Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"The Cocktail Party" by T. S. Eliot

This was one of my attempts at reading more "literary" works, and while I did read it, I have to say that I didn't enjoy it much. I waded my way thru Eliot's "The Wasteland" back in my college days, so I'm not sure why I thought a play by him would be any better. Luckily, it's short.

The whole thing is written in free verse, which I am not a fan of. And as to "what" the play is about, good luck with that, too. It starts off normally enough with a scene set in the drawing room of Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne. Edward is attempting to entertain a group of friends as his wife, Lavinia, has left him. A strange man who prefers to remain anonymous is also there, and Edward confesses that his wife has left him. The stranger asks if Edward wants to see her again, to which Edward gives thought, then answers "yes", that despite everything, he believes he still loves her. The stranger indicates that Lavinia will appear on the morrow, but that Edward must not ask her any questions.

Some of the previous guests return and are in and out of the next few scenes, all set in the drawing room. When the second act begins, we are at the office of Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly, an advisor or psychiatrist of sorts. He meets with Edward, then Lavinia comes in, and there's lots of talk about what they want, but in a very existential way. After they agree to give their marriage another chance, the "advisor" meets with one of the party guests, Celia, and tells her that she has a choice about her life, too.

The third act is again in the Chamberlaynes' drawing room and again the same guests are there, all but Celia. Turns out she took one of the path's suggested by Sir Henry and was killed in a foreign country on a mission of mercy (or something like that, I'm still not sure). There's more existential talk about how life is strange, etc, then the play closes.

So what can I say about this? Well, if the reviews on Amazon are any indication, what I can say is that I just don't get this piece at all. It feels like it should be deep and thoughtful, but I mostly just found it boring and confusing, and I don't attribute all that to the free verse. Maybe in the time it was originally published it made more sense, but I just felt like I wasted my time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Death Perception" by Victoria Laurie

It took a while for Abby's FBI agent boyfriend, Dutch Rivers, to accept her psychic gifts as the real deal. But these days he knows better than to question Abby's visions. So when his cousin Chase is kidnapped after a bloody shoot-out in a Vegas alleyway, he agrees that her clairvoyant skills could be invaluable, and they both catch the next flight to Sin City. Abby's inner eye insists that Chase is still alive, but nothing else about the case adds up - especially Dutch's reluctance to involve the FBI. On top of everything, Dutch is battling a mysterious illness, and Abby keeps having disturbing dreams that predict his death. Dutch wants Abby to promise that if the investigation goes south, she'll head home to safety, but when the chips are down, Abby won't fold without a fight.

This is the sixth book in Laurie's "Psychic Eye" series, and the first review I've done of any of the books. Basically, they fall under the "cute/cozy/slightly-paranormal mystery" category. They don't take long to read, and they don't take a lot of brain power, either. Yup, my "popcorn" books that I've referred to in past reviews.

This one really isn't any different, except that it is the first one I found myself being somewhat disappointed in, and that seems an odd thing to say, given that my expectations weren't that high in the first place. I've gotten used to Laurie repeating herself when she's giving exposition about how Abby's abilities work, her "crew", what goes through her mind when something is true/false, etc. While it's probably not nearly as noticeable when you have to wait a year between books, it would still be nice if authors could find a way to fill in that backstory in their series' entries without sounding like carbon copies all the time. But I digress....

I know that Abby's visions don't always make sense, and I know that she's not always the sharpest crayon in the box, but hello - the things she "misses" are so obvious, it's not even funny. Take Dutch's "mysterious illness"; I don't hold a medical degree but I knew within the first two scenes what was wrong with the guy! Then there's the issue of her new cellphone; Dutch gave her this gift in the previous book, and while she wasn't thrilled, she was grateful later on because said phone is equipped with a GPS device, meaning it could be used to track someone's location. Got that? Our girl Abby is desperately trying to find Dutch at one point in this book and remembers aha! the cellphone has GPS! But in the very next chapter (after she fails to find said boyfriend), she forgets that the cellphone can be used to track her and gives away her location to the bad FBI guy. Really? Really? I had a hard time buying that myself.

Then there's the issue of the casino. Yep, Abby's "crew" helps her win a sweepstakes, including money and two Mini-Coopers, pretty much the same way that they helped her pick lottery numbers for Dutch's ex-police-partner, Milo. Um, I don't know whether I believe in psychic abilities or not, but I sort of feel like if they are real, there would be a lot more lottery winners. Just saying.

By the time Abby, her sister Cat, and her PI-office-partner Candice, have won those prizes, the believablity factor has dropped several quotients. Honestly, I felt like I was reading about another hapless heroine, the one from New Jersey that's always blowing up cars. There was just too much "madcap adventure" feel about this book, and definitely not enough "plot". I'm hoping when I pick up the next one it's better, or that's the end of the series for me. Guess time will tell.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The New New Rules: A funny look at how everybody but me has their head up their ass" by Mill Maher

You have to say one thing for Bill Maher: the man speaks his mind and makes no apologies for doing so.

If you're not familiar with the sometimes-caustic, liberal host of HBO's Real Time, then you most likely picked up this book by mistake. I used to watch Maher when his show was still on "regular" television, before he spoke up about something, got everyone's panties in a twist, and had to go back to HBO. Yes, that should tell you something right there: he used to be on cable, moved to late-night TV, then went back to cable. Maher's guests were always an interesting bunch. I can remember one show that included Marilyn Manson, Florence Henderson, and two other guests. I don't remember who the other two were, but I do remember that one of them was a religious nut-job, and I say that in the nicest way possible. It was quite a sight to see Manson sitting there calmly trying to debate said nut-job and Mrs. Brady had to be the one to tell this lady to please be quiet and let the young man have a chance to speak. Surreal!

Anyway, Maher covers most of the same ground he did in his previous book and on his show. In fact, he admits in the foreword that the longer, more "philosophical" pieces are basically straight from the show, although not all made it to air. The short musings are funnier, in my humble opinion, and they are definitely short. This is the sort of book that you can pick up and digest little nuggets, akin to the evil McDonald's Chicken Nuggets that Maher likes to make you feel bad about eating.

Prime example (and one near & dear to my heart, as I am now a rebel at the ripe old age of almost 44!)
Tat Patrol: Now that everyone has a tattoo, it will now be considered rebellious to not have a tattoo. Seriously. I think the Jonas Brothers have tattoos now. I'm sure Mitt Romney is all inked up. Betty White has one across her back that says "F**k the Police" - that I know for sure.

Now, as funny as I found a lot of Maher's musings, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with him at times, too. He's turned into the "super-left" guy, just as Dennis Miller has turned into the "super-right", and I find that sad. Yes, the Republicans have screwed up things in this country - but so have the Democrats. Yes, there should be higher taxes to help get us out of the national debt, and definitely yes, corporations that manage to pay absolutely no taxes each and every year need to be stopped. But the Democrats went mad with power when they were in the majority, and rather than trying to help the country a little, they "helped" us a lot - and a lot of us really didn't deserve such help. I am all for lending a helping hand, but I grew a bit tired of watching the Democrats give us all handouts. I do agree with Maher when he asks what has happened to us as a country; he feels that we've become too accustomed to sitting around and waiting for the government to "save us". Well, guess what folks? Congress is nothing more right now than a huge daycare full of 2-year-olds that need a nap and refuse to agree on anything. It's going to be up to us, the citizens, to pull ourselves out of this mess - and that won't happen if we're squalling right along with the Big Boys.

All in all, a fun read. But I do wish we'd see a little more "middle" humor from our comedians, because I truly believe that's where most Americans stand - in the middle.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Sandman Slim" by Richard Kadrey

Life sucks, and then you die. Or, if you're James Stark, you spend eleven years in Hell as a hitman before finally escaping, only to land back in the hell-on-earth that is Los Angeles. Now Stark's back, and ready for revenge. And absolution, and maybe even love. But when his first stop saddles him with an abusive talking head, Stark discovers that the road to absolution and revenge is much longer than you'd expect, and both Heaven and Hell have their own ideas for his future. Resurrection sucks. Saving the world is worse. Darkly twisted, irreverent, and completely hilarious, [this book] is the breakthrough novel by an acclaimed author.

First problem is this: I have no idea who Richard Kadrey is. The dust jacket blurb says he's an "acclaimed author", but this was my first introduction to him, and from what I've gathered from some of the reviews, the first time most people have heard of him. But I think he's well on his way to making it bigger, as this book is pretty awesome. It's also getting attention from other writers, as I recently read a blog post by Jocelyn Drake saying how wonderful this book is and go out and read it for myself.

Yep, she was right.

So was the hubby, who devoured it first. (He's also breezed right thru the second installment, leaving me behind in his biblionic dust - and yes, I just made up that word, "biblionic". Pretty cool, huh?)

To tell you much about the book would be to give things away, but I will tell you that it reminded me a bit of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. The comparisons are inevitable in a way: rough and tumble magician pissing off everyone around him, and let's not forget about the talking head. Granted, in "Slim" the head is the direct result of actions taken by Stark, whereas Bob is more of a mentor/contemporary of Harry's. Still... But "Sandman Slim" is darker, which I liked. There are mysteries of all sorts here to be solved, not the least of which is, who is James Stark? He might not like some of the answers.

