Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: Kiss the Rain by Larkin Rose

This is Larkin Rose’s fifth novel. In this book, she introduces the reader to fashion designer Eve Harris, a driven workaholic at the top of the fashion ladder with no time for dating and romance. She gets physical relief using a British phone sex operator named Lexi. 
Also introduced is Jodi Connelly, a very successful paid escort who was once a phone sex operator but has pared her phone sex client list down to a special three, one of whom is Eve.
Both women are obsessed with the other without ever having met in person and neither has any interest in meeting in person because they are certain they will be disappointed with reality. The chances of meeting are slim to none because Eve lives in New York City and Jody lives in London. Little do they know that they would, indeed, meet. Neither could possibly foretell the cataclysmic effects their meeting will have on their carefully controlled lives.
Rose has written a book that no reader will be able to easily put down. This is a tightly woven story so well written that there’s not single misstep.  From start to finish, the story moves quickly forward. In the hands of a lesser writer, this story could very well have become trite. Larkin’s sure hand makes this a compelling story of two women looking for the same thing. 
There is one caveat, though. The intimate meetings between Eve and Jody are explicit. If you prefer the details of sexual meetings to be hinted at rather then drawn in vivid detail, this is not the book for you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom - Tux 28: Mama's Lessons

As Tux, Grace, and I rounded the bend of the park path, we came face to face with a gaggle of geese sunning themselves in the outfield of one of the baseball field. There must have been a dozen of the big birds resting there. One goose, apparently the designated perimeter guard, started waddling toward us. 
Tux was stunned. He’d never seen a creature as large as this one who didn’t have four feet. Sure, he knew what birds were. Hadn’t he chased Robins and Cardinals out of his yard for years? But these creatures? They couldn’t possibly be birds - they were way too large. How could they possibly get off the ground? I didn’t have the heart to remind him that he’d flown in a jet - twice - and it was much larger than any of these geese. He and the jet had managed to stay in the air for fifteen hours without a problem.

What did the intrepid hunter do next? Why he went into his three-point stance, of course. Then he began to stalk the guard goose, placing one foot ever so slowly in front of the other as he began his approach.
The goose, for his part, couldn’t believe the audacity of the Cocker Spaniel - intrepid hunter or no. He quacked once alerting his fellows that there was an intruder. Several goose heads swiveled in our direction.
Grace, on the other hand, simply sat down to watch the unfolding drama. By now, she’d seen her brother stalk a wadded up piece of paper, a fallen tree branch, three crazy daschunds, and even a drooling devil dog which had attacked us. She wasn’t sure how this would play out, but she knew it would be amusing.
I kept thinking of all the stories I’d heard about geese being used as watchdogs and attacking intruders of their turf. While the baseball field could hardly be called their turf, if possession is 99% of the law, we were on their turf. How was I going to get Tux and Grace out of harm’s way if the geese attacked? I had no answer to that question.
Luckily for all concerned, nature called. Tux lost his bad-dog attitude and look when he squatted to pee. Somehow a male dog squatting to pee just doesn’t send the right vibe to a militant goose.
The geese all took to the sky suddenly. Apparently, break was over and they needed to return to the business of flying northward. There was much flapping of wings and honking both of which startled Tux. He actually ducked as the guard goose flew over his head. I was most grateful that the geese didn’t have a call of nature. The image of 12 geese pooping on our heads wasn’t a pleasant one.
Lesson Learned
Before you decide to be a tough guy make sure you remember you mama’s lessons about using the bathroom before embarking on a journey.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: School of Night

