Travel Thursday Encore: Two Days—and Two Gardens—in Charleston, part 2

Day two of a visit to Chuck-town with Amber/Am-beer/Am-brrrr. . .

After a bit of discussion we decided to hit another garden, which she promised would be even better than the first. Of course she pretended not to hear when I asked why she didn’t take me there first, instead skipping forward to fetch the car.
Magnolia Plantation also had an entrance fee, but much cheaper and, if the brochure was any indication, a lot more stuff to see and do.
To my surprise–such a big city shouldn’t have been this inbred–Amber knew this ticket-taker as well, but I managed to sneak away while the females indulged in some good-natured joshin’. I headed off in the best direction the map could point out while reading the historical portion of the brochures. It contained basically the same kind of bullshit as the other place, though not to the same extent; more flowery prose, though. It had been open to the public since the 1870s, but parts were so much older they were considered the oldest unrestored gardens in America. Had the other place made the same claim? Probably.
“Good thing this family didn’t sign any documents and have the place burned down by Yankees, huh?”
“True,” she chuckled, then gasped. “How’d you know I was right behind you?”
“There are so many examples I can give you,” I sighed. “That we’re telepathically connected, for instance. . .”
“By the heart and not the mind? I’d buy that.”
Grinning at that one, I kept going. “The fact you have a special brand of soap that you use exclusively and my nose has memorized.”
“Oooh, I love that one just as much! What else?”
“There’s this incredibly long yet incredibly thin shadow. . .”
She glanced at the ground, then grimaced. “Had to be that one! Damn!”
“Or all of the above. . .”
Still reading the brochures, I ran down the list of flowers I’d heard of but couldn’t identify. “Camellias, daffodils, azaleas. . .”
“I’ll point them out to you,” she promised.
“Is there no end to your intellect?”
She was about to say there wasn’t, but left it alone instead, since there was nothing she could add to such a truthful admission. So I went back to the paperwork in my hand. “‘The gardens at Magnolia Plantation are of such beauty and variety that they have brought tourists from around the world to view them, with the climax of incredible beauty building towards the spring bloom.’ Go tell them how much you hate them using the word ‘climax’ when you can’t enjoy it. I’ll wait.”
“We’ll do that on the way out,” she promised.
“Let’s start slow,” I decided, pointing to the train, which really wasn’t, being pretty much a tractor pulling open trailers with benches, not even as fancy as the ones at Universal Studios. But the ride was smooth and I got a lot of good photos, so I was happy. She helped by pointing out interesting shots.
After that she led me in a certain direction–shoving shoulder to shoulder a more accurate description–till we were at the petting zoo. “This should make you happy. I don’t want you to stop till you’ve maxed out your digital card!”
I didn’t tell her I had extras in the bag, simply shot and shot and shot, making sure to keep the camera on telephoto so none of the kids shrieking around her would come out, just her and whatever animal she was playing with at the time. It was plain to see she was having fun, which made me happy, and the photos I got of her being happy made me all the happier.
Sometime later, simply walking around the grounds, we came across a tour group. Instead of joining them, we sat at a bench close enough to hear without drawing attention.
“The Romantic Garden movement has its roots in the industrial revolution in Europe, and is tied directly to the empowerment of the common man. When he went to work in the factories, he wanted to design gardens that would help him forget the dreary life offered during the workday.”
“Makes sense,” I yawned, though softly.
“I like to say that the definition of a romantic is an ‘Extravagant Liar.’ This is really what a romantic garden is designed to do, to fool you into forgetting the normalcy of everyday life. Romantic Gardens are designed to take the viewer to a place where emotion takes precedent over reason. Surprise awaits around every corner. Form, balance and symmetry are thrown to the wind. These gardens are designed to appeal directly to the soul.”
When we got up and continued to meander, time went away. Neither of us knew how long we wandered the gardens; my only time signatures were that my legs were getting tired and my stomach no longer buzzed. At that moment I saw a gorgeous white bridge over one of the lakes, and I told her to go onto it while I photo’ed her. “Act like you’re waiting for your lover, smiling at the sky, picking at a flower, those kinds of things.”
Trying not to grin, she raced over and went into what passed for actress mode from her, though simply hoping she did well enough to be convincing in the photos.
“C’mon, this is your only chance to act girly.”
She took that to heart and started overdoing it.
A few minutes later I joined her, telling her it was time to go back to the real world for a spell. That was actually what I said, “For a spell.” It took her a while to stop laughing, so she was easy to lead as I moved us back toward the entrance/exit.
Once I saw she had finally mentally returned and could give me some attention, I mentioned, “That’s what the tour guide meant about the gardens being an extravagant liar. While we were inside them, the real world went away.”
“And we could pretend we didn’t have a care in the world. Yeah, that makes sense.” She sighed. “How good would it feel to live like that all the time?”
Grin. “Boring. You need the Bad to remind you how Good is supposed to feel.”
That night, strolling through downtown after dinner, I asked her how Charleston was named, but she didn’t know. She did say that Columbia had been named by Christopher Columbus, which was no big reach, but, wanting to show off her intellectual chops, she added, “You can argue that Columbus made the most important discovery in history.”
Snort. “YOU can argue that. The only thing Columbus ever discovered was that he was lost!”


