2019 Summer Reading: Escape into Reality – Nonfiction Adventures

2019 Summer Reading: Escape into Reality With Four Nonfiction Adventures

 

Today I’m featuring a quartet of absolutely wonderful books that will suck you into adventure, mystery, and places you’ve never imagined you’d be. You’ll meet a colorful, dangerous, interesting, lovely, and witty characters. Best of all it is all true.

Good nonfiction is a wonderful thing. I think about some of my favorites that I could read again and again and again. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness is an autobiographical work by Edward Abbey is one book that should be on every book list and every book shelf. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez moved my soul. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson made me think and also made me laugh almost unlike any book I’ve ever read.

Copies of these books, even those now out of print, can be found in libraries, on Amazon, B&N, eBay, your local used book store, and other online outlets. If you’re having trouble finding any of them let me know and I’ll help you look.

 

Attending Marvels – A Patagonian Journal

By George Gaylord Simpson

In 1930 George Taylor Simpson traveled to Argentina, was shot at, had a few exciting adventures, finally made his way to Patagonia, and dug for dinosaur bones.

This is on my list of top ten favorite books ever. Simpson will charm you, enlighten you, and inspire you. Attending Marvels is a marvel of a book. Look it up. Find a copy. Read it. It isn’t a long book so it is perfect for summer reading.

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The Lost City of the Monkey God

By Douglas Preston

Years ago I read a book called Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Then I read Reliquary. THEN I read one of my favorite books by the pair, and favorite books by anyone – The Cabinet of Curiosities. Like many I was hooked on the adventures of Agent Pendergast and the many other characters Preston and Child created. I can’t wait to read their next book which involved the Donner Party.

A few years ago I read The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston. It was about American student Amanda Knox who had been accused of murder in Italy. This was my first test of nonfiction by Douglas Preston.

I was so excited when The Lost City of the Monkey God came out. Unfortunately half way through the book I lost The Lost City of the Monkey God. Fast forward to this year and I found it. I will finish it next week while I’m on a road trip.

But what is this book about?

In 2012 Preston joined a team of scientists to find The Lost City of the Monkey God, The White City, in the Amazon jungle. The story covers stories of explorers, interesting characters, snakes (this will scare the jeebers out of you), rain, rain, rain, amazing discoveries, bugs, and a mysterious illness. Oh, I forgot, TECHNOLOGY. Finding a lost city in a jungle is no small task. Take my word for it. This is a fun book.

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Eldorado – Adventures in the Path of Empire

By Bayard Taylor

I love this book.

In 1849 a young reporter (and poet) named Bayard Taylor left New York, traveled to California by the way of Panama (pre-canal), and wrote about it. He wasn’t looking for gold. Taylor was looking for stories. With brutal honesty, detail, humor, and an eye for detail he covers everything from the journey to California, to life in the mining camps, the new and growing cities of San Francisco and Sacramento, Volcanos, Rain, Society in California, robbers, a trip to Mexico, and more.

This is a brilliant first hand account of the California Gold Rush unlike anything you thought you knew about one of the most amazing events in the history of the world.

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Empire Express – Building the First Transcontinental Railroad

By David Howard Bain

This year is the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad. Empire Express was recommended by a docent at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, CA. Believe me, that if a docent from the California State Railroad Museum recommends a book it will be good.

Empire Express is over seven hundred pages and covers a lot of territory. I haven’t read it yet, but what I’ve seen (thumbing through it) looks great. I know this book will be as exciting as the big personalities it covers. It is an adventure, a social history, a story about dreams, heartbreak, triumph, and how the United States was forever changed.

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No matter what you’re interested in, or what you like to read, I encourage everyone to try something new, go out of your comfort zones, take a chance, and seek out new adventures through books.

I’ll be back next Monday with more 2019 Summer Reading.

If you have any suggestions for non-fiction books please leave them in the comments. Please share!

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman.

 

 

 

Short Story Sunday: Desert Sky

I’m on the road today so here is an old favorite for Short Story Sunday. Have fun.

Desert Sky

Martha put a lawn chair in front of the motor home and looked into the night sky. Sometimes the desert would get freezing at night, but tonight it was almost warm. A million stars showed in the sky above her. She’d heard stories of alien sightings in the desert. It was always the desert where they were sighted in the sky, or crashed. When they crashed nobody ever saw them again.

She wondered about the odd pale skinned creatures with long fingers, tiny mouths, and huge eyes. Maybe the huge eyes came from living on a dark planet, or living underground for eons.

