Review of The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men


The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men:  Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay, or Dead, by Jill Conner Browne

Well, this book is very irreverent and, how shall I say this?  Not very respectful toward men.  But oh my goodness, it is funny! 

As the author says herownself:  “The reader should not infer any degree of fairness intended by these descriptions; they are used purely for the sake of conversation and, we hope, for laughs.  It is not in my job description to be fair to men or to even seem fair to them.  It’s a little late in the history of the entire world to introduce an element of fairness, and beyond even my considerable powers to bring it to bear, anyway.”

She goes on to describe, with great hilarity, many types of men you’ll find out there:  The Bud Spud, the Dud Spud, the Crud Spud, the Fuddy-Dud Spud, the Pud Spud, the Blood Spud (also known as the Man Who May Need Killing), the Scud Spud, and finally every woman’s dream, the Spud Stud.

And so it goes.  I should mention that Jill Conner Browne does not confine herself to mocking men, but also gives plenty of hearty laughter toward those of us who love them — and the things we’ll go through to try to attract them.

I’m afraid, in my present Being-Divorced state, the chapter I found most utterly hilarious was “Surviving the Wang Wars” about all the delightful ways women have gotten revenge on men who didn’t treat them as well as they deserved.

“Alas and alack, love does occasionally derail, and when it does, it usually wipes out entire neighborhoods, releases a massive cloud of terminally toxic gas, and the cleanup can take years.  And while it may be true that it is not always their fault when things go awry, it is no less true that we certainly believe that it’s always their fault and we want 100 percent of all the blame to be laid not so much at their feet but rather on top of their bodies, making it impossible for them to breathe and continue living in any real sense of the word.  What would really make us just oh so happy is to be allowed to murder them ten different times in ten different ways and then finally feed the remains to the wood chipper.  But hardly anybody ever really gets to do that.  And so, barring that ultimate satisfaction, a number of Queens have demonstrated characteristic Queenly Resourcefulness in their dealings with errant mates in ways that are not likely to land the perpetrator in the slammer, and that’s a Good Thing.  I share them with you as food for thought — fodder for your consideration as alternative strategies should you find yourself currently in possession of a man who is just beggin’ to be killed.”

Now, I should mention that the Sweet Potato Queens do not advocate criminal activity.   Jill Conner Browne says, “Even in Louisiana they will sometimes put you in jail if you kill one.  We’ve stated repeatedly that we are unequivocally against killin’ ’em, even when they practically beg for it by their every word and deed.  If you do, you will miss quite a few St. Paddy’s parades in Jackson while running from the law, and you’ll be a Yam on the Lam.”

if you’re feeling tempted to commit violence, The Sweet Potato Queens will get you laughing so hard about it, you won’t need to any longer.

With lots of silly but all too true insights, I think the uplifting message of the book is summarized in this paragraph:

“Throughout this book, I’ve been carrying on about men and finding them and getting them and keeping them and deciding whether or not to kill them, and if so, how, and so on.  And that’s all funny and mostly true and all that, but the real truth is you are enough — just the way you are, just who you are.  You are a complete entity, a whole person, right there in the skin you’re in.  You don’t need to have a guy to be happy.  Admit it:  You have more fun with a gang of girlfriends than you’ve had on the absolute best date of your entire life.  If somebody comes along who treats you right and makes you happy and you can do the same for him, well, that’s just dandy.  But I’m telling you, the only way that I know to get and keep a happy, healthy relationship is first to create a happy and healthy life for yourself without one.  This is your life to live.”

Preach it, Sister!

Buy from

Find this review on the main site at:

Review of The Sky Inside, by Clare B. Dunkle


The Sky Inside, by Clare B. Dunkle

Ginee Seo Books (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), New York, 2008.  229 pages.

Martin gets a dog for his birthday, but this is no ordinary dog.  In fact, he gets an Alldog — “Large or small, sleek or fuzzy — all the dogs you ever wanted rolled into one.”  Martin’s “dog” is programmed to please Martin, in doglike ways.  Later, when Martin discovers his dog’s abilities go beyond the “normal” simulated dog, he finds some intriguing things the dog can do for him.

Meanwhile, Martin has to stick up for his little sister Cassie and their friends.  Cassie is a “Wonder Baby:”

“Never had the arrival of the stork brought such excitement.  Overflowing with charm, brimming with intelligence, Wonder Babies were like nothing the suburb had seen before.  But that didn’t turn out to be a good thing.

