Do you love to read? So do I! Books are an investment that pay you back in memories, ideas, skills, and inspiration, for a lifetime. Whether you prefer to read read books online, or on an electronic book reader (personally, I’m resisting them), or in the good old fashioned print-on-paper form, the 19 books in this review will enhance your life or someone else’s. They are all recent publications, and in bookstores now. Some are perfect reads for today, and some will make lovely gifts for the holidays. Presented below ere are my selections for November 2010:
SELF HELP and RELATIONSHIPS:
Fight Less, Love More – 5 Minutes Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Giving in or Blowing Up by Laurie Puhn, JD (Rodale Books 2010) is not written by a psychologist or doctor, but by a different type of “relationship expert” — a lawyer. Certainly, attorneys spent a lot of time listening to, and deciphering, what’s behind people’s words, to solve their conflicts and win juries to their point of view. The author breaks down the types of conversations ordinary couples have every single day, and suggest better ways to improve the discourse so that the outcome is positive instead of negative. The advice really isn’t at all new (e.g. “pick your battles, remember to say nice things to your partner every day, don’t broadcast your troubles, etc) but the book is well organized and easy to follow. If you feel your relationship has begun to falter, the author gives easy to implement, sound advice. Absorb the “grandma wisdom” and take the steps suggested to re-energize your relationship.
I have always loathed the term “cougar” to describe an older woman “stalking” a younger man for love, as if he were “prey.” So I wasn’t amused that Hunting Season, A Field Guide for Targeting and Capturing the Perfect Man by Elle, Avon A 2010) uses that same type of analogy, but clearly geared towards young women hunting for a husband, a boyfriend, or a lover. The Author, “Elle” (she tries to elevate her star status by using just one name and not stating any degrees or qualifications) doesn’t appear to have the creds to write a book about dating and relationships. Her very short bio says she works in hedge fund operations and “hunts by night” but doesn’t even say if she has had personal success in “stalking and bagging” her own “kill.” Honestly, you have to have a gimmick these days to get noticed, so I’ll give the author props for being somewhat clever. But I personally was turned off by suggesting that men are “animals” and using hunting analogies to teach the skills a woman needs to “stalk a guy and “bring him down” (as in, kill or shoot him). Furthermore, there’s nothing unique about what’s in the book. I have written several dating books, and I know that they’re only as good as what you take away from the printed page. he ideas may not be new, or even good, but if one or two, work ideas get you where you want to be, then you’ll appreciate the book for what it is. . The writing is light and not too-too serious, so it’s actually a fun read. If you have a friend who is down in the dating dumps and really wants a lasting relationship, I wouldn’t suggest this book. Get her/him a serious book like the one The Advice Sisters penned a while back: Recruiting Love – Using the Business Skills You Have to Find the Love You Want by Alison Blackman Dunham and Jessica Blackman Freedman . If you have a friend who just likes to play around, or really does like hunting (with gun, bow and/or arrow) The Hunting Season will be a fun read. Just don’t give her/him real ammunition!
When you’re not looking, you can miss the things that can enhance your life. Beauty and the Soul – The Extraordinary Power of Everyday Beauty to Heal Your Life by Peiro Ferrucci (Tarcher/Peguin 2010) is a bit abstract, but it brings home the essential point that how we view the world around us and use the beauty the surrounds us, can make us healthier, and happier. Ferucci is a psychotherapist and philosopher, and he writes like one. The font in this chunky paperback is so small, I could barely read it, and it is written in a rather dry, academic style, but if you can wade through the psych-speak the message is simple: take time to look at, appreciate, and absorb the beauty that is around you. By so doing, you make life easier, more satisfying, and yes, even more fun. Beauty, and beautiful things, are all around us if we choose to look for it, and at it. This book crystallizes the who, what, where and why. This is a nice book to read around the holidays, when people sometimes feel a bit “blue.” Package it with a soothing sounds CD and a beautiful candle, for a gift that will do good as well as look good. Even his Holiness the Dalai Lama, apparently liked it!
