The First Love Cookie Club by Lori Wilde (Avon 2010), is the kind of book you know is going to have a happy, romantic ending. It has the chic-lit satisfying combo of ambitious career girl, “hot” rebel love interest, love lost, love found, love lost again and then…? This time the heroine is Sarah Collier, a “famous” author of a children’s book with the improbable name: the Magical Christmas Cookie. Lured back to her home-town of Twilight Texas during the Holiday season by a seriously ill child who has written her, Sarah aka. finds you can go home again….and more than once. The plot does have enough twists and turns to keep your attention until the “awwwww” ending. Since the story is set in the holiday season, it’s a nice diversion (sit with your favorite pet, a warm wrap, and some cocoa and cookies” and make a weekend without holiday chores, doubly sweet.
I really enjoyed Brenda Novak’s novel, White Heat, that I reviewed last Summer. There was even a 3 Custom Color Lipgloss made specifically for the launch of Brenda’s novel. Brenda writes mysteries, but with a romantic story line woven into the plot. She has recently published Body Heat by Brenda Novak (Mirra Books, 2010) . I wanted to love it, but sometimes the second time isn’t quite as good as the first. This one was ok, but it grabbed me less than White Heat,. Still, it still kept my attention. The story line is current: Someone is killing illegal immigrants from Mexico at the border. Sophia St. Clair is the young woman who is determined to find out what’s going on. Obviously, there will be all sorts of twists and turns, characters both like-able,and loathe some, and a dose of violence, intimacy and romance. I’m not a fan of mystery stories, but Ms, Novak’s are well done. That being said, the plot seemed sluggish and awkward in spots, and I didn’t feel any connection to the main characters, as I did with White Heat. Maybe the problem was that the book is too chock-full of unnecessary elements so character development seemed a bit forced. But those objections aside, it was a fun book and a real page-turner. If you are looking for “airplane” reading, or something to amuse yourself for a weekend or lounging by the pool at a resort, it’s a great choice. I can’t wait to see what Brenda Novak comes up with, next!
I was excited to receive the book, 300 Best Casserole Recipes by Tiffany Collins (Robert Rose Inc, October, 2010). Casseroles are not only economical ways to feed a family, they’re easy to prepare in advance, and then just pop in the oven when you get home. With the popularity of the TV show “Mad Men,” 50’s style casserole dinners are making a come-back for entertaining guests, too. This book nicely organizes types of casseroles by their main ingredient. The recipes, for the most part, are super-easy to follow. However, in reading through the recipes, I began consider why casseroles fell out of favor with modern cooks. For starters, while you can prepare them in advance (and there is a bit of prep time with a casserole), most need to bake for 45 minutes to an hour, so it’s not an “instant” meal. You need some prep time and plenty of different ingredients to get the flavor, right. It isn’t “simple” food just because everything ends up baked in one dish. Another thing that bothers me (more about casseroles and less about the book) is that casseroles need something to bind the ingredients together. In most of the casserole recipes, the “glue” is a a fair amount (1-2 cups) or a dairy products such as cheese, cream, sour cream or milk, or high sodium products such as canned soups or canned tomatoes, and/or carbs like rice and pasta. In small doses, these things are perfectly fine, but no nutritional information or calories are provided. I thought that was a bit odd since the author is a nationally certified group fitness instructor, as well as a culinary professional. If you were to eat a casserole every day, you probably will pack on pounds. Still, the recipes in this book are delicious, perfect for a Sunday dinner or for a retro dinner party. Just put on the flirty apron, mix those Rob Roys and Manhattans, play some Frank Sinatra for atmosphere, and make your next dinner a “Mad Men” party!
If you read my columns, you know that I generally do not review anything for parents or children (I had to draw the line, somewhere). But That’s Awesome! (Time Home Entertainment, Inc., October 2010, is a raelly cute book for kids ages 8+, and the adults who want to inspire them. The book collects amazing facts and records including the most “awesome” aspects of sports, extreme geography, the world of plants and animals, the human body, technology, history, art and the most expensive items in the world –from autos to planes to toys. Even “dad” will enjoy learning which but is the smelliest bug on Earth, the world’s smallest gecko (not the one on tv–a real one) and amazing facts such as the worlds grossest food (consider eel soda, and saliva soup. The book is well presented, and fun to share with “kids” of all ages. Borrow it back from “Junior,” and leave it on your coffee table for an instant conversation starter at your next party.
What My Best Friend Did by Lucy Dawson (Avon 2010) starts out as any other chick-lit book,. but the reader soon realizes that both the main characters in this book,. best friends, supposedly, are not exactly what they appear to be. While the ending is to me, a bit awkward, the plot is a bit of a thriller that has glamour, romance, girlfriend bonding and then something much more sinister. Neither Alice nor her BFF Gretchen, are saintly characters, but one has a serious problem that the other doesn’t seem to understand well enough to deal with it properly. What happens next is no laughing matter and the book ends on a dark note, but it’s well done, and worth a weekend’s read.