It was weird how they never wore clothes. It was weird how they were shown as naked when in every science fiction movie and series, from Star Trek, to X-files, to Firefly, to Star Wars, to Gardians of the Galaxy, everyone always wore clothes.

The only time she remembered seeing a naked man in a movie in the desert was in The Hangover. It was in the desert, in Las Vegas. A naked guy jumped out of the trunk of a car. He wasn’t an alien.

Sam and Ian came out of the motor home with chairs and a small cooler. Sam handed Martha a beer. The thanked him, then they all sat and looked at the stars.

“Do you think there is anyone else out there? There has to be. We can’t be here all alone,” said Martha.

“I think we’re alone here. But I don’t think we’re alone in the universe or even this galaxy,” said Sam.

Martha glanced at her companions. Sam was tall, blonde and handsome as a man could be. Sam fit into any group with his tan skin, dark hair, and dazzling smile. Martha was typical of women in her hometown. She was pretty but not too pretty with plain brown hair that hung to her shoulders in a slight flip.

“I’m kind of homesick, but the people around here are nice. I think we should move back to the house in San Francisco in a few days, or maybe by that place we were looking at in Santa Cruze, you know by the beach. I could hang out there for a while.”

“We could start a family,” said Sam. Ian looked at Martha with a hopeful, and sort of sad smile.

“There is an Air Force base near Las Vegas. Maybe we should go over there and just give ourselves up.”

“Or maybe we should move to Santa Cruz,” said Ian.

“We’re never going home,” said Martha wiping a tear from her eyes.

“No love, we’re stuck on this planet. It’s not a bad place. We fit in. Let’s just make the best of it.”

Martha looked into the faces of her companions. I guess with their combined love they could pull through on this strange planet called Earth. She got another beer out of the cooler, popped the top, and too a long drink out of it.

“Sure guys, Santa Cruz sounds great,” she said. The she looked back to the sky and watched for something, anything familiar.

~ end

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

Cat-ur-day: Comets, Giant Space Cats and Vampires in Space

It’s Cat-ur-day! I’m getting ready for a road trip and busy as a Vampire can be, but I haven’t forgotten you! Here is a favorite from 2014 – with pictures no less.

Comets, Giant Space Cats and Vampires in Space

I’ve posted a lot of amazing and astounding photos of space on my blog so get ready for more… brace yourself…

Scientists were surprised when Rosetta found parking was scarce on the Comet 67p. BUT the one who was really surprised was GIANT SPACE CAT.

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As so-called creatures of the night Vampires have always loved comets.

A few years back I’d go out in front of my house every single night and watch Hale Bopp. Unfortunately a nut job cult hijacked the even… a lot of weird sick things like that were happening around that time. But anyway it was beautiful and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it.

This isn’t my house but it is Hale Bopp. I don’t live anywhere near this place.

Over the centuries some cultures have feared comets but there isn’t anything to fear (aside from giant space cats.)

Mark Twain was born and died in years of Halley’s Comet. So did Nigel the ghost. I didn’t even see it in 1986 except for a faint faint faint little blip in the sky and I’m still not sure if I really saw it. But the idea of it was so magical and wonderful.

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My post is more random than the sightings of comets so just stick with me.

I’m amazed that the landing of Rosetta on a COMET – a REAL COMET – wasn’t bigger news. That is so amazing. We’re just sort of sitting out here on our own in space. Nobody visits. We’re all alone and we can’t leave. We think about it. We write books and make movies about it.

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We make a lot of movies and books about it – a lot is simply brilliant and inspires us to look beyond our own planet. Unfortunately most is really bad.

Really? Sin in Space?

Really? Sin in Space?

Even Gorn will have to agree with me on that.

My name is Gorn and I always agree with Juliette.

My name is Gorn and I always agree with Juliette.

That said, one of the most brilliant examples of Vampires in Space – the ultimate is Amish Vampires in Space. I kid you not.

This is so AWESOME

This is so AWESOME

Anyway, I’m just using this as an excuse to share the GIANT SPACE CAT and some other silly stuff with you. Have fun and keep looking to the stars.

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

Lighthouse

Lighthouse

A story I’ve told before. I will tell it again tonight.

1880

He’d been found in the ocean, wearing a formal jacket with tails and clinging to the top of a grand piano. Underneath the man was a large gray wolfhound.

The captain of the ship that had picked him up said that he didn’t seem to remember much, or maybe did not want to remember. The dog, named Delilah, wouldn’t leave the side of her master.

