September 30, 2010

Banned Books

Earlier in the week I read the "let's ban Slaughterhouse Five from our schools" editorial as written by that esteemed scholar Wesley Scroggins, in which he writes: "In English, children are also required to read a book called 'Slaughterhouse Five.'" Kurt Vonnegut's book is just one he believes is unsuitable for students in Missouri's Republic School District. The main target in his editorial entitled "Filthy Books Demeaning to Republic Education" is Laurie Halse Anderson's National Book Award nominee, Speak. Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer is also attacked; I'd like to read it for no other reason than that.

Anderson's cause has been taken up all over the Internet, and with this being Banned Book Week, many people are focusing on why books continue to be banned in 2010, particularly in the age of the Internet. As always, I tend to take a skewed view of things. What I find almost as appalling as the idea that 41 years after the publication of Kurt Vonnegut's now-classic novel, this book still requires defense from people whose heads aren't up their asses, is that this supposedly educated professor seems to have never before come across Slaughterhouse Five. I realize that he is not an English professor, but it shocked the hell out of me that any person who has earned a PhD in any field might not be literate.

FYI...the school district's superintendent reports that Slaughterhouse Five has since been removed from the curriculum. Guess that'll leave more time for students to learn chemistry - doesn't Missouri have one of the highest rates of meth lab activity in the country?


September 29, 2010

RIP Greg Giraldo

TMZ reported, the Washington Post picked up, and friend and fellow comedian Jim Norton confirmed: Greg Giraldo is dead at age 44 after an accidental prescription drug overdose over the weekend.

Although I stopped actively following his career awhile back, he was once among my favorite comedians; way back in 2003 I named him the most consistently funny guest on Colin Quinn's old Comedy Central show, and in 2004 referred to him as one of my Grown Women Crushes. In recent years, though, his humor became more bitter, although I thought him very funny when he guested on The Ref this year and always enjoyed his Comedy Central Roast appearances. It seemed to me he stopped being as funny and became more rage-filled and under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol as his marriage failed. That's when I stopped actively seeking him out online and on television.

Even so, I'm incredibly sorry that this man who brought so much laughter into the world left it the way he did. Rest in peace, Greg Giraldo.

You will be missed.


Close Quarters by Lucy Monroe

Close Quarters

Lucy Monroe

Grade: C+

Lucy Monroe continues her string of hits and misses with Close Quarters. This one misses the mark, but only just barely. The darkness surrounding the hero's black-ops past and current assignment works well, as does much of his relationship with the heroine - his assassination target - but some of Monroe's clunky writing and a secondary relationship that tries too hard for poignant and becomes gooey in the process are problematic.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon.


September 28, 2010

Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making It Work

Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making It Work

Tim Gunn

Grade: C+

As a fan of Project Runway since its inception, I've also long enjoyed Tim Gunn's discerning eye, calming demeanor, and quick wit...who wouldn't love to spend time with a man who recently stated, "Jackie Kennedy would not have camel toe"?...

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon.


A[nother] Short Piece at the NBCC

A[nother] short piece I wrote for the National Book Critic's Circle, this one on e-book reviewing, was published today. Click here to read it.

Barnes & Noble

I just read in Publishers Weekly's daily e-newsletter that Ron Burkle has been unsuccessful in his proxy battle against Barnes and Noble's Leonard Riggio. As a result, Burkle will not have three slots on B&N's board of directors, although I am sure he will live to fight another day, in another way...after all, he does own 19% of the company. Stockholders bought into Riggio's plan to increase B&N's share of the e-book market to 25% by 2014 and embraced its growing B&N college division. What that means for B&N booksellers like me remains unknown. Anyone who's checked the online prices at B& recently and compared them against in-store prices realizes that B& is very competitive online with Amazon, but it appears that the strategy is to cannibalize its own brick and mortar stores in the process.

Just last week I priced a Dave Matthews 2-CD collection at iTunes and realized it sold for less at my local Barnes and Noble, which surprised me (again, why would a digital version for something cost more than an actual version, which includes physical CD's and a case?). Then I compared the in-store price against the online price; it was even cheaper online. To make sure it wasn't a one-time thing, I priced Ken Burn's War documentary - the in-store price is 15% higher than the online price.

Though membership benefits are not what they once were online - in order to compete with Amazon, B&N slashed its online prices, effectively eliminating the need for a membership online in terms of buying things - the relatively new policy of providing free express shipping for members can be a powerful lure. Until you realize that even non-members can get free shipping, albeit not express, on orders of $25 or higher (it's the same at Amazon).

