Uluru, Ayers Rock, Australia, Alice Springs, Outback, Australian Outback

Travel Thursday Encore: Alicia from Alice Springs

My first time in Australia I got to see. . . pretty much nothing, since I landed in Sydney after a damn long flight and was moved right to a military plane for the hop to Alice Springs; I was asleep and never got to see Ayers Rock out the window either.

Uluru, Ayers Rock, Australia, Alice Springs, Outback, Australian Outback
For those who don’t know, if there’s any of you left, there’s a “top secret” military base near Alice Springs, basically a place to download all the stuff coming down from the satellites and spy on Russia and China and who knows who else. But even though it’s no big secret anymore, it’s still very security conscious, and I was joining a team looking into possible leaks from either the personnel or the workers, like janitors and such.
I don’t know if there was no room left on the base, or whether they expected us to check out those workers at home, but we were put up in a hotel on the outskirts of town, where I slept away most of the day. Luckily Alice isn’t that big, but when it’s 110 degrees it’s big enough. Anyway, I was going downtown for the first time to find a place to eat before I started work the next day.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it seemed like a typical small Midwestern American town. I saw a regular-looking school on my walk, and a few blocks later there was a gym with beautiful women doing aerobics through the window. Next to it was a porn shop, which I did not go into! {At least not on that walk.} I might have watched the aerobics class for a while, had it not been so hot. And the odds were not very strong that the porn shop might have air conditioning. Besides, I was hungry.
As I looked away from the aerobics babes, I saw this incredibly beautiful blonde walking toward me. It was even more of a shock as I realized she was the last thing I expected in the middle of the Australian desert. Why wasn’t she in Sydney, or Hollywood?
I’m sure I was gawking at her, and she seemed to have a slight smile in place, like she was usta being stared at by horny guys, particularly Americans, and had learned to accept it and maybe even have fun with.
Anyway, one of the things every resident and visitor to the area remembers is the flies. They’re huge, and there’s billions of them. Everywhere. You can’t escape them. On my next trip I bought a face net at Uluru, they sell by the thousands. The reason this is important is because as I’m gawking at her, a fly lands right on my nose!
Well, if you’re gonna bright side it, at least it didn’t go into my gawking mouth. In irritation I move my hand up to brush it away, but forgot I was wearing a cap. I hit the brim instead and caused the cap to fall over my face, blocking the view of this wondrous creature.
So I yank the cap away, feeling incredibly sheepish, especially when I see she stopped in her tracks and was bent over laughing. Wonderful. . .
A couple of days later I found an air-conditioned mall during my explorations. I was surprised to find such a thing in what’s really a small town, and even more surprised to find it so empty. Later I was told it was built to attract the Americans from the base, so they got most of their business at night. Anyway, I wandered the stores until I came to a sports shop, not so much the kind that hawk equipment, but like the ones in the malls in the US, where they sell caps and jerseys and such of professional teams.
Just for the heck of it, I went in to see what teams they sold. I was hoping the local teams would have better names than just Kangaroos and Koalas. Turns out some of them had the same names we do, like Lions and such, although there was an Aussie Rules team named the Swans! That doesn’t figure, not very masculine.
But then I see they have a whole American section, Mostly basketball, but some football and even baseball. . .
And then, as if it had been waiting for me all my life, I spotted a UCLA cap.
So what? you’re thinking, you must have dozens. But this was a classic, literally. They’d only made a few of these, blue with gold lettering; they’re making them again now, but you can tell the difference. Rumor has it some fans steal the old ones, right off of people’s heads.
So I immediately grab the cap before anyone can beat me to it and march right to the front counter. . . well, it was a small store, so it wasn’t much of a march, and it was the only counter. I hadn’t seen anyone working there, but since the door was open, I figured someone would eventually show up. I didn’t want to go outside to check because I wasn’t letting the cap out of my sight, and they probably had those sensors on the door, so as I waited I checked out the goofy keychains in those little racks on the counter, which is what I was looking at when I heard this voice say “Try to keep this one on your head.”
Yes, our heroine finally arrives. I wondered just what a woman like that would be buying here, only to discover she was the clerk! Of all the really dumb luck!
Anyway, one thing led to another and we ended up going to dinner that night. We became friends, and you’ll never guess what she does now.
She works for the Australian version of the FBI. . .