My biggest complaint about this book is the editing/proofreading, or what at times appears a complete lack of. There are words missing, wrong words being used, and sometimes misspellings as well. It's to be expected that there will be little things missed on occassion, but to have this many of them missed starts to feel like someone has dropped the ball. And now that I do some proofreading myself (yep, for profit!) I really, really notice when things like this happen. For example, read the following, and perhaps read it aloud for full effect: "No. Wild Bill told my great-granddad about it. It's where I take you down the river. Someplace the ground is soft and wet. I break your arms and legs. You fingers and toes. Your neck and back. I dig a hole in the wet, soft ground, put you inside, and fill it back up. Then I have a cigarette and wait for you to dig your way out." In the space of less than 100 pages, I immediately picked out this and four more errors, and those were just the ones that I noticed right off the bat. I know there were more in the beginning of the book, but I wasn't really looking for them.

I will definitely be looking for the next installment, though, as this was a pretty good read. I'm anxious to see what happens to Sandman Slim next.

"My Formerly Hot Life: dispatches from just the other side of young" by Stephanie Dolgoff

When men stop making lecherous catcalls and Spanx get comfortable in your lingerie drawer, when marketers target you for Activia instead of $200 premium denim, when you have to start wearing makeup to get the "I'm not wearing any makeup" glow and are "ma'amed" outside the Deep South, it may dawn on you that somehow you have crossed an invisible line: You are not the young, relevant, in-the-mix woman you used to be. But neither are you old, or even what you think of as middle-aged. You are no longer what you were, but not quite sure what you are. Stephanie Dolgoff calls this stage of a woman's life "Formerly," the state of mind and body she herself is in now: Her roaring twenties are behind her, but she's not in hot flash territory, either. [This book], showcasing Dolgoff's wacky and wise observations about this little-discussed flux time, demonstrates that becoming a Formerly is intensely poignant if you're paying attention, and hilarious even if you're not. From fashion to friendship, beauty to body image, married sex to single searching, mothering to careering (or both), Dolgoff reveals the upside to not being forever 21 - even as you watch the things you once thought were so essential to a happy life go the way of the cassette tape. You may be formerly thin, formerly cool, formerly (seemingly) carefree, formerly cutting-edge, but in reading [this book] you are reminded that you are finally more comfortable in your skin (formerly obsessed with your weight), finally following your instincts (formerly ruled by the opinions of others), and finally happy with where you are) formerly focused on the guy or job you thought would take you where you thought you should be). While you may no longer be as close to the media-machine-generated idea of fabulous, you can do many, many more things fabulously.

OK, full disclosure - I have never thought of myself as "hot". Cute, maybe even kind of pretty at times, but the word "hot" has never been used by myself when describing my own person. So what's a "not-now-not-ever" hot lady like myself doing with a book like this? Laughing my {bleeping} butt off, that's what.

The territory here feels oh-so-familiar, as I am now in my early 40s. I totally understand where Dolgoff is coming from and feel her pain at realizing that I no longer fit in the 25-35 age category on most questionnaires. Sad but true - I'm one of those middle-aged women who certainly don't feel middle-aged. The only section I didn't relate too very well was the one about parenting, but that's because my husband and I are childless by choice. The rest of it, though, could have been written by yours truly at times.

For example, I love her take on all the new gadgets on the market. Like myself, she uses some of them, but isn't what you would call a "tech-geek", and for good reason. She explains: "I'm not fearful or dismissive of technology, even if I don't see it as the extension of self that younger people often do. The problem is, I am barely able to find the time and the presence of mind to learn what I need to know to make the technology I already have do the minimal things I ask it to do, let alone explore the next generation of gizmo and all of its many features..." EXACTLY! I finally broke down and bought a computer for home use, and yes, I have now had a cell phone for about 18 months, but I still don't fully embrace either one. The computer is basic and has what I need (and a lot that I don't); the phone is a pay-as-you-go not-so-smartphone that allows me to call my friends and send text messages. I think it would let me access the Internet if I could/would take the time to figure it out, but honestly, I don't care. I don't need it to take pictures, compare prices on goods, or any of the other multitude of things that others use their fancy phones to do. In fact, at one point before obtaining this model, I figured if I ever did buy one, it would be a Jitterbug model, the one designed for "older folks".

The other topic she covers at length is also one I relate to quite well, the issue of body image. She talks about TBMFU, also known as The Big Metabolic F*ck You, the sad fact that your metabolism at some point will turn on you like a rabid dog and cause you to gain weight in places you didn't even know it was possible to gain weight. And while it is frustrating to realize you can no longer eat the whole pint of Ben & Jerry's without seeing it on your saddlebags post-haste, you are also at that age where you realize there are bigger concerns in your life than the size of your thighs. She talks here about hearing a comment at a party made about still-stick-thin "formerly" women; the commenter says that they are very restrictive in their calorie intake. Dolgoff later says "It takes effort to not eat when you're hungry, to constantly be figuring what you can and cannot put in your mouth based on whether or not you think it'll make you fat or what you may or may not want to eat later. Doing so takes up buckets of mental energy, which can be in short supply when you're already overextended, stressed out and multitasking." I can attest to this myself; no, I've never been one to be severely restrictive with my food, but taking the time to be "on a diet" and think about food all the time is exhausting. I'd rather just try to cut back on all my portion sizes and eat what I want, maybe take an extra walk around the block, than do the diet thing. And I know I have more important things to focus on in my life than my waist size or the number on the bathroom scale.

If you're nearing your 40s, are firmly in them, or have left them behind in the dust, I highly recommend this book. It's so nice to know that there are others feeling this same way, and that we can think of ourselves as smarter, if not "hotter".

"In The Land of Long Fingernails: a gravedigger's memoir" by Charles Wilkins

As a student during the summer of 1969, Charles Wilkins took a job as a gravedigger in a vast corporate cemetery in the east end of Toronto. The bizarre-but-true events of that time - a gravediggers' strike, the unearthing of a victim of an unsolved murder and a little illegal bone-shifting - play out among a Barnumesque parade of mavericks and misfits in this macabre and hilarious memoir. Amid relentless gallows humour and the inevitable reminders of what it is, finally, to be be human, Wilkins provides an unforgettable insider's view of a morbidly fascinating industry. {This} is a story of mortality, materialism, friendship and sexuality... and the gradual coming-of-age of an impressionable young man.

I had originally put this title on a TBR list for my hubby, as he loves this sort of thing. We've both read a couple of interesting books about death and the funeral industry, so this was a no-brainer. When I finally got it for him (the book, not a funeral), he flew through it and told me lots of little tidbits, enough that my interest was piqued. I finally finished it this morning, no small feat thanks to a busy work schedule, in-laws in for the Thanksgiving holiday, and general weariness of late which has had me falling asleep with only one, if any, chapters read at night.

The book is well-written, and yes, it is very interesting. The title is a bit of a misnomer, though, as Wilkins was not an "official" gravedigger. That title belonged to the only two union men on the crew, Peter and Hogjaw. When the strike hits (in the middle of summer, no less), the dead cannot be buried, as there are no other gravediggers available. Yes, Wilkins and his non-union co-workers could have done the job, but they are legally bound not to. Coffins with corpses are loaded into one of the buildings that has been outfitted with industrial A/C units; even so, after almost 3 weeks (and some 50+ corpses), the place is really starting to smell. Wilkin's job mostly consisted of cemetery maintenance, such as mowing lawns, clipping the parts that couldn't be mowed, filling in "sinkers" (plots that have settled enough to be noticeable by visiting mourners) and other such minutia that make a cemetery a place of peace.

There are several characters here, though. Peter and Hogjaw are the union guys. Luccio Pucci is an Italian in Canada on a visa (which has all but expired); he's a philosopher, writer, and in need of a better-paying, "real", job. He has hopes of becoming an economist, but seems to put off every potential employer. Fred is the one-armed groundskeeper, a quiet man of dignity who has perhaps one of the scariest brushes with death, as it is all too common and could happen to anyone. There's David, a grandson of the gravediggers' boss, Scotty. Scotty is the biggest character of all, something of a stereotype, but probably all too real. He drinks Scotch (of course) but it must be Cutty Sark and none other. He's brusque with his crew, yelling at them over the smallest details, and yet he can be sensitive at times. And like all human beings, he has a private life that his crew eventually learn of, one that explains his alcoholism to a point, one that makes him all the more human.

