Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Tiny Chuckwalla on Piestewa Peak

Look at this little guy I saw today at Piestewa Peak in Phoenix.  He was the tiniest chuckwalla I've ever seen.  Too young to know that he should be afraid of us, Too young to go do what chuckwallas normally do.  So I got to watch him for a while.


The second chuckwalla I saw today was good at doing what chuckwallas normally do:


 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Words for "Kite" in Different Languages

 


I was delighted when I learned the word for kite in Czech:  papírový drak, which literally means "paper dragon."  

One of the words for kite in Spanish is cometa, or "comet."

Today I was even more delighted when I learned the word in French:  cerf-volant, which could be translated as "flying stag."  

So I investigated.  Lots of variations on dragons, birds, and other flying creatures (one Spanish term seems to come from the Nahuatl word for "butterfly," and in Georgian it's "bee").  But here's another favorite:

In Chinese, it seems to translate as "wind zither."

Anyone know any other cool literal meanings?

Monday, February 5, 2024

My article, "Postal Culture Shock," in The Mantelpiece

Check out my travel article in the February 2024 edition of The Mantelpiecehttps://themantelpiece.org/recent-issues

It's about my experiences with post offices in different countries, and it's a fun little read.  



Wednesday, January 24, 2024

This is why we like rain in the desert

 Enough said:


We had about three days of slow, gentle, life-giving rain.  This is what the ocotillo are doing with it:  quickly putting on little leaves.  


Pictures taken 1/24/2024 at South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

My story, "Vodník," published in Shadows on the Water


Today is publication day for Flame Tree Publishing's Shadows on the Water anthology, which includes my story, "Vodník."  It's inspired by tales of the Czech vodník, a sort of water goblin that is in some versions a mischievous trickster and in some versions an terrifying stealer of souls.  Guess which one mine is.  

It's live in the UK and will go on sale in the US on February 13:   https://www.flametreepublishing.com/shadows-on-the-water-short-stories-isbn-9781804177785.html



Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England, by Brandon Sanderson


This was a fun read.  I especially loved the handbook entries. 

Some of the plot was a bit confusing to me—mainly how the mythology worked into the dimension they were in.  But that's probably my fault for not paying enough attention.

There was more repetition than I liked, especially about how the main character is such a failure.  I didn't need it pounded home quite that much.

But overall, I enjoyed the adventure, the humor, and the relationships.  

Note:  I've never actually read any other books by Brandon Sanderson (gasp), so I can't compare. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Zoo Lights, Phoenix Zoo

We went to Zoo Lights for the first time, back before Christmas.  They decorate the zoo with I don't know how many holiday lights and "wildlife lanterns" and a light/music show.  The animals are mostly hiding, but it's a beautiful experience.  I LOVED it.

Here are just a few pictures:








If you go, leave yourself plenty of time to explore the whole zoo, and be prepared for difficult parking. 

It's too late for this year, but keep it in mind for next year.   

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, by Mary Roach


This was really interesting and thought-provoking—and by nature, rather depressing.  I think the title was slightly misleading, but the writing style, as always, was good.     

More accurate rating:  4.5

Monday, January 8, 2024

2023 Reading List

This is the time of year I have fun reflecting on my last year's reading list.

Some stats:  

Books read:  50

But don't be too impressed:  36% were middle-grade and 12% were YA (which are no less valid, often very thought-provoking and well written...but generally shorter).  

Nonfiction:  46%, my highest percentage ever

Of the nonfiction, I read a lot of biography/history/memoir this year.  It actually beat my usual highest category:  plants/animals.  

Of the fiction, I read a good amount of science fiction/fantasy/spec, but the highest category was contemporary (non-thriller, non-mystery, non-romance)

Best-of Awards:

Most bizarre premise:  Hope Never Dies: an Obama Biden Mystery, by Andrew Shaffer.  Yeah, you read that subtitle right:  Biden solves a mystery with the help of his friend, Obama.  In FIRST PERSON.  Bizarre.  But I enjoyed it. 

Most light-heartedly enjoyable speculative fiction for adults:  Brandon Sanderson's The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England.  A bit repetitive in some parts, confusing in others, but the guidebook entries were priceless.   

Most light-heartedly enjoyable speculative fiction for kids:  Pip Bartlett's Guide to Unicorn Training by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater.  Not quite as darling as the first book in the series, but still great.  And the guidebook entries were priceless.  I think there's a pattern here.

Best guidebook for how to die while hiking in the Grand Canyon:  Tail of the Scorpion, by Mike Graf.  The guidebook parts were informative and seemed factually accurate.  But the story part should have been called How to Kill your Kids in Grand Canyon.  You can read my whole rant on Goodreads, but do NOT start on a major hike of the Grand Canyon at 3:00 pm in August.  Just don't.

Best guidebook for how not to die while hiking in the Grand Canyon:  Okay, so it wasn't a guidebook at all, but a quietly tense thriller which portrayed the canyon realistically:  Getaway, by Zoje Stage. 


Best book about people who actually did die while boating the Grand Canyon:  Sunk Without a Sound:  The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde, by Brad Dimock.  Well written, comprehensive (but not in a belabored way), and grimly fascinating.

Best relentlessly religious historical fiction book taking place at the Grand Canyon (yes, there were a couple of themes this year):  A Deep Divide, by Kimberley Woodhouse.  I didn't realize when I put this on hold that it was Christian fiction, but I should have, because there doesn't seem to exist a genre of clean historical romances that doesn't ram religion down our throats.  I loved the locale and the historical details, and if it hadn't been so preachy, I really would have enjoyed it.  But some people will enjoy it because of all the talk of God and scripture.

Best book about nature:  Around the World in 80 Birds, written by Mike Unwin, illustrated by Ryuto Miyake.  Interesting little write-ups of fascinating birds.  Beautiful illustrations. 

Author whose books I read the most of:  Kathleen Krull.  I got on a kick and read several of her books of short biographies written for kids.  They're full of interesting, rapid-fire facts.  Maybe not a lot of depth, but fun to read.

Best novel for kids:  Across the Desert, by Dusti Bowling.  I love Dusti Bowling.  And the Arizona setting doesn't hurt any.  Check out her books!


Best novel for adults:  Other Birds, by Sarah Addison Allen.  Interesting setting, engaging writing, slight supernatural element.  A very warm and gentle read. 

Not sure if this counts, because I listened in audio, but…

Best mountain climbing survival book (yeah, this is a whole genre I read/listen to a lot of):  The Climb; Tragic Ambition on Everest, by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston DeWalt.  Like all of these books, it had its flaws—like how I couldn't keep all of the characters straight—but it was really captivating.  I would tell myself I was just going to listen for 15 minutes before bed, and at the end of 15 minutes I'd set it for another 15 minutes…then another.   

Best graphic novels based on historical events and people:  )  Guardian of Fukushima, by Ewan Blain & Fabien Grolleau, about the man who defied government orders by staying in the irradiated zone to take care of abandoned animals after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.  They Called us Enemy, by George Takei, about the Japanese Internment Camps in WWII.