Poetry Tuesday: Rome

By Frenchman Joachim du Bellay, written around 1558. The first verse might have been an inspiration for Ozymondius.

You, who behold in wonder Rome and all
Her former passion, menacing the gods,
These ancient palaces and baths, the sods
Of seven hills, and temple, arch, and wall,
Consider in the ruins of her fall,
That which destroying Time has gnawed away–
What workmen built with labor day by day
Only a few worn fragments now recall.

Then look again and see where, endlessly
Treading upon her own antiquity,
Rome has rebuilt herself with works as just:
There you may see the demon of the land
Forcing himself again with fatal hand
To raise the city from this ruined dust.

;o)

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Poetry Tuesday: When I turn again to gaze on the years

By Francesco Petrarch, 14th century King of the Sonnets.

(Those of you who know how, read it as a sonnet.)

When I turn again to gaze on the years
that have scattered all my thoughts in passing,
and doused the fire where I, freezing, burned,
and ended my repose full of torments,
broke my faith in loving illusions,
and made two separate parts of all my good,
one in heaven, the other left in earth,
and lost all the profits of my wealth,
I rouse myself, and find myself so naked,
that I envy every extreme fate:
I have such grief and fear for myself.
O my star, O Fortune, O Fate, O Death,
O day always sweet and cruel to me,
to what an evil state you have brought me!

;o)

Book Reviews: Stolen Books, Storms, Living Dolls, and Medusa

As I walked out with the gorgeous blonde, I said, “If you guys don’t hear from me by tomorrow. . . tell everyone on Facebook and Twitter.”

A Murderous Storm
This is a murder mystery in the northern part of Germany—wasn’t sure if it was Deutchland or Dutchland for a while—told in first person, where in the first scene the three fishermen are listening to and talking about Johnny Cash; that was pretty jarring. To make it more strange, the three shrimpers are a retired doctor, a retired lawyer, and one guy who might actually be a fisherman, or just typical muscle. Anyhoo, they pull a body up in the fishing net, and the cops don’t want to do the work, simply calling it an accident, which offends the first person lawyer, especially when the victim’s sister asks for help and she’s too hot to say no to. This leads to a conspiracy involving a huge corporation and a big-time merger, and a dirty corporate guy who can’t handle his war-criminal “bodyguards.”
The story had some entertaining moments, though how some of these characters survived is beyond me. I think the author might have made the cops TOO stupid, unless of course they’re actually that corrupt. The main character’s daughter shows up, which will be good for some plot points later, but basically shows just how stubbornly stupid one person can be, though the acorn was too lazy to roll too far away from the tree, considering just when you think it’s all over the protagonist gets into trouble again. My favorite character was actually the dog; I think it was the smartest living thing in the story.
The best part of this novel was the settings; though I’ve been all over Germany, even relatively close to where this takes place, the starkness of the landscape described here is not something my camera has photographed. It’s different on the resort island, which is one of those places like Mackinac where motorized vehicles aren’t allowed. But most of all, the portrayal of the storm, and finding the victim in the middle of it, was the highlight.
3.5/5

Slush Pile Brigade
An Australian novelist, said to be second most popular author in the world, steals a manuscript from the slush pile in his agent’s office when he has writer’s block. He picks the right book, because he turns it into a best seller, but more importantly he picks the wrong book, because three years later the writer who was plagiarized comes looking for an apology, setting into motion a chain of events that brings death and destruction to everyone’s world, especially the agent’s.
The protagonist loses his job and girlfriend–she actually brings a new guy to same restaurant he always took her to–not cool, girl. He snaps and is forced to run from the police to Noo Yawk, where he plans to confront the agent, and the author who happens to be in town. Before it’s over his deep-CIA father, a Russian mobster, his three best buds, and the girl from his past that got away are sucked into the conflict as well.
Though Noo Yawk is one of my least favorite cities, the author showcases it lovingly, citing some old famous buildings as well as plenty of Central Park; my favorite was the walk through the dinosaur area in the museum, which fit the conversation perfectly. Big twists abound, like when he find out his father’s involved in the whole mess. The first half is more comedic than anything else, and it’s fun to read the shenanigans, in a butt monkey kinda way. But then it gets serious spy in a hurry, with people dying or being maimed, and some maybe dying or maybe not.
There was one part that annoyed the hell out of me. Not wanting to spoiler—is that a real verb?—suffice to say that the protagonist finds himself in trouble that wasn’t foreseen, but ends up surviving it differently than we were led to believe. Perhaps the author merely wrote in the wrong body part that exploded, but how he survived wasn’t explained, and as you can see I’m still irritated about it.
Some of the dialogue by the lesser members of the brigade is somewhat over-the-top, but mostly it’s well-written, with some descriptions shining, like, “But it wasn’t really like laughter at all. . . more like Kodiak bears groaning while shitting.” I do hate the author for that last twist, though. . .
3.5/5

