Flip! For Decorating: A Page-by-Page, Piece-by-Piece,Room-by-Room Guide to Transforming Your Home by Elisabeth Mayhew (Random House) is a fun, glossy paperback book that simplifies the thought, and mechanical, processes of decorating a room as much in step-by-step photos as in words. Mahew is a design consultant and Today show expert and she takes an easy-does-it approach that uses your existing pieces or helps you update with simple purchases. You can watch her “build” four different rooms and learn some of the technical fundamentals you’ll need to do it yourself such as how to use color; when to use wallpaper instead of paint; different paint finishes; how to decorate a window, and about lighting and picking the right furniture. This book is very basic, but if you’re totally stumped about what to do first, the first step would be to pick up this book!
Mrs. Meyers Clean Day products are affordable luxurious that make cleaning chores, more pleasurable. I have reviewed them occasionally in my What Works Beauty, Cosmetics & Fashion review columns. I always thought that Mrs. Meyers was fiction character, but she’s a real person — Mrs. Thelma Meyer, from Iowa. She’s written a book about (what else?) How to Clean virtually everything. Mrs. Meyers Clean Home: No-Nonsense Advice that will Inspire You to Clean like the Dickens (Hachette Books 2009) was an easy to read book full of personal anecdotes makes reading about a rather boring subject like cleaning, more pleasurable. Alas, while the book is teeming with ways to clean, it did not inspire me to clean like the Dickens. In fact, it made me (clearly not a domestic diva) feel like I’d been a slob for not doing things like detailing the window sills. The last thing I need is more guilt! To be fair, if you want to know how to clean just about anything, the book really does have a lot of information. However, if you actually followed Mrs. Meyers daily, weekly,and monthly cleaning chores, you would have time for little else in your life. If you’re the type that doesn’t care about routines, or rogue dust-bunnies in your home, this book is probably going to overwhelm you with information you won’t need or use. I didn’t relate to a lot of the personal tips and stories, but the home-spun “salt of the earth” tone will appeal to others. My suggestion is keep the book for reference, and don’t try to “do it all” unless you want a very dull (but clean) life.
The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine (Hyperion 2005) is a fine example of writing about what you know. The author is a Professional Speaker and she rather immodestly calls herself a “Conversation Expert and Communication Guru.” Strong words, perhaps, for someone who helps the socially-stunted to wag their tongues with ease. This isn’t a new book and although it has solid ideas for those who are in desperate need of coaching to get through a cocktail party or networking event, there’s nothing revealing or new in it. In my own, short book called “Everyone Wants To Meet You” I offer these suggestions that are simple and effective: Be interesting (read the paper or at least surf the net, or have something in your life that you’re enthused about). If you really don’t have anything to say, at least be interested (in other words, be a good and engaged listener). Bring (or wear) conversation starters, and if all else fails, plant yourself near the bar or the bean dip, where people are bound to be (misery, loves company). Finally, practice friendly body language. Crossing your arms and scowling obviously doesn’t make you approachable. A friendly look and a smile, does. The author’s The Fine Art of the Big Talk: How to Win Clients, Deliver Great Presentations, and Solve Conflicts at Work (2008) offers the same tried and true techniques as the book on Small Talk. If you are truly clueless, these might help but if not, save your money and search the net for the same information. I was just, underwhelmed.
They said there’s a book waiting to be written, in each of us. But for those who aren’t natural born writers, a journal is another way to be creative and chronicle a story–of your own life! Creative Journal Writing: the Art and Heart of Reflection by Stephanie Dowrick (Penguin 2009) is a nice “how-to” that can guide you and inspire you to start a journal or maybe even go on to write a book about something or someone else. Journal writing has been used as therapy, relaxation, and for the pure, simple joy of writing. The author provides examples, probing questions, and way to help you get started, stay motivated, and continue a life-long love of journal writing. Give this book with a blank journal to someone in transition or just someone you know has an inner voice waiting to blossom.
Kilobyte Couture by Brittany Forks (Watson-Guptill May 2009) will have you re-thinking what to do with your old, used electronics equipment. The book shows anyone how to create interesting jewelry items out of eletronic pieces (mostly colorful resistors and capacitors). The finished products really look unique, cost nothing or next to nothing, and take little more than some pliers and some patience. The Digital Coral Necklace for example, is truly a statement piece that looks expensive, not eccentric. If you’re broke but want new fashion items this season, or need a quick gift item, the $18.95 for the paperback book will pay dividends from the first page. It is also a “green” idea, because the more pieces you put on your neck and ears instead of in the landfill, the better for all of us. If you don’t have an old computer to rip apart, there are plenty of people willing to part with theirs, or buy new components at places like Radio Shack and you’ll still make something wonderful in less than an hour (maybe two). When I was a kid I used to pull apart old television sets and make necklaces with the resistors. This is the modern version, but it is still as much fun, and as eye-catching as ever.
