Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A - Z Challenge: Zilch

 Yep. After two days of busting my ass at the water office, I'm taking today off. I'll be returning the dogs to my parents today as I've been dog-sitting since Saturday. So it's a trip to Redding today to return dogs and hang out a bit with Mom. Looks like we're going to try to see Frozen at the dollar movies. So I will finally get to see what the fuss is all about with this movie.

But it's back to the grind tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A - Z Challenge: eXample and Yuck

Since I haven't read any books that begin with the last three letters of the alphabet (at least none that I can remember lol), I'll be winging it from here.

X can be for "example". As in, for example, I now work for a teeny tiny mountain town water company - I am the office gal. It's amazing how terribly the place has been run for the past 50 years. And no, I'm not joking. For example, apparently no one has enforced the Rules and Regulations very well. Like people who haven't paid their water bills have never been shut off. Totally serious. No one has ever enforced water conservation because no one is on a meter - it's flat rate for unlimited water use and this town uses like three times the national average (roughly 250-300 gallons per day, which to a third world country would be considered outlandish waste of water). Seriously? You bet. And since we're in a major drought at the moment, you can bet that's going over real well. For example, their billing statements have no due date listed even though technically the due date is the 10th of each month (according to the Rules and Regulations). It's never been enforced, so payments trickle in all month long and late fees have only been added if a payment isn't received by the next billing cycle. Crazy? Yes. Truth? Of course.

Y can be for "yuck". As in, it's a yucky situation for Boyfriend and myself because we're now enforcing said Rules and Regulations and in fact, today (Tuesday) is shut-off day. We're happy to work with customers and create a payment plan (no interest, can't beat that shit) and have them sign a contract. There are about five people who keep telling Boyfriend that he can't shut their water off; I think they think that he's bluffing. Unfortunately he's not bluffing. They don't pay, they get shut off. And a few people want to take their matters and feelings to the Board of Directors. I wish them luck because the Board is semi-new within the last year and they want action, which exactly what Boyfriend is doing.

Another yucky thing is that the system is so old (50 years) and there are actually a handful of houses that we can't turn off. And the homeowners know it. Slowly, Boyfriend has been renting a backhoe and digging up people's yards to put in a proper service so that can be shut off. And no, they weren't nice yards, either, so the water company digging up their yard was actually an improvement. Seriously.

Oh the fun.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

A - Z Challenge: S, T, U, V, and W (Playing catch up!)

Alright, so life got the better of me this week. Whoops. This is what happens when you start the A - Z Challenge the night before it starts as you've only just come up with a theme and write posts only a couple days in advance. Wow. Since last weekend, it's been super busy. A good busy, but it's kept me away from writing and reading blogs as I try to keep up with life.

So to play catch up for the week, here are my books for S, T, U, V and W!

Sarah's Key by Tatania DeRosnay

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

OMG. One of the best books I've ever read. Must read. Tatania takes a real even in France's history and uses fictional characters to bring it back to life. Your heart aches and breaks throughout this book, because little Sarah continues to try to get back to her brother. Although we readers pretty much know what happens to the little brother, which again, breaks your heart. But Sarah won't give up - she has to get back to him. Julia has to track down anyone who remembers that fateful day of the Vel'd'Hiv and who is willing to speak of it - no one likes to remember that it ever happened. Their tales slowly begin to intertwine and Julia has to know what happened to Sarah and where she ended up as her name never appears on lists. Seriously, read this book. This for me, is Tatania's best work.

Tell Me Where It Hurts by Nick Trout, DVM

It’s 2:47 a.m. when Dr. Nick Trout takes the phone call that starts another hectic day at the Angell Animal Medical Center. Sage, a ten-year old German shepherd, will die without emergency surgery for a serious stomach condition. Over the next twenty-four hours Dr. Trout fights for Sage’s life, battles disease in the operating room, unravels tricky diagnoses, reassures frantic pet parents, and reflects on the humor, heartache, and inspiration in his life as an animal surgeon. And he wants to take you along for the ride.…

Having worked in veterinary offices I really didn't hesitate when buying this book. Each clinic and each doctor are very different, not only in what they specialize in but their personalities and their clientele. This is an interesting read from one veterinarian's perspective.

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

After nursing a broken engagement with Jane Austen novels and Absolut, Courtney Stone wakes up and finds herself not in her Los Angeles bedroom or even in her own body, but inside the bedchamber of a woman in Regency England. Who but an Austen addict like herself could concoct such a fantasy?

Not only is Courtney stuck in another woman's life, she is forced to pretend she actually is that woman; and despite knowing nothing about her, she manages to fool even the most astute observer. But not even her love of Jane Austen has prepared Courtney for the chamber pots and filthy coaching inns of nineteenth-century England, let alone the realities of being a single woman who must fend off suffocating chaperones, condomless seducers, and marriages of convenience. Enter the enigmatic Mr. Edgeworth, who fills Courtney's borrowed brain with confusing memories that are clearly not her own.

