Book Reviews: Road trip to the Moon

RoadTrip America Arizona & New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips
As the title tells ya, here’s side trips off what can be boring landscapes along the main throughways, in a vehicle the author named the Dirty Queen. Sounds like an oxymoron, but okay.
The first part features side trips off Interstate 10, which is a great idea, as long stretches of this road can lull you to sleep, especially when driving.
Some highlights:
Carlsbad Caverns is an oldie but goodie.
For Roswell there’s a green alien dressed as a mariachi playing a trumpet. That’s an image I’ll never get out of my head, thanks a lot.
I feel an urge to go see the world’s largest pistachio. . . right now!
The thing about the spelling of “chile” and Texas was hilarious.
Spaceport is cool, but not for four hours, as I recall. I’d rather spend that time at the cliff dwellings.
The Coronado Scenic Trail byway looks like just the thing to make me throw up, but if you like roller coasters, this one’s free.
Given a choice between photographing hoodoos and the Shootout at the OK Corral. . . well, I think the choice is obvious. I do find it hilarious that the Tombstone newspaper is called “The Epitaph.”
I need to go see Oak Creek Canyon NOW!
I’ve traveled extensively through both states, and this book told me about places I haven’t seen, and now want to visit. For that alone this book is worth the money.

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon
There are some really long bios on the astronauts, which start interesting but drag far too long. Makes it feel like a standard bio, but I suppose the title should have warned me. Everything that happened to bring the astronauts’ lives to the launch is important, but it’s still at about the halfway point of the book, when the massive rocket actually takes them into space, that things really get interesting. . . just like in real life, I suppose.
I do like that there’s so much here about the wives in the time up to and including the launch, even more so than the astronauts themselves, with their macho “I’m not scared” attitude.
At this point it turns from biography to something more akin to a very technical science fiction novel.
In the middle of the flight the author pauses for a chapter on how the year 1968 had gone, musically as well as politically and socially. I guess it resonated with me because it’s the year I was born, though of course I don’t remember it. RFK was assassinated only a month before my birth, not far from where my parents lived, and as someone who enjoys counterfactuals—what ifs—it’s easy to speculate what might have happened: no Nixon presidency. On the other hand, there’s no way to gauge how far civil rights would have gone if MLK hadn’t been shot. The chapter mentions the Beatles and Stones, but at the end there’s Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower, and put in this perspective, the lyrics hit home like never before.
It’s a tough road, but if you make it through the first half there’s plenty of reward. Definitely think said first half could have been shorter.
Such a poignant way to end it. . .

Eric Stanton & the History of the Bizarre Underground
I enjoy finding out about new artists, and here’s one I had no idea existed.
Right off I can say there’s lots of bondage drawings and comic strips amongst biographic text. Bettie Page shows up, as kinda expected. Exactly halfway through Spiderman gets makes an appearance.
To be honest, it feels like this artist is being celebrated more for longevity than any special artistry. This book is kinda fringe, good for the people interested in the subject. I wasn’t as much as I thought I would be, so I didn’t find it that entertaining in the end.

The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes: Essays on Victorian England, Volume Two
This book basically takes one small item from a Holmes story and makes a small lecture out of it, but doesn’t really have anything to do with Sherlock. Each small entry feels like something out of the Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia (which I proudly own) or wiki; in fact, according to the notes at the end of each chapter, some of the information down here is indeed gathered from Wikipedia.
Three of the first five essays cover sports.
While not putting down the research work that went into making each article, much more info could be found by a simple internet search. One can imagine the author never running out of topics in which to write these very short treatises, as only a mention in a Holmes story is required for inclusion.

National Parks of the USA
This book is geared for kids, but has plenty of info for the adult as well, starting with a brief history of how the park system came about.
After a map showing the locations in the east, each park gets a few pages, the first a stylized poster-like painting, followed by stats and facts. The same scenario is then played out with the central, southwest, Rocky Mountains, and West, although the Virgin Islands seems to be misplaced. At the end is an A-Z of animals and an index, as well as a plea to help protect the parks.
It’s pretty to look at, and the information is nicely presented. I’m not happy with the font, which looks kinda like italics but tougher to read, but everything else was well done.


Book Reviews: Three Mysteries and the Future of Sex

Mark Twain
Always do right—this will gratify some and astonish the rest.

