Thursday, December 31, 2015

MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2015


(This piece was originally posted June 20, 2015, but seeking verisimilitude, I've moved each year's reviews to Dec. 31. It's too hard to find them buried mid-year.)
I'm an avid ebook reader and reviewer—I read mostly escape fiction, most of it not so good. Some of it deplorable. But, hey, it's free. And I'm cheap, I'll read just about anything. Especially at 4 AM, when I'm desperate to go back to sleep, and hope I'll nod off from sheer boredom. Sometimes it backfires, I find a great book. Then it's 6AM and I'm owl-eyed.

As I said, I'll read just about anything. But not without some teeth gnashing. So I review some of the ebooks upon occasion. Sometimes I get lucky and even find gems among the dross. They get full five-star rating. Check those authors out. Usually the first book's free....

I consider the review process a good honing skill: I read and mentally edit books as I go. My cousin, tired of listening to me complain about how awful some of those ebooks were, said: Why don't you review them too? (And shut up, already.) And so I did. Another tool in the craft toolkit.

What do I look for when I review a book? Strong plot, storyline, and interesting characters with depth, not flat, stereotypes. Some young writers, not clear on the concept of show, don't tell, rely upon the crutches of rampant consumerism to flesh out their story. Using designer clothing labels to define a character, or to set the scene, and the story reads like an ad. Does the description build our understanding of the character, or plot? Is it necessary to the storyline? Do I need to know the protagonist wore an Ann Klein blouse?

I look for a believable plot, good storyline, and figurative language that doesn't intrude, and subtle intellect. Novels stem from the oral tradition. Storyteller George Sanders says it best:
"...the process of crafting a good story means not condescending to your reader. It means creating sentences that clue them into something unnoticed about the character, and allowing them to figure it out. “A bad story is one where you know what the story is and you're sure of it," he says in this short film, George Saunders: On Story."
Then there's the actual structure of the story. Check out the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet: opening image (backstory), set-up (dilemma), theme/catalyst/debate, acts 1 & 2, intro of storyline B, premise, enter the bad guys, dark night of the soul, act 3 (with help from Storyline B), finale, final image/epilogue. Finis.  I love the liveliness of this layout, replete with examples. Less dry than English 1A's plot breakdown, as exposition, and denouement and everything in between, both eluded and deluded me. (Why couldn't they just say setup, conflict, and resolution? See also The Five Elements of Plot Structure.)

Then there are the typos, and poor craft. It's a bad omen when the writer has typos in the synopsis. I generally won't download a book if it does. And then there are the stories that have typos on page one. Really? If an author doesn't know the difference between it's and its, it does not bode well for the "sullied craft" of writing. Possessive apostrophes do not need to precede every single word that ends with ess. Doorknobs don't need to possess the room, unless, of course, they're possessed. But that's another kettle of fish entirely.

Please mosey on over and LIKE some of my reviews. Amazon's all about Like, just like on Facebook. Except, like, the buttons are, like, different. My older reviews are buried deep. But the most recent ones should be fairly easy to access.

Go to MoHurley's Amazon Reviews click on the comments section under my review and that will take you to the review where you can like it. Click on that Yes button under my review as it boosts my ratings.... And then I get Amazon brownie points. Ridiculous, I know.

I began, in 2013 with an even more ridiculous score of 3-point-4-million-something from the top of the reviewers' list, and I am slowly wending my way forward, to 26,578th in line. I'd love to make 25,000th in line. I am (not) a number! A friend liked 3 reviews (truthfully I had 249 liked reviews, now I have 251) and my ranking improved. I am 24,762. Thank you Carol!
  • Oops! Now I'm 25,278 with 253 helpful votes. Statistical vagaries. — 6/30
  • I'm ranked at 24,288, with 300 helpful votes, 77% helpful —11/26
  • Today I'm at ranking in at 24,001, with 331 helpful votes. Yes! Thank you! Amazon's revising its webpages and has done away with some stats. Apparently I also have zero followers, and am following no one. Not only do I have to ask people to like my reviews, but now I need to get people to follow me? Urg. Who knew that Amazon was remaking itself over as AzFB?—12/18





I've also posted some shorter versions of these reviews on Goodreads, but I find the format so tedious, I don't often visit. Don't know how long I'll keep it up.
At one point I was keeping all my reviews in one post, but they got swallowed up by the archives, and even I couldn't find them, so I'm dividing them up by year, and reposting them at the end of the year. Really glad I didn't opt for posting them on the day written. I'd never find them all. Small niggling typos, missing commas, and sentences lacking clarity here, have been corrected on Amazon, but not necessarily here. Forgive me, it's too hard to find, and replace them as it's an ongoing process, this revision, even on reviews! Mea culpea.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

In Defense of the Rat


My friend Donna posted on Facebook, a charming story about country woodrats nesting in the back of her woodpile. Donna addressed the give-and-take relationship between the need for woodland creatures to have a safe haven and her need for firewood in order to keep warm. It was a poetic Thoreau moment. However, acute hysteria reigned on her thread. Fear of plague was bandied about. It was like a witch hunt.

