Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Here I Go Again" (a novel) by Jen Lancaster

   I love, Love, LOVE Jen Lancaster! If I didn't already have the most fabulous bestie in the world (my Sparkle Sara, who turned me on to Jen's books in the first place), I would definitely be calling, emailing, Facebooking and otherwise cyber-stalking (except texting, I don't text, or tweet for that matter, I'm way too wordy for both of those) Jen to see if she had a bestie opening. I should be a shoo-in too because I've read all her memoirs -- "Bitter Is the New Black," Bright Lights, Big Ass," "Such a Pretty Fat," "Pretty in Plaid," "My Fair Lazy," and "Jeneration X" -- and love, love, loved them all! (Sorry to be so mushy gushy but trust me, one "love" just wouldn't be enough!) I even read her first go at a novel, "If You Were Here," and really liked it. (See, I can temper the love thang when it's called for.) Her Facebook page is one of my very few "likes" -- I will not be a slut with my "likes" just to get free stuff -- and I regularly check in with her website to see what craziness is going on with her, husband Fletch, and the ever-growing menagerie of dogs and cats that roam her home.
   And now here I go again, love, love, loving her newest novel "Here I Go Again" -- totes! (A word from the book that I finally figured out means "totally" and then proceeded to use liberally. Another thing I love about her books, plenty of free Jen-isms to spice up my vernacular!) If you are looking for a hootie summer read that is the perfect cocktail of wit, sass, and snarky, this is IT.
   Think back to high school and that one popular bitch-chick that you sort of hated because she had it all -- maybe a hot pink Beemer convertible, the head cheerleader spot and Prom Queen crown, fabulous hair and clothes that every other girl imitates, wanna-be boyfriends out the ying-yang, and a posse of devotees that hang on every malicious word and put-down she says -- and yet you sort of wanted to be her. This is Lissy Ryder, the star of Lyons Township High School Class of 1992 and this novel. Believe it or not, her life got even better after high school: a high-paying PR job, a great husband and condo, swanky clothes and club memberships. Then she lost it ALL. Facing her twenty-year high school reunion while living back with her parents, she figures she can get her life back on track by finagling new PR work from former classmates that have gone on to successful careers. She figured wrong. At the reunion, everyone hates Lissy and reminds her how she made their lives miserable. Even her bestie abandons her. All she's left with is a hippy-dippy former classmate offering hope in the form of a new-age elixor that will give her a sense of clarity, purpose, and inner peace. When Lissy isn't convinced the magic potion will cure the bitch of a sitch (another Jen-ism I'm stealing) she is in, her friend assures her it will also fix her hangover and complexion.  Of course then Lissy is onboard and down the hatch it goes.
   So begins Lissy's karmic adventure to fix her past in order to fix her present, while trying to fix her parents and friends along the way. While trying not to be a spoiler, I will mention there is some time travel involved in case you have issues with that sort of thing. I normally would. In this context, though, the method seems perfectly plausible; there's no McFly DeLorean in sight. And the hilarious romp that ensues from the time travel is totes worth suspending a bit of disbelief. Besides some of my fave fun parts -- Lissy's Southern Mamma (I can hear my Southern kin in everything she says!); the nostalgia of all the song lyrics and TV show references (however I do take offense at Jen's mention that "Mayim Bialik does not grow up to be cute. Like, at all." I adore Mayim as Amy Farrah Fowler on "Big Bang Theory," so please, do not diss the AFF!); the crazy auto-correct texting faux pas of Debbie turned Deva; and the didn't-see-that-coming ending -- "Here I Go Again" also has deeper undertones of what it means to be a friend, figuring out what you truly want versus what you "should" want, and the value of appreciating what you have before it's gone.
   From the daisy book liner that mimics Lissy's teenage bedroom wallpaper to the last lines -- "Whoa. Karma really is a bitch." -- this novel is a surprise-tinkle-from-laughing-too-hard page-turner that's better than a cold glass of Chardonnay on a hot summer night! Now if only my copy of her next book -- "The TAO of MARTHA (My Year of Living or Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog)" -- would come, I could keep right on laughing. Surprise tinkles be damned!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Love for No Reason: 7 Steps to Creating a Life of Unconditional Love" by Marci Shimoff

