Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Why We Suck" by Denis Leary

The subtitle of this book is about as politically incorrect as you can get: "A feel good guide to staying fat, loud, lazy and stupid." That about sums it up for Leary's work - take potshots at just about everyone and anyone and give no apologies for anything. It's pretty true to his comedic form, which has been rather dark while still being funny. I like Leary a lot, and I'm not afraid of someone speaking his mind, and I'm still trying to read lighter fare to keep my mind off the world heading into the global crapper.

Is this book funny? Hell, yes - if you have a sense of humor and if you don't mind the aforementioned political incorrectness. If you're one of those people who think every kid should get some kind of reward after their Little League game? Probably not so funny to you. If you're one of the "disenfranchised" who believe you should have a shot at something even though you don't have the knowledge/physical strength to do it? Definitely not going to find this book funny, so my advice is to skip it.

If you can laugh at yourself, if you know that life is usually completely unfair, and especially if you had parents who told you the unvarnished truth, you'll love this book. Leary is a big proponent of actually parenting your kids, and makes a lot of very valid points about people who have kids, then sort of seem to want to pawn them off to babysitters, nannies, etc, when the going gets tough. Mind you, he does recognize that some people are still good parents but financially have to work two jobs, thus entailing childcare - he is NOT talking about those people. Gotta love a guy that makes darn sure you know what he's talking about. Anyway, Leary grew up with fairly strict parents who also didn't sugarcoat anything; I about fell off the chair reading about little Denis asking his dad if he could be President someday. It's obvious that Leary had a pretty good childhood, and that his parents knew what their job was - to be his parents, not his best friends.

Leary takes shots at lots of things, including other people's kids and how parents often think those same children are just adorable and let us show you all our digital pics of little Johnny and how most of us just want to run from the room before the torture starts. He explains the differences between men and women (men are very, very simple and women can remember anything during any argument and throw it back in their guys' faces); I think every man should read his take on a woman getting dressed to go out. He, too, was one of the frustrated watch-watchers - until he decided to retrain his brain and look at the whole ordeal from a different angle. Suddenly it's not so bad that his wife takes a half hour or more to pick out an outfit. Way to go, Denis!

You may agree with some of his views, you may disagree on others. Personally, I've got a problem with illegal aliens from any country and agree with Charlie Daniels; trying to sneak into our country automatically makes you a criminal, so why should I trust you after you get here? I understand the very valid points about cheap labor and people wanting to better their lives, etc, but I think it really detracts from the people who do it by the book - they have to work to become citizens, thus giving them something to be proud of. Anyway, just my humble opinion and Leary and I will have to disagree on that point. Other than that, I found myself nodding my head a lot, which means I may have a lot more in common with Leary than I thought. Scary!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"American Thighs: The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Preseving Your Assets" by Jill Connor Browne

God save the SPQs!! I've been a huge fan of Jill and her books since the first one hit the used book store I was working in so many years ago. Read it, loved it, bought up the rest of the copies and gave them out to my mom, my sis, and my female friends - I loved it that much. Over the years the series has had its hit and somewhat misses, but the books are pretty much always funny. Not to mention at least one or two recipes for some sinfully delicious foodstuffs.

This SPQ book hits the mark, and in a big way, for this aging bookbabe. It's all about getting older, and how to maintain a bit of dignity as you do it. Such as being aware of your choices in attire. There's nothing sadder than an aging beauty who's still trying to squeeze her size 16 butt into a trendy pair size 12 low-riders, especially if she's still wearing thongs. Like Jill says, know thyself and know there's not a dang thing wrong with buying comfy panties! I must agree wholeheartedly, and while it's just as unflattering to wear clothes that are too big, you need to buy the size you really are - it will look better on you, and there's the added benefit of being able to breathe!

The book is a complete hoot, and I about laughed myself silly in several sections, too many to name here. My hubby was less enamored of this entry, but then again, he's a man and they don't seem to worry about too much of anything. Having reached the ripe old age of 40, I can appreciate so much of Jill's advice, and yes, there are more sinfully delicious recipes for all sorts of foodstuffs near the back of the book. Long Live the Sweet Potato Queens!

"Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea" by Chelsea Handler

Comedy's latest "it" girl has put out a new book of "essays", and it's supposed to be funny. That's what everyone was telling me, that she was just the coolest thing ever, that it was the funniest book they'd ever read, etc. So when the world demanded that I take a break from my usual reading material and go for something lighter (mostly because the world has become way too depressing in the last few months), I decided I'd find out for myself about this Handler woman and her humor.

Is the book funny? In some places, yes, it's very funny. In others, well, not so much laugh-out-loud funny as mildly humorous. And only if you realize that there is absolutely no way that the information Handler presents in each essay is completely factual. The book seems like it's biographical, and I'm sure some of it is, but if you read it believing that everything in it is true, well, it comes off as kind of sad. It's about a woman who drinks far too much, sleeps with pretty much anything that moves, and has a so-so relationship with her family - not what I would call the stuff of good comedy.

