handed, thankfully, but there’s a lot of asides that are sometimes humorous and sometimes failing at it. It just doesn’t feel like a typical book of this class, and whether that’s good or bad depends on you.
I suppose it’s not much of a surprise that the photos from Europe are mostly black and white. And I have to keep reminding myself that those old photos of bridges were not taken from drones.
The most intriguing early on was the Lawrence of Arabia special through Jordan.
To be fair, some of these are short lines; the title doesn’t exclude them, but it doesn’t seem fair to lump them in with the Orient Express and Ghan.
My fave, from the photos and having been in the vicinity, was the Colorado-Denver & Rio Grande, though the ones in Africa looked pretty spectacular too. But even though I’m a fan of trains, I’m not this much. I had to take it in small bites, but even then it was tough to stay interested.

Stuff You Should Know About Planet Earth
A well done science primer for kids.
It starts with the five ecological spheres, which I’d never heard of. It’s intriguing, though I question why water and ice are separate.
There’s good stuff on the solar system. The cartoon-like drawings are cute, though I can’t tell who that guy is dancing on Saturn’s rings.
I already knew most of the stuff in here, but I’m 50 years old, so I’d better. On the other hand, I did learn some things, all of which tells me this is a good book for kids interested in science, those who really want to learn.
But I hope they don’t get nightmares from watching the animals fleeing the lava. . .

Who Are You Calling Weird?
The first thing you see is that this is dedicated to David Attenborough, which makes sense, as this book tackles the strangest animals. The artwork fits the theme, almost in art deco style.
The platypus has gotten enough publicity, kinda normalizing it, that it seems out of place here. Same with the sea unicorn (aka narwhal). Kiwis and sloths too, especially the latter for kids who’ve seen Zootopia a thousand times. But thankfully most of those included are indeed completely strange. A couple are compared to superheroes, though when Wolverine was mentioned I first assumed it was the animal, which is weird in its own right but not enough to make it in here.
The leafy sea dragon gets my vote for most deserving entry; seeing it moving in a video is even more so. That smelly Amazon bird sure has a good defense against humans, especially in that they taste bad. . . though by the time the humans figure that out, it’s too late.
And speaking of, so glad you stinky humans made the list! The artwork that goes with this entry is the scariest of all. . .

How Rude…
Little girl invites her duck friend over for a tea party. Things do not go as planned. . .
This duck is a jerk. To be fair, there have been other jerk ducks, especially in old cartoons, but this one takes it to a new level. I’m surprised the little girl held out that long. At least she didn’t reach for a shotgun.
Considering all the trouble Duck caused, he sure turned on a dime, and she forgave him way too quickly. I would have preferred less mayhem and more thought from both of them, if there was a limited amount of pages available.
Wait, was that rude of me to point it out?

Yara and her Mystery Tree
Bright watercolors and rhyming couplets tell the story of a mystery plant that has the same problem as the maples from the Rush song The Trees, which means other trees are blocking the sun. A little girl gets her mom to help uproot it to a more advantageous place, which comes back to reward them at the end.
Not only are the rhymes legit, the meter and length are perfect. The plot is fine, though it was easy to see where this was going, even for a kid.
I question the need for the bird and the ant, turning this into a fantasy when it would have been just as well straightforward, but that’s my only nitpick.

Mario and the Aliens
Tech-obsessed kid is on his computer as usual—like that’s a bad thing—when something outside grabs his attention. The title tells you the rest.
The artwork takes up most of the pages. The first few were difficult to comprehend, partly from the scale but mostly because of an almost abstract style.
It took the kid forever to think to run off, and stopped so abruptly when the aliens convinced him they were simply looking for new games. So yeah, he might be smart, but I think gullible’s a better word.
In retrospect, I can see why the aliens had such a visceral reaction to the computer, since it’s almost certain they have their own. Something’s gotta help them pilot their ship, after all. And if they thought computers were fun, they wouldn’t need to travel to look for it.
I very much doubt Mario will be satisfied with human kids as playmates after this night.
Pretty straightforward, but feel like something’s missing. Certainly okay for kids, but could have been better.