Poetry Tuesday: Epitaph Justice

(Sorry for no Music Monday yesterday, but I spent the evening listening to the bandleader/pianist of Cirque du Soleil Corteo, as well as the show’s whistler—he’s amazing!—and one of the most beautiful/powerful voices I’ve ever heard. I even sang a duet from Phantom of the Opera; had no idea I knew the words!)

But on with our regularly scheduled show.
This little ditty is by Theocritus, somewhere in Greece, circa 300 BCE. Quite literally the definition of “classic snark.”

The poet Hipponax lies here.
In justice, this is only fair.
His lines were never dark or deep.
Now he enjoys—like his readers—sleep.


Travel Thursday Encore: Munich Museum Girl

Once again, timing is everything. . .

Those of you who have been to the Alte Pinakothek, the old arts museum–not old building, old art–in Munich, might remember that you walk in right in the middle and the paintings are mostly upstairs to both sides. Right at the entrance is the gift shop, which I figured I’d leave until the end, so I went up the stairs on the left side. It took me about two hours to go through all those paintings, and I was getting tired, so when I came down to get to the other side, I decided I’d take a break by going to the gift shop now. Immediately I saw this huge Hieronymus Bosch book that I must have spent half an hour looking through. The very last thing I saw was the price: 80 Deutchmarks. Even today I would never buy a book for that price, but back then I sure couldn’t afford it anyway.
So I put the book down with a sigh of despair and looked around at all the other stuff in the shop. I noticed a cute tall blonde kept looking at me with a slight smile; I thought she was watching in case I tried to steal it. I actually went back and looked at the book a few more times, and every time I looked up, there she was, smiling at me. So I went on to the other half of the museum, figuring I’d never see that book again, but when I looked through the rest of the paintings and came back down, I had to look at the book again, even if it was killing me. But when I got to the gift shop, the book was gone.
I must’ve looked devastated, because the blonde came out of the back room and froze when she saw my look. Then she smiled and came to where I was standing, reached down under the counter, and took out the book. She put it down on the counter, but with the back side up, which I thought was strange. She was still smiling, so I knew something was up. I looked down at the book again and finally saw that there was a new price tag: it now said 10 Deutchmarks.
Turned out it was her last day on the job; she probably wouldn’t have done it had she been going back to work the next day. She didn’t tell me at the time, of course: when I came out of the Neue Pinakothek across the square, she was waiting for me. She said that, since she’d saved me about fifty bucks, I could afford to buy her lunch. I didn’t think it was a particularly logical argument, but I took her to feed anyway.
Unfortunately I never saw her again after that. I would have liked to ask her if she did that for anyone else, maybe gotten a free dinner too. . . but on the other hand, why ruin it?


Music Monday: Closer

Husband and wife duo from Australia—she’s the sister of Butterfly Boucher—with incredibly catchy tunes. A lot of fun live, especially when she holds the toy grand piano. I think this is their most romantic song, and that’s saying a lot.
Fave lines:
“You see the sun, I see the burning.”
“The closer my heart is, the further my head is from you. . .”


Book Reviews: Kids Read the Darnedest Things

Kahlo’s Koalas
On the one hand, this teaches the littlest ones to count to ten. On the other, it does so while showcasing various styles of art, with the famous painter’s name being alliterative with a particular animal, such as in the title. This gets weird in a hurry, as it starts with Picasso.
Most favorite: Monet’s mice.
Least favorite: Pollock’s poodles.
It’s a weird way to teach numbers, and I don’t know how effective it would be.
At the end are small bios of the artists, though if the reader is just starting basic numbers, there’s no way they’re gonna be able to read this, or care when it’s read to them.