Tabatha
This graphic novel starts with an inept mailman, who gets himself into all kinds of trouble, actually being the scout for a group of home-invasion thieves. The actual first page tells you the story of Los Angeles’s full name—too bad I already knew it—but sets the tone nicely. One of their targets turns out to be the house of a not-stable Hollywood prop master and monster maker, except not everything is a prop. . .
What I thought would blow up into a monster story turned out to be much more psychological, with an evil Frankenstein twist. The three male thieves are pretty dumb; of course it’s the girl with all the brains. I did enjoy how the story delved into everyone’s fucked-up origin stories, which made what they did all the more understandable. No one is more fucked up than the monster maker, though, and the story treats him well enough that you feel some sympathy for him even while he’s tormenting his adversaries and sacrificing women for his true love.
Bruce Campbell makes an appearance!. . . almost. The artwork is good, but nothing special, except for maybe the hot chick with the Kermit tattoo. There’s some well-included extras at the end, giving a cute background on how the story was thought up—originally set in London, which would have necessitated a different opener—and containing plenty of unused drawings, even a recipe from the bad guy’s “girl.” Some genuinely funny moments keep this from sinking into too much despair, but it’s still as dark and horrifying as expected from the genre.
3.5/5

Turned to Stone
An art history mystery—rhyme!—taking place throughout Spain and Italy, this story delves into the provenance and magical powers of a statue of the Greek myth of Medusa, and how some people will do anything to possess it.
Oddly enough I found myself enjoying it early on despite not caring for the protagonist; Jaime’s too much of a jerk to be likeable. Of course that changes later as his character develops, but I never really got to the point where I liked him, and liked Paloma less for the fact she was infatuated by him. His best friend, on the other hand, is a hoot, a former photographer now a security guard who doesn’t find anything weird in dressing up like Batman in order to get the job done. There’s plenty of other characters, most of them just serving a purpose, though some of them coming back at the end to show they’re not at all as expected. I was a bit miffed that the author drew such a fascinating character as the new art expert—gorgeous blonde, of course—and then quickly killed her off.
The bad guys were well-drawn, although Rosa—or whatever her name happened to be that day—seemed to slide back, being a complete badass at the beginning and ending up rather useless by the end. There’s also the henchman who just won’t die no matter how much you best him or beat him up, always showing up at the worst possible time. We also get the evil genius behind the curtain, and how he’s destroyed his family in his quest for money and revenge, which almost makes me sorry for Rosa but not quite.
The reveal of why the piece is so important, about two-thirds of the way through, was fascinating and well done, the best moment art-wise in the book. But it’s the hilarious image of three people struggling not to fall off a motorcycle that will remain with me forever. . .
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Cruise, Como, FBI Actress

Federico Garcia Lorca
GIRL, THE MEN MUST GIVE US
PLEASURE. THEY MUST UNDO OUR
PLAITS AND LET US DRINK WATER
FROM THEIR MOUTH. THAT’S WHAT
KEEPS THE WORLD GOING ROUND.

Holiday Cruise
Ever read those pick-your-own-adventure books as a kid? Where the chapter ends on a cliffhanger and you get to decide the outcome? Then it tells you which page to go to, depending on your decision.
This is such a story, but definitely not for kids. The main character, as is common for many women in fiction, is coming off a rough breakup, so her female friends and gay male friends take her on a short cruise. The first half has her choose between her first lesbian encounter and a spanking, while in the second she goes to have her photo taken and chooses either the guy who runs the business or the hunk who plays Santa.
There’s a lot of fun secondary characters here, but you won’t get the full measure unless you go back and read the other branch as soon as you’re finished with one. The sex scenes were rather pedestrian—the one with the first guy seemed a lot more hot and realistic than the Santa one—but the dialog flows beautifully and is the best part.
3.5/5

