Sunday, July 26, 2015

Third in the Cadillac, Texas trilogy!

The Yellow Rose Beauty Shop 
by Carolyn Brown
I love this cover!
Piper, Charlotte, and Stella have been best friends...well, forever! They each know the others' deepest and darkest secrets...or do they? Evidently we discover in the beginning of this story about poor Stella and her mother, Nancy's, determination to 'marry her off'! Nancy should have known better than to enlist the help of the Prayer Angels led by Heather when she spoke up:
  "Pray for my daughter. She needs a husband." (1)
Which was then posted verbatim on the sign in the churchyard the very next morning, and set off the 'shit storm' with which both Stella and Nancy must deal over the next few months. As Piper so elegantly put it,
"Hey, Stella, have you seen the billboard in front of the church? I saw it when I took the boys to day care. Who's got a pregnant daughter in town?" (6)
Then Charlotte echoes the same sentiments as she walks in:
"...what does that sign mean? Who's pregnant? Who is getting a baby by Mother's Day? Boone and I've decided to wait two years to get pregnant. Mama says that I shouldn't start a family when I'm past thirty, but if we wait two years then I'll only be twenty-nine when the baby comes. Now, would somebody please tell me whose daughter needs a husband because she's pregnant?" (7)
And, like Piper, Charlotte immediately believes Stella IS pregnant! 
  "Some friends you are. I'll say it one more time--I am not pregnant. I can't believe Mama did this. She's lived here her whole life and she knows how folks talk. This could ruin our business. You know what small-town gossip can do. We don't need a scandal like this." ...
  "The town is barely big enough for two beauty shops as it is, and we've just now got things built up and..." (7) 
And then she bursts into tears. Though Trixie reminds them,
"I understand how you feel, but don't worry about the shop. If we've proven anything up at Clawdy's, it's that gossip is damn good for business." (8) 
(See The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee for proof of that.) The same proved to be very true for Carlene, Alma Grace, and Patrice at Bless My Bloomers, too (The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off)! 

  "I've never seen you cry like this," Charlotte said.

  "Not since that rotten boy ruined your reputation our sophomore year," Piper said.
  "I'd almost forgotten about that son of a bitch," Charlotte said. (8)
Awww...but Stella certainly had not forgotten, not one bit, which explained her reluctance to tell all about her love life! Piper said she should be pissed...and:
"She was pissed--God almighty, but she was pissed--but a tiny little part of her heart understood that her mama only had her best interests at heart. Too bad that little 10 percent couldn't do anything about the pissed-off 90 percent." (9)

Nancy enters the shop and no one says a word...until she asks why everyone's so quiet. She brings out her favorite saying, "Lord love a duck," (13) and admits she had no idea the other Angels would react this way and spread such gossip. When she tries to get the others to trim her hair (Piper whispers to her, "I wouldn't trust her with scissors if I was you." (14)), Piper states aloud,

  "Not on your life. I wouldn't touch anyone's hair who's prayin' for a marriage to take place. I wouldn't wish a damn husband on my worst enemy, and Stella is my friend." (14) 
You see, Piper is still in the throes of bitterness due to her ex-husband's adultery and unwilling to believe any woman could ever be happy married, or that it will last! (I could relate to that belief, since it required years for me to soften up on that hard-core attitude following my own spouse's betrayal and resulting divorce!) However, Charlotte is currently engaged and planning a wedding, so Piper must tamp down her own negativity to support one of her very best friends. And Charlotte politely declines the offer to cut Nancy's hair:
  "No, ma'am. I have to work every day with Stella. If I cut your hair she'll think I'm on your side. I wish Stella could find someone to love her like Boone loves me, but it would be wise if you'd take her name off the list and let her do her own husband hunting." (14)

However, in so many ways, her mother needn't worry... Just because her daughter has chosen not to inform anyone of recent changes in her own personal life, that doesn't mean she needs help, at least not this kind of 'help'! :) Ah...the dangers of exposing your own personal hopes and fears to others, especially in Cadillac, Texas! 

Agnes befriends Stella in her battle against Heather (and Violet): "Us redheads got to stick together." (32) And they do! The shit storm truly heats up when Heather decides this is her 'golden opportunity' to establish a 'marriage ministry' with Stella to be the first woman she successfully marries off, and to raise money she plans a 'barbecue ball' ("glorified barn dance" according to Agnes) with single women on one side and single males on the other, to be paired off for the evening through a random drawing of names. Once Violet becomes her staunch ally in this plan, Agnes makes her own plans! And when Agnes plans...well, let's just say, I would always want her to be on 'my side'! :) Who comes out the winner in this battle of wills? 

Piper finally has the opportunity to directly stand up to her ex-husband after he literally and figuratively infiltrates her personal space and demands his summer visitation with their sons, taking them away with him. I loved how she worked this all out: moving and not giving him her new personal address, insisting they always meet at the shop in the future. And Stella's parents get to spend their time helping Piper and her preparation for their own grandchildren? Well, who knows? 

I admit I initially found it just a wee bit difficult to fully 'suspend my disbelief' with some aspects of this book, though I suppose anything is possible. Cadillac is such a small town and yet twice now (the first time was in The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee) a man has been sneaking into a woman's house to make love to her and no one notices! Ah, well...okay, I'm in, regardless of my first reaction! :) And I admit I found it a bit strange that your two best friends would not only have keys to your house, but would feel free to wonder in and out of it at will. Not me! I want my house to myself unless I specifically invite someone to visit! ;) It worked well for the three of them, well, perhaps not so much at times for Stella and her man... :)

What happens in the end, you might ask? Well, you should read it to find out! It even seems that Piper has softened up a bit regarding males toward the book's end! There are many other surprises, too, and most people appear to be quite happy, well, perhaps not Heather...or Violet...but did they deserve to have their dreams come true? And I'm really anxious to see what the new flower shop owner has to contribute to Cadillac! (Hint to Carolyn's editor!)  However, until then, The Wedding Pearls is due to be released December 15th! Another women's fiction entry for Brown. Perhaps a nice gift suggestion? 