AYA and PAPAYA Meet the Big Little Creatures
This time Aya’s overexcited about a friend visiting, to the point where she claims she can’t eat. . . but immediately does when told to. Don’t get the point of that one.
It’s nice to see the friend is a boy, with a doll of his own. They go outside, pretending to be brave, but definitely afraid. All the animals seemed bigger. Some of them splash the two, or four, which looks funny.
The artwork does show the animals as large, though it could be about perspective.
Her big brother shows her there’s no need to be afraid anymore.
I suppose this could be a story about not letting your imagination go crazy, but there’s nothing else here other than a silly little story.

My Mom Always Looks After Me So Much!
In this land of sentient animals, a simian boy is being taken to the doctor by mommy to get a shot. There are other things he’d rather be doing, and feels like Mom is smothering, making him do things he doesn’t want to. But when she takes him back to the doctor for more candy, he doesn’t mind that at all.
In the waiting room, there’s a rabbit with a pan or hammer on its head. Perhaps that guy’s more in need of a psychiatrist.
Pretty straightforward. The art style paints only what’s necessary, in broad strokes, so that it feels like something’s always missing.

Super Scientists: 40 inspiring icons
Like previous books in these series, particularly the Greek mythologicals and the music and soccer stars, there’s little cartoon icons of each scientist in the table of contents. You can see it trying to draw kids in, but it’s hard to take seriously.
The pages are chock full of small infographs, mostly anecdotes, and a larger version of the cartoon icon.
Happy to say I learned some things, and scientists I’d never heard of.
Archimedes is shown moving a lever with one finger. Funny.
Hypatia is even more my hero(ine) now after finding out some new facts.
Pattern: a lot of early scientists had scientist parents. Then you get Kepler, whose father was a mercenary and mother was burned as a witch.
“Michael Faraday, the Electromaniac!” I think he would have liked that.
Ends with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is an interesting inclusion, as it says he’s famous for popularizing science rather than for a discovery or such. In that case, Carl Sagan should have been included as well.

Rosa Parks
This is a strange little history.
It’s good in that it goes back to her childhood, which I don’t remember ever seeing before. But the famous incident in which she refused to move to the back of the bus, while present, is glossed over. It merely shows her refusing to give up the seat, but nothing of what happened after. From there it merely says she worked for change.
Can’t recommend it if the whole point isn’t important enough to explain, especially for those who’ve never heard of it.

Ella Fitzgerald
“Ella never sang a song the same way twice.”
According to this, Ella ran away from home when she was really young, because she didn’t like her strict school. I guess it’s not important to the story, but I would have liked to see how a little girl managed, not so much money-wise, as we see her singing on the street for tips, but how she procured the place where she’s seen sleeping, etc.
I’ve read a lot of these little books, and I have to say they’re getting worse. Even though they’re meant to be read by kids, they should still have a more logical structure. It feels like a lot of random facts are tossed in without continuity.

Emmeline Pankhurst
This lady is not as famous as most in this series. I didn’t know who she was, and it takes to about halfway through the book to be told she was a suffragette.
“Deeds, not words.” One of my favorite sayings.
This one’s a little better than some of the recent ones, but still light on facts and structure. A return to the style and substance of the first few volumes would be welcome.

The Woolly Monkey Mysteries
Subtitled “The Quest to Save A Rain Forest Species.”
Through photos, diagrams, and descriptions, the efforts of scientists to protect the animals of the title in the Peruvian part of the Amazon cloud forest are documented.
Never expected to find a lecture on camera traps and nature photography! That alone made this read worth it. In fact, I found it interesting enough that I checked out the links in back to see such photos.
I’m not that familiar with reading ages, but I suspect this skews a little older than most children’s books, probably around junior high. The call to action at the end supports this theory. On the other hand, the glossary entry for DNA doesn’t make things any easier.