Travel Thursday Encore: Last Day in Seattle

My last “continental” breakfast: an orange, a donut, orange juice. I think I was still feeling the amazingly pleasurable aftereffects of yesterday’s Kobe burger. {Yes, I suppose it could have been the waitress, shut up.}
Had to get to the airport early, but not “too” early, so I had time to explore. Unfortunately I was feeling too tired to go looking for some old haunts from previous trips downtown, as I had planned, so instead I laid in bed; don’t ask me what I thought or did during that time, I don’t remember. Since the bus to the airport stopped a couple of blocks from the hotel, I figured that made up for not searching for the futuristic movie theater where I saw “Lawnmower Man 2,” for instance, among other places I’d visited in previous trips that I wanted to see again. . . just not too much.
Glad I remembered the monorail doesn’t start up till 11, which would have been a lot of walking with a big backpack for nothing. This time I did catch the express instead of the stop-every-block, so I had to put up with less scenery, or rather the same amount but speeded up too quickly to worry about.
Sea-Tac sometimes gets silly, but there were no problems passing by security on this trip, even though the lines were longer than Long Beach and I had to struggle a bit more with my boots. The guy right before me in the security line forgot the rule about no lighters and chucked his in the bin with a look of regret. Didn’t see why, it was just a plain plastic thing you can get at any drugstore–not exactly a heirloom or even with a sports team on it–but he probably hated begging for a light as soon as the plane landed.
You can tell Sea-Tac is a “modern” airport because it has a “family” restroom.
Saw a young guy wearing U Dub gear and we talked for a while, until it came out that his father usta be the coach at. . . oh, shit, this guy was the kid of my college coach! What are the frickin’ odds? Surreal. And since we didn’t get along–me and the coach, I mean–I certainly didn’t want to relive any memories, and was glad when I was told Daddy was not coming to the airport to pick him up. Though it did make me feel a little bit good, in a narcissistic way, that the kid had decided against playing for his father and went to another U. Ha!
As I saw a Qantas flash by outside the window, I wondered if they still showed the pre-flight video of a pre-fame and always beautiful Tara Fitzgerald doing all the safety procedures. Then I wondered if I could buy it. . . it’s one of her best works. {okay, that was a little bit mean, but she’ll never read this.
I hope.}
I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY WANT SEVEN DOLLARS FOR THAT SMOOTHIE! The whole eating experience was so in contrast to the beginning of the trip at the Long Beach airport, with the bored servers and the long waiting.
Heavy G takeoff–thought Sea-Tac was longer. I’ve flown out of Sea-Tac so many times, but I don’t remember anything like this one. In fact, don’t remember anything so heavy G since Ayers Rock. Not as bad as a carrier takeoff, of course, but enough to bring some flashbacks as you wait for your eyeballs to plop back into place.

Seattle, airport, Sea-Tac
The soft drinks and juice were free, and the beer was five bucks; it just seemed really funny to me that the flight attendant was checking IDs! You think that was in her job description when she signed up?
On the flight up, Alaska had given packs of “trail mix,” with part of the devilish brew being garlic and onion powder, but this time it was pretzels! As an experienced traveler I had brought my own provisions, but pretzels were gravy!. . . so to speak. Ok, dessert, then.
This flight seemed a lot longer than the first, probably because the woman sitting next to me was reading and didn’t want to talk. So what, I could listen to music for two hours, no different than an El Lay commute, except there was nothing to look at. Then I noticed that across the aisle a man was reading–the cover had huge print, like it was proud of itself–“The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices.”
It actually took longer to take the bus home than the flight, and that’s not counting the baggage carrousel dance and the wait for the first bus. And I don’t care what she says, I was NAWT flirting with the girl with the Suthin’ accent and bright green nails. . .


Poetry Tuesday: Ring Out, Wild Bells

I’m not the Christmasy type, but. . . whatever, here’s one, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.


downtown Seattle, Seattle, Seattle landscape, Seattle panorama, Space Needle, Kerry Park

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 4, Part 3

Uninteresting hours passed by in the hotel room, followed by one last uninteresting hour of business crap, just long enough to make sure I’d be going to Scandinavia in a few months. Now that all the business stuff was settled and over, I hopped back on a bus and got off right next to the Frye Art museum, with Pill Hill in the background–it’s actually called First Hill, but there’s a bunch of hospitals there, and Seattleites–like stalactites–are witty people.
I start this with a sad admission: the savage Neanderthals that run the Frye Art Museum do not allow photo-taking! On the other hand, it’s free, which doesn’t come close to making up for it but is something very much worth mentioning. It looks kinda small from the outside, but felt really big inside, with plenty of places to sit and rest. The store and café are indeed tiny, but I had a lot of fun talking to the older lady who was clerking the store, at least for a while. She was one of the most talkative people I’ve ever met.
On to da show. I found their collection similar to the Huntington’s in Los Angeles, though of course much smaller. It leans toward the pastoral and portraits, mostly late 1800s/early 1900s, with no sign of taking a risk on anything. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pleasant enough, but I have to say Mr. and Mrs. Frye had a very narrow taste when it came to art.
But while I was there I saw an amazing–unfortunately temporary–exhibition called Moon Beam Caress, by an artist named Joseph Park, a graduate of the Cornish School I mentioned earlier. I’m not what you would call a Modern Art fan, nor do I spend any time gawking at anime, but somehow he’s managed to fuse the two. Half of his works on display had otherwise cute animals acting as humans, and usually acting very bad. One famous example had a gang of teddy bears/rabbits beating up a darker version. Most are sublime, like a painting of an NYC subway with a teddy bear trying to get out, or another bear ironing a shirt, or a rabbit sitting on a crate taking a cigarette break. And all in an almost cartoonish style, though there’s nothing silly about them. Most disturbing was the elephant-like submarine commander with the chilly gaze.
Someone told me this story about modern art, reputedly told by Picasso, but I can’t be sure: “When a master like Cezanne paints a wild horse, you see a wild horse, but when I paint a wild horse. . . you may not see the horse, but you will see the wild.” There’s one painting of a very wild horse, with tresses Farrah Fawcett would be proud to own, that somehow bridges the gap between those two extremes. He also takes famous paintings and puts his own spin on it, like Ingres’ “La Grande Odalisque” now being played by an elephant. There’s also Canaletto’s “Venice,” which he paints as if he were looking at the canal scene through a glass of water, or maybe after a nuclear holocaust, with the buildings looking melted. I loved his stuff so much I actually bought the book, which I NEVER do!
Walking aimlessly for a while after the museum, I found myself near the Metropolitan Grill again, and there was just something I needed another fix off. Okay, two things, but I was pretty sure Autumn wouldn’t still be on shift, and she wasn’t, so I settled in at the still-not-too-smoky bar for another of those amazing orange sodas, though the bartender, a totally Russian-looking guy, didn’t include any ice cream. Which makes Autumn all the more special, in my eyes, but enough of that. Stayed only long enough to finish it off, talking to a suited gentleman sitting next to me enjoying a shrimp cocktail–hey, TWO things I’m allergic to in one glass!–and trading jokes about Fresno.
Back to walking, I remembered a little clue to downtown Seattle’s geography, as told to me during pillow talk {don’t ask}: JESUS CHRIST MADE SEATTLE UNDER PROTEST! This is how you remember the order of streets, starting north of Yesler–Jefferson and James, Cherry and Columbia, Marion and Madison, Spring and Seneca, University and Union, and Pike and Pine. Have fun memorizing!
Back to the hotel with still no need for dinner, until it came time to walk back to Belltown for another concert at the Croc Café. Instead of walking at straight angles like I had the previous times, on this trip I zigzagged the route for fun, and to see new things. When I saw I’d gone as far south as I needed to, and noticed I only had to go one block to the west, I luckily looked up in time to see the name of the store on the corner, enough to make me stop: Salon Divas. Making sure it wasn’t a hair place, I peeked in through the window and laughed, thinking of the dancing waitress I’d fallen into severe like with a few hours ago. I might have figured her for a dance instructor, to earn a little extra cash, but luckily she was as un-diva as they came. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know what kind of dancer Autumn was. She coulda been salsa, coulda been ballroom, coulda been hip-hop–shit, did I just think that?–coulda been a ballerina. . . coulda been exotic. Hmmm. Glad I hadn’t thought of that before.
Concert, and its venue, not worth the pixels.
I got back to the hotel much later than I expected, where I fell on the bed and temporarily died.