If you read the book with an open mind and take everything as fiction, it can be funny. I'm sure there are small grains of truth throughout, too; who doesn't have parents that drive them insane? Who hasn't had too much to drink and regretted it (and what they might have done) the next morning? Who hasn't expressed an opinion one way or the other regarding their own boobs?

Handler reminds me a bit of David Sedaris; she's got a very warped sense of humor, and it's not going to appeal to the masses. Some will find her funny, others are going to be scratching their heads and saying "WTF?" Reader, you make the call. This bookbabe for one thought it was OK but probably wouldn't go out of her way to find her other book, "My Horizontal Life".

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Legacy" by Jeanne C. Stein

Stein's Anna Strong vampire series just keeps getting better and better. The fourth book finds Anna still trying to retain some of her humanity, something most vampires don't do. She still visits with her family (who live in town, making it very easy) and by still working with her PI partner, David. There are those in the paranormal community who don't believe it's a good idea to retain one's human ties, and those parties are getting anxious about Anna. Possibly enough to do something about it.

The book starts off with a bang. Anna is hired by none other than her arch-nemesis, Gloria Estrella, also David's ex-girlfriend. Gloria has done everything in her power to get Anna out of David's life, all to no avail, and the women openly loathe each other. All the more reason Anna is suspicious of Gloria's motives when the starlet asks the vamp PI to talk to her business partner Rory O'Sullivan. They own an upscale restaurant together, and it seems that Rory is trying to blackmail Gloria into sleeping with him. Again. Anna is furious that David has been betrayed yet again, but she agrees to talk to the mogul. Only he ends up dead before she can do just that. And who's the number one suspect? Gloria Estrella, business partner, and mistress. It looks like an open and shut case, but Gloria yet again takes advantage of Anna's love for David and hires her to prove her innocence. At least, on the charge of killing O'Sullivan, that is. But Anna's got her own motives; Gloria agrees to remove herself permanently from David's life. And she's going to pay Anna $200/hour plus expenses while she's investigating the murder.

Even thought Gloria appears to be the most likely candidate, there are others to consider. O'Sullivan's son, Jason, didn't have the most loving relationship with his mostly-absent father, and he and Gloria seem to be pretty chummy. Jason in turn points the finger at his step-mother, who claims to have known nothing about the affair until recently, but all signs point otherwise. And then there's a strange business deal that has apparently gone south on O'Sullivan, something involving a pharmaceutical company and a vaccine against HIV. Plenty of red herrings where nothing is what it seems.

Complicating matters are a pack of werewolves that have just rolled into town, a pack of mostly female weres, led by Sandra, who also claims to be Avery's wife. Avery, if you recall, is the vamp that turned Anna, the one that she in turn ended up killing when he revealed how evil and controlling he was. Seems Sandra is in town to claim Avery's estate, which is just fine by Anna; she never wanted anything of his in the first place. But Sandra seems to consider Anna to be part of that estate, and Anna is confused by her growing attraction to Sandra. It has to be some sort of spell, right? Because Anna isn't attracted to women, not normally, and she sure feels as if there's magic in the air. The question is what kind of magic, light or dark?

As usual, there's quite a bit going on for a fairly short book. Stein holds it all together nicely, though, and I was happy with the ending. There are obviously more Anna books to follow, and while I look forward to reading them, I do admit that I have one little wish. I want Anna to reveal to David that she's a vampire. Yeah, Anna's ex, Max, couldn't handle the truth, but I think David can. And I think David may care about Anna more than he's willing to admit. I'm curious to see how it will play out. Stay tuned...

"The Urban Hermit" by Sam MacDonald

April 24, 2000 was probably the first day of the rest of Sam MacDonald's life. It was the first full day of his Urban Hermit Financial Emergency Rotgut Poverty Plan, something that he most emphatically does not advise others to try. At the time, it looked like the only way out of his nightmare; he was very overweight and very underfunded, owing money to just about everyone, the IRS included. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and thus, the Urban Hermit was born.

MacDonald has definitely had a life, I'll give him that much. I don't know if I'd call it a good life, at least, not before he became the Urban Hermit. Sounds like he was drinking way too much and basically coasting through life, bringing to mind that awesome quote from "Animal House" - "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life". Maybe not, but MacDonald sure gave it a go. All but the stupid part, that is; the man is a Yale graduate, after all. (Not that that's a guarantee of intelligence, but it's certainly nothing to sneeze at, either.)

