Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Journey Featured Book Review

Deep in Thought - LaShaun Beal

And here we are, once again, as I share with you my thoughts on selected titles devoted to the care and maintenance of black natural hair!  As previously stated, I started my natural quest with very limited access to materials that specifically dealt with just “how” to “go natural”, since it seemed a very weighty task from all of the information and media stereotypes I’d been fed over the years.  My initial idea was to start a natural hair library, but after two years of going it “on my own”, my goal then changed to perusing the available list of books on the subject in order to research what’s offered for my own book project, as well as help other naptural newbies by providing info on which books I think will best assist them along the way.

I started out with Textured Tresses by Diane Dacosta, which I did not find all that helpful, and moved on to:

My first impression of the front cover design set up was less than favourable due to the elementary font choice and the sub-par type text alignment and what seems to not be enough image bleed to account for the edge cut (my friend Mark often calls me a book snob, and I guess that would be part of the reason why).  While the back cover boasted blurbs from life coach and author Iyanla Vanzant, as well as singer, composer and social activist Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagan,  it still wasn’t enough to get me hyper-fired up about what I’d find inside the publication.  But they say you should never judge the whole of a book by its cover (which is most cases is not true; low quality covers normally denote low quality books) so I looked past the topical “imperfections”, cracked No Lye open and gave it the looksee it deserved.

Since I had no clue who Tulani Kinard was, I held very little expectation of what I’d find within the pages.  I was a bit apprehensive that, judging by her name and the cover art, No Lye would primarily focus on braids and braid-like styles, and I was not disappointed (it was the first bullet point on the back cover).  However, in light that the book is only eight chapters long I was delightfully amazed Ms. Tulani made sure that the foundational chapters of the book actually focused on the care and maintenance of natural hair as a whole!  It was way more than I’d anticipated which left me pleasantly surprised.  Turns out this truly would be a natural hair care manual worth recommending.

Getting into the book, the Introduction presents a concise history of Tulani’s personal experience as a former permer, natural hair wearer, and graduation into professional braider who worked to establish legislature governing braiding and other natural hair care salon practices.  Formerly a cosmetology student who worked primarily with chemicals, Ms Kinard reveals that through her braided styles and learning the various techniques of natural hair sculpting, she was brought into deeper reverence for the natural beauty contained within “nappy” hair, and African-Americans as well.  It was through the transformative process of taking hair that had been damaged by chemical processes and improper braid execution to healthy vibrant tresses, that Tulani gained the inspiration to write No Lye, and further fight to ensure that future practitioners receive the proper licensing.

The first chapter makes short, yet intensive, work of defining hair composition, shape and texture using everyday language and descriptive illustrations.  Explaining such components as the hair follicle, sebaceous and papilla, as well as each elements function, Tulani educates readers not just on the make up of hair, but how and why each strand reacts to various products such as chemical straighteners and even shampoo.    In describing the hair’s shape and texture, Ms. Kinard separates what most cosmetologists lump into a blanket category of “hair type.”  She illustrates that the shape, which is the form the follicle takes when forming into the papilla, is what is known as the S-pattern of the hair (curly, wavy or straight), while the texture (fine, medium or course) is determined by the diameter of the hair strand and layer of cuticles on the surface of the hair shaft.  This inclusion may seem an elementary and tedious inclusion on the onset of reading when you want to get to the meat of what it takes to “go natural”, but proves very necessary because until you can understand how your hair behaves, there is no way you can understand how to keep it healthy.

The second chapter breaks down the science behind the process of chemically altering hair, and illustrating how it can be pinpointed as the culprit for many women’s hair loss. Through a review of historic beauty culture development, Ms. Kinard establishes how relaxers and curly perms facilitate breakage by thinning the hair strand structure and promoting dryness of the hair and scalp.  In addition to that, the causes of alopecia are outlined, as well as foods and supplements which promote growth and health, and how to keep “baldness at bay.”  Throughout this chapter, an emphasis on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as well as avoiding chemical processes, as a way to prevent pattern baldness is presented, and Tulani also offers “cosmetic” suggestions for concealing extreme hair loss by way of braids, and/or weave styles which work with a braided foundation, that promotes healing to the damaged hair and scalp.  While I am not a “fan” of braiding for my own purposes, I was amazed with the sculpture photos that were used within this chapter as examples of how to “hide” hair loss, especially the style created by Nicole James which created a beautiful basket weaved type style for a woman who’s hair loss was so excessive, she’d only had hair along the sides of her head:

After readers are boned up on the basics of hair make up and how chemical processes work on the natural structure of hair, in chapter three Ms. Kinard provides no-nonsense facts about the proper cleaning and grooming of hair.  She begins the section by describing the purpose of shampoo and conditioners and how to know which is best for your hair type and cleansing/conditioning needs.  In addition to these products, attention is paid to the types of oil that contribute to scalp health and how to apply them, the proper way to dry hair using both air and heat drying methods, how to properly comb natural hair to avoid damage, and common scalp disorders that may hamper health and growth.  I found this chapter to be an excellent resource following the first two chapters, because now that you’ve identified your hair structure and specific type, it is of extreme importance to know which products work best for you.  The part I found particularly helpful were the natural oil recommendations (I have become a fanatic for using natural products over the past year) and recipes for antidandruff solutions.  For those of us who are partial to homemade products over commercial brands, these are a nugget of naptural gold.

