A Little Light Reading?

I love writers who can make me laugh. And not just the ones who make me do the whole snort-and-guffaw-until-I-pee kind of laughter, although those are certainly near the top of my list. If an author can make me laugh and cry with the same book, well, that just turns me into a happy little fangirl, gobbling up all of that author’s work as fast as I can.

Authors like David Sedaris. Jenny Lawson. Jean Shepherd. Celia Rivenbark. Erma Bombeck (obviously).

So, I want to talk about an author I discovered a few months ago. I don’t usually do book reviews in my blog, but I sort of feel obligated to do one this time around because the last book I read really hit me pretty hard.

A few months ago, a friend recommended Only In America by Dominic Holland. He is a British author and stand-up comedian, and my friend knows how much I adore British comedy. And my friend was absolutely right: this is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I laughed out loud in the very first chapter and kept chuckling right up to the very end. For the record, Jonson Clarke is now one of my all-time favorite fictional characters, EVER. Right up there with Mary Lennox and Ford Prefect.

I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to look at a baptistry without snickering, thank you very much, Mr. Holland.

I read The Ripple Effect next, and it didn’t disappoint. Eclipsed was wonderful too, although it left me feeling rather embarrassed for not realizing that Holland’s son is the actor who plays Spider-Man. I mean, c’mon. Seriously, I’m a recovering comic book addict; I got my start writing for “Amazing Heroes” magazine, after all.  (I’ve also never lost a round of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, so I should have made the connection.)

Open Links was next. It’s charming, and has all the elements that make Dominic Holland’s work so enjoyable: quirky characters, fast pacing, funny dialogue, and a happy ending with all loose ends tied up in a tidy epilogue. But this one also made me cry. I’m talking about a majorly ugly cry here, folks.  The moment I realized the truth about the character Marshall, I fell apart.

It didn’t end the way I expected it to, but it ended the way it should have ended, if that makes sense. Maybe a bit too neatly, but I’m a sucker for a happy ending. Besides, all proceeds from sales of Open Links go to a very worthy cause.

I, Gabriel is Holland’s most recent release.  It’s not really a comedy, although it contains some funny bits. I loved the evolution of Gabriel over the course of the story, even if I really struggled through the first part of the book. It’s written in  first person, and Holland does such an excellent job of writing from the character’s point of view that I had to stop and remind myself that these were Gabriel Weber’s thoughts and attitudes, not Dominic Holland’s. I actually found myself getting angry a few times and very nearly marked it as a DNF.

I am so glad I finished it, though. The ending surprised me, and that doesn’t happen often. Again, it ends with all loose ends neatly tied up, even a few loose ends that I had forgotten about.

All of this is my way of leading up to the fact that I downloaded A Man’s Life just before I left for my trip to Texas. A little light reading, I thought. Something amusing and maybe a bit emotional. A nice little beach read, I told myself, without bothering to read the book’s description on Amazon.

As it turns out, that was a mistake on my part.

This book should have a giant warning label on the cover.

A warning label in bright red letters.

A warning label in bright red letters that specifically state: Amy, do not read this book at this point in your life. You’re not ready. Put it back. 

Good lord, I need a hug after reading this book. Either that or a very stiff drink. Or maybe some chocolate. Possibly anti-depressants.

Where do I begin with this one?

A Man’s Life is the story of Tom Harper, a man whose seemingly perfect life comes unraveled in the wake of a devastating loss. His grief is so visceral, so believable, so real that it almost hurts to read. I recognized so many emotions and actions from my own family’s recent grief that it pulled me out of the story a few times; I actually had to put the book down and stop reading once in a while because it just hit too close to home.

I had to go back to it, though, because the character does more than just wallow in his grief, and Holland allows him to grow and heal in a unique way. Bit by bit, those wonderfully quirky characters come together for that trademark Holland happy ending — or at least, an ending that isn’t blatantly unhappy.

I’m glad the book didn’t have that Amy-specific warning label, because I would hate to have missed out on reading what has easily become one of my all-time favorite books.  It’s an incredible journey through grief — from horror to numbness to denial to acceptance and finally, to facing the future once more and even finding reasons to laugh again.

A Man’s Life is not an easy book to read, but it’s worth it. It’s definitely one that I’ll re-read a few times. It’s painful, but also inspiring. I finished it with a sense of well-being, a feeling that hey, it is possible to move on after losing a loved one!

If you’re looking for a new favorite author, I highly recommend picking up any of Dominic Holland’s books.  It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a good laugh or a good cry or just a fantastic story from a master storyteller, you’ll find it in his work.

Whippoorwill

Hey, everybody!

As some of you know, I put together a bunch of my earliest funny blog posts in a book called Have a Goode One a few years ago.  It wasn’t a great title and I knew nothing about making a good book cover, and it basically sank to the bottom of Amazon’s rankings. The nineteen people who bought it seemed to enjoy it, though.

However, I’m still very proud of the material, so I decided to give it another chance. I’ve re-vamped it with a new title, a better cover, and a little bit of rearranging of the essays on the inside.