As Charlotte's grandmother always said, 

  When life gives you lemons, make chocolate chip cookies and make the whole world wonder what you've been up to." (81) 
Ah, yes, make 'em wonder...that is my plan! :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Gone With the Wind Read-Along Check-In #2

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Chapters 11-20
My biggest revelation from this section? How could I have ever forgotten the details of Rhett's profession of attraction (not sure I would exactly call it "love"...?) to Scarlett?!? But I had! 

In reading Ashley's letters sent to Melanie, Scarlett rationalizes...
She knew Ellen would rather see her dead than know her guilty of such dishonor. This had worried Scarlett at first, for she still wanted to be like her mother in every respect. But the temptation to read the letters was too great and she put the thought of Ellen out of her mind. She had become adept at putting unpleasant thoughts out of her mind these days. She had learned to say, "I won't think of this or that bothersome thought now, I'll think about it tomorrow." Generally when tomorrow came, the thought either did not occur at all or it was so attenuated by the delay it was not very troublesome. So the matter of Ashley's letters did not lie very heavily on her conscience. (146)
But honestly, what did 'lie heavily' on Scarlett's conscience? Not much, from what I can tell! She pretty much sets her own rules and guidelines whenever possible...
Pre-War Scarlett!
Scarlett becomes bored by Ashley's words after reading this:
  I am not afraid of danger or capture or wounds or even death, if death must come, but I do fear that once this war is over, we will never get back to the old times. And I belong in those old times. I do not belong in this mad present of killing and I fear I will not fit into any future, try though I may. Nor will you, my dear, for you and I are of the same blood. I do not know what the future will bring, but it cannot be as beautiful or as satisfying as the past. (148)
Mitchell describes how these 'old ways' have already changed: marriages are happening within days, the old decorum of courting and all the rules and delays that go with it are out the window as men who fear being killed within days or months are anxious to marry now had asked me what was in my heart, and the fear of defeat is there. Do you remember at the barbecue, the day our engagement was announced, that a man named Butler, a Charlestonian by his accent, nearly caused a fight by his remarks about the ignorance of Southerners? ...We should have paid heed to cynics like Butler who knew, instead of statesmen who felt--and talked. He said, in effect, that the South had nothing with which to wage war but cotton and arrogance. Our cotton is worthless and what he called arrogance is all that is left. But I call that arrogance matchless courage. (148)
Sorry, just LOVE Clark Ga...Rhett! Yum!
As Melanie informs Aunt Pittypat of Ashley's true thoughts,
..."He thinks the war is all wrong but he's willing to fight and die anyway, and that takes lots more courage than fighting for something you think is right." (164)
Scarlett is shocked to
...realize that anyone as absolutely perfect as Ashley could have any thought in common with such a reprobate as Rhett Butler. She thought: "They both see the truth of this war, but Ashley is willing to die about it and Rhett isn't. I think that shows Rhett's good sense." She paused a moment, horror struck that she could have such a thought about Ashley. "They both see the same unpleasant truth, but Rhett likes to look it in the face and enrage people by talking about it--and Ashley can hardly bear to face it." 
  It was very bewildering. (164) 

Her only curiosity about the letters was to know if Ashley wrote impassioned letters to his wife, and he did not. To her mind, that meant he truly didn't love Melanie and did love her. She surmised, 
He lives inside his head instead of outside in the world and he hates to come out into the world and--Oh, I don't know what it is! If I'd just understood this one thing about him years ago, I know he'd have married me. (149)
Actually, Scarlett...he is 'cerebral'--you however, are NOT! Oh, Scarlett, your emotions haven't changed since you were 14 years old regarding Ashley. Granted, that was only 4-5 years ago, but...really! I find myself angrier about her Ashley obsession earlier on than I have been in past readings! Guess I'm older and a bit more impatient with her. And it's just wrong! He is married to another woman--your own sister-in-law and housemate, for goodness sake! :) (Perhaps this is now much more important to me than it was in the past, having been betrayed by a spouse...)
...her dream asked no more than acknowledgement of his love, went no further than hopes of a kiss. (150)
She was done with marriage, but not with love, for her love for Ashley was something different,...sacred and breath-takingly beautiful, an emotion that grew slealthily through the long days of her enforced silence, feeding on oft-thumbed memories and hopes. (150)
Can we say 'Drama Queen'? ;)

Rhett had effectively 'released' Scarlett from the bonds of mourning and social isolation at the bazaar and continued to take her out whenever in Atlanta; this was yet another 'convention' that was undone by the war, especially as long as Scarlett willingly worked as a nurse caring for the wounded, who were literally lying in the streets, due to overcrowding/lack of hospital beds and/or lack of any shelter. Though nursing was enlivening to her in the beginning (and got her out among people), as she could convince so many of these soldiers she really cared for them and win their adoration and attention, it eventually became no more or less than an unpleasant and grisly chore to her. And though Rhett's attentions were a welcome distraction, 
...there always lurked in the back of her mind the disquieting memory that he had seen her at her worst and knew the truth about Ashley. It was this knowledge that checked her tongue when he annoyed her. And he annoyed her frequently. (153)
  For all his exasperating qualities, she grew to look forward to his calls. There was something exciting about him that she could not analyze, something different from any man she had ever known. There was something breath-taking in the grace of his big body which made his very entrance into a room like an abrupt physical impact, something in the impertinence and bland mockery of his dark eyes that challenged her spirit to subdue him. 
  "It's almost like I was in love with him!" she thought, bewildered. "But I'm not and I just can't understand it." (154)
Oh, Scarlett, if only you would listen to yourself!! :) You might have saved yourself and those around you so much sorrow! And who was Rhett's sole and most stalwart advocate in Atlanta society? Not, it was Melanie! She would never forget his generosity in returning her wedding band AND his unfailing courtesy toward her. Though outside of the many military heroes, he was the most talked about man in Atlanta at the time, "...she felt that what he needed was the love of a good woman." (155) Rhett would have been quite amused had he known... 
  There were few ladies who could resist his charms when he chose to exert them, and finally even Mrs. Merriwether unbent and invited him to Sunday dinner. (157)
The Merriwether's learn of their oldest son's death...
One of the most heartbreaking practices was families and friends waiting for each day's listing of the dead. As a mother to three sons (and grandmother of 7) I cannot imagine the agony of waiting to see if your loved one, distant relative, neighbor, friend is included. Awful that we humans kill each other...

