Four Paws Up for Tia Torres’ ‘My Life Among the Underdogs’

I’m amazed this book came out because Tia Torres—in the living, breathing, flesh—told me that she’s a private person and that a memoir would never happen. I’d love to post a photo of Tia and myself at her speaking event, but sadly my tech neophyte husband had some difficulties with my phone. Needless to say, I’m still a little bit of a salty dog about that. But don’t worry, Tia. One way or another, I will find you! Hmm…that sounded a little creepy, didn’t it?

Either way, I’m SO happy she finally shared her story in this slim volume chronicling all of the special dogs she loved and lost. That said, grab some tissues because every chapter ends with the inevitable conclusion we all fear in dog books. If this wasn’t penned by Miss Torres—my idol, my moral compass, my muse—I would give it a hard pass due to the pain that comes with saying goodbye. But I’m glad I stuck it through because I learned so much about Tia’s journey from wolf rescuer to Hollywood animal trainer to her own Pit Bulls and Parolees rescue/TV show. Wow—what a ride!

The best way to read this book is via audio because Tia narrates the story herself! I’ve always been curious about her family life and had a theory that her parents failed her. This seems to be the case for a lot of us dog rescue diehards—myself included—and sure enough, my theory was correct. She had her ups and downs while growing up in East LA (again, relatable) but yet, somewhere along the way she discovered her higher purpose. That, right there, is one of life’s little miracles.

Let me tell you, this woman is incredible. I’m just amazed at how someone from a hard-scrabble background could have the time, energy and resources to build the nation’s largest pit bull rescue ranch. This is an accomplishment I could only fantasize about—but she just went and did it! Not only is she rescuing thousands of dogs’ lives, she’s also rescuing the humans that society has thrown away. She is virtually lifting up, rescuing and rehabilitating traumatized—not to mention stigmatized—dogs and humans. Give this woman a Nobel Peace Prize, please.

My only disappointment is that this book didn’t delve into the parolees aspect of her story, probably because that journey needs to be told in a separate book.  I would’ve loved to have learned more about some of the longtime parolees-turned dog rescue heroes. Several of whom have gone on to live happy, successful lives after they left the ranch. I’m much more interested in dogs than humans, but let me tell you, it’s Niagra Falls when I watch the former parolees thanking Tia at their weddings. And then there’s her two twin sons whom she rescued from a terrible family situation that, of course, she didn’t delve into out of respect for their privacy. That chapter really tore me up because her love for them, and vice versa,  is truly beautiful. I’m not ashamed to say that when I talked to my therapist about this book, I cried like a little baby when I mentioned this part.

If you guys haven’t watched the show, get on your DVR and record the series right now! This book and the TV series is everything the world needs right now. It’s disheartening when I speak to seemingly educated people about pit bulls and they shock me with ridiculous statements like, “I could never trust one with my kids,” or “they are bred to fight.”

Hmph! I will not get on my soapbox and rant about the horrors of breed discrimination, but I will say that it needs to stop right now. Tia and her kids (aka “skin-babies”) are doing an amazing job debunking all of the false beliefs people hold against these “muscle dogs.” Just read the chapter about her youngest daughter taking a bubbly bath with her new best friend—a pit bull that was just pulled off the streets—and maybe your perception will change. I hope it will.

There’s a lot of great dog stories in this book—from the ill-fated J-Lo music video (LOL!) to Blue’s last final farewell at Tania’s wedding. She had me in tatters at, “Til death do us part.” As with everything in life, there’s a lot of joy and pain that comes along with dog rescue—but boy is it all worth it. As they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

On that note, I’ll just say this book gets four paws up! Watch the show, read the book, send them money and hug your dog every chance you get.

Say Yes Yes Yes to Shonda Rhimes’ ‘Year of Yes’!

25690958First off, I just want to thank my running buddy/dog video marketing pal for recommending this book. The few TV shows I tune into pre-date the Grey’s Anatomy era (can’t get enough Mulder and Scully!) so I’m not at all familiar with Ms. Rhimes’ work. Judging by the book cover, I would’ve assumed this was just another piece of gobbledygook for the self-help rack.

In a sense, this is self-help, but without the “no duh” pop psychiatry and mind-numbing filler. It all depends on how much you see yourself in this brilliant woman, and whether or not you’re brave enough to follow her lead in saying (or in my case, whimpering) yes to every personal-growth opportunity that scares you silly. Televised public speaking, anyone? Just shoot me now.