Email. Texting. Social Networking. Online dating. We have been reduced by computers, and “sound bytes” to minimal and sometimes, artless, communication. But when someone near you is in real distress, it is hard to comfort them with “OMG! or “WTF?” The Art of Comforting – What to Say and Do for People in Distress by Val Walker Tarcher/Penguin 2010) gives us some real ways to connect on a personal level. Whether the situation calls for comforting a child, or a co-worker, or a spouse that is suffering. most of us really do not know what to say, how to act, or what to do. In the case of serious suffering, some people feel so afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing that they just “disappear” at the very time that other person needs them the most. Maybe it is a sad commentary on our society that we need to learn (or re-learn) how to be compassionate, but the author gives good tips for listening and responding, offering little gifts and acts of kindness to those who need them, without feeling foolish or fearful of offending. The subject may not be “happy” or amusing, but it is an important one. The way you interact with others in need of comfort can change their lives, as well as yours. Get it, and read it
Cancer is still one of the most virulent killers of our time. While treatments have come a long way, and longevity rates continue to rise for some cancers, the “C” word still strikes fear in many people’;s hearts. And, if you have ever survived a cancer, or have had to watch a loved one or friend experience it, you know that their lives, and ours, will be altered forever. No matter how determined and how upbeat, the journey of going from cancer patient to survivor can be grim. Fran Padgett’s book: Breast Cancer, No One Chose This Journey (Bayou Publishing, 2010) showcases the stories of 30 friends and others she has met. The book is full of Ms. Padgett’s artwork, illustrating each of the stories. Personally, I didn’t’ much care for Padgett’s paintings. And, while I appreciate the genuine effort and emotion put into every page, I found the stories to be very depressing. I believe the book is meant to be uplifting, to show that no one is alone in the struggle to survive breast cancer, but many, if not most of the stories are about those who fought and lost their battle with cancer. The pages of hope, fear, disappointment and loss are peppered with what feel to be a genuine river of tears. The stories are powerful, and personal, but they were hard to handle. Read it with a box of tissues.
BIOGRAPHY and AUTOBIOGRAPHY:
“Disturbing” is the one word I’d use to categorize Please Stop Laughing at Me – One Woman’s Inspirational Story by Jodee Blanco (Adams Media 2010). The victim of real-life bullying as a child and all the way through high school, Jodee Blanco knows first hand how vicious bullying can get out of hand, and literally, destroy a young person’s life. Her courageous, real-life story as a victim of bullying had me squirming, alternately feeling terribly sorry for her, and being annoyed that she couldn’t, somehow, get her tormentors to stop. But, it seems, her parents, her friends, and even the educational system failed her. There are stories of bullies (and often, they are girls) broadcast constantly in the media. It is a serious, life-altering and sometimes, life-ended situation that has even spread to the Internet with deadly consequences. The story is a must-read for parents, even if they can’t imagine their child could ever be bullied. For anyone who has been a victim of bullying and survived, reading this book will be a validation. Thankfully, I have never been bullied, nor would I ever have considered torturing someone else in that way, but it certainly opened my eyes to the issues, the problems, and the unbelievable pain that these kids experience. Well done!
Bad Girls Go Everywhere The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, The Woman Behind Cosmopolitan Magazine by Jennifer Scanlon (Penguin 2010) is a very interesting biography of a woman who helped a generation of women change the way they viewed their own sexuality, and the way men and women related to one another. Young women today may not even really remember Helen Gurley Brown’s ground-breaking book: Sex and the Single Girl, published in the 1962. But that little book started the culture of the “fun, fearless single girl” who didn’t feel guilty about having sex outside of marriage as long as she did it on her own terms. Helen Gurley’s Brown’s single girl loved every minute of her single life (until she finally found the right man, if ever, and settled down with him). As long time Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine, Ms. Brown did more than act as a figurehead for a women’s magazine, she helped generations of women feel good about their lives and their sexuality. She gave them “permission” to enjoy sexual freedom at time when women were still quite repressed. Bad Girls Go Everywhere chronicles Brown’s life from her early childhood in the Ozarks, to her high powered life as a magazine editor to her accomplishment after Cosmopolitan. She was named powerful women over age 80 in 2008 by Slate Magazine. But despite extolling the virtues of the fun, fearless single girl, Brown has been a devoted wife to Producer, David Brown, obsessed with looking her best at all times, being sure her husband was treated like a King, at home, and staying unrealistically fit and thin. Still, Helen Gurley Brown helped usher in the sexual revolution that women today take for granted, and her life and struggles make for page-turning reading!