Will brick and mortar B&N's go the way of those now-extinct Gateway stores that allowed customers to look at available models, which could then be ordered online and delivered? I think that's an eventual possibility, but a more likely one is that as the e-book market takes on even more steam, stores will close, leaving fewer physical stores for me to work at and you to shop. There are certain types of books that as yet do not translate well into electronic form - coffee table books and children's illustrated books (children's books in general...who would trust a small child with an electronic device that costs $150?), for instance - and the selling of educational toys and Nook and Nook accessories will help counter the loss of print book sales, but within a few years, it's quite likely many of us who work as booksellers will need to find some other way to pay the bills.


September 27, 2010

Reckless by Anne Stuart


Anne Stuart

Grade: B

I liked Anne Stuart's Reckless perhaps more than I ought to have, given that the hero's ruthless rakishness desn't completely pass the smell test, but the heroine's inner core of strength, which increases as the book progresses, more than makes up for it. Stuart includes, as she is wont to do, a secondary romance in this late Georgian-set historical, and it's among her best, on a par with that in 1994's To Love a Dark Lord. Stuart has seriously ratcheted up the raw sensuality of her writing in this series, and each book features successively more lovemaking. Some might find this gratuitous - for me the term is "delicious."

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon. It is not a Vine review; I received a digital copy from the publisher.


Tracker's Sin by Sarah McCarty

Tracker's Sin

Sarah McCarty

Grade: B/B- (and aren't I glad I am no longer required to get more specific!)

Tracker's Sin, book four in Sarah McCarty's Hell's Eight series, worked for me better than books two and three (Sam's Creed and Tucker's Claim). Sam's Creed was more than a little purple prosey, particularly in terms of a rather outlandish love scene on horseback, and I had problems understanding the heroine in Tucker's Claim. This fall's outing is a more worthy follow-up to Caine's Reckoning, book one in McCarthy’s frontier historical series for Harlequin's Spice imprint. Given that it also resolves a major plot-line running through the earlier books - which I grant needed to be done - I wonder how McCarty will avoid jumping the shark with book five, which I imagine will detail the life of Tracker's twin, he will fall in love, and whether or not he'll make use of the same sort of cream Caine's wife Desi oh-so-helpfully, and more than a little creepily, provides to sister Ari on her on her wedding night.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon. It is not a Vine review; I received a digital copy from the publisher.


September 26, 2010

Gay Marriage

It may be hard to believe, but sometimes I actually get fired up about something as a result of watching a show like The Real Housewives...

I turned on Thursday's episode of the D.C. series earlier this evening and watched Stacie and her husband struggle with the idea that gay people should have the right to marry because their religion teaches them that marriage is between a man and a woman. When the gay marriage issue became a big deal as a result of the California proposition, I asked my husband what he thought of gay marriage. He answered that he had no problem with civil unions, but that marriage should be unique to a man and a woman. I don't recall that he had a particularly stellar argument to back up his belief, but he's entitled to his opinions.

I have no problem whatsoever with gay people marrying like straight people do. Two consenting adults should be allowed to marry if that is what they so desire. What interests me is the vehemence against this simple, straightforward, democratic concept. My question to those who decry the concept of gays marrying is this: "How does the marriage of two men or two women hurt you?" Since, obviously, it doesn't do anything real other than perhaps offending sensibilities, why does it matter so very, very much?

We don't live in a theocracy; I'm allowed to be a Jew just as my neighbor is allowed to be a Christian, so why should somebody's religious beliefs effect somebody else's rights and liberties? If you believe a marriage should only be between a man and a woman, that's fine, but why should your beliefs take precedence over other people's beliefs if laws are not being broken, nobody is being hurt, and there is consent? If two adult men want to marry, why is it anyone else's concern? Mind your own business, I say. Or, if you must, turn the other cheek.

This is no slippery slope; two men or two women who agree as adults to enter into marriage does not mean that next year it'll be chill for the guy at the CVS to marry a goat...or a minor. Marriage isn't doing so great as an institution these days with only straight people allowed to partake that somehow gay people will "ruin" it. It's not as though we force divorced people who have broken God's Holy Sacrament to wear scarlet embroidered "D's" on their clothing, nor do we force childless couples to break up because they're not pro-creating.

Just because something is a tradition doesn't make it right. Separate but equal never works, and there's always discrimination behind it.