Try as she might to control her mind and find a way home, Courtney cannot deny that she is becoming this other woman and being this other woman is not without its advantages: Especially in a looking-glass Austen world. Especially with a suitor who may not turn out to be a familiar species of philanderer after all.

Okay, so I haven't read anything that started U, so I'm improvising with this one. Another Jane Austen-type spin-off here, but not your continuing story kind. In this book we find Courtney, a woman of the 21st century suddenly and somehow transplanted in 1813 Regency England. And to top that off, she's in some other woman's body, kind of like a Freaky Friday thing. Not only does she not know how she got there (perhaps some elaborate dream?), but she has to suddenly act like a lady of the 19th century. And with that last bit she finally realizes how annoying the constant chaperones are and that body odor is something that hardly exists  mostly because everyone smells and therefore ignores it. She also finds out just how much trouble a bath actually is and how women were forced to deal with their "monthly cycles". She does have a hilarious moment actually meeting the famous authoress, Jane Austen, herself and completely makes a fool of herself. Overall this book was enjoyable and really put you in Courtney's shoes and how awkward it would to be transplanted back two hundred years.

The Vendetta Defense by Lisa Scottoline

When "Pigeon Tony" an elderly pigeon racer is arrested for the murder of his lifelong enemy Angelo Coluzzi, the Coluzzi's family seek revenge on Pigeon Tony and his lawyer Judy Carrier.

 Another Lisa Scottoline book on the list and for good reason. It's good. Poor old Pigeon Tony (and he seriously wants people to call him that) winds up in the hot seat for allegedly murdering his arch enemy, Pigeon Tony winds up in serious trouble. He and his lawyer race against the clock trying to avoid being killed by Coluzzi's family, who is hell-bent on revenge. Judy has to figure out how to defend a client who insists that he "killed" but he did not "murder". The story takes us to a different place and time - Mussolini era Italy and an age-old feud and crossed an ocean. Another great read by Lisa Scottoline!

White Girl Problems by Babe Walker

Babe Walker, center of the universe, is a painstakingly manicured white girl with an expensive smoothie habit, a proclivity for Louboutins, a mysterious mother she's never met, and approximately 50 bajillion Twitter followers. But her "problems" have landed her in shopping rehab--that's what happens when you spend $246,893.50 in one afternoon at Barneys. Now she's decided to write her memoir, revealing the gut-wrenching hurdles she's had to overcome in order to be perfect in every way, every day. Hurdles such as:
- I hate my horse.
- Every job I've ever had is the worst job I've ever had.
- He's not a doctor, a lawyer, or a prince.
- I'll eat anything, as long as it's gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie, sugar-free, and organic.
In an Adderall-induced flash of inspiration, Babe Walker has managed to create one of the most enjoyable, unforgettable memoirs in years.

So I was entertained when I read the back of the book (above). I mean, who spends nearly $250,000 at Barney's?! Or anywhere else for that matter?! While I was entertained, I think my jaw was usually slack from shock and my forehead hurt from hitting it so much. I wouldn't necessarily say that Babe's issues are "white girl" problems and definitely not your average "first world" problems; they are pretty much just the problems a spoiled little rich girl has to deal with after always getting what she wants. While entertaining, this book was also rather annoying, even if it's a complete farce of a story. 


Monday, April 21, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Rose Madder

Rose Madder by Stephen King

This is the story of Rose Daniels, "the most richly portrayed female King's ever created" (Detroit Free Press). Escape from her macabre marriage is not as easy as fleeing to a new city, picking a new name, finding a new job, and lucking out with a new man. Not with a husband like Norman...

For the record, I am not a Stephen King fan. I have read only a handful of his books and each one of them freakin' freaks me out. This one, while at first it seems it's a normal, every day evil (domestic abuse) and eventually takes a turn for the oddly supernatural regarding a painting. At some point this chick actually enters a painting. Yeah, it's as weird as it sounds. However, Stephen King does very well with this book and does well with the characters. You really feel for Rose trying to escape a terrible life and find something new and safe and he writes a good villain in Norman. But like normal Stephen King novels there's a huge element of weird in them.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A - Z Challenge: (My New) Quest

Okay, so this isn't a book review. I haven't read anything that starts with Q. So, I am taking a tiny break from my book review theme of the A - Z Challenge.

My new "quest" can also be called a part-time job! I believe I've mentioned before that Boyfriend manages a tiny water district in a tiny mountain town. He started just after Thanksgiving. Well, the office gal they had up and quit in January, leaving the water company high and dry. She cited in her resignation letter that Boyfriend had his own personal agenda and she couldn't just sit there and watch it happen. No one knows what the hell she was talking about because Boyfriend is trying to get the water company back into good standing with the state and trying to get grants to redo the systems. I digress.

For a month Boyfriend pestered the board of directors to hire me as their new office gal. All of March they himmed and hawed over this until finally, two of them said, "We really need someone! When can she start?" They were unsure of hiring me because I am living with Boyfriend and that is considered nepotism. Those two finally convinced the third board member to agree to hiring me. Oh to live and work in Small Town, America. lol

Since April 2nd I've been slaving away. It's supposed to be a part-time job, just a few hours a week. Five or ten hours, really. I've been working so hard and way more than ten hours a week. The last office gal who is supposedly also a "bookkeeper" sucks at filing. I have been filing papers from the last ten years that have just been "swept under the rug" so to speak and shoved in a random filing cabinet. The board members took over receiving customer payments and paying bills.