Chapters four through six focus largely on the art of braiding and loc’ing, so I pretty much skimmed this group since I am not interested in these styles for myself, but I admire the way Tulani details the 4,000 year old history of braiding as an African tradition, as well how braiding has evolved here in the United States through the differing techniques of East coast and West coast stylists.  Additionally, Ms. Kinard explains how braiding with extensions can help protect hair while growing and hold longer styles, compares the pros and cons of the different extension fibers used for each braiding style and conducts a brief tutorial on how to braid using extensions.  Chapters five explores alternative styles such at two strand and flat twists, while offering simple instructions on how to achieve such styles.  I dug a little deeper in to chapter six than its predecessors, though not by much, admittedly, because it primarily deals with locs and I have been courting the idea of starting some in the near future.  In the same fashion as she began each chapter, the author provides a personal story dealing with the emergence of locs into popular culture, and a dynamic “history lesson” of the style’s progression.  Further in the chapter she reveals that the length of time it takes for hair to loc depends on the curl pattern of the hair (wavy and curly hair tend to loc best - the typical time period is six months to one year), but that styling techniques can help shorten the length of time.  Tulani also shares the various techniques and necessary tools that can be used by women wish to start their own locs (ie. braiding, twisting, palm rolling), as well as techniques most used within the salon and how to properly maintain locs.  There’s also a section on how to properly colour locs.  I found this portion of the three chapters because it simplified and demystified the process, and gave me a lot more to consider concerning my loc’ing decision.

Chapter seven deals with adorning braided and locs styles with elements such as beads and jewels (it is noted that adornments of this nature help promote blood circulation in the scalp), and introduced me to the technique of hair wrapping, “which incorporates the use of thread to wrap braids or loose hair , to create hair sculptures.”  A lastly, chapter eight contains advice on how to properly maintain the natural hair of children, giving a condensed version of the entire book as styling and grooming related to their tender scalps.  At the end of the last chapter, Ms. Kinard provides a few words of wisdom, using her own children’s experiences with natural styles, on how to choose the right style for your child and possibly combate any negative reactions they may encounter while wearing them.

Overall, I love this book and would not mind having a copy for my personal library.  Despite the focus the author places on braids, I feel that the naptural novice will get a lot of much needed, and well researched, assistance in making their personal transition, even if they are not considering braids.  Being that the book is twelve years old there are probably new developments when it comes to the topics covered within the pages of No Lye, but this publication is a more than adequate place to start natural training and education.  Well worth the original list price of $12.95 (or Amazon’s price of $11.16).

Book Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (September 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312151802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312151805
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Average Customer Review: 4 stars
  • JBTM Review:

Healthy Hair Wishes…

M. Michelle

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, by Joseph Ratzinger

This was Ratzinger’s last book, I believe, based on a lecture that he gave shortly before his election in April 2005.

It’s a very short book–large margins and type–really a long essay (or lecture). Many of the themes here are familiar to B16-watchers. Principally, Ratzinger argues that rationality is the foundation of Christian belief because Christ is the Logos. Because of this, dialogue with nonbelievers who also believe in rationality is possible. This is Ratzinger’s bet–that rationality will prevail over the irrational and that Christianity will attract those who seek the truth.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What i learned this weekend

New Jersey makes poems.

I read The Sunlight Dialogues and swore off lengthy realistic fiction forever.

Read The Fall in a daze & rekindled a cautious love for Camus.

Got halfway through The Prince and realized there’s a reason they just tell you about it in history class instead of making you read it.

The best adjective for Paul Celan’s poetry is “spiny” [Pierre Joris]. I’m re-reading his selected poems but by re-reading I mean actually reading. They’re like closely-knit stellar explosions.

Friday, April 24, 2009

TCJ Library Addition: Vilified!

The first book that I’m adding into the TCJ Library Collection is Vilified! Red Meat for Conservatives from a Guy Who’s Got a lot of Beefs.  I’m still in the process of reading this one, but it’s great so far!  Conservative Author Corey Deitz covers it all somewhere in the book, from his opinion on Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, to PETA and Illegal Immigration.  Deitz does a great job conveying his opinions in a way that’s funny and entertaining, so you don’t have to worry about becoming uninterested.  It’s a hilarious yet insightful take on politics that’s definitely a must read!

When I finish reading the book, I plan to write a full review, but I just wanted to write a little blurb (is that a word) about it while I’m reading.


To visit Vilified!’s website, click here.

To buy a paperback copy of Vilified! on Amazon, click here.

To buy a paperback copy or eBook copy of Vilified! on Lulu, click here.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the book at one of the above sources!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Return of Roberto Bolano

I’ve picked up my copy of Roberto Bolano’s 2666. I had previously taken a break from this massive tome as a result of increased readings and coursework.  2666 was my Christmas read but at a staggering 893 pages I was interrupted with the return of classes. But, I like to think that I’m simply paying homage to Bolano by reading his epic the way he intended it to be read.


Realizing that death might be near, Roberto left instructions for his novel 2666 to be published divided into five books corresponding to the five parts of the novel, specifying the order in which they should appear, at what intervals (one per year), and even the price to be negotiated with the publisher. With this decision, communicated days before his death by Roberto himself to Jorge Herralde, Roberto thought he was providing for his children’s future.