At first they thought it was a ship wreck but it ended up being a complicated and strange mystery. The ship, a 200 ton brigantine had left Port of Talcahuano, in Chile three months before the mysterious man had been found in the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. Not a soul was on the ship, except the Captain who’d been found with a gun in his hand and what looked like a fatal self-inflicted bullet wound in his head. The life boats were still on the ship, as well as a cargo of wine and explosives, and the personal belongings of the few passengers and crew.

A break in an unusually strong and violent series of storms allowed them to dock and drop the man on the piano lid and his wolfhound off at the home of the lighthouse keeper’s family.

The lighthouse keeper checked in on the man who was sleeping in his guest room, dog curled by the bed. He could tell the stranger was wealthy by the quality of his clothing, the expensive watch and ring, and the formal refined way he’d spoken. His locked trunk had been recovered from the abandoned ship and now was at the foot of the bed.

The stranger said his name was Maxwell. He told them to call him Max. The first night there he’d drawn exquisite pictures for the light keeper’s wife of palm trees, and of beautiful women in fashionable dresses, and native women of South America with unusual hats and full colorful skirts. Over brandy he told them that he was 31 years old, born in 1849 when his pregnant mother had come out with his father for the California Gold Rush. Now he resided in San Francisco.

“What is your occupation? “The lighthouse keeper’s daughter Jayne asked the stranger,  fully well expecting him to say he was involved in a rich family business, or lived off of the wealth of his forebears.

He looked at her with hazel eyes, that she would have sworn were dark brown earlier that evening. “I am in law enforcement of a sorts, like detective, or a marshal. I seek out those who are particularly evil. I had apprehended a ruthless and violent fiend in South America and was on my way home. Unfortunately on the ship…” he paused and glanced up for a second, then back at the family of the lighthouse keeper. “On the ship I found myself taken by surprise and overwhelmed. It is a story I will tell you later, but now I must sleep, or I’ll end up under the table here.”

So he retired for the night. That was two days ago. He still slept as quiet and cold as death, but not dead. The dog lay by the foot of the bed thumping her tail whenever anyone came near.

A storm raged outside. The weather didn’t allow anyone to go get a doctor. His wife assured him that the man called Max just needed to rest. It made sense considering the man had been clinging to a piano lid and floating in the freezing ocean for days before he was picked up.

Despite the storm Lighthouse Keeper’s wife climbed up a ladder to fix a shutter that was almost ready to fly away with the wind. As she reached the window the ladder fell and she crashed to the ground below. All went black except the feeling of being carried inside.

Max put her down in a large chair by the fire and took her broken arm in his icy hands. “Close your eyes,” he whispered. She could feel his hands heat up and warm her wrist. The pain turned to numbness. She opened her eyes and could see a look of pain on his face, then he smiled and kissed her forehead.

“You’re arm is still broken, but the bones have started to mend enough for you not to need a splint.”

“You? You healed me,” she said.

“Yes. It is a gift. Keep the knowledge to yourself or people will think we are both insane.” He then touched a forming bruise on her forehead, making that pain, along with the bruise go away as well.

During the night the storm broke up. Sunshine came out between the clouds. Jayne convinced Max to walk down to the docks to pick up some fish for the night’s dinner.

She held his arm as they strolled along the road.

“Your glasses are so dark. I noticed your eyes turned from hazel to brown when we went outside,” said Jayne.

“My eyes are sensitive to the sun. I have three younger brothers, and a younger sister. Two of them have eyes that do the same as mine, that is change color,” he said, then changed the subject. “Do you like living here Jayne.”

“I love my family. I love the ocean. I don’t being in a small town with nothing but fish and lumber. I’d like to see more of the world before I’m expected to find a husband.”

“Do you want to be married Jayne?”

“Maybe,” said Jayne, “I can move to Utah and take two husbands. Women can vote in Utah and Wyoming. Why not here?”

“Because men are ignorant and barbaric my dear Jayne. They’re afraid that if you vote you’ll be smarter and more just than they are. The don’t want to give up their power to someone who might do a better job. By the way, men of a certain faith may have more than one wife but I do not believe a woman is allowed two husbands in Utah. You would have to go to Tibet for that.”

Jayne laughed. “To be truthful, even one husband would be too many for me right now. I don’t need anyone to own me right now.” She tugged on his arm. “You’re so different.”

“How am I different? I’m just like any other man.”

“You healed my mother’s arm. You survived almost a week in the icy ocean’s water hanging onto a piano top with nothing but the clothes on your back and a dog. Your eyes change color. Your skin feels like ice. You are unbelievably attractive. I am stating a fact about your looks. But I only want your friendship. Even with the oddness I like you. I feel as if we have been friends for a long long time. Where are you really from Maxwell? Who are your people?”