Finding Grace by Donna VanLiere (St. Martin’s Press April 2009) tugs at your heart-strings with an intimate account of a woman’s struggles. The book is a bit clumsy, but her challenges are the type many women will relate to, from a childhood sexual assault, to her inability to have children, to the grim reality that all that she hoped for in her life didn’t arrive exactly as anticipated. For me, the references to religion and to life’s purpose were a bit heavy, but they might comfort other readers. The part I found most fascinating was the “happy ending” as the author and her husband travel to China to bring home their adopted baby girl “Grace.” Alas, while fascinating, I would have liked more details about the process. That would have been useful and perhaps, encouraging to couples who are thinking about adopting. The message of this book is: “bad things happen to good people get used to it and move forward.” In these challenging times, finding your way through the bad stuff is especially worth reading about.
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick Press, 2009) is an usual little book. It’s the true story of the “Mercury 13 Woman” who were as intelligent, courageous, and capable as their male counterparts, but never got to ride a rocket into space. However, their determination paved the way for Sally Ride and other female astronauts to come. These women were amazing, but blocked from success by the culture and prejudice of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Instead of cooking and making babies, they piloted jets and proved that women can do anything they set their minds to. This easy to read book, full of photos, will inspire tweens and teens, and their mothers. I highly recommend it.
No Regrets: 101 Fabulous Things To Do Before You’re Too Old, Married, or Pregnant by Sarah Ivens (Broadway Books 2009) offers those with less than active imaginations, a few dreams to call their own (along with everyone else who reads the book). I wish the book’s title also included: and before you die.” I was put off by the notion that if you are too old (and what age, would that be?) or married, or have a child, that you can’t have any more dreams or do anything wild and fun. How depressing! But while I found the ideas for this bucket list book a bit stale, the “substitutes” made of for it. For example, one suggestion is: “Learn to Love Champagne” (of course, most savvy people already do love it), but the “If you Can’t Learn to Love….” alternate suggestion to figure out a fabulous signature cocktail or get someone to create a drink in your honor, is imaginative and a fun idea! If you can’t do #56: Gawp at the Taj Mahal, the alternative is to find another “beacon of love” closer to home (she suggests, graveyards). The book tries hard to be unique, and it is, as long as you read it for fun and don’t take it too seriously. And, for heaven’s sake, please read it when you 50-60-70-80+ too, your dreams don’t die at young adult-hood!!!!!!
Thanks for Coming: One Woman’s Quest for an Orgasm by Mara Altman (Harper Perennial April 2009) was a young, single woman who had never experienced an orgasm. The entire book traces the author’s quest for “IT.” Along the way she learns a least a little bit more about what causes anorgasmia in women, and what to do about it. The press literature calls the book “hilarious,” but I really only found it mildly amusing. I just didn’t find it all that interesting, but maybe it’s just the end of Winter, and an off month for me!!! If sexuality is a topic that interests you, this is a good new book to check out.
For “The Girls”:
Don’t Let It be True by Jo Barrett (Avon A March 2009) is a too-good-to-be true novel. Girl meets boy, girl has problems with boy, and girl finally gets her man, all in setting that reminds one of a modern Dallas television soap. Kathleen King is the last remaining heir to the King Oil Dynasty and she lives a charmed life, but beneath the glitz and glamour, she’s broke as is her boyfriend. “Kat” has a good heart, however, having given away most of her trust to create a pediatric cancer charity. I don’t want to give away any more of this classic chick ( or would it be “chic” )-lit book, but if you like fast-paced tale, you’ll enjoy this one. Jo Barrett has an, easy, friendly writing style. While the plot lines in this book just seem to fall together in a manner, well…too good to be true, the book has a happy ending that will make you say: “awww, isn’t that nice,” and we could all use more positive emotions in this day and age.
On the Divinity of Second Chances by Kaya McLaren (Penguin Books) is another “inspirational” novel about a family that, individually and collectively, has challenges. As they figure out the secrets to living better lives, they learn that everyone gets a second chance. The characters are interesting and diverse, and the book is well crafted. The overall theme, like many of the books being published right now, is timely: hang in there, and better times will come. The author is an art teacher whose first book, Church of the Dog was well received. Readers who like her writing style will love this one as well. Others will enjoy the personalities of the main characters, and the way their stories unfold.