Louis Bayard has set his latest historical mystery, School of Night,  in Elizabethan London. His premise is that a group of scholars, including Thomas Harriot, William Shakespeare, Walter Raleigh, and Christopher Marlow, met secretly to discuss heretical ideas, including God, the black arts, astronomy, and politics.
In present day, Washington, DC, Alonzo Wax and Henry Cavendish decided to create their own School of Night as the Elizabethan group was known. The book opens with Alonzo’s death and funeral. At the funeral, a rare book collector, Bernard Styles, approaches Henry Cavendish, now a disgraced academic and executor of Alonzo’s estate, with an offer of money to find an Elizabethan document Styles believes Alonzo possessed that may lead to hidden treasure.
 Bayard returns us to Elizabethan London and the School of Nigh while at the same time keeping us in the present. Interestingly, he writes the London scenes in the present tense and the Washington scenes in the past tense. He manages to keep both time frames moving, although, for those readers interested in historical mysteries, the chapters set in London are the more interesting. There are twists and turns at every opportunity, a conspiracy theory, and lots of historical data.
The opening chapters, set in Washington, are very slow going. Many readers may not make it beyond the first 50 pages or so, but for those who do, this book is well worth the read.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom: Tux 27 - Taking Action

Tux got another fan letter. Let the strutting around the 
house like a peacock begin. For a very cute older dog, he can be insufferable. One of the first things he did, after he stopped bouncing around doing his imitation of a happy dance, was to take Grace’s spot on the couch. Grace is his sister and rival for the position of Alpha Dog in the family. She immediately retaliated by climbing onto my chair with me - a place Tux claims as his own. She asked for pets. Despite not wanting to take sides in this ongoing battle between the two of them, what choice did I have? I gave her the pets she wanted.  She kept glancing over shoulder to ensure that he was watching. He was.
That was too much for Tux. He jumped down from the couch and headed our way. He, too, climbed into my lap. Grace shifted positions to make it harder for him to lie down. He did it anyway. Not only was he uncomfortable, but now so was I. I may have to buy a double recliner if this keeps up, I thought. They both settled in for a nap. While I usually keep a book nearby, on this day there was no book. I couldn’t very well get my laptop out - there wasn’t enough room for me, two Cocker Spaniels, and my laptop. Never did it occur to me to push either or both dogs off. Can we say spoiled Cocker Spaniels?
While I sat pondering what to do next, Grace jumped down and reclaimed her spot on the couch. Tux looked surprised. I continued to watch him and finally, several minutes later, I saw the light dawn. Grace had duped him. She had tricked him into giving up her spot on the couch. He’d been had - again. She has become a master at duping Tux. He’s not the brightest star in the array, but he usually catches on eventually. And he is so very cute and trusting while he ponders what just happened.
Lesson Learned
Watching Tux and Grace, I’ve learned to think about the consequences of my action before I take action. While the initial satisfaction of an action taken in haste may be worth it, more likely than not, the consequence of a rashly taken action taken during the heat of the moment, often turns out badly. Perhaps taking a few minutes to ponder the possible consequences of action might provide some perspective, show us what could go wrong. Who was it who said, “If something can go wrong, it will?” Tux can certainly attest to that - time and time again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom: Grace 3 - Past Prime

Grace is the extrovert of the family. She loves people. Let me be more precise, she loves being the center of attention. There have only been a couple of people who she didn’t like. One was a vet who had fast hands and no bed-side manner, and misdiagnosed the cancer that caused her toe to be amputated. The other was a rude plumber who, as it turns out, was incompetent. Grace had been right to not like both those men.
We were out for our walk one morning recently. We were in the park by 6:00 am (and it was already 80 degrees and humid). We passed by a dog we’d never seen before and its owner. Then there was another walker, a woman. Grace was doing her best to charm the woman. Her tail was going a mile a minute. She was at her most charming. The woman, however, was apparently immune to Grace’s charms. The woman ignored her.
Grace isn’t used to being ignored. It had all begun when she was a puppy. She was as cute as the day is long. Wherever we went, people would come to her oohing and ahhing over how cute she was. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to rub her tiny soft ears, caress her silky-soft coat, and watch the tiny tail wagging so fast that it appeared that it could make her fly. This adoration continued. Now, however, the adoration is fading. 
Grace is crushed. She looked at me with disbelief in her big brown eyes. When we got home, I sat down and she crawled up into the chair with me. She looked positively depressed.
I had to explain to her that in this society being young is more important than the wisdom that elders have. I explained to her that humans ignore their elders, and make them feel like they don’t exist. Unlike the Chinese, for instance, who revere their elders, we Americans look away from our elderly. I explained that as she ages (she’s now 11) and due to no fault of her own, she, too, will be ignored. There will always be a puppy who, while no cuter than she is, it will, nevertheless, have the upper hand because of its age. 
It’s not fair, Grace told me. 
No, it’s not fair. But it is what it is.
Well, shame on anyone who believes that age should factor into whether I’m the cutest.
Yes, shame on us, I replied.
She felt a little better, but I could tell, she wasn’t ready to give up her title of the cutest Cocker Spaniel ever.
Lesson Learned
It is a shame to ignore an elderly person. Instead, when you see an elder - be it a human or a dog - give a smile and say hello. You will have made that person’s day because you didn’t treat her like she didn’t exist. The same can be true of dogs. They love the attention and pick up from your voice and pets that you think they’re special enough not to ignore.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom: Tux 26 - Decisions, Decisions