Her Year of Yes began when she overheard her disgruntled big sister mutter, “You never say yes to anything.” Until this moment, she never really reflected on the reasons why she turned down the many perks of her job. You see, this woman pretty much owns Thursday night. For my fellow retro-TV fans, I should tell you that she’s the mastermind behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Whoa!

So yeah, she’s kind of a big deal. But yet, she’s a house mouse. Red carpet events, jet-setting adventures and VIP rooms are no match for a quiet evening at home with Dr. Who and a nice glass of merlot. Being the closet introvert that I am, this totally makes sense. But, hey, you’ve got to have balance, right? Deep down, she knew something was very wrong. So when her sister muttered those six little words, she couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that she was in fact miserable.

One of the many things that I find truly remarkable about this woman is that she does not take words lightly. Every passing comment or passive-aggressive jab has meaning, but many of us just shoo them away like a pesky fruit fly. Not Shonda. She will sit back, swirl those words around in her brilliant mind and come away with a new perspective about herself and others. She would find moments of clarity in everyday moments, like when her toddler greeted her with grubby hands asking her to play. Dressed to the nines and late for a red carpet function, she was well within her rights to tell the kid to take a raincheck. But yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was missing out on something even bigger than those dazzling A-list parties. She realized right then and there that when her kids asked her to play, she would always answer with an emphatic “YES!” Why? Because soon enough they won’t want to play with their mom anymore, and well…it’s just love. Now that’s a pretty cool mom, folks.

While we’re on the topic of motherhood (a concept that’s foreign to me), I just want to commend her for keeping it real. She used a beautiful analogy that captures the plight of so many moms who are trying to keep up with the Martha Stewarts of the world. Back in the days when Whitney Houston reigned supreme, she would torture her hair for hours to get those curls that only Whitney could pull off. When she found out that her idol was in fact wearing a wig—and that Whitney was living a lie–she was devastated about the many wasted hours of trying to accomplish the impossible. It made her realize how so many women parading as “perfect moms” are just smoke and mirrors. That’s why she is adamant about telling the world that she has a nanny and that no woman should be ashamed about asking for help.  She so eloquently points out that women are not superheroes, they’re not martyrs, and they shouldn’t (this is the best part) ever say that motherhood is a job. I’m not a mother, but I am the product of a mother who treated child-rearing as job on par with cleaning toilets.

Thank you, Shonda, for pointing out that motherhood isn’t about punching in the clock and bragging about your martyrdom.

“Powerful famous women don’t say out loud that they have help at home, that they have nannies, housekeepers, chefs, assistants, stylists… They don’t say out loud that they have those people at home doing these jobs because they are ashamed. Or maybe a more precise way to say it is that these women have been shamed.”

I could go on and about the chapters in this book that sang to my soul, but this review is turning into a novella. I’ll leave you with one lasting thought that Shonda brought up in her Dartmouth commencement speech (one of her many scary “yes” challenges). There are dreamers and there are doers. Dreaming is a crock. Go get your Nike on and just do it! Sounds like another platitude, right? Not in Shondaland. She smashed every goal with a vengeance—from losing over 100 pounds, to appearing on live TV, to writing this deeply personal memoir.

“Everyone’s got some greatness in them. You do. The girl over there does. That guy on the left has some. But in order to really mine it, you have to own it. You have to grab hold of it. You have to believe it.”

It was a real adventure accompanying Shonda on her life-altering quest. I hope that one day she will live out her fantasy of making jam in Vermont and writing novels all day. When it comes to screenwriting, she has the midas touch, so I have no doubt that anything she writes will be pure gold!

Now I must be off. I’ve got a book to write! No more dreaming—just doing from here on out! Thanks, Shonda, for the kick in the pants.

Chick Lit Café’s Best Books of 2014!

Bust out the glitter and champagne—it’s time to ring in the new year and celebrate all the books that made us laugh, cry, swoon and yearn for adventure! Here are some highlights from last year’s mountainous reading list! I should note that not all of these books dropped in 2014, but they were new to me and therefore they made the list. It’s my blog, dammit, so I get to call the shots!

What were your memorable reads of 2014? Did any books in particular sing to your soul, make you want to change your life for the better, or transport you to another dimension through space and time? Post a comment and tell me all about it!