After his death, and following the reading and study of his work and notes by Ignacio Echevarria (a friend Roberto designated as his literary executor), another consideration of a less practical nature arose: respect for the literary value of the work, which caused us, together with Jorge Herralde, to reverse Roberto’s decision and publish 2666 first in full, in a single volume, as he would have done had his illness not taken the gravest course. - 2666 - Roberto Bolano - Farrar, Straus, and Giroux New York 2008

In the long run, a 4 month delay between readings does not seem such a bad thing considering he initially requested that this book be separated into specific parts and distributed separately in each year. I stopped at page 351 which begins Part IV: The Part About the Crimes, which makes up the longest section of the novel. Some of the characters have become a bit fuzzy, but their peculiarities and nuances have started to return. A full review will follow shortly.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book Review: Family in His Heart

Well, this one was better written, at least…

Family in His Heart

Gail Gaymer Martin

Steeple Hill Inspirational Romance (2008)

ISBN: 9780373874637

As a child Rona  Meyers visited the Les Cheneaux islands with a friend.  Now, it’s the one place she can think of to hide. Running from her past and family disappointments, caught up in doubts regarding God’s presence in her life, Rona finds herself in Upper Michigan looking for work and a place to heal.

Widower Nick Thornton needs a housekeeper to cook and clean for himself and his teenage son.  A widower, he’s secure in his faith, but has doubts about the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death, and he’s worried about the choices his son is making.  When he sees Rona in a local diner he feels an immediate connection, but isn’t sure that she feels the same.

This is a gentle, faith-based Christian romance novel - no sex, very little excitement of any sort, really; just the story of two people who are meant to be together finding each other and developing their faith and building a family together.  On the whole, not a badly written book.   In particular, Nick’s son is well written: a typical teenager - a bit rebellious, occasionally obnoxious and belligerent.  His conversion is probably more dramatic than either of the two adults.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A little bloggy break

Hello my friends! I just wanted to tell you all that I am heading off on Wednesday into New York City to have surgery. As all of my long time blogging friends know, I have recently finished chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer and have two preventative surgeries to go until this whole process is done. I will be staying in the hospital for two evenings, heading back home on Friday, and will be hanging low for a few days after that. I hope to be back blogging (and commenting) by mid-to-late next week.

After my surgery I will  be traveling back into the city once a week for six to eight weeks. Usually I just drive to my doctor’s office (without traffic it takes about 1 hour 15 minutes) but think that I might travel to my appointments via New Jersey Transit, giving me at least an hour each way of uninterrupted reading time! Doesn’t sound to shabby, right? Maybe I’ll even run into Book Club Girl, who is a transit traveler too!

In the meantime, I’ve been reading quite a lot and will be posting reviews of the following books over the next few weeks:

Hope you all have a great week. Happy reading!!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Animal Farm by George Orwell, a review and application of ch.2

With the death of Old Major at the beginning of ch.2 we have the birth of Animalism as Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer, the three main pigs, begin teaching the other animals and putting together a plan in secret. Napoleon is aptly named for he eventually will gain all power and be more or less the dictator as was his namesake. Squealer is also appropriately named for he becomes the spokesman of the Revolution and as such is in charge of all propaganda. “He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping side to side and whisking his tail which was somehow very persuasive.” (p.10). And isn’t this way of propagandists of all ages? They skip side to side, avoiding the cold hard facts, making truth relative and temporary. Style over substance is the way of the propagandist.

The delicate Mollie asks the stupidest questions as she is focused on maintaining her privileged position and benefits of ribbons and sugar. Snowball tells her there will be no more sugar and ribbons. Though he says it will be because they cannot produce sugar on the farm, they will eventually be able to trade for some and sugar is later used in a plot involving Mollie. The application is that Communism does not produce much in the way of consumer goods. When the state of California, in 2009, is seriously banning the sale of big screen TVs in order to save on energy during the Super Bowl, you see what the statists do best, limit freedom and choice. Statism, Stalinism is impoverishing.

Moses, the raven, representing religion in Stalinist Russia is considered to be a spy and tale-bearer, untrustworthy and never contributing any work. Yet, he too was considered to be a clever talker, offering up tales of Sugar Candy Mountain (heaven) where all animals go when they die. “The pigs had to argue very hard to persuade them that there was no such place.” (p.11). The war on religion is clear from the start as the statists, the Stalinists, want the State to be the worker’s paradise.

Mr. Jones, the Master as some of the animals were in the habit of calling him, and his men are portrayed in the most negative terms. Jones is a drunk and his men were idle and dishonest. That sums up what statists think about capitalists.

The Rebellion is carried out to the neglect of the animals Jones and his men had shown. It was a spontaneous outburst that was the result of cruel treatment by man. When Jones and his men flee, Mrs. Jones packs up and leaves too. Moses the Raven (religion) follows Mrs. Jones. So in the end Religion is shown to be no help for the oppressed poor. Religion follows the money, the evil, lazy Capitalists.

“In a very little while the animals had destroyed everything that reminded them of Mr. Jones.” Most revolutions go through this destructive phase of ridding the land of anything of the former regime. This is followed by a feast of celebration.

The animals take a tour through Jones’ house and agree that “no animal must ever live there.” (p.15). This will shortly be forgotten. When flush with victory over their oppressors Revolutionaries are quick to claim they will never be like those they threw out. The Republicans took over Congress in 1994 but by the 2006 elections were in disgrace as being corrupt and big spenders. The Demoncrats took the house and Senate and then in 2008 the Presidency. But in the confirmation process of the appointees of the Obama administration many nominees were found to be tax cheats and frauds. And the cycle continues.

