Friday, March 31, 2006

Living Dead in Dallas

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

Vampire road trip! In this second installment of the Southern Vampire Mystery series our heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, small time north Louisiana cocktail waitress hits the skies with vampire boyfriend, Bill, in tow, literally, since he’s traveling in his coffin. They’ve been sent by Bill’s vampire boss Eric, sheriff of Area 5, to see if they can use Sookie’s special telepathic talent to track down a missing vampire. But before that even happens one of her coworkers turns up dead in a local cop’s car outside the bar. Sookie faces a religious anti-vampire group who has captured the missing vampire and winds up locked in a cell herself. You’ve got to tune in to find out how she escapes and how this adventure affects her relationship with vampire Bill. Meanwhile, back home in Bon Temps things are really heating up as well. It seems that her recently murdered gay coworker’s less than discrete gossip about his and other’s involvement in local sex parties may have gotten him killed. Sookie teams up with vampire Eric to see if she can ferret out the killer.

Charlaine’s writing is brilliant. Her writing reminds me a bit of Janet Evanovich’s. They both have plucky, tough female leading characters that are easy to relate to that you find yourself rooting for. They’re also both quick witted and use “creative sexual innuendo” to the hilt! -Flourish

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Night Journal

The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook

From the first sentence of this book I was enthralled, hardly able to put the book down. This was the book that led me to discover that you can indeed read and power walk on the treadmill at the same time. The gym even has these handy dandy little holders that prop the book open for you while you swing your arms and sweat.

This story moves back and forth through time and place in a captivating way. We open with the death of Hannah Bass in Las Vegas*, New Mexico just after the start of the twentieth century. We quickly move forward in time to the early nineties in Houston, Texas where our heroine, Meg, is in her late thirties and is unmarried. Well, she’s not married to a man anyway, but rather to her job. She is an engineer with lots of clients that require pure water for their patients’ dialysis. This is a tough job especially when it rains too much and threatens the breakdown of the purification system. She was brought up by her overbearing grandmother Bassie since her mother’s addictive behavior made mothering impossible. Half the time I just wanted to knock Bassie over the head with how mean she is to people. She is the quintessential grouchy old lady who tells it like it is sometimes to the detriment of her relationship with others. Bassie has spent her life devoted to researching and publishing her mother Hannah’s journals. Hannah captured the heart of the west at the turn of the century and her journals have quite a following, except for Meg that is. Meg avoids reading the journals in a subconscious attempt to thwart Bassie’s controlling nature. But don’t fret because Meg does finally launch into a reading of the journals on a road trip back to New Mexico. At the behest of elderly Bassie they journey there to put a stop to construction on Dog Hill where lies one of the few memories Bassie has of her mother and also the bones of the family dogs.

What makes this book so interesting is the realistic relationships between the related women. This isn’t a feel good book where everything comes out peachy keen at the end, far from it. Yet the strength of the story lies in the way these women relate to one another and how that relationship pervades every part of their lives. They are inexplicably intertwined no matter how hard they strive to deny it. Oh yeah, and there is a bit of romance thrown in the mix too.

Elizabeth does an excellent job of story telling and even manages to throw in a plot twist or two at the end. This is the first of her books that I’ve read but I’ve got a feeling it won’t be the last. If you only read a few books this year, Night Journal should be on that list. -Flourish

* The Las Vegas in New Mexico is pronounced with an “e” sound rather than with the “a” sound. I’ve been there ya’ll and it is quite a pretty little town indeed. Love brought me out there in the early 90s for a higher education scouting trip and I almost ended up attending New Mexico Highlands University. But alas, the love ended and I found myself back home in Florida for the next decade. I’ve gotta admit it was kind of strange seeing snow on the ground in April. That historic Plaza Hotel is there just as it’s described in the book. New Mexico was quite an adventure overall and I highly recommend a road trip or flight there. I sure enjoyed this walk down memory lane. I wonder how my life would have turned out if I’d taken that route…

