Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thankful for Winter...sort of

Winter has arrived, but then, if you were out early this morning shoveling you already know that.  No sense complaining.  After all, we live in Wisconsin.  Snow is to be expected.  And don't forget, this week we all forget the nuisances in life and remember what we are grateful for.  Me - I am thankful for all the same things you cherish in your lives along with a few other things.

I am thankful that I don't drive my car into the river off Michigan Ave after the first snowfall of the year.  In truth, winter does not appeal to me, but that one day when the cleanest of snows hangs on the trees, sparkling as I drive beneath their bent arches, I pilot my vehicle with my head raised to the sky. 

Also high on my alternative thanks list is the fact that my eye doctor looks a lot like Richard Castle.  Nice. Yesterday's exam resulted in one improved eye and one slightly de-proved.  (That's probably not a word, but I wanted balance, so just accept it, please.)  After the exam, he slid his chair away from his desk and settled in to talk, something Dr. Castle and I have never done before.  Not sure if we'll do it again since his topic of choice was deer hunting and why he chose not to go this year.  

Netflix has decided to produce and air a third season on Longmire.  That's good news, too.

I am happy that my store is not so busy that I can't stop and chat.  Many customers who drop in leave with a book, but each and every one of you leave me with something as well.  You tell me about your lives and your families.  You save me precious decision making time by telling me what movies to watch, what books to ready, unusual places around the area to visit.  You introduce me to your children, your grandchildren and your dogs.  Even a few cats and rabbits have stopped by over the years.

Karmic rewards flood my life as well - good karma.  Although I spent the bulk of my teaching life in the world of speech and theatre,  I also enjoyed helping kids become better writers.  Something about the blank page horrified many of them, along with the feeling that they had nothing of importance to offer.  Once we got past all that, magic happened.  Although I have stepped away from that part of my life, I have been rewarded many times over with friends who want to share the poetry, essays, short stories, and novels they have written.  I even have a punster customer who stops by to sip espresso and regale me with his newest puns.  

My book discussion group....15 minutes devoted to the book and then on to more important issues.  They are the best.  My theatre buds...they tolerate my whims and so much more.  My employees....never mention that they have not embraced messiness and made peace with the dust bunnies quite as much as I have.  

This might all sound like I am making the best of a dull life, but the nothing could be further from the truth. Laughter fills the spaces to buffer any challenges that come my way.  Luckily, the challenges are few.  

Not, get in your car.  Go take a ride up Michigan Avenue.  There will only be one first snowfall this year.

Thanks for stopping by.

What am I reading?  The Second Sister - publication date is March 2015.  Most of the novel takes place in Door County.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Retail Therapy

Winter has arrived way too early, and most people I know are none too happy.  What do we do?  How about a little retail therapy?  Not the kind where you sit in front of a computer, access shopping site after shopping site and burn through your credit card.  Nope.  This therapy should provide a few laughs as I give you a peek at items from my ever growing  I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS BOOK EXISTS pile-o-wonders.

It has been said that everyone has a story to tell. Some people tell them well, others not so much.  Some self published authors have done an admirable job with their work - my friends Steve and Kathryn, for example.  A downside of self publishing is that when a writer does not submit a book through traditional channels, no one ever says to them "Nope. That's not such a good idea."  Lucky for me, many of these bad ideas come to me in the mail in hopes that I will stock them.

Take Dolly goes to the Supermarket for example.  I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but, Dolly's dress is actually fitted behind a cutout in the cover.  The dress can be removed and used on whatever doll it will fit.  While that is all well and good, really...look at that artwork. The story arc and writing are equally sophisticated.  The fourteen page story finds Dolly, the little girl and the mother (neither have names) walking up and down the isles in a grocery store looking at food.  They buy milk, eggs, cheese and yogurt.  The little girl hugs Dolly and they go home.  Apparently, two more action packed trips are scheduled for the trio.  They will go to the beach and then on vacation.  I can't wait.

As far as illustrations are concerned, they don't get much more awkward than Snickeyfritz.  Meet Piper, Pepper and Penelope, the papier machee people.  The larger than life illustrations inside the book are even more frightening.  This book introduces readers to the word culottes by bolding it and using an exaggerated font size.