I knew I wasn’t going to relate to Balancing Acts by Zoe Fishman (Harper, 2010) when from the beginning, on page 5, one of the characters talks about a 10th anniversary college reunion and the hip hop group “Black Sheep” is quoted as being “a blast from the past.” At my 10th anniversary reunion a “blast from the past” would have been Steely Dan or Jim Croce. But aside from the big divide over my generation and that of “Charlie, Naomi, Sabine and Bess,” (the four friends who re-connect at this 10th college reunion), I liked the idea of the book. Charlie, the focal point, runs a yoga studio in Brooklyn (how hip and trendy can you get)? The women take a weekly class with Charlie — and that’s the “glue” of the plot. Of course, their lives, loves, secrets and aspirations are all laid out in communal dialogue. The meeting, bonding, and growing as people over yoga is a novel idea, and the book could have raised the bar for chick-lit by giving the characters gritty issues to deal with. But these ladies for the most part just spew out the tired young woman finding themselves angst that is so common in these “I’m striving to find myself” books. This book really didn’t grab me, but women who are the same generation of the characters, may find themselves in the characters, and relate.
I’ve always been fascinated by royalty, but the story of Grace Kelly, Philadelphia girl, to award-winning actress, to Princess of Monaco, is a real life fairy tale. As everyone knows, fairy tales are always too good to be true, but A Touch of Grace, How to Be a Princess the Grace Kelly Way by Cinday De La Hoz (Running Press, 2010) is a really cute way to dispense “grandma wisdom” to new generations of aspiring young ladies. Whether you’re hoping to find a job, or a prince, or just “better yourself,” this little book full of pictures of Grace Kelly in various stages of her life, will satisfy. The book is organized from “Lessons From Childhood” (e.g. be your own person; remember where you came from) to Finding “The One” (be open to a “set up”) to work, style, attitude, and parenting. There’s nothing terribly earth-shattering under the covers, but if all you did was flip the pages to enjoy the beautiful photos of Grace Kelly, the book would be worth the price (of $17.95). This is the book to buy for yourself as a lovely little “gilty pleasure.”
I have heard the energetic and witty Phillip Bloch talk about style, and shopping, but in his new book The Shopping Diet, he tells women how not to spend money. What he’s advocating in his new book is how to reign in the impulse to buy without real thought to it, and he shows readers how to look stylish without having to spend a fortune on a cartload of new things. The Shopping Diet by Phillip Bloch (Gallery Books, 2010) might be the best fashion accessory you buy in the new year. I met Mr. Bloch at an event for Hanes stockings right after this book launched. I took it home and read it in three sittings. Mr. Bloch has an easy, personable communication style that translates right onto the pages of his book. You really feel as though he is there, counseling you not to buy those trendy, hot pink, snakeskin boots that are on sale, but really won’t work with much in your wardrobe. He shows you when you’ve gotten a “find” and when you’re just thrown all reason to the four winds, a true shop-a-holic in the making. Although this is a book about shopping, it’ s also a book about learning what suits you, and how to put together a wardrobe that is versatile, and expresses who you are. Whether you are on an austerity budget, or you just want to look more put together, If you follow the tips and ideas in this book and really put them into practice, you will look better, and spend more wisely. You really can “spend less & get more” by using The Shopping Diet. After I finished reading the book, I ended up ditching three huge bags of clothes, and, inspired by Mr. Bloch’s tutelage — I feel much better about what is in my closet. I have had some unfortunate lapses since then while indulging in too-good-to-be-true sales, but Philip’s voice is still somewhere in my consciousness gently probing: “do you really need/want this piece?”
Donald Spoto, a chronicler of film and theater stars, tries valiantly to set the record straight on the life and passions of Joan Crawford in Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto. Although Ms. Crawford was one of the most celebrated movie stars of her day, her adopted daughter, Christina Crawford, wrote a best selling book that portrayed Joan as an unstable and severely abusive mother in a vindictive memoir, called: Mommie Dearest (no one can forget the film version of Joan Crawford, face distorted in rage, screaming: “no more wire hangars!” as her daughter Christina, cowered. The author of Possessed, however, has written a book that while trying to set the record straight about Joan Crawford, ends up making the movie star still seem unlikeable and difficult. In addition, the book has so much information about virtually every film both silent and “talkie” Joan ever made, that it becomes just a litany of movie plots, most of which are pretty boring to horrifying stupid. In between Mr. Spoto tried to show that Joan Crawford, the woman, was a scrappy, focused, ambitious person who did whatever she needed or wanted, to get ahead. But in the end, this book tells you more about how the studio bosses in Hollywood could manipulate. and make or break a star, than the character of the woman being showcased. It’s a good effort and I give it a “A” for effort, but a “D” for dull.
In the old days, a 60th birthday was considered a maturity milestone, but now 60 is the new 50 and 80 is society’s view of “old.” Author Judith Viorst gives 80 a new look and a different, not-to-be-feared spin with Unexpectedly Eighty and Other Adaptations by Judith Viorst (Athaneum, 2010). What does it really mean to live through eight (ore more) decades? Viorst shows readers of every age that there is still plenty of life, love and passion. Her lighthearted book about becoming an octogenarian focuses in a playful way on the realities and the joys of living long enough to reflect. This little book made me chuckle as I absorbed it in one sitting. Whether you’re a 20-something who is afraid that by the time you become “30” you will be “old,” or a 60-something wondering what’s next, or someone who really is 80+, Ms. Viorst paints a witty, funny, positive picture of what growing older means today.
Copyright ©Alison Blackman Dunham. All rights reserved. The Advice Sisters is a registered United States trademark. No content may be used or copied with written permission. If you want to use my work, please obtain it legally. For more information, Email Me. You can show your interest and support by subscribing to this blog. Several options are available on the right hand side of this blog. Also, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter (@advicesisters). You can also read and subscribe to my National Luxury Lifestyles Column on the Examiner.com.
*I use provided samples for most of my reviews. Learn more in the “A Note About Compensation” section of the Advice Sisters What Works Beauty, Cosmetics and Fashion Review column