Monday, March 27, 2006

Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Ya’ll, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Our heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, is a cocktail waitress from rural north Louisiana who leads a pretty boring life until one night when a vampire walks into her bar. It seems that in Sookie’s world vampires have been out of the closet for a couple of years. They’ve come forward, admitted they exist, and want to be accepted by the world. Yikes. Sookie is really fascinated by this vampire because she can’t read his mind. You see, Sookie has this little problem, actually she would call it a disability. It seems that she can read people’s minds. Yep, it’s a little strange and she finds it very refreshing that she can’t read Bill’s mind. That would be Bill the vampire. Bill. Right. Anyway, it turns out that the vampires find Sookie’s talent an extremely useful one and under duress she is pressed into service for the vamps. I won’t tell you the rest cause I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of action, a bit of romance, and wisecracking fun.

Sookie is a delightful character who’s got a heart of gold. The entire book is written from Sookie’s perspective with her dry humor as funny as H-E-double hockey sticks. I think it’s fabulous that a white trash rural girl is the star of the show. Speaking of show it seems that HBO has decided to create a show of the book.

Hey and guess what? This book is a Southern Vampire Mystery series! So you’ve got several of Charlaine’s books to enjoy. I liked this book so much that I immediately went to the library, checked out every single one and proceeded to read them all in a week so you may see a review of the other books right here at The Restricted Section real soon. They’re quick, funny, and a world you can immerse yourself in to forget your troubles. -Flourish

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Business of Bliss

The Business of Bliss: How to Profit from Doing What You Love by Janet Allon & the Editors of Victoria Magazine

The strength of this book lies in the inspirational stories of women who succeeded in creating their own business. There is something that will appeal to everyone with all sorts of businesses represented from food to clothes to books. It feels a bit misleading though because the reader only gets a glimpse of the thriving businesses these women have created with only a passing sentence or two about the difficulties that were endured to get to that point. What’s missing from these pages seems to be a description of the women’s hard work and dedication and what inspired them to strive so hard to make their businesses a success. I’m sure that most of us women have dreamed about what it would be like with we had our own business doing exactly what we love. This book is a print manifestation of those day dreams but it’s just that, dreams, without much substance to back it up. There are a few random hints about how to select a business name and how to select staff but I wonder how helpful is their brevity. Overall, it was fun to read about how these women had made it and created a life that included work that was fulfilling and creative. However, this feel good book really isn’t the one to teach you all the necessary details of running a business. -Flourish

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Perfect Manhatten

The Perfect Manhatten by Leanne Shear and Tracey Toomey

So you think you wanna join the ranks of the fun and privileged by summering at the Hamptons this year? You might think twice about this idea after you read this book. Our heroine has just graduated on a full scholarship from Columbia with no idea what to do with her future. She doesn’t have the lucrative financial backing (mega trust fund) to keep her afloat while she looks for a job nor does she have the career connections (daddy) to settle her in a job somewhere. She stumbles upon a newspaper ad for bartending school promising astronomical pay at bartending jobs after completing the course. She falls for it hook, line, and sinker and finds out much too late that the ad was a little inflated. Yet somehow she does manage to end up bartending at the hottest club in the Hamptons over the summer. What she finds out is that bartending is full of moral pitfalls surrounded by drinking, stealing, and drugging. Although she rationalizes her coworker’s and friend’s behavior early on, it takes her until the end of the summer to realize that she is starting to rationalize her own behavior. Thankfully, the close of the summer season sees the end of her self destructive behavior and a return to the sensible person she is. Ah, I forgot to mention that of course there is a summer romance with a richie rich kid thrown in there. Overall this was an enjoyable book. -Flourish

Friday, March 17, 2006

Gift of Nothing

The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

I ran across this book in the new books section of the library. Its just a kid’s picture book but it had an interesting title so I picked it up and skimmed through it. What I discovered was a delightful story of a kitty determined to find the perfect present for his doggie friend. But the friend had all he needed so kitty went in search of “nothing” to give him. It seems he couldn’t find “nothing” anywhere until a light bulb went off and he realized what “nothing” was. In the end he gives the gift of nothing and together they enjoy everything.