I realized that this fear is yet another intersection of the disengagement and distancing between (wo)man and nature. I felt obliged to defend the honor of rats who, by nature, are fastidiously clean, and are incessant groomers.

I tried to assuage Donna's friends' fear by explaining that Donna's country rats, (aka woodrats, traderats, or packrats: Neotoma) native to North America, are not even rats, though they are rodents. No luck. Wood/packrats are related to hamsters and lemmings. City rats, aka Norway, black, roof, or sewer rats, are native to Asia. 

It's true that plague fleas prefer rodents. The marmot or gerbil were probably the original overland flea hosts (who carry in their gut the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, source of the Bubonic plague, or Black Death). Plague originally came from China via the Silk Road of Mongolia, then it resurfaced again by stowaway rats in Southern Italy in 1340. Rattus norvegicus are not first host choice for plague fleas, but marmots and ground squirrels are. So one should add all rodents including chipmunks to the creature avoid-list, if you're concerned about contracting the plague.

We're no longer in the Middle Ages (it's been wiping out Siberians since the Bronze Age), and in North America, plague is no longer a common human threat (there were only two cases in Yosemite; last case was in 1959)In California, plague sporadically resurfaces after long, dry summers. (Apparently there's an El Niño connection, the cycle is 15 years after a warm, moist winter.) California has few human plague victims. By comparison, Arizona's had 64 cases since 1950; ditto that in the Rockies. 


Plague doctor, engraving Paul Fürst, c. 1721 —Wiki

During the Middle Ages, from 1348 through 1351, 25% to 60% of the European population died of the plague, it reduced the world population from 450 million to 350–375 million. Thanks to antibiotics, by 1959, worldwide plague casualties dropped to 200 per year. Plague symptoms (big buboeshence the name bubonic plague), are also very obvious, not something you could ignore, and it's treatable with antibiotics. 

We've had plague fleas in California since at least 1900, possibly since 1855, it arrived by steamer to San Francisco from China via Hawaii in 1899 (originally via rats, but the plague quickly jumped ship to a new host, native California ground squirrels). The last California plague outbreak (one person was infected) was a decade ago. It's a pretty rare occurrence.

I remember a plague warning at Fallen Leaf Lake during the early 1970s. But nobody contracted it. I had rescued a wayward vole wandering down the road, so I was checking my armpits and groin for weeks for signs of plague. But first, you have to get bitten by a rodent flea (not a dog flea, nor a deer flea...) carrying the plague...

However the plague is decimating prairie dog populations in the Rockies, and our endangered black-footed ferrets will ONLY eat prairie dogs. So now scientists need to save the black-tailed prairie dogs from the plague in order to save the ferrets. The chances of Donna's woodrats giving her the plague is close to zero—even if she slept in their nest. Carrying off her car keys or anything shiny and round would pose a much greater threat.

Anyway, fear of rodents is a deep one, but it's highly unlikely you'd catch anything at all from them. (Yes, rats do poop over our stuff), but they do not all carry diseases. As long as rodents are not running amok in my house, I don't have problems with them. But once they cross that threshold, then my killer instinct emerges, the gloves (and shoes) come off. My preferred weapons of choice are sticky glue traps, and a sandal. No poison to enter the food chain, snap traps don't work, and I'm not interested in using live traps. Besides, house mice and most rats are not native creatures.

I would never kill a woodrat, unless he moved into the attic, as they're not plentiful and their habitat is easily destroyed. After my brother kicked apart a woodrat nest in the upper garden, they shimmied up the plum tree to hide in the eaves, then moved into the attic, and set up shop in the walls, so he had to listen to them scurry about and gnaw through 2 by 4 beams at night. When he punched a hole through the wall to shut them up, then small things began to disappear, matchbox cars, coins, thimbles.... Poetic justice.

Woodrats are territorial, solitary creatures as they rarely travel more than 100 feet from their nests. They have plush, speckled fur, almost like chinchillas. Not at all like rats. They're definitely borrowers, or rather, traders. They love anything shiny or round: car keys, bottle caps and quarters. And they will often trade one shiny item for another. Hence the name, traderats. Funniest thing found in a packrat nest: a set of false teeth. Imagine the backstory....