Bright Start – A Thank You Walk
Mom and little girl take dog for a walk. Everywhere they go they encounter someone or something that’s grateful, from the birds to a horse to a beetle.
It’s a little heavy-handed, but I doubt a kid small enough to be interested in this will notice.
Orange is the only color used other than black and white, which is strange—even the dog’s tongue is orange—but considering it’s my favorite I’m okay with it. Whether the kid reading this minds. . . you’ll have to ask them.

Bright Start – Feel Better Daddy
A little girl feels bad her dad is sick, so she dons his glasses and tie, grabs his briefcase, and says she’ll be the daddy today. Food, reading and other things are offered to make him feel better.
The characters have small bodies with big heads, and are basically sketches done in black, white, and orange, which is really interesting to me, because orange is my favorite color.
If there’s a reason for this book to have been written, it’s so kids will learn to give parents a break.
All in all, it’s just cute.

My Favorite Machine: Concrete Mixers
Large photos with small captions tell kids everything they wanted to know about concrete mixers. . . probably more.
It’s all done rather dryly—no pun—and I wonder how long the reader is going to be interested in things like the ingredients to make concrete. Probably not long enough to answer the quizzes.
I’d imagine every time a kid comes across a mixer after reading this. . . be patient, mom.

I Smile For Grandpa
A far-too-understanding kid plays with his grandpa, who has the beginnings of dementia.
I like that the fact Dad has to come along now on their walks is mentioned. Being without grandpa, for example when camping, is sad, but then the memories make him glad, which seems to be the point.
Lots of extra stuff in the back to talk about with the young reader.

That’s for Babies
Taking a cue from Toy Story, amongst others, a little girl thinks she’s all grown up and doesn’t need her toys anymore. Fortunately she wises up.
She’s really got the ego going when she says no to any kind of pancakes. And how can she think ice cream cones are for babies? Does that make me a baby? (Don’t answer that.)
The artwork is cute, but the story gets a bit silly.

Simple rhyming couplets tell the story of a rabbit who somehow manages to capture three wishes, though the whole process of that is not described. Lucky rabbit goes off to ask his friends what they would wish for, though he gets such specific answers that none of it applies to him. What he ends up doing. . . well, you could see it coming a mile away.
I wish I could give this higher marks, especially because I believe kids would like and learn from this. But the ending feels like a TV episode where the protagonists lose, only to be reprieved at the last moment by a ridiculous dues ex machina, which takes away anything that might have been learned before it.
The artwork has a vaguely 3D feel to it, though not too much. Most of it is pastel landscapes that are pleasing, if you notice them while reading the text.

The Cave
A small creature of indeterminate species is holed up in a cave, while a blue wolf tries to persuade it to come out. In the end it’s a lesson on not jumping to conclusions, which you’ll realize when you hit the Twilight Zone-like twist.
When the creature said it was hungry, right after the lightning hit the wolf, I thought for sure it was going to eat the wolf. Dark turn for a kid’s story, but it turned out okay. . . well, not so great for the wolf, but at least it’s still alive.

Maria Montessori
A scrappy little girl loves to learn, but not the way the boring teachers do it. She goes on to become a doctor, but when she’s put in charge of kids who can’t seem to learn, she comes up with a system that works, though at first it seems to consist of letting the kids do it themselves.
I’ve read most of the entries in this series, but this is only the second one where the person was unknown to me (ironically, I can’t remember who the first one was). Maybe that made it a little better, as this lady’s story is indeed inspiring.

The Story of People: A first book about humankind
As the title states, this is the history of how humans came to be and evolved into what we are today.
You can tell this is for kids when it starts with “A gigantic rock crashed into our planet” instead of “asteroid.”
I love that the handprints from the Lascaux cave are shown here. I also like that it doesn’t shy away from the history of religion, and uses BCE and CE instead of BC and AD. It also describes the Americas after the Europeans arrived as “stolen lands,” and doesn’t mince words telling the story of slavery.
It’s simple, especially the artwork, but it works. Many adults would benefit from this just as much as kids.