I receive many complimentary copies of books and some are just plain weird. The Excreman is one of those.  The protagonist is made out of, according to the inside flap, "a piece of humble dung."  You can get yourself an Excreman doll, t-shirt, umbrella and coin purse if you are so inclined.

While we're in the bathroom, The Sh*t Book comes to mind.  The funny thing about this sure to be a best seller is that the author provided a sub-title just in case we couldn't figure it out.  The subtitle?  The Poop Book.

I remember a couple offering that were quickly placed in the file marked "Uncomfortable".  Three of these writers visited me in person.  The first was a man who said he had to wait several years before publishing, and had to change names because he feared for his life.   I read the book quickly.  It was hard to follow and when I Googled his reference to The Church of Goofballs in Mexico where he said he had spent many years, I came up with nothing.  Closed the book.  Then there was the mother-son team who were trying to sell a book with colored pencil drawing about a unicorn.  Not interested.  Even less interested when I discovered they were part of a family involved in some serious impropriety with children.

At one point, I had a spirited email exchange with a man who wrote about how to buy a coffin.  From the get-go, I didn't find the book compelling  His sell sheet informed me that I could buy the books from Amazon and then resell them in my store.  Duh!  Since he was a first time self publisher, I wrote back and tried to give him some hints on how to work with indie bookstores.  I told him that Amazon is a retailer, just like I am and that he really needed to consider finding a distributor to represent his book.  He wrote back saying he was sorry to hear that I'm not a Christian and that my bookstore is failing.  That was about 12 years ago.

Let me end by quoting directly from the man's sell sheet..."I am, in police language a WMA (White - Male -American), sixty years of age, most people take me for forty eight."  Forty-eight?  Really.

So, there's a taste of my job that most people don't know about.  I sure do have fun.  I hope that whatever you're doing is equally as fun.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Not Liking the Winter Business

We are preparing for winter.  We will get used to this parka.  That's what You Know Who (YKW) thinks anyway.  Personally, I hate this thing.  I refuse to move when YKW forces me into it.  Still, it brings me to the reason I have once again commandeered the keyboard. I won't be talking about a book today, because I have my own story to share with you.

This morning, YKW informed me that  as part of the getting ready for winter ritual, today would most likely be the last day the front door would be open for a while.  My last day to watch the leaves, the cars, and the wind.  I took full advantage.  After all, Halloween was a  bust.  I usually run out of fingers and toes as I count everyone who drops by to visit me.  This year, the doorbell hardly rang, so when the door opened to the world this morning, I got into position.  

Sitting about five feet from the door gives me a panoramic view of the 'hood.  I kept an eye on things from that vantage point while YKW read, not looking up even once to share in my joy.  She was so into some story of a woman hiding in a closet that she didn't even notice that I had quietly crept closer to the door, steaming the glass and smudging it with drool. To get her attention, I began a slow version of my doggie tango, kicking my back legs rhythmically while my front end bends around to see if I am being noticed. When I do this, YKW usually takes me outside to empty out.  I enjoy that.  Today I danced for a different reason. Today I found a big brown dog on my porch.  Orange collar.  Long leash.  Tag with some scratches on it.  

YKW went outside, grabbed the leash and tied my buddy to the utility pole at the end of the driveway.  He was jumpy but he didn't scare me.  She told me his name was Dutch.  Now there's a dog not in charge of his own life.  No dog would name himself Dutch.  His YKW must have looked at him and said, "Oh, he looks like Dutch chocolate; let's call him 'Dutch'".  Or else they thought he resembled a late President who went by that name, but I have my doubts.  A name is a personal thing, and a fine dog like Dutch should have been consulted before being assaulted with such a stupid moniker.  I would have called him Captain Ahab.  Two names sound more dignified.

Anyway, this is where the fun begins.  If YKW had just let me handle things, the situation would have been resolved quickly.  But no.  She had to stick her big dyslexic nose into things and try to call the number on the tag.  Obviously I heard her end of the conversation, but I got the whole story later when she related it to a neighbor.

