Review of The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men

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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 Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/spq_field_guide_to_men.html

Review of Forever Rose, by Hilary McKay

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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 Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/forever_rose.html

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

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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:

www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/good_husband.html

Review of Horseradish, by Lemony Snicket

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Horseradish:  Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid, by Lemony Snicket

HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 2007.  168 pages.

ISBN: 978-0-06-124006-5

Here’s the humor of Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, without the depressing storyline.  I’ve always thought his sense of humor hilarious — but get too thoroughly immersed in the story to really enjoy orphans with one dreadful problem after another.

This book is a series of humorous insights on life ranging from a paragraph long to a page or two.  I picked it up and soon was reading aloud from it to anyone I could find.  And laughing more and more, the longer I read.

Now, I don’t recommend reading this book in one sitting.  That would be a bit much.  But having it around to get a daily dose of laughter is a great idea.

Here’s a link to some of the entries I couldn’t resist quoting:

http://sonderbooks.com/sonderquotes/?s=Lemony+Snicket

I found this to be a hilarious and utterly silly book.

Link to this review on the main site:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/horseradish.html

Review of The New Yorker Book of Kids’ Cartoons

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The New Yorker Book of Kids* Cartoons

*and the people who live with them

edited by Robert Mankoff
introduction by Roz Chast

Reviewed September 17, 2007.
Bloomberg Press, Princeton, 2001. 126 pages.

My son checked out several collections of New Yorker Cartoons and this one was my favorite. These cartoons rang true in my life much more than the ones about dogs or cats or money or lawyers. With several of the cartoons, I wanted to call up friends and read it to them.—I decided to review it instead.

The cartoons by Roz Chast were some of my favorites. From the introduction, I learned that she’s a mother, too—and she has an eye for the hilarious moments of motherhood.

For example, there’s one that shows the Berlitz Guide to Parent-Teacher Conferences. We see that when you hear the phrase “She’s a riot!” in teacherese it means, “I can’t stand her.” When you hear “He’s doing just fine,” that means “What’s your kid’s name again?” Okay, maybe it’s not what the teacher is really thinking, but it’s certainly what the parents fear she is thinking.

But the Roz Chast cartoon that got me laughing uproariously was the one of “Bad Mom Cards.” (“Collect the Whole Set.”) the cards show pictures of bad moms like Suzie M. who “Let kid play two hours of Nintendo—just to get him out of her hair.” Or the awful Deborah Z., who “has never even tried to make Play-Doh from scratch.” And those are only two of the horrible things these bad moms have done to their kids. I love the way this cartoon plays off the guilt we feel about the silliest things.

Roz Chast must have had sons like mine. She pictures one saying to his mom, “Over all, I think a happy childhood is more important than the table’s being set, wouldn’t you agree.”

But the most convicting and sad cartoon in the bunch was drawn by Lee Lorenz, portraying a hen looking at her newly hatched chick and the broken eggshells around him. She frowns at him and says, “Now look what you’ve done!”

The best antidote I can think of to being that kind of a Mom is to learn to laugh at yourself. Laughing at the people in this collection is a good start.

This review is on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/kids_cartoons.html

Review of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, by M. T. Anderson

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M. T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales:
The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen
by M. T. Anderson

Reviewed September 9, 2007.
Harcourt, Orlando, 2006. 243 pages.

This book, another “Thrilling Tale” in the spirit of Whales on Stilts, is a delightful spoof of children’s series books. Both my sons, ages 18 and 12, read this book, and laughed so much and read bits aloud so often, I simply had to read it myself. It may not be great literature or a terribly compelling story, but it is hilariously clever.

Katie Mulligan, her friend Lily, and Jasper Dash, Boy Detective, are ready for a vacation, so they take advantage of a coupon for a free dinner at the Moose Tongue Lodge and Resort. Once there, they learn that the coupons are fake—and many other people, all stars of series books, have received them as well.

Then the Hooper Quints are kidnapped on their way to the hotel. Which of the dashing detectives will be able to solve the mystery? Then a valuable necklace is stolen while people are out searching for the quintuplets. Are the two mysteries tied together?

The story isn’t the point of this book. It’s got lovely unlikely plot twists, just like the series books they are spoofing would have.

Here’s the first section that my 12-year-old felt he HAD to read to me. It’s talking about how Jasper Dash’s books are somewhat out of date.

Often, if you go to a town library and under Keyword Search type “Jasper Dash,” you’ll come up with a list of his books—and beside each one, it says: “Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn.” This means that they are no longer in circulation. Some librarian has taken them off the shelf, wiping away a tear, and has opened the book to the back, where there’s a pouch for a card dating back to the time of the Second World War, and she’ll crumple up the card, and then she and her fellow librarians will take special knives and slice away at the book and will eat the pages in big mouthfuls until the book is all gone, the whole time weeping, because they hate this duty—it is the worst part of their job—for here was a book that was once someone’s favorite, but which now is dead and empty. And the little cheerful face of Jasper Dash, heading off to fight a cattle-rustling ring in his biplane, will still be smiling pluckily as they take their Withdrawal Knives and scratch his book to pieces.

(How did he know?)

