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A Girl's Best Friend; You're in the Army Now; 9-11 Emergency Relief

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A Girl's Best Friend

First of all, "Advanced Sex Tips for Girls" (Simon & Schuster, $22) is not what it sounds like. Don't buy it for your dear friend who's getting married next weekend, unless you're seriously hoping she'll reconsider the whole wedding thing and get a golden retriever instead.

Cynthia Heimel's latest book is no bedroom treatise, but a long rant on everything both expected (shopping, sex, dating) and unexpected (dog abusers, panty girdles and what happens when a woman tries on a testosterone patch). The jacket blurb promises this book "will become your new best friend." Hyperbole, yes, but Heimel's snappy prose indeed gives her the voice of the witty, bitchy friend every women wishes she had.

Some of it will make you laugh out loud and nod with recognition (and by you, I mean women. Men can read this book too, but it's less likely they'll identify with Heimel's accounts of emotional bingeing on peanut M&Ms and the cruelty of fashion designers). Heimel delivers some sound dating advice: For example, watch out if "he calls you 'a classy lady,' a 'special lady' or a 'special classy lady.'" And beware of those who call themselves anything with a "/" in it, she warns, like a plumber/poet or a carpenter/professional storyteller: "It is the law that when a "/" guy hits 45, he must move to Berkeley or Austin, Texas and smoke pot until he dies."

Despite Heimel's humor, some parts may make you cringe or yawn. In fact, I suggest closing the book after page 164, when Heimel veers away from hilarity and begins raving about her beloved angel dogs, her eBay-bought dog-themed ceramics, and her beloved angel boyfriend.

So skip that part and start "Advanced Tips" again from the beginning. Amid the rants and bitching are many good laughs and some solid best-friend advice. — Melissa Scott Sinclair

You're in the Army Now

It is tempting to call "Fort Benning Blues" (Texas Christian University Press, $24.50) a sweet story that reminds those of us of a certain age of what it was to be spongelike in our thirst to grow up fast in the late 1960s. It's also tempting to look at Mark Busby's first novel as simply a story about what young Jeff Adams, a draftee, experienced in Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., 32 years ago.

But the story is more than sweet. It is thoughtful, moving and poignant. And the story is about more than the fictional Jeff Adams. In the author's words, it is for "those who were there and who lived through it, and maybe even … for those who came after."

For all its awkwardness as a first novel, for all Busby's self-consciousness as the teller of this tale, "Fort Benning Blues" nails what it felt like, what it looked like, what it meant, to be learning to wear a military uniform as war raged in Southeast Asia while negotiators in Paris argued over the shape of the table at which they would sit to negotiate peace, and at the moment when National Guard troops shot and killed student antiwar protesters at Kent State University.

Busby wisely focuses his care on the details of Adams' story and leaves it to the reader to absorb the impact of the larger picture.

It's clear in short order that Busby is fictionalizing his own experience — he says as much in his acknowledgements — and that is both the novel's strength and weakness. It's a weakness when Busby wanders afield of his central story, which occasionally he does. And it's a strength because of the precise detail with which he peppers his narrative.

But in his debut effort, Busby shows promise, and the thoughtful and interested reader will find "Fort Benning Blues" a satisfying and sometimes enlightening experience — Don Dale

Heads Up:

Six of the cartoonists who have created "9-11 Emergency Relief" (Alternative Comics, $14.95) will be at Richmond Comix, 8523 Midlothian Turnpike, from noon until 4 p.m. They will sign their book the profits from which will be donated to The American Red Cross general

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