Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: Leaving L.A.

In Leaving L.A., author Kate Christie introduces Eleanor Chapin, who put her plans to become a child psychologist on hold while she cared for her terminally ill mother. When her mother dies, she moves to Los Angeles to start a new life. She moves in with her best friend from college, Sasha, and finds a job teaching at an exclusive private school. Tessa Flannagan, an A-List actor, retired while she was still at the top of the A-List. She wanted to be able to spend more time with her daughter, Layla, who is five years old and precocious.
When Tessa walks into Eleanor’s classroom, Eleanor is immediately star struck. Tessa is, Eleanor decides, much more beautiful in person than on the screen. Tessa is taken with the no-nonsense teacher whom Layla already has major crush on. Old habits die hard, though, and Tessa’s ability to trust is at a low point. She knows that relationships between film stars and non-movie-business people seldom succeed. That knowledge doesn’t stop her from hiring Eleanor to be Layla’s nanny when the school year ends.
Eleanor has made plans to pursue her earlier dream of becoming a child psychologist and accepts Tessa’s offer of summer employment because she needs the money. She will be leaving Tessa’s employment at the end of the summer to attend grad school.
What happens when Eleanor and Tessa see each other every day is at the heart of this book. Each struggles with her growing attraction for the other woman. Each knows a long-term relationship is out of the question. When the paparazzi rediscover Tessa, things become even more complicated.
Beneath it all, though, Tessa has been hiding a secret from everyone since she moved from her home town to Los Angeles. She knows that if she’s to have any kind of relationship with Eleanor, she’ll have to tell her the secret. But wanting to tell Eleanor and doing so are two very different things.
Christie has taken a tried-and-true story - major movie star meets a mere mortal - and made it seem fresh and new. Christie doesn’t need tired cliches to describe the attraction between the two women to let her readers know what’s going on. She uses exotic settings, Hawaii and the hills of Los Angeles (let’s face it, most of us will never live on the same street with the stars hence its exoticness) to move her story along. Even the minor characters like Layla, Eleanor’s friends, Sasha and Luis, and Tessa’s best friend Will are well drawn and interesting.
The author maintains the pacing throughout the book - it starts out strong and stays that way to the end. You’ll laugh out loud, you may even cry, but you won’t want to put this book down and undoubtedly will be annoyed when your everyday life insists that you set the book aside.
Leaving L.A. could very well end up as one of the ten best books of 2011.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom 15: Searching for What You Need

Tux had a crisis today. His favorite plush toy of all time went missing. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. He was rushing from room to room looking in all the places where his toys end up - under the dresser, on the living room couch, in his toy box (yes, he has a toy box, and yes, it has quite a few toys in it - one can accumulate lots of toys in 11 years). When he started searching the same rooms a second time, I knew something was amiss.
Toy Crisis
I knew we were having one of our toy crisis. It hasn’t happened often, but it has happened before that he has lost a toy. Usually, though the toy has been accidentally kicked under a piece of furniture or fallen between the bed and the cedar chest or was in the washer/dryer. This time though, there were no toys in the usual places. 
I offered him his plush hamburger, but he turned his nose up at it. Next, I tried his multi-colored fish, but that wasn’t what he needed either. I tried another hamburger (he has three), a rat-looking thing, a hedgehog (I told you he had a few toys), and finally a hot dog. None of those were the one he was looking for.
He finally sat down in the middle of the family room and looked at me with those big brown plaintive eyes. Could a severe depression be far behind? Seldom had I wished he could actually speak as I did at that moment. What toy was missing? I ran through a mental list of the toys I could remember giving him. Which one was missing?
Knowing What You’re Hunting For
Aha, I fairly shouted. It was his blue, pink, and white plush ball. The ball was the first toy I had given him when he was six weeks old. Then, he hadn’t been much bigger than the ball. He has treasured that ball from the beginning. It is the toy of choice when he’s stressed - after a visit to the vet or groomer, for instance, he will always go for the ball when he returns home. 
Now that I knew what we were looking for, I joined in the hunt. But even I couldn’t find it. I even asked Grace, his sister, if she knew where it was. Grace had been lying on the couch on one of the green throw pillows the entire time Tux and I had been toy hunting. She had never been one to join in on these frenzied quests for a toy. 
Know When to Admit Defeat
I finally admitted defeat. I couldn’t imagine where the toy had gotten to. As means of distracting Tux, I opened the back door and invited him to go out. Grace immediately jumped off the couch because she only passes up an opportunity to go outside when she doesn’t feel well. 
Toy Found At Last!
After Grace went out (Tux had refused to leave the house and his toy), I once again went in search of his toy. I found it in about two minutes. Grace had been lying on top of it the entire time. It had been beneath the green pillow she’d been lying on.