“Wonder Babies didn’t wait around to be raised.  They got involved in their upbringing, wanted to know about their feeding schedules, and read voraciously before the age of two.  Worst of all, Wonder Babies — or the Exponential Generation, as they preferred to be called — wouldn’t stop asking embarrassing questions.  No amount of time-outs, missed snacks, or spankings could break them of this awful habit.”

Martin’s suburb, under a big dome, is a place where kids dream of getting mediocre test scores so they can get a factory job and hire a robot to do the work.  This community gets tired of the Wonder Babies quickly.  Martin doesn’t fit in too well himself, always trying to find things out.

When a man comes to take away the Wonder Babies to a “special school,” Martin thinks he may have found out too much about their real destination.

One of the things I love about Clare Dunkle’s other books, The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy and By These Ten Bones, is how real the settings seem.  She builds worlds that feel like true history, with all the details twining together and making sense.

Oddly, that was exactly what bothered me about this novel — it was hard to get a grasp on the world Martin was living in.  There are lots of ideas, maybe too many:

What would it be like to live in a domed community, afraid of the world outside, which is reported to be only blowing sand?

What would it be like when robots can do most of the work?

How would genetic engineering affect communities? 

What if game shows were used as punishment?  (That’s not at all far-fetched.  After all, isn’t that what Rome did with the arenas?)

What if only a select population were allowed to live in perfect, planned communities?

What if robots could be programmed to change their appearance as well as their behavior?

In one place, Martin asks what fire is, then calmly watches someone prepare food over a fire.  I didn’t quite feel I really understood where Martin was coming from….

However, I still recommend this book.  It takes the story of a boy and his dog to an entirely new level.  A lot of fun, and with some intriguing ideas.  Like all good science fiction, this book could spark some interesting discussion, with plenty of food for thought.  What would such a world be like?

Buy from

Find this review on the main site at:

Review of Forever Rose, by Hilary McKay


Forever Rose

by Hilary McKay

Margaret K. McElderry Books, New York, 2008.  291 pages.

Starred Review.

Although I admit to often staying up later than I should in order to finish wonderful books, it’s been awhile since a book lured me into finishing it in the morning before going to work.  Fortunately, I was close to the end, because I don’t think I would have been able to stop once I picked up Forever Rose and thought I’d just read a little more….

The Casson family is back, as wonderful and chaotic as ever.  Rose is having some rough times.  Her teacher is so mean, he won’t even let the class celebrate Christmas.  In fact, school is no longer a peaceful place where you can catch up on your daydreaming.  Her family never seems to be at home.  And then her brother’s big friend who always seems to be in the way starts showing up at their house, looking for a place to keep his drum set.

What’s more, Rose learns that when your friend says, “Promise you will help, please promise you will help!”  You should NOT answer, “Of course we will!”  Instead, you should say, “Help you with what?”

Rose is also having trouble with reading.  She explains, “If you finish one book, they make you pick another.  And as soon as you finish that, they send you off to the book boxes again.  And each book is a little bit harder than the one before.  It’s called Reading Schemes and it’s just like a story Indigo once told me about a dragon with two heads.  And when the dragon’s two heads were cut off, it grew four.  And when they were cut off, it grew eight. . .”

If you haven’t yet become friends with the artistic and lovable Casson family, you will want to start with the first book, Saffy’s Angel.  If you already know and love them, I am happy to report that the latest installment in their story is as quirky and delightful as ever.

I did finish the book before going to work – the perfect way to ensure starting my day with a smile.

Buy from

Find this review on the main site at:

Review of Eoin Colfer’s Legend of the Worst Boy in the World


Eoin Colfer’s Legend of . . . The Worst Boy in the World, illustrated by Glenn McCoy

Miramax Books (Hyperion Books for Children), 2007.  101 pages.

It’s not fair.  Whenever something bad happens to Will, no one will even listen to him tell about it.  He has four brothers.  If he wants to complain about something to his Mom or Dad, there are usually at least two brothers in line ahead of him.

Will says, “All this complaining means that by the time Marty and I get home from school with our troubles, there is usually a little brother perched on each of Mom’s knees, moaning about their baby problems.  And even if, miracle of miracles, there is a free knee, Mom is usually on auto-nod by then anyway.  Auto-nod is when grown-ups don’t really listen to what a child says, they just nod every five seconds or so until the child goes away.”