It's a good book, entertaining despite its topic. Some will find the gallows humour off-putting, I'm sure. But lots of professions use that sort of humour to deal with death: police, emergency personnel, etc. It's how you might react if you were the one faced with death on a daily basis. But the book isn't really about death - it's about life. And in the end, how you live it is more important than how you leave it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"What? Are These the 20 Most Important Questions in Human History - Or Is This a Game of 20 Questions?" by Mark Kurlansky

What is What? Has Mark Kurlansky drawn on philosophy, religion, literature, politics - indeed, all of civilization - to ask the twenty most important questions in human history, or has he given us a really smart, impossibly amusing game of twenty questions? In What?, Kurlansky considers the work of Confucius, Plato, Stein, Shakespeare, Descartes, Nietzsche, Freud, Hemingway, de Gaulle, Woolf, Dickinson, and others, distilling the deep questions of life to their sparkling essence. What? supplies endless fodder for thoughtful conversation, but also endless opportunity to ponder and be challenged - and entertained - by these questions in refreshingly original ways. As Kurlansky says: In a world that seems devoid of absolute certainties, how can we make declarative statements? Without asking the questions, how will we ever get to the answers? Why are we here? Why do we die? What is death? What does it mean the outer space is infinite, and what is after infinity? What is the significance of bird flight, why does matter decay, and how is our life different from that of a mosquito? Is there an end to these questions or is questioning as infinite as space? With Kurlansky's striking black-and-white woodcut illustrations throughout, this terrifically witty, deeply thought-provoking book is a tour de force that packs a tremendous wallop in a deliciously compact package.

This really is a most interesting, and yes, thought-provoking, little book. I'm not one for deep philosophical discussions (and I will admit that often attempting to read about said philosophers makes me than intelligent), but this book had me thinking about a lot of things. Perhaps the biggest question is this: how talented an author must you be to write an entire book in questions? Seriously. Every single sentence in this book is a question, meaning that Kurlansky starts with one question and answers all of the questions he asks with - you got it - more questions. The only time a question is not asked is when he writes his final word of the piece, and that is a one-word answer. I won't tell you what the answer is; you must read it for yourself.

Trust me, you'll enjoy it. I even found myself going back to reread parts of the book, it was that much fun. And it's only about 77 pages long, so you can digest it in one sitting, if you choose. I think it would work best to read each question, then set the book aside and really think about what he's written. I would love to get a copy of this and send it to my dad, who taught me in my youth "you never learn anything if you don't ask questions". It was a lesson he came to regret sometimes, as I asked lots of questions when I was a little girl. But as Kurlansky points out, we seem to stop asking those questions as we age; we just go along with what others tell us, or accept that things are what they are because we feel powerless to change them. Given all that the world has been through in the past few years, I think he's onto something; I think we should start asking a lot more questions, both of the outside world, and most importantly, of ourselves.

"Four Word Self Help: simple wisdom for complex lives" by Patti Digh

The blurb on the back of this book claims that this little gift book contains "pithy, provocative, poignant advice on a variety of topics - in four well-chosen words". It's an interesting idea, and yes, it's a good idea for a gift book. I would probably look at this for someone changing careers, going through a life change, or perhaps a new graduate (either high school or college).

But is the advice really that good? Well, yes and no. A lot of it is common sense, like "eat less, move more" and "let someone help you". There are a few that are different, like "protect each other's dignity". There are a few pages of the pithy advice interspersed between the chapter introductions written by the author. The chapters are divided into "twelve hot-button 'issues'", and I suppose the author's words about each issue are interesting in and of themselves. I did appreciate that she uses artwork created by friends and readers; some of it is very inspiring.

Overall, though, this book left me a bit disappointed. It has a been-there-done-that feel to it, and I guess I was just hoping for more. Perhaps less of the intros and more of the 4-word advice pages? Not really sure. I'm just glad we had it in our library system; if I had paid for this for myself, I would be experiencing buyer's remorse now.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Yes, I'm still here!

Sorry I haven't been better at posting my book reviews. Folks, there is just so much going on right now, I don't know where to start. Um, well, let's start with the fact that I've been sick for the last week with what I've affectionately named "the crud". I'm sure it's just a head cold, but it's laid me out - lots of nose-blowing, throat-clearing, bones-aching yuckiness. I doubt it's the flu, as everything I've ever read or heard says you usually run a good fever with the flu but do not have a lot of mucous. Mucous? Oh yeah, got that in abundance. So a cold it is. I finally broke down and went to a local pharmacy for "real" medicine - you know, the stuff that now requires you to produce ID and be entered into the system lest you have plans to produce meth with your paltry purchase - and that seems to be doing the trick. I finally feel somewhat human again and even plan to go to work today. Yippee!

One of the other reasons I haven't been around is work. There are major, major changes going on in my library system, and none of them are "good" in the sense of making anyone happy. Our two-county regional library system is being forced to disband, leaving us as single county entities. Sounds simple but trust me when I tell you that, just as in a normal human divorce, there are a multitude of details that need to be worked out. We have patrons who use branches in both counties, and yes, they are worried that they will suffer when the split is final. We worry too, as we have no idea at this point what will still be available, what will be off-limits, what will cost and how much, etc.

In addition to the dissolution of our regional system, the county I work in slashed our budget and eliminated about 3 full-time positions and 5 part-time positions. Thankfully no one actually lost a job, as those positions were unfilled at the time - but they are still gone for good. The director had to do some fancy footwork, cutting back on branch hours and shifting around staff, so try to keep the system up and running. Some of it is working and some isn't. Then the rug was pulled out from under our feet: a supervisor responsible for two of the busiest branches gave notice, and now everything is up in the air again. Chances are good that someone will be moved into that position as we have a "spare" supervisor at the moment (one that has a branch but doesn't really have a staff), but that person may not be the one who is moved. It's really been a nightmare, and if I can be totally honest here, I don't think this will be the last of the resignations. People are frustrated and unhappy, and even with the unemployment rate still as high as it is, staff are obviously starting to consider their options. And we've all been told to expect more budget cuts for the next fiscal year, and to expect them to be deep. Who wouldn't be looking, when it's pretty much been telegraphed to each and every employee that there will be layoffs next summer?

Enough bad news? OK, let me share with you the last reason I've been MIA. I have a small contract job proofing manuscripts for an e-publisher! Yes, I'm finally getting to see the other side of the fence, and I have to say, it's very, very interesting. No, this is in no way will take the place of my "day job"; I love the work, but as this is a new publisher, the pay isn't much, certainly not enough to make it my one and only job. I am certainly learning a lot, though, and if I do someday decide to try my own hand at authorship, I will have had a wonderful tutorial in how to write, what to do, what not to do, etc. Just this morning I learned about "filtering", a phenomenon I have encountered but never really thought about. It's the art of actually distancing your character from the reader through certain words and phrases, such as "She watched the cars drive by. She wondered if she could cross the road in time." The article suggests taking out the filters such as "she watched" and "she wondered" and rewriting it to make the action more direct, which in turn better connects the reader with the character. Yep, how cool is that? I'm looking forward to my next read - I know I'll be on the lookout for this now!

And with that, dear readers, I must leave you. It's just about time for breakfast and the usual morning work routine, and since I am feeling much better today, I will be heading off to the salt mines. Have a great day!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"You Don't Sweat Much For a Fat Girl" by Celia Rivenbark

I have been reading Celia Rivenbark since I first discovered her in our library. I'm not sure which book caught my eye first - a tie, probably, between "We're Just Like You, Only Prettier" and "Bless Your Heart, Tramp". Both had me laughing myself silly and thinking I had found a new Southern friend (of course, she doesn't know me from Adam, but I still think she'd at least stop and say "Heeeeeeey!" to me if I said it first). The next few books were still cute, but were lacking something, something I just could never put my finger on.

I'm happy to say that Rivenbark is back in rare form with this book. I found myself laughing, snickering, and once or twice, downright chortling along with her humorous recollections of all sorts of things almost menopausal. Yep, CR has hit "the change" in her life - right at the same time that her darling daughter, Princess, is hitting puberty. She has great sympathy for her Duh hubby (as would I), but still, if he doesn't provide them both chocolate on a consistent basis, his life may quickly be forfeit.

I especially loved "Twitter Woes" (as I am completely incapable of holding myself to 140 characters - it's why I have a blog!) and "You Know You Want It: Snuggie's Embrace Will Melt You". No, I do not nor have I ever owned a Snuggie, nor do I want to. But I am one of those Yankees who is constantly amazed by the natives' reaction to cold/winter weather. I have never lived anywhere that closes school due to a threat of snow; in my old home state, it took several inches - nay, feet - before we were allowed the comfort of lounging at home. The words "snow day" were always said with much hope when I was growing up, but except for the infamous Blizzard of '78, we were rarely sitting at home due to the white stuff. We've lived here in North Carolina for almost 10 years now, and we still giggle at people complaining about the "cold". Of course, the longer we're here, the closer we get to being those people; something about living here in the South must thin the blood. Well, that and my duh-hubby's blood pressure meds...

