Poetry Tuesday: Three Poems on Love

By Lady Izumi Shikibu, somewhere in Japan, 970-1030.

On nights when hail
falls noisily
on bamboo leaves
I completely hate
To sleep alone.

You told me it was
because of me
you gazed at the moon.
I’ve come to see
if this is true.

If you love me,
come. The road
I live on
is not forbidden
by impetuous gods.

;o)

Book Reviews: Tokyo Cops, Loving Lords, and Indie Films

The Moving Blade
In Tokyo a thief breaks into an American’s home during his funeral, stealing some computer files and adding some netsukes and money to his pocket. A tall foreigner follows him and takes him down with, of all things, a sword. That leads to a giant conspiracy of greed in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.
Found it difficult keeping the characters straight, as I am not used to Japanese surnames. That was a problem at the beginning, where everyone’s introduced, but also at the end, when Jamie’s looking for help and everyone’s tracking the bad guy. The conspiracy was also a bit of a problem, because at times it was, oddly enough, too big to follow. Near the end it got a bit overwhelming because of the multiple storylines, but thankfully the book takes the time to wrap things up and solidify relationships without it feeling like a sequel hook.
Wish there had been more on the netsukes, as I find them much more interesting than swords. But then, they’re harder to kill with. . .
3.5/5

Lord of Temptation
The previous entry in this series featured a lot of Hawkridge, a titled but destitute man with more honor—or ego—than is good for him. This story is different in that it’s a regret and fix plot, where the characters have a past they must overcome.
This isn’t the best book in the series, but it is the sweetest. Of course it helps when there’s an adorable ten year old girl as a large secondary character. From a historical perspective, the balloon scene was lovely.
3.5/5

Lord of Vice: Rogues to Riches #6
The last Grenville finally gets her own story, a rich girl/poor boy tale where for the first half of the book he doesn’t know who she really is. It isn’t until he discovers her true identity that his ego and pride get in the way, but then she isn’t perfect either.
In a series full of incredible women, Bryony is my favorite. She was always funny and irreverent, but never ditzy. Quite the opposite, as she turns out to be a financial genius. Here she gets to be the star and takes full advantage. Even more amazing is Max’s sister, Frances. She sounds like someone who could easily fit into the 21st century.
The male protagonist, someone who’s appeared in most if not all of the previous stories, is fully accepting of such unorthodox female creatures, but still has a bug about titles and aristocracy rather than money.
My least favorite character throughout, the mother, got off way too easily, especially since she’d been through something similar with her opera-singing daughter.
But even though the problems are more creative, they’re still due to miscommunication and jumping to conclusions, as are 99.9% of the situations in this genre. I might have given this the highest score otherwise.
My two faves in this series have been the last two, which is how it should be.
4/5

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.
As always in this genre, the happily ever after never happens on the first try. What makes this different from most who try and fail spectacularly is that his problem completely makes sense, and is solved just as perfectly. This might be the best romance novel I’ve ever read.
The short story at the end, which is more like a deleted scene from the novel, has a completely different vibe to it, but is equally hilarious. Good to see the nascent Dom on the other side of it, from a psychological view.
5/5

Theirs to Protect
A lawyer flirts with a couple of cops while getting coffee. She runs into them again later and things get sexy, followed by things getting serious.
Plenty of humor, which is the most welcome thing here. The plot peters out quickly, but then it is a short story, just long enough for meet cute—twice—two sex scenes, and some angst.
4/5

Exposed: The Education of Sarah Brown
An innocent librarian goes to Europe and lets herself be instantly seduced by a photographer. Then she gets caught up in a child slavery ring and things go downhill fast.
While for the most part I enjoyed the story, especially the descriptions and dialogue, it’s written too matter of fact, with little style. Choppy, without flow, making good things feel almost boring.
On to better stuff. I like how complex Sarah is, even in her abandonment issues, but I really love Elsa. The difference in her personality when she’s not being a Domme is wonderful to see. I like when the author repeats one of my fave lines: “free food always tastes better.” The police scenes were also well done.
What I didn’t like story-wise was all the coincidences. Of all the people in Berlin and Amsterdam—and even between the two cities—the same half dozen people keep running into each other. Add Barcelona and things become another level of ridiculous. Strains credulity far too much.
I knew what would happen when Tony joined in, but it was still a good way to lead to the inevitable conclusion.
3/5