We just came home from Parents Weekend at Hendrix. It didn't go quite as planned, but I did have a great and intimate text conversation (apparently such a thing is possible) with Rachael while we were on the road back. Sometimes it's easier for her to talk to me via text than in person. So I take what I can get. She looks great, the young man she's dating is a nice guy - with some very gentlemanly attributes that only a parent of this particular child would notice - and she's making some (not all) smart choices when it comes to setting priorities. So I can't really complain.

I read three books on my Kindle while on the road and late at night and plan to review them within a few days. I have no PW reviews hanging on at the moment - I turned my last one in way early (the due date for it was to have been tomorrow) - so I can focus on reviewing the Anne Stuart, Tim Gunn, and Lucy Monroe books, and hopefully start on some other downloads before books from one or both of my PW editors arrive.

I tweeted today that I plan to "go underground" other than reviewing and blogging because the self-indulgence level has gone off the charts. There's another reason for it: I'm so frustrated right now about the state of our nation that I need to pull back. No more tweeting newspaper article links...or sharing Bill Maher quotes. While we were on the road on the way to Hendrix on Thursday, we vowed to stay away from talk of the news or politics and neither of us were able to do so. Then, on Friday night while we watched Bill Maher, I almost could not control myself whenever Amy Homes or that charlatan Andrew Breitbart opened their mouths. It was after Maher finished his New Rules segment that I realized I need to go on a news ban. Since much of my twitter feed is consumed with the news - and since the rest has gotten too "it's all about me" - it was pretty much a no-brainer.

Will I blog about anything other than books? Who knows? But since the average number of daily readers here on Toe in the Water is fewer than 25, I'm fairly certain those who tune in here are okay with whatever I share.

I'll leave with this small B&N tidbit: We visited the B&N-owned bookstore at Hendrix and learned that no more than 25% of the textbooks used by Hendrix students are available on Nook and that there are additional constraints to textbooks and e-book readers (laptops and printers and timing issues all play a part), leading me to conclude that while the eventual future of college reading will be electronically based, it's not quite ready for prime time just yet.

And, for those of you who haven't seen them on Twitter or Facebook, here are some photos I took with my phone at Hendrix. My DH took some excellent ones with a "real" camera, but for now these will do:

This chandelier in the student center was created by a glass artist who graduated Hendrix in 1988

Some on-campus apartments

I call this the "birthday fountain" because students are dumped there by their friends on their birthdays. They do the dumping based on the time each student came into this world; poor Rachael will be dumped in the middle of winter in the middle of the night

One of the main walkways on campus

Just one of many "thoughtful" spots on campus...this one particularly lovely

"The Pit," where the entire student body hangs out for college-sponsored events, like this month's Foam Party

The library (I didn't go close up on most shots because I wanted to include the surroundings, like the myriad of trees and shrubs that give this campus a very natural vibe

Student Life & Activity Center, which is where we started. In addition to the great art glass, the building is very tech-oriented, featuring many comfort-filled work/play stations utilizing large computer/TV screens with Internet hook-up and access to software programs. You can watch a football game, play Wii, or work on a presentation with classmates. I wish my den had a set up like this!


September 21, 2010

Shine On

Question: What separates us from every other member of NATO besides Turkey? If you can't figure it out, try to answer this one: What do the Israelis, Germans, Russians, and members of the armed forces in the UK have in common?

Answer: Why, those pussies allow openly gay people to protect their countries through military service.

Today the Republicans managed, because we now apparently live in a nation for which 60 (rather than 51) of 100 constitutes a majority in the Senate, to table a vote on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The final vote was 56-43. According to the Los Angeles Times, blocking the bill also blocks passage of the "Dream Act," a route to citizenship for illegals who nonetheless protected our country by serving in the armed forces.

Yet another shining moment in U.S. history.


September 16, 2010

ZeroWater Filtration System

ZeroWater ZD-013 Filtration Pitcher with Electronic Tester, Filter Included

Grade: C

Amazon Vine just posted my review of this water filtration system. It begins...

The good news about the ZeroWater filtration system is that it provides peace of mind knowing that the water you're drinking is super clean. Our tap water measured 144 ppm dissolved solids. The bottled water we buy at the grocery store from Arrowhead in 2.5 gallon containers measured 35 ppm. The water filtered using ZeroWater measured not quite zero the first time, but subsequently the electronic tester did show "000". More good news? The pitcher fit in our refrigerator just fine and the nifty press-button dispenser at the bottom of the pitcher worked as advertised. On the other hand...