Best All-Around Book of 2014: Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline

15818107This is one of those traumatic coming-of-age stories that sucks you in and keeps you glued to the pages until the very end. The tragic characters were so real, it felt like I was right there on that train as it trudged its way to the Midwest, hungry, belittled and afraid of the unknown.  Even when I wasn’t reading, I found my mind drifting to little orphan Niahm, wondering how she was going to survive her current horrifying foster-home situation. I would also think of Molly’s unlikely friendship with a 91-year-old widow, wondering how they would eventually help each other overcome their hardships and find closure in the end. The author did a fantastic job unfolding both Molly’s and Niahm’s narratives as the chapters jumped from present day to the Great Depression. It was almost impossible setting down the book because I was dying to see their stories converge.

Memorable quote: So is it just human nature to believe that things happen for a reason – to find some shred of meaning even in the worst experiences?

 Best Wanderlust Book: Following Atticus by Tom Ryan

11100477Oh man, I don’t even know how to even begin describing how much I adore this book. I just want to climb to the top of one of Tom’s beloved mountain peaks with a bullhorn and tell the world to read Following Atticus. It’s that good, people!

This is just a beautiful story about the bond between a man and his dog, and how they both found inner peace in the enchanting New Hampshire Mountains. In defiance of what’s expected of an overweight middle-aged man and a 20-pound dog, they achieved the impossible. Not once, but twice, they conquered all 48 of the great White Mountain peaks in one winter.

I can tell you from experience that animals have a way of making us live in the present. Like standing atop a majestic mountain and looking down at nature’s splendor, seeing the world through a dog’s eyes can allow us to take in the bigger picture. All those trivial things—the office pettiness, the family melodrama, the overloaded inbox—seem so insignificant when you can truly understand the broad scheme of things. That’s why this book really hit home.

Memorable quote: In the mountains Atticus became more of what he’d always been, and I became less—less frantic, less stressed, less worried, and less harried. I felt comfortable letting him lead, and he seemed to know what I needed. He always chose the best route, if ever there was a question, and my only job was to follow.

Best Beach Read: Five Summers by Una Lamarche

16101148My happiest childhood memories took place at Camp Marston, a sleepaway camp nestled in the mountains of Julian, California. This book rekindled so many memories of the deep friendships that were forged over burnt marshmallows and capture-the-flag games. In this book, the four girls were lucky enough to stay in touch throughout the years and help each other through the trials and tribulations of young adulthood. Each girl is holding back a deep, dark secret and it all comes to a head when they reunite at their beloved Camp Nedoba. I really liked how the author used the third-person narrative to weave each of the girls’ past and present summer camp experiences in every chapter. I loved getting to know all the characters and reminiscing about my carefree summers at camp, where I only had to worry about hiding contraband candy from the counselors and getting caught on a night raid to boys hill!

Memorable quote: The way you act can sometimes be totally different from the way you actually are.

Best Inspirational Memoir: Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

13202092Confession: I bought this book for my husband without any intention of reading it myself. Just the thought of reading a memoir penned by a vegan ultra-marathoner made my eyes roll. But yet, the curiosity got the best of me when I read his inscription: “Dear Jarred, just do things.” Do things? Huh? Intrigued by this simple, yet provocative sentiment, I peeked into the first chapter and soon found myself totally enthralled by Jurek’s voyage into the unimaginable realm of ultra-marathon running. This book completely changed my perception of human limitations. At the risk of sounding trite, this incredibly gifted man shows that you can train your mind into believing –and proving—that anything’s possible. Example: the book opens with Jurek tossing his cookies on the side of the road in Death Valley with 60 more miles to go. Death freakin’ Valley! At this point any rational person would stick a fork in it and head back to the hotel. Not Scott Jurek. He not only completes the race—he wins it!  This isn’t just a book about running; it’s a story of perseverance. When the going gets tough, I’m going to keep his mantra in mind: Sometimes you just do things.

Memorable quote: I’m convinced that a lot of people run ultramarathons for the same reason they take mood-altering drugs. I don’t mean to minimize the gifts of friendship, achievement, and closeness to nature that I’ve received in my running career. But the longer and farther I ran, the more I realized that what I was often chasing was a state of mind – a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.

