Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Curing the Blues with a New Pair of Shoes" by Dixie Cash

No holiday in tiny Salt Lick, Texas, is more revered than January 8th - Elvis's birthday! To commemorate the grand occasion, Hogg's Drive-In - where the King enjoyed many a burger on the road to fame and fortune - is displaying an "actual" pair of Elvis's blue suede shoes. That is, until some heel without a soul swipes them right out of their display case. Debbie Sue Overstreet and Edwina Perkins-Martin - the shoe-loving Domestic Equalizers - are shocked that someone would perpetrate such a dastardly crime. So the plucky detecting duo agrees to help the town's inept sheriff track down the royal blue loafers. And being majestic multitaskers, the ladies might even be able to squeeze in some matchmaking as well. Mix-ups, mayhem, the threat of gunplay, and shocking octogenarian secrets revealed - it's all in a day's work for the Domestic Equalizers, the two best friends whose motto is: Don't get mad...get evidence!

"Dixie Cash" is actually the writing team of sisters Pam Cumbie and Jeffery McClanahan (yes, you read that right, her name is Jeffery!). They started out a few years back and I've enjoyed all their books, so when I saw they had this one out, I knew I had to pick it up. Before you start any of their Domestic Equalizer series, be warned - these are NOT high-brow literature. If you enjoy a cute, quick, slightly romantic read, however, they'll be right up your alley.

The "case" this time is a bit on the thin side, though, barely taking up any time. Debbie Sue and Edwina are rather more involved in setting up two reporters who have hit town for the Elvis festivities. Young Avery Deaton is looking to move into more serious reporting, and she's hoping this Elvis gig will be her ticket to the big leagues. Sam Carter, a rookie sports reporter (but a seasoned veteran from another market in another state), has also been assigned to Salt Lick; he's hoping to get a killer story out of Caleb Crawford's family (Caleb being a football wunderkind). As soon as the Domestic Duo meet both of these journalists, they just know they have to hook them up.

The book is cute as usual, and the sisters certainly have a flair for capturing all thing Texan. The romance moves along nicely, although it is pretty cliche. Perhaps my biggest complaint about this entry is the lack of the significant others: Buddy Overstreet, Debbie Sue's hubby, isn't seen at all, only making the occasional phone appearance (he's on a case for the Texas Rangers). And Edwina's hubby isn't seen much either. Their absence is a real loss because while the crazy investigators are fun together doing their thing, they really shine in the presence of their men. Hopefully D.C. will "fix" this oversight in their next book.

Good fun fairly clean reading, nothing too taxing - a definite hammock or beach-side book!

"The Fortune Quilt" by Lani Diane Rich

Carly McKay's life is going just fine until she produces a television piece on psychic quilt maker Brandywine Seaver and receives a quilt with an enigmatic reading telling her that everything is about to change. Carly blows off the reading until it comes true: Her boss runs off with all the station's assets, leaving her jobless; her best friend, Christopher, proclaims his (unrequited) love for her, leaving her friendless; and her mother, who deserted the family seventeen years ago, returns, sending Carly into a serious tilt...Convinced it's the quilt's fault, Carly races down to the small artists' community of Bilby, Arizona, to confront its maker, and ends up with an unexpected friend in Brandy - and in Will, the laid-back painter who rents the cabin next door. With quirky new buddies and no more deadlines, Carly starts to enjoy her reimagined life - until her old one comes calling. Now Carly has to decide what parts of each world she wants to patchwork in...and how much she's willing to leave to fate.

This is not the sort of book I would just pick up off the shelf, and if you follow this blog at all, I think you already know that. This was returned by a patron quite a while back, and there was just something about it that made me turn it over and read the back cover. I still didn't think it sounded like "my" kind of novel, but again, something made me put it on a list for possible perusal at a later date.

As they say, don't judge a book by its cover!

Yes, this is teetering on the edge of chick lit, and yes, some of it is quite funny. But there's a lot of serious soul-searching here, too, and Rich strikes the right balance between the two genres to bring the reader a fine novel. I really liked Carly, and could very much relate to her getting "Towered" as Brandy calls it (the phrase coming from the Tarot card "the Tower", which indicates change). I was very impressed that when Carly's mother shows up after all these years, she's brutally honest about her feelings, leading to her abrupt departure from Tuscon. And yes, maybe it's a little corny that she blames the quilt, but when the you-know-what hits the fan, don't you look for anything that might make it right again?

The characters are well-developed, and there were some genuine surprises along the way. I thought the romance between Carly and Will built at a nice pace, and the "split" wasn't due to any contrived misunderstanding but to Carly's very real fears of commitment, perfectly understandable given her own upbringing. Rich also does an outstanding job of describing the beauty of Arizona, really making the reader feel the desert heat, the cacti, etc.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised (and impressed) by this book, and from what I understand, the author has more available. I plan to check them out soon!