Click here to read the rest of my review for Amazon


September 14, 2010

The Chairman of the Board

Earlier this month I participated in the Fifteen Albums Meme, which asked that users name 15 memorable albums without giving it a whole lot of thought. Like you, I had a very tough time naming only fifteen, and as soon as I'd posted my list and asked friends for theirs, wanted to make some changes. I plan to return in awhile and put together a better list, but first...

In consideration of things musical, I recently watched VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. During the five hours of programming, I often agreed with which artists made the list, although I also often wondered at the rankings. But as the hours wound down, and this artist or that didn't make the list - the omission of Paul Simon, left me dumbfounded, and I found it hard to imagine such a list without CCR, No Doubt, and James Taylor - I started to squirm.

By the time there were only five slots left and I did the math in my head, I realized one man would be snubbed, and wondered how in the world that man, who defined "cool" for two decades, the man for whom every artist who has since donned a fedora owes his existence and very likely his credibility - from Run DMC, Jay Z, Steven Tyler, Justin Timberlake, and Michael Jackson (all of whom made the list, btw), to Dave Navarro, Kid Rock, and Neyo (who didn't) - was overlooked. I'm speaking, of course, about Frank Sinatra.

Yes, he criticized rock 'n' roll (maybe that's why VH1 left him out), and his later covers of some pop music was most definitely not among his best, but by then he was, comparably, like "fat Elvis." Frank in his prime was a like a modern rock god. Girls fainted when they saw him the way they did when the Beatles came to town. John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Alicia Keys all consider Sinatra iconic, but U2's Bono, once quoted as saying Sinatra "invented pop music," makes the credible link, surprisingly, not just from pop, but to rock: "Frank Sinatra didn't care much for rock music. The feeling is not mutual. Rock 'n' roll people love Frank because Frank has got what we want: swagger and attitude."

If Bono is correct, then we also have Sinatra to thank for Mick Jagger and Billie Joe Armstrong, another two of my favorite artists who made the VH1 list.

Personally I like Frank's up-tempo songs more than his ballads because he was a wonderful jazz singer, but if you've overlooked the Chairman of the Board in the past, go check him out. His songbook is immense, and as iTunes has only fifty of his songs, you may need to look elsewhere. As a fan of musical comedy, I would be remiss not to mention how terrific his performances are in many a movie, yet mentioning my favorites in this particular blogging doesn't advance my argument today...but it was a different time.


September 12, 2010


When the "WTC Mosque" protests began, my thoroughly American side came out. First Amendment freedom of religion? Natch. Melting pot? Sure...give me your huddled masses. And when the "let's burn the Quran" crowd came out, I was disgusted, although for once glad it wasn't a Texan making news for intolerance.

Throughout America's history, we've had this push-me/pull-you attitude toward religion and diversity. All of us learn in elementary school that those who settled the U.S. did so partly to escape religious persecution. But it didn't take long for certain Christian sects to be persecuted. The Puritans, after all, for anyone who's ever read The Scarlet Letter, weren't known for tolerance, and visitors to Williamsburg are told that church attendance was mandatory during the colonial period.

Being a Jew in the U.S. today, while certainly better than in the past, remains a difficult proposition. Ours is the only religious country among educated, wealthy nations. All around me I hear about Christianity Under Attack, the War on Christmas, and that the Founding Fathers were misunderstood. Earlier this year the Texas Board of Education grudgingly decided to add Thomas Jefferson back into its list of important thinkers after first removing him for not being sufficiently Christian - that whole separation of church and state thing.

That's the one side of it. The other is that everyone assumes if you are Jewish, you must be pro-Israel...if you are Jewish, you used Blacks "like stepstools to zoom up throughout American society" and "exploited the black civil rights movement" for your own benefit. I can't tell you how embarrassed I was when Jewish Bubbies and Zadies in Florida were shown to be as bigoted as any Texas redneck during the 2008 presidential campaign. I cringe whenever I remember this one old woman who thought Michelle Obama had a horse face and an old coot obsessed over the size of Michelle Obama's backside because, you know, All Blacks Have Junk in Their Trunks.

Let's go back to the pro-Israel assumption. It is quite possible to be Jewish while at the same time not agreeing with Israeli policy regarding settlements and the larger Palestinian question. On the other hand, it's hard to forget the Arab armies that tried to invade Israel upon its creation, during the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars, all wars of aggression against Israel simply for existing.

Which brings up Arabs and Islam, and Islam and the Jews. It's true that Mohammed, who initially didn't focus negatively on the Jews, eventually changed his mind when the local tribes didn't convert to Islam, resulting in the slaughter of three Jewish tribes. But he wasn't particularly thrilled with proselytizing Christians either. In fact, it could be said that the current anti-semitism among Arabs actually grew out of proselytizing Christians, but not those of the 7th century. Instead, Europeans who came to the Middle East in the 19th Century brought their own, home-grown anti-semitism with them.