A section my 18-year-old was compelled to read to me was actually on the back flap:

M.T. Anderson is seven monkeys, six typewriters, and a Speak & Spell. It took them ten years to write The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen. Their previous books include Adf2yga^vvvv, WpolwOox.S Ppr2dgn shr Elssf, and The Riverside Edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Adf2yga^vvvv was a National Book Award finalist. The M. T. Anderson Monkey collective is located outside Boston. Its hobbies include flash cards, hopping, and grooming for lice. It divides its time between the parallel bars and the banana trough.

 

Who wouldn’t want to read a book with such a blurb?

Here is the review on the main site:  http://www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/linoleum_lederhosen.html

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde

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The Fourth Bear
by Jasper Fforde

Reviewed August 7, 2007.
Viking, New York, 2006. 378 pages.

Jasper Fforde’s books are impossible to satisfactorily classify. Perhaps I should start a new category for his books only. Let’s see—I could call it “humor for clever readers” or “fantasy-sci-fi-mystery-humor-with literary allusions.” I took the easy way out by calling the Thursday Next books “science fiction,” since they do involve alternate universes, and I called the first of the Nursery Crime series “mystery,” since it is a detective story. However, the fact that the detective is a character in a nursery rhyme investigating such people as the Gingerbreadman and Goldilocks and the Quangle-Wangle, does make it an extremely atypical detective story.

I could call this fantasy, but it’s very different from what people expect from that category. So I’ll stick with “mystery,” which scratches the surface of what this book is about.

In The Fourth Bear, the second book in the Nursery Crime series, Jack Spratt investigates the disappearance of Goldilocks. He’s currently in trouble for letting the wolf eat Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. Although they were saved by a woodsman, they’re traumatized and won’t speak.

Jack’s boss is after him to get a psychiatric evaluation and some time resting. What Jack’s critics don’t realize is that the wolf also ate Jack. He puts his life on the line, but doesn’t think he needs therapy. He’s used to such bizarre circumstances—They’re all in a day’s work. Besides, how can he rest when that homicidal maniac, the Gingerbreadman, has escaped from the asylum?

There’s great fun in this book, though you do have to tolerate a few groaners, like a waiter who seems familiar in the Déjà vu Hotel. In the Thursday Next books, we saw what it’s like to be in books from the characters’ perspectives, so that prepared me for passages like this one:

Jack and his partner Mary Mary had just been discussing at great length and alliteration the fact that “Pippa Piper picked Peck over Pickle or Pepper.” The text reads:

There was a pause.

“It seems a very laborious setup for a pretty lame joke, doesn’t it?” mused Jack.

“Yes,” agreed Mary, shaking her head sadly. “I really don’t know how he gets away with it.”

Well, Jasper Fforde, the man who successfully used eleven hads in a row in The Well of Lost Plots, has gotten away with it again!

Review of Raising Demons, by Shirley Jackson

Raising Demons

by Shirley Jackson


Reviewed July 16, 2007.
Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, 1985. Originally written in 1956. 310 pages.
Starred Review.

Few true stories are as hilarious as those told by Shirley Jackson about bringing up her four children. This book continues the fun begun in Life Among the Savages. I guarantee that any parent or anyone who knows some kids will get some good laughs and hearty chuckles out of this book.

Part of her brilliance is how she reproduces the voices of her children, each one distinct. Sally is probably the most entertaining, with her habit of repeating words and the outrageous stories she tells, like telling the milkman, “Mommy has gone away to Fornicalia. Where my grandma lives, grandma. Would you please like some breakfast?”

I love the following scene, which beautifully conveys a mother’s feelings of irritation and desperation when a neighbor girl, Amy, comes over:

If Sally’s refrain conversation is difficult to bear, Amy’s repetitive conversation is worse; where Sally repeats the vital word, Amy repeats the whole sentence; Sally is the only one in our family who can talk to Amy at all. “May I please play with Sally?” Amy was saying through the back door screen, “is Sally here so she can play with me?” 

Sally slid off her chair and made for the cookie jar. “Amy,” she shouted, “Daddy is going to take us swimming, swimming, and ask your mommy if you can come, your mommy.”

“My mommy,” said Amy solemnly, opening the screen door and joining Sally at the cookie jar, “doesn’t let me go swimming right now, because I have a cold. I have a cold, so my mommy doesn’t want me to go swimming, because I have a cold. I have a cold,” she told me, “so my mommy won’t let me go swimming.”

“Because she has a cold,” Laurie said helpfully. “See, she has a cold and so—”

“Laurie,” I said feverishly. “Sally and Amy, please take those cookies outdoors.

Their little “Beekman” is another great character. Here’s how he got his name:

Nothing is stable in this world. As soon as Barry was old enough to be regarded as a recognizable human being, with ideas and opinions, it became necessary for the other children to change him around. Since he was now too big to fit into a doll carriage, Jannie amused herself by dressing him in costume jewelry and ribbons. Sally sat on the floor next to the playpen and sang to him because, she said, it made him dance. Barry was clearly too formal a name, and we took to calling him B. B was too short, however, and he became Mr. B, then Mr. Beetle, and finally Mr. Beekman. he stayed Mr. Beekman until he was almost ready for nursery school, and then came around full circle, moving back to Mr. B, then B, and, at last, to Barry again. At one point he developed a disconcerting habit of answering no matter who was being called. Thus, dancing, and decked in ribbons, Beekman walked instead of creeping, and learned to drink from a cup.