I have to wonder if Grace knew all along that Tux's toy was beneath her. Something tells me that she did. Their struggle for the title of Alpha Dog took an ugly turn today.
Looking in All the Wrong Places
As writers, we often are in search of something - words, character names, titles, agents, and publishers, to name but five things we hunt for. 
It doesn’t take us long to find out where to look for things - a thesaurus for words, a baby names web site for character names, querytracker.net for agents, etc. 
Like Tux, we exhaust all the usual sources first. Sometimes, though, a thesaurus doesn’t give us what we want. What then? 
Then, we need to learn to look outside the box. I found the Bookshelf Muse one day when I was looking for another word for black, as in black hair, raven hair, etc. The Bookshelf Muse has thesauri for emotions, settings, and colors, textures, and shapes. Visit her blog the next time you find yourself searching for just the right word for “pink” when “pink” won’t do. There is a wealth of information there. Find her at http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com.
Finding What You Want and Need
Search long enough, and you’ll find what you want and need just as Tux did the morning he went in search of his favorite toy. Granted, he didn’t find it by himself. There will be times when we won’t find what we want either. Then, like Tux, it’s time to turn to your friends.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: Dying to Live

Dying to Live is the fourth in the authors’ Elite Operatives series. Here, Kim Baldwin and Xenia Alexiou tell the tale of Zoe Anderson-Howe, the spoiled twenty-something child of a business mogul. She is kidnapped by Columbian guerrillas, known as FARC, who want to ransom her for millions of her father’s money. She is taken deep into the Columbian jungle to a camp where she meets other hostages who are awaiting release, some have been waiting for years. In her arrogance, she demands to be released, refuses to eat, and continues acting like a spoiled princess who is used to getting her way.
Elite Operative Fetch has been deeply uncover as FARC’s “medica.” Her mission is to effect the release of the hostages. Her assignment is complicated when Zoe is added to the list of hostages she needs to free. Fetch knows about Zoe’s pampered life and wants nothing to do with the likes of Zoe.
Unbeknownst to those living in the jungle, a madman has released a deadly virus upon the world. The virus kills its victim within days of coming into contact with it. Very quickly, millions of people are dead or dying. Two of the camp’s guerrillas come down with the virus after returning from a visit into the nearest town. The virus begins spreading through the camp.
Fetch has no choice but to get the hostages, including Zoe, out of the camp and on their way to freedom. However, matters become complicated when it becomes apparent that three of the hostages have been infected with the virus. Fetch has no choice but to leave them behind in the jungle to die.
As the remaining hostage and Fetch run for their lives, a mutual respect grows between them as they each begin to understand the other better. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that while Zoe should have become ill with the virus because of her proximity to the stricken hostages. However, she remains healthy. Two guerrillas from their camp find them, Fetch kills them. As they near the pickup zone, Fetch realizes that Zoe is the answer to stopping the virus’ spread even as she realizes she is infected by the virus and will die within five days.
No sooner do Fetch and Zoe consummate their love than Fetch leaves on another assignment - to find the man who set loose the pandemic.
Baldwin and Alexiou have written a barn burner of a thriller. The reader is taken in from the first page to the last. The tension is maintained throughout the book with rare exception. 
In the last chapter, the authors re-introduces characters who first appeared in earlier books in the series. Readers new to the series are warned to slow their reading or face the possibility of getting lost in trying to figure out who these “new” people are. However, by reading slower, the reader will easily see that authors explain who these people are and their relationship to one another.
Baldwin and Alexiou are defining the genre of romantic suspense within the lesbian genre with this series. You’ll find yourself rushing to purchase the first three books in the series if you haven’t already read them, or, if you have read them, wishing the authors would write the fifth in the series faster.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Older Dog Lesson #14: The Need for Short Memories

On a recent Sunday morning, Tux, his sister Grace, and I were out strolling along the path at the rear of our favorite park. We had just seen the Mallards. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard have returned from their stint as “snow birds” somewhere in the south. They were floating in the pool of water at the bottom of a not-so-deep ravine. Tux hadn’t noticed them, probably because for once they were minding their own business and not berating us for being in their part of the park uninvited.


All of a sudden, through a gate in the fence separating the soccer fields from the rest of the park and up a hill of about 15 feet, came thundering toward us a large, male Labrador bent on mayhem and destruction. My reaction was an ineffectual, “Hello! Come get your dog!”