All of which is an interesting historical tidbit, but not my point...sorry. The fact of the matter is that among Muslims in the Middle East, anti-semitism is de rigueur. So how do I mentally compute my American need for acceptance of Islam when as a Jew I am fearful of the growing anti-semitism throughout the world today?

When I was in high school, I went to Israel on vacation, and one day went sight-seeing with a wonderful old man whose grown son worked for my father in the U.S. The man had survived the Holocaust and now owned orange orchards in Israel. He was a lovely old man, and his son, raised in Israel but educated in the U.S. where he still lives, is the biggest mensch I've ever known. He handles my mom's finances and is a genuinely kind, gentle, and nice man who actually finished first.

He came to visit my mom when I was in California in July, and he spoke about a cruise from which he and his family had just returned. Their very small ship had docked in Turkey and Spain, among other ports, and while he loved Turkey, he was very concerned about what he viewed as growing Islamist influence. Then he went on, shocking me as he spoke about the "loss" of Europe to Islam and his concern about the rise of Islam in the U.S.

Jews are known as being Deep Thinkers. We may have big noses and bad hair, but along with the pretty eyes come some great intellects. Me, though...all I get when I try and resolve these conflicting thoughts is a headache.


September 9, 2010

If a Nut Falls in the Forest, Ignore It

I just received a CNN Breaking News update indicating that Terry Jones has cancelled his Quran burning event scheduled for the weekend. This comes on the heels of another pastor, this one from Tennessee, indicating he would be holding his own Quran burning event. From what I gather, Jones has a following of about 50 people, begging the question that other people have stated better than I ever could: Why do the plans of some random nut constitute news?

I have 400 twitter followers...should I release a notice to the press that I plan to proclaim myself Queen of the World over the weekend? Would CNN and the NY Times come to my house and set up a round-the-clock vigil as I name my court and start handing down edicts? Actually, that sounds kind of fun, but you see my point.

Gail Collins argues persuasively in her editorial for today's Times that we give far too much power to the approximately 5% among us who are off their rockers. Why should our soldiers overseas be in even more danger than they already are as a result of Jones' ridiculous notions? Let him have a YouTube tirade, but here's an idea...when crazy people make crazy pronouncements, don't report them as news.

If you walk down a main street in most large cities, you're likely to see some crazy person trying to convince people of the end of the world. Do you stop and listen to his apocalyptic ramblings, or do you turn the other way - or perhaps cross the street altogether - to avoid him? Why do we treat people like Jones any differently? Before the advent of the Internet, before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, we didn't.

I wish we had Speaker's Corners in the U.S., or virtual ones, which would allow the crazies to make their crazy pronouncements while the rest of us went on with our lives.

An Anti-Fan?

I think, but can't be sure, that an anti-fan is determined to screw me over on Amazon (click here for my profile page). Yesterday I received five "unhelpful" votes out of five votes in total, and what really makes me believe I'm actually not paranoid is this: My review of Alison Kent's upcoming release (in other words, the book is not yet available for sale) for the new True Vows imprint of reality-based romances is one of two four-star reviews at Amazon. The other has one of one helpful votes. Mine has just one helpful vote...of four.

Here's another tip-off. There are 13 reviews of a razor I reviewed last week. Nine of them have no votes at all. Mine received the most "unhelpful" votes...three of the four votes. And each day more negative votes appear on reviews that were for a reasonable amount of time quite positively received.

A couple of online friends - and my husband - suggested contacting Amazon to register a complaint. My view is that this happens to lots of people who post reviews, and that to do so would be petty. That's the same reason I've had for not asking people I know to actually read through my reviews and vote "helpful" when it fits the bill. It seems a petty thing to do, and not all that different than an anti-fan hitting the "unhelpful" button on various computers throughout the day. But my number of negative votes has increased so much in the past two weeks - since mentioning it here on the blog and tweeting about it - that for the first time in about a year, my percentage of positive votes has actually gone down a point.

I realize nobody reads this blog...well, maybe 20 or so of you do on a daily basis. So people are not clamoring to hear Laurie's Views. That's is why I've felt that asking people to check out the reviews - which I already tweet about when they go online, btw - is small and that it might be more reasonable for me to simply stop doing the Amazon reviews and quit the Vine program. If indeed I actually have an anti-fan and it's not just that all of my recent reviews suck dirt, this does indeed give them a "win," but perhaps, as I've mentioned to those online friends, my conversational style of reviewing truly isn't helpful on Amazon.

