The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones(Harper 20011) is the first-person story of a middle-aged, just-about-to-turn-50, empty-nester during a particularly stressful period of her life. Her hot flashes irritate her. Her adored daughter is about to leave for college, leaving her to re-evaluate her relationship with her husband. Her editor pushing her to finish her book (the one you are reading, of course). In reality, the book has nothing at all to do with Neiman Marcus, or “the hunchback” but it does have a rather deformed and weird format –an extended poem/haiku. The author is a YA (young adult) writer, and the prose is clean and uncomplicated. It is written with a lot of humor. However, getting older, dealing with menopause, and the vicissitudes that come with growing older, are serious business. They’re not really funny. While the author speaks as if directly to you, her constant use of the pronoun “I” in virtually every paragraph, annoyed me. It’s a certain style, and a book of feelings, but it has just the thinnest pretense of a plot. On the plus side, you feel as though you are peeking into the author’s personal journal. The wry way in which the author describes her angst will make any woman going through the same journey feel better. Get It for mom, or for a friend who is going through menopause. Give to as a reality check to a cranky 30-year old who feels “old,” or anyone experiencing empty nest syndrome, or feeling a bit down about getting older.
It Happened One Season by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Allesandro and Candice Hern (Avon Books, 2011) might look like your typical romance novel, but it has a unique twist: Four best-selling authors collaborated to create four stories crafted around the same plot lines (chosen by readers in a month-long contest): The heroine had to be shy and/or unattractive. After many seasons she has resigned herself to never finding a suitor. Other plot elements include a younger brother of a titled Lord that has just left the army and is happy to be a bachelor; but his brother’s family has only daughters, so his brother pressures him to marry to ensure that the succession stays in the family (and variations on this theme). All of the plot lines are fairly typical, but it is delightfully interesting to see how the four authors took these elements and spun them into their own tale. Like the proverbial seven blind men each describing an elephant, each author sees the characters and the outcome, quite differently. If you like romance novels, this one is sure to capture your attention.
Perhaps I’m one of the very few people on the planet that really dislikes salad (it’s a long story…) but The Everything Salad Book by Aysha Schurman (Adams Media, 2011) made me realize that salad is a lot more than just lettuce, tomato, pepper and cucumber. The book is well organized with 300 recipes from dressings for salad, to types from traditional to pasta, even meat and dessert salads. A lot of what is offered is just common sense (most people have had chicken, potato or pasta salad) but the books helps those with a lack of imagination, or expertise, to create tasty dishes that even salad haters like me, can like. The author’s award-winning recipes can be found in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens, Taste of Home, Healthy Cooking, Louisiana Cookin’ and Sunset, but you won’t find so many salad recipes under one book cover anywhere else. Most of the recipes are easy to do without too much preparation. For example, a food processor, carrots, cabbage, pineapple, coconut and cashews can help you create a Pineapple coconut coleslaw that’s going to be the hit of your next barbecue. I also like the fact that calorie and nutrition counts are included (not all salads are low calories or low fat). In the heat of the Summer, cold salads can save you a lot of cooking over a hot stove. Get the book for yourself, or download it for Amazon Kindle, NOOK, Sony eReader, or from the Google and Apple iTunes eBookstores.
My Lipstick Journey Through Cancer: A Journey of Faith and Finding the Right Shade by Anna M. Warner (Author House 2011) *note: I re-wrote this review three times and somehow, it refused to publish properly so I apologize to the author and publisher. Anna is not just a cancer survivor, she’s a singer who literlaly loses her voice when her surgery for thyroid cancer is “botched.” This book is a realistic, inspirational chronicle of Anna’s cancer journey from discovery to surgery through treatment, recovery, physical therapy (for her damaged voice) and beyond. The author uses the “schtick,” of a new lipstick color and type for each chapter, to tie the pieces of the book together. I really didn’t think the lipstick added much to the book — it would be just as interesting and important, without the lipstick descriptions. However, the color of the lipstick does help the author to express what she is thinking and feeling and doing at any given time. Anna’s experience with thyroid cancer isn’t typical, but it is an example of what can go wrong when you are dealing with the human body. Luckily, the book has a positive ending. I know what cancer, especially thyroid cancer, can do to turn your life upside down. I liked hthehonest and accurate chronicle of her cancer journey. Whether Anna could actually speak with her physical voice wouldn’t matter for this book: her point is loud and clear: the things we take for granted are a huge gift, and you can find a little joy even in the darkest of days of your life if you try –even if it’s just a new lipstick.
