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".