Book reviews: Profiling, Hollywood, and Baby Animals

“Did you just call them chicks?”
“Yep, that’s how they act. In contrast to you, who’s a woman.”
“You should teach classes!”
“Then I wouldn’t be special.”

Terminal Consent
An interesting and original premise to this dark mystery: why would a woman let herself be used over and over, despite pain and humiliation?
The protagonist is a former Special Forces operator who was falsely convicted of a crime and just released from jail. Heading to his old hometown, where he tries to drink himself to death, he gets a job as a bouncer at a sex club, where he surprisingly runs into his former cellmate, an elite hacker who wants revenge for a beating he assumed the main character ordered. Instead they team up to help one of the club’s female workers, which leads them to places they could have never imagined.
Despite the setting being an S&M club—which could have led to some hilarious moments—there’s hardly anything there, though in fairness there’s a few plot points that hinge on it. The plot gets a little convoluted, but never so bad you can’t follow along. It’s the writing that’s the best part, the way the characters are drawn, mostly through their interactions. Everyone develops quite nicely once the erroneous conclusions are corrected. I was hoping for more from the club owner, but it’s very possible she’ll get further screen time—so to speak—if there’s any sequels, which I figure there will be. The legacy of O Henry makes an appearance to resolve the plot, a well-crafted turn that brings everything, especially my question at the beginning, into perfect relief.

The Ripper Gene
It’s a treat when someone who is at the top of their field, particularly in the sciences, writes a piece of fiction set in their world of expertise. In this case it’s both neuroscience, particularly DNA, and profiling, leading to an entertaining story of the hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Of course a lot of the main character is taken from the author himself, but this is no Marty Sue; his flaws and tragedies keep it from being a simple paean of self-adulation. In the bio he speaks about an incident on Halloween as a kid that, while nothing happened in real life, is used to launch the story here. There are small touches that tell me this is a first-time novelist, but nothing serious, and by midway they’re gone, so it’s pretty smooth reading except for the occasional uber-scientific ramble. At times the descriptions are a little lacking—the run through the high school football stadium is my prime example—but the interplay between the two lead profilers is scintillating, as well as giving me yet another strong tough female character to fall in love with. Minor characters abound, especially in the FBI office, and while their specialties are fascinating, I can’t help but wonder if the actual personas are based on real people, and whether some of them will be. . . let’s say annoyed by the portrayal.
Now if only Stephen Hawking would write a sci-fi novel. . .

Picture Perfect
This is one of those novels with two storylines, one in the present and the other in the past, where the point for the reader is to figure out how they’re gonna meet before you get to the end. . . while enjoying the story, of course.
In the prologue a teen sells her baby. Then we move to present-day Hollywood, where an agent to the stars wants to move into the producing field, specifically filming a book that she claims changed her life. Her best friend is a famous actress who’s getting a little too old for major roles, to her chagrin, and is tasked with author-sitting the guy who wrote the book in question, not an easy job with any writer but even more so here.
And then something startling happens: in addition to the movie business and the flashbacks, this turns into a love story, or rather three of them. I thought this book would be all Hollywood, but there are plenty of touching and sweet moments. The characters are fantastic, especially the two ladies who have had each other’s backs for years. The younger woman who enters their lives is also fun, though her moments of crippling self-doubt are a bit painful to muddle through. And of course there has to be at least one bad guy—any superstar Aussies come to mind?—though in the end he gets his character development and reconciles with his son. And who doesn’t love a dog who pines for his master, even after death?
As often happens in books set in Los Angeles, I tend to squee at the smallest coincidences; it might be a subway ride or a restaurant I love, but in this case it’s a mention of the UCLA library, which I was in the day I read that section. As for the writing, once in a while a Britishism comes out and makes things a little jarring, especially with the Suthin’ characters in Hollywood, but other than that there’s plenty to like here. Everybody gets a happy ending and we’ve got an obvious setup for a sequel, but as the cliché goes, it’s the journey, not the destination.

Cute Continent Cuddle
I kinda object to this being called a book; even with the fact that most of the pages are taken up by photos, it’s still incredibly short, possibly too little to even call a novella. Even when reading it to kids, which is no doubt the audience this was intended for, I suspect it would take no more than ten minutes, as it is nothing more than rhyming couplets—some painfully forced—with photos of baby animals. Of course a kid, the younger the better, wouldn’t care about the words and would simply stare in delight at the cuteness overload, there’s no way I can put myself in that frame of mind for the review, so as an adult I have to say this could have been better, as well as longer.