YKW:  Hi, I live over on _______________and I have your dog.
We don't have a dog.  But my kids would love one.  I'll be right over to look at it.
YKW:   Is this__________________?
YKW:  Sorry.  I must have dialed wrong.
What kind of dog is it?
YKW: Chocolate lab.
That's great.  My kid would love that.
YKW:  Ah...this dog has a tag.  He belongs to someone.
Where do you live?
Really?  I live two block away.  I'll be right there.
YKW:  No,  This dog belongs to someone.  You can't have it.
Why on earth did you call me then?  My kids will be so disappointed.  (Click)

See what I mean.  Messy.  The irony continues.  When YKW finally managed to dial correctly, the owner was thrilled to hear that Captain Ahab was safe.  She said she'd hop right into her van and drive over and pick him up.  Drive over.  From four doors down.  The good Captain lives on my street.  Never seen him before. Probably because they drive him everywhere.

That was my morning.  As I write this, I am still encased in the dang parka.  Have a good day.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Abracadabra...Magical Realism

The Sugar Queen represents my third attempt to establish a relationship with Sarah Addison Allen.  Since our book discussion group chose this as our November novel, I clenched my teeth and promised myself I would try...to like...to tolerate...at the very least... to complete this assignment.  Well, once I got past the sophomoric prose, and suspended disbelief, The Sugar Queen and I are getting along just fine.  

If you have been following this blog, you know that magical realism (MR) ranks as a favorite genre.  For me, the South American writers cannot be topped.  So what's the difference between what Allen writes and something like Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate?  Esquivel has a lighter touch.  She eases the MR elements into her work seamlessly, and readers seldom question the fact that one or more characters may have some sort of amplified power.  In Chocolat, that spicy tale made into a fine film starring Johnny Depp,  the main character has the power of influence.  She changes people.  She changes places.  She is like the wind - unpredictable, dangerous and exciting.  The MR gives texture to these stories.  

For Allen the MR controls the story arc leading to a rather contrived plot.  But yet, I am enjoying the curious tale of Josey, a twenty something woman with a stash of candy and romance novels in her closet.  Also in her closet is a thirty something run-away woman named Della Lee who is determined to lead Josie out of her mundane existence into a brighter world.  This is a coming out of the closet story, but not in the way we generally think about that term.  In this case, the closet represents all those things that paralyze people and keep them from stepping out into more risky territory.  I am anxious to see how others in our discussion group react.  As for me, I seldom read a book more than once, but I think I'll buzz through Like Water for Chocolate again, and maybe put the film in my Netflix queue.

Check out the EVENTS tab for info on two upcoming author events.  

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

Just when I needed a break from all the dismal the-world-and-all-the-people-dwelling-there-are-angry-conniving-vindictive-not-to-be-trusted-pieces-of-nastiness books that are so popular now, this book emerged from beneath one of my life piles I so frequently reference.  I guess it had to be the right day for the surreal cover art to speak to me.  Fannie Flagg's work comes to mind from time to time while reading.  You judge, here's the first sentence

My father's wife died.  My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.

Doesn't that remind you a littleof Idgie's voice in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Which reminds me, next time I need a light but not fluffy fix, I could catch up with Fannie Flagg. Anyway....half sisters, one adventurous and driven, the other smart and inventive take center stage in Bloom's novel.  The girls, who meet for the first time after the death of  Iris's mother, wife of their shared father, eventually find a common bond brought on by the realization that neither one of them has a decent parent to rely on.  (Yes, I know I ended that sentence with a preposition, but I do believe those guidelines are loosening up).  Iris, the hopeful star and her sidekick, Eva, journey across 1940's America in search of fame and fortune.  They leave Ohio and travel to Hollywood where the glitz and glamour betray them.  In a Thelma and Louise like move, they  steal a car and head to Long Island.

Iris and Eva stumble across the landscape in search of the next bigger, better deal.  What they find instead is scandal, betrayal and war.  If this all sounds rather grim, well, it isn't.  Memorable characters save the day, and despite the desperate circumstances, the sisters' escapades are as funny as they are tragic.