Finally Will finds the perfect person to listen to him:  Grandad.  He makes a deal.  Grandad will listen to one sob story from Will each week, if Will will listen to one from Grandad.

So it seems like a great thing.  Only whenever Will thinks he really has a terrible story, Grandad completely tops him.  For example, one week the barber slipped when he was trimming the back of Will’s head with electric clippers and shaved a bald strip right up to his crown.  When he told Grandad about it, Grandad took off his cap and showed him where a shark had bitten him on the head.

Will was completely frustrated, so he decided to do some research.  It turns out that when Will was only two years old, his brother Marty, at three years old, almost managed to get rid of him for good.

What’s the worst thing a three-year-old could do to a two-year-old?  What plot would get him out of the house, away from Mom and Dad, and almost do him in forever?  That, my friends, is the Legend of the Worst Boy in the World.

Buy from

This review is on the main site at: 

Review of Audiobook Enna Burning, by Shannon Hale


Enna Burning

by Shannon Hale

Read by Cynthia Bishop and the Full Cast Family

Full Cast Audio, 2007.  8 CDs.  8 hours, 30 minutes.

Text copyright 2004.

My readers probably know that Shannon Hale is one of my favorite living authors.  Her books always show up on my stand-outs lists, usually at the top or near the top.

Full Cast Audio’s fabulous production of the second of the Bayern books, Enna Burning, allowed me to enjoy the book in a whole new way.  They cast the book with fresh voices for each character.  You feel you’re really hearing Enna’s thoughts and her interactions with her friends.

Enna Burning is a beautiful book with a dark edge to it.  It’s a story of wartime, but also of magic.  Of trying to do what’s right.  Of trying to use power wisely.  It’s also a story of an enduring friendship between Enna and Isi, the heroine of the earlier book, The Goose Girl.

This audiobook does have some difficult themes.  But it would make a wonderful family listening experience for older kids.  For adults and teens looking for an absorbing story beautifully performed, I highly recommend this production.

Buy from

This review is on the main site at:

Review of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi


Persepolis:  The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi

Pantheon, New York, 2003.  Orginally published in France in 2000.  153 pages.

Here is a biography told in comic book form.  The story is absorbing, and the black and white illustrations convey much emotion.

Marjane Satrapi was ten years old in 1980 in Iran, when girls at her school were required to wear the veil.  I love the picture of all the little girls horsing around with the veils they did not want to wear.

The book outlines a difficult period of upheaval, from her perspective as a girl just wanting to enjoy life.  We see the rise and fall of political heroes as well as the rise and fall of the family’s hopes.

At the Fairfax County Library, the book is shelved as an adult biography, but it’s also recommended for older teens.  There are some heavy themes of war and death and even bargaining with God.

This book holds a powerful story that will stick with you.

Buy from

Find this review on the main site at:

Review of Overcoming Passive-Aggression


Overcoming Passive-Aggression

How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness

by Tim Murphy, PhD, and Loriann Hoff Oberlin

Although this book wasn’t quite as helpful as the book Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man, by Scott Wetzler, by seeming a little more glib in the solutions offered, it still shed valuable light on the problem.

The authors describe passive-aggression as rooted in hidden anger.  So taking a closer look at the behaviors resulting from passive-aggression help to blow away the cover.

Here is what they say about hidden anger:

“Hidden anger is:

— Indirect, incongruent, and unproductive behavior

— Subtle, manipulative actions or inactivity

— Consciously planned, intentional, or slyly vindictive; or it can be unconscious

— Part of a dysfunctional pattern of dealing with others

— Allowing the perpetrator to deny responsibility for it and often appear as the victim

— Stalling because it doesn’t move toward resolution; it blocks resolution

— Motivated by the intent to hurt, annoy, or destroy

— Triggered by needs that haven’t been met or based upon irrational fears/beliefs

— Never positive because of its manipulative and indirect nature

— Toxic to relationships and groups of people, especially over time

— Self-perpetuating, powerful, and rarely, if ever, appropriate

Rest assured, if hidden anger is unleashed upon you, you will likely end up feeling like the bad character.  You know there is a problem.  You can sense it.  Only, it nags at you because you’re not sure who is responsible, why it’s happening, and what to do about it.”

This book is helpful because it will help open your eyes to underlying anger, whether in yourself or others, so it can no longer be hidden. 

The authors help you understand why hidden anger is harmful, and gives you ideas for changing.  They also discuss “enablers,” people caught in a cycle of behavior that encourages someone else to continue their passive-aggressive behavior.  They give strategies for breaking out of the cycle, in many different situations.