I've been thrown in (actually I kind of jumped) into the deep end, never having worked for a water company before. My quest or goal is to make them run more efficiently and with fewer errors. Today alone (I'm writing this on Wednesday) I spoke with three customers regarding errors on their accounts. Two had sent in nasty notes on their statements, but luckily for me they were very nice and understanding when I explained my situation and were so appreciative that I had taken the time to call them to let them know I had fixed the errors. One customer showed up in person and was so happy that someone seemed to be keeping "office hours". We discussed her past due amounts and she happily agreed to sign a contract stating exactly how much she would pay each month until her account was paid in full.

Then I had a guy from a bank call me regarding a lien on a property due to lack of payment as the house had evidently been repossessed. I explained that I was new to the water company and asked him to list exactly what he needed from me. He gave me his email and phone to give him the information and to let him know if I had any questions.

Mom came up on Tuesday to teach me how to do payroll taxes. I've never done payroll or their taxes before. Mom's a good teacher, and she got me all squared away. She even offered to come up to help me get the office running like it should. She worked for a water company for over 20 years and knows this stuff inside and out. Thank God for my mother!

It's been an interesting two weeks with the new job, I can tell you that. And I plan to edit their billing statements, get them using Quick Books for more than just the basics (because I know it can do so much more), the filing completely caught up, accounts payable and receivables properly lined out, the office clean, and make them more efficient overall. It's going to take some time.
I get home each day and even if I've only worked three or four hours, I am so mentally drained . . . I'm exhausted! But I am accomplishing things little by little. And that makes me happy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A - Z Challenge: (The) Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest--to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

As the pieces of Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.

I cringe when I see or read anything on the Salem Witch Trials. What a time to have lived through; living in utter fear of being accused a witch for no reason, for it often meant a death sentence. This book was pretty interesting as the author takes us between worlds, a modern woman's world and the woman's world in Salem. She comes across odd things in her grandmother's house, some things which excite her graduate advisor. The author uses truth in history and weaves it with a fictional main character and story. Pretty well done and kept me entertained. Another book I recommend.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A - Z Challenge: One for the Money

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

Pestered by her close New Jersey family, Stephanie Plum offers to catch high-school crush Joe Morelli, cop turned bail jumper, for her cousin Vinnie's company. She questions "working girls" to find the missing girlfriend of vicious prizefighter Benito Ramirez while Joe secretly watches her back. Ranger mentors her and supplies vehicles when hers explode.

I have to say that the Stephanie Plum series is pretty hilarious. They are good, quick reads and can make you laugh your ass off. We find Stephanie laid off from her job as a lingerie buyer, she's hawked nearly everything she owns in order to pay rent and feed her hamster, Rex. She's got the over-bearing mother who cooks roast beef every week and thinks Stephanie is dead if she's two minutes late for dinner. Her Grandma Mazur is totally the bomb and as the series goes on, you will love some of the shit that comes out of that woman's mouth. The father seems to mumble and hide behind his dinner plate or the newspaper and tries to not hear the dinner conversations. Stephanie begs for a job from her slimy cousin Vinny at his Bail Bonds shop and is soon chasing skips and trying to bring in Joe Morelli, her childhood nemesis who deflowered her in a bakery and whom she may or may not have clipped with her dad's Buick. Ranger tries to teach her how to be a bounty hunter and she's almost completely hopeless at it but still manages to bring enough people in to pay her rent or at least buy a loaf of bread. There's always a murder mystery and Stephanie ends up way over head and winds up blowing up more than one car in each book. If you're looking for a quick read that delivers some good laughs, look no further. Stephanie Plum is an enjoyable heroine who can crack you up!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A-Z Challenge: No Longer (Indie Chick Lit Prompt)

The movers are back today. Most of the big stuff went yesterday - the household furniture, the appliances, the patio furniture, the kids' trampoline. Today it's clothes, boxes and the decor.

I watch them as they move to and fro, coming and going. I make sure they are handling the hanging pictures with care. As much as they're getting paid I want to make sure they're doing it right. I don't want anything damaged. The things in this house made it a "home". A home where laughter and love dominated; where family meals were eaten at the table, the kids' art hung on the fridge with pride, where memories were made. This was a safe place. At least it was supposed to be safe. No longer is it safe.

The movers talk as they work, mostly about their lives - what happened at one kid's Little League game, how another one is doing in school; harmless, every day things. I want to brag on my kids, too, but I don't talk to them.

The kids are not here; they are with my parents for the time being until everything is settled. It's a lot for them to go through. Their lives will never be the same. I should be there with them, but I felt I should be watchful of the movers. They are in good hands with my parents, there really is no need to worry. But a mother always worries.