Tux has some difficulty making decisions, we all know that. It was brought home again the other day. We were walking in the park and, without consulting with Tux, I decided to change our route. 
When I didn’t turn left onto our usual path, Grace, his sister, paused long enough to look back at me. Tux hadn’t noticed that we weren’t going up our path. Neither Grace nor I wanted to stop long enough to let Tux know I’d changed our minds. While we were in no hurry, trying to help Tux overcome his confusion and/or wait for him to decide which path to take would have taken too long for either of us. 
There are only three situations in which Tux finds himself that require no thought on his part, eating, going out into the back yard, and getting into the car to go for our morning walk. Everything else he does requires some thought on his part, even down to where to do his business once he’s outside. He’s a thoughtful dog. 
Grace, on the other hand, shows no indecision - ever. She seems to know exactly what she wants to do in every situation. I’m sure I’ve seen her roll her eyes as we pause at the juncture of two paths and wait for Mr. Alpha Dog to make up his mind which path we should take. I think I’ve even heard her mutter, “Just choose a path, dude” as he looks up each path over and over. As he should, he ignores her and, after careful consideration, chooses a path, but not before looking at me to see if the path he’s chosen is okay. Can we say indecisive?
Lesson Learned
Sometimes, like Tux, we have to make a decision. Too often, we can spend too much time analyzing the decision. We over-analyze and over-think a situation. In those cases, while we think and analyze, someone else makes the decision for us and, worse, we lose a valuable opportunity. At least in Tux’s case, if he dithers too long, I’ll make the decision about which path to take. I don’t know if we’ve lost any opportunities, but perhaps. One never knows when an opportunity is on the road not travelled.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: Loving Liz by Bobbi Marolt

Loving Liz is Bobbi Marolt’s third novel, and she introduces Marty Jamison, the renown Broadway actor, and Liz Chandler, straight author of lesbian romance. Unbeknownst to either of them, they’ve been fans of one another for 20 years. They never met until a chance meeting in a bagel shop in New York City brings them together. 
Liz contends that she’s straight right up until the time Marty kisses her. After that, the two women dance around one another flirting and trying to figure the other one out. Marty has a new show to prepare for and has misgivings about the script. When she asks Liz to look at the script to see if she thinks it can be salvaged, Liz readily agrees to do. She is given free rein to rewrite the entire script.
Unfortunately, Marolt has too many coincidence, like the meeting in the bagel shop, to have the story be believable. She also lectures the reader about subjects that interests her, but that slow her story to a crawl. For instance, she brings the story of the two women to a grinding halt to give the reader the history of a fictitious theater. That lecture doesn’t move the story forward and will take any reader out of the book in an instant, and may even cause the reader to set the book aside.
Marolt had a really good premise for this book although she wasn’t able to follow it through and  make it come alive. The characters are cardboard and lack personality. She tells us about their personalities, how they feel, and what they think, but doesn’t allow the characters to show us. She seems to have forgotten the first rule of writing: show, don’t tell.
Finally, the reader needs a large dose of suspension of belief to think that Liz could go from writing formulaic lesbian romances to writing a Broadway play with no intervening forces involved. 
A strong editor could have fixed a lot of what is wrong with this book, including annoying repetitions.
With all that’s wrong with this book, the last third of the story is the best the book has to offer. There’s conflict, intervention, resolution and, finally, feeling for the characters. It’s too bad that the first two-thirds of the book wasn’t written as well as the last third.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom: Tux 25 - Kept Waiting