Honey, Do You Need a Ride?: Confessions of a Fat Runner by Jennifer Graham

13592128I’m not going to sugar coat it for you or myself. I’m fat, and I love to run. When I tell people how much—and how far—I run on a weekly basis, they look at me in disbelief. In fact, a not-so-nice douchebag uncle of mine once said: “Help me understand why you’re running so much and not losing weight.” Why a 280+ sedentary alcoholic didn’t see the irony in this statement is beyond me.

It’s true. I am a walking, talking running contradiction. I’m a size-12ish full-time runner, part-time mountain biker. My thighs cling to each other like long-lost friends reunited. My bazoombas require not one—but two—industrial strength sports bras. To steal of phrase from the author, I am a “walrus in a sea of gazelles” at a marathon expo.

So when I saw this book cover while perusing some inspirational fat-to-fit books for runners, I immediately downloaded it on my e-reader. How could I not read a book about a fellow member of my tribe? In fact, this book proved to be more inspiring than those ubiquitous “running for weight loss” titles that preach the virtues of salad greens and protein shakes.1622853_451708981624574_1813184810_n

The mark of a great memoir is feeling that you’re bonding over time with a really good friend. Jennifer Graham managed to pull this from the get-go when she described the indignities of running with “built-in arm weights” and dealing with dubious massage therapists when requesting the “runners revenge” massage. Chapter by chapter, I truly felt like I was right there beside her as she tried and failed to fight the battle of the bulge while training for races. Boy can I relate! I wanted to cheer for her from the sidelines, to hug her when her ex-husband broke her heart, to take her out for celebratory margaritas when she broke her personal record.

Bgyuw6uCEAAKXesAs with any good friend, it’s impossible to agree on everything. Shoot, my real-life BFF refuses to wear pink for Pete’s sake! So I’m not going to get down on the author too much for her strong opinions about religion and divorce. I’m not even going to hate on her for not being the monstrous ogre that she makes herself out to be in the book. We’re all going to have opposing points of view. If we didn’t, wouldn’t life be rather boring? Whether a 150ish-pound woman of average height is fat or not, who cares? She’s definitely not blessed with the prototypical ectomorph body type that we see in Runner’s World magazine, and for that which I scream: Solidarity Sista!725680-1103-0016s

I should also point out that she beautifully captures how the challenges and pitfalls of competitive running are analogous to life’s obstacles. As a runner, I know exactly how it feels to hit the dreaded “wall,” the point at mile 12 when I feel like curling up into a fetal position and admitting defeat.

To this day, I have not given in to that insatiable urge to quit. I keep running, or shall I say slogging, until I reach that blasted finish line. No matter what, I’m going to break through that wall—in running and in life. It might sound corny, or even trite, but that’s the one life lesson that running has taught me. Never give up without a fight. And if a good samaritan ever offers to give me a ride when it looks like I might pass out on the road, I’ll just dismiss them with a smile and wave. Thanks, Jennifer Graham, for reminding me of how awesome this sport is—and that I’m not the only one out there at the starting line in XL running shorts!

 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

12262741Oh boy…I really wanted to like this book. Based on all the rave reviews from my trusted book bloggers, I assumed this was going to be a real showstopper. After reading Following Atticus, I was ready for another soul-searching wilderness adventure. The themes of both books are essentially the same: Lost souls embrace the healing powers of nature while pursuing their epic quests.  Their accomplishments are indeed impressive, yet I had a hard time admiring – or even liking – the leading lady in Wild.

There’s this theory that we tend to not like things we don’t understand. I guess that’s why I was immediately turned off by Cheryl Strayed. Despite her poetic ramblings, I couldn’t understand the logic behind some of the self-serving decisions she made that ended up hurting the people she loved. I disconnected from Cheryl the moment when she drooled all over a male nurse’s bulging crotch while standing over her mother’s deathbed. Seriously? You want to jump some strange guy’s bones while your mother is taking her last dying breaths? I know the mind does some wacko things in traumatic situations, but this just seems bizarre.

Throughout the book, I waited for her to redeem herself, but she continued to dig herself deeper into the hole by making idiotic, impulsive decisions.  Why would you go on a solo trek down isolated terrain without a weapon or self-defense training? If you’re toting around a ginormous backpack that’s half your body weight, maybe you should do some rethinking. Oh and before you go on an epic journey through various ecosystems, perhaps it’s a good idea to study a map and weather conditions.