If you need yourself a good laugh, go find a copy of this book. It's just chockful of good stuff, and hey, if that doesn't float your boat, how can you not love the lady on the cover? Doesn't she just look like she's having the time of her life?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Summer Rental" by Mary Kay Andrews

Ellis, Julia, and Dorie. Best friends since Catholic grade school, they now find themselves in their mid-thirties, at the crossroads of life and love. Ellis, recently fired from a job she gave everything to, is rudderless and now beginning to question the choices she's made over the past decade of her life. Julia - whose caustic wit covers up her wounds - has a man who loves her and is offering her the world, but she can't hide how deeply insecure she feels about her looks, her brains, and her live. And Dorie has just been shockingly betrayed by the man she loved and trusted the most in the world... though this is just the tip of the iceberg of her problems and secrets. A month in North Carolina's Outer Banks is just what each of them needs.

Ty Bazemore is their landlord, though he's hanging on to the rambling old beach house by a thin thread. After an inauspicious first meeting with Ellis, the two find themselves disturbingly attracted to each other, even as Ty is about to lose everything he's ever cared about.

Maryn Shackleford is a stranger, and a woman on the run. Maryn needs just a few things in life: no questions, a good hiding place, and a new identity. Ellis, Julia, and Dorie can provide what Maryn wants, but can they also provide what she needs?

Five people questioning everything they ever thought they knew about life. Five people on a journey that will uncover their secrets and point them on the path to forgiveness. Five people who need a sea change, and one month in a summer rental that might just give it to them.

I love Mary Kay Andrews and have since I read "Hissy Fit" so many years ago. She puts out funny, Southern women's fiction, and other than "Deep Dish", she hasn't missed a beat. (Hey, I still liked that one, too, just not as much as all the others I've read). I put my name on the list for this, her newest title, as soon as our system got it, even though it meant it would be a dreaded 7-day title.

So imagine my surprise when I get my copy and start reading and realize - this is sorta serious stuff. Not wring-your-hands and cry-your-eyeballs-out serious, but a lot more serious than I remember her books being. There's an unplanned pregnancy (and no, I'm not giving anything away - you can spot that coming a mile away); there's job loss; there's potential bankruptcy and home-loss; and there's physical abuse. Heck, there's even possible murder! And while some of these issues have sort of popped up before in an MKA book, the subjects were dealt with quickly and with great humor. This time the subjects linger and the humor felt a bit more grim.

Now having said that I was shocked by the more serious, grown-up tone of this book, I have to say that I still enjoyed it. The friendships between the three friends was wonderful and felt very much like some of my real-life friendships. I really wanted to know more about Maryn, and that was perhaps my only disappointment, that her story was left unfinished. Maybe she will be the lead character of the next book? (hint, hint, MKA.....)

The romance is nicely done, developing at a leisurely pace. And as always, the descriptions of the seaside town, the houses, the furniture, etc, are just fabulous. You really feel like you're there and can easily imagine the cottages, the roads, the bicycles, etc.

Overall, I would say "Summer Rental" is a good read, and it would make a perfect beach book. Of course, I'm getting around to reviewing it way past summer and "beach time" but who knows? Maybe you'll be heading out to the coast yourself this fall/winter!

"Dreams of a Dark Warrior" by Kresley Cole

Murdered before he could wed Regin the Radiant, warlord Aidan the Fierce seeks his beloved through eternity, reborn again and again into new identities, yet with no memory of his past lives. When Regin encounters Declan Chase, a brutal Celtic soldier, she recognizes her proud warlord reincarnated. But Declan takes her captive, intending retribution against all immortals - unaware that he belongs to their world. Yet every reincarnation comes with a price, for Aidan is doomed to die when he remembers his past. To save herself from Declan's torments, will Regin rekindle memories of the passion they once shared - even if it means once again losing the only man she could ever love?

OK, bear with me. It's been quite a while since I actually read this title, so I'm just going to give you general impressions. A very good friend of mine has suggested that I start setting deadlines for my reviews; if I don't review a book within, say, 5 days, just move on to the next title. Obviously she's got the right idea!

What's funny is that when I read the description from the back of the book (the italicized portion above), I remember that I thought this title was better than the previous one. That one had some pretty darn hot sex, but after reading another reviewer's opinion (that the sex bordered on rape), I'm sort of rethinking my opinion on that installment. This one, however, was Cole as I love her: great action, great romance, great romantic tension, etc.

What I remember most about this book is the ending, which I loved. I won't give anything away, but I was very impressed by how the author handled the whole "if he remembers, he'll die" quandary. It made perfect sense, plus it really showed her ability to full develop a character. No bait-and-switch here, no magical ending, just something that really had me smiling and saying "Yes!"

Can't wait for the next IAD book, and I promise I'll try to stick with my friend's plan to get the reviews done on time - or not at all. Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"The Geeks' Guide to World Domination" by Garth Sundem

After realizing this title had been on my Amazon wish list for about two years, I gave up and requested it as an inter-library loan. I waited a few weeks for delivery, and voila! Geekdom at my fingertips! Joy and much singing in the land until..... I realize this is not exactly what I thought it was.

For some weird reason, I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that it was more of a typical non-fiction book. Or perhaps I thought it was a novel, I don't know. In any case, it was not what I thought it would be, which sort of set me asea as it were. Sundem's work is a collection of some 300+ "geek" factoids and trivia, a worthy feat in and of itself. However, the majority of these snippets are true geek nirvana of the math, computer, and role-playing variety - and sadly, I am not that sort of geek. The math went way over my head, as did much of the computer fun. I did get some of the RPG references, having dabbled a wee bit with the classic Dungeons & Dragons back in the day, but I've never done any of the online stuff. (I don't even play "Farmville" on Facebook, for crying out loud).

I will give the author big props for including the Dewey Decimal System - GO DEWEY! He's right: it gives you a unique way to classify everything in the world, going from uber-general subjects to the specific equivalency of the head of a pin. Love me some Dewey, even as it's been sliding into obscurity due to the shift of many libraries to the Library of Congress system, or - heaven forbid - the general categories found in most book stores.

There were some other chapters/sections/snippets I liked, including but not limited to: Quotable Yoda, Five Classic Macgyver Hacks, Moral Lessons brought to you by the Monster of "The Odyssey", 10 Most Valuable Comic Books (not the books, but the point he makes about they're only as valuable as you can collect on), and Quotable X-files.

Overall, I'd still say I enjoyed the book. It's very easy to jump around and digest, which is great. It's also easy enough to skip over entries that you have no interest in (or that are too complex for mine, and possibly your, non-geek self). I have to admit that I'm disappointed that I lack the geekdom I thought I had, but that's OK. I do believe I'm still geeky enough for the club.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Dog Daisy

Today will be a bit of a departure from the norm. After reading a wonderful blog post by Jocelynn Drake, I decided to help out the good people at Pedigree and write a blog about a dog, thus helping them with their quest to donate pounds and pounds of dog food to shelters. A link to her blog, if you wish to read her story:

And from her page, this is why I'm doing this:
Pedigree has decided to launch a Write a Post, Help a Dog Campaign. For those of you who missed the event last year in September, 391 bloggers wrote about the program and with each post, Pedigree donated 20 pounds of its Healthy Longevity dog food to shelter animals. In all, 7,820 pounds of food was donated to two shelters known across the country for their dedication to the care and re-homing of senior dogs: Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco and Castaway Critters in Harrisburg, Pa.

How you can help in 2011

Simply spread the word about Write a Post, Help a Dog 2011 and once again Pedigree will donate 20 pounds of food for each blog post. If you don’t have a blog feel free to tweet about the campaign or share on Facebook so your friends who do blog can participate. All bloggers are welcome even if you do not generally talk about pets on your blog. Its all about using Social Media for Social Good.

Here’s how it works:
•The Write a Post, Help a Dog program is aimed at raising awareness of the more then 4 million dogs that wind up in shelters and breed rescues each year. As well as to help get them all food (our goal is 10,000 lbs of food in the next two weeks) for the more than four million dogs that wind up in shelters and breed rescues each year.

•For each blog post mentioning the Pedigree Foundation from now until midnight ET on September 3, Pedigree will donate 20 pounds of its new dry Pedigree recipe food for dogs — its best recipe ever — to a shelter, because every dog deserves leading nutrition.

•The Pedigree Foundation — a 501 (C)(3) nonprofit organization is committed to helping dogs by providing grants to shelters and rescues and encouraging dog adoption. This year the Foundation has already raised more than $376,570 against its goal of $1.5 million to carry out its work to fund grants that not only help shelters operate, but to further shelter innovations.

Alright, now that you know the why and the how, here's my story about my dog, Daisy.

My baby sister and I had a very good childhood, very stable and with plenty of money (although we probably didn't realize it at the time). As middle-class, slightly more privileged children, my parents thought we should get a dog when we were young; my dad grew up with dogs, especially Dobermans. I can't remember if my mom had dogs as a young girl, but I know if she did, hers were of the smaller variety. When we went to pick out a new Labrador puppy, my mother was shocked at the size of the mamma dog. She thought she was huge! My dad wisely told his buddy to hurry up and get the pups into the room, and that was all she wrote; we took Daisy home in a laundry basket and loved her from that very moment.