For those of you who already own this one, a hearty “thank you!” I’m working hard to convince Amazon to “push” the new version out to you, and I promise to keep you all updated on that. But I really want to make sure that you know this is not a new book. I don’t want to trick anyone into buying something they already own!

For the rest of you, Faster Than a Whippoorwill’s Ass is now available. It focuses mainly on parenting, marriage, and country life, with a few other topics thrown in just for snicks. It’s a little bit naughty in spots, and I freely admit to just a bit of profanity here and there, but it was an awful lot of fun to write. I hope you all have just as much fun reading it.

The new cover was designed by my friend and fellow author Margaret Brazear.

 

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Why I Won’t Be Watching Nancy Drew on CBS

I got into an internet argument this week. Well, it wasn’t much of an argument, really. I made three comments and annoyed one opinionated little man before moderators stepped in and shut the argument down by deleting the entire thread.

Rather anti-climactic, to be perfectly honest.

I am not proud of that moment. I am, however, mystified by the reaction, especially since it wasn’t really on a subject that could be considered life-altering or earth-shattering.

It was about Nancy Drew.

I admit it: I am still a nerd about some of the books I read as a kid. Nancy Drew wasn’t my favorite, but she was near the top of my list, coming in a close fourth behind The Three Investigators, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden. And even though she wasn’t my favorite, there was still something special about Nancy and her friends George and Bess. My mom read those books. My niece read them. Even my daughter has read them.

So when I learned that CBS is planning to make a new Nancy Drew TV series, I was thrilled. I figured they would probably take some “liberties” with the franchise to modernize it, but that’s okay, right? I mean, every book has to undergo changes in the process of being adapted to TV or movies. How much could they really change such a well-known and established character?

Quite a bit, apparently. According to CBS president Glen Geller, the character will be “diverse.” He has been quoted as saying that she will not be Caucasian, and that he would be “open to any ethnicity.”  

Okay, a bit surprising, but fair enough. The world has changed a lot since the character was created, so I understand the reasoning behind changing her ethnicity. I’m cool with that.

But then Geller goes on to say that there will be other changes as well.

“Now in her 30s, Nancy is a detective for the NYPD where she investigates and solves crimes using her uncanny observational skills, all while navigating the complexities of life in a modern world.”

Hang on.

The books are about a teenager in a small town, solving mysteries with her friends while still in high school. The TV series is about an adult woman who solves crimes as a police detective in New York city.

Um, what?

Basically, that was the nature of my comment in the discussion in a Facebook group for those of us who  still have fond memories of the books we read and collected as kids.

So they are turning a white teenaged detective from a small town into a black 30 year-old police detective in New York City? Really?!

Big mistake on my part. I was slammed for being a racist. Another member of the group — one with whom I have never had any previous conversations — demanded that the thread be deleted and requested a moratorium on all future discussions of Nancy Drew, CBS, or anything that might possibly spark conversation that had anything to do with race in any way, shape or form.

I made two further comments defending myself before the thread was deleted, but now I wish I would have just said one very simple thing:

Seriously, Dude?

Look, if CBS wants to make a series about a 30 year-old female detective working for the NYPD, more power to them. I’d probably watch it if it’s well-written and well-acted. I don’t care about the ethnicity of the main character. But I think it is ridiculous to market it as something it clearly is not.  

A teenager who solves crimes in a small town while still in high school is not the same thing as a 30 year-old woman working for the NYPD. Pretty simple. As someone who grew up reading the books, I would tune in to a Nancy Drew TV series expecting to see a show about a high school student solving crimes in a small town with her best friends, not a show about a 30 year-old police detective in New York.  

It’s not about race. Granted, my comment should not have included any reference to color, and for that I apologize. I threw that in that as part of the list of things that are being changed for the new show, and I shouldn’t have included it since I really don’t see it as a problem. But I do see it as a problem that they want to change everything except the character’s name and expect fans to accept it without argument.

When the series fails — and it will fail, spectacularly — how many people are going to line up and claim that it failed because white America just wasn’t ready to accept a Nancy Drew who is not white?

I stand by my original opinion that it is not an issue of race. It’s an issue of respect for the original material upon which the show is based. If CBS wants to make a show about Nancy Drew, why not make a show that in some way resembles the books?

What’s next? Maybe they can make a series about crime-fighting wizards at a reform school in New York and call it Harry Potter: The Series.  Or remake Twilight as a musical about two rival gangs known as The Vamps and The Wolves.

Personally, I’m waiting to see the The Hardy Boys: All Grown Up in which Frank and Joe are a young married couple instead of brothers. Instead of being about teen detectives, it’s going to be a raunchy comedy about undercover superheroes who own a bar in Chicago.

No, thanks.

Books and More Books

I’ve been arguing with some old friends lately about the future of books, and I’ve got to say that I’m getting sick of it. My friends, who are the scholarly type, swear by “real” books and regard my collection of ebooks with disdain. They prefer the feel of a real book, they say, and they argue that the easy availability of ebooks somehow cheapens the industry.