The two male dogs stood eyeball to eyeball. I wasn’t overly concerned at that point since I’d never met an aggressive Lab. I called out to the non-present owner to come get his dog. No one appeared at the gate through which the Lab had appeared. The Lab had a collar on, but, even though every entrance to the park clearly states that every dog must be leashed, this dog had no leash nor an owner.

Suddenly, the Lab lunged at Tux. Although outweighed by 50 pounds, Tux didn’t turn tail and run. He hung in there and put himself between the Lab and Grace and me. There was much snarling and snapping of teeth. For my part, I began yelling at the top of my lungs for the dog's owner and trying to protect my two Cockers.

Grace reared up on her hind legs, put her two front paws on the Lab’s shoulder, and went for his ear.

That’s all the Lab needed to decide to quit the field. As quickly, as the dog fight had begun, it was over. The Lab headed back up the hill toward the gate through which he’d come just as his owner appeared, leash in hand.

“Are you crazy?” I yelled.

“Sorry,” he said, finally putting a leash on his vicious Cocker Spaniel hating Lab.

He turned and disappeared through the gate without bothering to ask if Tux and Grace were hurt.

Grace & Tux Weathered the Storm

I turned toward Tux to ensure that he hadn’t been injured, and found him none-the-worse for the experience. In fact, he seemed stunned. But then, he stood a little taller and looked at me as if he had vanquished the foe and saved both his sister and his Mom from the vicious, snarling, drooling devil-dog.

Tux the Conqueror

Neither Grace, who I swear looked at me with a small knowing smile, nor I told Tux that it was the lunge for the Lab’s ear that had vanquished the enemy not Tux standing toe-to-toe with the ugly hulk. Why let the air out of his inflated ego? It’s little enough as it is. Grace and I were only hoping that he wouldn’t have an exaggerated since of himself in the days to follow.

Tux doesn’t have the longest memory in the world. In fact, he quickly forgot about the fight. He had better things to think about. Like that Lhaso Apso that was in front of us prancing along like some kind of prince.

Lessons Learned

Like Tux, we need to have short memories when it comes to rejections and slights. We need to remember that it’s not personal. The rejecting agents/publishers are not saying a single word about who we are or the kind of people we are. They are simply saying that our book(s) are not for them. Period.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The Siege of Washington by John Lockwood

On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumpter in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor. The next day, Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort to Confederate General Beauregard. Thus, began America’s Civil War.

During the years leading up to the firing on Fort Sumter, Southern sympathizer Secretary of War John Floyd had posted the majority of Union troops west of the Mississippi while Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey, another Southern sympathizer, had ordered most of the US navy to set sail for the West Indies while nearly all the rest of the US ships were dry docked behind Confederate lines in Norfolk, Virginia.

The new Union President, Abraham Lincoln, on April 15th, issued a call for 75,000 troops to be raised by Union states to suppress the rebellion and defend Washington. There was much speculation about who would reach the Capitol first - Federal or Confederate troops.

With Washington left essentially undefended (there were only 1500 US troops in the city), Confederate President Jefferson Davis vowed he’d be living in the White House by May 1st. Mrs. Davis even sent out invitations to her friends living in the North to join her at the White House on May 1st for tea. It was rumored that there 20,000 Confederate troops within striking distance of the Capitol.

With Federal troops deployed in the west and the navy sailing for the West Indies, Washington, DC was left vulnerable. It was an easy target for the taking. For 12 days, Washington was cut off from the North and reinforcements.

Strangely, though, despite calls for “On to Washington” sounding across the South, there was no attempt by the South to take the US capitol.

Author John Lockwood explains why Washington was not attacked in “The Siege of Washington.” Subtitled “The Untold Story of the Twelve Days that Shook the Union,’ Lockwood unlocks the mystery behind the South’s failure to take Washington. There has been speculation that had the South acted, the Civil War would have ended with the fall of Washington and the bloodbath that was the Civil War would have been averted. Instead, the first battle of the Civil War took place two months later at Bull Run.

We all know the outcome of this drama. Nevertheless, Lockwood sheds new light on the story of the beginning of the Civil War. For instance, while Lee didn’t resign his commission in the US Army until April 20th, he felt it was more important to shore up Virginia’s defenses rather than take Washington.

This is an easy to read and compelling story of 12 days that changed the face of American history. If you are interested in the American Civil War or want to be more informed about that period of US history, this is a must read.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Book Review: Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser

In Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser uses her diaries to tell the story of her relationship with the playwright Harold Pinter.