I don’t know, guys. I tried to get past my disdain for this babe in the woods, but even her poetic reflections about the simplicity of nature couldn’t save this book. The flashbacks of her life growing up in a mud-and-straw house with her hippy mother were semi interesting. But did she really need to torture her readers with the gory details about the demise of mother’s beloved horse? There were a couple of chapters about death and dying that I had to skip because the play-by-play details were just a little too much to take.

Maybe if I read this before Following Atticus, I wouldn’t be such a tough critic. Their quest was all about stepping outside mundane life and finding something bigger. Cheryl’s odyssey was all about…well Cheryl. Since this is a journey of transformation, I guess that’s okay for some readers. This reader, however, wanted something more.

On a happier note, I will say that I commend her strength and tenacity. It’s nearly impossible kicking a heroin addiction, and she did it cold turkey. That’s pretty dang impressive. Plus I admire her strong, independent spirit. It takes a lot of balls – or shall I say brass ovaries – to hike the entire PCT all alone. I couldn’t even pitch a tent in my own backyard alone without getting the heebie jeebies.

Normally I don’t write such scathing reviews, but I sincerely doubt this is going to affect book sales one bit. With the blockbuster movie coming out, I’m sure more fans will come out in droves. In fact, an author once told me that a healthy mix of one-star and all-star reviews is actually the sign of a book worth reading. Even though I would rather hike the entire PCT in my bare feet than read this book again, I highly recommend it to book clubs. Trust me, Cheryl’s antics will undoubtedly stir up a hearty debate!

Following Atticus by Tom Ryan

11100477Oh man, I don’t even know how to even begin describing how much I adore this book. I just want to climb to the top of one of Tom’s beloved mountain peaks with a bullhorn and tell the world to read Following Atticus. It’s that good, people!

This is just a beautiful story about the bond between a man and his dog, and how they both found inner peace in the enchanting New Hampshire Mountains. In defiance of what’s expected of an overweight middle-aged man and a 20-pound dog, they achieved the impossible. Not once, but twice, they conquered all 48 of the great White Mountain peaks in one winter.

I poured through this book in sheer amazement as these two adventurers hiked up and down the majestic mountains in the freezing cold—an amazing feat for even the most elite mountain climbers.  They didn’t do it for fame or to break a world record. They did it to pay tribute to fallen cancer victims, and to raise money for charity. But ultimately some higher power—some inexplicable force that only the readers can decipher for themselves—drew them into the wilds. Tom & Atticus

What I love about this story is how Tom made a complete turnaround after meeting Atticus. A busy newspaper man, he was constantly running around town to get the latest scoop. There was no time for pets, no time for exercise, no time for sitting still. He seemed happy in this lifestyle until a little mini schnauzer came into his life and changed everything.

“In the mountains Atticus became more of what he’d always been, and I became less—less frantic, less stressed, less worried, and less harried. I felt comfortable letting him lead, and he seemed to know what I needed. He always chose the best route, if ever there was a question, and my only job was to follow.”

I can tell you from experience that animals have a way of making us live in the present. Like standing atop a majestic mountain and looking down at nature’s splendor, seeing the world through a dog’s eyes can allow us to take in the bigger picture. All those trivial things—the office pettiness, the family melodrama, the overloaded inbox—seem so insignificant when you can truly understand the broad scheme of things. That’s why this book really hit home. Through Tom’s lyrical prose of the gorgeous mountain scenery, I could feel his day-to-day stress ebb away. I, too, was hit by this feeling while hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s amazing how our natural surroundings—the scent of fresh evergreens, the rhythmic trickling streams, the rustling of leaves overhead—can instantly put us at ease.

“…It was like stumbling into C.S. Lewis’s magical wardrobe and pushing through the rows of clothes, knowing that there was something thrilling beyond it all. Stepping out of the trees and onto an open ridge or peak was like exiting the back of the wardrobe and entering our own special Narnia. It was a world apart, a world that belonged only to the two of us.”

 And sometimes the stillness and solitude of nature can make us confront our own demons. Perhaps that’s why so many of us have to be constantly plugged into those little flat-screen devices. I’ll never forget the intense moment when the eerie winter woods forced Tom to face his darkest fears while hiking alone at night.