My husband comes in as the movers are finishing up. I feel a twinge as I see him. I know he was sitting in the car, waiting until the movers were nearly finished. He didn't want to be in the house any longer than he needed. He looks tired. So very tired. I know this has taken a real toll on him. Things like this are never easy. He goes through every room in the house to make sure nothing is forgotten. I hear him upstairs opening and closing doors and drawers, ensuring nothing is left behind. I watch him come down the stairs. He hasn't looked at me since the intruder. He repeats the same process downstairs.

"Sir? We've loaded everything up. Is there anything else?"

"No, no that should be everything. I will meet you there."

My husband stands at the kitchen island, across from me, crying silently. I want to tell him everything will be okay but can I really promise that? I walk with him to the front door, watch him lock it, and walk with him to the car. Sitting in the car he looks past me at the house. He sits that way for some time, crying.
Oh how I wish he could see me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Matched Series

The Matched Series by Ally Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow. (excerpt from Matched)

I read this series earlier this year and enjoyed them.  In Cassia's world, everyone has a job. The Society makes sure that everyone's days are planned out. In Cassia's case, she's in school 5 or 6 days a week (hard to know for sure), they have "Free Rec" hours, and approved "leisure" activities. The Society matches kids at the age of 17 and have a "courting" ritual so that the matches can eventually get to know each other. There is no fluff in The Society - everyone has a purpose, They know everything, and your only choice is to be Matched or to remain Single. That's pretty much it. Also? No one lives past the age of 80 because The Society claimed that the quality of life deteriorates past 80. Everyone's meals are prepared and delivered to their home or school. No one has money, they aren't allowed trinkets, nothing. The Society also deemed that their ancestors (us) lead a cluttered life with too many choices, so they picked out the Hundred - the hundred best of everything. Anything else was destroyed. They don't save anything, they don't truly treasure where they came from. Cassia's world is just right until she watches the card on her Match, and someone else's face shows up instead. She starts to question what The Society Officials tell her and starts thinking for herself and falls in love. This is another dystopian society that's camouflaged as a utopia until you start getting in there and realizing how much control The Society has over its citizens. It was interesting to me to see how this "utopia" was set up - and how the story line played out.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A - Z Challenge: Look Again

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

When reporter Ellen Gleeson gets a “Have You Seen This Child?” flyer in the mail, she almost throws it away. But something about it makes her look again, and her heart stops—the child in the photo is identical to her adopted son, Will. Her every instinct tells her to deny the similarity between the boys, because she knows her adoption was lawful. But she’s a journalist and won’t be able to stop thinking about the photo until she figures out the truth. And she can’t shake the question: if Will rightfully belongs to someone else, should she keep him or give him up? She investigates, uncovering clues no one was meant to discover, and when she digs too deep, she risks losing her own life—and that of the son she loves. 

Oh. My. God. This book was seriously AWESOME. A complete page turner all the way. I totally cried, more than once, and this story really tugs at your heart strings. More importantly, it makes you think about this kind of situation - what would you do in this kind of situation. Lisa Scottoline instantly became one of my favorite authors after reading this book (it was the first one I ever read by her). Seriously, read this book. I don't say that about every book I read. But this is just an awesome book.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

A-Z Challenge: (The) Key to Midnight

The Key to Midnight by Dean Koontz

Joanna Rand left the U.S. ten years ago to sing in a Japanese nightclub. Ever since, she's been plagued with nightmares of terror. There is only one man can help her -- Alex Hunter. Ten years ago he saw her picture in the papers -- as a senator's daughter who had disappeared. Now he has to bring her memories back to her, memories of a past more terrifying than they dreamed possible...

 I know, another Dean Koontz novel. But I did mention that I love his stuff.  We find Joanna in Japan, owner of her own nightclub. Alex, after meeting her, comes to believe she's the missing senator's daughter. He finds that she can freak out over absolutely nothing and has reocurring nightmares. I would say that while the Russian vs America thing is sitting in the wrong decade (although a side note, this book was originally written in the 70s under a pseudonym), but as of recent events, it may actually be relevant again. In order to find out the truth, the couple set off to England and later Switzerland. Which, is different because Koontz typically sets his novels in California. Another good one to enjoy by Koontz with mysteries everywhere you turn. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

A-Z Challenge: (The) Jane Austen Marriage Manual

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual

Katherine Shaw—Kate— is happy with her life. She has supportive friends, a glamorous magazine career, and a love of all things Jane Austen. But when she loses her job, her beloved grandmother falls ill and a financial disaster forces a sale on the family home, Kate finds herself facing a crisis that would test even the most stalwart of Austen heroines.

Friends rally round, connecting her to freelance gigs, and presenting her with a birthday gift— title to land in Scotland—that’s about to come in very handy. Turns out that Kate’s first freelance assignment is to test an Austen-inspired theory: in the toughest economic times is a wealthy man the only must-have accessory? What begins as an article turns into an opportunity as Kate—now Lady Kate—jet-sets to Palm Beach, St Moritz and London where, in keeping company with the elite, she meets prospects who make Mr. Darcy look like an amateur. But will rubbing shoulders with men of good fortune ever actually lead her to love? And will Kate be able to choose between Mr. Rich and Mr. Right?