But now it's time to get ready for Rosh Hashanah and put petty thoughts aside.


September 8, 2010

Therapy instead?

Yesterday I reviewed a book for PW featuring a heroine who was both a Poor Little Rich Girl and an Ugly Duckling. I've not been a fan of this combination since attempting to read Judith McNaught's Paradise years ago. Either one of these premises alone may or may not work, but as far as contemporaries go, the combination adds up to something reeking of whatever is the opposite of a "modern sensibility."

I've got less of an issue with the Ugly Duckling premise, which I imagine works for any woman who isn't drop-dead gorgeous, but in general the Poor Little Rich Girl is only palatable for me in historicals, where "old-fashioned-ness" can be kind of the point...and a good half of heroines are wealthy and titled. (I guess you could contrast Paradise with A Kingdom of Dreams, my favorite McNaught book, and right at the top of my list of favorite Medievals.) But back to the Poor Little Rich Girl. It's one thing for a heroine to feel like a ghost in the world if she was raised by parents who ignored her - which can happen at any income level - but by the time you pile money on top of that, too often you end up with a heroine who needs therapy more than she needs a man.

I'd be interested in your least favorite premises...or least favorite combinations.


September 6, 2010

Smart Shopping

The other day I tweeted about a recent Bath and Body Works purchase that saved me beaucoup money. For years now I've used one of the "classics" that now can only be bought online or in B&BW outlets. As the only Texas outlet is five hours away, I wait until B&BW online has a sale, and order in bulk. But because I order in bulk, unless I can reduce shipping costs, I don't bother. Last week I was able to buy each $9.50 bottle of shower gel for $6.00, and after finding and using a $10 off coupon somewhere online and getting free shipping, I paid $54 for ten bottles, tax included, and shipping eliminated. Had I flat out bought ten bottles, I would have spent more than $110. As you may surmise, I was pretty impressed with myself.

I've become an coupon - online and otherwise - fiend in recent months. Last month when it came time to buy Rachael her College Wardrobe, she decided she wanted to shop at Old Navy. We have a Gap card, which means shopping at Old Navy on a Tuesday results in a 10% discount, excluding coupons. Online coupons I located provided $10 off of $50 worth of purchases and $5 off of $25 worth of purchases. The sales clerk was willing to take her time with me, allowing me to use to two each of the coupons as well as the card discount, and as a result, we'd saved $100 via five separate purchases.

Before Groupon came to Dallas, I heard about it somewhere, and both my husband and I signed up well before it kicked off locally. Both of us have bought some great stuff through it, although paying attention to expiration dates is key.

I have a bit of my dad and my mom in me when it comes to spending money; it's a constant push me/pull you. Both grew up in poverty during the Depression, but his philosophy was "you can't take it with you" while my mom's has always been to save as much as possible. It can be hilarious given her wealth to take her to one of the local dollar stores to buy water bottles and another to buy batteries, but after this afternoon's experience, I'm hardly one to talk.

I've written before about my sensitive skin, and how, after finding perfect skin care regimens, the companies either go out of business or change formulations. I don't have acne - never have - but most of what is sold for women in their 40s is too creamy and rich for me. Recently I bought a Proactiv kit at a kiosk in a local mall, and discovered that the new formulations are gentle enough for my skin, and actually get rid of the blackheads on my nose and the deep-under-skin congestion I get on my temples. But I'm not using all the products at the same rate, and decided to see where I could buy additional cleanser and toner the cheapest. Using the Kiosk for convenience and speed comes at too high a price. It took me almost two hours to get the best deal today, and had I not engaged in an online chat, I'd have missed it altogether.

You can buy lots of Proactiv at Amazon, via different sources, but many sources are selling the old formulation, and I could get what I wanted, with free shipping, but without a guarantee (using the photos accompanying each item) that I'd be getting the newer formulation. Scratch Amazon.

With eBay it was much the same. So...on to QVC, where the prices were good. I thought I'd found an online coupon that would give me free shipping - one of those where you click the coupon and it actually opens the store's site, and it's not until check-out that you see the discount - but I was mistaken. No free shipping today for what I was buying, so by the time I realized I'd not only be paying tax but shipping as well, I decided I could do better elsewhere.