Poetry Tuesday: Toward Winter

Someone wrote this in Celtic around 850.

Sliab Cua, dark and broken, is full of wolf packs.
The wind sweeps down its glens,
Wolves howl about its dykes,
The fierce dark deer bellows
Across it in the Autumn,
And the crane cries out across its rocks.

The night is cold on the Great Bog.
This storm is lashing—no small matter.
The sharp wind is laughing at the groans
Echoing through the cowering wood.

We are shattered and battered, engulfed,
O King of clear-starred Heaven!
The wind has swallowed us like twigs
swallowed in a red flame out of Heaven.

Want and Winter are upon us.
The lake side is flooded.
Frost has shriveled the leaves.
The pleasant wave has started muttering.


Book Reviews: End of Year Hodgepodge

Ink in Water: An Illustrated Memoir
Subtitled: Or, How I Kicked Anorexia’s Ass and Embraced Body Positivity, which works a lot better as a title.
A woman’s battle with anorexia and associated self-doubt is told through her own thoughts and encounters with friends, boyfriends, and a few others. It’s not an easy read, so if you do pick it up you’ll need to hang on to your emotional hats.
I didn’t think I would have anything in common with this character, but right away with the atheist thing. . . yeah, that’s me there. But the crippling insecurity, where she can’t get out of her own head. . . early on I’m wondering if that’s a big cause of her anorexia. I also wonder if her ex had told her why he was breaking up with her. . . maybe none of this would have happened.
I would have thought such a slow plodding bio would be boring, but it actually isn’t. After that first bit about the atheism I couldn’t commiserate with her at all, but I guess that made it better for me, as I like learning about things outside my experience.
On the other hand, I’ve never been great at reading or watching about people in pain, and this isn’t easy to get through. There’s one thing that happens about two-thirds through that’s particularly gut-wrenching. This is obviously geared toward those who can benefit from it, as a kind of self-help book, but as a memoir it’s pretty tough to handle.

Virtue Signaling
The famous sci-fi writer has a blog, and these are some of his posts.
Humor and honesty. That’s what you want from a political commentator, if that’s what you can call John Scalzi in this book. He probably wouldn’t call himself that; he’s self-admittedly too lazy.
One other thing: logic. Unlike most of the internet and its shoot-from-the-hip tweets, these writings take time. They’re well thought out. They look at other sides of the argument and break down why he disagrees with it, or in the infrequent case agrees. Again, that’s pretty rare, and most welcome.

Kate’s Really Good at Hockey
A young-teen redhead loves hockey. Considering the previous works from this publisher, this is not a surprise.
After a get-together with all her friends before school—it appears they’re just back from summer break—there’s long and very clunky exposition as to how she spent her time away. The scene switches to her having a hard time at hockey camp while living with a grandmother who doesn’t seem to understand her. The main players are from those hockey hotbeds of Tennessee and Ecuador. And of course there’s bullies.
Mom says such Mom things. If you’re only gonna have a few things in common with Grandma, might as well make them ice cream and bacon.
There’s a lot of repetition, but I suppose this is for kids. Most of it is pretty standard storytelling, but luckily—or unluckily, in the case of the characters—there’s a couple of major twists.