   Love. I'm not very good at it, never have been, even after having two husbands, several boyfriends, and now the best life buddy ever in DMan. Love is mushy, and I hate mushy stuff. I've never gotten the hang of balancing the give and take in relationships, plus I'm prone to sinking into the black funks of depression. When I'm there, I shut everyone out, including sweet DMan, and what love I can usually muster dries up like a popcorn fart. So when I saw "Love for No Reason" by Marci Shimoff on the shelf, I figured I needed to study it and maybe I could learn to be better at love, for DMan's sake if nothing else.
   Boy, was I wrong. The book isn't a guide for how to love better in relationships at all; it's so much more. "Love for No Reason" is about infusing your entire life with love, an "inner state of love" that doesn't rely on anything outside yourself to make it happen. To get there, Ms. Shimoff and co-author Carol Kline take you through seven steps, which align with the seven chakras (or energy centers) of the body, that allow you to blast through any love barriers you have and pump up the volume of your unconditional love.
   If it sounds a little hippy dippy (as my brainiac buddy Sheldon Cooper from "Big Bang Theory" would say), it is. Now I totally believe in chakras, but reading the "Love for No Reason" themes nearly made me close the book for good as a bunch of hokum: #1 Love Is Who We Are; #2 The Purpose of Life Is to Expand in Love; and #3 The Heart Is the Portal to Love. Even after finishing the book, I'm still not sure I buy into themes 1 and 2. And theme #3? Every love song ever written says love comes from the heart, so why does that have to be a theme? Then the people interviewed for the book are called "Love Luminaries"    -- gag me with an over-the-top spoon. But I read on through the hippy dippy and gag reflexes and I'm glad I did. There is beaucoup good information throughout the book, based on scientific research too, about how bringing more unconditional love into your life can help you live healthier and longer, enjoy life more, be more fun to be around, and even make the world a better place. And the action steps to get there aren't complicated or costly. The authors lay out simple changes anyone can make to boost their love for no reason.
   I want to share three things (and there are many more I could share) that made an impact on me. I pray every day, and thanks to my mama who is a prayer warrior extraordinaire, I have a big list of folks with serious health problems to pray for. While I'm happy to be able to do something for these folks by praying, I often wind up feeling anxious and depressed by putting myself in their place and trying to anticipate their needs. Not any more. Now when I pray I just send out love to them, I smile while I'm doing it and even put my hands over my heart to connect with the energy flowing out, and I feel that I'm doing us both some good. The heart chakra step about "living with an open heart" reminded me to be compassionate and giving but also to give what I have and not more, that I've got to take care of myself and keep my "love tank" filled up in order to give and love unconditionally. I'm bad about giving too much and then getting grouchy about it, so I needed some reminding. Finally, the chapter on communication (throat chakra) hit home about my subconscious mind believing every word I say after the statement "I am." I know this one sounds real hippy dippy, but it's true. So now when I look in the mirror I say "I am fabulous" instead of "I am old (or wrinkled or fat or saggy)," and when I screw up at work I say "I am doing my best" instead of "I am stupid (or ignorant or such a wasteoid)." At least I'm trying to say the loving things more than I say the others.
   If you've read any of my other reviews, you know I'm a sucker for quotes. There are TONS of great quotes in this book, including one I'll share at the end. And the personal stories of the interviewees are wonderful! Two of my faves are from Melissa Etheridge, about how cancer taught her to choose love over fear, and from Johnny Barnes, who says, "The way I see it, this world was made for love. When the good Lord wakes me up mornings, puts a song in my heart, joy in my soul, and a smile on my face, I just have to give it away."
   Even if you skip over the exercises (some of which are very good) and just read the chapter summaries and stories, give it a go and I bet you'll love "Love for No Reason."

"There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer . . .
No door that enough love will not open
No gulf that enough love will not bridge,
No wall that enough love will not throw down . . .
It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble,
how great the mistake,
sufficient realization of love will resolve it all.
If only you could love enough,
you would be the happiest and most powerful being in the universe."
-- Emmet Fox, twentieth-century author and teacher