Next it was the actual Proactiv website, which I'd briefly visited yesterday, only to dismiss it as an option because I thought I'd be able to do was buy one of two kits being sold, neither of which interested me because I needed to pick and choose from among products. I returned today for further investigation and discovered I could do an online chat, during which I learned I could buy individual items, greatly discounted, btw, but only if I bought a kit first and became a member. As she and I chatted, I opened a new browser window to look up shipping and tax in their FAQ, saw there would be no tax added on, and shipping far more reasonable than QVC's. Yes, I'd have to buy a basic kit, but given the almost sample sizes, decided it would be perfect for that one-quart airline baggie allowed in airplane carry-on luggage. Five minutes later, after buying the smallest kit, I went back to the Proactiv website, where I accessed the catalog and bought the two items I wanted, which will last for two months, for a grand total of $30.89 (shipping included) versus $41.94 at QVC (which includes shipping but not the sales tax I'd be charged).

Once my first order actually ships - in a day or so - I'll be able to go into my Proactiv account and cancel the future automatic shipments so that I can continue to order piecemeal what I need. In the olden days - BSP (before smart phones) - that would have been a hassle, but with my phone's calendar (which syncs with Google calendar since I use a Droid), if I'm unable to cancel all future shipments, I can schedule cancellations easily and timely.

Now it's time to print out some Ulta coupons so I can buy some new nail polish. The Opi I bought years ago still does its job, but I'm running out.


September 5, 2010

Blogging Barnes and Noble

While the summer started out gangbusters at the bookstore, those of us who work part shifts got fewer and fewer hours as the heat poured on. By the time I left on my vacation as July turned into August, I was working perhaps one evening a week, and for the two weeks after my return (before taking Rachael to college), I had no hours at all. Which means that when I came in to work, it was strictly cashiering, with the occasional stint in Kids. And never any Nook time.

Most of you who have visited a B&N over the past several months know that each store features, prominently, a Nook area, and additional staff were hired to man these sections. In our store, a full-time position was added, at 40 hours a week, and when Jeff wasn't there, other staff took up the slack with official Nook hours. I was not among them, and other than watching a Nook video or two when they were first introduced, and playing with one occasionally during breaks, I remained a Nook virgin. Last week, though, I asked for some training so I wouldn't stand around like a boob when somebody asked me about the device.

In the last few weeks several employees moved on, so hours are on the increase - at least temporarily, although I hope permanently (I'd prefer TPTB utilize part-time staff more rather than hiring on tons of new full-timers, but nobody's asked me). On Friday night, before I left the store close at midnight, I asked to check one out, and yesterday morning I learned the basics of Nook. Good thing too, because when I went into work in the afternoon, I was assigned an hour of Nook duty. Had I not set about learning it earlier in the day, I'd have been screwed.

I showed several customers the ins and outs during my hour, and sold a husband and wife one shortly after my shift ended last evening. It was a tremendous rush, and my knowledge of the Kindle helped tremendously in doing comparisons, but the last several shifts have all been a rush in that the store has been slammed by customers. Hooray!!! I'd been doing terrifically well selling memberships - and while in some ways I hate that we've added educational toys to our inventory (I came to sell books, not toys, after all, or electronics for that matter), it's hard to argue with $50 toys and $200 Nooks - but yesterday was a great hand-selling day. I sold seven books while at cash-wrap as add-ons, and talked up Clockwork Angel to other customers. Here is what I sold:

  • Two copies of Soulless
  • One copy of Blameless
  • One copy of Any Given Doomsday
  • Two Beverly Jenkins books
  • One copy of Naked in Death (to a reader who'd picked up Salvation in Death in Bargain although she'd never read the earlier books in the series...we put the bargain book away and I asked that a copy of Naked be brought up instead)

So far thirteen copies of Changeless have walked out the door as well - 35 remain left to sell. I've not yet had time to read the book, and part of the reason why I've not made time is that I know


the hero and heroine don't get back together until the end of the book. I assume Carrington did that to stretch out the action into additional installments of the series, and while I love the entirety of the world the author created, I can't help but long for more h/h face time. Even though the parts I've read are hilarious, I need to settle down and deal with my disappointment before actually reading Changeless.

I work a very abbreviated shift tonight and then during Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons this week. I'll be bringing my loaner Nook back when I head in this evening and now that I've got a real sale under my belt - and boy, did I work for it! - I'm confident about future Nook duty.


September 2, 2010

McKettricks of Texas: Austin by Linda Lael Miller

McKettricks of Texas: Austin

Linda Lael Miller

Grade: C

Contemporary Romance

Amazon Vine just posted my review of this book. It begins...

