Book Reviews: Mrs. Einstein, Big Nate, and Camels

“Dude, I’m over you!” she sneered.
“Yeah, last night you were all over me!”
I’m so witty. . .

The Other Einstein
A fictionalized autobiography of Einstein’s first wife.
The intro states, “Readers may be curious as to precisely how much of the book is truth and how much is speculation.” Uh, yeah! Having to keep reminding myself this was fiction was the main stumbling block to reading this, especially since from the beginning Albert seemed charming but self-centered. He obviously admired Mitza for her brain, and mistook it for love. And while he was a product of his times—he might have been on her side as far as attending university, but only to help himself—he seemed even more so than most. Maybe it’s fiction, but Albert comes off as a complete ass. And yes, despite this being a story about her, everything happens either in his presence or his shadow, so that it sounds like it’s all about him.
There were some funny moments, the best being when his mother accused her of getting pregnant to trap him. As her father said, “Who would want to trap an unemployed physicist?” But then there’s all the times he’s horrible to her and she rationalizes it; even with her brilliant scientific mind, she went against her instincts and fell for his charms. The fact that she kept forgiving him and buying his words is painful. I doubt the term “enabling” was in use back then, but come on, she really should have seen it all coming.
As stated above, the worst part is knowing what’s real, or more likely what isn’t. For instance, no one knows what happened to their first child. Here it says she died of scarlet fever. Even bigger, it’s stated she’s the one who comes up with the theory of relativity, when thinking about that dead child.
What was no doubt intended to be a joyful revelation of an extraordinary woman forgotten by history turned into something a lot more depressing.
Wonder if she actually ever met Curie. . .

Epic Big Nate
A massive best of, chronologically. Had no idea this strip had been around so long.
It starts with a long intro, deep into how comics get sold. This continues throughout the book, as every once in a while you get a small note from the author, like how he finds Sundays more difficult. Considering how hard it must have been to condense twenty-five years of daily jokes, it’s not surprising most of these entries are one-off, though every now and then a larger plot sneaks in, like how mold forces them to go to their rival school, then have to play a soccer match against them. As a former goalie, it was easier to understand the jokes, especially in the penalty phase.
Some of the highlights:
A little girl dresses as a witch, only to have daddy tell her to choose a more positive character. . . so she goes with devil. Perfect.
“Who did invent the high-five?” Exactly. . .
“You totally ‘Nated’ it!”
Never expected Nate, of all imaginary people, to say “Scoreboard!” but on this occasion you can’t blame him.
The gerbil was the smartest character.
There’s a pretty long Q&A; the first part is almost embarrassingly fawning.

Shadows of the Stone Benders
The plot starts with the death of an old professor killed while hiking, but the reader isn’t told how. The professor knows, though, and as a hook it’s actually pretty good. From there his rich inquisitive nephew and his semi-girlfriend try to find out what happened, and fall into a story too big and fantastical to believe.
There’s some good stuff here. I enjoyed the mythology without feeling any need to believe it. Both Jen and Pebbles were well-written; together they’d make the most amazing woman ever. I just wish the leads, who’d been so smart up to then, hadn’t turned stupid to service the climax.
Early on I was liking the descriptions, but as the book wore on they became tiring, overdoing how the women are dressed in particular; I really didn’t need to know what Pebbles was wearing every time she changed. Worse, there’s lots of signs that this is an early work, possibly even a first, without much outside input. The use of unnecessary verbs is the largest indicator, along with the descriptions. At one point the author used parentheses to hammer his point, in case we simpletons didn’t get it. Please don’t insult your reader’s intelligence, especially if you’re expecting them to keep up with the premise of your otherwise intelligent story.
This one really bugged me: “Ruefully, Pebbles cast a last forlorn look at the lonely uneaten doughnut still staring up at her from the plate and followed Anlon to the cash register and then out the diner door.” So take it with you!
But for what’s obviously a first time writer there’s a lot to like here. Great imagination, plotting, sense of humor. He should get better the more he writes.
3.5/5 (Would have been a straight 4 if not for the dumb ending.)