Now, I know this will be super-hard for some to believe, but I was a very shy kid growing up. I usually had one "best friend" in my class every year, if that; my books were my friends and my comfort when I was lonely, sad, or scared. Then there was Daisy. She truly was my one best and constant friend while I was growing up. She didn't care that she, a black Lab, had been named for a white flower. She didn't care that I was shy and awkward. She didn't even care that I upchucked orange juice on her one horrible winter afternoon (looooooooong story); she loved me no matter what. She knew when I needed a hug, and when I just needed someone to sit beside me and be there. She was a wonderful dog who had a very good life, and when we lost her in 1985, it was devastating to my teenage self. How do you recover from the loss of a best friend? Time, as they say, does heal old wounds. However, it doesn't take away the scar, and to this day, I still get teary-eyed thinking about her. So this post is honor of my best friend Daisy, who crossed that rainbow bridge long ago. Still love you, and we'll see each other again someday.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Demon Can't Help It" by Kathy Love

Practical Josephine "Jo" Burke has no patience for the paranormal - even if she's been having some strange visions lately. But if she is losing her mind, at least it would explain her new attraction to her co-worker, the last suitable man she could ever fall for... Maksim Kostova has no idea why he's so drawn to feisty mortal Jo, but he does know how she feels about the supernatural. Forget about her accepting him for what he really is, she'd never even believe him in the first place. Or would she? When Jo confesses to him that she's been seeing visions of a dead girl, it seems anything's possible...

I've been reading Kathy Love for a while, starting back when she was still writing "regular" romances (ie - no vampires or demons as characters). The books are light reading with hot guys and even hotter sex, and almost always have a happy ending. I finally got my hands on this book a few months ago and it's typical Love, although not my favorite.

Maksim is a devil of a demon, good-looking beyond belief but condescending to anyone human. He uses and abuses women of the mortal variety, and right now, he really doesn't have time for even that - he's searching for his lost sister. Enter Jo, the one mortal woman who seems to be completely oblivious to her. Well, you know what will happen next - men hate to be ignored! The story doesn't deviate from the standard format: demon meets human woman, woos human woman, falls in love with human woman, then must find a way to either leave human woman or tell her what he really is and hope for the best. It's still a decent read given the material.

Now having said that, I did have a few problems with this particular work, namely the editing/proofing - or rather, extreme lack thereof. I felt at times as if I was reading a submission, rather than an actual published work, it was so bad! Typos out the wazoo, incorrect words choices (there vs. their), extra words thrown in that made no sense whatsoever. And my biggest beef was the lack of contractions! I'm sorry, but if you're a modern writer, you need to write the way people speak, and I know of hardly anyone that speaks in full, complete, wordy sentences the way Love's characters do. I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on Maksim - his being a demon means that English isn't his "native" tongue, and many foreigners learning a new language will speak in those complete sentences. But Americans? When was the last time you heard someone say "I will go to the store. I am willing to go to the store."?

Then there were the sex scenes. I love me some good sex scenes, but maybe I'm starting to get old or something. I found myself skipping over the "hot" stuff more and more, trying to get to the story itself. I know there a lot of readers out there who love the sex and want more of it, so maybe that's the audience Love is writing for.

Finally, there was the "big secret" that Jo had from the very first page, the one she was just sure would drive her friends away, and later on, her new lover. Oh my god, if you have any brains at all, you'll figure it out as quickly as I did, so I'm not sure why it was written as it was. I think the author would have done everyone a favor by just putting it out there right away and getting on with the story.

But I still enjoyed the book enough to review it for all of you! LOL!

"Hidden Alcatraz: the fortress revealed" by Steve Fritz and Deborah Roundtree

Back in the late 80s, I was lucky enough to visit Alcatraz with my dad. I thought it would be a cool place to see, one with such a dark history. I was right - and I was wrong. It was interesting, but the whole time we were on "the Rock", I felt uncomfortable, almost edgy. I wanted to leave almost as soon as we arrived; something just felt off to me. I couldn't put a finger on what was causing my uneasiness; I just felt very, very creeped out.

Flash forward to this year and this book. It's a wonderful pictorial look at the facility today, which has decayed even further. Photographers were granted unprecedented overnight access, which means there are several photos taken after dark, giving the place an even more eerie appearance. The work is extraordinary, including color and black and white, and really does give the reader a feel for this most infamous of prisons.

Be sure to read the foreword by actor Peter Coyote; it gives an additional history lesson regarding Alcatraz that I was unaware of, namely that Native Americans claimed it for themselves for a good while back in the late 60s. Oddly enough, I also learned that most prisoners never felt threatened while doing their time; they felt "safe" in Alcatraz because their usual enemies couldn't reach them. That doesn't mean there wasn't blood shed, though, and perhaps that contributed to the "bad vibe" I felt so very long ago. In any case, it's a fascinating place with a rich history, one we certainly shouldn't forget.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"The Contender" by Robert Lipsyte

Since I was going to have a long weekend to relax and read, I decided I should tackle a few more of the "classics" on an old list I saved from a previous patron. This book was next in line and I ordered it from work, even though it really didn't look like anything I was interested in. As they say, don't judge a book by its cover - or its storyline.

Alfred Brooks is a 17-year-old high school drop out in late 1960s Harlem. He's black, but he's not proud. He has managed to find himself a small job at a local grocery owned by a Jewish couple; there's not much chance of bettering his position (or so he thinks) and he misses hanging out with his best friend, James.

One Friday night he goes out to locate James; he finds him at the local "club" hanging out with his thuggish friends, Major, Hollis, and some others. While talking about his job, Alfred lets slip that due to their religion, his employers leave money in the safe every Friday night; of course, the "bad" boys decide to rob the store. Unfortunately, they are in such a hurry that Alfred doesn't have a chance to tell them about the brand new alarm system that was just installed (he claims he "forgot" to tell them; maybe he did, and maybe he didn't). James is arrested while the other boys manage to escape, and of course, they come looking for revenge.

Alfred is tired of his life, and tired of being pushed around by the gang. One night he wanders into Donatelli's Gym, and he meets the owner himself. They talk, and Alfred states he wants to be a fighter. Donatelli attempts to talk him out of it, explaining that the hours of training will be grueling and that Alfred will probably quit within a few weeks, but the young man is determined. The book then follows Alfred on his quest to become a professional boxer, showing him doing a lot of repetitive training and becoming frustrated that he's not put into matches right away. Donatelli explains that it takes a lot to be a fighter, not just good moves; there must be an inner fire, too. Eventually Alfred does fight, and he discovers that while he's not too bad a boxer, he has an inner strength to fight much bigger battles in his life, including rescuing his friend James from the stranglehold of drugs.

This was a very well-written, and still timely, novel about a young black man. I had to flip to the copyright page to remind myself that it was written back in the day and not just last year; the issues are still very relevant (think of all the gang trouble we have in inner cities, especially those that deal/use drugs). There are some things that date the book a bit; there's a group of activists that try to enlist Alfred in their cause, claiming that "whitey" is holding back Alfred and that joining them is his only way of advancing his life. There are many who would argue that race relations are still strained, and probably many who would claim that "whitey" is still holding down the man, be he African-American, Hispanic, or any other ethnicity.

Alfred's transformation is believable and a wonderful thing to watch. He struggles to follow Donatelli's authority/advice, and at one point, pretty much decides that he knows what's best for himself, skipping his workouts and hanging out with the gang. Of course he sees the error of his ways, and when he slinks back into the gym, Donatelli has a talk with him - but doesn't turn him away. It was a very good read, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good coming-of-age story.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Not doing too well, am I?

Only a week or so into my attempts to get this blog back on track, and it's already run off the rails. I suck! I suppose I could blame work - except I just had a lovely 4-day weekend of rest and relaxation, and yes, reading. Hmm.... well, there was an injury; I somehow took a tumble Friday evening while walking back to our apartment. I admit, I was wearing the "evil" flip-flop footwear, but honestly, I have no idea what happened. One minute I was up, the next I was sprawled on the sidewalk hoping no one had seen my latest klutz move. Nothing broken, thank goodness, but some spectacular-looking road rash on my leg and the palm of my hand where I tried to "save" myself (as if that was ever possible!).

I did finish up two books, and both were very good. Yes, I plan to review them here, and I promise I'll do it soon (like, um, this weekend?). Oh, and I was so very proud of myself; I finished up enough items to box them up and send them back to my source in Indy. Go me! However, within hours of my trip to the Post Office, I get an email from said source saying there's another box on its way to me. What????? Seems the source was worried that I might run out of things to read.


So I will have a lot more work to do. Good thing I have another long weekend coming up! And then there's the Labor Day holiday, and then there's a new work schedule that might allow for a little more reading time....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Unnecessary Books

Today I'm going to talk about a little category that I think of as "unnecessary books". Hmm.... you wonder what on earth can I mean by that? Am I going to pick on certain authors? Certain genres? Plot lines? What, oh what, could possibly make a book "unnecessary"?

I'll tell you. I have a very specific type of book in mind, and what got me to thinking about this a bit more was that one of them showed up with our new books in yesterday's library delivery. (I love when we get new stuff - like Christmas at work!) As I sorted through new selections for children, a non-fiction title or two, lots of new best-sellers, etc, I found one of these heinous things with the new mass market paperbacks. There it was, shiny cover mocking me, a small sticker placed on it stating "do not distribute before such-and-such date".......