Ada Lovelace
A small history, intended for kids, of the famous mathematician.
Immediately I laugh on the first page, when it says her father “liked” poetry.
The thought bubbles are a little silly, both by what they contain and the fact the animals have them too.
The ending was a bit simplistic, but basically accurate.

Read to Your Baby Every Day: 30 classic nursery rhymes to read aloud
Nursery rhyme lyrics are enhanced by a work of art—apparently embroidery done by the author—to be read, or more likely sung, to babies.
It’s funny that the original version of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” contains words like “jumper” and “frock.” Definitely not written by an American. Similarly, what’s an “Itsy Wincy Spider?”
In “Hush, Little Baby,” it takes way too long to get to the good gifts. Can we just skip over to Rover from the start? I’m okay with him not barking.
The ship might have pretty things for baby and me, but it’s powered by slave mice. Just say no to pretty things.
Yeah, don’t sing “The Owl and the Pussycat” out loud.
Here’s a problem: what if you don’t know the song? How can you sing it?
Forget old Mother Hubbard; it was her dog that stole the show! Talk about playing dead! And playing the flute. And riding a goat. . . but how could it feed the cat when the cupboards were bare? (Oh yeah, she went to the market. Never mind.) With all the things the dog could do, I’m surprised all it could say was “Bowwow.”

Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women
A list of things invented by women, featuring stylized and pretty impressive artwork.
Right from the start, with the invention of the car heater, it makes me laugh; you can really see the distress of the shivering woman. Same with the dog.
Some might say that inventing dental floss trumps disposable nappies, but I guess that’s only people who don’t have kids.
Coolest invention had to be Kevlar. Or the periscope.
Sea flares and life rafts invented by different women. Add the periscope, and it seems like women rule the seas.


Travel Thursday Encore: Suzette in Salzburg

Sometimes you meet people in the most painful ways. . .