A Jerk, A Jihad, and A Virus
A terrorist plot to manufacture a biological weapon is opposed by stalwart Americans of various professions and the bad guy’s own ineptitude.
Before halfway I was already saying the plot was convoluted, which in the end wasn’t needed. It was a long way to go for such a tiny climax. . . so to speak.
This author’s best feature is his humor, from university office politics to a camel spitting in the bad guy’s face, as we would have all liked to do. The characters are all well drawn, each with their individual foibles that often inspire outright laughter. In the first half my favorite character was Ann, until she went all silly on Jason for something she knew wasn’t his fault. “Sue and Ann decided you should apologize for not telling Ann you didn’t know what she was talking about.” Just like that I couldn’t stand her anymore, regardless of the “all women do it” premise. Worst of all, it had nothing to do with the story. In the same vein, all the science explanations were confusing and completely unnecessary, the writer giving in to the urge of showing off.
I tried really hard not to compare this to the author’s previous novel, which I enjoyed a lot, but found I couldn’t help it. I have to say this was not as good as the first one.
And definitely not enough camel.


Travel Thursday: The Girl With Three Left Feet

Beautiful non-beach blonde with six-foot body, blue eyes, and a soft smile.
There, that was a good start, she sighed. Should she mention her job? Even if she wrote “scientist” without anything more specific, would it help or hurt with today’s guy?
This internet romance stuff was harder than she’d thought. . .
But did she really want romance? Sex she could get any time, more often than she’d admit even on a fake online profile, and so far she’d been pretty truthful. Okay, she hadn’t written “beautiful klutz,” but that was possibly too much information before even a first date.
There were plenty of things she wanted to mention about herself, but knew most guys wouldn’t be interested in: how she was salutatorian in high school, for example, but then she’d have to write an explanation of what that meant, because it’d be silly to just write “second in class” or “runner-up grades-wise.” Or how. . .
She panicked and deleted the page immediately as soon as the shadow fell over her.
“Are you ever off the computer? Still looking for your dream guy?”
“Of course not!” she laughed when she saw who it was. “I know it’s you. You’re the one who doesn’t know it.” That said, she stood up to hug me, but as her arms swung up to surround my neck, she smacked her hand on the armrest and knocked over the water bottle, yelping and sucking on her bruised knuckle.
Moving carefully, lest she knock over, or suck, something else, I went in for the hug, plus a kiss. Seeing how slowly I was moving made her laugh, and she mimicked it as she gently shoved me down till I was sitting on the park bench so she could sit on my lap and snack on my lower lip.
“Hey, what’re you doing here?” she squealed after the requisite lip-noshing. “This is enemy territory for you.”
“Usta be a spy,” I replied absently. “Still got an office, or did they finally realize you faked your way through college?”
“Got a bigger office,” she snickered, “but don’t expect any privacy for what you obviously have in mind. The air conditioner’s broken, and I’m spending my time outside so I don’t have to put up with all the racket as they fix it. It’s hotter in there than out here, and I wouldn’t think you’d be comfortable with all that reddish color around.”
“Tell me about it. We are pilgrims in an unholy land.”
She grinned, recognizing the quote, so it didn’t have quite the effect I wanted.
“Here” was Exposition Park, an expanse of greenery south of downtown Los Angeles that contained such touristy attractions as the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, African-American museum, IMAX theater, an incredibly old death-trap of a football stadium, a kinda-old smaller sports stadium, swimming stadium, rose garden, and so on. One need not mention the so-called university across the street, though perhaps one should, because it did have a little bit of bearing on. . .
“That’s so cute!” Shannon squealed, as usual easily distracted. “You’ve got Bubbles on your zipper!”
I looked down. “Thought I’d cleaned that.”
“No, silly, your briefcase zipper! And of course I am referring to the lovable cartoon character, although real ones can be fun too, though not in that particular place.”
“I never found Bubbles loveable, unlike the redhead. Bubbles is a blonde airhead who’s only. . . oh, I see.”
She tried to look outraged, failed miserably.
“I’ve always liked that your intelligent enough so that I don’t have to explain my smack downs to ya,” I sighed.
“Good save,” she chortled. “I think.” When she saw me starting to grin she quickly added, “Yes, I’m confused, but it’s not the absent-minded scientist thing, so don’t go there!”
“Don’t have to. You already did it for me.”