This is not a biography of Pinter nor is it a memoir of Fraser’s life. This is all about their relationship - how they met, how they got together, and how they made their relationship work for over 30 years. It is obvious from Fraser’s entries from her diaries that they were very much in love, they respected each other’s talents, and were a support for each other. Many of the entries sound like a who’s who of the literary world as Fraser and Pinter move through it.

Fraser intersperses her own memories with her diary entries, sometimes to explain the diary entry, sometimes to add information. This is a fast read and only the hard hearted will not cry at the end. Any one who is interested in the literary scene will find this fascinating and informative.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

The Brutal Telling is the fifth in Louise Penny’s excellent series featuring Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec. In this outing, Gamache and his team return to the small town of Three Pines when the local bookstore owner reports seeing a body in the bistro. The body is that of an unidentified man whom none of the locals claim to know or to have seen. With nothing to go on other than where the victim was found, Gamache begins his search not only for a murderer, but for his identity as well.

It doesn’t take long for Gamache to know that he’s been lied to. What he doesn’t know is why. Finally, the team is told, by the bistro owner, Olivier, that the man was known only as the Hermit. Olivier is the only one who has seen him. They catch a lucky break when a local, riding a horse along a newly forged riding trail, spots a cabin deep in the woods on her property. She reports the find to Gamache who goes to the cabin and what he finds there stuns and fascinates him.

In the end, Gamache makes an arrest based on the evidence. Doubts as to the man’s innocence or guilt remain in the minds of the locals who know him. Penny subtly allows the reader to question the evidence as well and to wonder whether Gamache is convinced he’s arrested the right man.

As Gamache goes about his inquiry, Penny gives her readers an update on many of the locals whom we met in the first book in this series, Still Life. Ruth Zardo, the small town’s curmudgeon and a renown poet, is now dressing the foundling duckling she adopted in a previous book in a variety of clothing including a sweater and raincoat. Claire, whose paintings have been “discovered” by a Montreal art gallery owner, must decide whether to stand up for her principles and lose the opportunity to become well known or keep quiet. Peter, her already-well-known artist/husband, must come to grips with the knowledge that his wife may be more talented than he is. The old Hadley House has new owners and we meet them in this book.

Once again, Penny has written an outstanding story. She takes the reader through each step of the investigation, only occasionally withholding information that Gamache has found, which only adds to the tension. Penny does not rush to the end as some authors do. She meticulously allows the reader to chew on and savor each new bit of information.

In this book, it is fall with a touch of winter in the air. Once again, Penny allows us to see autumn and almost smell it as well. In following a clue, Gamache travels to the Queen Charlotte Islands and introduces non-Canadians to little known historical events that occurred there.

Award-winning Louise Penny deserves every accolade heaped on her for this series. She is in the company of P.D. James as one of the best procedural writers writing today.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom #13 - Getting What You Want

Tux and Grace got their Spring haircuts not too long ago, and it promptly snowed. They no longer had their shaggy Winter coats to keep them warm. I found myself being snuggled a lot. I didn’t let myself think I was being snuggled for snuggles sake. No, I was aware that I was the object of snuggling because I emanated heat - and I had the throw.

Tux tries to be independent. He works hard at it. For instance, as we speak, he is lying on his doggie bed with his back to Grace and I. We both know, though, that he has his favorite plush toy in his mouth and is falling asleep with it in his mouth. His back to us tells us that he’s aware that tough, independent Alpha dogs don’t sleep with their plush toys.

By the end of the day, Tux has had enough of being Alpha dog tough. He’s ready for some pets and snuggles from his Mom. So he climbs into my chair with me and we spend the evening together. He has to share me with my laptop, but he’s willing to give me that concession in order to be able to be close. He knows what he wants - an evening of being snuggled. He knows how to get it, too.

Lessons Learned

Too often we humans, unlike Tux, don’t know what we want. We have some vague idea of what it is, like “I want to be a best-selling author.” That’s a wonderful goal. Too often, though, we have no idea what it takes to get to that goal. Some think that all they have to do is write a book. While it’s true that in order to be a best-selling author, you do have to write a book, that’s not all there is to it. It may sound easy to some to say, “I’ll write a book.” It’s altogether another thing to sit down and do it. Writing a minimum of 80,000 words is no easy task.

Getting published is no easy task either. It takes perseverance and guts. If you can’t stick to it, sometimes for years, don’t go down the road. If you don’t have the guts to take rejections and to keep going after major setbacks, take the road more traveled. The road less traveled is sometimes full of travails that are not for the faint-of-heart.