Rhett keeps trying to get Scarlett to quit wearing black clothing, especially since she is attending all social activities anyway. (This is one of my favorite scenes!) So he brings her a green bonnet! When she asks whose it is, Rhett replies,
"It's your bonnet, who else could wear that shade of green? Don't you think I carried the color of your eyes well in my mind?" (169) romantic! :) As Scarlett asks the price and offers to pay for it over time, Rhett replies,
  "I don't want any money for it,'s a gift."
  Scarlett's mouth dropped open. The line was so closely, so carefully drawn where gifts from men were concerned. 
  ...I simply can't tell him I won't accept it. It's too darling. I'd--I'd almost rather he took a liberty, if it was a very small one." Then she
was horrified at herself for having such a thought and she turned pink. (170)
Eventually, Rhett does no more than graze her cheek with a 'kiss,' though she was all puckered up waiting for a real kiss, as he points out to her! Scarlett muses,
If he didn't want to marry her and didn't even want to kiss her, what did he want? If he wasn't in love with her, why did he call so often and bring her presents?
  "That's better," he said. "Scarlett, I'm a bad influence on you and if you have any sense you will send me packing--if you can. I'm very hard to get rid of. But I'm bad for you."
"...I shall bring you presents as long as it pleases me and so long as I see things that will enhance your charms....And I warn you that I am not kind. I am tempting you with bonnets and bangles and leading you into a pit. Always remember I never do anything without reason and I never give anything without expecting something in return. I always get paid." (172)
At least he did warn her! :) 

The very next day Melanie is appalled because she allowed Belle Watling, an infamous local "madame" to talk to her and give her money for the hospital...which was wrapped up in a monogrammed handkerchief which Scarlett immediately recognizes as one of Rhett's since she has one just like it, and thinks, "Oh,...if I just wasn't a lady, what wouldn't I tell that varmint!" Hah! Poor Scarlett. Was that perhaps the jealous bug biting?  
Scarlett makes a sash for Ashley's gift...
While home on leave, Ashley admits to Scarlett, 
"I think the Yankees have us....[They] are buying soldiers from Europe by the thousands! Most of the prisoners we've taken recently can't even speak English. They're Germans and Poles and wild Irishmen who talk Gaelic. But when we lose a man, he can't be replaced. When our shoes wear out, there are no more shoes. We're bottled up, Scarlett. And we can't fight the whole world." 
Ashley explains that this is why he is asking Scarlett to
"...look after Melanie. She's so frail and weak and you're so strong, Scarlett. It will be a comfort to me to know that you two are together if anything happens to me. You will promise, won't you?" 
  "Oh, yes!" she cried, for at that moment, seeing death at his elbow she would have promised anything. (192)
Scarlett had no idea what the implications of this rash promise would mean for her future. Just as he is leaving Ashley is weak enough to allow Scarlett to see his true feelings of love for her. This just gives her more hope overall. And I'm still irritated with her for all this trying to hang on to what I feel is nothing more than a 'school-girl crush'!! ;)

Rhett pulls strings to learn that Ashley has been taken prisoner and refused to take an oath and join the Yankees to save himself from imprisonment. Scarlett was angry that he'd not taken the oath and then deserted. When she asked Rhett if that isn't what he would have done,
  "Of course," said Rhett, his teeth showing beneath his mustache.
  "Then why didn't Ashley do it?"
  "He's a gentleman," said Rhett, and Scarlett wondered how it was possible to convey such cynicism and contempt in that one honorable word. (200)
In this case, honorable does not necessarily denote smart in a self-preserving way, does it? 

Though I'm no big fan of war or fighting strategies, Mitchell's description of the Yankee approach toward Atlanta through charges, retreats, and encirclement was rather fascinating... 

And finally, Rhett's profession to Scarlett:
"...while I like you immensely, I do not love you and it would be tragic indeed for you to suffer twice from unrequited love, wouldn't it?"..."I should love you, for you are charming and talented at many useless accomplishments. But many ladies have charm and accomplishments and are just as useless as you are. No, I don't love you. But I do like you tremendously--for the elasticity of your conscience, for the selfishness which you seldom trouble to hide, and for the shrewd practicality in you which, I fear, you get from some not too remote Irish-peasant ancestor."..."I want you more than I have ever wanted any woman--and I've waited longer for you than I've ever waited for any woman." 
  "Are you asking me to marry you?" 
  "Good Lord, no! Didn't I tell you I wasn't a marrying man?"
  He rose to his feet and, hand on heart, made her a burlesque bow.
  "Dear," he said quietly, "I am complimenting your intelligence by asking you to be my mistress without having first seduced you." 
  "Mistress! What would I get out of that except a passel of brats?" 
  And then her jaw dropped in horror as she realized what she had said.
  He laughed until he choked...
  "That's why I like you! You are the only frank woman I know, the only woman who looks on the practical side of matters without beclouding the issue with mouthings about sin and morality. Any other woman would have swooned first and then shown me the door." (237-238)
Oh, Scarlett, and this is why I love you so!! 

I love reliving this book 10 chapters at a time! Cannot wait until I've read it completely and then I will watch the movie for about the 9th time or somewhere in that range! If you've never read GWtW you really should give it a try! 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Childhood drama, trauma, and Gilbert's extreme "clannishness"!

Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

Join the Green Gables Read-Along initiated by Reeder Reads!

Ah, Anne must accustom herself to a new home, Ingleside:
  I once thought I would never love it. I hated it when we went there first...hated it for its very virtues. They were an insult to my dear House of Dreams....I reveled in a luxury of homesickness for a while. Then...I found little rootlets of affection for Ingleside beginning to sprout out. I fought against it...I really did...but at last I had to give in and admit I loved it. And I've loved it better every year since. (10)
Anne did finally adjust, especially once she had gardens established and more than enough children to fill the house! 
I love the way Susan always addresses Anne as "Mrs. Dr. Dear"! It is so very sweet and yet respectful...

In this sixth installment we learn much more about Anne and Gilbert's offspring, especially some of their various (and rather common) trials and tribulations! There is the time that Jem was missing and the whole town was out looking for him--he was found safe and sound right in the house! It seems that several of Anne's children have inherited her own creative imagination. Her Walter reminds me so much of Paul Irving from Anne's first teaching position and Anne herself...
  Walter was lying awake in his bed trying to escape from the haunting thought that he was to go away next day by giving free rein to fancy. Walter had a very vivid imagination. It was to him a great white charger,...on which he could gallop backward or forward in time and space....The black plaster-of-Paris cat on the library mantelpiece was a fairy witch. It came alive at night and prowled about the house, grown to enormous size. Walter ducked his head under the bedclothes and shivered. He was always scaring himself with his own fancies. (36) 
Ah, shades of his mama and the way she and Diana became so scared they wouldn't walk certain paths at night! :) 

Enter the main 'tribulation' of the moment for Anne and her children, particularly Susan, and much less for Gilbert as he (comparatively) spends so very little time at home--Gilbert's own "Aunt Mary Maria" (actually his father's cousin)! She reminded me so much of my mother it was scary! As Anne became a bit perturbed by said "Aunt,"
  "I think I'll go upstairs and lie down"... She kissed Walter good-bye rather casually and hurriedly...very much as if she were not thinking about him at all. Walter would not cry. Aunt Mary Maria kissed him on the forehead...Walter hated to be moistly kissed on the forehead...and said:
  "Mind your table manners at Lowbridge, Walter. Mind you ain't greedy. If you are, a Big Black Man will come along with a big black bag to pop naughty children into."
  It was perhaps as well that Gilbert had gone out...and did not hear this. He and Anne had always made a point of never frightening their children with such ideas or allowing anyone else to do it. (38)
This resonated so strongly with me. I also tried to never use fear as a motivator for my own children in any way. In my opinion, that should be reserved for the truly dangerous lessons--you could get hit by a car if you run into the road, you will get burned if you touch a hot stove, etc.--for it loses it's efficacy if overused and teaches children to manipulate emotions to influence people, rather than encouraging the development and use of intellectual logic and rationale to understand, reason, and learn. 

Walter's experience at Lowbridge is short-lived as he is so traumatized that he actually runs away the first night and walks SIX MILES to return home, convinced that his mother is dead. Upon entering the house at the first light of dawn and being comforted by Susan and assured Mother has not died, he tells Susan,
  I suffered awful agony of the mind"... (52)
OMGoodness! Is that not cute? So dramatic, and yet so very sincere! Anne reassures him,
  "Oh, Mummy, you're not going to die...and you still love me, don't you?"
  "Darling, I've no notion of dying...and I love you so much it hurts. To think that you walked all the way from Lowbridge in the night!"
  "And on an empty stomach," shuddered Susan. "The wonder is he is alive to tell it. The days of miracles are not yet over and that you may tie to."
  "A spunky little lad," laughed Dad... (52)
I love Susan's "and that you may tie to" phrase! Upon obtaining a promise from his parents that he needn't ever leave home again unless he wanted to do so, he hesitates saying that he will never want to leave again, realizing that he wouldn't mind seeing Alice again! Ah...the attraction to girls had just begun. :)

Susan tells Rebecca Dew that
  ...Nan and Di have named their old china doll with the split head after Aunt Mary Maria and whenever she scolds them they go out and drown her...the doll I the rainwater hogshead. Many's the jolly drowning we have had, I can assure you. (60)  
I had to laugh! Although Susan's well aware Anne and Gilbert would put a stop to this practice, she keeps this secret ritual from them. Unfortunately, this "Aunt" extends her initially announced two-week stay into many months, which was not uncommon at that time. Relatives might 'visit' for years..or even decades! Anne and Susan are both frustrated and upset with this visitor's behavior, but Anne keeps trying to rationalize and be kind to her...ultimately, it is her over-the-top kind act that ironically upsets Aunt Mary Maria enough to return to her own home and leave them in peace yet once again! Again, I laughed out loud!! Montgomery's humor is so well-timed! As Anne rather guiltily realizes, "I've never sped a parting guest so willingly." (80)

In the process of trying to make a match between two people who were already secretly engaged, Anne 
  ...ruined her dining room carpet, destroyed two treasured heirlooms and spoiled her library ceiling....[T]here is one consolation...Jen Pringle's letter today saying she is going to marry Louis Stedman whom she met at my party.The Bristol candlesticks were not sacrificed entirely in vain. (100)
Jem worked and saved his money to purchase what he thought were real pearls for his mother's birthday party, then discovered they were not real--he was devestated.
  "Oh, Mother dearwums, those pearls aren't real pearls...I thought they were...I did think they were...did..."
  Jem's eyes were full of tears. He couldn't go on.
  If Anne wanted to smile there was no sign of it on her face. Shirley had bumped his head that day, Nan had sprained her ankle, Di had lost her voice with a cold. Anne had kissed and bandaged and soothed; but this was different... this needed all the secret wisdom of mothers.
  "Jem, I never thought you supposed they were real pearls. I knew they weren' least in one sense of real. In another, they are the most real things I've ever had given to me. Because there was love and work and self-sacrifice in them...and that makes them more precious to me than all the gems that divers have fished up from the sea for queens to wear. Darling, I wouldn't exchange my pretty beads for the necklace I read of last night which some millionaire gave his bride and which cost half a million. So that shows you what your gift is worth to me, dearest of dear little sons." (113)

Jem is seemingly unlucky with befriending and loving dogs, Diana and Nan are both easily conned by other girls who feed them lies, Rilla tosses a whole cake into the stream rather than delivering it to the church as promised because she thought it would be awful to be seen carrying a cake! As Anne muses about her girls, 
  They were still hers...wholly hers, to mother and love and protect. They still came to her with every love and grief of their little hearts. For a few years longer they would be hers...and then? Anne shivered. Motherhood was very sweet...but very terrible. 
  "I wonder what life holds for them," she whispered.
  "At least, let's hope and trust they'll each get as good a husband as their mother got," said Gilbert teasingly. (194)
Anne considers:
  Well, that was life. Gladness and pain...hope and fear...and change. Always change! You could not help it. You had to let the old go and take the new into your heart...learn to love it...and then let it go in turn. (212)
Her final prayer:
...Dear God, all mothers everywhere. We need so much help, with the little sensitive, loving hearts and minds that look to us for guidance and love and understanding. (33)
Of course, this should include fathers and all caregivers to children, not just mothers. :)

I am always left with such an appreciation for Anne's kindness, generosity, and respect for all by the end of each of these books! It really is inspiring to me! How about you? Have you read any of these Green Gable books? If not, perhaps you will...

Sunday, July 5, 2015

If you could ask for anything...

All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg

I love this book on so many levels! Until I started researching for this blog post, I was unaware that 100% of all profits from this book were being donated to The V Foundation for Cancer Research. I don't know about you, but I am always more than happy to pay for something when I know the money will work for those who need it, in whatever way. Though I never watch TV or Sports, I am impressed with Greenberg's motivation to write this book, as well as his willingness to donate the proceeds to a good cause. Knowing that he had a real-life close friend who died at a young age from cancer as inspiration also makes this read more poignant and meaningful. Here is his announcement. I don't know that I would have ever purposefully looked for this book if I hadn't responded to the hype about Greenberg's newest release, My Father's Wives, and read and reviewed it as part of the Literary Wives Online Book Discussion group. (It was my interest that spurred us to select it as our June 2015 read.) 

Having met Jane Green this past spring, and being fairly certain we have similar reading preferences, I heartily agree with her sentiments regarding Mike Greenberg's writing: 
  Mike is as clever, astute, and perceptive as he is brilliant. He has beautifully pulled off the three female voices in this novel...with tremendous wisdom and insight. 

I love the way Greenberg allows the reader to get to know each of these three women so very well before we learn how they become connected and provide such valuable social support for each other! Though you might imagine this could be a depressing read given the fact that people are enduring cancer, I did not find it so. In fact, I found it wonderfully uplifting in many ways. Firstly, it demonstrates that although you may feel "alone" in your daily face-to-face personal life, technology affords the ability to create and maintain social connections. Secondly, there are many varied perspectives, reactions, and treatment regimens that work for different individuals diagnosed with cancer. Thirdly, learn to advocate for your own comfort level and research all possible options before committing to any treatment plan, whether for cancer or any other diagnosis. If the first medical professional doesn't provide options, get a second opinion, and/or go online and do research by connecting with others who can educate you and broaden your horizons and understanding.

Brooke is the woman who is giving her husband naked pictures of herself for his 40th birthday. Good for her! I don't believe I could have ever done that! :) And I guess men are appreciative of such things, but for me personally, I guess it's enough that he gets naked for me when it counts! ;) The process by which she considered various locations in her home as possible settings for these risque photos was humorous, as she finally decided she was uncomfortable with any of them! As Brooke says:
  ...we both know who wears the pants in our house: My husband does. But there is equally little doubt which of us really has the power. (18)
As Brooke prepares for her second wedding/renewal of wedding vows with her husband in honor of his fortieth birthday,
  This is the very best day of my entire life. (116)

Oh, and the betrayal that Samantha must endure at the hands of her new husband! Although ultimately, I would be grateful to have learned of such deceit within only two days rather than after the 20 years of my own marriage! But we don't get to choose.)
  [Robert] has an amazing ability to be sensible and romantic in the same conversation. I'd never met a man who could be either one of those, much less both. How could I not marry him? (9)
Ah, but a politician is all about charisma and charm! And he is a newly elected Lieutenant Governor! 
...I think the only person I've never felt sorry for in my whole life is me. 
  Why would I? I was born with every advantage imaginable. (23)
But as we see with each of these three women, that doesn't mean your life will necessarily be without many challenges, just as it is for others... Samantha has remained in Hawaii following her honeymoon debaucle, training for an upcoming race competition, returning to the 'extreme' athletic regimen from the past. Upon completion of packing her belongings the day prior to the race, wondering where her life will go from here, her father surprises her by showing up at her hotel room,
  "You didn't think I was going to let you do this thing all by yourself, did you?"
  I put my face directly in the center of his chest and let him hold me, which he did, tightly....Very few things in life are perfect. This was close enough. In a way, this was the best moment in my entire life. (118) 
She had received very little emotional support from her father in the past, so this was a breakthrough for their relationship. 
Speaking of betrayal, we now go to the third of this trio, Katherine. Who was also betrayed by her ex-husband, Phillip, for whom she still works! Yes, you read that correctly! Unbelievable... Katherine has a mantra she recites while breathing in a controlled pattern to calm her mind and 'be in the now':
  May I be filled with loving-kindness
  May I be well
  May I be peaceful and at ease
  May I be happy
I may have to adopt that! However, it seems Katherine could use a bit of positivism:
  They say it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
  Well, how fucking stupid are they?
  That expression, or the sentiment behind it, is one of those things we've made up to make ourselves feel better. (24)
Rather cynical? Perhaps. Though it may contain some uncomfortable truth. 

On being single, Katherine muses:
  I wouldn't say I'm looking for a man. 
  I wouldn't let you say I am, either. (52)
  What I do not accept is the antiquated notion that somehow I am less of a woman--or less of a person--because I do not have a man in my life. It is not as though I have never been with a man. I have been with more than my share, both before and after Phillip, and aside from the time I Maced one who wanted to marry me there have been very few catastrophes. (53)
Hah! Really? Oh, the description of that event was hysterical. I was definitely laughing out loud and doing so again now as I reread it! 

An anonymous text arrives on Katherine's assistant, Marie's, phone:
  Phil's marriage broke up, he moved out, rumor is SHE was cheating on HIM! 
...I knew it was true. Phillip's marriage was over. She was cheating on him. And, obviously, everybody knew it. In its own way, that's every bit as bad as having to give a horse a hand job. (119)
OMG! Now that's a visual I might not have needed! :)
  So let's see: Phillip left me for Holly nineteen years ago and married her less than a year after that, so for eighteen years I have waited for these words. I have dreamt of them, fantasized about them, prayed for them, written them in ink, chanted them in meditation, spoken them aloud daily, and now they were staring me in the face...and the way they made me feel was a revelation more powerful than I have ever had in a church or a conference room or the front row of a concert. 
  They made me sad. 
  There was no joy, no euphoria, no in your face. I had not won anything. (119-120)
Yes, wishing bad things upon others is never a good thing, and in the end, does it really net you anything if it happens? No...just a revelation that it was never about you, as happens for Katherine.

After being fixed up on a blind date with a man looking to be many years her senior on the evening of her fortieth birthday, Katherine decides to take a much needed vacation, dragging her ever-faithful assistant, Marie, with her. She travels to Colorado where she meets Stephen and Florence, who change her life, much for the better. 
...The horizon was limitless, just like my life, filled with endless possibilities. And that, I realized, is the answer to the question, the one about what makes life worth living. It's about all the wonderful things that might happen, if only we'd let them. And I knew, right then and there, that someday I would look back and say that this was the best day of my entire life. (124)

At the end of Part I all three women profess to be at the perfect point of their lives. However, Part II begins with Samantha's initial posting on 
  I think I should tell you who I am, because it's important to me that you know that I'm not just a cancer patient. I hope no one takes that the wrong way. I know you're all cancer patients, too, and I don't want to minimize that, I really don't, but that's not who I am, just as I assume it's not who you are. I assume you're all somebody just like me, somebody's daughter, somebody's sister, maybe somebody's wife. (127)
I felt she was trying to avoid being identified as solely a "cancer patient." I could relate to wanting to retain your own identity, though I have known people who become a walking talking billboard for cancer once they're diagnosed, so I guess each patient has a different coping strategy for a cancer diagnosis, as with anything else. 

Brooke spends the night following her lumpectomy musing on,
  Tomorrow I go back. Tonight I have a babysitter downstairs with the kids. I called and asked her to spend the night, told her I think I have the flu. I wish I did. I never thought I'd wish that, but right now the flu sounds so good, so normal. I feel so far away form normal. I have no idea when I can expect to feel normal again. I want so badly to feel normal. I've never wanted anything more. I want yesterday, and most of today.
  Can anyone here tell me how to get that? (142)
Her husband is out of town on business that night and she didn't feel she could cope with caring for her children without going into hysterics. I could understand that feeling of helplessness and grief for what may be a very much shortened future with her family.

Katherine's confessional post to
  In the dog-eat-dog world in which I've lived my whole life, I have never allowed myself either of two things that I now regret. The first is weakness. I have never allowed myself any weakness at all. I have always felt that showing any sign of vulnerability would destroy me completely, and as a result I have lived in a rather solitary world. The other is that I've never allowed myself to get over the one man who broke my heart. Perhaps the two are related. Perhaps allowing myself to get past him would have opened the door to a new man, a real relationship, and you can't have one of those without allowing yourself to be vulnerable...

Perhaps what I most admire about all three of these women is their self-awareness through their experiences. I believe this book would be a fantastic read for anyone, but especially those facing an illness, and deciding what to do in the aftermath of a diagnosis. Among these three, very different treatments were selected: a double mastectomy, a lumpectomy with no follow-up, and an all-out treatment via traditional western medical protocol. Do these types of books interest you? 

Friday, July 3, 2015

How hot was this chili? It could kill grass! Seriously... :)

Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off by Carolyn Brown
I honestly cannot remember the last time a book's opening scene had me laughing out loud, but this one surely did! (Okay, perhaps the last Stephanie Plum adventure I read did...) I could so relate to Carlene's anger, humiliation, and embarrassment. To discover that your husband has been cheating on you in this way is the ultimate of ironies, in my opinion! And did she ever make a public spectacle of herself and especially him as a result! Good for her, I say! 
  Some men are just born stupid. Some don't get infected until later in life, but they'll all get a case of it sometime. It's in their DNA and can't be helped. 
  Carlene could testify with her right hand raised to God and the left on the Good Book that her husband, Lenny, had been born with the disease and it had worsened with the years. Proof was held between her thumb and forefinger like a dead rat... (1)
Yup! This is the very beginning of the betrayal that was now Carlene's soon-to-be-former marriage, though, in her opinion, not soon enough! The irony of this scene is overwhelming in so many ways, and you immediately understand the book's cover! 

I was hoping to resonate even better with this second installment than I did the first book in the Cadillac, Texas series, The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society, and I did! Though I wondered if that might be due in part to the fact that I could better relate to the characters' experiences and feelings depicted in this second installment. There definitely were not as many purely mean and hateful people in this book, and I did appreciate that! Though there are a couple who definitely make life in Cadillac a bunch more exciting! For me, this book contained a really nice mixture of everything! I am anxious to read The Yellow Rose Beauty Shop (Cadillac, Texas #3) due to be released July 14th! Don't forget to read the interview with Ms. Brown! She is a Tex-Okie hoot!

Now, back to our story! :) Carlene's language echoed my own way of thinking and speaking (When I can be unfiltered, that is!):
  She stood up, straightening to her full statuesque height of just a couple of inches under the six-foot mark. Damn that sorry bastard to hell. How could he do this to her?... 
  She gave [the briefcase] looks meant to fry holes through the leather, but it just sat there as cool as Lenny. Damn his black soul to hell for all eternity. She hoped that he was given a place sitting naked on a barbed wire fence and every time he fell off the devil shot him with a cattle prod. (3)
I could definitely resonate with the detailed purgatory she envisioned for Lenny! (Though I don't believe in heaven/hell, it made for an efficacious revenge, did it not?!? lol) I guess most of us feel this way when confronted with unfaithful partners. I just don't understand the point of "marrying" and/or committing to a monogamous relationship if you don't intend to follow through, but that's just me! :)

Her one clear thought after all the inevitable questions:
  She was not living in the same house with a lying, cheating, two-timing son- of a bitch. She was leaving his ass and nothing or no one could convince her to stay another night under the same roof with him. (3)
After loading her van to the point of resembling "an overflowing Salvation Army donation hut," she covered the seven miles to Lenny's car dealership in just under five minutes.
  If it hadn't been for the good brakes on her van, she would have plowed right through the plate-glass windows rammed into that pretty brand-spanking-new red Corvette in the showroom. Some days started off bad and got worse as they went along. (4)
Ain't it the truth! There are those days, though hopefully they decrease over the course of a lifetime! Even if you don't intend to read this book, just do yourself a favor and read pages 1-10! Especially if you've ever had a failed long-term relationship due to a partner's infedility, I can't imagine you won't be enthralled and just HAVE to read the whole thing! I could try to paraphrase what happens, but it's just too damn good for you not to read it yourself! And...we learn that Lenny actually works for his that makes me wonder if he is truly successful at much of anything, other than being a jerk, of course! :)

On this same day, Alma Grace is kicked out of the church choir and they've stolen her halo and her wings; Sugar Magee leaves her husband, Jamie, and moves into one of the upstairs rooms of Bless My Bloomers; and Carlene must convince herself that living with her Aunt Sugar's constant praying is better than cohabiting with her cheatin'-ass husband, Lenny!  She awakens that first morning with Sugar as her housemate:
  A week ago she'd packaged up a cute little bright red outfit and rang up the sale to Bridget who was going to Vegas with her sugar daddy. That little red pair of panties didn't have a tenth of a yard of fabric in them. Hell, they didn't have enough material in them to sag a clothesline and yet they'd turned her world, her family, and the whole town of Cadillac upside down. (81)
Did it ever. Suddenly, the three Fannin sisters, Sugar, Tansy, and Gigi, are plotting and planning to win the Chili Cook-Off and take Lenny Joe's trophy away from him this year. And during the time prior to the Cook-Off they will spend their nights in the bedrooms in the upper level of Bless My Bloomers, the specialty lingerie shop owned and operated by their daughters, Patrice, Alma Grace, and Carlene. Sugar doesn't even cook! But she's fairly certain her father's chili recipe is somewhere in her attic...and anyone can follow a recipe, right?!? :)

However, the first batch of chili 'brewed' by the three mamas proves to be less than 'award winning':
  Patrice...just shrugged...and said, "What is that foul smelling shit out there beside the porch? It's killed the grass for a foot around it and even the fire ants are making a detour around it." (117)
  "Oh, my God. Y'all tried to make chili last night and that's what's out there, isn't it? What in the hell did you put in it?" Patrice asked. 
  "Too much cayenne pepper." (119)
Too much? I reckon so! The recipe called for one tablespoon of cayenne pepper. Sugar added twice that amount, Gigi added 1/4 cup, and then Tansy ended up emptying the whole container into the pot! No wonder it killed grass and even the ants wouldn't touch it! :)

So begins the adventures of the first female team ever to enter the Chili Cook-Off. As Agnes announces,
  "Granny Fannin would be so proud of you girls for what y'all are doin'. This is as big as marchin' on the White House for women's rights. All of us women are proud as hell of y'all. I'm here to tell you that if y'all needed someone for your team, I'd gladly throw my lot in with you, but since you got enough, I'm pledgin' a thousand dollars to the cause for y'all to buy the tent. (98)  
And then she proceeds to encourage everyone to 'buy stock' in whichever team they're supporting to win the Chili Cook-Off!

This is a really BIG deal in Cadillac! And who has the winning recipe that year? Did the first female team actually beat out all those other male teams that had been competing for many years? And...most of all...was Lenny truly punished for his adulterous behaviors? And it was refreshing to see some truly awesome men as long-term committed partners: Yancy and Jamie, for example. Ah, but the best adventure of all was that of Alma Grace! Let's just say that she finally discovered a life of her own, while also 'gettin' the goods' on Lenny! I would highly recommend this series! And only 10 more days to wait for the third (and final?) installment, The Yellow Rose Beauty Shop!

Not just any old Cadillac Jubilee! :)

The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee

I was quite curious about this book as I began reading it for our Borders Book Club meeting in June 2015. I try to never 'research' a book much before reading it because I want my reaction to be as unbiased as possible; my goal is to always open myself to the reading experience with as few preconceived notions as possible. However, I did know that Carolyn Brown had written a ton of romance, so I was a bit hesitant since romance is a genre I typically do not read or enjoy much. I was pleasantly surprised by Brown's enjoyable writing style with that southern humor built in. 
All members really liked this book! It was great fun to discuss all the humorous (and some serious) incidents and comments!! It made for lots of laughter and shaking of heads! 

And how did this Jalapeño Society start? 
  More than forty years ago, Grayson County and Fannin County women were having a heated argument over who could grow the hottest jalapeños in  North Texas. Idalou Thomas, over in Fannin County, had won the contest for her jalapeño cornbread and her jalapeño pepper jelly for so many years that most people dropped plumb out of the running. But that year, Claudia's mamma decided to try a little something different, and she watered her pepper plants with the water she used to rinse out her unmentionables. That was the very year that Fannin County lost their title in all of the jalapeño categories to Grayson County at the Texas State Fair. They brought home a blue ribbon in every category that had anything to do with growing or cooking jalapeño peppers. That was also the year that Violet Prescott and several other women formed the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society. The next fall they held their first annual Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee in Cadillac, Texas. 

...Idalou died right after [that] first Jubilee, and folks in Fannin County almost brought murder charges against Claudia's mamma for breaking poor old Idalou's heart. (9)
Hah! That's probably not far from the truth! Some people take their State Fair competitions very seriously! 

We all pretty much agreed that Agnes was our favorite character. There was no-thing and no-one she wouldn't tackle--literally and figuratively! As Marty mused
  God Almighty, but she'd be glad when her great-aunt died and she could quit the club. but it looked like Agnes was going to last forever, which was no surprise. God sure didn't want her in heaven, and the devil wouldn't have her in hell. (4)
Hah! My kinda woman! :) And there was the time she almost shot Trixie:
  "We heard a gunshot," Jack said.
  "That would be my shotgun. It's up there on the floor. Knocked me right on my ass. I forgot that it had a kick. Loud sumbitch messed up my hearing." Agnes hollered and reached up to tough her kinky red hair. (15) 
Agnes had rushed across the street to 'save' Trixie from the man Agnes saw attacking her in her upstairs bedroom, shot a hole in the upstairs hall ceiling just outside Trixie's room, and immediately had the town cops in Trixie's house. There was no love lost between Agnes and Trixie. Trixie realized it was the candlelight that threw two shadows against her window shades and got Agnes all upset.  
Lord, Agnes Flynn was a meddlesome old witch. Claudia Burton Andrews had taken care of Agnes like she was her mother instead of her aunt, and she'd passed the legacy of looking after her on down to Cathy and Marty. But Trixie damn sure hadn't taken on the job of caring for the nosy old toot, so she could keep her red hair, stinky getup, and shotgun across the street. (19)
Darla Jean helps Trixie debrief,
"You almost got caught, girl! God is talkin' to you pretty strong. He's sayin' that if you don't give up your wickedness, he's goin' to stop talkin' and let Agnes take care of things. You want that?"
  "Hell no! I'd rather face off with the devil as that old girl. But I'm not giving up my Wednesday nights either. I'll just be more careful." (25)
And exactly what is she doing on those nights? 

Then when Violet lies about Agnes's niece, Catherine, right in church no less...
  Damn! Where was that shotgun when Agnes needed it, anyway? Well, a woman worked with what she had and since her shotgun was at home, she doubled up her fist and decked Violet right there in front of the people, the preacher, and even God. ...dead silence reigned. It damn near broke her knuckles, but it was worth every bit of it. (163)
Oh, Agnes, if only I could just once let loose like that with no recriminations or paybacks! :) Haven't we all had times when we would have loved to do just that?!? 

And what would happen if (or perhaps more accurately when) Cadillac discovered the true identity of Candy Parker? Better yet, who would admit to knowing about Candy's books? 
  When her first book sold and her editor asked her if she was going to write under her name or an assumed one, she made the decision to use the pseudonym Candy Parker. She didn't intend for anyone in Cadillac ever to know that she was writing erotic romance. So Candy Parker...was her second secret. The first being keeping...Agnes out of the social club, no matter what the cost. (33) 
And why is it so very important that Agnes not become a member of the 'social club'? Granted, Violet is the president and that would undoubtedly lead to trouble...but...

What about Ethan and Anna Ruth? And where do Andy and Catherine fit into all this? Ah, and several different triangles: Violet, Ethan, and Catherine AND Catherine, Andy, Anna Ruth...and... `So many secrets--so little time! 

  Marty waited until she heard the back door slam and pulled out her phone. "I'll call Jack. You call Cathy. This is too damn good to wait until morning."
  Trixie giggled as she dialed the phone.
  Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society--who gives a shit?
  Friendship--always and forever priceless. (321)

I admit to feeling as if there were perhaps a few too many truly evil/bad characters in this book who appeared to have not one redeeming quality. In my experience, each of us is a mixture of 'good' and 'bad'...but that certainly didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book overall, and I was so curious to see what the second installment in this trilogy, The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off, had in store. Here is what Carolyn Brown had to say in our interview with her!