Salzburg, Europe, river
I shot this photo from the castle up on the hill in Salzburg, and didn’t realize I would be walking in exactly the same place about an hour later, still taking photos. There really isn’t that much to do in this town in the morning.
A few minutes later I heard a thudding behind me, so of course I turned to see what was causing it, tremendously surprised by what I saw: a tall blonde was jogging toward me, still some distance away but closing in a hurry. Luckily I didn’t wonder why she was making the ground thud so hard–she wasn’t that big.
More amusing, I could plainly see each and every male, from the little ones in school clothes to the old geezers wheezing on the benches, had stopped in their tracks to stare at her, which was all the excuse I needed to gaze at her too. I moved over next to an empty bench to give her room and watch the performance; with a little more warning, I woulda brought my camera up as I wondered if these old guys were here for what was an everyday show.
As she came closer, I could see she was smiling. . . at me. Perhaps I was the first healthy person she’d seen on her jog–the town does run a bit old–and as such was the only one who could appreciate what she was doing. She had no idea my knee was throbbing just from the walking, and watching her pound the pavement.
Even though I hadn’t gotten my camera into position, my mind still went into shooting mode. First thing I noticed was the blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, bouncing from side to side as she ran. That wasn’t the only thing bouncing, of course, but as I continued watching her, I couldn’t help but notice she wasn’t a very efficient runner. Her arms were flapping all over the place, not helping her movements, even hindering them by increasing wind resistance. But that thought quickly fled as she came closer and I saw she was encased in a white sweatshirt and purple tights. Her facial beauty needed no make-up, and her blonde ponytail flapped in the breeze created by her running, all conspiring to make her look younger than she obviously was.
She was looking at me, not the path, as she arrived near my position. I’d seen her dodging previous puddles–snow melt, in this suddenly fierce heat–but there was no way she could react in time to avoid this one. Her foot came down hard and the water splashed my leg.
When she swerved, I had the horrifying thought that she would tumble down the grass slope and into the very chilly river. But before I could move, she was filling my eyesight with her body, slipping toward me at high speed. My reflexes as far as my arms were concerned were up to the task, catching her delightful body, but I had no time to switch my weight, and as a consequence we went tumbling onto the wet bench, which was far better than the wet grass we had just avoided but also far harder.
Neither of us said anything for the next few minutes, out of breath, wet, and in some pain. The bumped knees hadn’t helped either, since mine had already been hurting and the collision made it ten times worse. I was sure her knee felt the same way, since she might have sprained it while sliding through the puddle. Her ankle could be sprained as well.
But I didn’t say this right away; her elbow had crashed into my stomach and knocked the wind out of me, and my backpack had smacked hard into the bench and bounced back against my side, so I gasped like a bloated fish while she cried softly in pain.
Yet when I looked up at her and saw she was looking back, I knew we were both struggling not to laugh. There was still pain in our gazes and gasps, but neither of us wanted to be the first to lose control.
Finally I asked, “Are you always this shy?” which forced her control and caused her to let out a burst of uncontrollable giggles, punctuated by tiny sobs of pain.
Taking a deep breath–now that I could–I stood up to test my knee; there was only a small twinge when I straightened it. I knew knee bumps were painful–very painful, bump into a car fender at full speed while playing with your dog and you’ll see–for only a few minutes, after which they settled down to tenderness for the rest of the day. The previous pain I had in the knee always went away with rest, and I’d had plenty of that in the last few minutes. Despite the heat of the sun, the air was still cold, and I was glad I was wearing thermals underneath the jeans; the water from the bench hadn’t soaked through to my skin. Even my hands were dry, thanks to the gloves, though the camera had taken a knock against both our chests.
It was a different story for her, though. I could see patches of wetness across her purple tights and, more importantly, her white sweater. As a matter of fact, I could see the entire curve of the outer side of her left breast, the sweater and white bra having been rendered transparent by the wetness.
Finally she tried to get up, but gave a little whimper as soon as she put weight on her foot and fell back against me. Luckily this time I was ready, and in the mood for helping a damsel in this dress. In full hero mode now, I proved my reflexes were up to speed when I saw her bend down, wincing at the pain in her knee, to take off her right jogging shoe; my hand shot out to stop her.
No doubt due to the cold and nothing else, an amazing spark shot out on contact between our hands. Usually I would have pulled back, but this current made me grip her hand tighter, and I could tell it had the same kind of effect on her.
I gazed into her lovely face, finding t full of puzzlement, so I said, struggling to remember some of the words in German, “If you leave your foot confined, it won’t swell. Believe me, I’ve had enough of these to know.”
She relaxed and leaned back a little, and I heard her voice for the first time, thankfully in English. “Since you seem to be such an expert, I put myself entirely in your hands.” With that said, she leaned completely back onto the bench, satisfied, until she touched the wet metal and recoiled. Only then did she realize how cold and wet she was; despite the heat having an effect on the day, it was still breezy and the air cool.
Suddenly she was gazing at me, in a sultry way, I thought. “If my hero can get me back to my apartment before I freeze to death, I will give him a major reward. It is only a few blocks away.”
I looked into her eyes, a unique shade of purple, acutely aware of her panting mouth, her wet breasts heaving against the white sweatshirt, and those fabulous legs. . . all while looking deep into those wide violet eyes, my peripheral vision saved the day again.


Poetry Tuesday: Battle on Blackbird’s Field

By Serbian Vasko Popa, from the late 1900s, which seem like so long ago. . .