Fall with Olga the Cloud
Incredibly simple even for a children’s book, this tiny tome features a bored cloud that calls its friends to join her in making rain. Everyone else is unhappy with this—even a tree says it’s too much rain—and a cat uses an umbrella.
Other than to say the sun sleeps a lot in fall, and of course it rains a lot, there’s not much here that’s educational. . . there’s not much of anything at all. Even a child could read this in less than a minute. Would have been better with more effort and more story.

Dad Jokes – Assault With A Dad-ly Weapon
The title tells you—and is a perfect example of—all you need to know about the contents of this book. Some kids might giggle at this, some adults might guffaw, but basically these jokes are designed to make you groan, so with that expectation it does a really good job.
I grudgingly admit I chuckled more often than I thought I would, mostly when the punch line took me by surprise. A few of my faves:
“If you rearrange the letters of postmen. . . it makes them really angry.”
“I don’t have a dad bod. I have more of a father figure.”
“I was accused of being a plagiarist. Their word, not mine!”
“I removed the shell from my favorite racing snail, thinking it would make him faster. But it’s actually made him more sluggish.”
“My wife said she didn’t understand cloning. That makes two of us.”
“What do you get if you cross a centipede and a parrot? A walkie-talkie.”
“How many eyes does a cyclops have? None, if you’re spelling it correctly.”
“What’s blue and not really heavy at all? Light blue.”
These are the best ones. Read the rest at your own risk. You might notice, though, that most of the favorites I listed above would not be understood by most kids.

A Flicker of Hope
A short candle—with eyes and mouth and arms and legs—is depressed, with a literal dark cloud hanging over it, full of the kinds of problems facing kids and teens today. Some are more important than others, but all hurtful. It takes the light of another candle, and even then a few tries, to get the stubby one to see the light.
Of all the usually non-sentient objects being given life in a children’s book, I’d have to say candles are the strangest.
The point here is to not be ashamed to ask for help, because others have been through the same.
Ends with a couple of pages about the power of hope, meant for adults so they can pass it on to their kids.

What Does A Princess Really Look Like?
A little girl does not settle for simply being a princess or a ballerina; nope, she has to be a mashup. Sometimes she dances with her two dads, though it doesn’t say if they are co-regents.
“Inside the head is where our smarts are.” Never heard it put that way, but I like it.
She’s funny and creative—she is a lefty, after all—and I love the way she’s drawn, especially when lying down. The illustrator captures a child’s joyful being in the way she kicks her legs up. It’s all so incredibly cute, even when things don’t work out exactly as she’d hoped.
Ends with a space to draw your own perfect, or not so perfect, princess, along with a Twitter/Instagram hashtag. Reading the author’s bio shows why, but because he’s a therapist who works with kids, it’s okay.

Who Will Roar If I Go?
African animals are introduced in beautiful subdued watercolor as the words tell the reader about them and the difficulties they face in the modern world.
The elephant has the best page.
If this had been written in prose I would have been okay with it, but a lot of the rhymes are either forced or simply done by throwing in a useless “you see” or such. The awkward cadence and differing lengths make it hard to singsong. It feels like an attempt to emulate Dr. Seuss by someone who’s never written a poem before. . . at least not a good one.
Come for the art. . .

The World’s Best Jokes for Kids Volume 1
Right before the first joke appears, there’s a warning sign, literally. It reads: Danger! This book contains a lot of silly, corny, brilliant, and funny jokes. Guess which of those four adjectives is the most on-the-nose.
What do you call a bear with no ears? B. Yes! Spelling jokes are my kind of humor. And computer humor: what do you call a bee from the United States? USB.
Even when the joke itself doesn’t hit the mark, the illustrations make up for it. There’s the joke so old it was sorta the title of an REO Speedwagon album, but if you look at the way the fish is looking up at the guy trying to tune it. . .
Then there are others, like the Frozen and Bison jokes, that are pretty cringy—I was warned, after all—but would probably make some kids laugh.
Sometimes there’s a joke like Nutella, irrelephant, and perman-ant that make me wonder how many kids would get the humor, since they might be too young to know those words. Even I don’t know what a stomata is.
They used one of my favorite jokes, about time flying and then fruit flying. Don’t know what that says about me, especially when they include the poultry in motion line.
I will go as far as to say this made me chuckle more often than I thought I would, though it certainly brought the groans as well.
P.S. There’s also The World’s Best Jokes for Kids Volume 2, because one collection of groaners wasn’t enough. But it appears they used up all the good ones in the first volume, because this one wasn’t anywhere near as good or funny. Went through almost half of the book without laughing once, and didn’t even groan that much, because there just wasn’t anything there. At that point I gave up.

The Cookie Eating Fire Dog
Childlike watercolors and a little prose tell the story of Dan, who isn’t so much a fire dog as he is a fireMAN who happens to be a dog. From the title I assumed he’d be like the other Dalmatians, but right on the first page it says he wears the boots, coat, and hat that make the firefighter’s uniform. He can’t speak, though he does cry a lot when he doesn’t get cookies. Eventually he proves his worth while at the same time buckling down and getting serious about his job.
Little of this story makes sense, but then I suppose the age group this is directed to doesn’t care about that very much. Still, despite the occupation this is about, which a lot of little kids find exciting, there isn’t much here to remember. It does end with a few pages on fire safety, as well as a recipe for ginger snaps.

Dynomike: What’s Heartfulness?
In one of the most brightly colored children’s books I’ve ever seen, a tiny dinosaur on a tricycle plays with a few friends, their exploits recorded in rare stanzas where all four lines use the same rhyme, at least on the first page. The mom of one of the friends is sick and they brainstorm ideas to make her better.
Doesn’t feel like heartfulness is explained all that well, at least not in the story; there’s a page on it after. Don’t know why it was so important the friend didn’t find out what they had done.
Cute, but I think the message could have been a little clearer. Perhaps this was designed so the kid would ask the parent to explain.

Southern Rose
Short but enjoyable encounter between a Union officer and a Southern spy. They have a past, and it looks like they’ll have a long future too.
What I don’t understand is why she played so coy and he so rough at the beginning. I get that she was worried about what might happen to her, but by the time they meet up for a few minutes later everything seems to have changed, though nothing really did.
This is weird to say, but this might have been better as one scene rather than two.

Through the Red Door
Widow navigates her way through two suiters while running a bookstore with a hidden though famous erotica section. A ghost may also be involved.
It’s interesting that of her two new beaus, it’s the “hot” one she instantly bonds with, because he lost his spouse too.
Probably the most fun character is the professor’s assistant—at least for a while—the kind of person who’s fun to read about but would annoy the crap out of me in real life.
The writing is really smooth, the dialogue humorous. While there were some genre clichés near the end, as a whole the plot flowed organically, and everything tied together well at the finish.
This is one the best romance books I read this year.

The Moon’s Pull
Crazed werewolf is killing humans in a Wyoming town. Sane werewolf doesn’t want to kill the bad one, but needs to stop him somehow while falling in lust with the human detective investigating the murders.
Even though it’s short, there’s a bunch of extraneous description. I really don’t care about the color of the detective’s pants or the killer’s hair. And despite the relative shortness of the book, it’s made even shorter by the inclusion of several sex scenes in a row. Nothing wrong with sex scenes, quite the opposite, but they could have been better spaced.
Worse, there were a lot of extra commas, and in general the whole thing was stilted, with no style. Things run together in a jumble. It became a chore to read, and I probably would have given up had I not known it was so short, and had several erotic scenes to look forward to. The flashback scene was badly integrated. The author, and definitely this relatively famous publisher, should have invested in an editor.
But if there’s one part I particularly disliked, it was this ridiculous passage:
“Why doesn’t he go to the bigger cities where criminals are more rampant?” Sam asked.
“Because, my sweet,” Quentin replied. . . “A smaller town draws less attention.”

Science Fiction: A Novel
Quite an all-encompassing title.
The first chapter introduces a galaxy-wide version of a cooking reality TV competition, in which a part of the loser becomes next year’s main ingredient. The next chapter shows an earthling with some cooking skills being scared out of his mind at a strip club. You can see where this is going.
It’s definitely silly, but I can’t say it’s funny enough. Like a lot I’ve seen recently, it’s trying really hard to be the next iteration of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–this one even more so—and falling way short. The ship’s drive is a huge example. And all this before I read the end, where he actually thanks Douglas Adams.
I do like how he turned the info drop on the ship into an infomercial.
Anyway, there were some cute moments, and I eventually liked Bridget, but it never hit the heights it set.

Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World
Well-drawn semi-cartoons show some of the most impressive places in the world, both natural and manmade. The drawings take up two pages and are full of small details, but very few of the sites get that treatment. For instance, the first section is Australia and Oceania, showing a map of the region with all the places featured, but only Uluru gets its own section.
I was very glad to see my two favorite places in the world—The Alhambra in Spain and the Glowworm Caves in New Zealand—make the list. Throw in the Charles Bridge in Prague, Petra, Chichen-Itza, Torres del Paine, and Ludwig’s Castle and I’m completely happy with this. The drawing for that last one is particularly well-detailed, but on the other hand the Alhambra left a bit to be desired, since I know it so well.
Can’t believe they filled two pages of notes and art on the Marianas trench.
At the end there’s two pages of things to search for amongst what you just saw, as well as an index.
All in all, great fun and a pleasant way to teach kids about the world.

Egypt Magnified
Very detailed drawings of ancient Egyptian life fill pages, and it’s up to the reader to find ten small things on each page. Apparently printed books include a magnifying glass, but I doubt digital ones will.
I’ve seen plenty of books like this one, as well as apps for both kids and grownups, where the point is to find what’s hidden in the artwork. This one goes further in that the drawings are much more intricate, and the details not everyday familiar, which makes it more challenging.
The most important takeaway here is that it’s wonderful when a children’s book can be both educational and fun simultaneously.


Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 4, Part 2

Finally got to the bottom of Pike Place, but did not go all the way back to the waterfront I strolled by just last night. Instead, checking the schedule, I sat myself down at the stop and waited for the trolley, line 99, once in a while talking to the impatient German or Dutch tourist who claimed to have been waiting for an hour, which I doubted. But he did have a point, the thing did not come at its regularly scheduled time, and when it did, I saw how harried the female driver was, so I didn’t say anything. To my surprise, there was a girl about ten years old–this one was easy to gauge–who took my money and, when everyone was sitting down, yelled, “Go, Mom!” Was it Take Your Daughter to Work day? I really hoped not, because if it was, all my musings about the little brunette fruit seller being legal went out the skylight. Yikes! I do so hate it when a lovely memory is so tarnished, sigh. . .
Got off a few stops later at the ferry terminal, and decided “Why not?” I’d been on Bainbridge Island before and knew a good place to eat, and the boat was leaving in five minutes, so I quickly bought a ticket and hopped on. I’ve got a new slogan for them if they’re reading: Washington State Ferries: Howz a little Puget Sound?
Is there any better way to cool down on a warm day than to let the wind blow through your hair and blast your face? As long as the ship is big enough so you don’t get seasick, there’s no better way to relax for an hour or so than on a ferry ride around Puget Sound. Somehow this was better than the Harbor Cruise I’d taken a few years ago, despite the two redheads I met on. . . but I digress yet again. It seems that when taking a tour you feel like you HAVE to look at everything, all the touristy things the guide points out; this is even true on a boat tour, which is why it’s so much better on regular public transportation, where you can look at anything you want or nothing at all.
I went immediately to the top deck, where I was met–literally ran into–two fully-black-clad, down to the shades, “cops” in short sleeves and shaved heads. If it wasn’t for the Belgian on the leash–a dog, silly!–I’d wonder if these guys were hired actors, they looked the part so well. If it had been hired security by the ferry company, I might wonder if they were trying to stop thefts, but since these were cops–might have even been Feds–the answer’s pretty obvious. Though from my experience I don’t see why a ferry would be considered that great of a terrorism target, but okay.
Like the girl who worked at the Space Needle who was bored at looking outside, there were plenty of people on board who were into books, computers, cell phones, or listening to music with their eyes closed, completely blasé about the view. I can’t imagine getting jaded at vistas like these. In addition to all the preeeety trees in just about every direction, there were plenty of cold rocky beaches, some with timbers strewn about. There was also what appeared to be a small town right on the beach, just one row of large buildings before the cliff, which made me wonder how anyone got anywhere there–no dock, no road, no way to come down the cliff. . .

Seattle, ferry, Seattle ferry

Seattle, ferry, Seattle ferry Seattle, shore, rocky shoreline, mansion, mansions, beach mansions
Since I’m a total explorer I went off to check out every part of the ship, as always ending up in front, where the wind blew my hoodie right off my head the moment I stepped around the corner. Had I put on the cap it would have been at the other end of the boat in a couple of seconds, so I simply stayed there talking to a couple from Montana while my sneering ego wondered if I was going to meet any gal who would take one look at my windblown hair and laugh. . .
The trip back from Bainbridge island was ever better, sight-wise, with a wonderful view of the cityscape, from the Space Needle to all the skyscrapers to Smith Tower, looking all lonely to the right. If you knew enough of the city landmarks you could spot the sports stadiums around Pioneer Square.. . hey, there are much worse ways to spend an hour!

Seattle, downtown, skyscrapers, ocean, Puget Sound

Seattle, ferry, Puget Sound

Seattle, skyline, Seattle skyline, downtown, Seattle downtown, skyscrapers, ferry Puget Sound, ocean
The place I was going to eat at on the island had been closed, and now that I was out of grapes and getting hungry again, I wasn’t about to waste time searching, so I walked the few blocks to the Metropolitan Grill, feeling completely out of place looking touristy and taking my cap off to reveal all that windblown hair.
I am not a food snob by any means–I know the locations of McDonald’s in most major cities around the world–but for once I was going to go to a place I’d always heard of, but never thought I would ever step inside, just for the novelty.
Turned out I was the novelty: every customer there, the women as well, was wearing a suit, but neither the seater nor the waitress–Hi, Autumn!–raised an eyebrow at my touristy garb–shorts and a hoodie, plus camera around the neck–nor made fun of my windblown messy hair; I’m like a dog who likes to stick his head out the car window and smile, but luckily my ears aren’t as long. For such a fancy place all the workers seemed to be pretty laid back, and seemed to genuinely enjoy working there, which in this rarefied type of eatery surprised me–absolutely no attitude from anyone–but pleasantly. And you can tell it’s a pretty ritzy place when a guy dressed as the chef–maybe the chef himself, but doubtful–comes out to deliver your plate instead of the waitress.
Okay, on to the food, which after all is the real reason for coming to a place like this, even if the service can affect how much you enjoy the meal. {Well, I suppose some people eat here to be seen, but to hell with them.} Another thing I’d heard about was that Kobe beef, a specialty Japanese meat where rumor has it the cows are fed beer, was the best tasting in the world, and I believe it. In fact, I ordered the burger without any condiments, just the meat, cheese, and bread–either a naked burger or wearing cheese lingerie, you choose–so I could really get the taste of the Japanese beef. Having never spent more than five dollars on a burger, I can honestly say this one was well worth the twelve dollar price tag. In combination with a Henry Weinhard’s orange creme soda, which Autumn suggested I try, and some really huge table fries, it was one of the best meals of my life! I ate around three o’clock, and didn’t need to eat again till the next morning! And I came back a few hours later to have another one of those orange tongue lovelies in the bar, though the Russian bartender didn’t put any orange sherbet in it like Autumn did.
{As usual, thinking about that meal makes me want a Henry Weinhard’s Orange Crème gourmet soda with orange sherbet right now! Which means I have to get over to the BevMore for a four pack, and they’re really expensive! At least it doesn’t put me in the mood for a Kobe burger, and ever since that day I’ve been thinking of Autumn the waitress anyway, so that’s nothing new.} And I have to say the best moment of the entire meal was when I was paying Autumn and I told her, “I wish the guys from the office were here, so they could see I don’t ask every beautiful woman I meet to pose for me. . .” I may have never gotten a photo, but that mix of surprise and delight on her face will never leave my memory. . .
Next time I’m gonna try the steak. . . and I hope Autumn is still working there. . . though that’s selfish of me; hopefully she’s moved on to bigger and better things.
After that amazing meal, I walked back to the bus tunnel, and while waiting for the green light, my always-investigating eyes looked downward and saw I was standing next to the name of the street, carved into the cement of the corner, in some fancy script. I’d never noticed that before, but could remember glancing across streets and seeing kids seemingly very interested in their footwear. It was an “A-ha!” moment. I crossed the street when the light prompted, of course noticing this corner also had the street name, though having to read it upside down. Either way, nice.
Bus tunnel and then monorail back to Seattle Center, passing by the Space Needle, where I noticed some marionettes dancing to “Ghost Riders in the Thighs. . . er, Sky.” Yeah, I definitely needed a rest, and for once I wasn’t at all tempted as I walked by McD’s. With the grapes and the Kobe burger, and the huge fries that came with it, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to eat again till I got back to El Lay!