I find the style problematic at times.  Eva narrates and so her recollection of conversations is built into her narrative, rather than being written as dialogue.  Reminds me a bit of How Stella got Her Groove Back. Once Stella found her boy-toy distraction, the book shifts into high gear.  Using very little punctuation, the plot frantically tumbles and rushes breathlessly toward the predictable, but satisfying conclusion.  If you're beginning your Wisconsin winter Sunday afternoon reading stack, Stella is a fast and fun escape.

Food for thought and lessons learned:  My life is so simple since I left teaching, but I continue to make discoveries everyday.  Today I learned that if you eat garlicky leftovers for lunch at work, no amount to York Peppermint Patties can counteract the damage.  I'll try coffee next.  Or will that make it worse?

 Our friend Steve Head will travel from Nebraska for a Meet and Greet at LaDeDa on Thursday, November 13 from 6-8.  More info to come shortly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It's Always Best to Laugh

Lorna Landvik never disappoints me.  Her deceptively humorous titles draw you into stories that ride the wildest of roller coasters.  You chug along to the top, enjoying the characters and the ride, and then in split second, everything changes and you are reminded of the yin and yang that comprises a full life.

Perhaps I was drawn to this book because of its show biz theme; but besides that, how can you resist an opening like this:

     Of the untold mysteries in this great wide world, the one confounding me at the moment was shy none of my neighbors stocked what I considered a kitchen staple.  In face, from Maeve Mullman's reaction, you'd have though I was asking to borrow a kilo of heroin.
     "Are you award that sugar is poison?" she said, hogging the doorway, as a six-foot body builder is wont to do.  "Are you aware that sugar is responsible for everything from cancer to sexual dysfunction?  Never forget, your body is your temple."
     As she slammed the door in my face I murmured my thanks and apologized, all the while doubting the purity of worship going on in her temple.  I mean, it was fairly obvious from her East-German-World-champion-swim-team-physique that steroids were part of the daily bread.

Maeve is just the first of the non-traditional apartment complex tenants that Candy meets upon leaving her drab existence with grandma in Minnesota and moving into her cousin's sublet in California.  There's the ruined nightclub impresario, a well connected Romanian fortune teller and a whole roomful of hecklers who boo, hiss and cackle when Candy tries her hand at stand-upcomedy.

Personally, I think that Landvik is at her best in this book - rubatoesque pacing, bits of stream of consciousness narrative, distinct character voices and a plot sprinkled with wit and wisdom.  If you haven't read anything by Lorna Landvik, give her a try.  Next time you're between books and the right title hasn't fallen onto you bedside table, pick up any one of her titles.  Within the pages, you will find yourself, your friends, and your town.  You won't be disappointed.

Other stuff....

Local lady, Sally (Pitz) Goldenbaum spoke at the Manitowoc Public Library last night.  Sally has written a series of cozy mysteries set in a small town peopled with characters that could be our friends and neighbors. I was happy to see so many familiar faces there last night.  Sally did a great job - funny, charming and with a bit of sass.  Keep your eyes open for these author visits.  They are always free and always worthwhile.  tom Maltman (The Night Birds and Little Wolves) will be speaking in spring.

If you're looking for a fun place to visit, take a drive to LaClare Farms just outside of Chilton.  Goat farm and cafe.  The LaClare's have 700 goats with more being born every day.  On Sunday, a set of white twins were born, along with a little black goat.  The farm dog has the loft responsibility of cleaning the newborns while trying to escape the ire of the new moms.  The farm foreman told me that new goats are born every day, with the highest birthrate being twenty-four in a single day.  The little ones live and rest in huge Tupperware type bins until they get up enough gumption to jump out on their own.  Great breakfast and relaxing time walking around watching the animals.  While you're in the area, you can wander through the corn maze at Polly's Pumpkin Patch,  and stop an artsy consignment shop called the Plaid Squirrel.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Creepy TV Show. Good Book. Bad Movie.

