Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of movies, plays, music, TV, whatever I feel like reviewing that day.

Trump Supporters Might Want to Avoid These Places

The Former Little Rock National Airport Now Boasts This Mural

But Wait! That’s Not All! Bill Clinton grew up in Hot Springs, where I just spent a long weekend. He’s popular around his home town (he wasn’t born there, but he lived there most of his childhood and youth.) This is not a political post, but I thought that, as a public service, I might warn off those who may wish to be so warned off. That is all.

Hot Springs was surprising in a lot of ways. We went there because we each want to visit all 50 states, and we both needed to drop in on Arkansas. I like the South, I have relatives there, including an uncle from South Alabama, so the “southern” aspects of the place didn’t surprise me. Here’s what Hot Springs, Arkansas is:

Along the side of a mountain above the town, extending right down into the town, are a large number of places where hot water spews out with absolutely no effort on anyone’s part. A lot of hot water. Only one of these vents is still uncapped; it is in town, in a park that is a part of Hot Springs National Park, which is what the Postal Service and bus lines call the entire area. It’s easy enough to get in or out of the National Park: you need only wait for the pedestrian “WALK” signal and cross the street. On the National Park side of the street is what is known as “Bathhouse Row,” which has, for almost two centuries, been the site of an ever less ramshackle collection of places where one can immerse oneself in those same hot waters for a modest, or not in some cases, fee. Of course, the National Park is a lot bigger than a row of bathhouses, and it includes hiking trails, an observation tower, and a lot of trees. Such a lot of trees, says the guy who lives in the Mojave desert.

Back before the Chicago mob decided to move into Las Vegas, they hung out in Hot Springs whenever the law made things a tad uncomfortable in Chicago. Benjamin Siegal, for instance, used to hang out in one or another of the illegal gambling halls along Center Avenue. The Ohio Club is still open, and the food is quite good, but unless you’ve bought a lottery scratch ticket, you can’t really do any gambling there. The illegal business screeched to a halt when the State Police busted an owner and discovered a stash of gambling devices which they had given to the Mayor for him to destroy. The governor took over and made sure that they were destroyed properly, too bad for his (dis)honor.

The movie at Park Headquarters and Museum dramatizes a drummer for a “Doctor Adams” prior to the bathhouse business being cleaned up by the Park Service. The drummer convinced a fellow passenger on the train that “Doctor Adams really knows his livers!” You go, Doctor Adams. Adams was busted later. Not sure my liver(s?) is any heathier, but we did take the waters a bit.

We went first to the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which still does the old-fashioned, Pre-WWII, traditional bathing experience. After 20 minutes in a tub, I spent some time in a sitz bath (good for the lower back,) in a steam cabinet (yes, there still are such things, but I barely fit into one,) a shower that hit me from every direction, and a bench with hot towels draped over me. I don’t know if it helped me get  healthy, but I surely got tired. The next day we went down the row to the Quapaw Bathhouse, which is modern, with pools of various temperatures, and we got massages. The massage was nice, but Quapaw charges a lot more than does Buckstaff.

We saw a listing of the mineral content of the water. It’s water. Even somebody from SoCal who is paranoid about tap water would drink it. Not sure it heals any better than anybody else’s water, but I did feel a part of something historic. That counts for something, I’m sure.

If you go, take a good appetite, as there are dozens of good restaurants in the actual hot springs area (near the bathhouses.) I was going to get some good stuff at Granny’s Kitchen, but when we got there we could see a fresh trench clear across the dining room. Guess our old neighborhood in Vegas isn’t the only place with drain issues. I’m afraid that the picture above is the only one I took, but the area is lovely. You’ll just have to  trust me on that.

Good Books, Great Books, and That Book

Le rive seine

We drove up to Cedar City, Utah over last weekend to catch a few plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Specifically, we saw The Merchant of Venice by some dead English guy; Big River, based upon That Book, Huckleberry Finn, music and lyrics by Roger Miller, book by William Hauptman; and The Foreigner by Larry Shue. In that order. As I do occasionally, I’m offering my thoughts on the program.

First, the Shakespeare. Merchant is well written, and funny in parts, but I must have been very young when I read it because I forgot just how intense the anti-Semitic bigotry is in that play. Holy cats, Will, what’s up with that? I’d never seen it. Doubt if I’ll see it again.

The festival is doing the entire Shakespeare Canon, so they had to include it. I think, though, that they maybe felt a bit bad about that, because they also included a musical version of That Book, Huckleberry Finn, my favorite story. The musical sticks to the original plot amazingly faithfully. Huck was played by a tenor, Jim by a baritone, and the two actors worked well together, in song, and in action. Excellent choices. And, of course, That Book is one of the most vehemently anti-bigot works ever created. Bless you, Sam Clemons, for producing it in the first place.

