Monday, April 30, 2012

Soooooo cool!

I'm not typically one to watch a trailer for a book. Oh sure, I've seen a few of them, and some have been sort of neat, but overall, I haven't been swayed to read something. Until now.

It's a book that's been on my radar since it was released. But now? Now I really want to read it. Take a look for yourself.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"The Dog Who Knew Too Much" by Spencer Quinn

The fourth entry in the irresistible New York Times bestselling mystery series featuring canine narrator Chet and his human companion Bernie Little - "the coolest human/pooch duo this side of Wallace and Gromit" (Kirkus Reviews)

Combining intrigue and humor with a perceptive take on the relationship between man and beast, The Dog Who Knew Too Much marks the return of the mystery world's most engaging and unlikely team of crime solvers.

Bernie Little has been invited to give the keynote speech at the Great Western Private Eye Convention, but it's his dog, Chet, that the big-shot P.I. in charge has secret plans for. Meanwhile, Chet and Bernie are hired to find a kid named Devin who has gone missing from a wilderness camp in the high country. Did Devin wander away from the group, as the hiking guide insists, or was he hounded by bullies and driven away from the campsite during the night? Devin's mother thinks that her ex-husband has snatched the boy, but Chet's always reliable nose leads to a sinister discovery, sending this missing-child case in a new and dangerous direction.

As if that weren't enough, matters get complicated at home when a stray puppy that looks suspiciously like Chet shows up in the neighborhood. Affairs of the heart collide with a job that's never been tougher, requiring our two intrepid sleuths to trust each other even when circumstances - and some small-town cops with motives of their own - conspire to keep them far apart.

The Dog Who Knew Too Much takes this engaging series to new levels of accomplishment. Both man and dog are shown in all their imperfect, endearing, loyal, and complicated glory. And as Chet recounts his and Bernie's efforts to put the bad guys behind bars, his doggy world-view gently reminds us of what we love best about canines: the unconditional love they show their humans, and the boundless enthusiasm they feel for life, every single day.

There's really not much I can say about this book other than I loved it. I am still amazed at how Quinn perfectly captures what I imagine to be the canine thought-process; I always feel as if I'm truly in Chet's brain. And yes, there is always bacon in Chet's brain.

I do wish that some of the character development had been a little more, well, developed. But it makes sense that it's not - this is Chet's world, and he doesn't pay attention to what's going on all the time. Poor Chet, easily distracted by the things that distract dogs. However, this book had a very nice plot line going for it, and much more interaction between Chet and Bernie. Yes, at one point they are separated (they always seem to be separated at some point in every book) but Chet isn't alone for long, and luckily, he's reunited with Bernie rather quickly.

My wish for the next book is that we find out much, much more about the mysterious puppy that has appeared around Chet's area, the one that looks just like him. I'd love to see Bernie take in the young dog, see the interaction between it and Chet, maybe even see Chet show a fatherly side. After all, he's been watching Bernie with his son for a few years, and Bernie seems to be a pretty darn good dad; Chet could do worse for a role model. And since dogs don't live forever, maybe the puppy will eventually take Chet's place? Only time - and the next book - will tell.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Agorafabulous! Dispatches from my Bedroom" by Sara Benincasa

"I subscribe to the notion that if you can laugh at the shittiest moments in your life, you can transcend them. And if other people can laugh at your awful shit as well, then I guess you can officially call yourself a comedian."

In Boston, a college student fears leaving her own room - even to use the toilet. In Pennsylvania, a meek personal assistant finally confronts a perpetually enraged gay spiritual guru. In Texas, a rookie high school teacher deals with her male student's unusually, er, hard personal problem. Sara Benincasa has been that terrified student, that embattled employee, that confused teacher - and so much more. Her hilarious memoir chronicles her attempts to forge a wonderfully weird adulthood in the midst of her lifelong struggle with agoraphobia, depression, and unruly hair.

Relatable, unpretentious, and unsentimental, Agorafabulous! celebrates eccentricity, resilience, and the power of humor to light up even the darkest corners of our lives. (There are also some sexy parts, but they're really awkward. Like really, really awkward.)

Full disclosure: I won a copy of this from Goodreads. In exchange for the free copy, I was strongly encouraged to write a review of it. It took me a while, but here it is!

I saw this book in one of our professional magazines at work, I'm sure. Or maybe I just read the original blurb on the giveaway - I can't remember now. What I do know is that the book sounded good, funny, and something I was interested in reading. Imagine my complete shock when I received the "You're a winner!" email from Goodreads; I'd entered several giveaways and hadn't won anything (and didn't appear to be in the running for anything, either). I got my email, did a "I-can't-believe-I-actually-won!" dance, and anxiously awaited the arrival of my book.