The Red Ledger Part 1
English teacher in Rio is trying to enjoy Carnaval despite an overeager friend with benefits. Instead her life is forever changed by an old boyfriend, who can’t remember her and has another reason for seeking her out.
It’s a short book, which is surprising when I consider how slow it moves, how often it rehashes the same ground. He needs something from her, but it takes him far too long in his alpha haze to ask her for it. As expected, there are twists and turns in the plot so no one knows who to trust.
Always happy when my alma mater UCLA is mentioned.
Warning: this ends in a huge cliffhanger! It struck me that this was a longer book reduced to smaller portions.
2.5/5

Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out
Considering the title, there’s very little sex, especially in the first half. Most of it feels like a meditation handbook.
Once it does get to sex. . . maybe I’m just different, but she talks about issues—for example, don’t be afraid of eye contact—that in my experience seem strange. To me they’re just natural, everyday things. Why would anyone be afraid of eye contact during sex? I just don’t get it.
The section I most enjoyed was on threesomes. It was the most honest, but it took me forever to get there.
By the end—and it took me months—it felt like only a small amount of people who start this will get through. It’s targeted very specifically: if you’re into meditation and crystals and such, this is for you. Everyone else might get something, but will have to hunt long and hard for it.
2.5/5

True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking
Don Coscarelli is a name I’ve heard of plenty, but his movies are basically a blank to me because I can’t stand the horror genre. The main reason I picked up this book was Bubba Ho-Tep, and having read Bruce Campbell’s version of events, it was fascinating to see it from the other side, so to speak.
This is one of those rare books where you feel like you’re sitting with the author, listening to his stories over lunch, much the way he describes meeting filmmakers when he was young, name-dropping Coppola, Cage, and most importantly Trumbull. It’s just fun, especially if you have any interest in how movies are made. All the more exciting when it’s low budget; gives young filmmakers hope. But at the end he cautions that things are harder than ever for indies, even though production costs have plummeted.
Lots of fun fascinating stories, but ends with the death of one of the main actors.
4/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Encores: Around the World in 24 Days

Couldn’t sleep last night, so I watched Spinal Tap; I wonder what made me think that was a good idea. . .

This time on Travel Thursday, I go on a trip I would never take in another million years for a billion dollars. Someday I’ll know how to get out of my own way. . .
As usual, before I left I got a lot of advice about the places I was going, most of it by people who not only had never been there, but were repeating what I had told them!
Like in Japan: Don’t open the taxi door. The driver loses face if you don’t wait for him to perform the little miracle of modern engineering that is the automatic door. Of course I never took a taxi. . .

Japan
In Japan there’s this twist on gift-giving where you give a friend a gift and it raises your standing in the community, so to speak. If you’re in someone’s home and you say how lovely that painting is, they’ll try to give it to you. The downside of this is that the receiver of the gift is then expected to return the favor, and even top it. This can have severe consequences if you’re poor like me. . . or, in a very extreme case, if you’re drowning, they won’t save your life because they don’t want to burden you with returning such a huge gift.
The only good thing about this is that, as a gaijin (the polite translation for foreigner, don’t ask for more than that), I was exempt from this tradition. I wasn’t even expected to know about it, which suited me just fine.
And what was this giant gift I would have been unable to return? A night with a geisha!
Okay now, a geisha is not a prostitute. She had to remove her kimono when we got into the hot tub–or whatever it’s called–to finish the massage, but I was the gentleman I always was. . . I mean, am.
Check this out: she played both piano and violin! She knew all my violin requests, and then it turned out she was one of those memory players: she only had to hear a song once and could play it on her keyboard. She did Kat Parsons’ “Miss Me,” Adrina Thorpe’s “Did You Think,” Libbie Schrader’s “Come When I Call,” Killarney Star’s “Signature,” Marina V’s “Underneath Your Sky,” Arden Kaywin’s “Over You,” Tiff Jimber’s “Doin’ Fine,” and most impressively Riddle the Sphinx’s “Lullaby.” That was almost more fun than the massage. . .