The dreaded "movie novelization".

Yep, we got a copy of the "new" paperback of "Cowboys vs. Aliens". The "movie novelization", I should say, which I think it the most unnecessary category of books on the planet. After all, the movie itself is based on a graphic novel of the same name, so why not read that? Or just go see the movie? Why read a novel that is 'based on the book"? This just completely boggles my mind.

It's not as if it hasn't been done for decades, and indeed, I have always found these things irritating. I just do not understand why these things are published, nor do I understand the sort of people who read them. I know - be happy that people are reading, right? But it just seems wrong to read what is basically a more-fleshed-out screenplay. And a complete waste of money, IMHO.

So what do you think? Is there really a market for this sort of work? Or is it just a blatant grab for more merchandising dollars? Let me know your thoughts.... and take heart, I love to hear your opinions, even when they disagree with mine!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Happy Monday!

As I've tried before in the past, I'm revamping "Novel News" yet again. But hopefully, this time it will stick! Instead of just focusing on book reviews (which, I admit, I don't always keep up on in a timely manner), I aim to write here every day about books and book-related topics. Yes, there will still be book reviews - you know how much I love to share a good book! But I'm hoping by changing things up a bit that I will give you something to read and/or think about every day, which will also hopefully keep my blog on your radars! There's nothing sadder than a blog that just sort of blows away with the cyber-tumbleweeds, is there?

So what should we talk about today? Well, how about the fact that I have a 4-day weekend coming up starting this coming Friday? Yes, I am taking some much-needed time off. And yes, I definitely have plans to catch up on my reading (and my reviews!) I think any good vacation includes time to read a good book. What do you think? Do you prefer to rest and relax when you're on vacation, or are you the sort that makes plans for fun activities? Can you do both?

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Smokin' Seventeen" by Janet Evanovich

There's not much to say about this series anymore. Stephanie Plum is the worst bounty-hunter in history. Her "partner", Lula, is still a very large black woman trying to cram her voluptuous body into teeny tiny clothing. Grandma Mazur still wants to see the body when she goes to a viewing at the local funeral home, and yes, chaos ensues when the casket is closed. And, of course, Stephanie still hasn't chosen between the two men in her life, Joe Morelli and the enigmatic Ranger.

The only thing that was added to this mix was Dave, an ex-football hero that went to Stephanie's high school. Her mother is desperate to have her little girl married and working somewhere "safe" - or better yet, at home, barefoot and pregnant. Dave is a nice guy with perhaps a bit of baggage; he was accused of some shady business dealings where he previously lived, leading to his wife to take off and the bank to foreclose on his home. So he's back in the Burg and living with his mother. Stephanie's mom is totally taken with him once she learns he can cook - and Stephanie is very taken with the food. Not so much with Dave. After all, she's already got two men in her life and can't make a decision on one - why add another one to the mix?

Yes, there are murders and bodies. Yes, there are skips that must be tracked down and brought in. Yes, Stephanie's bad car karma is back with a vengeance. There's Tasty Cakes and Cluck-in-a-Bucket and all the other sorts of things you expect in one of the Plum books. So how does this one stack up? Well, it's certainly better than "Sizzlin' Sixteen" - but that's not saying much. I was very disappointed with that installment, so anything would have been an improvement. I did laugh out loud this time, which I don't remember doing last time. The writing felt a bit better too, more "Evanovich" and less whoever-wrote-the-last-one (because I'm still thinking it wasn't JE).

But, as has become typical, there were things that could have been better. Such as the "whodunit" thread of the plot; I had the killer figured out almost as soon as that character hit the pages. Yes, I know these aren't deep reading and I'm not criticizing JE for that, but still, it shouldn't be glaringly obvious who your "bad guy" is. And can I just say how much I did not like "the Vordo" - the sexual curse that Morelli's Grandma Bella puts on Stephanie? Good lord, if you want your character to have sex, just have her have sex! The Vordo reminded me too much of another author who I no longer read, and a certain thing she gave her lead character (sort of like the Vordo but it was supposed to be a new "power) that led her to have sex with any and all male characters. Stephanie having sex with Morelli and Ranger in the same book was.... well.....not nearly as hot as it must have seemed when she was writing it. I just found it silly, and even a bit on the icky side.

The thing I noticed the most this time around is that there appears to be two Stephanie Plums. Now, I don't know if she's got a split personality or if JE is setting up who Stephanie will (finally) pick as her man, but hear me out. When our gal is bounty hunting, she's a total goofball who can't seem to get the job done. Cars blow up, people get pinkie toes shot off, etc. But when she's around Ranger, she seems calm and actually able to think - and he asks her for her opinion on work things. Ranger is supposed to be the best of the best at what he does, so why would he ask Stephanie for her opinion on security matters? And yet, she stops and looks at things critically and comes up with actual good ideas - and Ranger listens to her. Morelli just wants her to quit her job, move in with him, and live happily ever after. Ranger treats her as more of an equal and not the bubble-headed-bimbo that she's typically written as. Why, then, is it so hard for Stephanie to "make a decision" about which guy to choose? Honestly, I would have kicked Joe's butt to the curb long ago (but I would have fought to keep Bob the dog).

The 18th book of the series is due out this November, about 8 months before she normally releases a Plum title. Stephanie purportedly will choose a man in that book, but whether it's her choosing a vacation partner, or an actual life-partner remains to be seen. I'll probably read it, but only because I can get it from the library. If I were you, I'd save my money and do the same thing.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

WOW! famous..... sort of..... well, not really, but still very cool

Hello all! Sorry I've been offline lately; it's Summer Reading season at the library, so yours truly has been a very busy book lady. Lots of programs, and sadly, lots of drama in my little library system - big budget cuts were made so hours will be cut back, staff shifted to different branches, etc. It's left me a sad girl, not to mention a not-very-highly-motivated-to-blog kinda Bookbabe. I promise I'll pull myself out of my funk and get the reviews rolling again!

In the meantime, I did want to share this with you, my readers. A good friend of mine who writes "clean" reads for Astraea Press asked me to contribute to her new feature, Readers' Corner, by answering a few questions. And today, there I am! I have to admit, I did a fairly decent job at explaining the "book blogging" concept, why I do it, what I enjoy reading, etc. I must admit to doing a bit of the Happy Dance at seeing it there on the screen - fame! Well, OK, not really - but still, someone else asked me to do something that is now online! How cool is that?

And yes, I am reading one of her books, and yes, I am loving it so far. Which is a fabulous thing..... I have to admit that I was worried I might not like it, and then what would I do? Check out my 15 seconds at the link!

Monday, June 20, 2011

"I Can't Make You Love Me, But I Can Make You Leave" by Dixie Cash

When someone makes a killing in the country music business, it's time to call in Debbie Sue and Edwina - the Domestic Equalizers - whose motto is, "don't get mad, get evidence." The career of former Queen of Country Music Darla Denman ain't what it used to be. No more big arenas - she's lucky to fill a barroom - and now she's forced to tour (by bus!) with the detestable Roxie Jo, current wife of Darla's manager/ex-husband. So when her rattletrap tour bus gives up the ghost outside tiny Salt Lick, Texas, the faded Nashville star's thrilled to find loyal fans (and sympathetic ears) in Debbie Sue Overstreet and Edwina Perkins-Martin. But when her nemesis and upstart backup singer Roxie Jo turns up dead in her dressing room - which bears an uncanny resemblance to a cleaning supply closet - Darla finds herself in more trouble than a Dixie Chick in merry old England. Luckily Debbie Sue and Edwina are not only the proud owners of Salt Lick's best beauty parlor but they also moonlight as private detectives! And if the Domestic Equalizers can't get to the bottom of a murderous musical mess, then no one can!

There's really not much to say about a Dixie Cash book, except sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself! I love these little escapes from the real world, and this one was like having a sleepover with great friends I haven't seen in a while. Edwina and Debbie Sue were in this one a bit more than the last book, which was great; I love their friendship, and while I like the "new" characters that are introduced in each book, these two ladies are the reason I started reading this author.

Darla Denman is wonderful, just the right amount of world-weary ex-famous person looking for a comeback. She meshed wonderfully with the Domestic Equalizers, perhaps because she's much closer in age to Debbie Sue and Edwina (I think she might be a bit older). Her ex-hubby and manager is well-written and doesn't come off like a complete idiot, which he certainly could have. The authors wisely have wisely made him very aware of his new bride's faults, and they also show him wishing that things were different, either with her or with his ex. It feels very real, and sets up a nice love-triangle of sorts.

The only thing that was disappointing was the whodunit part; I had it figured out pretty much after the prologue. Then again, I don't read these for the mystery - I read them for the humor, the friendship, and the love story. I will give the ladies credit for taking chances; there are some who probably will be unhappy with the reveal. Not me, of course, and I look forward to the next book! At least, I hope there's a next book.... this one had a "they all lived happily ever after" line in the epilogue, and that worries me. They can't stop now!