Okay, so we all know of my love of Jane Austen's books and many of the "fan-fiction" spin-offs. So is it any surprise that at least one shows up here? No. No it's not. I thought it an interesting concept - a woman of the 21st Century attempting the same tactics as a 19th Century woman in making a "good match" in marriage or "marrying well" and above her class. When Kate basically loses everything, her job, her house, her grandmother; she takes her friends up on their freelance gigs. One of which lands her on a plane to and is suddenly known as Lady Kate (again thanks to her friends). Kate sets her sights on one man, 20 years her senior and has a terrible first impression with another guy. This is where it parallels Pride & Prejudice - terrible first impressions and misunderstandings. While Kate gallivants around the world trying to land one man, she seemingly misses other opportunities. It was a fun and entertaining read, and it is another that I will definitely read again.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Intensity

Intensity by Dean Koontz

Past midnight, Chyna Shepard, twenty-six, gazes out a moonlit window, unable to sleep on her first night in the Napa Valley home of her best friend's family. Instinct proves reliable. A murderous sociopath, Edgler Foreman Vess, has entered the house, intent on killing everyone inside. A self-proclaimed "homicidal adventurer," Vess lives only to satisfy all appetites as they arise, to immerse himself in sensation, to live without fear, remorse or limits, to live with "intensity." Chyna is trapped in his deadly orbit.
Chyna is a survivor, toughened by a lifelong struggle for safety and self-respect. Now she will be tested as never before. At first her sole aim is to get out alive--until, by chance, she learns the identity of Vess's next intended victim, a faraway innocent only she can save. Driven by a newly discovered thirst for meaning beyond mere self-preservation, Chyna musters every inner resource she has to save an endangered moment by moment, the terrifying threat of Edgler Foreman Vess intensifies.

The title of this book explains it all. And it is the best title for the book because it really doesn't let up. I am an avid Dean Koontz reader. I am always lying in wait for the next one to come out. This one came out quite some time ago, but now and again I pick it up and reread it. Just like any book I enjoy. And this one still freaks me out and makes me double check the locks on the doors and the windows are shut. Often Dean Koontz's novels include something supernatural or otherwise strange and bizarre, but this time he focuses on an everyday fear - a killer in the house. Dean Koontz breaks the narrative of the story so that it's told by Chyna, the survivor and Vess, the sociopathic killer. Because this book doesn't have a supernatural element to it, I think it makes it that much more intense and scary; the terror is caused solely by another person A select few of Dean Koontz's novels have story lines, characters, or villains that get to me, and this was one of those. His books are typically quick reads, but trust me when I say they are still enjoyable and worth the read. And this one? This is among his best work.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A-Z Challenge: (The) Hunger Games Series

The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

Winning will make you famous.
Losing means certain death.

In a dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed.

When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister's place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

(Excerpt from The Hunger Games only)

Suzanne Collins created a terrifying dystopian world where the government, Panem, created a pageant they call The Hunger Games - where each district must offer up one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18. All but one will perish; the victor will be bathed in riches. The government forces children to become killers on television. Live for the world and their families to see their triumphs and their deaths; often gruesome. The reason for this horrifying live television (mandatory viewing, by the way) show? District 13 lead an uprising that lead to a war. To remind everyone of what happened to District 13; to instill fear and control, the government randomly picks children from each district. There is no refusal. Katniss Everdeen is a strong-willed character and you don't always like her. She's very rough around the edges, but she's learned to guard herself and take care of herself and her family in world that doesn't give a rats ass about the quality of life in her district. She takes her sister's place to spare her life and inadvertently sets off a spark. The biggest spark of all is lit off at the end of the book where she challenges the rules of the Hunger Games. We learn about this world through the eyes of Katniss, how the Capitol trains children to kill and survive, feed them rich food, and spoil them in all kinds of luxuries before their demise. The Tributes, as the kids are called, are paraded in front of the Capitol. The citizens of the Capitol will eventually makes bets on the kids' lives, pick their favorites. It's not a world I would even like to visit with The Doctor and his Tardis. The world and characters Suzanne Collins created is absolutely terrifying. The books all had me crying at some point or another, and The Hunger Games had me crying by Chapter 2. That never happens. While Katniss can be wishy-washy and can't make up her mind, comes up with a hair brained scheme only to abandon it later and has evidently built the Great Wall of China around her heart when it comes to love, you can't help but admire her for her bravery, her (sometimes) stupidity, and the terror she goes through. If you haven't read it yet, do so. If you've seen the movie, you should still read the books, because they are effing awesome. I've read each one a dozen times. No joke. And I still love them just as much as when I first read them. And yes, I still cry.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Girlfriend

I'm always afraid of when guys pick me up and look at me. So many times they don't like me. I'm often called the "runt of the litter". Everyone around me is bigger, prettier, cuter, you name it. My owner calls me cursed as well. Three times someone picked me out. Three times I was brought back. I wasn't wanted and each guy that brought me back was devastated. They wanted me, but someone else didn't. So I had to be brought back.