When I think of a book about unlikely friendships, I usually think about relationships between people who may not normally “fit” together. However, Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland *Workman, 2011) shows that friendship is not exclusive to humans. The author, a writer for National Geographic, offers 47 seriously remarkable accounts of friendships among animals, with photographic evidence. Most people have heard of the gorilla, KoKo, who could use sign language, and “adopted” a tiny kitten, but it is startling to see the pairings in the book: a cat licking an iguana, a leopard sitting cheek to jowl with a serene cow, or a cat with a bear. and many more unlikely pairings. But these stories really happened, a dog and a squirrel, and even a snake with a hamster. The photos and stories prove that under the right circumstances, not just people, but animals, will bond together in genuine love and support. Anyone who has ever doubted that animals have real emotions and the capacity to care, will surely be inspired by this book. The photographs are beautiful and touching, and the stories, amusing and educational for young and old. I loved this book for it’s lessons and it’s “feed good” vibe. It’s the perfect bedside read for your weekend guests, or get one for yourself or someone who just needs a pick-me-up. I loved it!
What would it be like to spend a day in Paris, exploring the city with a French tutor? Could the experience change your life, forever? French Lessons By Ellen Sussman (Random House July 2011) is a newly-minted novel inspired by a business trip the author took with her husband to Paris. While she was hard at work, she hired a tutor to help her husband brush up on his French. He set off with the tutor to explore the City and Sussman had an idea for her novel. Fittingly, this book is the story of three Americans who have each hired a French tutor. They explore the city while speaking and learning, French, but, of course, it’s not that simple. What sounds like a lot of fun in the real life version, is more complicated in the book. One American student is a young teacher with a broken heart and shattered dreams. The second is a lonely expat who doesn’t feel happy or at home with her husband, or in her new country. The third student is the husband of an actress and (like the lonely expat) feels distant and unconnected to the world his wife lives in. The French tutors have their issues, secrets, and passions, too. I don’t want to give too much away and the plot is fairly complicated, but the author skillfully weaves her characters and their stories together, with some surprising results. I enjoyed French Lessons even more than I expected to because I have recently returned from Paris. However, the armchair traveler will still find enough to relate to, and enjoy. It’s a great book for the beach, or a vacation read.
Alice Bliss (Penguin Books, 2010) by playwright, lyricist and librettist, Laura Harrington is supposedly for teenagers, especially those who have a parent or parents serving in the military. But I was also moved by the story. It’s written in a straightforward and easy to read style, but it doesn’t talk down to younger readers. The main character in the book is a young woman named Alice Bliss. She is a relatively normal teenager, up until the time that her dad’s army reserve unit is called up for active duty in Iraq. The separation is difficult enough for Alice and her family, but then dad ends up missing in action. Eventually, Alice’s family learns he’s been killed. The book realistically follows Alice’s everyday life, as her family tries to cope without her father, and then with the finality that he will never be coming back. Of course, there’s a love story: Alice’s budding romance, complicated as it is, with a neighbor boy. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for the children of servicemen and women to deal with the lack, and sometimes, complete loss, of a parent. But life continues on, and there’s a genuine message of hope and renewal that will definitely resonate with teenagers going through a situation similar to Alice’s. Those who are in the military should get a copy for their teenagers (and read it, too), but it’s also a bittersweet read for any adult.
Summer is the season of special events and weddings. Most people getting married will hire professional photographers to document their wedding day and perhaps, their engagement. But others will take matters into their own hands, with varying levels of success. Still other might actually want to be the pro behind the camera lens. There’s something for all, in The Art Of Engagement Photography by Elizabeth Etienne (Amphoto Books, 2001). The author is an award-winning wedding and lifestyle photographer who has a quirky, off-beat style. It isn’t to my personal taste, due to a penchant for fuzzy (ok, soft focus if you must), photographs. However, the book isn’t so much about her style, as to how you can develop your own, right down to the equipment and support you will need to shoot portraits and candids of couples. You can learn a lot from this book, not just about how to use your camera equipment and set up a shot, but beyond that, to retouching, and even using photos and presenting them in creative ways. There is even a section on what you need to know to be a professional photographer, and to make money from your images in other ways (E.g. as stock photos). I am keeping this book as a reference for the future, when my own photography and writing gallery web site goes live this month!
….do you have a favorite book that you think makes perfect Summer reading? Share it with The Advice Sisters, in the Comments section, below.