Poetry Tuesday: Song from Twelfth Night

Yep, Willy Shakes in da house today.

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
Oh, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.

What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty;
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

(C’mon, tell me I didn’t have to explain to you that Willy Shakes means William Shakespeare!)


Seattle, music, violin, flute, violinist, flutist, girl violinist, Pike Place

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 4, Part 1

I’d thought from the moment I arrived at this hotel on Monday that the neighborhood looked familiar, and not because of the Needle, and as I walked along I saw why. The Quick Shuttle to–and from–Vancouver has one of their stops at another hotel a block away; took that ride plenty of times.
Walking from the hotel toward downtown, the monorail made a pretty whooshing sound overhead. I basically followed that route, just for fun, and I quickly knew when I’d been walking for ten minutes because another monorail whooshed by me. It really is a pretty sound–something like a Mai Bloomfield cello solo–and echoes, or is it reverbs, even better in the rain.
Went to the office this morning for a major meeting and was talking to the secretary beforehand, without flirting of course, when this incredibly stressed guy came in and took a seat. I didn’t think he was a model, but the sec still explained that he was here to try out for a photographer opening {wow, that sounds really dirty, if you try hard enough}. So I talked to him, and he got majorly pissed that I’ve never taken a photo class in my life, whereas he went to college and studied it for 4 years. {Yes, I’m better than him, it was pretty obvious from his photos.} So, simply because I knew I’d never get a better chance to say this in my life, I told him, “Don’t hate da playa, hate da game.”
As usual, the meetings were hella boring, but they have to be done, or else people won’t pay me to travel. . .
Seemingly just down the street as I got out, there’s Pike Place, and it’s been a few trips since I’ve wandered through there. . . but no, something caught my eye that seemed much more important at the moment. Technically still part of Pike’s, yet on the street outside. . . how can I resist a place called Bohemian Massage? Fatigued after three days of non-stop, high-intensity touristing, not to mention a few meetings concerning my business future, I didn’t realize how much I needed to relieve both my tiredness and stress until I literally bumped into it. As I looked at the menu of services, I found I couldn’t decide between all the yummy-sounding options: a typical massage was obviously the favorite, on my injured lower back that was screaming for attention, but a foot massage, reflexology, Swedish massage, neck and shoulder massage. . . it all sounded good. Just about the only thing I ruled out was a manicure/pedicure and henna paintings.
Bohemia Therapeutic Massage is theoretically part of Pike Place Market, located in the Sanitary Market Building–so named because it was the first to outlaw horses on the premises–but it faces First Street; no need to go into the labyrinth of little shops to find it. It didn’t take more than a minute inside, talking to Bo, the massage lady, to realize the store title was apt in more ways than one. Both the store and the lady herself gave off a hippie air, and as we spoke during the massage she quickly told me she was from the north part of the Czech Republic, known to most people as Bohemia, so the name was both literal and figurative.
Bo looked to be in her middle 40s, but very casually told me she was approaching seventy. If that’s a testament to her lifestyle, then I’m jumping on the massage bed right now. Her arms had muscles bodybuilders would be proud of.
Took a while to find a place to store my backpack and clothes that wouldn’t be in the way–the actual massage room, on the side, was a bit tiny–but finally I was lying on the table and she was oiling me up and working dem muscles. It was pretty amazing that she spent the whole time on just my lower back, yet used so many different techniques. I’m also amazed that I remember any of it, since she kept me pretty entertained with her musing and ramblings. She seemed to talk nonstop, starting with have I ever been to Bohemia, of course, but she was also a good listener. Perhaps no one who’d ever come into her store knew what a Bohemia was, and I was the first who’d actually been there. She laughed heartily at the joke that the Bohemian language had so many accents it looked like a bunch of flies had fallen on the page. I don’t know if she has similar experiences with all her customers, but for some reason I felt like we really bonded.
Even after we were done and there were no other customers for the moment–she said lunch hour was her busiest time–I stayed awhile to talk. And as I walked out, along with her very cool red business card, she handed me a parting gift–a tiny ceramic ladybug! I still carry it everywhere I go; it’s become a great luck charm. . .
Boy, I needed that! Though as usual it doesn’t last. I was slowly wearing down from all the running around of the last three days, but since I didn’t have much planned for tomorrow, I figured I’d go all out today.
Pike’s Place is such a fascinating locale. I think I figured out why all the shops, at least in the old part, are so tiny: it used to be a whorehouse! When you see the old sign advertising Peaches, I’m not sure it’s the fruit. They even handed out business cards to the arriving sailors which said, “Friends easily made.” I can tell you so many stories–this time non-sexual–about wandering these halls, with that little cubbyhole of mysteries, the Lefty Store, being told to meet someone at the Sasquatch statue, Holy Cow Records, Market Magic, Old Seattle Paperworks, Pharaoh’s Treasures, Women’s Hall of Fame, Yesterdaze, Metsker Maps, Market Coins, The Great Windup–toys!–Cinnamon Works, and, of course the strip club that said, “featuring 50 beautiful girls and 3 ugly ones.” And no flying fish! And as always wondering if there was anything worth seeing in the upper floors of most of the buildings, not just offices.

