Tuesday, May 23, 2023

My Story, "Vodník," published in Uncharted Magazine

This story takes place in the Czech Republic.  When I lived there, the stories and imagery of the Vodník (often translated as "water goblin") fascinated me.  So here's my own take on the famous creature:

Vodník, by Melinda Brasher


A vodník statue in České Třebová.  Image courtesy of ŠJů, Wikimedia Commons, creative commons license 3.0.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Park_Javorka,_vodn%C3%ADk_%2801%29.jpg

All over the Czech republic you can find vodník statues around ponds and mills.  The creature is also popular in folk art, like that of Josef Lada (google "vodnik lada").

Mine's a darker take on the sometime-playful water goblin.  For a really dark take, read about the poem by Karel Jaromír Erben:  http://from-my-pov.blogspot.com/2012/02/water-goblin.html

Dvořák also wrote music to accompany the tale.  You can find it on Youtube ("Dvorak Water Goblin")  

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Grand Canyon from Yaki Point

So beautiful!  And even more thrilling when you can see the trail you're going to be following the next morning at dawn.  

Photo taken May 7th:

Thursday, May 18, 2023

30 Animals that Made us Smarter, by Patrick Aryee


 The subject matter here is fascinating.  Before reading this book, I could only have named you maybe four examples of biomimicry—despite being interested in the subject.  So this book took me by surprise.

I found the writing a touch on the dry side when it was talking about the actual science of it.  I think most of that, however, was because of me.  When the author got down to the nitty gritty, I often couldn't quite visualize what he was writing about because I don't have enough science background or mechanical inclination/interest.  So…Mr. Aryee, it's me, not you.  I just wish there had been more photos/illustrations.

I'm in awe of the research involved in this book and in even more in awe of nature and our attempts to understand and copy it.

It's an interesting book, especially if you read it slowly—no more than a couple of chapters at a time.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Cactus Blossom Time!

 From my hike Friday, April 14, 2023, at Skyline Regional park in the Phoenix metro area:

From the end of March at Tucson's Arizona Sonora Desert Museum:

Friday, April 14, 2023

Rattlesnake Ranch, near Dragoon Arizona

 We were headed to Willcox, Arizona and Chiracahua National Monument when we took a small detour looking for a place to enjoy the rocks of Texas Canyon.  We didn't find a good place to explore the rocks.  But look what we did find!

This is Rattlesnake Ranch, and you can just drive in, park, and wander around looking at the beautiful metal statues spread though the wild grounds of what looks like a private home.  Most are dinosaurs, but there are also a few other surprises waiting for you.  

A VERY cool and unexpected attraction on a road we almost didn't take.

Thank you to everyone who put so much love into these works of art.

NOTE:  beware of rattlesnakes.  I think the signs are probably serious, considering all the visibility-blocking grass and the fact that Arizona does indeed have a fair number of rattlesnakes.   

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Chiracahua National Monument

 I finally made it to beautiful Chiracahua National Monument at the end of March.  It was a great time to visit.

I hiked the nature trail around Massai Point and the Echo Canyon/Hailstone loop.  I loved the Echo Canyon Trail.  Next time:  Heart-of-Rocks loop.  

The grottos, on the Echo Canyon trail:  

Monday, April 3, 2023

A bee enjoying the poppies

 Okay, I know I post a lot of poppy pictures, but they're just so beautiful.  One hundred percent of bees I saw agreed.  Picture taken early March this year at Sophie's Flat near Wickenburg.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Snow in the Desert

 Along the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial trail near Yarnell, Arizona, in early March:

A beautiful hike and a touching memorial to the 19 hotshots killed in the Yarnell Hill fire.  

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Hope Never Dies; an Obama Biden Mystery, by Andrew Shaffer

Okay, this was bizarre.  Kudos for the audacious premise:  Biden and Obama, after they're no longer in office, work together to solve a murder mystery.  Oh, and it's told in first person.  From Biden's point of view.  As I said:  bizarre.  And maybe not 100% ethical?  But I guess it's less wild than that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter book.

So, I enjoyed watching Obama act all cool and Biden bumble around a bit on his honorable quest to find justice and help a friend.  In a strange way, it made me feel like I knew our current president a bit better…even though at the same time I kept thinking, "The real Biden would never do this!"  Obviously I don't know Biden personally, so maybe he would  do those things, but some of the risks he took and decisions he made seemed unrealistic.  His speech was maybe a bit too full of down-home sayings and colorful similes—though taken individually, they felt right on, and I could hear Biden's voice saying them.  Maybe my biggest cringe was the way he kept using the term "best friend" and sulking about Obama not being his best friend anymore.  I loved the idea of him feeling left out, of wondering what had happened to their friendship (because we, the public, do love to speculate on whether they were really the friends they appeared to be), but I would have enjoyed it more if it were dealt with a little more subtly. 

The  mystery was fine.  I found some implausible bits in the plot, but they didn't bother me much—probably because the whole premise was implausible…in a rather fun way.   

For a book with such a premise, I expected it to be funnier, more spoof-life, but it took itself rather seriously.  There were funny bits, but I wouldn't really classify it as humor. 

Overall: enjoyable if you take it for what it is.  