Fascinating Lake Como
Not so much a travel book as a promo tool, this tome tries to share the wonders of this famous region of Northern Italy. According to the info at the end the author moved to Italy, so English might be her first language, but some of the wording and phrases make it seem otherwise.
A lot of the sightseeing suggestions are churches, almost as many as scenic places. Plenty of travel stuff listings, including markets and internet cafés; there’s even some business card-like graphics for such things as auto repair. Even the selected photos do little to impart the grandeur of the area. Plenty of history, not much of it interesting. Perhaps because I’ve spent time in this area having a lot more fun than the book leads one to believe, I was not impressed.
A generous 3/5

Money, Family, Murder
In all honesty I almost gave up on this book after a few pages. I had trouble liking any of the characters, even the murder and frame victim, and the writing style, while not bad, was nothing to write home about. Problem was, I couldn’t really figure out why I wasn’t liking it, other than the characters. But I kept going and enjoyed it more as it went along, though I was never fully in happy mode with it. The general plot was okay, though there were some parts that were a little shaky, especially with the main character doing some pretty stupid moves that would have saved him a lot of trouble, especially in Dakota and Florida. There’s a good aside about how the internet reacts to scandal—not the TV show—that I thought was excellently written and is the highlight of the novel.
But for me the worst part came at the end. One of my pet peeves—I think it was Larry Niven who said it—“The reader is entitled to a chance to outwit the author.” This did not happen here, there being absolutely no clue as to whodoneit before the revelation. It’s one thing to know that the main character didn’t do it—therefore we root for him and want to see how he gets out of it—and of course there’s gonna be at least one red herring, but it’s only fair to weave in some touches which might seem incidental but eventually make the reader think, “Oh yeah, how’d I miss that?” That wasn’t done here.
2.5 upgraded to 3/5

Random Elements
Second in a series, this is a story of an actress in love with an FBI agent, who has to juggle strange relationships with her director/auteur/muse recipient, her co-stars, and most of all a stalker who goes from being poetic fanboy to all-out flasher in her house. Due to the fact in the first book—I imagine—she helped the FBI agent solve a crime, she’s going from action heroine to the real thing with the series cancelled. . . only to have it uncancelled, while her new boyfriend goes away on an undercover assignment.
Billed as a romance, but even though there’s the big relationship it feels like the romance took place in the previous book. So this one comes across as more of a mystery/thriller, which of course makes me happier. There haven’t been many times when I’ve enjoyed a book so much I want to instantly read the previous one, but the writing and characterization here is excellent; if I had to choose one thing I love more than anything else, it would be the sense of humor and humanity of the lead character. And like everyone who meets her (them?) I’m in love with both Annika (the TV character) and Nikki (the actress).
As a bonus you can go to the author’s website to view samples of what she thinks the TV show would be like; I imagine it’s on cable, for there’s a lot of cussing.
5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Heinlein comic, Serial Killers, and Capri

She sighed. “I will never understand the male obsession with sports.”
“And I’ll never understand nails and hair and makeup and clothes and accessories and especially high heels. You really want to get into this?”
“So, how’d your Bruins do today?”

Citizen of the Galaxy
This is a graphic novel of the Heinlein classic, which I haven’t read in decades, but the story was told so well here that my memory was quickly jogged. To make this simple, this is how adaptations should be done, though it’s interesting to note just how much could be left out of the original while still telling the complete story. The artwork is superior to most of the graphic novels I’ve reviewed—admittedly few—and I was amused to note how much better the female characters were rendered (she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way). If you liked the original you’ll love this, and if you never read it you won’t feel like you’re missing anything with this version.
5/5