This little story seems like a great way to introduce children to the idea of enoughness and a way to inculcate the desire to enjoy what you have without having to acquire more. This story relates the idea of appreciating what you have. When a child is blessed with so many things its hard to be appreciative without taking things for granted. This story seems like it would be a great spring board for this discussion with young children. -Flourish

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Three Weeks in Paris

Three Weeks in Paris by Barbara Taylor Bradford (audio)

I have never read a Barbara Taylor Bradford book and I really couldn’t get through this one. It started off interesting with a storyline about an artist in New York but it seemed to move quickly the bedroom scenes without a lot of substantive story line. I had to give up on it after listening to the first CD. I guess I’ve got to me in a much more romantic mood to enjoy her books. -Flourish

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Non-Designer's Design Book

Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams

Let’s say you’re the only one in your family who has any semblance of computers skills. This usually means that your cousin/uncle/mom/boss etc. will come straight to you and ask for your help when they want to create something special for their cousin/uncle/mom/boss etc. There is usually some type of cheery exchange such as “Oh you’re just so good with computers, I just know you can whip up a funny, cute, sentimental, pretty birthday card for my friend (cousin/uncle/mom/boss etc.)” You smile weakly and glance past them hoping to deflect their request by latching onto the next passerby with the intention of asking them a really, really important question that simply must be answered at this exact moment. Unfortunately, no one is happening by just then so you turn back to your cousin/uncle/mom/boss etc. and mumble, “sure, I guess so”, where upon they light up like a hundred watt bulb, squeeze your hand with delight and turn on their heel to stroll away without a care in the world. Now here you are, left with the task of coming up with something creative in a minimal amount of time.

I found myself in this spot several times over the years and I’ve gotta admit that this book has helped me understand enough design principals to have my boss smiling and nodding when handing over the requested document. This isn’t a scary book. It isn’t a long book. It’s short and sweet, with lots of pictures. It’s also easy to follow and understand and will truly help you develop an eye for seeing how thing can fit together on a page to create a pleasing design. By the end you’ll be able to pick out a serif font versus a sans serif. Oh, and you just may be able to create that really groovy card for your cousin’s uncle’s mom’s boss. -Flourish

Monday, March 06, 2006

Julie and Romeo Get Lucky

Julie and Romeo Get Lucky by Jeanne Ray (audio)

This was a quick and funny little book. Julie and Romeo, both in their sixties, attempt to enjoy an afternoon alone in blissful nakedness when Romeo injures his back in a feat of overzealous romanticism. He spends nearly the entire rest of the book on his back in Julie’s bedroom upstairs. Julie’s daughter ends up on her back in a downstairs bedroom due to pregnancy. All the while a cast of characters march in and out of the story with the constant background of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It seems the eight year has an obsession and a belief that her golden ticket will come true with the lottery. Turns out that she does win the mega millions and the rest of the story is spent on how to deal with the money. It’s a cute, funny story with an interesting twist of a couple of old codgers still enjoying carnal knowledge. -Flourish

Friday, March 03, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Part of a collection of short stories, Close Range: Wyoming Stories, and recently made into a major motion picture, Brokeback Mountain is the story of forbidden love. I must admit that I saw the movie first and then was curious enough to find out what the written word was all about. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would be better than the silver screen as is usually the case. Cold Mountain is one example. However, I find the story to be on level footing with the film. I’m not a major fan of short stories but partly I was on a mission to try to further understand the outcome of one of the characters. There has been some discussion about Jack’s “accident” with equal support to explain the outcome in the film. The short story clears this up a bit and is well worth seeking out to read. I highly recommend the movie too and would characterize it as epic, with sweeping vistas. Really, what could be better than gay cowboys? -Flourish

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Can you keep a secret?

Can you keep a secret? by Sophie Kinsella (audio)

Sophie's British heroines are always a laugh riot and good for an escapist read. In this romantic comedy of errors our leading lady accidentally spills all her secrets to what turns out to be the multimillionaire owner of the company for whom she works. A tug of war ensues with the two of them struggling to date each other but with obstacles falling in their path generally creating hilarious havoc. The audio is fantastic and worth getting on the waiting list for at the library. My favorite of her books is still the first one I read (isn’t that always the way?), Undomestic Goddess. If you need a book to read on a weekend away this one is a keeper. -Flourish