Singing we ride over the field
To encounter the armored dragons
Our most lovely wolf-shepherd
His flowering staff in his hand
Flies through the air on his white steed
The crazed thirsty weapons
Savage each other alone in the field
From the mortally wounded iron
A river of our blood streams out
Flows upward and streams into the sun
The field stands up erect beneath us
We overtake the heavenly rider
And our betrothed stars
And together we fly through the blue
From below there follows
The blackbird’s farewell song.


Music Monday: Hello

So last time I featured a redheaded actress who’s also a singer-songwriter. So of course I had to do it again. Come to think of it, this is three times in a row with a redhead.
You may not have heard the name Schuyler Fisk, but you’ve probably seen her. If anyone you’ve seen on TV reminds you of a young Sissy Spacek, there’s a good chance it’s her, because she’s her daughter.
I don’t know what to call this song. It’s not a breakup song, because that’s already happened. Is there a genre for “I regret breaking up with you and want you back?”


Top 15: Best Books of 2018

Only a couple of months late—better than last year—here’s the list of the best books I read in 2018. As always, don’t forget that I didn’t read every single book out there.
These are in chronological order from when I read them. Links will take you to my full-length review.

The Bronze Skies
Second in a new series by one of my favorite authors. Not quite as good as the first, but still superb. Possibly the craziest AI ever, and how it goes wacko. . .

Stars and Planets. Mack’s World of Wonder
A book of very simple astronomy lessons. This is excellent, for kids, but I learned some things too.

Moran Cartoons Vol 1 Sleeping Dogs
I remember The Far Side fondly. This strip might just top it. Smart yet savage. A high proportion of these actually made me laugh out loud.

Birding Is My Favorite Video Game
A one-panel comic strip concerning the animal kingdom. It sneaks up on you, but once you get over the first couple of shocks you realize this is hilarious!

Ménage à 3 Volume 1
Guy in Montreal comes home from work to find his two roommates doing each other, and more importantly about to move out, leaving him with no way to pay the rent alone. But don’t worry, they put out an ad for him, highlighting the need for applicants to have cute butts. That sets the tone for the shenanigans in the rest of this pretty huge volume.

Little Moments of Love
A tiny girl is in love with a bearded man who towers above her. Thankfully he loves her too, enough to put up with her occasionally over-the-top weirdness. How small is she? She’s so tiny she fits in his hoodie. . . while he’s wearing it. Not much dialogue, but it doesn’t need it; the visuals are that funny.

Buni: Happiness Is a State of Mind
The first image you see, besides the cover, is this strange bunny-like creature rocking out with headphones; it looks incredibly awesome. But let’s face it, this comic strip is where optimism goes to die. The pseudo-bunny starts each page happy, but just a few panels later something horrible has happened to him. . . and it’s hilarious.

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 in western Canada who went viral with her prom dress and used the publicity to make the world better.

Lord of Secrets
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 author could be writing for sitcoms.

Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears: A Pie Comics Collection
There’s no defining plot to these hilarious bits of insanity; this is more like those one-panel strips that have a slice of life, except they’re longer. None of that matters, as this is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

The Book of Onions: Comics to Make You Cry Laughing and Cry Crying
A collection of small-paneled no-continuation comic strips, usually featuring a round head in a suit. The artwork makes you laugh, and then the caption cranks it up another notch.

{At this point in the year I made a comment that so far 8 of the 11 are comic strip collections, all but one new to me.}

Unicorn Theater (Phoebe and Her Unicorn)
The interspecies gal pals are back for another fun story, this time taking place at drama camp. The addition of Marigold’s sister Florence—now with 100% less nostril spiders—only increases the fun.
“I could not hear you over the sound of how beautiful I am.” So using this line. . .

Picture Perfect Cowboy
Total Noo Yawker gal goes to Kentucky to photograph a retired rodeo star for a charity calendar. Turns out they’re totally made for each other in a kinky way, if he can get out of his own head.
There’s a scene early on where the female photographer is taking nude photos of the clearly nervous cowboy, and yet their banter is hilarious.

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.
This is one the best romance books I read this year.

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.