What would the world be without romances from another era? Decision and Destiny by DeVa Gantt (Avon A Books) is the second part of the “Colette” Trilogy) set in the 19th century. The action centers around the wealthy Duvoisin family, Americans living on the Caribbean Island of Charmantes. Of course, there are personal and family struggles, intrigue and great drama. The main focus, however is the love story of Charmaine Ryan (the 18 year old governess) and her relationship with the male members of the Duvoisin clan. I’m not going to give any more than this away (and it’s complicated, anyway) but it was a fun read. What I really liked is the fact that DeVa Gantt isn’t one person, but two sisters, Debra and Valerie Gantt, who wrote the story under the pseudonym DeVa Gantt. *My own sister, Jessica Blackman Freedman, and I also wrote a book together: (Recruiting Love: Using the Business Skills You Have To Find The Love You Want) and you can’t tell who wrote what, either!
Laura Lippman Hardly Knew Her Stories (William Morrow, 2009) is a grouping of short stories about women’s troubled relationships, full of the type of surprises, twists and turns that only a prize-winning fiction crime writer can do well. These tales of women avenging the male pigs in their lives and a few men who deal with less than lovely women, is a fun read for the beach or travel. The stories were a bit grim, but still great fun! The plots simple, the motivations, complex.
The Divorce Party by Laura Dave (Penguin Books, 2009) spans generations, making it a good read for women just starting out in life, and those who are starting over decades later. One of the main characters is getting a divorce and has the means to throw a lavish party to celebrate, the other, her daughter-in-law-to-be is wondering about whether marriage is for her, and how to make a good one, work. You aren’t going to get any revelations out of this book, nor are you expected to. It’s just an easy read for a sunny afternoon that will make you feel good, or at least better, about marriage, love and relationships in general.
Stupid About Men by Deborah Dunn (Howard Books 2009) made me wonder what the author intended in terms of enhancing one’s dating experience. As an author of dating books myself, I wonder also what the publisher thought they’d be contributing to the dating genre that isn’t already overdone. I like the vehicle the author used, peppering the book with “folk tales” and “children’s stories” to explore dating “myths.” Storytelling as a means to educate is as old as the Bible, speaking of which, there are way too many religious references that are sure to alienate less devout readers. And, alas, the author’s ten “rules” for getting romance, right are not only common sense, old news, but seem trite in a relationship book. Most people have heard: “Steer clear of bad boys;” “It is more important to be smart than to be sexy;” and “Whenever possible, tell the truth” and none of the other rules were any more unique. In my advice to singles, I always stress that people are highly unique and no cookie cutter concept works when looking for lasting love (you can use rules to snare a mate, temporarily but you get as good as you give). Rules, are for fools.
The Girls From Ames A Stoy of Women’s & A Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow (Penguin, April 2009) made me long for friends I’d left behind. Zaslow’s chronicle of the lives of a group eleven women from a small town (Ames, Iowa) traces their lives separately and together, from childhood to young adulthood. I didn’t really find the individual women all that fascinating, and they are still fairly young women with additional chapters (maybe an entire book) left to unfold. But the fact that most are still connected after all these years is a true testament to the power of friendship. If your BFF connections have endured for decades (or you just wish they did), you’ll find this book an inspiration.
Lessons for the Living-Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the end of Life by Stan Goldberg (Trumpeter, 2009) is a unique blend of personal experience and the stories of others, well woven to inspire. Goldberg, diagnosed with cancer that can be somewhat controlled, but not cured, lived with the prospect of dying. To move forward in his own life, he volunteered to help the dying and by doing so, learned lessons about how do live well while dying and deal with the indignities of death. The stories of his experiences are well written in first person, and with lively, believable dialogue. It is as much a book for those who must say “goodbye” to a loved one, as to the person facing death. Books on the topic of death and dying can often be maudlin, but this one actually takes the topic up a notch, to help those who need a “how-to” to deal with their own (or someone else’s) mortality.
If you like phrases like “inner child” and “dysfunctional family” and you love hefty reads (With very long titles), you will adore Reclaiming Virtue: How We Can develop The Moral Intelligence To Do the Right Thing For the Right Reasons by John Bradshaw (Bantam Books April 2009). The 514 page book was difficult for me to get through. I just kept losing my interest in Mr. Bradshaw’s pontificating style of writing that seemed to me to be too much like sermons (he is a theologian). Those who have followed Mr. Bradshaw and find inspiration in his words. As for me, I find daily inspiration in my own father’s admonition that “virtue is it’s own reward.” He didn’t need a book, nor do I, to do the right thing and teach those values to your children. If you do, however, this will be a good guide.