But wait, that’s not all! The Foreigner is, first, hilarious. Both in dialogue and in action, including some top notch silent work between some of the actors. The man who plays Huck is in this play as well, in a prominent, but not title role. A major plot point (even comedies need one) involves defeating a contingent of the “invisible empire,” the Klu Klux Klan. Another swipe at bigotry here.

The other Shakespeare work playing last weekend was Othello. As I said, perhaps the festival was feeling a bit nervous about presenting The Merchant of Venice.

The writing in all of the plays is, of course, superb. I like watching well-written plays, because I think that the more top-notch material I absorb, the more nearly top-notch my own material will be. Hey, you can’t read ’em all; sometimes it’s good just to soak it up, you know?

And, if you haven’t guessed, these plays, particularly Big River, have reinforced my notion that some books are good, some are great (talking to you, Thomas Pynchon) and then there’s Huckleberry Finn. Hemmingway said that American literature began with that book, and that there has been nothing as good since. And who am I to argue with Ernest Hemmingway?

The House Always Wins: A Novel by Brian Rouff

The House Always Wins: A Novel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a good book, and a fun book. I live in Las Vegas myself, and I can report that the general tone of the city is replicated well here. One caveat: the neighborhood in question (it’s real) is much too far from the Strip for any resort to want to buy it out. But, hey, it makes for a good story. This is a ghost story, the ghost being a former mobster named Meyer. I never knew what the name Meyer meant, so the reveal at the end of the meaning of Meir (yeah, spelling, I know) was a nice surprise. One hint: it’s a good name. And our Meyer is a good guy, who helps our heroine overcome a nasty old Vegas power player’s avarice. (It is possible that the nasty old Vegas power player is modeled on a real person, but I’m not gonna go there.)

In short, if you want a good mystery, thriller, and ghost story to read while you learn some things about the real Las Vegas, this is your book. Read it! I did, and I liked it!

View all my reviews

Westside Lilo’s Revisited

2012-09-01_07-40-26_142I reviewed Westside Lilo’s here once upon a time. It’s a good review, you can check it out here. This is an update to that review, because they’ve gotten a new sign. Wouldn’t want anyone to miss the best Chicken Fried Steak I’ve ever tasted just because the sign looked wrong. So, here’s a picture of the new sign:

Westside Lilo's New Sign
Watch For It in Seligman, Arizona!

I think it looks better, but you can click to see the review and judge for yourself. When we went in today, we walked through a large group of people all speaking German. And, Lilo was there, herself! Good times!

READ THIS!

Pirates Attacking Tampa Bay
Pirates Attacking Tampa Bay

I only review things that I like. And usually I don’t write much about what I review. You know, I’ll say, “nice movie” or “good book,” that sort of thing, but dag-nab it, this one I have to say more about. I mean, Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman. It’s a best seller, and for good reason. If you haven’t read it, then do like the title of this post says. Soon, hear?

Here’s my favorite sentence (well, not quite all of it) from the book. Daisy looked up at him with the kind of expression that Jesus might have given someone who had just explained that he was probably allergic to bread and fishes, so could He possibly do him a quick chicken salad: . . .

Gaiman’s book, American Gods, is now on TV, of course, and this book is in the same world, but not the same place. No cold, frozen North here. Lots of Florida and London, and a small and fictional Caribbean island. London isn’t warm, but it’s not cold, either. Florida and the Caribbean, they’re warm, aren’t they?

I have been reading Gaiman’s books because I truly love his style. I’m hoping that I am programming my brain to produce more flowing, descriptive, and generous prose. Anansi Boys is all of those things, and it has the best ending I’ve read since Stardust, another Gaiman masterpiece.

So, take a hint. If you want to write like a master, you need to read the masters, right? Here’s your chance. Don’t wait for the movie, read it today! You’ll be glad you did!

5 Girls Book Reviews

Last April 11th I sent a request to the site 5 Girls Book Reviews to review my chapter book Messy Meisner. It was essentially a query. Today I got an email from them saying that they’d love to review my book. Wow! Maybe they’ll hate it, but at least somebody I don’t know has reacted to it for the first time!

Since they are doing that, I’m going to plug them a bit, in one way by presenting here a capture of the top of their front page on blogspot, as it appeared at 8:23 am PDT, October 31, 2016 (Nevada Day!) (But not celebrated today. 🙁 )

The blog "5-Girls Book Reviews" as of 31 October 2016. Link it above in the text.
The blog “5-Girls Book Reviews” as of 31 October 2016. Link it above in the text.

If you visit them, you will see that they have reviewed a slew, a whole slew I say, of books for children. I’m looking forward to what they have to say about mine! Click the link above to visit them.