Shirley Jackson has a beautiful ability to find the ludicrous in everyday family life. When they got a new car,

I went out and bought a new car-chair for Beekman, one that had a small steering wheel and gear-shift lever attached; when I put Beekman into his new car-chair he turned the steering wheel and said “Beep beep?” experimentally, and we all laughedd and told him he was a brave smart boy. by the end of a week I was no longer fumbling wildly for the brake pedal on the new car, and Beekman was manipulating his steering wheel and gearshift with such wild abandon and skillful maneuvering as to earn himself the title of Mad-Dog Beekman; I could not, at any time of the day or night, attempt to sneak the car out of the driveway without attracting Beekman’s attention, and he would hurl himself wildly at the doors and windows, calling out to wait a minute, he would be right there, and subsiding at last into hysterical terrors at my trying to drive without him.  

For my part, I found it extremely difficult to drive with dual controls, trying to ease around a tight corner with Beekman beside me shifting rapidly from high to reverse to second, swinging his wheel around sharply and yelling “Beep beep.” I used to try letting the car roll backward out of the driveway without starting the motor, but Beekman’s room was in the front and as soon as I got as far as the gateposts he would apparently catch some reflection of light and I would see his small infuriated face pressed against the window and hear the crash as Dikidiki hit the wall, and after a minute my husband or Laurie or Jannie or Sally would open the front door and call that I was to wait, they were just putting on Beekman’s jacket.

Usually, whenever Beekman drove, Sally wanted to come too. And whenever Sally came, Jannie thought she had better come along. And when Beekman and Sally and Jannie came, Laurie figured that we might just stop in at a movie or some such, and if we did he wanted to be along. As a result, whenever I went shopping in the new car, everyone came except my husband, who could not, for a long time, look at the new car without telling me how we were going bankrupt in style. One Saturday morning I almost got off without Beekman, who was learning from Sally how to cut out paper dolls, but before I was out of the driveway they were calling to me to wait a minute, and by the time I finally turned the car and headed off toward the big supermarkets I had all four of them with me, Sally accompanied by her dolls Susan and David and Patpuss, all dressed entirely in cleansing tissue, and carrying—although I did not know it when she got into the car—a pocketbook containing four pennies and a shilling stolen from her father’s coin collection.

I suppose I should have known that all was not going to go well when I found a parking space on main Street on Saturday at noon, with seventeen minutes paid for on the parking meter. Finding a parking space at all was so exceptional an occurrence that I wisely determined to disregard the fact that the car on my left—an out-of-state car, by the way, from some state where land is not so jealously parceled out as here in Vermont—was straddling the line. I eased my car in with only the faintest grazing sound, although it was immediately plain that if we were going to get out of the car at all, we were going to have to do it by sliding out the doors on the right-hand side.

“Jeepers,” Laurie remarked, gazing from his window at the car next to us, “cut it a little close, didn’t you?”

“It was Beekman,” I said nervously. “He kept pulling to the left.”

“Jeepers,” Laurie said to Beekman, “you want to watch where you’re going, kid.”

“Dewey, dewey,” said Beekman, this being a combination word he used for a series of connected ideas, roughly translatable as: Observe my latest achievement, far surpassing all my previous works in this line, a great and personal triumph representing perhaps the most intelligent progress ever accomplished by a child of my years. “Dewey,” said Beekman pleasurably.

Later, when Barry was a bit older and Sally had learned to read,

With three reading children in the house, competition over Barry, who could be read to, was very heavy. I still retained my post as bedtime reader—I began again with The Wizard of Oz—but Laurie and Jannie and Sally found themselves sometimes all reading aloud from different enticing works, each hoping to lure Barry who moved, basking, from one to another. For a little while, Jannie forged ahead through a brilliant imaginative stroke; she refused to read aloud, and offered, instead, to tell stories made up out of her own head. This began the Jefry stories, which were about a little boy named Jefry who had an elephant who was called Peanuts becaue he ate so many . . . “What?” said Barry. “Cabbages,” said Jannie firmly. Jefry had a bear named Dikidiki, just like Barry, and Jefry irked Sally so considerably that she brought out her boy doll Patpuss, renamed him Jefry, announced that he was her little brother, and commenced telling him stories about a little imaginary boy named Barry, who had a bear named Dikidiki just like Jefry. This became the competing Barry series. One evening Laurie came staggering in from the Story Hour in the kitchen, and announced to his father that he had just made up a story about a little boy named Dikidiki who had two imaginary bears, Barry and Jefry, and we had to make a rule that stories must be told one at a time, and last no more than two minutes by the kitchen clock.

I like to read this book when I need to lighten up and laugh. Even though it was written when you could put a penny in a parking meter, life with kids is still pretty much the same. But Shirley Jackson makes you laugh about it, which is a lot more fun than screaming in frustration.