So when guy number four picked me out of the line-up, I for sure thought he could feel me shaking. Don't pick me, I'm cursed because I'm small. He looks hopeful and has a big grin on his face. I shudder at the thought of making someone else so unhappy. My owner quadruple checks with the guy that he really wants me. He's sure.

My new owner carries me, stares at me saying this is the best day of his life. He finally puts me in his pocket, but keeps patting me every so often.

He keeps talking to himself, repeating the same thing over and over. Messes up then starts again.

Suddenly I hear a woman's voice. She sounds happy. Maybe I won't disappoint her like I've done to so many others. They talk awhile, eat, talk some more.

Finally he makes his move. He asks her a question. THE question. He pulls me out of his pocket, shaking me, and opens my box.

I see her. She looks shocked. I know . . . I just know I'm going back again.

Suddenly she kisses him, asks him if he's sure, he says he is, and she keeps saying "yes" over and over again. He takes me out of the box and puts me on her hand. I fit just right. She looks at me and smiles and calls me beautiful. She almost can't stop looking at me.

I sigh happily. Finally a family of my own. I guess the fourth time's the charm.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Flash and Bones

Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs--#1 "New York Times "bestselling author and producer of the FOX television hit "Bones"--returns with a riveting new novel set in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring America's favorite forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan. Just as 200,000 fans are pouring into town for Race Week, a body is found in a barrel of asphalt next to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The next day, a NASCAR crew member comes to Temperance Brennan's office at the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner to share a devastating story. Twelve years earlier, Wayne Gamble's sister, Cindi, then a high school senior and aspiring racer, disappeared along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovette. Lovette kept company with a group of right-wing extremists known as the Patriot Posse. Could the body be Cindi's? Or Cale's?

At the time of their disappearance, the FBI joined the investigation, only to terminate it weeks later. Was there a cover-up? As Tempe juggles multiple theories, the discovery of a strange, deadly substance in the barrel alongside the body throws everything into question. Then an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes missing during Race Week. Tempe can't overlook the coincidence. Was this man using his lab chemicals for murder? Or is the explanation even more sinister? What other secrets lurk behind the festive veneer of Race Week?

I am always lying in wait for the next Kathy Reichs novel to come out. I thoroughly enjoy her books about the adventures of Tempe Brennan. While this is just one in a long line of Tempe Brennan novels, they never fail to entertain me. Although it does get old that Tempe always manages to get herself in so far in over her head into trouble, but some people (or characters) are just that way, and besides, it would probably be boring if she actually did what she was told. I'm pretty sure Tempe's middle name is Trouble. I was a bit disappointed that Detective Ryan wasn't really in this book as I enjoy his character and that her annoying ex-husband and even more annoying Summer (the ex's fiancee) were around as much as they were. But I suppose it's because she was in Charlotte, NC this time and not in French Canada. But it's full of plot twists and the mystery seems real, and everything comes together. Plus she adds history of NASCAR and stuff for those (like me) who don't understand watching the eternal left turn. Kathy Reichs knows how to keep you hooked. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want--husband, country home, successful career--but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she felt consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place. Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.

Yes, this book is a bit self-indulgent on Gilbert's side, but then again, it's her memoir. I told myself that every time  thought she was too whiny or self indulgent or when I didn't agree with something. While I've never gone through anything has tough and devastating as she had, I still felt for her. I think, in part, a lot of people fear they've made the wrong decision and years into that decision they have to decide what is right for them and deal with the aftermath. Which is what Gilbert does. First she has a fling and realizes that she's never been alone; she's always had a man there to "save her". So she talks to her editor for a "paid vacation" of sorts since she writes for a travel magazine to go and find herself. She spends four months each in Italy, India, and Indonesia. In Italy she immerses herself in learning the language and eating the food. She's not even really mortified by growing a muffin-top. In India she spends all of her time at an Ashram, where people go to meditate for hours on end. Totally not my cup of tea, really, but it didn't really seem to be hers in the beginning either. What little meditation she had done at home didn't prep her for the hard work of serious meditation. But she did learn - to meditate and to forgive others and herself. In Indonesia, she meets enjoyment and balance in the middle and finds her happiness. Even if I didn't always enjoy her journey, it made me want to travel and see those places. I enjoyed her story and learned a few things in the process. 


Friday, April 4, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Divergent Series

The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

That's just from Divergent. Now I know we've all been seeing the trailer for the movie, which I haven't seen. I read the book after seeing the trailer a while ago and I thought, hey, that looks interesting. Poor Divergent, I kept comparing it to The Hunger Games (which I still love more), and it almost failed because it's not The Hunger Games. But it left me wanting for more and I realized I enjoyed it. So I went and bought the next two books. And let me just say - they are worth the read. And no, they are not The Hunger Games. It's a dystopian world with a kick-ass teen girl as the heroine. But that's kind of where the true similarities end. Tris's world almost seems like a utopia, but you quickly find out that there's some latent anger amongst the factions. In this world, revolution lurks, and Tris learns the true meaning of what Divergent really is. Her and her love interest have an on-again-off-again thing and it does get rather annoying. But it could be worse. What I didn't expect was how the series ended. It left me slack-jawed and I admit . . . I cried. Can honestly say I didn't see it coming. Definitely worth the read.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Chick Lit Prompt

Taking a break from talking about books to do the Indie Chick Lit writing prompt. Each week this awesome site provides a writing prompt to invite us to open our minds to creating different worlds and link up to share the stories we've created.