Hey, I love books. I’ve been reading since I was four years old, and there’s still something breathtaking and beautiful about cracking the spine of a brand new book. The thought of spending an afternoon inside a Barnes & Noble leaves me weak-kneed and gasping. Given the choice between a stack of brand new books or a night on the town with the man of my dreams, I just might choose the books.

Unless the man was Randolph Mantooth, of course, but that’s a subject for a different blog post.  

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read everything and anything that was put in front of me. Cereal boxes, newspapers, Mom’s Reader’s Digest Condensed Books . . . you name it, I read it. I devoured it. Absorbed it. It didn’t have to have great literary merit or staying power. I didn’t always have to enjoy what I was reading; if I started it, I finished it–even if I hated every word of it.

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On a few rare occasions, Mom had to step in and snatch one of my sisters’ books out of my hands before I got to the “good” parts. I really didn’t see the problem then, but now I can sort of see her reasons for not allowing a second-grader to read My Darling, My Hamburger or Forever.

We didn’t really have a TV at my aunts’ cottage during the summers, so I remember reading coverless paperbacks from boxes my Aunt Noni would bring home from her beauty salon. Now I understand that there was something a bit shady about the fact that the covers had all been removed, but at the time I just considered them to be a bounty of summer reading. I drooled over those boxes the way most kids would have drooled over boxes of candy.

Once in a while, the whole family would get caught up in a trendy book, and we would take turns reading the same copy. My sisters and I would get impatient and read it together, with one of us reading aloud to the others while we sunbathed in the back courtyard.

I seem to remember attracting an audience a few times the summer we were all invested in Flowers in the Attic and its sequels.

It was a little over a mile from the cottage across the bridge and into town. We could cover the distance in a matter of minutes when we wanted to go to McKenzie’s Bakery for cookies or to Captain Nemo’s for ice cream, but that mile seemed to stretch out forever when I was on my way to Arkin’s, the only bookstore in town. I’d save all my money for that day and then spend hours searching through the few shelves of books they kept at the back of the store, hidden away behind the more tourist-friendly Hallmark items in the front.

I always tried to ration the books I bought from Arkin’s. I’d tell myself I was allowed to read two chapters per day, or maybe three. Then I’d end up turning on the tiny reading lamp by my bed and staying up into the early morning hours to finish reading what I’d started.

During the school year, I fed my appetite at the book exchange hosted by my elementary school. Kids could bring in their used books in exchange for tickets. Then, on a chosen night, all of those used books would be spread out on tables throughout the school, and we could go “shopping” with our tickets. One ticket per book, and I’d come home with grocery sacks full of them.

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I was reminded of that years later as an adult, when one of my clients offered me some of her old books. She was a retired school teacher, moving from her house into an apartment, and she wanted to give her books to someone who enjoyed reading as much as she did. I was expecting scholarly tomes, so I was stunned when she handed over two bulging sacks of paperbacks and romance novels. Harlequins, Silhouettes, Mills & Boon, plus solo titles by the likes of Debbie Macomber, Nora Lofts, Mary Stewart, Danielle Steele and more.

The next two months are a blur.

When I was recuperating from my car accident in 2011, my husband’s mother and brother went together to buy me a Nook and a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card. I wasn’t sure if I could ever get used to reading a book on a tiny electronic device, but let me assure you that no one in history has ever stretched a $25 book budget farther than I stretched that little card. I found freebies and public domain books and splurged on .99-cent specials, and I burned out that first Nook in less than a year.

I still love bookstores. Money is tight, so I can’t buy as many “real” books as I used to buy. I simply can’t afford it. Besides, I have moved so many times in recent years that I simply don’t have room for all the books I wish I could own. I’ve been through three Nooks and I’m currently in the process of wearing out my first Kindle Fire. (Sorry, Amazon, I still prefer the Nook.)

So, what’s my point?

I love books. I always will. It doesn’t matter if they are on a blinking electronic screen or a tattered paperback. A book is a book is a book.

I can shop for ebooks when insomnia hits at three in the morning. I can load up on free samples or 99-cent specials and experiment with genres and authors I might not be able to try otherwise. (I know, I know; there’s a long-running argument among writers on the subject of freebies and 99-cent specials, but I’m taking off my Author Hat here and strapping my Reader Hat firmly to my head for the moment.) I’m not usually a big fan of change, but in this case I’m embracing it.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other, as long as we keep reading.

It’s 2016, guys. Whether you get your books on paper or delivered electronically, don’t ever stop reading. Teach your kids more than how to read; teach them to love reading, no matter what the format.  Today’s pre-teen reading on a Kindle is the natural evolution of yesterday’s pre-teen reading under the sheets with a flashlight.

Step out of your comfort zone this year. Make a resolution to try something new. Read a new format, try a new author, read something in a genre you’ve never tried before.

Grow a little.

Have some fun.

Try something new.

Isn’t that what reading is all about?

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For the record, I am taking my own advice on reading new things right now. I just finished Dangerous Allies by Rickie Blair, and I’m about to dive into the next one in the series. I’m not usually a fan of thrillers, but I am so glad I tried this one. Check it out!