To finalize their revolution the pigs come up with the 7 Commandments of Animalism:

1) Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.

2) Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.

3) No animal shall wear clothes.

4) No animal shall sleep in a bed.

5) No animal shall drink alcohol.

6) No animal shall kill any other animal.

7) All animals are equal.

Every one of these commandments will be altered and ignored by the end of the book as the Pigs gradually become dictators and become just like Man. The Stalinists, according to Orwell, cannot keep their own flawed rules and become every bit as oppressive as the Czars were before the Revolution. It is worth noting that President Obama’s appointed Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, who is also in charge of the IRS, had substantial, gross errors in his taxes over the previous few years that came to light in the confirmation hearings. He who could not, who did not keep the IRS rules is now in charge of the IRS. With the numerous examples of corporate CEOs who, even though their companies were bringing in record losses, still took huge bonuses, it is no wonder the statists are thriving. Even the union workers of the big 3 auto companies are guilty of plundering their own companies into bankruptcy.

God has given us the Ten Commandments and we have proven for millenia that we are incapable of keeping them. To fail to grasp that man is always a corrupt, power hungry sinner, and to fail to make your social-economic system account for that, is always fatal. Only a civilzation built upon the Christian faith and a strong sense of honor can hope to endure. Otherwise, all “commandments” will become very flexible and meaningless as man’s greed takes over.

The cows began to low loudly due to their full udders after the successful running off of all men in the Revolution. The pigs successfully milk the cows, but the milk disappears while the animals are working in the hay field. The milk’s absence was noticed, Orwell writes. The stupid masses of workers, the proletariat, are not all that stupid after all. Things are noticed, like the missing milk. Have the pigs kept the mik? Of course!

The cream of the society, even in a revolutionary society, will always keep the cream for itself. It is the nature of man, or in this case, pigs.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Read-a-Thon ~ Takin' a Break :-)

As I was reading Marked, I came across the perfect passage to include in the review, so I had to log in and start the review, saving the quote. Sometimes that happens when I’m reading, most of the time, actually. I’ll be reading along and something will just hit me, and I’ll be, like… “Wow, that’s the perfect quote for this book!” When that happens, I always try to get it in here, lest I forget it when I’m actually sitting down and writing the review.

I know what quote I’ll use for How to Be a Villian, but I haven’t got a clue for Empire Falls. That happens sometimes, too, and every once in a while I even think about cheating and putting what’s on the back cover or front flap for the quote.

BTW, the House of Night series has been optioned for a movie. No work has really been done on it, just the plan to make it into film. I can see the spoof-movie now, “Not another Teen Vampire Movie!” Though, this book is NOTHING like Twilight.

If you’d like to check out the series, click House of Night Series. There you can click on the yearbook and learn about the characters, watch vid clips for each of the books, and even get your own vampyre Mark tattoo

Reading Update:

Empire Falls by Richard Russo ~ finished.

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis, Chapter Four “The Bell and the Hammer” ~ finished

How to Be a Villian: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans and More!!! by Neil Zawacki ~ finished

Marked: A House of Night Novel by P. C. Cast & Kristin Cast ~ starting Chapter Six, page 43

Saturday, April 18, 2009

<i>Memories of My Melancholy Whores</i> by Gabriel García Márquez

First, I was rather surprised by how short this book is, especially as compared to One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores didn’t move me nearly as much as One Hundred Years Solitude.  This is probably because I am thirty instead of ninety.  I’m sure it has a far greater impact on people older, and definitely wiser, than I.

Also, it seemed more than a little ridiculous to go to a brothel, pay the madame for the services of a whore, and then, later on in the “relationship”, get angry with the person for being a whore.  Even a bit hypocritical, given the narrator’s past.

I’m sorry to say that Memories of My Melancholy Whores just didn’t do it for me. 

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 17, 2009

Review (and Giveaway!): Perfect Fifths

Title: Perfect Fifths (Jessica Darling Series)

Author: Megan McCafferty

Genre: Fiction*; 304 pages

Publication date: April 14, 2009

Publisher: Crown Publishing

Rating: 4 Bookmarks**

Perfect Fifths is the final book in the Jessica Darling series.  It picks up three years after Fourth Comings; Jessica and Marcus are reunited in a chance encounter at Newark Liberty International Airport.

After buying the first book on a whim a few years ago, I was lured in by the protagonist, Jessica Darling, a teenager from New Jersey.  Her acerbic wit had me laughing from page one.  She finds temptation in a boy named Marcus Flutie and their on-again, off-again relationship spans the series.    The good girl/bad boy conundrum spoke to me on a personal level and I was eager to find out how things would play out. 

McCafferty tells her story using dynamic and credible characters who grow and change as the series progresses. The dialogue is realistic and the storyline is believable.  Sexual tension between Jessica and Marcus runs high, creating suspense and frustration for the characters and readers alike. 

The first four books are written journal and letter-style from Jessica’s point of view.  As readers, we’re limited to seeing plot events and characters as she does, which colors them significantly.  I found myself wanting to kick Jessica in the shins on several occasions because she didn’t make the decisions I would have.   

In Perfect Fifths, McCafferty switches to third-person omniscient point of view and we finally(!!!) get to see what’s behind enigmatic Marcus Flutie’s thoughts and actions.   Marcus dispels some of the myths that have been perpetuated in the previous books and we learn the motivations behind some of his past actions.