You are given a super power for only two hours. What super power is it and what do you do with it?

I've long known that the other gals in the office weren't too fond of me. I don't eat lunch with them and I don't go out after work for drinks. Mostly because I'm not invited. I'm damn good at my job, I know that. I'm pretty much the best in the office. I don't try to show off, I simply do what needs to be done. I'm an educated woman who worked hard to get where I am. I went to college and got my degree and found myself a job. And not just any job - a cush job with benefits and a retirement plan. Not that I thought that made me any better than the next gal in the office. They all landed the same job with the same benefits and retirement plan.

But this morning is different. I'm not sure how, why, or what happened, but it has happened. The only thing I can think of was that I had actually gone to church the yesterday. I stopped going the day she moved away from home. But the past two years have been a but rough; two years with the firm and no one speaks to me, except the lawyers. I went for confession; it's been eight years since my last one. I think that somewhere in my confession I admitted that sometimes I wished I could hear other people's thoughts; specifically the thoughts of my co-workers. Not sure what I was thinking there, except that if I knew the details they won't tell me verbally, maybe I could fix it?

Because since I walked into the office at 8am I've hearing my co-worker's thoughts. And they weren't pretty. Trudy, my secretarial boss, thinks I'm sleeping my way up the ladder. And she had planted that ugly rumor to the rest of the secretary pool. Jen, Amber, and Mary couldn't decide if I was moonlighting as a stripper or a hooker, because I always seem to have money. Melissa, Laura, and Kaylin just know I'm a stuck-up bitch and does I can to show off and brag about my degree. And they all believe me to be a back-stabbing, lying, conniving, arrogant whore. It's easy to know they all agree on that last bit.

The day isn't starting off well and it's only 8:15. I try to do my normal business,  trying not to stare at my evil-minded co-workers, until my boss walked into his office. Jordan Lane is his usual cheerful self, and calls me into his office as he walks by. I grabbed my tablet, legal pad and a pen and scurried into his office. It was hard to not turn around and stare at the co-workers who were suddenly in a tizzy of mental gossiping.

As per the usual morning ritual,  I email him a copy of his schedule for the day while verbalizing it, ask what he'd like for lunch, and ask what he had ready for me to work on. Jordan handed me a stack of folders over a foot tall, apologizing for the workload. I shrug it off saying,  "No worries, Jordan. I will get it done." I was hoping he couldn't see my eyes starting to water as I turned.

"Violet? What's the matter?"

No such luck. "I'm just having an off day, I'm sorry. Trust me, the work will get done."

"I have no doubts there. You and I, we have no secrets. Please, sit down tell me."

I shift from one foot to the other, bite my lower lip.  It would be unprofessional of me to tell. But I do harbor a secret of his, so I know that he trusts me. Plus other than this, I really don't have secrets from Jordan. He literally is the world's best boss. So I sat in the chair opposite him and spilled. Jordan's face got angrier as I went on until I began about hearing her coworkers thoughts.

He put up his hands. "Whoa, Violet. Seriously? Can you hear mine?"

"Yes. Should I ask about Josh or will you tell me over lunch?"

He laughs. "I believe you. And I'll tell you over lunch. I think I'm in love." He laughs some more.

We decide to see how long it lasts before deciding what to do. I'm to keep him updated and continue to do my job as best as I can with my "distraction".

I go back to my clean desk with my disastrous pile from Jordan. By 8:30 the office is a busy hive with people going to and fro and my "IN" basket is getting full as well. Thank God man invented headsets for phones because no one likes a crick in the neck. Every time one of the other secretaries walked by her mental assaults jarred me. This happened a lot as they went back and forth for coffee, copies or the bathroom. My eyes kept trying to involuntarily tear up on me and I was hoping that none of the other secretaries noticed.

When 10am rolled around an eternity later, I noticed a sudden quietness in my head. For a moment I sat there, frozen, waiting for it to come back. Maybe I'd heard all I needed to. Lord knows I heard more than I ever thought possible. And I know now to never ask for such a horrible thing again. I ran into Jordan's office and told him it was over. I also thought of something I could do.