Friday, August 27, 2010

"1001 Ways to be Romantic: Now Completely Revised and More Romantic than Ever" by Gregory Godek

Ever hear the phrase "less is more"? Well, I think Mr. Godek should follow that sage advice, because my biggest problem with this book is its size - it is way too big! I get that he wants to give the reader a wide range of choices as far as how to be romantic, but please! There are so many "suggestions" that after getting about half-way through this tome, I realized he was repeating himself. Or it was so close to something he'd already said that I read it as exactly the same.

In either case, I got tired of the romance and quit.

In addition, some of the "advice" sounded more like advertising. Between all the hotels/motels/B&Bs, the lingerie companies, the chocolate companies, and the like, I suspect that Godek has pocketed a good amount of change for mentioning their names. And for someone who keeps saying "you don't need to spend a lot of money to be romantic", he would have you shelling out some serious dough to impress your sweetie.

Before you think I'm completely writing this guy (and book) off, not all the advice is bad. Some of it is quite good, such as putting forth 100% in your relationship, rather than the old 50-50 split (if you've only willing to meet your partner half-way, good luck when the going gets tough). He also advises not to take your significant other for granted, which is always good advice - you never know what can happen when you least expect it. Little romantic gestures, such as leaving love notes in his/her car, or doing a chore that your partner hates to do, are also good, and in fact, we've done that in our own marriage. But the amount of dreck you have to skim through to get to the good stuff is not worth the time or the trouble.

My advice is to treat your partner the way you want to be treated, tell him/her that you love him/her every day, and kiss a lot!

"The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death" by Laurie Notaro

Laurie Notaro has an uncanny ability to attract insanity - and leave readers doubled over with laughter. In The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death, she experiences the popular phenomenon of laser hair removal (because at least one of her chins should be stubble-free); bemoans the scourge of the Open Mouth Coughers on America's airplanes; welcomes the newest ex-con (yay, a sex offender!) to her neighborhood; and watches, against her own better judgment, every Discovery Health Channel special on parasites and tapeworms that has ever aired - resulting in an overwhelming fear that a worm the size of a python will soon come a-knocking on her back door. The Cleveland Plain Dealer says that Laurie Notaro is "a scream, the freak-magnet of a girlfriend you can't wiat to meet for a drink to hear her latest story." ....Notaro proves she's not only funny but resigned to the fact that you can't look bad ass in a Prius. Don't even try.

I absolutely adore Laurie Notaro, and I would totally be friends with her if I ever met her (and she'd let me, that is). My good friend Wendy sent me a copy of her first book a few years back and I've been hooked every since. This installment finds Notaro doing such fun things as going dealing with naughty neighbors, extended warranties, and other strange oddities in her life - including her relocation from her beloved Phoenix to the much-moister-climbed Oregon. For anyone who has ever moved, especially if you've moved from a long-term location, you'll know exactly how she feels about moving.

Probably my favorite entry in this book is one of the most serious: the death of Notaro's dog, Bella. I found myself flying back in time to 1986, when my own beloved black Lab, Daisy, was rushed off to the vet in severe distress after a week of lethargy and non-eating. I was bawling like the proverbial baby as Laurie wrote about taking Bella to the vet, the long hours of waiting, and the dog rallying, only to fade quickly just hours later. Anyone who has ever loved and lost a pet will need a huge box of tissues when they read "Ready or Not" - you just can't help yourself.

But the rest of the book is hilarious, and in these trying times, we all need a good laugh!

Friday, August 13, 2010

"Freak Magnet" by Andrew Auseon

A novel about freaks, geeks, crushes, and friends - and how sometimes you can be all of them at once.

Charlie is the freak. Gloria is the freak magnet. They're pretty much destined to meet. And when they do, sparks fly... for Charlie. Gloria, well, she just thinks he's like every other freak who feels compelled to talk to her, although a little better-looking than most. While Charlie has his head in the clouds, Gloria's got hers in a book: her Freak Folio - a record of every weirdo who's talked to her in the last year (it's a big book). But never before has she felt the pull to get to know one of them better. Until now.

In this he-said-she-said tale of love, loss, and lucky signs ...... two young strangers at a crossroads in their lives become friends by happy accident (okay, maybe some harmless stalking is involved - and not by the person you'd think!) - and forever change each other.

As one of the members of our library system's Collection Development team, I was excited to read a synopsis of this book. It sounded like just the thing for our young adult readers, a group that I've been trying to increase in numbers and frequency. It's a "normal" book, too, not a vampire or werewolf in sight, something that I really wanted us to have. Not that I don't like the supernatural stuff - just been seeing an awful lot of it lately and wanted to have a more balanced collection.