Vietnam
Nothing much to see, unless you’re into war history (did that rhyme? Poet, and didn’t. . . realize it). Some incredibly beautiful women, though, which is really all I need to make my job worthwhile.

China: Xi’an
Imagine, if you will, row after row of terracotta warrior statues, over 6000 of them, with many more still in the ground. Even more impressive, they were made two millennia ago. And the most impressive: each of them has a different face, both in features and expression, no mass production here. Plus 200 or so archers and longbow guys. Horsies too. Some have called it “the major archaeological discovery of the 20th century.” Take that, King Tut.

China: desert
Three separate cave complexes called “Temple of a Thousand Buddhas.” None of them came close to having that many–not that I was counting–but then, according to legend, they were stolen by German and French archaeologists 100 years ago. Oh well.
One place had an absolutely Giant Buddha carved into the mountainside, three stories high. It was easy to tell, because there were stairs next to it.
On the third day in the desert the jeep I was on got a flat tire. So while the guys were fixing it, I got out and looked around. Since it’s October, it was only 100 degrees instead of the usual 120. The hills in the distance are called the “Mountains of Fire.” Why there isn’t a resort out here, I’ll never know.
No photos here, because this was boring landscape, not like the huge 100-foot-tall dunes we saw earlier, the ones that looked like they had an orange bulb inside. So I find a boulder big enough to provide some shade and flop down, after checking for scorpions and such, of course.
A little background: after the first time I heard Libbie Schrader in concert, I wrote her an e-mail about it, and besides all the wonderful things I said about her and her music, I mentioned how weird her “eagle” lyric was. Of course she wrote a “thank you” back, but also mentioned she had no idea what I was talking about, there being no eagles in her lyrics. I think the term she used was “baffled.”
So there I am under the boulder listening to this Libbie song so I could finally solve the mystery. Instead of “someone’s eagle is being fed,” the line is “someone’s EGO is being fed.” Which, admittedly, makes a lot more sense, but at the same time, try to imagine what a wonderful love song it would be with my version. Almost as good as when a friend mistook Arden Kaywin’s lyric of “where dying dreams go” as “where diet drinks go.”
Anyway, when we got to the next town–the one that had internet but no French fries–I triumphantly reported my findings to Libbie, who promised to tell the story the next time she played the song in concert. Hope she’s already done that, but I have the sinking feeling she’s waiting for me to be in the audience so yet another musician can embarrass me live.
The last stop before leaving China was a town that had a site called the “Temple of the Fragrant Concubine.” I asked the guide if I should really go in, because I’m allergic to perfumes, and got a stony glare in return. Didn’t know humor was outlawed here.

Kazakhstan
Only stopped in Almaty, a huge, dusty kinda town, but a beacon of civilization after the desert. Hey, any town that has an “American embassy” (as a bus driver in New Zealand calls McDonald’s) can’t be all bad. As some of you may remember, I was in potato withdrawal at the time.

Uzbekistan
Ever stand next to a redwood, walk around it, look all the way up, feel really small? Now pretend it’s covered with blue and white tiles, and it’s the same thing with some of the ruins in Uzbekistan. HUGE! Forget Alexander the Great or Genghis Kahn; Tamerlane’s your guy for pyramid-size monuments to himself.
Finally saw Lt. Kije, which has to be the silliest plot ever, but at least it was a comedy. Good thing I knew the story, because it was done in Russian. Where’s Marina V when you need her?

Kyrgyzstan
What a friggin’ beautiful place, once you get outside the cities. Took a long drive alongside this huge lake that reminded me of Balaton in Hungary (ok, ok, I realize the comparison doesn’t mean all that much to you, but just go with it). Parts of the landscape reminded me of Tahoe, others of Switzerland. In some places the pines were still green, in others they were covered with snow. And other parts would give New England a run for fall foliage. Remember that poem you read as a kid, about how you’ll never see something as lovely as a tree?  Then there’s the sequel by Ogden Nash:
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all.
Spent the night in a yurt, which is a round hut with a hole in the middle of the roof to let the smoke out, but the thing was warm enough not to need a fire. Had the thing all to myself, which inspired me to think that any place in the world can be romantic. . . well, not alone, obviously, but you don’t need a giant erector set in Paris or even a huge beautiful mausoleum in India to feel romantic.
Or maybe I’m just fuckin’ lonely. . .