“It was eerie and sad, and I found myself falling into a deep malaise where all the warmth in the world had been drained away, and I thought, this must be what death is like—brittle, unyielding, frozen…The higher we climbed, the more ghostlike it felt and the heavier I sank into the night, spiraling deeper into memories that wouldn’t let go of me—the kind that haunt your subconscious, that surface ever so rarely in your dreams and wake you up in a sweat with a breathless gasp.”

 There’s so much more to this book than just a feel-good pet story. Tom’s incredible transformation is truly inspiring. His story makes it hard—almost impossible—to question fate and the possibility of soul mates. The next time I climb a mountain top or set foot in a state park, I’ll always remember Tom’s spiritual epiphanies. At that, I’ll leave you with one of my most favorite quotes from the book.

“Magic is where you find it; the only thing that matters is that you take the time to look for it. It can be the wonder in a little dog’s face or the memory of an old man. People continued to ask why I’d taken to hiking alone with Atticus. It was because such thoughts come to me on a climb or at the top or walking through the thick woods on the way down under a golden sun or bright stars. When there was no one to talk to, I found myself in a walking meditation. I was not a religious man, but if I were, the woods would be my church, the mountain tops my alter.”

Audiobook Pick of the Month: On Writing by Stephen King

10569From the publisher: Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, “On Writing” will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

Why I LOVED it: I’ve got a stack of writer’s reference guides on my shelf, and this one is – by far – the most inspiring. I have always admired Stephen King’s God-given talent for storytelling, but now I have a deeper appreciation for his work. This book isn’t about writing and selling books per say; it’s more about writing with joy and authenticity. This quote from the tail end of the book pretty much explains it all.

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

On Writing is also somewhat of a love story between King and his wife, Tabitha. The first half chronicles his early years as a fledgling writer, including that fateful day when he fell in love with Tabitha in a creative writing class.  He was mesmerized by her lyrical poetry and it was love at first sight. Oh swoon! Does it get any more romantic than that?!? Stephen King fans have a lot to thank Tabitha for supporting his writing even while they were on the verge of collecting food stamps. She also saved Carrie from a landmine. Who knows what would have happened if his first bestseller never came to be?  Throughout the book, he waxes poetic about his literary soul mate, and it just made me love him more and more!

This book is not, by any means, a quick writer’s reference guide, but he does throw in some of the most valuable writing tips. One crucial piece of advice: If you consider yourself a writer, you must be an avid reader. I wholeheartedly agree that those who rarely read have no business writing.

 “Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”

Also important: You must write for yourself. If you’re trying to please others – or to just make money – you should find a different path to notoriety.  

“If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.” 

And whatever you do – stay away from those darn adverbs! Adjective modifiers are for lazy writers – and Stephen King hates them with a burning passion.

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.” 

Most importantly, believe in yourself. Ignore the naysayers and keep pushing forward.

“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.” 

The narrator: Who better to narrate this book than Stephen King? While listening to this book, I closed my eyes and imagined myself sitting across from the world’s greatest horror writer and learning the ropes from the dark master himself! My only complaint is that I can’t highlight or bookmark an audiobook, so I’m going to have to buy the hard copy as well. This is definitely a book that I will revisit often.

Summed up in three words: Inspiring, authentic, fascinating.

Extra, Extra! Get Your Copy of ‘Love Saves the Day’ and Donote to Blind Cat Rescue

1175341_10152174909652538_625629755_nAttention all cat lovers! Between now and 10/27, Gwen Cooper will be donating 100 percent of her royalties on all pre-orders and sales of the paperback edition of her new novel, Love Saves the Day to Blind Cat Rescue in honor of her recently departed Homer.

If you aren’t familiar with Homer, you can read all about him in Homer’s Odyssey! I didn’t have the honor of meeting Homer, but I did get to visit with Gwen at an Austin Pets Alive fundraiser event. You can read all about it right here!

Speaking of incredibly adorable felines, my book blogger pal, at Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries and More, has just welcomed new family member/co-blogger named Truffles. Stop by her blog to welcome this adorable tortie kitty into the blogosphere. Melissa (who I swear is my doppelganger!) is an animal

Isn't Truffles a doll!

Isn’t Truffles a doll!

rescue advocate and a cozy mystery maven! I always go to her blog whenever I’m shopping around for an atmospheric whodunit.

Melissa’s beloved Tara recently crossed the rainbow bridge, and I hope more than anything that she’s chasing butterflies and rolling around in the sun with Homer and that famous little library cat named Dewey.