Linda Lael Miller's been writing for a very long time, and while for me she's had more misses than hits, since she started writing Frontier Romances - both historical and contemporary - she's experienced a goodly amount of commercial success. When Amazon Vine offered McKettricks of Texas: Austin, the third in a contemporary series for HQN and part of a larger McKettrick series begun in 2002 when she was published by Pocket, I requested a copy for review. My reaction is mixed. I liked the second-chance-at-love romance between Austin McKettrick and Paige Remington, but found the set up for the series-within-a-series - three brothers falling in love with and marrying three sisters - entirely too precious. Add to the "too precious" quotient that they all live in the same large ranch house, and the enjoyable romance cancels out.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon.


Schick Hydro 5 Blade Razor

Schick Hydro 5 Blade Razor

Grade: C+

Amazon Vine just posted my review of this razor. It begins...

When Amazon Vine offered up the Schick Hydro 5 Blade Razor for review, I clicked the "send" button as fast as I could. My husband already uses Gillette's 5 blade Razor and though I am a woman (one who has long used the Gillette Venus 3 Blade Razor), I find that sometimes I prefer a man's razor on my legs, which I need to shave just about daily. Gillette does sell its own 5 blade razor for women, but given the relatively poor reviews I read for it (rated 3.3 of 5 stars for 33 reviews on the Gillette site itself), I don't think I'll be checking out the Venus Embrace anytime soon.

Click here to read the rest of my review for Amazon


September 1, 2010


I went to my local mall today to take a look at some great leather bags Fossil sells for men. My husband has a variety of briefcases, but after watching him tote around his backpack for the past couple of months as he prepared for trial, I decided he deserved something nicer. And since he won his case, I bumped up my schedule.

These Fossil bags are vintage-y looking, and there was one messenger bag in particular that I've had my eye on for a couple of months now. By today I'd saved enough - including a paycheck on the way from PW - to actually buy one, although it wasn't the one I thought I'd buy. As I pulled into the parking lot this afternoon outside Nordstrom, it surprised me to see it so full. Then, while walking past the Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo on my way to the Fossil store, it struck me how out-of-whack I find this whole is-it-a-recession-or-isn't-it? People spending $600 for a 3G iPad, $700 on a pair of pumps, a thousand dollars on a handbag, and I'm stressing out about my comparatively inexpensive purchase so much that it took me two months to work up to it.

After buying the Dayton Messenger Bag and taking it to my husband's office to surprise him, I realized I'd gotten an email from Austin Art Glass, the gallery where last winter we bought three gorgeous pieces we hung in our dining room. Being incredibly stoopid at times, I'd managed to break one last week, and immediately called the gallery about getting a replacement. (When we bought the pieces, Aaron Glass, the artist/gallery owner, told me if we ever broke one, they'd replace it.) I was stunned - and not in a good way - to learn that the gallery may be forced to close because business is so terrible.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am an art glass fiend. My husband and I had to actually put ourselves on a glass ban several years ago, only broken when I discovered Austin Art Glass in February. The pieces we bought are gorgeous, and incredibly affordable, and to think that the gallery may close had me asking myself...why in the hell are people running around spending so much money on brand name luxury items instead of buying amazing artisanal creations that bring true beauty into the world?

After I'd spoken to Aaron's wife last week, I emailed a jpg of our small installation, indicating which of the three pieces we'd like to replace (it's the beautiful teal one). Today's email from the gallery included a photo of an entirely new installation, with two pieces similar in color and shape to the ones I didn't break, along with a third piece to make up for the broken one. And the price tag attached to all three nearly broke my heart...they were willing to practically give it away.

I wrote back and said I thought they'd misunderstood my e-mail...I only needed one piece, not three, and would never want to take advantage of them, but if they were willing to do three for the price suggested, could they switch out the other two so we'd end up with five distinct in color and shape pieces? And, if they'd misunderstood and thought I'd broken all of them and we wanted replacements for each of the three - hence the great price - what price would they charge for replacing one and selling us two more?

A few minutes ago Aaron Gross wrote back and said they'd be glad to stick to the original price quote because they appreciated our support. He'll send us additional photos soon so we can choose.

If you live in Central Texas, drive into Austin and on SoCo (1608 South Congress, to be exact), visit Aaron Glass at Austin Art Glass. Or take a look at the online art gallery and give him a call. I'd suggest you "shop" via the Etsy store they've set up, but they haven't actually "stocked" it yet. He's incredibly talented, and if you have Dale Chihuly tastes and a regular person's budget, you can't go wrong. Let's see if we can't support his fantastic gallery.