Armenia
Almost ended up going through Iran, but found a last-minute seat past it. Love the archaeological sites, and the people are lovely, but the Tehran government scares the shit out of me. And I’m a Liberal. . .
A few interesting little mountain places in Armenia, all visited in a day, and some cultural stuff in Yerevan. This was the most American-like of the places I went to, because a lot of American Armenians had returned to the homeland, probably thinking they would strike it rich somehow. You already know what happened, musically, from the last blog, which started out when I mentioned one of my faves, Adrina Thorpe, is of Armenian descent. This got the DJ really excited and he promised to play her stuff. I wonder if Adrina is going to get CD orders from there and have to figure out just how much postage it’s gonna be. . .

London
Because I spent extra time in Central Asia, I ended up going from Armenia straight to London, when the original plan was to go to Istanbul and then meander on back to England through Vienna and so on. I have two London musicians amongst my friends, but neither had a concert those days, so the time I wasn’t involved in photo shoots I spent trying to avoid future jet lag by sleeping during the day and trawling the internet by night. Already rather nippy here (damn, I said “rather” again).

So there’s some of the highlights, and if you think I’m going to write down the lowlights in a place where other people can read them, HA!
So, another round-the-world trip, and all I learned was I’m too old for this shit. . .
This year (2005) I’ve been to, in chronological order, Italy (Venice, Tuscany, and Cinqueterre), London (3 times), Seattle, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Japan, Vietnam, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrghyztan, a couple of hours in Turkmenistan (narrowly avoiding Iran and Azerbaijan), and Armenia. Last year it was Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Canada, Seattle again, London again, Italy (Rome this time), 3 weeks in Greece, 5 places in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Bora Boring, and Hawaii. The year before that featured places like Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Egypt, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar, Israel, and the ubiquitous London. And I haven’t been to San Diego, Frisco, or Vegas in years.
I’m taking next year off. . .

{In case you were “baffled” by all the mention of French fries in China, here’s the e-mail}
Oct 14, 2005 4:10P
Help me, I’m starvin’!
HELP ME! I’M IN A DESERT IN WESTERN CHINA AND I REALLY NEED SOME FRENCH FRIES, STAT! MC’D’s OR IN-N-OUT PREFERRED, BUT IN NO POSITION TO BE PICKY. CAN SOMEONE FED EX A LARGE?
GO FIGURE! THEY HAVE INTERNET HERE BUT NOT FRENCH FRIES! WHAT A BACKWARD COUNTRY. SIGH. . .

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Six Haiku

Hard to believe I’ve been doing this for so long and hadn’t hit on the shortest form of all yet. These are by Matsuo Basho, who lived in Japan–duh–in the 17th century.
The first one is my fave.
(BTW, before you complain about the wrong number of syllables in each line, remember that these were originally written in Japanese.)

1
Ancient silent pond
Then a frog jumped right in!
Watersound: kerplunk

2
The temple bell stops–
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.

3
Such stillness–
The cries of the cicadas
Sink into the rocks.

4
Skylark
sings all day
and day not long enough.

5
Fish shop–
how cold the lips
of the salted bream.

6
Culture’s beginnings:
from the heart of the country
rice-planting songs.

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Malediction

Japanese anonymous from the 12th century, for those who thought such feelings were a modern occurrence. . .

May he who bade me trust him, but did not come,
Turn into a demon with three horns on his head,
That all men fly from him!
May he become a bird of the waterfields
Where frost, snow, and hail fall,
That his feet may be frozen to ice!
Oh, may he become a weed afloat on a pond!
May he tremble as he walks with the trembling of the hare,
With the trembling of the doe!

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Two By Shikibu

Not Lady Murasaki, who wrote The Tale of Genji, but rather Lady Izumi; apparently the fact they had the same last name meant nothing in 10th-11th century Japan.
The first one tells exactly why so many people have trouble with meditation. The second is left to interpretation.