FOR YOUR COFEE-TABLE:
In decades past, when you heard the word “cigarette,” it was synonymous with sophistication and glamour. These days, it tends to evoke a different meaning. But The Cigarette Book by Chris Harrald and Fletcher Watkins (both of whom worked in advertising, among other things — Sky Horse Publishing, 2010) is a literal A-to-Z compendium of tobacco ephemera and facts. The book doesn’t try to be an academic tome about smoking, tobacco or the industry. It just lays out interesting tidbits, along with a trip down memory lane for those who are interested in the topic. It is colorful both in illustrations and examples. Consider this book as a holiday gift for a friend who just can’t quit, or one, who did.
Rejection isn’t pleasant to deal with, but LetOther People’s Rejection ters, edited by Bill Shapiro (Clarkson/Potter Publishers 2010) will make at best, make you feel better about your own trials and tribulations (especially if you are job hunting and/or looking for love), or at least amuse you enough to divert your attention from your own own miseries for a moment. The collection of entertaining “missives” are letters, postcards, Emails, and even texts and things written on scrap paper, compiled by Mr. Shapiro through friends and associates, and other sources. The “authors” of these little masterpieces of rejection run the gamut from note-ables such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, who told his own daughter in a letter: “what you have done to please me or make me proud is practically negligible,” to text messages and emails from modern, spurned lovers who aren’t quite as eloquent, but equally direct. We tend to think of rejection letters are being mostly for love and work, but people get rejected for a variety of things, a variety of ways. For example, there’s one from a medical insurance carrier, rejecting a request for coverage for a breast reduction. Most of these rejection communications are humorous, because they’re not directed towards you, and they’re complied after the sting of the rejection has long passed. But they illustrate the undeniable fact that no one gets through life without a few “disses” once in a while, no matter how famous, successful or well intentioned. This book is fun to flip through, and it would be a perfect book for someone who needs a pick me up, or leave it on your guest room night-stand!
It’s hard to take The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex by Kristen Schaal and Rich Blomquist (Chronicle Books 2010) too seriously. For starters. it has a spoof on the famous painting, Birth of Venus, with a do-eyed brunette wearing panties and a bra, and sports socks standing in the iconic “shell,” with a crazy-looking couples with lots of “big hair” as cherubs. in the left hand corner. That should be a clue that while this book is a little bit “joy of sex,” it’s authors are more “Rivers & Murphy”( Joan and Eddie) than Masters & Johnson. There are some actual tips in this book,. but the author admit they’re not really qualified sex advisers. So why buy the book? It’s momentary,silly fun. The illustrations are cute, and it would make a wacky wedding shower gift for one of those “Couples” showers where nothing else quite fits the theme. Leave it on your guest room’s bedside table., for those who simply can’t sleep well in strange bedrooms.
Books for Chicks – No review is complete without at least a couple of “gilty” pleasures:
The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark (Weinstein Books, 2009) grabs you from the first page and takes you on a classic, chic-lit ride all the way through to the end. Lucy Ellis is the classic Pygmalion tale made modern, amidst the glitter and glam of the world of socialites, and fauxcialites. The writing is fast-paced, the characters, distinct. While the story isn’t really new (a “nobody” down on her luck is plucked from the street to be remade into something else and fool society) there are plenty of new twists, references to labels and restaurants plucked right from the Big Apple, and, of course, love, betrayal, and maybe, success? (you’ll have to pick it up and read it to find out).