Truth or Die
With this being the fifth I’ve read in the series, it feels comfortable, like an old hoodie on a sprinkly day. This one takes place in Central California, at an art/music fair in Carmel. An ex-military psychologist—who obviously knows a lot of secrets—a Navy tragedy, people looking for revenge and extortion, all figure in this mystery where the detective, as always in this series, is surrounded by women who want him even when he’s with his girlfriend.
In this case he helps out because he knows the widow, who is of course the main suspect; his girlfriend, for once, doesn’t seem to mind. This edition of the series had more characters, and therefore more suspects, than most, which didn’t help, but overall it was just as good as the others, and much better than the first in the series, which is the last one I read. The sinking of the navy ship was real, but the rest of the story isn’t, unless it was some long-buried secret, which is doubtful.
So basically if you’ve liked others in the series, you won’t complain about this one. And if it’s your first time with this author, this is a pretty good intro.

In Gallup, Greed
This is not the first book in the series, which may explain why there were so many characters; since I didn’t read the previous story, it felt like there were too many to keep track of, to the point where I had to go back to check who the heck they were, which annoyed me no end. Most times I would have given up on a book like this; this one I didn’t and it got better, though by the end I was still having trouble with some of the main characters whose names were similar.
Another tough thing to deal with was the changes in narration: I could have taken first person and one third person, but with so many alternating characters being followed—plus first person—things got confusing in a hurry.
Something else that I felt didn’t work: since I could only think of one reason the bad guys would be running such a scam at an art gallery, there wasn’t much of a mystery to it. About halfway through it’s said outright, which means there wasn’t all the much plot here.
But the worst part was that at the end, when the killer is unmasked, I couldn’t remember any clues that would have allowed me to figure out who the killer was, which violates the primary commandment of giving the audience a chance to outwit the author.
On the plus side the writing was pretty good, as well as the characterization of the main character, Cinnamon. Weird fact of the day: since reading this book I’ve smelled cinnamon everywhere. . .

The Future of Sex
This novella made my mind shout “Boom!” numerous times; thankfully it didn’t get as annoying as it sounds.
At its most basic this is a story about a young woman who wants to be the ultimate sex provider in a world where such people are cherished. Her youth and lack of training are held against her, but she’s given a chance to prove herself, allowing the author to express some particular theories, specifically about the nature of intuition when it comes to sex, and more general the ability to “Sherlock scan” an individual, read the small nuances in their manner and speech and so on.
I was loving this right away, as it brought a new perspective to such a story, one I wholeheartedly agree with. The level of intuitiveness goes right to the theory of “naturalness,” which I have discoursed on often myself. It’s like the author is reading my mind the same way the main character reads her marks. . . which also means I love Chloe; she can screw with my mind any day. Thankfully I knew this was a novella coming in, and intuited—inside joke—this would be a set-up and not the whole story itself.
Though I’ve read this author before, I was far more impressed here. As stated, some of this author’s philosophies mesh with mine so closely that I can’t be at all sure if this is what’s behind my high opinion, and therefore grade. It’s still a well-written introduction to a long story that promises to be a fun ride.

Aztec Midnight
This is a novella about an archaeologist hunting for an Aztec artifact, in a race to find it before bad guys do. It’s so short I actually told myself, “Let’s see if I can read this whole thing at the doctor’s office. . .”
Though it’s set in the lovely city of Cuernavaca, the setting isn’t used to full advantage; it isn’t till we get to the ancient Aztec site that things take off, though the archaeological detective work is delicious to read through.
Sadly, the only one surprised that his wife was kidnapped was him; that doesn’t say much about him, especially since he didn’t seem like the kind of acadamian who can’t survive outside of the classroom. That could be blamed on this being such a short story, though the next twist was surprising when I knew there wasn’t much left to go.
Not sure how I feel about it; the archaeology part was fun, the thriller part not as much. I particularly disliked the introduction of a crow as his personal GPS; I don’t think a fantasy element was needed here.


Book Reviews: Hawaii, New Mexico, The South, and Neurotica

Some people take exception when I say a face devoid of makeup is a “naked face.”
Some people are assholes.