"License to Pawn" by Rick Harrison

If you've never flipped over to "Pawn Stars" on the History Channel, then you probably have no idea who Rick Harrison is. Or the Old Man, or Big Hoss, or Chumlee. Do yourself a favor and watch an episode or two, then pick up this book.

Normally when a book is released in conjunction with a TV show, I find myself sort of flipping/skipping through it. The "author" never has much to say that hasn't already been covered on the show, and it's usually not written too well, either. Well, surprise! Harrison has done an excellent job of making this just as entertaining and informative as the show. (A big sign that this is a guy who knows what he's doing - his name is the only one listed as the author, not Rick Harrison "with" or "and").

For example, I'm always amazed that everyone on the show wants to sell their items. Um, it's a pawn shop, right? So why no clips with anyone pawning anything? There's a very good reason, as it turns out: pawn transactions are considered loans, and all loan information is privileged and private. When someone comes in to sell an item, that's a plain old business transaction, and there is no expectation of privacy. See, you learn something new every day! Also, when Rick calls in his experts, it's often for educational purposes. Most of the time, he's already got a very good idea of what the object is and how much it's worth (the educational part was the History Channel's idea - they wanted an "Antiques Roadshow with attitude").

I think the most interesting part of the book was Rick's story. He's a 10th-grade dropout, but he's a genius. Literally. He also has epilespy, and as a child, he had grand mal seizures that were so bad he had to stay home from school for a week or more at a time. His way to cope with the loneliness and uncertainty of life? BOOKS! He read just about everything he could get his hands on, including a lot of math and science books (he still reads a lot of that genre "for fun"). This is why he knows as much as he does about the things that come into the shop - he's a voracious reader and he retains lots of little factoids. If you learn anything from this book, it should be the power of the written word!

There are chapters written by Rick's dad, Old Man; his son, Corey (aka Big Hoss); and of course, Corey's long-time friend, Austin (aka Chumlee). You'll find out Rick's rules of negotiation, the history of the store, and why none of the main characters can work the floor anymore. Chumlee leads the pack in "swag" sales - all the t-shirts, shot glasses, etc with pictures of each of the leads. And there are lots of stories about how pawning items works, why people pawn, and the sort of characters they get in the store.

Probably the neatest thing I realized reading this book was that a pawn store is a lot like a library. Now, before you laugh, there's a reason I say this! As Rick points out, he doesn't judge people by what they bring in to pawn, nor does he care why they want/need the money. And he will work with anyone who walks in the door, unless it's extremely obvious that what they're bringing in has been stolen. The library does pretty much the same thing - it's a public institution available to all, and we don't care what you check out as long as your account is in good standing. The only bummer for the library is that we don't really have a way to recoup our loss if you take off with our item; Rick can hold onto the pawned item and then sell it if the pawner never picks it up again. Both places see all types, from the completely downtrodden to the well-to-do. And the stories we could tell about our clientel would probably sound awfully similar....

"License to Pawn" is a very good book, and I highly recommend it. Probably the closest you'll be able to get to the store now that they're famous!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Half-Assed: a weight-loss memoir" by Jennette Fulda

Think the last 20 pounds are the hardest? Try the last 200. At age 24 and 372 pounds, Jennette Fulda thought maybe the best way to lost weight was to have her gallbladder removed. Then she decided to work her ass off - literally. In her journey from full-figured to half-assed, she stops only to knock her cat off the treadmill.

This is a wonderful book for anyone who has ever struggled with their weight. Fulda was in her early 20s when she had gall bladder attacks so bad they landed her in a doctor's office discussing surgery. He was the first person to address the "elephant" in the room - her weight. He told her honestly and frankly that her size made removing her gall bladder riskier, and that she was also more at risk for complications. He then suggested that she consider having bariatric surgery after she healed from the gall bladder surgery because it might be her only chance to reach a "normal" weight and have any sort of quality of life.

Fulda luckily did her homework on the weight-loss surgery procedure, and in doing so, she realized that she would be trading one set of medical problems for another. She decided that the only way she would lose weight would be to do it the old-fashioned way - with diet and exercise. She wisely chose to change her eating habits rather than "diet", knowing that she would have to do this for the rest of her life. As for exercise, she chose something simple - walking on the treadmill. Except at almost 400 pounds, nothing was simple.

It never really is, regardless of whether you have 20 pounds or 200 pounds to lose. You have to decide to make the change, and then deciding what to do is even harder - should you severely limit your calories? Should you cut carbs out, a la The Atkins Diet? Should you go with the healthy fats, a la the Mediterranean diet? And just how much exercise do you really need? 30 minutes? 60 minutes? All at once or in small doses? And how strenuous does it need to be? The options are limitless, but also confusing and sometimes downright maddening. Fulda never really states what diet she followed, just that she did read a few books and picked one that she thought she could stick with (having perused her website, I now realize it was the South Beach Diet).

One of the neatest things about reading this book has absolutely nothing to do with Jen's story: it's the setting. While she was on her weight-loss journey, she was living in Indianapolis, and I recognized several locations that she vaguely mentions. For example, she talks about moving into her own apartment and how it was right next to "the trail" where she was able to walk with other walkers, joggers, bike riders, skateboarders, and the like. I know this trail! It's the Monon Trail, named after the old Monon railroad, and it runs for many, many miles - from the far northside of Indianapolis all the way into downtown and I do believe out the south end. I've walked on that very trail, which really helped me relate to Fulda as a person.

Another great thing about the book is that it's not just a chronicle of weight loss; it's about Jen's changing attitudes as well. At times she struggles not to see/think of herself as a "fat" person anymore, and at other times she finds herself starting to judge someone for their size - meaning she's about to cross the dreaded hypocrite line (or zealously reformed, take your pick). There are more and more studies that point to weight problems being emotional, not just physical, so the metamorphoses in her mind is very interesting. Sadly, I have fallen into some of those patterns myself; when I read on Fulda's website about her new book, I saw that she gained back 50 of the 200+ pounds that she had lost. My first thought was, "Oh, that's sad - she didn't make it". I know - as if she had died! I was mortified at my own thought as soon as I had it, trust me.

A very good read, and one that I highly recommend.

Monday, June 6, 2011

"The Limits of Enchantment" by Graham Joyce

England, 1966: Everything Fern Cullen knows she's learned from Mammy - and none of it's conventional. Taught midwifery at an early age, Fern becomes Mammy's trusted assistant in a quaint rural village and learns through experience that secrets are precious, passion is dangerous, and people should mind their own business. But when one of Mammy's patients allegedly dies from an induced abortion, the town rallies against her. As Fern struggles to save Mammy's good name, she finds communion with a bunch of hippies living at a nearby estate...where she uncovers a legacy spotted with magic - one that transforms her forever. A tale of alchemy and tragedy, magic and truth (this is) a powerful blend of literature and fantasy from a master of the genre.

Normally I just rave about Joyce's books, but this time, not so much. Don't get me wrong; the book is well-written and I did enjoy it. Just not nearly as much as I've enjoyed some of his other, more "magical" works.

Fern is likable enough and the story is written in first-person voice from her perspective. Maybe that's part of the problem - I don't recall Joyce using that sort of narrative before. I could appreciate her plight, too; it's very frightening to have your only parental figure fall ill, and even scarier when there are forces trying to remove you from your home. It's a nice coming-of-age story with a dash of the supernatural in it - and that's the problem.

I think this book would have worked more for me if it had just been the coming of age tale. Either that or I would have preferred Joyce to really delve more into the world of hedgerow medicine, and I would have preferred to read a lot more about Mammy herself. The world of "medicine" as it used to be performed by women for women has almost been completely lost, and having read a wonderful book a long time ago about women's knowledge of herbs, poultices, and such to help prevent/abort pregnancies, I was looking for that sort of information again. There's a little bit of that here, especially when Mammy explains to Fern that you need to really inquire of the "girl" to be sure she's been responsible enough and that she truly doesn't want the baby, etc. But mostly it's about Fern growing up and having to step into an adult role. Nice, but not what I was expecting.

Overall, I still liked it, and I will still read other books by Joyce. I would recommend one of his more fantastical works, though, something like "Dark Sister" or even his Young Adult offering, "The Exchange".

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton

A long time ago in a small town far, far away.... the Bookbabe read "Age of Innocence" by Wharton as a high school student. Loved it! I thought Wharton's style was amazing, and I was so moved by the tragic love that couldn't be due to societal mores. I never forgot that book, and in my quest to read more "classics", I was pleased to see that this Wharton title was next on the list.

When the book opens, we are being addressed from the first-person narrative of a visitor to Starkfield, one who has seen Ethan Frome but longs to know the story behind his physical appearance. Frome is literally and figuratively a broken man after his "bust-up". The narrator gets his wish when he's driven by Frome in his carriage to a neighboring town; on the way back, a snowstorm forces them to stop at Frome's failing farm for the night.