He smiled and took off his glasses. His eyes were hazel again. “Where I come from men and women are equal. We live quietly. We live honestly among each other. What I am about to tell you will sound strange, but we live on the edge between life and death. We walk in the world of sunlight, but also walk in the land of the shadows and do not fear death or God.”

“I would like to go there with you. I would earn my way. I could be a lady detective.”

“It is not easy to live in my world Jayne.”

“No world is easy Max,” she said then smiled and pulled the comb out of her hair letting it blow in the wind. “Do you have a sweetheart at home?”

Max hesitated then spoke. “There is a woman I have a strong connection with, but I will never love her.”

“Is she married?”

“No. It isn’t like that. We met when I was at the University. So was she, which is odd unto itself. She knows my thoughts. She knows my desires. But she is not the one. What about you Jayne?”

“I was engaged to a man who knew neither my thoughts or desires, and had no intention on learning either. He thought I belonged to him body and soul, not in the way of love, but as property to be owned and controlled. He was jealous to the point of rage if I would speak with another man. He was even jealous of the boys I teach at the school and demanded I quit my teaching job. I would rather die than live a life where someone else controlled my body, my thoughts, my job, and my every whim. That is why I am no longer engaged to him.” Then laughed and ran to the end of the pier and let the wind blow through her hair and laughed some more.

Max marveled at the way she was so free thinking and full of life. He saw so much death and sorrow in his line of work that now with Jayne he felt renewed. She was sunshine in his dark world of shadows and night.

Hours later in the quiet of the night, the wind died own, and the moon hung in a thin crescent in the sky. Max walked along the beach with his dog Delilah. The taste of fresh blood and wine was in his mouth and the cold comfort of the night had settled into his soul. Delilah ran ahead, then the dog started to bark. Ahead of him Max saw a bloody figure crumpled on the rocks. His heart sank. It was Jayne.

Max picked her up and carried her home. He knew what had happened. She’d gone out to look at the stars and was attacked by a man she’d jilted. She’d spoken briefly about it when they’d walked earlier in the day. She had turned away the advances of a hot headed man who wanted her as his own. In the afternoon the man had walked past them, giving Jayne a look like a mad dog when he saw her holding Max’s arm.

He put her on her bed as her parents and brothers gathered around. As still as death, and as cold as the sea, they watched life drained out of her.

Jayne’s mother put her hand on Max’s arm. “Can you heal her, like you healed me?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “If I do she will never be the same, not like she was before. She won’t be crippled or lose herself, she will be… she will be like me.”

“Save her, then find the man who did this to her,” said the Lighthouse Keeper.

“You do not know what you ask,” said Max.

“You put a spark back in her eyes I have not seen in ages. Please save her if you can.”

“Let me be alone with her and she will not die.”

In the morning a man’s body washed up on the beach. It looked as if dogs had torn out his throat. His face was a mask of fear.

Two weeks later Jayne kissed her family good-by and went with Max on the next ship to San Francisco.

2017

Max stood in his living room with a glass of wine in his hand as he looked at the view of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. He couldn’t imagine getting tired of it. He glanced over to see Jayne, wearing a short black dress and looking gorgeous as always, coming towards him. He kissed her cool cheek. She smiled with just a touch of fang showing.

“Are you staying with Pierce tonight?” Max asked.

“Of course I am. I take it Mehitabel is staying here,” said Jayne.

Max glanced at a small pretty woman across the room. He suddenly thought of what he’d told Jayne about her so many years ago on the walk to the docks. Odd that when he was out in the ocean, clinging onto a piano top of all things, he had thought of Mehitabel. He might ask but he was never sure what she would say. No, he wouldn’t ask, he’d just wait to see what would happen, but he was sure she’d stay.

“I’m sure she’ll stay,” he told Jayne.

They talked for a while longer, about work, about friends, and about how the sunset sparkled on the ocean. Max wasn’t always one for words, but he knew that Jayne knew that they’d always be friends. Maybe even before they had ever met.

Then Jayne laughed. “I still can’t believe you were clinging to a piano lid.”

And Max had to laugh along.

~ End

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Musings on the Moon and More Earthly Matters

When you live in a house where the resident Ghost tells you he thinks your siblings are weird…

Then you live in my house.

I have four older brothers so the possibilities and variations of weirdness are endless. They’re also all Vampires but that is another post, and you already know that.

This week has been weird in so many ways. There was a joke about gathering at Area 51 that people are taking seriously. The term I fucked him in a windmill, twice, is now part of our vernacular (we love you Hannah Brown.) I won’t even mention politics and the crazy asshat idiot Kool Aid that everyone is drinking.