Because woodrats are such great hoarders, archaeologists will often excavate their middens in search of artifacts. Not only that, the middens serve as a timeline as well. The oldest woodrat midden found was dated at 21,000 years old, and from it, archaeologists were able to tell when certain plants arrived in the Southwest. It was also a remarkable record of climate change.

After much back and forth posting on Donna's thread, it emerged that the poor woman really is terrified of rodents. Musophobia is one of the most common socially induced conditioned phobias.

When Donna's friend was a child, she recounted that when she stayed overnight at her grandmother's house, she imagined rats running across her feet as she slept in her feather bed. She remembers her grandmother sweeping a rat down the garden path with a broom. And when a great-uncle made sandwiches for their tea, she saw mice skitter over the drainboard, the stage was set. Clearly her grandmother and great uncle had no fear of mice. So she learned it elsewhere.

She recounted another childhood story, when the family cat brought a mouse into the house, she and her mother climbed onto a sideboard, screaming. Her mother phoned her husband, who was a bank manager, to rescue them from the mouse. I told her that Kitty clearly loved her, bringing her such treats. She was not amused.

My neighbor also had a severe musophobia. I found a wild field mouse trapped in a coffee can and brought it over to show her my treasure. She screamed and climbed a chair... I was shocked. I was about 6 years old and had never witnessed such behavior in an adult. Such a tiny animal. Why was she so afraid? I looked into the can again, and took him home, convinced adults were nuts.

Unfortunately there's no reverse button for musophobia. Those phobias probably evolved for good reason. I was thinking of Victorian women who used to scream at the sight of mice (in novels), the mice making a beeline for those billowing skirts...and I shudder.

I found a deermouse in one of my grannie's old handbags and it leaped out of the handbag and madly circled around under my sweater a few times before it exited. A little rill of fear—would he bite me? I was fairly critter crazy from a tender age and adopted them early and often. I wanted to be a vet. And I did work for horse training stables. So though it was a novel experience, I was not afraid.

I once found a half-drowned deermouse after a storm and he went bald from stress, I had some liquid cat vitamins, and he loved it. When his fur grew back, I let him go. Deearmice and fieldmice never tame up, not like (non-native Chinese) house mice, who are the ancestors of lab mice.

You can get hanta virus (much, much deadlier than the plague) from deermice (wild North American mice), but it's only a small portion of the population that carries it—on Navajolands, far from CA. 

Some people's fear of rats extends to all rodents, and squirrels often get lumped into the hate bag. Probably because they can be destructive and eat wires. But they usually mind their own business. 

A silly red squirrel lives on my fence, and during the drought I made him a water dish. So he runs up and down the fence, stroking it with his chin, saying "Mine! Mine!" He hides his acorns in the water goblet, then has to dive in to retrieve them as they sink. Hilarious. Just like the squirrel in the animated movie, Ice Age. He has been known to purr, but he doesn't want to share that section of the fence, or that water goblet. However, I don't stand close enough to share his fleas.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Sendoff for Whitman McGowan


Wild frenetic dreams all last night, I think Whitman was very much with us yesterday at the memorial. He was certainly in my head. I gave up on trying to sleep. Middle Aged Dub...

I just met Pasha DeSaix yesterday at Whitman's memorial! All this time I thought she was a man. LOL. We're now FB friends. She knew my mom, and said she was just thinking of her a few days ago. I told her that she had given my mom a n audio tape, Leonard Cohen's 10 New Songs, and after my mother died, I played it incessantly. Thanked her for the unintended gift from so many years ago.

Blue Dawg, we sent you off nicely at the Presidio. I love you always, and I met Pasha! My mother was dancin', dancin', singing White Folk was Once Wild too.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE


Went to grab my vest
only to find he had nabbed it
and left it behind

left at a party
like the vest I had bought him
not so long ago

a gift he had lost
careless love like the others
who'd compete with that?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Walk through the British Museum using Google Street View


When I went to the British Museum more than a half lifetime ago, I got lost in the bowels, somewhere between the Roman coins and the Elgin marbles, and lost all track of time. I had to run through the rest of the museum before it closed. I streaked by Peter Paul Rubens. All those fleshy apparitions.
But now using Google Street View you can  Walk through the British Museum without going to London
I spent hours virtually wandering these halls. Luckily I had the presence of mind to save the URLs. I've made some pitstops below. It's super easy to get lost via Google Street View. 


Ireland & Celtic Europe, where I spent most of my time in the Museum, but it was dark, not like this wonderfulk well-lit display.

Bronze Age Ireland exhibit, horse gear, bronze cauldron, torcs, fibulae. Unfortunately mane of the cases are empty, at the Celtic exhibit.