The authors do point out that hidden anger is a huge and pervasive problem in separation and divorce.

“Though plenty of people having separated or divorced may claim, ‘I’m not angry,’ neither of us has really encountered anyone unscathed by this process.  Unless the union and all you’d done with your life in the company of this person meant absolutely nothing to you, the anger is there all right, only it may remain hidden.

“In my practice, I met parents telling me that their son or daughter was fine with their getting a divorce.  In 99.9 percent of the cases, I’m afraid that just wasn’t so.  The child may not show any visible signs, but rest assured there is some deep emotion there.  It was either very visible or extremely well-hidden anger.

“But as we’ve said so often, if you’ve contributed somehow to your anger or to your children’s anger, then you have a greater capacity to be part of the solution as well.  It’s probably nowhere more important than in divorced families.  When you don’t do this important growth work — encouraging your children to do the same — learning to openly communicate and move beyond silenced anger, that’s when we see children caught in the middle of a silent, or subtly antagonistic war between their parents.”

All in all, this is an eye-opening and helpful book.  Because passive-aggression is about hiding anger, reading a book to understand it better is definitely a step in the right direction.

Buy from

This review is posted on the main site at:

Review of The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith


The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon Books, New York, 2007.  213 pages.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008.  #5 Fiction: Romance

This book, the eighth in the series about The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, is extra special, because my copy is signed by the author.  I got to hear Alexander McCall Smith speak at George Mason University.  His talk was every bit as funny and delightful as his books.  I was completely enchanted.  Of course, that didn’t surprise me at all, since his books never fail to delight me.

I continue to strongly recommend this series to library patrons.  I do urge you to begin at the beginning, with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  I think you will probably want to read the rest, and eagerly read each next installment.

In The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, will Mma Makutsi really leave the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency?  The pleasant ups and downs of day to day life, as usual, are peppered with interesting cases.  Another delightful book.

I will give a taste of the pleasant wisdom found in these books by listing some quotations I highlighted:

“If there’s bad behaviour, the quickest way of stopping it is to give more love.  That always works, you know.  People say that we must punish when there is wrongdoing, but if you punish you’re only punishing yourself.  And what’s the point of that?”

“And that stopped the stealing.  Trust did it.  We trusted him, and he knew it.  So he stopped stealing.”

” ‘What we are trying to do with these children,’ said Mma Potokwane suddenly, ‘is to give them good things to remember.  We want to make so many good memories for them that the bad ones are pushed into a corner and forgotten.'”

“There was no point in telling somebody not to cry, she had always thought; indeed there were times when you should do exactly the opposite, when you should urge people to cry, to start the healing that sometimes only tears can bring.”

” ‘That engine I’ve been working on will run so sweetly,’ he remarked as he poured his tea.

‘Like life,’ she said.”

Find this review on the main site at:

Review of The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, by Mo Willems


Pigeon Wants a Puppy, by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2008.

That wonderfully persuasive, pleading (well, demanding) Pigeon is back!  This time — could it be? — it looks like he will get what he wants!  But it doesn’t turn out quite like he planned.

As always, it’s truly amazing how much emotion Mo Willems can convey with a few simple cartoon lines.   The Pigeon bends his knee winsomely when he thinks of what he wants.  He narrows his eyes when he says, “You don’t want me to be happy, do you?”

I’ve gotten to test this out on a few kids, and the inevitable reaction is, “Read it again!”

You’ve gotta love the Pigeon!

Buy from

Find this review on the main site at:

Review of The Miracle at Speedy Motors, by Alexander McCall Smith


Books, New York, 2008.  214 pages.

Starred Review

I love the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency!  This is now the ninth book in the series.  I do recommend starting at the beginning.  You will grow to know and love these characters, adding to the charm of the books.  You will understand exactly why Mma Makutsi’s uncle asks a bride price of precisely 97 cows.

I dearly wish I could sit down to a cup of red bush tea with Precious Ramotswe.  (I would never admit that I like black tea better!)  She is a woman of wisdom, peace, and compassion.

Reading this book is the next best thing.

“Mma Ramotswe was right: evil repaid with retribution, with punishment, had achieved half its goal; evil repaid with kindness was shown to be what it really was, a small, petty thing, not something frightening at all, but something pitiable, a paltry affair.”

Find this review on the main site at:

Buy from