Fake Perfect Me by Kari Kamm (Two Harbors Press 2010) features Isabella Reynolds, the eptiome of a NYC party girl. She’s not yet 30, but had a successful beauty company, a rich boyfriend, an adored puppy, and lots of fabulous friends. She dines at fabulous places, goes to fabulous clubs, and wears nothing but designer labels. When she needs additional strength, she wears (one) of the Kruggerands she inherited, that helped her start her own skin care line. Sounds perfect? Maybe not. The girl has an eating disorder. This could have been handled by the author in a more serious manner, but it’s just an “anchor” in the plot. Ms. Kamm could have delved into this more deeply, nd made the book more than just a “story.” Still, Isabella learns the truth as real life impinges on her fantasy that no one has it all, and no one is truly perfect — but you’ll find the book to be a perfectly fun read!
CRAFTS, FASHION and ENTERTAINING:
Tea is not just a comfort, it is a social ritual, especially during the holiday season. You Can Do Tea by Sandy Lynam Clough (Havest House Publishers, 2010) is a pretty, hard-covered gift book that would make a lovely part of a “gift basket” along with a lovely tea, muffin or scone mix, and jam. The beautifully illustrated book shows the reader how “anyone can do tea”, with recipes, decorating ideas, even what to wear and how to start a “tea group.” In all honesty, the book has very, very elementary information that most adult women already know. But it is so beautifully presented and illustrated, you’ll enjoy taking a moment to look at it, anyway. It is most ideal for a young woman who longs to be a “hostess,” but doesn’t know how.
Entertaining with a tea party has been one of life’s little pleasures that people have indulged in for generations, and in every culture. Two new books by certified tea specialist Lisa Boalt Richardson (Harvest House Publishers 2010) will have you thinking in new ways about making tea, taking tea with friends and even cooking with tea. Tea with a Twist – Entertaining and Cooking With Tea offers suggestions for eight different themed tea parties, offering ideas from decorations, to food. The illustrations are lovely, the recipes, do-able and delicious. Imagine hosting an “All About Chocolate” tea party this holiday season, or perhaps, an Indian Chai High Tea, complete with appropriate dishes to compliment the spicy chai. Also beautifully illustrated with complimentary food suggestions and recipes, is Your World in A Teacup, Celebrating Tea Traditions Near and Far. The author presents themed tea ideas from China, England, Kenya, Russia, Iran, France, Morocco, and the United States. Even if you didn’t hold a tea party, the recipes are good enough to copy, save and use for other occasions. These are generously-sized gift books that will entice you, and delight your favorite chef, gourmet, or hostess.
Whether you’re just low on funds this holiday season, or, like me, you just love to put a little bit of yourself into every gift you give, by making it by hand, Gifts Cooks Love: Recipes for Giving by Diane Morgan & Sur La Table (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2010) will give you lots of beautifully illustrated and explained “how-to” ideas for great food gifts, along with ideas for packaging and wrapping. There are even suggestions for gift labels that explain the gift and how to use it. The book was created with kitchenware retailer Sur La Table and the presentation of the gifts is stunning. Whether you are a novice and just want to put together non-cook gifts such as Backyard BBQ Rub, or like me, you love canning and want to whip up jellies, chutneys and perhaps A big, beautiful, Biscotti Christmas Tree, there are ideas in this book for you. Some take a lot of time, some are as simple as putting dried mushrooms into a pretty container. No matter what skill level you are, you’ll enjoy trying, and eating, these recipes. The book is eye candy for a cook, or someone who wants to be. Grab one for yourself and one all those people on your gift list who would love DIY goodies. You may just be thanked back—with a beautiful gift of food!