“Anyway, he ran out of $c in this direction. Some of the FBI suits got into cars and tried to cut him off, only to see him coming out of the Natural History Museum.”
“Well, it is a big place. I work on the third floor, so–”
“So how did this guy get in without anyone seeing him?”
“He couldn’t have! There are guards at the doors in case someone tries to get in without paying. . . unless it was free day.”
“It wasn’t.”
“And the employee and handicapped entrance has a full guard desk. So how did he get in?”
“Hey, I just asked you!”
“Sorry!” She did her momentarily contrite look that worked so well on dopey frat boys.
“Anyway, they caught him, but without the evidence. And I have to find that briefcase or he walks.”
“And you think it’s in the museum?”
“The park surrounding the museum has been searched. The university has been checked. The street between them has been checked. Unless he dumped it one second and someone picked it up the next–”
“Which, in this neighborhood, is possible.”
“Too true, but it doesn’t help me. I have to assume it’s somewhere inside that big building you work in. Nothing has been turned in to lost and found, and there haven’t been any bomb scares, right?”
“Of course not.” Her frown told me she didn’t get his meaning there, but it only lasted a couple of seconds. “Oh, you mean unattended packages? Nope.”
I gave her a quick kiss, since she’d always said that was her preferred form of recompense for showing her intelligence, then helped her up off my lap. She wondered–loudly–why I was being so rude to an always-love-starved girl as I also got up, gathered my things, gathered her things, and took her hand to walk us to her office.
“Did you know the Natural History Museum was also the museum of art when it all started?” She was getting into perky mode, as she usually did when I was around. For some reason it never happened when she was talking to others, so I’ve been told, though I suspicion she paid those people off to say that.
“Yep, I did. A relatively pretty short-haired brunette with an anthropology degree said that in a lecture. The Museum of Art got its own place on Wilshire in 1965.”
“How do you manage to remember all these facts?” she murmured with her patented and self-named smirky-smirk.
“Well, I remember where the museum of art is, having passed it so many times. As to the year–”
“No, I mean which babe told ya.”
“My brain has a very cross-referenced little black book. Did you know when the Museum of Art was being made, William Randolph Hearst asked the curator ‘Is there anything you want?’”
“Wow! I doubt any curator had ever been asked that before!”
“Exactly. But when was this museum built? That info I could not find on the internet.”
“1913, so I’m told.”
“Who told ya?”
“Oh, him.”
“Ken is a, shall we say, local institution. He’s this guy who’s always sitting at the rose garden, surrounded by beautiful blonde cheerleaders from the, um, unmentionable college across the street. I don’t know where he lives, but I can’t help wonder how he makes a living.”
There were so many ways I could have gone with that, especially considering how blonde she was, but before I could chose just one, she went on.
“He tries to impress me with stuff about the building. I guess he figures the way beyond a scientist’s panties is through her brain. His granddaddy was a custodian there, back when they were called janitors, so he knows all the secrets. And since he says I’m the only woman who’s ever said no to him, he tells me a lot of secrets.”
Skipping the usual “Since when do you wear panties?” joke, I went with “I may need to talk to him, then.”
“I’m ready to sleep with him if that’s his asking price.”
I looked over to her; she was grinning hugely while squeezing my hand.
“In that case, I’ll wait till tomorrow to ask him. I assume you’re coming over to my place tonight.”
“I am now! But make sure you leave something for him, if you really desperately need the info.”
“I love how you overestimate me. You think just me is gonna tire you out?”
“I’m not used to men thinking logically,” she semi-apologized. “Did you know my museum is second in size, only to the Smithsonian, in all this country?”
“Nice segue. Well, not really, but it beats the blonde joke I was thinking.”
Shannon sighed, then looked at the stadium to their right, still huge despite being quite a green walk away. It made her sigh more. “I hate that thing.”
“It’s not in the best of shape, yeah.”
“Compared to the Rose Bowl?” she winked.
“Compared to the Coliseum in Rome!”
“And they’re so modest too. The Coliseum. What a crazy town. Who do they think they are?”
“It’s a u$c thing,” he assured her.
“What about the Forum?” She was grinning now, at least.
“That might still be better than Staples. Never going back there.”
“Isn’t your baseball stadium in Elysian Park? Not exactly paradise, from what I’ve seen.”
“I always wondered if Tennessee Williams was talking about a real place when he named it Elysian Fields in A Streetcar Named Desire,” I replied sweetly.
She laughed, acknowledging her home town was not much different ego-wise. “On the other hand, you don’t see anyone from Tulane or UNO acting so high and mighty.” If there was a way to my heart, it was obviously through Trojan-bashing. “Hey look, a horsey just came out of the stadium!”
“They’re probably fertilizing the grass on the visitors’ side.”
“They’d do that?”
“Haven’t you been paying attention all these years?”
“Right! But don’t they have a horse mascot? Maybe they’re getting him ready for the start of the season.”
“Heard somewhere they might not allow that anymore.”
“Wonder why. I mean, Texas and Colorado have live animals on the field.”
“Whatever. Still, it’s a shame they may have to do without their beloved pony. He’s a critical part of the team. He may not be as big or as fast as most of the players, but he is smarter, attends more classes, helps pull up the GPA, though with these–”
“Shut. . . up!” she whispered furiously, looking around furtively while giggling. “I have to work here!”

to be continued. . .