Torcs galore. Snettisham hoard. Unfortunately mane of the cases are empty, at the Celtic exhibit.


Santa and the Stovepipe


When we moved from San Francisco to Forest Knolls, I was going on five, but there wasn't a fireplace in the Forest Knolls house, just a stovepipe. I knew a few things: I knew that Santa could never fit down the stovepipe, no matter how much magic there was in the world. Thus began my doubt that there was no Santa. And the beginning of my doubting most things adults said in general. My grannie (who raised me) didn't have much money so my Christmas gift really was underwear. But I did get a little girl's bike that first Christmas in Forest Knolls when the family dissolved and scattered, after the sale of our city house, after my grandfather died. But my cousin RIcky came down with polio, so they took my bike with tassles away on Christmas Day. I only rode it once. If there really was a Santa, he would've given Ricky his own bicycle. But he didn't. Ricky grew up, and graduated to a Harley, but lost control of that bike one morning early and never saw another Christmas again.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Hurley: Sea Tide


"Hurley, Murihily, O Morhelly, Murley, O'hUrthuile Ó Muirthile and Morley from Murthuile meaning “sea tide,” is from mur/ muir. Of the sea tides, the Hurleys were sea-farers and mariners. A name almost exclusively from Cork, where my family hails from.

Wow! Thálatta, thálatta! The sea, the sea. A sea tidal surge as a surname suits me. I am named for the sea twiceover.

And if I play fast and loose, I can also transliterate my first name as She of the Sea (an old boyfriend, Edwin Drummond dubbed me She of the Sea), vs. little Mary, Maureen, Máirín (it's the Irish spelling, not Pokémon character fergawdsakes!).

Upon occasion, I've also been called the Morrígan, goddess of battle, strife, and sovereignty (the phantom, or great queen); the Morrígu or the plural triune, the Morrígna. She is depicted as a skald crow, or raven flying over the battlefield, and her triune animal shapes are the eel, wolf, and cow. Not solely the goddess of death, she is the goddess of wealth of the land. Her triune sister aspects are: Badb, Macha and Nemain (or Anand).

Mor may derive from an Indo-European stem, cognate with Old English maere (which  gives us "nightmare" and rí-gan translates as queen, or rather, king., from the Proto-Celtic, *Moro-rīganī-s. But in Old, and Middle Irish, it was scribed as mór, which means great, grand, big; from PIE, *Māra Rīganī-s.

There is also a connection with the Arthurian Morgan le Faymor may derive from a Welsh word for the sea, môr, but the scholarly argument against that derivation is that the names are from different cultures and branches of the Celtic linguistic tree. However, there are plenty of cognates in Welsh and Irish, so it is not a strong argument. (All Brythonic forms are *mor; all Goidelic forms are muir; Manx is spelled mooir). The Morrígan could be Queen of the Sea, she was tempestuous enough.

The Welsh, Mair, Manx Moirrey, Irish/Scottish: Maura, Moira (English: Mariah), with the diminutive -ín ending added, equals little Mary. Mairenn, Máirín, Maureen. But then, even the name Mary also has connotations with the sea, as in Our Lady of the Sea.  

In the Middle Ages, Mary was equated with the sea, mare, as in Stella Maris. Not that misogynistic Jewish definition of Maryam as bitterness, or bitter herbs, nor rebelliousness (well, maybe that). Mariam, as in drop of the sea. A name considered so holy in Ireland, it wasn't even used until the Renaissance.

Then there's Muirín from muir f ‎(genitive singular, and nominative plural mara). Old Irish muir, from Proto-Celtic *mori, (Welsh môr, Manx mooir), from Proto-Indo-European*móri, (Latin mare, English mere, German Meer). I guess the idea of a rough sea was always a nightmare.

Hebrew word ma'or for star and yam for the sea equals Maryam. Stella Maris, Venus. Sea-star, also Polaris, the lode-star leading the way. Once I was chosen as Queen of the May, and I crowned the statue of Mary with a crown of roses. And I was baptized at Star of the Sea. Ave Maris Stella. And I grew up in Marin, within sight of the sea, if I climbed up Mt. Barnabe.

Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother.*
Epi oinopa ponton. I'll drink to that.

Ah, the hidden poetry of naming. 