Blown
First in a new series by Chuck Barrett, this involves a covert intelligence agent/government assassin in the wrong place at the right time, saving a man from a hit squad in a restaurant and making a promise to his Marshals’ bodyguard to deliver him to safety. From there everyone—good, bad, and indifferent—is after him and his charge, who isn’t as meek as he comes across. So at its simplest it’s a chase story, though as it goes on there are other elements added to the plot.
I can’t stand watching most fight sequences in movies because they’re so unrealistic, so it’s refreshing to see them here over so quickly, as would happen in real life, especially when one of those involved is a trained assassin. The description of the dam near the beginning is also well done, as well as the various safe houses and the Italian restaurant. However, there were other settings I had problems picturing, especially the big fights in the warehouse/shipping yard, the private island, and the terrorist’s villa; this is what most likely kept me from giving the book a 5.
The characters, on the other hand, are well drawn, the secondaries as well as the mains. The author has a relatively fluid writing style that makes the reading easy, though I could have done with less reminders of how he’d sworn to the dying deputy marshal that he’d get his charge to safety. When we are first introduced to the killer-for-hire, the writer goes out of his way to be gender-neutral, enough so that I guessed it was a woman; think he could have been more subtle there. And the storming of the warehouse annoyed me, as both men should have known better than to attack a much bigger force alone, only saved by a ridiculous deux ex machina that was never hinted at; not fair.
But despite all that, there’s still much to enjoy. There’s also plenty of backstory for future novels, including threads about a woman from his past that he was on his way to hunt down when he was rudely interrupted, and a female Mossad agent he had a fling with. At first I didn’t remember the prologue, which involved a covert mission in Lebanon, but it comes full circle in the end.
4/5

A Fortress Defiled
Lately there’s been an upsurge in serial killer novels and the psychology of such, but that’s okay because for the most part they’re well-written. That’s the case here as well, in a story told in mostly first person by the cop chasing the killer, though there are occasional forays into her dreams, as well as the killer’s first person and the occasional third person omni, all in present tense.
The serial killer is relatively simplistic; though he drinks blood—more like sips it—he’s not exactly Dracula. His father taught him to hate the government, which is an important part of his psychology. More importantly, he hears the voices of the dead, probably due to his fucked up childhood. He kills animals too, just to up his serial killer cred. {What, no arson?}
Though well written with a lot of intriguing secondary characters—love the daughter—all the dream and reincarnation babble could have easily been left out to make a tighter story.
3.5 pushed to 4/5

Summer of Fire
It’s always a bit annoying for me to jump into a series somewhere other than the beginning; it turns out this is the third in a series. In this case it took a few chapters to realize there really wasn’t one main character, some of them so obviously well-established that I figured they were in the previous books, others not so much, like the Norwegian princess—not a cruise ship—that had me thinking this might be a take on Roman Holiday.
Said Norwegian princess is in love with a man quite older than her, who is one of the previously characters. The others are an archaeologist and an oceanographer, though the main scientific thrust of the story is volcanoes. The settings are well-written, and I heartily endorse the belief that Herculaneum beats Pompeii. Also loved the mention of the Royal Geographical Society, since I spent a week there a few years ago and met a lot of interesting and semi-crazy—in a good way—people. Paris, London, Iceland, and Sicily are also featured.
But the most important locale in this book is the fabled island of Capri, basically Naples’ version of Catalina Island, except for having a far longer history. It helps me tremendously to enjoy a book when it’s set in a place I’ve been to; having visited armed with books on Tiberius and The Story of San Michele—even my writing idol Harry Harrison lived there—I can say this novel will be with me on my next visit. . . though I tend to spend more time in inexpensive hotels than the fancy villas described here.
At first I was afraid there would be too many characters to keep track, but despite all the names the personalities are diverse enough that I had no problem telling them apart. I especially love how the volcanos, both in Iceland and Sicily, are just as much characters as the humans. . . and how the ditzy-seeming princess turned out to be anything but.
4.5 pushed to 5/5

;o)