Once he undertakes the Urban Hermit Plan, his whole life changes. 800 calories per day, $8 per week, leaving him very few options for foodstuffs. His entire diet begins revolving around hard-boiled eggs, tuna sandwiches and lentils. Lots and lots of lentils. Enough that after reading this book, I seriously doubt I could ever eat one of the evil things. 800 calories isn't much, and according to his cousin, it's actually very dangerous. Thus the emphasis on protein in his diet from the eggs, tuna, and - you got it - the lentils. One of the things he discovers is that when you give yourself a very limited menu, it simplifies your life in a way you never imagined. You don't have that "what's for dinner?" question looming over you - you know exactly what dinner will be, even if you're not crazy about eating it. And the Urban Hermit can't go anywhere near a bar, seeing as how his alter ego, Sam, can't stop at just one beer. No, Sam drinks at least $20 worth of $1-a-bottle Rolling Rocks, and several shots, and usually ends up putting it on his tab which he eventually pays with a credit card. One of the many credit cards that now want him to pay up, thank you very much. The credit card debt, the money he owes to his parents, and the big one, the IRS debacle, have all led him to this point. April 24, 2000. The day the Urban Hermit began his life...

This is, without a doubt, one of the funniest books I've ever read. It shouldn't be, but it is. MacDonald has an awesome voice, and I felt like I was really there with him, living his adventures as the Urban Hermit. I was scared for him, too; it really is insanity to try to live on 800 calories a day, even if you've got "fat of the land" to live on. I was shocked that he didn't have to go to the hospital at any point, although it also looked like there were a few close calls. The saddest part about the book is that the people in his life seemed to miss all the great things he was accomplishing by being the Urban Hermit. He got some sweet assignments as a journalist, went some very interesting places, met some very cool people, and - don't forget this - managed to get his life back in order after pretty much hitting rock bottom. What did most of his friends and family focus on? You got it - how much weight he lost. In almost every chapter, he talks about how someone sees him and says "How much weight have you lost?!" It really speaks volumes about what we as Americans focus on in our daily lives. It doesn't seem to matter what you succeed at, as long as you succeed at having a great body. Hell, look at Oprah - the woman is richer than anyone needs to be, does a butt-load of charity work by donating her time and money to various causes, has helped authors become famous (and some infamous) - and she is still obsessing over her inability to keep her weight at a "desired" number.

My hat's off to you, Sam MacDonald, for putting your mind to something and sticking with it. Even when you thought you'd never be able to choke down another lentil. Get this book, read it, laugh your ass off - but for gosh sakes, please notice something other than how much weight he lost!

Friday, January 9, 2009

"Hell to Pay" by Simon R. Green

I've been a fan of Green's Nightside series since the beginning, and was curious how he'd keep it going after the Lilith War of the previous book. After all, the first six entries are pretty much all about John Taylor, the man who can find anything, and his attempts to escape his mother's clutches. Lilith tried to turn him to her dark side, and when that wasn't going to work, she tried to kill him. He's been battling her forces and others who don't want him to destroy the Nightside and fulfill a prophecy for so long, what more could there be?

Well, there's this book, "Hell to Pay", and there's John's actual job, that of private investigator. Which is exactly the role he plays and which he does very, very well. The book opens with John being summoned to Griffin Hall by none other than Jeremiah Griffin, one of the most powerful immortals in the Nightside (now that Lilith and the Authorities are gone, that is). His granddaughter, Melissa, is missing, and he fears that she's been kidnapped. He hires John to find her, but gives him an almost impossible deadline; she must be located and brought back to the Hall before she turns 18, which is in 24 hours. Complicating matters is something, or someone, that is blocking John's Sight, thus guaranteeing that he's going to have to do this the old-fashioned way...

John takes turn interview the various family members, starting with the Griffin's wife, Mariah. She's immortal through her marriage to Jeremiah, and it was her decision to have children, something the Griffin never wanted (there are rumors that a grandchild turning 18 will bring about his death, and his soul will go to the Devil), but she grew tired of the whole thing quickly. She had the children to be "fashionable", which seems to be her only concern.

The twins, William and Eleanor, both have their own secrets, and they both resent their father greatly. Knowing how he felt about grandchildren, they both married and had their children in great secrecy, only presenting them to the Griffin when it was a fait accompli. At that point, the Griffin insisted that his grandchildren be raised at the Hall, which isn't what his own children had in mind at all. The best laid plans of mice and men, indeed. William's wife, Gloria, and Eleanor's husband, Marcel, both have to be interviewed, too. John learns more about each member of the family, but gets no closer to the whereabouts of Melissa.

And then there's the grandson, Paul. He's prehaps the most intriguing character, and also one of the saddest, for reasons I won't go into here (can't give away the plot!) He knows a lot more than he's willing to tell John, and he's definitely got his own secrets. In the end, he's probably the most heroic of the Griffin family. Because this being John Taylor, even without his Sight, you know he's going to find the girl. And there's going to be a showdown, of course.

Overall, I thought this was a nice transition in the series. There was still plenty of action and our usual cast of miscreants made appearances, mostly notably Dead Boy. I should've seen right away why John's sight wasn't working, and others might pick it up right off, but it was a good twist. I'm glad to say that the Nightside is still a dark and dangerous place, and that John appears to have many more adventures to come.