Once upon a time, Ethan was a brilliant lad with a bright mind. He had gone to college to study science until his father died suddenly; at that point he had to return home to work the farm. When his mother became ill, Zeena (Zenobia) came to help care for the woman. When his mother passes, Ethan is so distraught at the idea of Zeena leaving that he asks her to marry him. Forward to years later and the scene is an unhappy one: the farm barely provides the couple a living, and Zeena is always "sickly". Eventually her illnesses are bad enough to require help of her own, at which point her cousin Mattie Silver comes to live in the Frome household.

Of course Ethan can't help but notice Mattie. She's everything that Zeena is not - healthy, young (Zeena is 7 yrs older than Ethan), and full of laughter. Ethan and Mattie develop feelings for each other, and Zeena becomes suspicious. When she puts her foot down and says she's hired another girl, one who will actually be able to "do something", Ethan is devastated, as is Mattie. They act rashly near their parting moments, with grave consequences.

While I am again impressed with Wharton's ability to turn a phrase, I have to admit that I wasn't as moved by this novella. I certainly felt the pain of two people in love but unable to be together. I could almost feel the cold and the snow of Starkfield. No, I believe for me the fault lies with Zeena. Wharton never explains why Zeena is bitter nor does she explain her illnesses. Is Zeena unable to have children? Is the illness a chronic one, or does she have a new one each time? Are the illnesses real or is she just wanting some sort of sympathy from others, sympathy she doesn't get? I understand wanting the reader to fill in some of the blanks on their own, but her character was written in such a way that I couldn't understand why Ethan married her in the first place, nor could I understand why he hadn't already left her. I also don't agree with some of the reviews on Amazon that say the end of the book shows Zeena to be more than one-dimensional; I thought the final scene showed her to be just as cruel as ever.

Overall I'm glad I read this and I would recommend it to others (especially students needing a short classic!) But this isn't my favorite work by Wharton.

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Dear Dumb Diary..." by Jim Benton

I'm going to review the series as a whole because there are too many books to do each one. At a mere 100+ pages or so, that would be a lot of writing. But I didn't want to omit telling you about these fabulous books...

They came in to my branch about 2 weeks ago on a Friday afternoon. I had never heard of the "dear dumb diary" series, and I didn't know who Jim Benton was, either (or so I thought). The first thing I noticed were the covers - bright, flaming fluorescent colors: hot pink, neon green, fire engine red, etc. Extremely eye-catching, enough that I really started to look at them. Then the titles caught me: "Never Do Anything, EVER", "My Pants are Haunted!", "It's Not My Fault I Know Everything", etc. Very cute, a bit snarky, and highly intriguing. Then I read the author's bio - and lo and behold, this is the Happy Bunny Guy!!!

Well, that cinched it. I checked out every single title (all except #9, which is somehow not assigned to my branch) and took them home. I devoured the first three on Saturday, read another 3 or so Sunday, two on Monday, and finished the last one Tuesday morning. Yes, they are that good!

The reading level is appropriate for third thru fifth grade, I think. (remember, I'm not a professional here, just giving my humble opinion). There are plenty of illustrations to keep those not overly ready for "text only" books, and those of us that enjoy a good, humorous picture, too. The books are short, but not super-short, which makes them perfect for kids looking for "chapter books". 

The best thing though is the writing. Finally, smart, well-developed books for kids! Don't look for the repetition of "Lemony Snicket" here, nor the outright meanness of the "Wimpy Kid". These are smart, funny works by Benton, and god love him, there's actual character development here! None of the kids is purely good, nor purely evil, and the relationships between the main characters changes a bit in each book. Childhood fears are explored, doing the "right" thing, etc, so that each title has a small morality tale to it; Benton wisely does not hit the reader over the head with each "lesson".

Jamie is smart and witty; her best friend Isabella reminds me of a pit bull drawn like Marcie from the Peanuts cartoon; Angeline is soooooooo pretty and "good" (but not really); the boys are - well - boys. The adults aren't stupid and clueless, and neither are the teachers. It was such a pleasure to read books for the grade school reader that I would actually recommend, and I can't wait for Benton to put out the twelfth in the series, "Me! (Just Like You, Only Better)"

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Every Shallow Cut" by Tom Piccirilli

"He's nameless, faceless, and has nothing left to lose - and now he has a gun."

Wow! How can you not want to read a book with that as the first line on the back cover? I had picked this for the branch quite a while back, so it took me a minute to recognize it when it finally arrived (sort of like when I add books to my Amazon Wishlist, then forget why months later). I read the whole back cover, then started flipping through it while I did our usual processes for checking in new books - and before I realized it I'd already read the first chapter! Obviously this book wanted to go home with me, so I checked it out and home it came.

I don't normally gush about authors or their works as a rule, and I'm going to try not to do that here either, but damn; this guy is good, very good. I blew through this in no time at all, then actually went back and read it again to see if I'd missed anything. I never do that! And on the second reading, I did get more out of it, which changed my initial opinion about the nameless protagonist.

When the story opens, our "hero" has just been punched in the face by a punk outside a pawn shop. He starts flashing back on how he arrived at the pawn shop, again and for the last time; he was once a minorly successful writer with a wife living in Colorado and enjoying his life. Granted, each book was more of a critical success and less of a popular one (which meant less and less money), and granted his wife doesn't seem to love him much anymore, and granted he's been keeping up with the bills - just barely - but his life is pretty good. Then the bottom falls out of the economy and everything spirals into the toilet. His wife leaves him for "Sweetie", his publisher won't answer his calls, the collectors come for all his furniture (well, what his wife didn't take with her), and the bank forecloses on his house. When he arrives at this pawn shop for the last time, he's got nothing left but some clothes, the pieces he's going to pawn, and his bulldog, Churchill. He's gone from an overweight, doughy intellectual living the high life to a lean, mean, perhaps fighting machine. Why not fight? He didn't fight when he was losing everything, so why not do it now?

And fight he does; he buys a gun from the pawn shop owner after beating down the thug that hit him, and his two friends. Then he heads out from Colorado to the east coast to see his brother, a meeting that he dreads with every fiber of his being. Once upon a time, his brother loved him, even encouraged him to write, thought he was so smart. But that changed somewhere along the way, and his brother has shown nothing but contempt for him since they were teenagers. But if you can't go home, where can you go?

It's a powerful work, and when I read some reviews on Amazon, I came across a new term, one evidently coined just for these small pieces by Piccirilli - "Noirella". Perfect! It's definitely got the feel of a noir work, and it's definitely a novella, so "noirella" describes it perfectly. Now to what I realized on my second reading.... Yes, the author has nothing left to lose, and yes, he's spiralling out of control, and yet, he never really loses control. The ending is left ambiguous enough that you can decide what he does next, but I wouldn't agree with the nameless narrator, that he's now like the characters he used to write about, hard, lean men who get into fights at the drop of a hat. The narrative bounces from present to past seamlessly, and you can tell that despite what he says, the narrator does feel like there's something left to his life, no matter how small or tenuous it is.

Piccirilli's got a masterful way with the dialogue, too. When our writer friend visits a buddy of his out East, he leaves his newest creation in his backpack. The buddy reads it after drugging our narrator into a 48-hour nap. Describing the new work, his buddy says this: "There's a poignancy to it that's lacking in most of your other novels. You're writing from the marrow. I can feel every shallow cut you've ever suffered in it, all of them still bleeding, tearing wider and becoming deeper. You can die from a paper cut if it becomes infected. That's what I feel in your words now."

I will definitely be picking up more of Piccirilli's work. I can only hope that they live up to my now very-high expectations.

"Wild North Carolina: Discovering the wonders of our state's natural communities" by David Blevins and Michael P. Schafale

Working in a small library in North Carolina, I thought we should definitely have a book like this. It's one of those that may not circulate overly often, but it's got a lot of very important information relevant to our state, just as the book's subtitle indicates. It's packed full of information on the "natural communities" (wilderness areas that are untouched by man in any way), giving you places you can find each community, what sort of vegetation you can expect and why, how they were formed, etc. The authors have an obvious love for the subject and have done extensive research. The book moves from the western part of the state to the coastline on the eastern side, a natural progression in itself.

Probably the most wonderful thing about this work are the numerous photos included. If you want a good look at North Carolina, the beauty of our state, this is definitely a book to pick up. There's a picture of some sort on nearly every page, including scenic views of the natural community, specific vegetation in a community, and even some fauna/birds/insects native to that community. I learned a good deal just from the lovely pictures!

My problem with this book boils down to the writing: it's dry as toast. For two men who love nature and want to protect these places, they don't translate that into writing that made me want to go out and save them. I realize this isn't a thriller or romantic adventure, but there's no reason that non-fiction has to be presented in such a factual way, either. Facts are good, but if you're trying to rally support for a cause, you need more active dialogue. By the end of the book, I was skimming the text and looking more at the pictures, not the response I'm sure the authors had in mind.

Overall, I'm still glad we picked it up for our library system. It's what I consider solid information, something that we need on our shelves along with the James Patterson and John Grisham and such.