A while ago, I was celebrating my birthday with family and friends. I arrived home an hour after Tux’s regular dinner time. Tux was not waiting for me at the door when we entered the house. “Uh oh,” I thought, “I’m in big-time trouble if Tux isn’t here to greet me.” 
Luckily, I looked down before stepping into the house. There on the small rug in front of the door lay my watch. Examination of the watch showed that the leather strap was intact, the watch was still running, and, in fact, there was no damage at all to the timepiece. 
I took the fact that the watch was put in a place where I was sure to see it as a not-so-subtle hint that I was late. Who knew Cocker Spaniels were as bad as humans about not liking to be kept waiting? 
I’m sure I didn’t tell them we’d be home by dinner time because I knew we were going to be later than that. I have to admit that I do try to be home when it’s time to feed Tux and his sister, Grace. I’ve been able to do that regularly for most of their lives. So the first time I miss a dinner date with Tux and Grace, I get chastised. 
Lessons Learned and a Rant
As I sit here thinking about this, I have to wonder why it is that Tux understands the importance of being on time, but the majority of humans think nothing of keeping you waiting. Not too long ago, I had to wait nearly three HOURS for a doctor who was “running a little behind,” according to her staff. If the appointment hadn’t already been changed twice before, I would have left after the first half hour ticked by.
One of my pet peeves, and, apparently, Tux’s as well, is to be kept waiting. If someone says they can meet me at 10:00, I expect to see them at 10:00 - not 10:15 nor 10:30 or later. I no longer wait more than 10 minutes for non-medical people. I will wait 30 minutes for medical people before asking to reschedule the appointment. I always ask for the first appointment of the morning figuring the doctor is more likely to be on time for that one (although once, after traveling 8000 miles to see a doctor, I was kept waiting for nearly an hour for the first appointment). 
What is wrong with people? Why is it that you think your time is more precious than mine? Don’t agree to be somewhere at a particular time if you have no intention of being there when you said would.

Yes, there are unforeseeable circumstances that might make someone late. However, in this day and age of smart phones, etc., a phone call saying you're running late might go a long way.

Being late is just plain rude. It tells me that you think your time is more valuable than mine. That’s nothing more than arrogance. 

For the record, I haven't been late for Tux's dinner since his gentle reminder that I should practice what I preach. Lesson learned.

Tux is sitting next to me and I swear he murmured, “You go, Mom!”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Review: One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming

One Was a Soldier is the seventh in Julia Spencer-Fleming's excellent series featuring Clare Ferguson and Russ Van Alstyne. 
Clare is both an Episcopalian priest and a major in the National Guard. She returns home to Miller's Kill, NY from a tour in Iraq. Like the other soldiers returning from the war, her adjustment to civilian life is difficult. To add to the harshness of going from a war zone to peace, she became addicted to pills, uppers, downers, and pain killers, while in Iraq. Now that she's home, she can add alcohol to her list of addictions. Like every addict she's sure she can quit at any time, but it is never the right time. Her nightmares increase and her waking nightmares become more frequent.
Russ Van Alstyne is the Chief of Police in Millers Kill, and while concerned about Clare, has no idea how badly the war affected her. Clare chooses not to tell him about the effects of the war on herself and the other vets. When a former soldier is found dead in a swimming pool, Russ' focus is on the case - was it a suicide as it appears or was the woman murdered as Clare wants to believe.
Spencer-Fleming has returned to the quality of writing first found in the early books of this series. She adroitly handles each of the plot lines in the book and resolves each before the book ends.
The author has a rather large cast of characters, from the members of Clare's veterans' therapy group, to Russ' staff of police officers. Spencer-Fleming has carefully drawn each character so the reader has no difficulty keeping track of who's who. 
Most impressive, however, is how well Spencer-Fleming has sympathetically captured the inner workings of the vets' minds in describing to the reader the toll the war took on each of them. Anyone wanting to know how debilitating the war is on an individual should read this book and how the war makes our vets into walking war casualties. It is insightful, sympathetic, and informative.