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REVIEW:  Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim

REVIEW: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim

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I’ll start the confessions by admitting that I was never a major fan of “Little House on the Prairie.” Even at age 10 I knew sappy when I saw it and not ever having read any of the “Little House” books, I wasn’t invested in the series. That being said, I did watch my fair share of episodes since in that day and age, there weren’t the 500+ channel options of today. Without the snappy book title and loads of recommendations when Jane featured this in a Daily Deals, I would probably never have heard of or chosen to read this book but having finished it, I’m glad I did.

Arngrim starts at the beginning, laying out her parents’ lives and how they got into show business then proceeds to tell about her actor brother and then herself. She’s honest, painfully so at times, funny and a great raconteur. There are hilarious details of how she wowed ‘em with her snooty script reading during her audition for the part of Nellie, the inside scoop on the custom made curls she wore for the length of her time in “Walnut Grove,” her memories of the folks behind the scenes who really ran the production – learn what liquid lubed the actors and how seriously the stock was managed – and discover her take on her fellow actors. For the size cast they had, it is amazing how well they all got along and how they still consider themselves family almost 40 years later.

But don’t think that stories of Half Pint, Pa and the others are all that’s here. Alison bares her soul and her painful family past all without sounding strident or bitter though God knows she has a right to be. Readers who have drug, alcohol, rape or incest triggers are warned that parts of Alison’s story will hit home hard. Life might have been sweetness and light before the camera but the years leading up to her time on the series were awful for her.

The lessons learned on the set to speak up, look people in the eye and get outside her shy shell served her well during her school years of dodging LA gang members on the bus and sticking up for herself at home. The hijinks she got up to with cast member and good friend Melissa Gilbert are a riot to read about as they managed to make it through their teen years together.

By the age of 20 the series was behind her and I wondered what she’d done since then. Not much acting but what contributions she’s made to the lives of others. “Little House” ended just as the AIDS scourge was beginning to be seen in the US and Alison’s on-air “husband” Steve Tracey’s battle with the disease cued her next stage in life. For the next few years, she tirelessly dedicated herself to volunteering for the cause and using her Nellie notoriety to focus attention on the needs of the dying.

What happened then? Alison used Nellie one more time to turn the spotlight onto the dark of her past and work to overturn a law that, as explained in the book, is enough to make you weep. Alison had already had years of therapy by this time but by going public – on the “f*cking Larry King show!” as her father gleefully put it – she and others took on the California legislature and won a victory for the abused.

I finished the book in awe of Alison’s courage in speaking up for causes she believes in and for her willingness to open herself and her experiences to public scrutiny in order to help others as well as herself. I also appreciated her wit and humor and her ability to tell amusing anecdotes that put you there on the set of her show – all without talking herself up or others down. But she’s still honest and funny at the same time. Good memoires are an illuminating read – not just about past events but also about the teller as well and Alison’s book is well worth seeking out and spending time with.

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

REVIEW: The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

Dear Ms. Florand:

As I started this, wondering if it would grab me as much as the previous books in the series, I came across this line: “He had to form himself back up out of a puddle behind the counter after that laugh. He hoped he was subtle about it, and she didn’t realize he had melted to the floor.” And there I was, sucked in again.

The Chocolate Touch Laura FlorandThis is the essence of romance, Florand-style. The characters are so extravagant — they have feelings, and they have them all over the place. They care about art and beauty and embody those feelings in the creation of delicious food and delicious sex. Incidentally, Dominique Richard had barely spoken to Jaime when he had that thought about her. But when she asks him two weeks later how long they’ve known each other, he says “a month” — “didn’t she realize that those two weeks she’d sat in his salon counted as knowing him?” Chocolate maker Dom fell in love with Jaime while he watched her sitting in his salon eating his creations, “as if his very existence made up her happiness, as if she could spend hours soaking him in and still want more of him.” In Florand’s Paris, this is all it takes — this is everything.

Darker in tone than the previous books — even Dom’s chocolates are called “dark and cruel” by critics — The Chocolate Touch is about two wounded people. Chocolate industry heiress Jaime’s self-worth is wrapped up in activism and helping others, and after a traumatic event she no longer feels capable of it. (Did you know the chocolate industry uses child and slave labor? Like I said, dark. And potentially life-changing, if you like chocolate. And freedom.)  Dom grew up with violence, and fears replicating it if he ever forms a real relationship. (Astonishingly, this is something he’s working on in therapy, which makes him pretty much a romance novel unicorn.) Their mutual low self-esteem makes it hard for them to understand how they’ve wound up together and what it means.

Their romance left me just a little uncertain. Is their love based on anything lasting? Are they too needy and codependent? It helps that they’re aware of this problem themselves:

He saw her sitting in his salon, the still, absorbed focus of her. She had him. He was her healing. Thinking about it that way made him a little uneasy. He could feed her senses and her body, he could warm her, he could let her soak up everything she wanted from him. But… he wasn’t a doctor.

Later, Jaime promises him, “I will get stronger than this.”

Even so, I wasn’t as completely convinced of Happy Ever After as I like to be at the end of a romance. One of the aspects I loved about the previous Amour et Chocolat books is that the main characters were always on the same wavelength (whether they realized it or not.) It’s partly why the stories feel so magical — the whimsical metaphors or outrageous plans are a shared insanity on their journey to each other. There was less of that here, and less of the enchanting writing that expressed it. Instead, there’s more of an emphasis on physical sensuality — which is also gorgeously written, in that way that sort of creeps through my entire body and makes me shiver with delight. But it doesn’t have that inevitable feeling.

There are plenty of funny parts (falling for Jaime, sister of the heroine of The Chocolate Thief,  puts Dom in the position of in-law to one of his most hated rivals and the makers of mass produced American chocolates!) but even the offbeat, imaginative touches often go in a darker direction:

Sometimes he still stood in the little corner of glass and stone, smearing chocolate prints against the glass as he watched her, the poor child outside the candy shop he couldn’t quite believe he had the right to enter. The size of his chocolate prints, compared to the foggy ones they often had to wipe off the front of his own windows was… humiliating. Like his insides should really have grown at the same rate as his outsides.

Don’t you just want to kiss him on the nose and say “poor sweet baby”? My heart broke for Dom, even more when he thinks, “Even when he was six years old, the people who loved him thought he deserved what he got.” And Jaime is very touching and appealing as well. Even with some quibbles, it was lovely to see the tenderness they found with each other, and I finished the book with the precious and elusive Happy Sigh. B

sincerely,

willaful

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