The Cypress Trap
How sad would your life be if everything depended on a good-luck charm?
After a prologue of kids jumping into a watering hole somewhere in the South, we’re taken to a failing marriage on a fishing vacation, with both still trying to recover from the death of their child. It’s been said that in such situations it’s more likely for the couple to split up rather than stay together, and though she’s trying her hardest, it looks like this is heading that way. . . which confuses me, because this protagonist is no great prize. He calls his recent life “an extraordinarily atrocious run of bad luck,” when in reality it’s more like incredible stupidity and stubbornness.
The couple and their friend are chased by bad teens, though no one believes them. Finally the sheriff helps her out, except we never find out what happens to him, other than the implication he was killed by the bad teens. I was feeling sympathy for her, but now she seems as dumb and self-centered as her husband. Unfortunately the sheriff’s simply forgotten and we’ll never know.
There are some reasons a dog might change allegiances, even a brutal attack dog. Being hit on the head is not one of them.
Because there had to be a reason for the prologue, I wasn’t surprised when that person showed up; still, I think the author cheated a little with that. Hard to believe someone could get so hung up on a good-luck charm, but then there’s plenty of crazy to go around.
The worst part for me was how the main character’s injury left his leg too shredded to walk, and yet without any medical care later in the book he’s able to fight off some bad guys and survive being thrown in the lake. Or perhaps the worst part is at the end I really wasn’t shook up at all about the deaths.
Though the writing was enjoyable, these several huge inconsistencies in the plot mentioned above doomed it for me.

A Bundle of Neurotica
A collection of six short stories featuring a young college professor and her evil twin, who wants to make her sister’s life better by showing her how to have fun—or taking her place to protect her from the arrogant jerks around her—and only makes things worse.
I was sadly surprised by how bored I was despite the fun premise. There isn’t even that much erotica in it, except for some spankings and the evil twin picking up some anonymous guy in a bar. The only thing that kept it interesting enough for me to make it to the end was the evil twin’s snark.
At one point I actually wondered if, instead of an evil twin, she had a split personality, but no, the evil gal is real. . . I think.
All in all, pretty disappointing.

Tropical Judgments
A local—as in Hawaiian—musical legend is killed in a mugging, and a black kid who’s led the most heartbreaking life you’ve ever heard, as well as suffering from fainting spells, is accused. A local lawyer, himself the victim of fainting spells, is forced to defend him in a story that’s part detective and part courtroom drama.
This was a surprisingly easy read, with a flow that kept me going for far longer than I would have thought, once I glanced at the clock. The Hawaii setting—anything but a paradise—was intriguing, especially the racism. I found the characters well-drawn and distinctive, except for there being too many people to keep track of in the crime family.
Not that it was perfect, though. The one bad guy’s excuse of “family” sounded particularly false, considering he was betraying his real blood relatives. At one point the prosecutor, who up to then had been a relatively good guy, uses the “if the criminal didn’t do this, he probably did something” crap, which surprised the hell out of me, and disappointed me as much as the defense lawyer. The dif is I was disappointed in the author for scuttling the character. And as far as the writing, smooth as it was, there were too many chapters for how short it was.
Some questions remained. Did the police—corrupt as they are—try to trace the death threat phone call? What about the witness who saw the bad cop with the real killer? Perhaps those will be explained in the next book.

Spectre Black
A female cop in New Mexico is chased out of her home in the middle of the night; then the scene switches to a guy in San Clemente, California. Quick introductions, though that might be understandable considering this is not the first book in this series.
Rushing to New Mexico at her SOS, the protagonist finds himself quickly immersed in all the nefarious activities of the small town where she was a detective. Before he knows it he’s being seduced by a black widow of an FBI agent—how the hell was she posted so close to home?—and set up for murder, thrown into jail where he’s fully expected to be killed.
And then somewhere in the middle the plot turns into something much different; how the heck is it suddenly about cloaking technology? And then our bright hero, with the help of a friend, decides the smart thing to do is go undercover with a militia; yeah, that’ll end well.
Just to confirm their evilness, the half-siblings—the obviously schizophrenic youngster and the FBI agent—are in an incestuous relationship.
When the main character finds the cop he came to save alive and well and living it up on a houseboat, the fast pace slows down dramatically, almost like a whole new book. They plot to take down the bad guys in numerous ways, none of them very convincing. What could have been a very good story gets bogged down in a plot too intricate to really enjoy.