With Halloween lurking in the mist, I mustered up my courage to finally read Stephen King's It.  Oh, but then I watched the first episode of "American Horror Story: Freaks" and the plan changed.  (Thanks for the recommendation Rick Oswald and Ray Pritchard.  I haven't slept much since the big toothed clown entered my life last Wednesday.  Nice joke, guys.  You knew this show would freak me out and I am sure that you are both still laughing your fannies off thinking about how you duped me into watching.  But yet, I grin.  You know what they say about Karma.)

Luckily, the book pictured above arrived in time for me to avoid cracking open the King tome despite its obvious scary clown theme.  How could I resist with this tempting blurb on the back cover, "If David Sedaris and Agatha Christie had a child, it would have been Julie Berry!".   You know my fondness for Sedaris and so those words sealed my fate and filled my Sunday.  

Intended for YA audience?  Yes, but the storytelling blended with some cleverly turned phrases give this novel lots of universal appeal.  If you're looking to be frightened to the nth degree, this won't work.  But, neither is this a sweet little cozy mystery.  The students at St. Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies face a bothersome dilemma.  Mrs, Plackett and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at their Sunday dinner.  Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home unless the students - all seven of them - can hide the murders and convince the neighbors that nothing is wrong.   "Nunsense" and "Weekend at Bernie's" come to mind.

Burying two corpses in the garden, faking their way through a surprise party for one of the deceased (with whom an injured neighbor must share a bed!) and muddling through the horrors of Victorian housework unsupervised are easy enough.  But getting to the bottom of the murders in another task altogether especially since the girls fear the killer may strike again.

If you want a lighthearted, seasonally themed book, join Dear Roberta Pratley, Disgraceful Mary Jane Marshall, Dull Martha Boyle, Pocked Louise Dudley, Dour Elinor Siever, Smoothe Kitty Heaton and Stout Alice Brooks in this farcical mystery.

Thanks for stopping by.

I saw "Gone Girl" this weekend and still don't understand how this book and movie are getting such rave reviews.  I stand by my earlier comment that the most interesting characters are the cat and the ottoman.  Too many logic gaps.  If the director was trying to channel some film noir techniques, that just didn't work. ... and Amy got away with murder, for crying out loud.  Of course, that opens the door for a sequel, doesn't it?  I can't wait.

While we're speaking of clowns....check this out.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bullying Prevention Month

October is bully awareness month.  We are all asked to show our unified stance against bullying by wearing blue next Monday.  This sure is a baffling issue - hard to define and hard to end.  Like pain, everyone's tolerance level for bullying is different.  Was I bullied as a child?  I guess so.  I mean, what short round kid wasn't?  But school was so much fun for me, that I didn't notice - or was to dumb to notice.  Oh sure, Joe and Mike, my nasty neighbor boys who attended public school (that was the problem wasn't it?) chased me home from 1st grade every day. But I screamed so loudly all the way home that in time, one by one, neighbor's would step onto their porches, armed with brooms, rolling pins and fly swatters as they watched the three of us approach, allowing me safe passage. 

But you know what, the bullying I have experience from adults has been far worse, more hurtful and more memorable than those after school flights from the brothers.  One person is a name caller, the other, a disrespectful challenger.  When I finally had the guts to tell one that I could not longer tolerate my friends beings called "stupid", "liars" and a slew of other names, I was dismissed from the relationship.  That was good.   Most recently, I have been in a situation in which an individual chose to argue with me and belittle me - only when there was an audience.  When we talk one on one, all is well.  My defense with him has always been to take the quiet road, realizing that those witnessing the aggression will take note and his name will be forever written in the annals of nastiness.  A few days ago, my nemesis showed up at a party I was at and, wouldn't you know, he headed right over to the chair next to me.  He was warming up.  He was ready to find some reason to loudly tell me that I was wrong about something - the color of the sky, the day of the week - anything.   I told him that someone was already sitting there, which he clearly could have deduced from the beverage glass and partially eaten plate of food directly in front on the chair.  He got up. I wiped the sweat from my brow thinking I was in the clear.  Couldn't be that easy.  No sirree.  He squeezed in between me and the person to my right on the couch.  What's up with that?  I made it clear that we could talk about the weather and nothing else. Annoyed, he left shortly after that.