A new character is introduced and is reminiscent of young Jessica.  Minor characters from the other books resurface and play bigger roles.  McCafferty brings the story arc full-circle, tying up all of the loose ends.  We get resolution with Jessica’s friends and, of course, with Marcus…though it may not be what readers were hoping for.  

I couldn’t put the fifth book down and stayed up reading it until 2:30 in the morning.  Then I re-read it twice more, savoring the story and interaction between the couple.  It was such a pleasure to take this literary journey with Jessica, Marcus and the whole cast of characters that Megan McCafferty crafted.  This series belongs in your TBR pile.       

And now on to the CONTEST!!  Simply leave a comment below and you will be entered to win the entire Jessica Darling series–all 5 books!  The deadline is 10pm EST on Monday, 4/20 and a winner will be chosen at random.  Good Luck!!!





Many thanks to Megan McCafferty and Crown Publishers.

* This series is sometimes classified as YA fiction but the books span 10 years of Jessica’s life, ending on her 26th birthday.  The series deals with sophisticated themes and the nature of the story lends the books to a wider audience. 

**To fully appreciate this particular novel and all the references and entendres, the books should be read sequentially.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beer Review: Presidente

Beer: Presidente Imported Beer

Brewer: Cerveceria Nacional Dominicana

Source:  12 oz. bottle

Rating: No stars (4.5 of 10)

Comments:  A lager from the Dominican Republic.  Just the type of beer that you’d expect to drink on a hot day at the beach.  Pale, weak, and not to exciting but okay if you’re not too discerning in what you quaff to cool off.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Lisa Lutz is a talented young writer whose unusual first book, The Spellman Files, went on my ‘keeper shelf’.  Her second book, Curse of the Spellman’s is now an Edgar nominee for 2009.  The exceedingly quirky, dysfunctional and paranoid Spellman family is what makes these books.  Lutz has an unusual writing style that can take a bit of getting used to.  Some will find it annoying.  Since the stories are told in the first person by middle daughter Isabel, Izzy to most, it seems to be a natural extension of her personality to me.  This is a family that keeps dossiers rather than scrapbooks and paranoia is bred into their genetic code.  Come along for a fun ride, but please note, while keeping your hands and feet inside the moving vehicle at all times helps, reading the first two Spellman books first helps a LOT more.

Izzy is finishing up her court ordered counseling for violating a restraining order and taking an extended break from the family investigation business.  The fact that in 12 sessions she has discussed nothing that matters is a point of pride.  Izzy is living in a tiny apartment, an expensive proposition in San Francisco.  She tends bar for friend Milo at the Philosopher’s Club.  Milo feels it’s about time Izzy quit drifting and went back to work, so he forces her to take a job for his buddy Ernie Black.  Ernie thinks his wife Linda might be cheating on him with another man.  He loves her and doesn’t want to lose her, so he needs Izzy to find out if his suspicions are right so they can get counseling or something.  Seems simple enough.  Just to make sure she gets the job done, Milo cuts her hours.

Izzy is depressed.  Really depressed.  Her much younger sister, Rea, is on the outs with former police inspector Henry Stone and his girl friend Maggie, a defense attorney.  Thing is, Izzy has ‘a thing’ for Henry and has for a long time, but she actually likes Maggie - sort of.  Rea hates Maggie and is doing her level best to make her and Henry miserable.  Henry keeps calling her to do a Rea ‘extraction’.

Luckily, her brother, a successful attorney, is going overseas for a vacation and asks Izzy to house it for him.  He leaves a whole bunch of rules in the vain hope of preserving some privacy from his nosy family who have made prying into each other’s business an honored art form.  Hell, she’s 31 years old.  Yeah, he’s older, but not THAT much, and richer - ok a whole lot richer because she dead broke, but she’s an adult dammit!  Or she’s struggling to be.  So naturally she drinks the forbidden 18 year old scotch and sleeps in his bed and throws a party in his house to celebrate the end of her mandatory counseling.

Ernie calls and Izzy is tracking Linda to a perfectly innocent lunch with her friend Sharon.  Then they go shopping and Sharon buys Linda a very expensive scarf that she doesn’t seem to want and returns as soon as Sharon leaves.  That’s strange.  But at least there’s no ‘other man’ and Linda and Sharon didn’t seem like more than friends.

The story has so many different threads it’s hard to follow them all.  Knowing his sister, David plays her.  She knows he isn’t overseas and once he’s home with a broken arm, she knows something is very wrong.  It might be very hard to explain why she’s squatting in his basement apartment.  True, she’s sleeping mostly on the bus and train, and her car keeps moving at night, but it beats the hellhole she’d been living in even if she does have to sneak in and out.

Then there’s the fact Izzy takes a job with a PI firm run by a man her dad hates.  Now mom and dad are so pissed off they won’t speak to her.  But neither will Morty her 84 year old attorney who is living alone since his wife moved to Miami.  Seems he promised they’d move somewhere hot when he retired and he’s refusing to honor the deal.  She convinces his skateboard champ turned shop owner grandson to take away his car, but that means she carting him around.