When it finally reached me, I have to admit, I didn't start it that night. Heck, I almost never start a book the day I check it out/buy it/bring it home; call it some sort of sado-masochistic delay of gratification. Once I did begin, I realized this book wasn't exactly what I had thought it would be. Yes, some of it was funny. Yes, there were little vignettes of agoraphobic behavior. But I had been under the impression that the author was more of an editor and that the stories were to be from different people's lives. I know - read the jacket again, silly girl! Sigh. Anyway, I kept going.

What I will tell you is this: I think Benincasa was incredibly brave to write this book. It is an extremely open and honest exploration of her battle with mental illness, one that at times is difficult to read in its honesty. I don't think I could have written about peeing in dinnerware. Her book is a testament to her spirit and determination, and it shows that one can conquer mental illness if you get the help you need (and if you ask for it, which I know was a bit of a problem for her).

What comes out most in the author's writing is her love for her family. I don't think she could have gotten through this period in her life without her parents, nor would she be where she is today without some very good friends. If I learned one thing from this memoir, it is that one should speak up for those that may not speak for themselves. Her college friends recognized just how bad things were and contacted her parents, even though they knew it could mean the end of a friendship. I think people don't reach out often enough due to fear (or maybe apathy, though I hate thinking that). If something doesn't look/feel right, talk to that person and don't give up.

Overall, I liked this work. The author has a nice style, the story was interesting, and in the end, I would definitely recommend it to others.

Monday, April 9, 2012

My "unplugged" weekend

Being a County employee, I receive a very generous holiday schedule. Every year we are closed for the Easter weekend starting on Good Friday, returning to work on Monday. A 3-day weekend every year, not really a good time to get away, but nice nonetheless. I was talking to my hubby who half-jokingly said that I would be online most of the weekend, trolling Facebook, checking email, etc. I decided right then and there that I wanted this weekend to be different. I told him I was going to do an "unplugged" weekend - no computer. He laughed and said "Yeah, OK, no Facebook. Sure. Right." I explained that I truly meant no computer: no Facebook, no email, no card games, no nothing. I wouldn't even turn the thing on.

Needless to say, he was sceptical.

As was I.

Could I really do it? Could I spend a whole weekend doing things other than playing on the computer? I could do it, right? I mean, it's only been about a year and a half since we got the darn thing; we used to live a computer-at-home-free life and we did very well, thank you very much. But now that it's here, now that it's practically the first thing I do every morning, the last thing I do every night, the thing I check on at lunch, the thing that we run to when we've got any sort of question... Could I really do this?

I must admit I had my doubts.

I posted to all my friends on Facebook and Goodreads that I was taking the weekend off. That way, if anyone did notice my presence, they could call me out on my lack of fortitude. Plus it made sense to announce it to more people than just Jeff - more accountability. And the more I talked about it, the more I started looking forward to the prospect of a computer-free weekend. Just imagine all the things I could get done! Books read, cleaning done, walks taken, naps enjoyed, etc.

And how did I do? Did I cave in to my addiction? Did I sneak a peek? Did I last the whole three days or give in close to the end - or give in Friday morning?


Yep, I totally did it. The only time the computer was booted up was when Jeff played a card game or two. Other than that, it spent the whole weekend asleep. The funny thing is I never missed it. Really! I figured I would, so it surprised me to no end that I was able to get up, start my normal routine, and just blissfully sit on the couch. I admit I did glance over at the machine, and I thought "here we go, I'm not gonna make it" - and then...nothing. I just looked at it. I wasn't even remotely tempted to walk over, turn it on, and login to anything. I just went back to what I'd been doing (which, admittedly, was watching TV!)

And all those things I was going to do? Well, that wasn't quite as successful. I did finish a book, and I'm half-way through another one. I did take some awesome naps. I skipped the walks due to sheer laziness. And yes, there was some cleaning done - but not nearly as much as I had been hoping to accomplish. Oh well, all the more reason to do this again!

One of my friends asked if "unplugged" would include the TV as well as the computer. I laughed and told her "no way!" but now I'm thinking that would be interesting, too. If I couldn't sit in front of the TV wasting time as well as the computer, what could I accomplish? Of course, the computer was sort of easy in a way; Jeff doesn't check email, doesn't have any sort of account on any social network, and doesn't play games for hours. TV is a whole other story! But maybe, just maybe, we could do it. Maybe we could start small with the TV - perhaps just a day off, rather than a whole weekend. Baby steps, if you will.

After all, I never thought I'd be able to resist the siren song of Facebook!