More accurate rating: 3.5

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Second Chance Cats, edited by Callie Smith Grant

As the subtitle says, this is a collection of "True stories of the cats we rescue and the cats who rescue us."  I really enjoyed it.  Lots of warm fuzzies.  A bit of heartbreak.  Some "Yes!  My cat does that!" moments.  Some laughs and smiles.  With such a collection, there are always stories I like more than others or think are better written.  A few got a little preachy or a little samey, but none were bad.  Of course, my love of cats couldn't have ANYTHING to do with my enjoyment level. 

Now I want to read some of the other collections edited by Callie Smith Grant.

4.5 stars.   

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Witches of Brooklyn: What the Hex?!, by Sophie Escabasse


This is another really cute instalment of the series.  There's good friend drama, creative magic, peaceful solutions to problems, a cute pet, and more.  I'm still loving the art, the characters, and the overall feel of the series.

4.5 stars

See my review of the first book here:  Witches of Brooklyn. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Equity in the Desert

A strange thing about the desert:  some plants leaf out after a good rain.  But apparently not all plants have equal access to the rain.  Here are two ocotillos, one on the right side of the trail and one on the left.  They were close enough to touch at the same time (and I took the two pictures from the same spot).  Amazing.  And you can draw some interesting parallels to our society, no?  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Hummingbird in Phoenix

 While I was hiking at the Piestewa Peak area in Phoenix, I spotted this beauty:

I love  hummingbirds.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Fun Trail Signs--White Tank Regional Park, Phoenix

Fun trail sign at White Tank Regional Park:

This is on the Ford Canyon trail, and it's really not that hazardous.  But it IS a very fun trail, with a nice destination (little pools that hold water much of the year).    

Saturday, February 11, 2023

What Happened to the Sonoran Desert?

The Sonoran Desert may be the lushest desert in the world, but "lush" is relative.  Until yesterday.  I'd never seen it so green.  We've had more rain and cooler temperatures than usual lately, and the rain has been at better intervals than normal.  And this...this is the beautiful result.  One guy I met on the trail said, "It's like a golf course!"  So all the people who are in town for the Super Bowl and are out hiking are going to be like, "Why do these people think they live in a desert?"  

Pictures are from the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve (Desert Vista Trailhead).  The greenest sections were on the back end of the Desert Tortoise trail and the Valley Vista trail (which also appears on some maps as the highly accurate--as of today--Valle Verde trail).

The poppies were also out:

Hike Stats:

Distance: A little over 11 miles

Elevation Gain:  A little over 2700 feet

You can take much shorter hikes here.  I was training for the Grand Canyon.

My route:  From the Desert Vista Trailhead up the Hawk's Nest Trail, clockwise on the Dixie Mountain Loop to the Western Vista Trail (which I did twice), then to the Dixie Summit Trail (which I did twice), then to the Valley Vista trail, then clockwise on the Great Horned Owl trail just to the Union Peak Trail (which I did twice) and then backtracked on the Great Horned Owl trail and the Valley Vista trail to the Desert Tortoise Trail and back to the parking lot.  BEAUTIFUL hike in this weather and this green.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Book of Answers, by David Wentworth Lazaroff

This is interesting, well written, well-organized, and useful for those living in the Sonoran Desert.  It also has great pictures and useful appendices.  

It is a bit old (1998), so I fear a few of the sections may be slightly misleading because the author was speaking about the habitat destruction and climate change of 25 years ago, and I'm afraid that at least one of those things has sped up.  I would love to see a new edition with just a few small updates, because it's a great book.


Friday, January 20, 2023

The Wimp-O-Meter's Guide to Extreme Sports, by Tracey Turner

There were NO reviews for this on Goodreads.  How????

It's full of fascinating facts, cute humor, and great pictures.  There's a lot of good information, clearly explained, and clever little quizzes. 

Overall, very enjoyable to this adult, and I think it would be very enjoyable to many kids.  I would recommend it for reluctant readers, since the topic is so fascinating and the writing style is so breezy and fun.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of all the facts, but if they're true, then I'd give it a definite 5 stars.  

There are other Wimp-O-Meter books in the series.  I look forward to reading more.  

Monday, January 16, 2023

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

So often, I read the super-popular, highly rated book of the hour and I’m like, “Meh.”  Then I find some book I LOVE, and the 47 reviews are ho-hum, and no one I talk to has ever heard of it.


I LOVED this.  Reading as an adult who loves animals (and invented animals) and light-hearted reads where violence is not the solution, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I even made myself ration it. 

So, yeah, maybe some of the characters were a bit one-dimensional, and maybe I would have liked to know a little more about how all these creatures fit in (or didn't) in the wider world outside the story, and maybe the solution was a little too easy…but it was all so delightfully fun and charming and full of great imaginary creatures and really funny bits that I just didn’t care about any of its minor issues.

I highly recommend Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures.  With some series I’m like, “Great.  I have to read MORE?”  With this one I’m like, “Yes!!  There’s more!!!!” [Happy dance].

I rarely give 5 stars to novels.  This is probably more like a  4 or 4.5 for the average reader who isn’t quite as obsessed with magical animals as I am, but for me:  5 stars, no question. 

P.S.  As a writer, I'm always curious how the process works when a novel has two authors.  Whatever Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater did, it worked.  Full disclosure:  I listened to a YA novel by Maggie Stiefvater that I didn't love (Call Down the Hawk).  Her talent was apparent, but I didn't particularly enjoy the book.  This one, however, has all my stamps of approval.