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?