So all Izzy has to do is, finish her second round of 12 counseling sessions with her new psychologist, get Morty to go to Florida with his wife, figure out how Rea cheated on the PSAT’s, figure out who steals her car every night, why two thugs threatened her and why some political flack offered her money to stop tailing Linda and Sharon, and how she can tell Ernie he isn’t really married, and her brother she’s living in her basement, and please, please, please, get just one good night’s sleep.  And oh yes, she has to decide if she’s going back to work for Spellman Investigations or she’ll never be allowed back - and her dad gave her a VERY firm deadline.  But mostly, she really has to figure out what the hell is going on with Linda and Sharon, not for Ernie, for herself.  If she can’t, then maybe she should just look for different line of work and forget about Spellman Investigations.

Unlike your typical cozy or humorous mystery, there really isn’t any ‘big’ mystery in the Spellman books.  There’s lots of family on family spying and head games and acute, advanced nosiness and mini-mysteries.  The streets aren’t littered with killers, or bodies, or even serious criminals - excluding politicians and shady PI’s.  So why are these books sold as mysteries?  Well, it’s kind of like Carl Hiaasen meets The In-Laws, the original with Peter Faulk and Alan Arkin.  It’s a weird story full of snoopy people that’s always twisting and turning a half a dozen different story lines all at the same time.  A Salvador Dali painting in a genre full of plein air.  Full of questions, small questions maybe, but that’s what life is mostly full of, little things.  Lutz just makes them really fun, sometimes a little sad and touching, but always entertaining.

This is not a book for everyone and the writing style is not a traditional narrative.  Fans of classic mysteries will likely find it annoying or distracting, so trying out one of the paperbacks or reading a chapter online would be a good idea before buying the books.  It takes an off-beat sense of humor, a little patience with the jumpy syntax, the transcripts, and the persistent use of footnotes, but give it a chance and it will engage you and draw you into the crazy world of the Spellman’s and make you laugh.  Mostly it’s just a really entertaining read.

My Grade: A- (4.6)

Who would enjoy this book: Fans of Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, and Christopher Moore.  My rating would be PG-13.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hate Talk and the Radical Right; The House of Cards

There  are two books that are really worth reading that I wanted to highlight.  They are perfectly timed as both of these authors have anticipated some of the most critical issues of our time.


Favorite Quote:

“It’s a neat trick. Not only has the village lunatic gained permission to continue wandering the town square poking everyone he dislikes in the eye with a sharp stick, but he gets to claim victimhood when the victims respond angrily. Unfortunately, in the process, the whole village is transformed, and not for the better.”

David Neiwert has been studying right wing extremism for years and when hate speech crosses the line into…fascism.  Yeah, that’s what I said.  His book deals with most of the issues that have been raised on A Time for Change for the last 5 months and cogently tries to make some sense of it all.  In essence Mr. Neiwert, an award winning journalist, has coined the term “eliminationism,” which means “a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination.”  Sound familiar?  You betcha.

He believes that the country is undergoing some  ”para-fascism” since approximately the 1990’s and that as the fringe impacts the GOP conservative movement, that segment of our society has become ever more belligerent, paranoid and increasingly violent as best evidenced by some of the outrageous behavior that has been posted here, including Glenn Beck’s pouring of gas on a a guest (yes, I know it was water, but it was still very weird to say the least) to Michelle Bachmann’s cries for revolution!

If you want to try to make sense of out this madness, I recommend this book.  You can see excerpts on the blog “crooks and Liars” where Mr. Neiwert contributes regularly.


How many times have you heard someone say, “How did this happen?” I know I have heard it plenty and it has been excruciatingly painful to see the panicked look on people’s faces as their savings goes up in the bubble of excess on Wall Street.

The author, William Cohan, is a former investment banker who describes what happened and makes it perfectly understandable for those of us who are not as Wall Street savvy.  The bottom line?  The culture of greed, where an anything goes as long as it makes money mentality, failure to self-police, management incompetence, lack of regulation and the deadly combo of the mortgage backed securities and the housing market bottoming out  is the explanation of how we got here.  However, Cohan delivers the truly shocking behind the scenes details that may make you reconsider ever investing again, including blatant lies to investors.

If you want the behind the scenes story as to what really got the economic meltdown ball rolling, then you will want to read this book.

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Sunday, April 12, 2009

<i>A Dangerous Climate</i> by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

I can’t say I liked this book, but I can’t really say I disliked it, either.  If anything, I’m disappointed.  A Dangerous Climate had the potential to be the most interesting, the most thrilling, St. Germain novel in years.  What happens?  “I challenge you to a duel”, in true melodramatic fashion, then, no duel.  What? 

Niklos barely gets to St. Petersburg, then they’re gone, before anything really interesting could happen.  I was amused by the Czar’s letter, but the rest of the ending was a flop.  Wouldn’t it have been better if it had been the real St. Germain Broughton met in Paris, along with, maybe, II Ferenz Ragozci? 

This book is just too neat with very little real action.  However, I love this series and I’ve been looking forward to the story told in the next book, Burning Shadows, for a very long time.  If you’re not yet acquainted with my favorite Count, don’t start here.

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Book Review: The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wilde

I sat down in the corner of a Boarders recently with Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Breif Life of Oscar Wilde. I didn’t stand back up until a few hours later, and it was worth it. The book is funny at times, while enlightening, touching, and troubling in others.  Diaz incorporates a vivid story of the Domincan Republic’s under the rule of the dictator Trujillo with a modern story of adolescent life in New York. Although knowledge of Spanish will definitely help, I didn’t have any, but by the end that wasn’t the case (although I don’t think the Spanish I learned would be suitable for public encounters…). In addition, the book touches on many DR cultural idiosyncrasies, and I always find cultural idiosynchrasies interesting.