A year ago in November, 2009, I recommended a book by Stacey J. Miller called 101 Recipes for Microwave Mug Cakes: Single Serving Snacks in Less Than 10 Minutes, by Stacey J. Miller (BPT Press, October 2009). The little paperback provided recipes for snack cakes cooked in your favorite tea or coffee mug, using little more than your microwave, some vanilla pudding, some flavorings, and a few teaspoons of all purpose flour. I liked them so much, the author, Ms. Miller, used my endorsement on the back cover of a new, microwave mug cake version: 101 Recipes for Gluten-Free Microwave Mug Cakes: Single Serving Snacks in 10 Minutes or Less (BPT Press, October 2010). I wish I could love this version as much as the first, but I don’t. My first problem with this new book of recipes is that some of the ingredients are somewhat exotic and might be difficult to obtain. In addition, unless you are planning to make a lot of these individual serving-sized mug cakes, you may waste a lot of money on unused portions of the ingredients. For example, to make the Blackberry Muffin Microwave Mug Cake you need to use just 2 tablespoons of Yoplait blackberry Yogurt, and 2 tablespoons of vanilla JELL-O pudding (guess you can eat the rest of these), but also tiny ( 1/4 or 1/2 tsp.) amounts of guar gum, xantham gum, or tapioca flour, gluten-free millet, gluten free sorghum flour, potato starch, and among other things. Some other recipes call for baby food, or, perhaps one tablespoon of something like canned pumpkin that is usually sold in inflexible, and fairly large amounts. I love the idea of making something quick, easy and affordable. The mug cake idea is great. However, for this gluten free version, you will have to invest in ingredients that you might not normally use and that might spoil while you’re waiting to make more mug cakes. For that reason, I didn’t test the recipes, but based on the last book, I’m guessing these are good. If you are really allergic or sensitive to products that have gluten in them, these healthy, yummy little mug cakes, could be a godsend.
Do you love earrings, but haven’t a big budget to buy them? The Earring Style Book by Stephanie A. Wells (Random House 2010) offers 40 different earring designs that you can make with minimal time, effort and tools. Ms. Wells is a jewelry designer, and her step by step instructions will help you create a dream wardrobe of earrings–some in as little as an hour. Although many of the designs are similar plays on the same theme, they give you an opportunity to learn how to create some basic designs, and then elaborate on them. With time and experience, you’ll be making your own designs, using the book’s instructions as a jump-off point. The book is well illustrated, with easy to follow instructions. You may not be able to get all the semi-precious stones that the author uses in the designs, but you can substitute with beads, or other stones just as easily. The book made me want to rush right out and get some wire, pliers and beads and get started! Whether you make earrings for yourself, or as holiday gifts, this is a great DIY craft book. Get one for yourself now, and make gifts for the holidays and wardrobe-enhancing accessories for yourself.
Before I started writing about beauty, fashion and lifestyles, I was a certified image and color consultant. I was convinced that everyone really can wear just about every color–it’s just a matter of intensity and tone. The guidelines I used were created by Beauty for All Seasons: “The Four Season Concept of Color.” The Four Season Concept offered only four color palettes – two cool: Winter and Summer, and two warm: Fall and Spring. The Color of Style by stylist David Zula (Dutton/Penguin 2010), modernizes this four season color. The author suggests six archetypes that possibly might reflect your look, within the four season color concept. For example, Mr. Zula claims that not all Springs are alike, so he presents a variety of options within each season with five true colors, and three base colors, plus your “archetype” –and he runs down the options from soup-to-nuts, including what he feels should be your signature fragrance. While I like the idea of personalizing the four season color concept, Mr. Zula’s ideas are complicated and if I found them a bit overwhelming, you may feel it, too. Most people can’t really tell an ecru from an ivory or an eggshell –that level of sophistication only comes with a discerning eye and a lot of practice. Furthermore, I’m wary when someone suggests (to total strangers) what their signature scent should be, or what fabrics they would like to wear. This type of formula takes away the decisions from the clueless, but it also makes them slaves to a formula. My final issue with the otherwise interesting way to view color and styles is the author’s use of celebrities to tell us what we want to look like. Still, the book is full of style points, and for that, I give it points, too!