At that I will leave you with this poignant quote from Homer’s Odyssey,

“A friend once asked me why it was that stories about animals and their heroism…are so compelling. …we love them because they’re the closest thing we have to material evidence of an objective moral order–or, to put it another way, they’re the closest thing we have to proof of the existence of God.  They seem to prove that the things that matter to and move us the most–things like love, courage, loyalty, altruism–aren’t just ideas we made up from nothing.  To see them demonstrated in other animals proves they’re real things, that they exist in the world independently of what humans invent and tell each other in the form of myth or fable.”   ―  Gwen Cooper

Author Q&A: Alyssa Harad on “Coming to My Senses”

9780670023615_ComingtoMySenses_BOM.inddIsn’t it funny how scents  instantaneously trigger memories from long ago? Just one whiff of Lauren perfume and I’m sucked back to my mother’s bedroom, where I would stealthily sneak around for makeup and Guess jeans. Just the hint of my first boyfriend’s cheap cologne takes me back to those awkward makeout sessions with the Spice Girls singing along in the background. But of all the smells I love most, it’s that musty aroma that instantly takes over my senses when I walk into a library. God I love that smell! It takes me back to my summers in Baytown when my bookworm grandmother used to take us out for our weekly collection of Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High books. Ah the good old days!

So when I found out that Alyssa Harad, author of “Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride” was stopping by UT for a book event, I took advantage of the opportunity and talked her into doing a little video Q&A. I came across her article in Marie Clare not too long ago and was mesmerized by her evocative descriptions of scents. Although not all of us are big into perfume, I think a lot of women could relate with her story of self-transformation.

Like a splash of White Diamonds, this is some heady, powerful stuff! What’s your favorite scent, and why?

Getting through the grief process, one piece at a time

I’m new to the grieving process, and apparently it’s a mixed back of laughter, tears and numbness. My 95-year-old grandma (who I thought would live well into her hundreds!) passed away this afternoon. I knew it was coming and that I’d totally be prepared to deal, but yeah…not so much. Losing a loved one is hard – even if they’ve been on this earth for almost a century! A boatload of memories, regrets, joy and pain have all come together in a perfect storm of crazy inside my head. Luckily (or perhaps it was fate?) I met Beth Howard, bestselling author of Making Piece: a Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie, at a BookPeople event last week. This incredibly brave woman spoke candidly in front of a roomful of strangers about the death of her husband – and how she got through it with pie, good friends and a good old-fashioned American road trip.  

My grandma, Marynelle Crawford.

Even though I’m not going to see grandma’s photo on the Today Show’s Smucker’s birthday announcements, it’s comforting to know she lived a long, full life. Despite my lack of culinary skills, I’m going to bake an apple crumble pie in her honor. I always felt happy, safe and warm in her presence, which is kind of how I feel when I indulge in a gooey slice of apple crumble pie. I hope she’s sharing a slice with grandpa in heaven right at this very moment. If you want to know more about this wonderful woman, check out the obit that I wrote.

Here’s some more info about the book. Doesn’t it sound fascinating?

From Goodreads:“You will find my story is a lot like pie, a strawberry-rhubarb pie. It’s bitter. It’s messy. It’s got some sweetness, too. Sometimes the ingredients get added in the wrong order, but it has substance, it will warm your insides, and even though it isn’t perfect, it still turns out okay in the end.”

My grandma and the world’s cutest little child.

When journalist Beth M. Howard’s young husband dies suddenly, she packs up the RV he left behind and hits the American highways. At every stop along the way—whether filming a documentary or handing out free slices on the streets of Los Angeles—Beth uses pie as a way to find purpose. Howard eventually returns to her Iowa roots and creates the perfect synergy between two of America’s greatest icons—pie and the American Gothic House, the little farmhouse immortalized in Grant Wood’s famous painting, where she now lives and runs the Pitchfork Pie Stand.

Making Piece powerfully shows how one courageous woman triumphs over tragedy. This beautifully written memoir is, ultimately, about hope. It’s about the journey of healing and recovery, of facing fears, finding meaning in life again, and moving forward with purpose and, eventually, joy. It’s about the nourishment of the heart and soul that comes from the simple act of giving to others, like baking a homemade pie and sharing it with someone whose pain is even greater than your own. And it tells of the role of fate, second chances and the strength found in community