Back at my desk, I opened a new email and began typing. I type up to 90 words per minute and my fingers fly as the words come to me. Once done I decided to wait until later in the day to send it. To make sure I still would. I continued with my work, making headway. Shortly before lunch I thought, to hell with it. I warned Jordan about the email, said I was off to get our lunch, and hit send just before I left. The following email was sent to everyone on my floor:

Dear Co-workers,

I am aware for the entire four years at this firm I have been treated as a leper. I know what you think of me; of what I am, who I am. You are all so far off you might as well be on a different planet. Yes, I do have a college education and a degree that I worked hard for. I was also left with a mountain of debt in student. My college boyfriend maxed out my credit cards and fled, never to be heard from again, leaving me with a second mountain of debt and a damaged credit score. I was hired here at the firm, but as lovely as my paychecks are, they didn't cover my regular living expenses and my debt. Due to my fast typing skills and my education, I have two part-time jobs. I make sure to have my work at the firm done by 5pm because I have another job and I have to be there by 5:30pm, where I work until 11pm. On the weekends I work two twelve hour days. Each job has a purpose (and both are completely legal): the firm pays for my living expenses; the second job pays for my student loans; the third pays for my credit card debt. I am not sleeping with anyone at the firm; in fact, while it's none of your business and also blatantly obvious when you have the truth, I do not have time to have a relationship. Jordan and I are only co-workers who happen to work very well as a team. Shame on you for never speaking to me from day one, even though for four years I have said "good morning/afternoon/evening/night" to you. I have wished you "happy birthday/anniversary/holidays." But you ignore me. I know what all of you are going through. I sit here day after day, doing my job and the only person who has ever bothered to get to know me at all, is my boss, Jordan. I do not need all of you to be my friends, but it would be nice if you would treat me like a human being.


Violet Taylor

P.S. I also know who has been stealing employee lunches.

When I get back from grabbing lunch, astonished faces greet me. I take the food into Jordan's office and spend a nice quiet hour listening to him talk about Josh, his new love interest. Afterward I finish my work, clear my desk and grab my things to head off to my next job. As I walk past the other secretaries I hear them murmur, "Have a good night."
As the elevator door closes I take a deep breath and feel a weight be lifted off my shoulders. And I smile.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Bright Lights, Big Ass

Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster

Jen Lancaster hates to burst your happy little bubble, but life in the big city isn't all it's cracked up to be. Contrary to what you see on TV and in the movies, most urbanites aren't party-hopping in slinky dresses and strappy stilettos. But lucky for us, Lancaster knows how to make the life of the lower crust mercilessly funny and infinitely entertaining.

Whether she's reporting rude neighbors to Homeland Security, harboring a crush on her grocery store clerk, or fighting-and losing-the Battle of the Stairmaster- Lancaster explores how silly, strange, and not-so-fabulous real city living can be. And if anyone doesn't like it, they can kiss her big, fat, pink, puffy down parka.

No, I'm not late to the Jen Lancaster universe, but I do adore her and most of her books. Pretty in Plaid was not her best. However, while I definitely enjoyed her first book, Bitter is the New Black, I think Bright Lights, Big Ass was a notch or two better. I have read it several times and I laugh my ass off every single time I read it. In some cases, for several minutes at a time. Sometimes may have been more like twenty minutes. Either way, a few times I wound up with tears from laughing. While reading her first memoir, I wasn't sure about her tone; if by the end of it I'd still like her snarky, sarcastic, and sometimes know-it-all tone; or that everything is all about her (seriously). Oddly, you don't. At least I didn't. I just kept laughing. Fair warning, if you have embarrassing bodily functions (like peeing yourself or farting or major snorting, etc) when you laugh too hard, it may be wise to read it in private. Just a suggestion.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A-Z Challenge: A Secret Kept

A Secret Kept by Tatiana De Rosnay

It all began with a simple seaside vacation, a brother and sister recapturing their childhood. Antoine Rey thought he had the perfect surprise for his sister Mélanie’s birthday: a weekend by the sea at Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach. It had been too long, Antoine thought, since they’d returned to the island—over thirty years, since their mother died and the family holidays ceased. But the island’s haunting beauty triggers more than happy memories; it reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and deeply disturbing about their last island summer. When, on the drive home to Paris, she finally summons the courage to reveal what she knows to Antoine, her emotions overcome her and she loses control of the car.

Recovering from the accident in a nearby hospital, Mélanie tries to recall what caused her to crash. Antoine encounters an unexpected ally: sexy, streetwise Angèle, a mortician who will teach him new meanings for the words life, love and death. Suddenly, however, the past comes swinging back at both siblings, burdened with a dark truth about their mother, Clarisse.

Trapped in the wake of a shocking family secret shrouded by taboo, Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children. How well does he really know his mother, his children, even himself? Suddenly fragile on all fronts as a son, a husband, a brother and a father, Antoine Rey will learn the truth about his family and himself the hard way.

I had been excited to read this book after reading Sarah's Key, and while I realize that the two books are vastly different, I was left a bit disappointed in this one. The character of Antoine Rey is sullen and whiney and is the absolute king of avoiding confrontation. His kids walk all over him (which really happens to a lot of parents anymore) and he takes a passenger seat to any kind of relationship with women. Basically I wanted to smack him and yell "Grow a pair!" While De Rosnay paints a beautiful picture of France, especially for someone who has never been, I kept thinking the storyline itself would get better; the mystery wasn't very mysterious and kind of left me feeling a bit cheated. It's a decent read if you don't mind the weak plot that you pretty much figure out early on.