I highly recommend this book to anyone in need of a refreshing dose of fiction infused with rich history and deep characters, but don’t expect a “full” story; all of the characters have a one to tell, but they are also all broken, beyond repair.  In the end, after digesting the book for a few days, it was a pretty troubling read, with no clear message besides how horrible life can be, but I guess this is what “modern” literature is, especially when on the subject of the DR : )

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reading for pleasure and not for work...

So, I’ve been trying to read non-romance stuff lately, since, well, reading romance is what I do for work. =P I went to the huge sale Waldenbooks was having when they went out of business a while and just roamed through and bought random stuff. lol Yeah, that’s what I do best. I also got some B&N gift certificates of Christmas and got online and bought some of the books on sale for $1.99 and $2.99. 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Piccoult: This was a really good book and Jodi definitely knew her stuff when she was writing this one. She did a great job with knowing all the medical and legal stuff…I know I couldn’t. I must admit, I was less than pleased with the ending, but I won’t ruin it for anyone. One thing I really love was the POV usage. It was all in first person, but in each of the characters “first person”. I really enjoyed getting to know each character.

Driving With Dead People by Monica Holloway: Oh. My. God. This book was fan-freaking-tastic. Simply amazing. I can’t go on enough about how much I loved this book. I had trouble putting it down. It’s a memoir, which I don’t normally read, but I think after this one, I’ll be looking for a lot more interesting ones such as this one. The story is so sad, but Monica’s writing almost bypasses it, not really letting you concentrate on it so much. Instead of telling her story in a “woe is me” manner, she just tells it like any of us would speak about our great childhoods. One of the jacket quotes said it best: “Monica is an author who can make you cry and laugh in the same sentence.” Boy, was that the truth. This is a book that definitely needs to be on everyone’s TBR list.

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer: Okay, so I’m only just now almost done with the second book, New Moon, and my parents got me the set for Christmas. It normally doesn’t take that long for me to finish YA books. I mean, hell, I finished Harry Potter in nothing flat. But as much as I like the books, there’s some major stretches of boring. The first 1/3 of New Moon….man, I couldn’t get through it. I had to put it down and come back to it a couple of months later. And now that I’m past it, I’m loving the story. And it was like that with Twilight, too. Some major stretches of yawns. Times of “come on, let’s get to the action now.” If I were “just a reader” it might not bother me so much, but sometimes I just can’t turn the editor gene off, and reading the Twilight series is like that for me. I’m making it through though. =P

I’ve got some other ones in my TBR pile, so I’ll be sure to post those when I get done…and I’ll do better “reviews”. =P

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Blue ... (we heart themes)

If you squint while looking at this photo, you might get an “I’m-in-Provence” moment.

This week’s “theme” will be blue, a color my camera and I adore. Now, if we can just get a little teamwork going…I took it with me to work today and snapped… O pictures! (note to self: you have to go out at lunch, that is, leave the office, if you want to find some “blue” topics.)

Book Selection…

This should be easy, but I find that the only books I can think of with “blue” in the title are indeed books that are in my TBR stack. Therefore I cannot expound on them at all unless I cheat and go to Wikipedia for summaries, but ethics rule among readers, so “no” to doing that.

Oh, and no, I”m not going to read BLUE’S CLUES although I give it major “props” for catching the little ones’ interest lo these many years.

The two I can think of: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott. Has anyone read either of them? What do you think?  Your answer may alter their position in my TBR stack which currently resembles the game Jenga, that is, the stack is rather tipsy which means you can’t vacuum too closely to it or it will tumble. All I can tell you without getting down on the floor next to our bed to read every title is that The House on Cisneros Street is on top.  I really should investigate what else is there…

Monday, April 6, 2009

Two Views of Grief

The Fires: Two Novellas

By Alan Cheuse

(Santa Fe Writers Project,  $10.00, paperback)

Alan Cheuse is perhaps best known as a book reviewer for National Public Radio. But he also writes superb fiction.  His book The Fires, published in 2007, contains two engrossing and deeply human novellas.  “The Fires” and “The Exorcism” each deal with the sadness, the swirl of memories and the confusing feelings left behind after someone  you love suddenly dies. The stories also explore the difficult journey back toward happiness. 



Sunday, April 5, 2009

It Sucked and then I Cried

For several years now I’ve read a blog called, written by a mommy-blogger named Heather Armstrong.  I can’t recall exactly how many years I’ve been reading, but I know that when I started reading it I was still blogging about producing porn here on this blog.  I remember this, because I attempted to purchase advertising on Heather’s blog and was promptly turned down.  Since finding Jesus (who was hiding under the bed) I’ve not attempted to advertise on Heather’s blog again.  Mostly because I no longer possess much of that stuff we call “money” and therefore cannot afford such luxuries as advertising.

But I still read it.

If you’re a stick in the mud, you might not appreciate Heather’s irreverent humor. I dig it. She’s hilarious. And besides her witty blog posts, her website also contains daily photos where one might find a sweet photo of her daughter Leta, perhaps witness some random object resting comfortably on her dog’s head, or perhaps the latest mascara she purchased at Sephora.  Yes, I even click on such photos as Mascara. Why?  Because often times there’s an amusing caption below it.  I love to laugh.  Heather’s site delivers numerous reasons to do so.  So I return to it.  Repeatedly.