The other reason I wanted us to have this book is nostalgia; I myself was a freak magnet during my high school days. My best friend at the time (and she knows who she is!) felt the same way, and we'd often sit at our local Dairy Queen lamenting the fact that the only boys who seemed to want to talk to us were geeks, freaks, and general weirdos. We were worried that we were sporting some sort of invisible tattoos on our foreheads that could only be read by the strange boys in our town. None of the "cool" or "cute" guys gave us the time of day, just the ones that embarassed the hell out of us. So when a book comes along about two kids in high school, a love story of sorts, and the title is "Freak Magnet" - well, it was a no-brainer that I was going to pick this up for my branch.

The character development is good, and I liked the way Auseon bounced between Charlie's and Gloria's viewpoints. (Charlie's chapters are all titles "Freak", and of course, Gloria's are all titles "Magnet"). The story isn't half bad either, and I felt like the author was paying homage to the classic John Hughes movie "Pretty in Pink" with his ending. My biggest complaint with this novel is all the extremely serious drama going on in each teen's life: Charlie's mom has a debilitating fatal illness, Gloria's brother was killed in Afghanistan, Charlie's best friend Edison was in a horrible accident and permanently lost the use of his legs, etc. I realize the author wants to show that both of these kids aren't as different as they think they are, but at times it just seemed like too much. I sort of felt like I do when watching the Olympics now - everyone has a sob story. Doesn't anyone have the right to a happy childhood? I think it would have been more interesting if Gloria had been more "normal", as it would truly take a special person to see past Charlie's "freakdom".

But that's just my opinion. And trust me, it's not so morbid that I wasn't rooting for these two to realize they really love each other - I was the whole time I was reading this book! I'm a sucker for a happy ending, after all. However, I'm not entirely sure Auseon gave them one....

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"The Tyranny of E-mail: the four-thousand year journey to your inbox" by John Freeman

The first e-mail was sent less than forty years ago: by 2011, there will be 3.2 billion e-mail users. The average corporate worker now receives upwards of two hundred e-mails per day. The flood of messages is ceaseless and follows us everywhere. We check e-mail in transit; we check it in the bath. We check it before bed and upon waking up. We check it even midconversation, blithely assuming no one will notice. We no longer make our own to-do list. E-mail does. It's time for a break. In The Tyranny of E-mail, John Freeman takes an entertaining look at the nature of correspondence through the ages. From love poems delivered on clay tablets to the art of the letter to the first era of information overload (via the telegraph) to the vast network brought on by the Internet, Freeman answers the difficult question, Where is this taking us? Put down your BlackBerry and consider the consequences. As the toll of e-mail mounts by reducing our time for leisure and contemplation and by separating us from one another in an unending and lonely battle with the overfull inbox, John Freeman - one of America's preeminent literary critics - enters a plea for communication that is more selective and nuanced and, above all, more sociable.

This was a wonderful little book about email. Yes, the ability to send and receive messages via cyberspace (and the ability to do it almost instantly) has changed the way the world works. Literally. According to John Freeman, there are some in the corporate world that receive and try to respond to some 200+ emails every day. Thankfully, I am not one of those people. But there are times where it can seem as if everyone wants a piece of you, and if you don't respond quickly enough, you can anger someone in an instant.

What was interesting about this book is that it's not just about email. Freeman traces the evolution of written communication from love poems painstakingly traced onto clay tablets, to written letters on papyrus, to the telegraph, the Pony Express, and our much-maligned Postal Service. It's all here, from soup to nuts, so to speak. And the author does an excellent job of also tracing the de-volution of our writing skills; letters were once works of art, with the author taking the time and care necessary to really communicate their feelings (or simply their actions, as the case may be - either way, they used proper grammar and spelling).

Of course, once the computer was invented, and the Internet was up and running, we turned to this thing called email - and a monster was born. What should be a fast and efficient way for us to send messages has instead become the albatross around our necks; people in companies will no longer walk down the hall to ask their co-worker a question - they send an email. Employees work more than the normal 8-hour day so they can ensure that they have answered all their messages, even the ones that don't really require a response. And how do you determine what really needs a response? Worse yet, people no longer relax when they are home with family; they spend precious moments "checking in" with the office using their Blackberrys or laptops, rather than talk, eat, and laugh with their loved ones. And vacations? Who truly goes on vacation anymore? With the current economic situation, people are afraid not to check in with work - their job might not be there when they return from their exotic destination.

I agree with most of what Freeman has to say, all but the actual amount of email. Then again, I don't have an uber-important corporate position, so maybe I'd feel differently if I did. I thought it was very interesting that Freeman makes the argument of us being addicted to email, literally getting a "high" when we get new messages and getting depressed when there's nothing new in the box. And I very much agree that our grammatical skills have taken a complete nosedive with the advent of email and text messaging. I mean, really, what's wrong with spelling words correctly and using punctuation? Best of all, Freeman is proposing a "slow communication" movement, asking us as a society to stop sending so much email, and - gasp - picking up a phone to call someone, meeting in person for coffee, etc. Or even asking us to write an "old-fashioned" letter and sending it via the U. S. Postal Service, something most no longer do. I, for one, am all for this propsoal!