Autumn, on Retreat at a Mountain Temple
Although I try
to hold the single thought
of Buddha’s teaching in my heart,
I cannot help but hear
The many crickets’ voices calling as well.

Although the Wind
Although the wind
blows terribly here
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of the ruined home.

;o)

Book Reviews: Tokyo, Swine, Cats and Dogs

Fair warning: I’m writing this while watching Lucifer, so who knows what might happen.

Last Train
Hiroshi is a forensic accountant for the Tokyo police, who gets more than he bargains for when he helps out an old friend on an investigation. Did that American throw himself in front of the train, or was he pushed?
Well plotted, with good flashbacks showing the villain’s motivation. The protagonist is also fleshed out well, with lots of light humorous touches because he doesn’t take himself too seriously. His new assistant and the sumo cops add to the small bites of hilarity, although some of that was lost in the scene that shows the Tokyo police find it perfectly okay to rough up a suspect; at least they put the shoulder back where they found it.
Michael Pronko is one of my fave non-fic writers; his essays on Japan are simply amazing. So it was a bit of a surprise to find that, in comparison to the smooth syntax of his non-fiction writings, this feels almost stilted, not nearly as graceful. It did get better as it went on, but early there was an overabundance of “He said.” Since most conversations are between two men, it’s useless, in addition to being boring. He did use “gurgled” once, which made me grin.
And the ending left me unsatisfied. The last death, be it suicide or not, doesn’t sit well with me as a fitting closeout for that character, especially after the reveal of the DVD, but maybe it’s a cultural thing. Other than that, it’s a good fun story with great characters that I did enjoy more as it went on.
3.5/5

Suit Your Selfie: A Pearls Before Swine Collection
“Gather ‘round the smartphone, kids!”
Been barely a month since I read the latest collection of groan-worthy puns featuring Pig, Goat, Rat, and friends, but it turns out this is basically the same edition with some of the more risqué strips taken out, geared toward a younger audience. Beats me which ones were removed, but I enjoyed reading through them again; “elf storage” hit me more the second time.
4/5

Life Lessons from Catsass
First and foremost, is it Cat-Sass or Cat’s-Ass? Cuz both work.
Right from the first page I get what kind of style this is. “Have you noticed how peaceful I look when you’re quiet?” instead of “Shut the f— up!” Exactly. Some of these I completely agree with, others are downright stupid, but there’s enough good stuff to outweigh the bad.
One of the bad has to be how difficult—though I suppose not impossible—to do the coloring pages on an ebook. The origami kitten toy would be hard as well. And the connect-the-dots. . . and the cutouts. . .
But some are truly hilarious!
“Stop reading and rub my belly!”
“You forgot your pants, miss.” “Is this your little sister’s dress you’re wearing?” and “Is your outfit a tribute to your grandmother?”
Remember that mean trick where you were weighing yourself and someone adds their foot on the scale? Cats invented that.
“Cats make great drug smugglers” and “Cat lovers are part of a cult.”
I’m the Allergic, so of course I had to take playful offense to some of these.
Public service announcement: do NOT send in those $150!
This feline tries his hardest to be grumpier than the famous one, but only comes off as arrogant. . . which is a typical trait for cats, after all. But all that really matters is that it’s usually funny.
3.5/5

101 Amazing Things About Dog Lovers
According to this book, there’s a new definition of “amazing.” It now includes things that are merely cute, somewhat humorous, or even mundane. Then there’s the other part of the title; quite a few of the entries were about dogs, not dog lovers.
For such a short book, this took forever to slog through. There’s some snark, thankfully; occasionally they’ll bust out a really funny one. But there’s not even close to enough to make this a worthwhile read.
The high point for me was seeing my favorite actress mentioned. Katherine Heigl has a number of charities that, among other things, pay to spay and neuter, move dogs to no-kill shelters, and do their best to find homes, especially for Chihuahuas.
Okay then, let’s address the Christian elephant in the room. Each of the 101 is followed by a quote from the bible. . . which has absolutely nothing to do with the chapter, or even with dogs! They’re obviously included just to wring a few bucks out of the credulous. And the use of the word “amazing” in the title is such obvious clickbait they should be penalized for it.
2/5

;o)