Heather’s book “It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita” humorously chronicles Heather’s experiences becoming a first time mother. She holds nothing back, even when discussing how postpartum depression led to a short stay in a mental institution, and proves even such things as stays in the loony bin can be presented humorously.  Should you decide to read it, be prepared to learn more than you ever wanted to know about poop.

Having a long drive ahead of me in order to attend the nearest book signing, I emailed Heather’s husband Jon to make sure the schedule hadn’t changed. He was kind enough to let me know that the previous evening’s signing in Portland was so well attended that several people had to be turned away, so if I wanted to insure a seat I’d likely want to show up early. I did so… 2 hours early in fact. I passed the time reading the first several chapters of the book and talking to the ladies who began to arrive not long after I did. For the longest time I was the only man in the waiting audience. In fact, I think I was probably the only single man period. If you look hard enough you might see another male or two in the crowd, but I’m certain they were drug to the event by a wife or girlfriend:

Heather is just as funny in person as she is on her blog, or in her book:

If you listen closely, you might here a mangling of English words. On this particular evening I witnessed Heather pronounce the word “crayon” the same way you or I would say the word “crown”. Apparently, a BYU degree in English does not come with a requirement to lose the southern drawl.  Which is fortunate, because it makes listening to Heather even more entertaining. 

I was 4th in line to have my own copy signed:

I’ve now read the majority of the book (a handful of pages remain before I’ve finished it). It’s very entertaining and very funny.  I particularly think mothers would enjoy and identify with it, but men shouldn’t be afraid to pick up a copy as well (and gentlemen, should you need to explain your purchase to someone just say you have a friend who needs to be scared out of impregnating his wife).

Click the photo to be taken to the site selling Heather’s Book:

“It Sucked and Then I Cried:

How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Reviews and stuff

   First things first. Happy birthday dad! He turned 78 today, and despite half his body not functioning properly(one lung, one kidney, diabetic, one leg)  his mind is still sharp and he’s  still loving life.  One of my main functions in life is supplying him with dvds, so that he can enjoy the more recent movies.  Stopped by, gave him a couple of gifts, and another load of movies.

   On the news front. Let’s see, the big thing is the G20 summit in London. Usual suspects protesting, with your standard vandalizing and aggrevating police tactics. Be extremely suprised if ANYTHING comes out of it. Be flabbergasted if anything good comes of it. Our tax dollars at work. Locally, turns out that the school system here, which everyone brags on, has something like a 20% dropout rate. That’s better than the neighboring city, which is down around 31%, the worst in the state. But it’s going to be a very brutal surprise to a lot of people who believe their oh so precious kiddies are the future of the country. going to be looking forward to the followup on that one.

   Sad news at work. Two of the guys, one a direct workmate, no longer work for the department. They had some problems in gaining a certification, and it was decided that enough time had passed. Seriously sucks, though I am confident both will go on and do well in the future. Meantime, the department is 4 people down. Have to wait and see what we end up getting as a replacement.

  Onto the topic of the evening. Today’s review is Storm from the Shadows, by David Weber. The latest entry into the Honorverse, this book is the one that lights the fuse. While the putative focus of the book is on one the character of Admiral Michelle Henke, friend of Honor Harrington and 5th in line to the throne of the Star Empire of Manticore, the book actually spreads its focus over a number of characters. In fact, the book actually starts with an overlapping view of the events in At All Costs. We see Henke’s capture by Manticore’s enemy the Havanites, her unexpected freedom, and reassignment to the newly annexed and brewing troublespot “the Quadrant/Talbot Cluster”. It was this part of the book that I found most disappointing, especially as I waited for the events back at Manticore to get to the characters in the Quadrant.

   However frustrating the wait was, there were definite compensations. While we don’t get to see the overall goal of the evil shadow forces manipulating events throughout the galaxy, we do see the ringleaders stepping more into the open, and the launch of their Master Plan. We get a closer, unflattering look at the operations of The Solarian League and its massive but antiquated navy, and get to watch as events relentlessly push the League and Manticore to open war. As usual, Weber provides lots of technical background to the military hardware we see throughout his books, and in this case the indroduction of truly new and somewhat frightening technology wielded by the bad guys. The strongest point of the book was in the buildup to the climatic events of the final pages, where we are left with a true cliffhanger ending. Unlike At All Costs, where Weber brought massive fleets to bear for the mandatory naval action, the big battle here is fought on essentially squadron level, and with some suprising results. Not to fear; with a battered Manticore facing off against the behemouth Solarian League, there is promise of many fleet shattering battles to come. Never mind the nasty cliffhanger… so, all in all, a solid Honorverse offering. More to be read for what it sets up than what actually occurs in it. It’s a comfort to know Weber has the next two followup books in the pipeline; I hate the thought of waiting too long for this.

   On the other book front, I’m into Sarah Zettel’s “Fool’s War”. From the copyright, the book has been out over a decade. I’ve seriously missed out on this author. This is the second book by her that I’ve read, and already I can tell I’ll be tracking down anything and everything  else she’s done. Good crisp well paced sci fi, with strong female lead characters, and well paced action. Got to love Mallozzi’s blog for getting me to break out of my rut, and sampling more writers. Speaking of which, I need to buckle down to read up April’s BotM club selections. Got the May books in at the bookstore waiting to be picked up. Speaking of mallozzi, check out his blog at  He has a rather entertaining April Fool’s day joke to discuss. Anyways, already a quarter of the way through 2009. Time really is relative, as it seems to relentlessly speed up.