As for my cats…my cats. One eats all the time and then barfs it all up. She eats FAST so the other cat can’t eat anything. She also scratches up all of the furniture and barfs up hair balls. The other cat pees on everything and sings the loud songs of his people as loudly as he can about three hours into any given sleep cycle. I hate my cats. I really do – even the one who looks like a Steinlen cat. Did I mention that my cats hate each other with a wild passion that I could have never imagined? They do. Fortunately the dog love both of them so that is one less bull shit thing I don’t have to deal with.

And speaking of CATS. I love the musical. I saw it in London in 1988 and much later, about twelve years ago in Sacramento. The preview of the new movie kind of looks like a feline version of the film Moulin Rouge. The spirit of ToulouseLautrec and most of all Steinlen’s cats will either be celebrating or rolling over in their graves. 

Here is the trailer in case you haven’t seen it.

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Here is the movie trailer.

 

Oh I DO hope the movie version of CATS is wonderful!

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The most famous of Steinlen’s many cats. He drew a lot of calicos too.

 

I know, you’re thinking Juliette where are you going with this insane rambling? I started out with an idea of writing about my next road trip which starts SUNDAY.

As you know, each year, since a while back, my daughter and I have taken road trips to the National Roller Skating Championships. We’ve gone down Route 66, seen dinosaurs, gotten lost in Colorado, stayed a week in Ray’s Basement, stopped in Las Vegas, and had all kinds of adventures as only a mother and daughter Vampire team can have. Well, we’re at it again, but this year rather than traveling across to the MidWest or down to the SouthWest, we are going UP to the NorthWest.

I’ll have my wits about me by then, my computer, and I’ll post from the road.

The most important event, maybe the most important event ever in the history of history, happened fifty years ago.

It was, and still is AMAZING. No more words are needed.

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I have seen so many amazing things. I have so many amazing stories. I can’t top a story of a man walking on the moon.

A final word about Neil Armstrong. Have tissues ready.

When he passed on, Armstrong’s family released a statement describing him as a “reluctant American hero [who had] served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut … While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves. For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” It prompted many responses, including the twitter hashtag “#WinkAtTheMoon”

Think good thoughts. Talk with your kids. Vote. Hug. Love. Be a good Vampire. Look at the moon and keep the wonder in your heart and soul. Wink at the Moon.

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

Driving at Night – Cover Songs, Ghosts, and Not Much Else.

The subject was bad cover albums.

“The Backstreet Boys doing Pink Floyd. Any album.”

“Ariana Grande doing the entire soundtrack of Oklahoma.”

“Jimmy Buffet doing Rolling Stones Start Me Up.”

“Sammy Hagar could pull that off.”

“Maybe.”

“Lorde doing Abby Road, the entire album.”

“Oh my God that would be awful.”

“Sir Paul doing Poison’s Greatest Hits.”

“You’re killing me.”

“You’re safe baby brother. You’re safe.”

I was driving. My brothers Andy and Val were doing one of their “lists.”

Andy, the eldest of the two, is a professional singer. Val is just a judgmental hipster, and extremely good at it. He is also a finance/money guy. No he does not accept bribes, or do disgusting things with underaged girls, or go out of his way to profit off of breaking laws or hurting people. I love them both to the ends of the earth.

Another voice chimed in. “Stevie Nicks doing Jimmy Buffets Songs We Know By Heart Album.”

“That is brilliant and horrible…what the fuck?” My brother Val slid to the door and almost let himself out as we drove down the freeway at 70mph (maybe 75.)

“What? I’m a ghost but I have an opinion,” said a voice as a body appeared next to Val in the backseat of my car.

“You guys, this is Nigel. Nigel, my brothers Andy and Val.”

“Jewels, there is a Ghost in your car,” said Andy.

“I’m Juliette’s Ghost. Well, not HER ghost, because she is a Vampire, and she isn’t me, but I am a ghost and I am in her car. What of it?”

“It’s OK. Chill out. Nigel is annoying but he’s fine. Everything is fine.” I said, trying not to run off of the road or into anyone.

By the way, Vampires can see ghosts but that doesn’t mean we like them, or at least not usually. We usually do not like ghosts. I just happen to have one who hangs out with me more frequently than I’d like.

Three Vampires, and a ghost, in a car, on the freeway, at night.

We continued on down the road to my house talking about cover songs, uncovered songs, and the state of men’s fashion. Well, they talked, I just listened and drove.

Just another night.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman