Monday, June 30, 2014


(fourth in the CHET AND BERNIE mysteries)

Narrated by the lovable dog Chet, these delightful mystery novels each follow Chet and his private investigator owner Bernie as they solve one of Bernie’s cases. A dog narrator creates a new angle for a familiar formula, since Chet frequently finds himself distracted and sidetracked. Lots of twists and turns and tangents in these books!

In this fourth book, THE DOG WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, a woman hires Bernie to pretend to be her boyfriend when she visits her son at camp. She’s worried her pushy ex-husband wants a reunion and hopes a tough guy like Bernie will scare the ex away with his presence alone. Except the son goes missing and it looks like the ex might be to blame.

I invested quite quickly, both reuniting with familiar characters and perking up at this new storyline. I should specify that these books definitely can be read out of order, though I do like the longer arches of personal plot threads. Each book follows one case, but Bernie’s life naturally becomes a part of each story. That includes his problems with his ex-wife Leda, his love for but struggle to see more of their son Charlie, and his blossoming relationship with the journalist Suzie.

Chet’s an unreliable but adorable narrator. He idolizes Bernie and his descriptions of his owner’s actions come with a heavy dose of reverence. As far as Chet’s concerned, Bernie is the smartest, most handsome, funniest, nicest, all-around-best human in the it’s always important to take Chet’s recounting of events with a grain of salt. As for the adorable part, in this installment Chet finds himself a little torn between affection for Suzie and jealousy. (For one thing, she keeps taking the front seat.)

I rarely find myself describing a murder mystery as cute, but the Chet and Bernie series is one of the few crime novels that can give me warm fuzzies even amidst crime and corruption.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Art of Reading: Long Stretches vs. Short Snippets

All bibliophiles have at least one thing in common: the love of books. Still, as I'm reminded every time I talk to another reader, that doesn't mean we express our affection for the written word in exactly the same way. I'm referring to how we read.

This post’s theme: for how long do you like to read at one time? Are you a long stretches kind of reader who hunkers down for hours at a time and immerses yourself in your book? Or are you more of a "there's no such thing as too little time to read" type of reader?
I'm definitely the latter. Given that I read 50-100 books a year, some of my friends act surprised when they learn that I rarely read more than half an hour at a time. For that matter, I usually read more like 5-15 minutes at a time. Of course, do that multiple times a day and it starts adding up. I take a book everywhere and pull it out anywhere I find myself waiting. I even went through a stage where I would read a page or two of a book in between sets when weight lifting. So, yeah, I don't believe there's such as thing as too little time to read. A free minute is time enough.
As for why I don't tend to read for long stretches, it's a combination of a busy schedule and a short attention span. For the most, I just don't have hours to spare that much time at once. Even my off days are packed with errands, social plans, and a strictly self-imposed writing schedule. However, when I do have a full day I still rarely plop down with a book for hours at a time, because I like changing up what I'm doing. I will do something, though, that some people find pretty odd. I will curl up for hours at a time with multiple books. When my interest starts waning in the current book, I don't switch from reading to another activity but from the current book to a different one.
How about you? Do you read for long stretches or short snippets? Any particular reason why?

Monday, June 23, 2014


(based on a review copy)

I loved, loved, loved this book. A premise revolving around stereotypes made me hesitate while also wanting to take that chance. At worst such books lazily reinforce our existing assumptions and judgments, but at best stories that play with stereotypes can burst forth from their constricting labels into something gloriously innovative. I’m almost giddy to report that THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL does the latter.

As the title implies, this novel features a school for, well, good and evil. Students are either trained to be good heroes or princesses or evil villains. Most of these students come from familiar story tale backgrounds, bred and raised for either good or evil. However, every year the School Master selects two students from the world outside fairy tales and fables, two students everyone else refers to as “readers”. One goes to the school for good and one to the school for evil.

Enter our two leads, who at first glance do present themselves as preprogrammed good and evil stereotypes. Gorgeous but dissatisfied Sophie wants nothing more than to be selected by the School Master and whisked away to the magical, mysterious school for good where she can break away from her mundane life, become a beautiful and beloved princess, find her prince, and live happily ever after. On the other hand, her best friend Agatha spurns both the ridiculous fantasy of some shady stranger kidnapping children for predetermined destinies and all things princess, prince, and pink. Contrary to her sweet daydreamer of a best friend, Agatha prefers black, graveyards, and dirt. She’s crude, she’s rude, and she wants nothing to do with Sophie’s silly princess plans let alone some school for villainy.

Of course, the School Master selects Agatha and Sophie. However, the first big twist (which the back of the book gives away, anyway) comes when Agatha finds herself at the school for good and Sophie the school for evil. This arrangement appalls both girls. Sophie wants to switch while Agatha wants to go home, and everyone’s saying neither option is possible.

In the grand tradition of dramatic irony, the reader picks up far earlier than the characters that this is no mistake. Agatha might be a little rough around the edges, but she has a good heart. She looks out for Sophie even when her friend might not deserve her loyalty. For that matter she looks out for everyone, quick to challenge school teachings that imply any student deserves more or less than another. The school for good promises Agatha beauty, love, and happiness eternal, but all she wants is to go home and she’s not leaving without her best friend. Sophie meanwhile has no intention of leaving. She doesn’t want to be in the school for evil but she doesn’t want to go home either. She knows what she does want and she won’t let anyone, even a friend who has been nothing but devoted and dependable, stand in her way. Sophie thinks her beauty entitles her to whatever she wants and even her kinder acts have a condescending undertone like she’s mimicking compassion as seen in a children’s book but doesn’t actually care.

In this manner, Sophie actually morphs into a spectacular, dynamic villain. She’s filled with bitterness, self-righteousness, and a sense of injustice. Whether she meant to or not, Agatha took what Sophie thinks she deserves, what Sophie wants more than anything else.

Many big twists are predictable and yet I don’t mean that as an insult in the least. We might know that Sophie and Agatha will be selected and we might know they’re not going to the schools they would expect (among other easy predictions), but Chainani makes every sentence leading to those developments engaging and roots each new turn of events in character and heartfelt emotion. I often saw something coming, but that only made the event all the more affecting because my knowledge still didn’t give me any power to stop it. Agatha and Sophie are trapped in a story, both desperately trying to rewrite their own endings.

I’m surprised this is a middle reader book, though, since it’s significantly dark! I’m not one to say what kids should or shouldn’t read, but thematically speaking this struck me as young adult at least with a lot of crossover appeal for many adults. Not only does the book contain mature themes (which some kids can handle), but a lot of metaphors, observations, subtexts, and jokes seem written for an older audience. At the very least, I think it’s a little mis-marketed with a way too cutesy cover for the story inside. (I think the cover’s striking, just not fitting for the tone.) Someone recently pointed out to me that though R.L. Stine’s books terrify kids no one ever dies. Well, people die in THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL. Children die. Violently. Children murder, too. Viciously. None of this made me like the book any less, but I think it’s better suited for mature readers (whatever their actual age).

As you might guess from my review so far, this book explodes with discussion possibilities. There’s the fact that everyone in these schools recoil from “readers” since they have a tendency to ignore their assigned fates. There’s how pure good and pure evil are treated as yin and yang ideals while anyone who exhibits a mix of good and evil inclinations suffers for their inability to pick a side. There’s Sophie’s insincere charity contrasted with Agatha’s tactless heroism. There’s the rule that princesses automatically fail if a prince doesn’t ask them to the ball while princes can choose to simply go alone. There’s the association of beauty with good and ugliness with evil. I could easily go on and on, but some topics emerge much later in the book and I don’t want to spoil anything.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL starts well and only becomes better and better with each turn of a page. The plot’s a multi-tiered, complex organism with dozens of emotional high points. I’m so glad I already have the second in the series!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Grammar Nerds: Ellipses

If you don't care much about grammar specifics, here's your warning that this series of posts won't interest you. However, I know plenty of fellow grammar nerd readers: people like me who feel thrown out of a good story by a misplaced comma or sudden tense shift.

Today's focus: ellipses.

First, what is an ellipsis? It’s those dreaded (to some) dot dot dots: ...

Now let’s make sure we’re on the same page about correct uses. Ellipses can indicate an omission from a quote. Consider books that have gushing quotes from well-known authors on the cover. Sometimes there’s “...” in the middle of the quote, which could mean the marketing department either shortened a lengthy comment or cherry picked the best phrases from a review. You’ll also see plenty of this kind of ellipses in academic essays where students trim quotes down to the part that concisely emphasizes their point. 

I would call the above a technical use of an ellipsis, but there are also more creative uses. For example, an ellipsis can indicate a pause in the middle of a sentence. (My preferred creative use of ellipses, by the way. Though grammatically acceptable, the other creative usages I’m about to list always irritate me.) An ellipsis can also show an incomplete thought when placed at the end of an unfinished sentence. Last, ellipses at the end of either a complete or incomplete sentence can imply something is being left unsaid and at the end of a full sentence often conveys hesitation, confusion, or irritation, to name a few possibilities. I think why the latter usages bother me is because it’s impossible to tell for what purpose the ellipsis was intended, what it’s saying. I know when an ellipsis is pointing out an omission in a quote or a pause in dialogue, but when it’s at the end of a sentence or fragment the reader is left to guess what of the many potential emotions the writer meant to suggest. (In some cases, the guessing game is exactly the point, but more often than not it strikes me as poor writing.)

As for incorrect usages, sometimes people clearly throw an ellipsis at the end of a sentence without any idea what purpose that punctuation mark serves. I see this especially in texting and emails. Take, for example, when a friend texted me “Have fun on your trip...” If an ellipsis is meant to suggest something unsaid, what’s she leaving unsaid? “Have fun on your trip...but I wish I was going with you.” ? “Have fun on your trip...but I’m sad you’ll be gone.”?  “Have fun on your trip...but I happen to know where you’re going has an outbreak of rabid bears.”? “Have fun on your trip...but I’m mad that you still haven’t taught me what an ellipsis is.”? There’s an implied “but” by an ellipsis, except many people don’t realize that. I’ve also received “Congratulations...” and “Thank you...” from a former co-worker prone to ending every email with an ellipsis. The simple way to remember: don’t use an ellipsis this way unless you are leaving off a “but” clause.

Anyone want to weigh in? Did I omit any correct usages? Does anyone share my annoyance with the ambiguous - if grammatically acceptable - ellipsis implying something unspecified? How about entirely unnecessary ellipses in texts and emails?

Monday, June 16, 2014



Want to be able to tell people that your two-year-old is reading WAR & PEACE? Or LESS MISERABLES? Then head to your nearest bookstore and grab a COZY CLASSIC.

These board books each distill a timeless novel into 24 pages, with only a single word on each page. Despite my earlier description of these as books for very young readers, they sell to adults without children, too...because they’re hilarious. Consider PRIDE & PREJUDICE, which includes the words “mean”, “muddy”, “yes?”, and “no!” to comical effect. To anyone familiar with the original classic, these cozy, condensed versions will have you laughing aloud.

As expected with a picture book, each word comes with an image that says more than the single word. Not an illustration, mind you. Instead the books feature photographs of needle-felted objects acting out pivotal scenes.

Though these do feel like humor books for adults, they are meant for children. True, it’s not the same as actually having your toddler read MOBY DICK, but the photographs combined with single words are a perfect jumping off point for further conversation and discussion as they’ll no doubt invite additional questions about each character, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. Maybe your child is too young for the original books, but your they'll know the basic plots of famous classics in no time.

I love these books because they make me laugh, but I adore them because they encourage an early fascination with literature. I recommend them to just about anyone, regardless of age or whether or not you have a kid for whom you can justify buying them.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Art of Reading: Ebooks vs. Print

All bibliophiles have at least one thing in common: the love of books. Still, as I'm reminded every time I talk to another reader, that doesn't mean we express our affection for the written word in exactly the same way. I'm referring to how we read.

This post’s theme: ebooks vs. print. Is one better than the other? For the reader? The author? The environment? What do you prefer personally and what do you think the future holds for books?

I’m unconvinced (to put it mildly) whenever I hear someone state that the invention of ebooks means the near-future death of print books. In fact, I consider that an arrogant and ignorant claim. Arrogant to present an opinion as fact (not to mention claiming certainty about the future and assuming everyone agrees with you) and ignorant about all the people out there who still value print books.

As for my personal preferences, I’m a print book loyalist. I have tried ebooks and, for me, they cannot replicate the experience of holding an actual book. I love the smell, I love the feel, and I love seeing real books line my shelves. Despite all the fuss over ebooks being ideal for air travel, I love that I don't need to power down my real book during take off and landing. I like lending physical books to friends and I like asking authors I meet to sign my book. In fact, let me share something that emphasizes how much I prefer print books. I'm offered free books all the time (because I work in a bookstore, because I review books on this blog, and because I'm a writer myself and know people in the industry) and I will often pass up a free digital copy in order to buy (or borrow) a print copy myself.  

However, don't mistake my print book bias for ebook hatred. Ebooks do offer features you can't find in a physical book. I love how much control ebooks offer the reader in terms of page layout: you can change the font style or size, the margins, and the line spacing, among other things. I have definitely pined for that flexibility when I'm reading an otherwise great book with teeny tiny font or a font style that I find distracting. I think the biggest advantage for more people, though, is condensing material objects. Rather than a huge library of print books, you have one ereader. For the most part, I actually prefer my books to take up space. I like seeing them on the shelves and I like that my guests and friends can see what's on my shelves. Of course, every few years I have to ruthlessly pare down my collection lest it plot to take over my home and bury me alive, so I do understand the "less clutter" point. Speaking of taking up less space, ebooks are also known for being the easier travel option. Instead of packing 3-5 print books, you can pack your ereader. While I'm happy to pay a bit more and in support of authors/ editors/ publishers of the books I love, some readers prefer ebooks for their lower prices. Last, there's the privacy benefit. As I mentioned, I love that anyone in my home can see what books I have read or intend to read and love when a book’s presence sparks a conversation, but some people are more private about their reading tastes. In fact, romance took off faster than any other genre in terms of ebook sales and many speculated that it's embarrassing reading a novel in a public place when the cover features a scantily clad couple in throes of ecstasy...but if you're reading on an ereader no one need ever know what you're reading. Another valid point, though not an issue for me personally since I believe in owning yourself and your tastes. I've read books in public with potentially embarrassing titles or covers, but see no need to trade my print copies in for more discreet digital versions.

Of course, ebooks have their drawbacks. (Otherwise, yes, they might have eclipsed print books.) There's the tactile and other sensory elements that bookworms miss. More prominent, though, is the elusiveness of an ebook. One of their greatest strengths can also double as a weakness. Yes, they take up less space, but files are also easier to lose and can you really own a file in the same way as a material object in your hand? Take the examples of when Amazon quietly removed ebooks from their customers' digital libraries without any notification. To me the print book equivalent of this would be a bookstore employee sneaking into your house in the middle of the night to take back a book you had bought. Which leads me to another debatable flaw: distribution. Different companies created different ereaders and sell their own ebooks. Some ereaders are open-format and can read ebooks sold by other companies, giving the customer freedom to purchase anywhere, while other ereaders lock you in to purchasing from one company (like Amazon's Kindle). So an Amazon Kindle cannot read a Barnes and Noble Nook ebook or a Kobo ebook. In my opinion, ebooks will never take over print books as long as they're disunited like this. If I have a print book, I know I can read it whenever I want, that it's mine until I choose to give it away, and that whatever conflicts might be occurring between different companies that doesn't keep me from buying books from each. With ebooks the files don't always play nice, so you might have to buy the book again if you switch devices. Also the ereader you're using could be discontinued or the company that makes it go out of business, etc. I know numerous ebook readers who have bought the same book more than once based on compatibility issues. This consistency is a big sticking point for me. When I buy a book, I want to be able to use (read) it whenever I want and have it for as long as I want, not be told it’s out of date or incompatible and I can’t open it anymore. The last factor I want to mention about ebook shortcomings stems from a study I read that found students performed worse on tests about a book if they read the ebook version rather than the print version. The article went on to speculate that perhaps we approach reading a printed page differently than a screen and naturally skim more and absorb less when we’re studying digital material. On a more anecdotal level, a friend once told me that someone asked him if he had read a book and he answered, “No” only to later realize that he had read that book - as an ebook, and somehow he remembered far less about it than when he reads print books. Of course, an important factor to note here is that perhaps we’re socially trained to approach digital material differently and perhaps that might change in a future where people are exposed to ebooks from a younger age.

The ebooks vs. print debate makes it sound like you need to pick one or the other. In reality there’s plenty of room for both. They’re different products and, hence, will appeal to difference consumers and different circumstances. Though I prefer print books, there are certain situations when I would specifically want an ebook. While numerous people thought ebooks would take over, research actually showed a dramatic shift to ebooks at first (those people who primarily prefer that format making the switch to a new technology) and then a leveling off or even slight return to print books. And studies also prove that consumers rarely choose one or the other. Most buy both and the biggest question is what percentages for each.

I hope we see more bundling in the future: buy the print book and get the ebook as well. While I gravitate towards reading the print version, I often think how nice it would be to continue reading (on a phone app perhaps) when I don’t have my book with me - if, say, I forgot it or didn’t realize I would have some time to kill. This ability wouldn’t be worth paying for the ebook as well, but I sometimes wish the ebook came along with the print version.

The last debate I wanted to address about ebooks vs. print is environmental factors. When ereaders first entered the consumer market, everyone gushed about how much better they would be for the environment. Now I’m no expert, but that assumption always made me skeptical, concerned that people aren’t thinking far enough ahead. One ereader to replace a library of hundreds of books might sound like a brilliant way to save some trees, but what others factors should we consider? First, disposal. What happens when you’re done with that ereader? If someone litters a book, it will eventually compost, but broken electronics are trash. That dead ereader is going to a landfill. Second, it’s likely not one ereader. I know dozens of people who are already on their second or third or fourth device, whether because earlier ones died, became outdated, or the person switched to a different device they liked better. I repeat that I’m no environmental impact expert, but my point here is that I think this debate is far more complicated than ereaders save trees.

Your turn to weigh in. Do you have a personal preference between print books and ebooks? What are your thoughts on ebook merits and drawbacks?

Monday, June 9, 2014



Bernadette Luckett is originally from the SF Bay Area, but started her standup career in New York City after working as a professional model, a cookie packer, and a lab technician at a VD clinic. She performed at comedy clubs all over the US and appeared on numerous TV shows, then segued from standup into sitcom writing, and has worked on several shows including: Living Single; Sister, Sister; The Tracy Morgan Show; Girlfriends; and Romeo!. Bernadette recently returned to standup last November after a 17-year hiatus. In addition to being a contributing essayist to the anthology NO KIDDING Bernadette worked as a Co-Producer on the documentary, “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor”-  which was recently honored with a 2014 Television Academy Honors Award – for television programming that inspires, informs, motivates, and even has the power to change lives.

What are you reading right now?

No books currently. Mostly magazine articles.

What first sparked your interest in writing?

There was a writing contest for kids in our local newspaper. I would write stories and won on several occasions.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

I love when I see a scene in my head and I just write down what the characters say and do. That’s totally joyful!

I don’t like that I don’t have a good office space of my own to write currently.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

I write mostly scripts, and occasionally short stories. For scripts, I love to outline and figure out all the structural details. Then the writing’s a breeze. For stories, I just write it as it flows. Then I go back and edit and rearrange. It’s a lot of puzzle-work. It’s fun.

What are your passions?

I love people: smiling at them, talking to them, helping them, making them laugh. I’m passionate about using my talents to help create a better and happier world.

What inspires you?

I am fortunate to have some great mentors who inspire me to be more loving and be of service more in the world. When I see there’s someone who needs help, I always reach out if I can, or turn them on to someone else who can help them.

Did you know without a doubt what you would write about in your NO KIDDING essay or did you have a few topics from which you narrowed it down?

When I first thought of writing, a million thoughts came to mind, so it was just a matter of sequencing and editing.

Was it difficult writing about something so personal?

I’m one of those people who will tell personal information to anyone. God forbid you sit next to me on a bus. So writing about something personal was very easy for me.

What advice might you give to other women who encounter the perception that they should have a “snappy response” to why they don’t want or didn’t have kids?

Own yourself, own your reasons for what you do, and don’t do. Once you’re okay with you, you’ll know exactly what you want to say to those who ask. It could be a snappy response, or it could be a serious response. As long as you feel comfortable with yourself, it’ll be the perfect answer.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Take away the “should” and the “musts.” Write when you want to, but know the more you write, the more your brain will be lubricated for more writing. Don’t mix up making a living with living your passion. Hopefully they’ll both come together, but it doesn’t help to put pressure on yourself to make money from your writing. Write for Joy, for the Love of it!

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

Meditation helps a lot with writing. Sitting quietly causes ideas to flood into your mind. Or even a walking meditation, or silent meditation. You provide the stillness and can tap into the universal supply of incredible ideas.

Friday, June 6, 2014



This book became a bestseller one holiday season and sold out nationwide and I’m guessing it’s because these humorous poems “by” cats appeal to, well, anyone who has ever met a cat.

Personally, I’m a dog person. I’ve trained three Guide Dogs for the Blind, worked as a doggie daycare attendant and dog trainer, and studied up on both dog body language and various training philosophies and techniques. I like dogs and I understand dogs. Cats...not so much. However, I consider myself an animal person overall, drawn to helping out any animal in need, which is how I found myself adopting a stray cat despite my protests of being a dog person. And, yes, I COULD PEE ON THIS concisely summarizes my baffled grasp of cat mentality.

My favorite poem has to be “Sushi” -

Did you really think
That you could hide fish in rice?
Oh, the green paste burns!

- but I also particularly like “Closed Door” and “Busy, Busy.”

In short, a perfect gift for any self-described cat person, a great gift for anyone who owns a cat, and an amusing read for anyone who has ever met a cat.

Monday, June 2, 2014


(third in THE LUNAR CHRONICLES, review based on an advance reading copy)

I loved CINDER and adored SCARLET, the first two books in this series, so CRESS had the bar set high, but I’m pleased to say it delivered. Note, though, that you probably won’t want to read this review if you haven’t read CINDER and SCARLET.

Each book in THE LUNAR CHRONICLES twists a familiar fairy tale and this one features a very twisty version of “Rapunzel.” As I mentioned in my review of SCARLET, Meyer uses the original fairy tale for bare bones influence and piles on layers of additional complexities, plot threads, and characters. In this case, the Rapunzel character is a Lunar shell named Cress, saved as a child from death when powerful adults discovered her uncanny knack for computers. Kind of saved. Instead of killing Cress for being a shell, the queen hid her away in a satellite where she did nothing but code and work with computers until she figured out a way to seemingly turn Lunar spaceships invisible by scrambling their signals. Cress knows it’s either do the queen’s bidding or die, but at this point guilt over her contribution to Lunar attacks make her wonder if she should have chosen death. Though long hair is Rapunzel’s trademark in the fairy tale, it’s nothing more than an accessory detail in CRESS. She’s trapped in a satellite and doesn’t get haircuts. She has long hair. Moving on.

Cress proved a refreshing and unusual heroine. Initially, she’s the stereotypical fairy tale damsel who annoys all kinds of people from readers to feminists to parents. Despite her obvious computer intelligence, she’s super girly and prone to happily-ever-after daydreams. She’s also alarmingly na├»ve, but that’s certainly believable given her sheltered lifestyle. All she has for company is a digital avatar she created using her own voice as a child and the occasional visits from the queen’s advisor, who mostly only demands more effort from Cress and reminds her how lucky she is they haven’t killed her yet. In each book, the heroine has felt unique and Cress even more so. Despite her ignorance, she learns fast once she’s out in the world and refuses to compromise her principles when happily-ever-afters seem farther out of reach than she realized.

For the most part, I find the writing in these books that invisible kind of good writing, the kind that you forget about as you focus only on an extremely engaging story. I noticed a few exceptions in CRESS, of the good variety, when particularly evocative sensory description made me pause to admire how vividly I could picture what Meyer describes.

I’m wildly impressed with how clearly Meyer has provided each book with it’s own plotline while also pulling everything together seamlessly into a greater whole. This is the most addictive series I’ve read in a while and my only complaint is that I’ve now caught up with what’s published and will have to wait for the final book.