strip club, 50 beautiful girls and three ugly ones

After buying some special scissors and a T-shirt, which I still use frequently, at the Lefty Store–IT’S A LEFTY WORLD! The dude recognizes me!–spent some time haunting the corridors, my nose usually closed around all the fish, as well as near the Daycare center. I was looking for that man who made the clay bird whistles I had met on the forever-long Coast Starlight train so long ago, but that’s another story, and he’s probably retired by now. Did see the store with the Mexican Indian stuff, where I got a beaded jaguar mask on sale, but the last time I was there the female half of the ownership was so rude I deliberately walked by this time. Hell, I almost went back to the Lefty store to get more stuff, show ‘em what real customer service was. As I recall, the Lefty Store at the Rocks in Sydney had excellent customer service as well. And of course, just for symmetry, the area where this Lefty Store is located is known as “Down Under.”
Now feeling hungry, I ambled over to my usual Pike Place dining experience, Three Girls Bakery, where the display is usually enough to get the drool started. “Because of the food or the three girls?” you wonder, a logical and hopefully innocent question. Well, I’ll just grin and attempt to be mysterious. . .
Unfortunately, for the first time ever, I didn’t find anything I was in the mood for, or generally appetizing–don’t ask whether the girls were appetizing, it’s just a name–but luckily I didn’t have to walk far to get to a produce stand, where I saw the most succulent grapes I’d ever laid peeled eyes on. The hippie-looking guy begged me to try one, and as I looked to the side of the stands I saw a view as yummy as the grape in my mouth. . .
She assured me the grapes were especially sweet today, which was a mistake on her part–like they’re not gonna be as sweet tomorrow?–but I let it go. She was a perky little brunette in pigtails that I hope were the reason she looked so young–well, the shortness might have something to do with it–and throughout the entire conversation the huge smile never left her skull. I pictured her as a college student, maybe U Dub, maybe Seattle U, which was much closer. Either studying Ag, or maybe the stand belonged to her parents, or maybe it was just a job–go ahead and fanwank if you must. I really couldn’t picture her in high school, since this was school hours, not summer, and she looked like she knew what she was doing. I did not get the name of her stand, but it’s right on the diagonal corner–you’ll know it when you see it! And if you do spot her, tell her I still pine for her, just so she can look at you weirdly because she has no idea who you’re talking about. . .
But, back to the moment. “That really was a good choice,” she assured me as she handed me the pound of grapes that would be all I needed for lunch and took my money. “I try them every day, and they really are extra sweet today.”
“As sweet as. . .?”
She gave me a quizzical look.
“I thought you were going to say ‘as sweet as me’.”
She gave out a hoot. “I don’t toot my own horn! You’d have to find out for yourself.”
I brightened. “Okay!”
Her eyes widened. “Hey, waitaminute. . .” Then she saw my urchin-boy grin and laughed, wagging a finger at me as she went into the back.
I asked the hippie dude, who’d obviously seen the whole thing, what time they opened in the morning, which was probably a dumb question to ask farm-related workers, but it did give me something to do before heading off to the airport, if I didn’t forget as thoroughly as I did with that beautiful jogger the other day.
Already munching as I walked along, I turned a corner and totally remembered the spot where I’d taken the photo of a cute teenage violinist that reminded me so much of Hilary Hahn, my fave, though she later denied it was her, while looking at the photo and admitting the girl looked a lot like her. Oh well, I’ll make a “rosin up your bow” joke later. . . and always leave a tip when you stop to listen, it’s only fair.

Seattle, music, violin, flute, violinist, flutist, girl violinist, Pike Place

The grapes being so big I could only handle one at a time, I marched past some of my other favorite eateries, like Counter-Intelligence and El Puerco Lloron–which translates to the Crying Pig, which is not as clever as one I saw in Mexico called El Puerco Relleno, the Stuffed Pig, because I always feel like one when I leave. Was pleased that I found the Sky Bridge on the first try, trying really hard not to break my blank face at the people coming up Hillclimb Corridor, better known as “Cardiac Gulch.” Luckily all my attention was focused on the next step in front of me; any grapes that got into my hand and then my mouth did so strictly on muscle memory. I was so in the zone I forgot I’d wanted to go to Procopio for some of that ol’ time gelato.
And this seems as good a place as any to take a break till next week. . .