 Goleen Star of the Sea, Mizen Head, Co. Cork, most southwesterly point in Ireland —Wiki








 (*Buck Mulligan says to the young writer, Stephen Dedalus, of Dublin Bay, in Book 1,  Ulysses.)  Annotations to James Joyce's Ulysses/Telemachus/005

Very chuffed by this Irish Medieval History post.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Donkey Wars


Donkeys will do what donkeys want, and bribery seldom works. Ask me how I know. My first mount was my friend's donkey named Joshua, a beast so mean, that no one else would ride her. She threw me off at every opportunity, she was very canny, she knew when the cinch was loose, and having no withers, she'd suddenly break into a stiff gallop, and then slam on the brakes. Head down, fetlocks together, pointing like a ballerina, and I went head first into a ditch, usually replete with a thistle patch. That donkey contemplated lots of shenanegans that required deliberate planning. One ruse  included a hogwire fence around a fruit tree. She broke my arm with that one, among other things. Once she mistook my finger for a carrot (or not), and kept grinding away at it, as I pounded on her head, it was hollow as a drum. I thought I'd never get it back. Joshua was a mean old donkey, it made me into a determined rider, trying to outfox her.

A Note on my Writing Lifted by Other Websites


I sometimes stumble upon bits of my blog posts on other websites, with no credit. If I can find a link, I will write to the offender, and usually they'll make a link back to my site, etc. But there are some websites where there is no way to reach out to the plagiarist.

One Hollywood-type, a reality TV producer's assistant, Tinsley, lifted my massive post on Chilean miners, and posted the entire piece on her Tumblr blog (all gone now), apparently, because she was "very liberal," she was also very liberal with my post.

Many of my enraged friends bombarded Tinsley's site, and she took it down. I called it my Tinsleygate. I wouldn't have cared if she had at least asked me, published a portion of it with quotes, then made an obvious link back to my blog. But she didn't do that. She was getting all the traffic and kudus as if she had written it. Thing is, I was still revising it (I revise a lot), when she snagged one iteration of it...

Tinsley later apologised, see her letter at the bottom of my Chilean Miners post. She back-pedalled a bit, to say the least. Rather than just use bits of my piece, or give me credit, she took it down. I guess we took her down when she realized the legal implications between the concept of "fair use," and copyright infringement.

Borrowing a few lines is considered to be fair use (for educational purposes only) under the copyright act.

Someone also lifted my Black Bart story, but a few emails later, it was resolved nicely...a Dutch fellow interested in old firearms, used my story to illustrate his antique gun collection. Turns out he just really, really liked my story.
black bart - Dutch Gunswww.dutchguns.com/black%20bart.htm‎  Het origineel is te vinden op http://mohurley.blogspot.com/2009/09/black-bart. html. This article is not mine, but found on the internet. It is written by Maureen ...
  1. Another nefarious sort lifted my entire interview and photo of Jim Dodgethen posted it on his own blog, zoran rosko vacuum player with no link or mention. Grrr. I guess the word vacuum explains it all. I was able to leave a comment:
    Maureen Hurley7/29/11, 5:19 AM If you're going to lift my entire blog post and repost it here, please at least use my name and offer a back link to it. BTW, you're also breaking copyright.
    Maureen Hurley   http://mohurley.blogspot.com/2009/09/jim-dodge.html
At the time, I thought there was no legal recourse for me. I've never resorted to legal means, but in each case, no one was actually making money off my pieces. To be fair, Zoran Rosco did remove my photo, and credited my work to a literary blog I belonged to, RedRoom, as the author. But not to me.

However, if you find your work appearing on other sites, do check out this helpful post from the National Writers' Union, Are Websites Stealing Your Work? There are some great links at the bottom of the post. (And see my links at the bottom of the page.)

An architectural magazine in Australia followed proper blog etiquette when they ran one of my blog pieces, but they contacted me first and asked permission. (Can't find the link.)

A couple of blokes delving into brewing a heady quaff, did source me (not sure why!) for my bit on St. Patrick & Annals of the Four Masters. Cheers! I'll drink to that. Moor: Dining and Dwelling Part 4

This particular link is more of a tribute, than a theft, but it's done right. A synopsis, and a link back to me.  The Hall of Heorot:  Literrata: Olaf the Peacock's Irish Mother Which, in turn, was a reblog from Ireland's Eye on Myth, from Nov. 30, 2013. And also in Fuck Yeah Vikings and Celts! (But I couldn't find the post. OK, so I'm a little late to the party.... three years later. I't not like I have a huge following,  "This domain listed #3 054 178 number in the world.")

Maybe I should Google myself more often than once every five years. I also found this BOOK! entry on my Tiki Junction piece. It looks like a bibliography.
The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice - Google Books Result
https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1439177406Vanessa M. Gezari - ‎2014 - History
See also Price, “Barney West Famous for Tricky Tikis,” and “Tiki Junction, Sausalito,” http://mohurley.blogspot.com/2007/03/tiki-junction-sausalito.html, accessed ...