I'm an adult.  I know how to analyze situations and understand the importance of deciding what is and what is not worthy of my attention.  Kids don't have those skills yet and the bullying landscape is multi-faceted. 

Far too many books have been written about bullying in the past few years. Eric's Kahn Gale's Bully Book is based loosely on incidents that happened to him in 6th grade.  Classmates actually wrote a book on the fine art of grade school social climbing - how to do, how to choose a victim, and how not to care whose feelings are hurt in the process.  The rules are ruthless and beyond ugly. When Eric was eleven years old, he felt like the whole class was conspiring against him.  Everyone used the same insults and nicknames, and there didn't seem to be a safe corner of the room or moment in the day.  The book gives voice to everyone who has ever had a Joe, a Mike, a name caller or a bruiser in their lives.

Here are a couple useful resources

http://the http://the bullyproject.startempathy.org



Wishing you a bully free day, week, month, year....life

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Banned Book Week

Right.  I'm a week late with this info.  Doesn't make it any less interesting, though.

Banned Books Week has been celebrating the freedom to read and drawing attention to censorship issues in the last week of September since 1982. This year, Banned Books Week runs from September 21st to September 27th and specifically focuses on comics and graphic novels. Learn more about the event and banned books in general with some great articles, infographics and quizzes that we culled throughout the week!
  • Banned Books by the Numbers: The Huffington Post made banned books visible with this super helpful visual breakdown of the most popular banned books in 2013 and the reasons behind them.
  • Celebrity Videos: What’s better than seeing someone you admire talk about their favorite banned book? From Markus Zusak (THE BOOK THIEF) explaining how THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton made him want to be a writer to Whoopi Goldberg reading one of her favorite Shel Silverstein poems, there’s a wealth of entertainment here.
  • How Scandalous is Your Reading History? Take this Buzzfeed quiz and see how many banned books you’ve read (I got a 38 out of 93!).
  • 10 Great Book to Screen Adaptations: For those of you who can’t get enough of our Books on Screen feature, wordandfilm.com compiled a list of some of the best banned books to make it to the movie theater. Pass the popcorn!
  • Banned Books blog posts: On her website, writer E. Kristin Anderson dedicates the entire month of September to guest blog posts by authors talking all things banned books. Contributors so far have included William Ritter (JACKABY), Jessica Verday (OF MONSTERS AND MADNESS), Carrie Mesrobian (SEX & VIOLENCE) and more. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Introducing a New Voice in Mystery Writing

What a pleasure to read a well written book by a colleague, acquaintance or friend.  Deadline for Death, by friend and guest blogger, Steve Head, arrived a week or so ago.  Actually, Steve sent an electronic copy of an early draft over a year ago.  I read the first chapters quickly, discovered that reading off a computer does not work for me so I never finished.  I recall sending Steve several questions and comments, which he politely rebuffed and refuted.  But now, battery free copy in hand, I can say that this book does not have the usual tell-tale signs of a first novel.  In fact. Steve's novel holds up well against mysteries written by many well established authors.

"Deadline" takes place over eight days in 1952, the time not only serving as a backdrop but also being integral to the plot.  The Wyoming setting also provides an anchor for the action.  Each character, distinct and unique in voice, attitude and history, plays a significant role.  Incidental players add local color and just the right dash of humor, especially Rose, the waitress at the Atomic Cafe.  (Thanks for the silly bit on page 304, Steve!).

The plot?  When Corky  Freeman, young newspaper photographer, is found dead, the local newspaper editor, Wilson Dodge's digging about turns up more than answers to whodunit.  Several apparent political murders follow, begging the question of whether or not Corky was involved in some clandestine small town governance plot.  I kept guessing.  My guesses were nearly always wrong.  I don't mean to imply that the logic of the action was flawed.  The plot was so layered, detailed and fast that I had to keep my eye on every detail in order to pop the final puzzle piece into place.

Jolly good work, Steve.  Congratulations.

FYI - Steve is hoping to make the trip from Nebraska to Manitowoc for a signing at some point.  

Thanks for stopping by.