Travel Thursday: Pain and Pleasure in Paestum, part 2

After a quick breakfast–I barely refrained from her suggestion that I eat it off her; it was cereal, after all–I was off to the site, this time with a promise that she’d come see me after lunch. I told her I’d spend the morning looking for a temple of love, just as she’d asked, and that seemed to make her happy, at least for now.
So I walked out and headed south toward the site, skipping the seaside, since it was late enough in the morning to have its fill of tourists. On the other hand, a nice ocean breeze would hit the spot, since it was a hot muggy day, the kind that made you want to shoot yourself in the head. . . just to get some air in.
Today I planned to concentrate on the art, the painted tombs, since that would be the easiest clue as to a temple of love or such. To my chagrin, I didn’t know much about them, and hadn’t studied at all on the Lucanian period, the time of all but one of the aforementioned painted tombs. And this wasn’t the place to study them, having no books and not about to sit in this mugginess while reading a laptop with a satellite link.
There was a long, sandy beach nearby, though, with hopefully that possible cool breeze coming from the ocean. . . nah, couldn’t risk the laptop on the sand.
Finally I decided to concentrate on the one Greek mural, which a water girl like Blanca was sure to appreciate. It was called the Tomb of the Diver, and despite the small hike in this paella-like weather, I figured it would be worth the trip. Of course it wouldn’t be with the others, I groused as I walked, and it had to be in a necropolis, an ancient cemetery the likes I always hated to go into. On the other hand, at least I wasn’t going at night! Then I wondered if the ancient Greeks knew about vampires. . . and shuddered in the humidity.
Still, I knew better, just kidding with my always silly and overactive imagination. According to the latest theory, the tomb was actually the sanc¬tuary of Hera, at the mouth of the river Sele. I wasn’t quite so sure yet, because Hera’s house was an ancient myth that a lot of people wanted to be true, especially since the legend also had it as being founded by Jason and the Argonauts, the original wrong-way drivers. . . or was that Odysseus’ crew? Ancient dates always confused me. . .
But, whatever, I sighed. Archaeologists were just as notorious as everyone else for being pigheaded. . . excluding myself, of course, but then I wasn’t a full-blown archaeologist either.
And when I got there I realized I’d blown it, though immediately blaming the weather for my lack of concentration: the frescos were no longer on site! Instead they were at the local National Museum, which I really should have known, or at least realized the possibility. Shaking my head at my stupidity, but covering up by taking photos of the small structure, I thought my body might have overheated beyond repair from this morning’s activities.
Somehow I had to find a way to blame this on her. . .
Or I could simply take her to the museum to look at the murals, put the pressure on her to come up with something worthwhile, especially since she was likely to take a dim view at the futuristic interior of that building.
Heading off at a slow slog back to the main site, I used the wide angle to take some shots of the entire region, though stopping each time, not trusting the landscape without my eyes. It was hard to figure now, but from what I’d read of this place, after the usual deforestation for ship building, had become a marshland, as always bringing malaria along for the ride. Not that I would prefer marsh, of course, but I simply couldn’t picture how different the place had to be to make it worth building such an important ancient city.
Stopping on a hill to overlook the area–and take a better photo–I studied the walls, looking prehistoric around the site, except where the whole place was cut by that damned highway. Once again I wondered if I could get permission to go into even one of the towers, just for some photos if nothing else. Problem was, most of the site was on private land, which pissed off the archaeologist in me, but the rest of me knew better than to worry about it and walked on, though still in an abstract mood, trying to picture how the place must have looked in its great days. It was hard to believe these were the only remaining Greek temples north of Sicily, and then it was only the malaria-bearing mosquitoes that kept people from destroying these too. On the other hand, it was just as astounding to imagine that, due to the place being so utterly uninhabitable so that staying overnight with the biting bugs meant certain death, a thick forest grew around the buildings and hid them like Mayan temples in the Yucatan jungle, all the way to the eighteenth century, and weren’t seen again till the crew building that damned road stumbled across them. . .
Another pause for a look, and photo. In a way it seemed amazing: a huge, seemingly empty area, with just a few buildings in the distance, and some very tiny-looking excavation pits on the end closest to the beach. There were the remains of the amphitheater, but I really couldn’t tell it had been such. Everything else was underneath the ground, but damn how beautiful it must have been. . .
Finally I decided it was too much to spend my life on and was done with it. . . which was made a lot easier when I headed back to Blanca’s place and found lunch ready.
“I’ve been out there plenty of times,” she la-de-da’ed as I approached, “but always hunting flowers, hardly noticing the ruins. Thank you for broadening my horizons.”
“Anything for you, dear,” I replied in the same tone of voice, which made her laugh. “Now return the favor and tell me about the famous roses.”
Pleased, she murmured, “I’m very impressed when you ask me for advice or such.”
I kissed her on the forehead.
Sighing with pleasure, she launched into her story. “The famous Paestum rose has been celebrated as far back as the poet Virgil. . . you remember him, right?”
“Not personally, but I’ve read his stuff. Want a critique?”
“Not now, dear, keep it historical rather than literary. In front of the Neptune temple–I’m sure you know which one that is–there’s supposed to be clumps of flowering roses, sketched and painted and mentioned by your favorite German, Goethe. . .” She waited for a reaction, looked disappointed when she didn’t get it. “One guy named Seume came down on foot from Lipsia for them, only to find them all torn out by visitors.”
“The German author who walked for nine months to Sicily?”
Sigh. “Is it sad that you no longer surprise me?”
“It’s sad you couldn’t make that sound more convincing.”

;o)