How To Build Girl by Caitlin Moran

How to Build a GirlBeing a teenage girl can really suck, and doesn’t Johanna Morrigan know it. In the opening of British columnist Caitlin Moran’s debut novel How to Build a Girl, it is 1990 and Johanna Morrigan is 14-years-old and living in a council estate (what Americans might call public housing) in Wolverhampton, England. Her family includes her would-be rock star dad who’s on disability, a mother who is suffering from post-partum depression after giving birth to twins, and her brothers, older brother Krissi and younger brother Lupin. The Morrigans struggle to survive on benefits and face a bleak future in an economically depressed England.

And if these issues aren’t enough, young Johanna has to also deal with being a fat, horny and insecure teenager with few friends and zilch romantic possibilities. A chance interview on a TV show causes Johanna to conduct herself in a rather embarrassing manner, and she is humiliated and mortified. Johanna is now desperate to change her life, but how?

By giving herself a make-over and renaming herself Dolly Wilde after Oscar Wilde’s lesbian niece, of course! She doffs a top hat, heavy eyeliner and cultivates an edgy and provocative alter ego. She starts taking out CDs from the local library, reads the best in rock and roll journalism, and fully immerses herself in a new-found musical education. Knowing she needs to make some money to help her struggling family, Johanna/Dolly somehow talks herself into writing record reviews for the rock magazine Disc & Music Echo despite having limited writing experience. However, what she lacks experience she makes up in talent and ambition.

Johanna/Dolly’s magazine colleagues sometimes treat her as an irritating kid sister, but she soon proves herself to be quite formidable as a music journalist. She attends rock concerts, gigs and parties, and ingratiates herself to musicians hoping to get the big scoop and write attention-getting features. Her record reviews are filled with witty observations and cutting opinions. Throughout How to Build a Girl Johanna/Dolly names all the top musicians of the 1990s—U2, Nirvana, Blur, Teenage Fan Club, the Stone Roses, Lush, Happy Mondays, Blur and James.

Soon Johanna/Dolly is fully immersed in the world of rock and roll. She hastily drops out of high school so she can fully focus on her budding journalistic career. Professionally, Johanna/Dolly impresses her colleagues and gets more assignments. Personally, Johanna/Dolly goes a bit crazy. She starts smoking, drinking and experimenting with drugs. She also cozies up a bit too much to some of her colleagues and the musicians she interviews in a desperate attempt to lose her virginity. Finally, Johanna/Dolly’s “V-Card” is punched and she is utterly elated. Somebody wants to have sex with her!

And soon lots of “somebodies” want to have sex with Johanna/Dolly, and she’s all-to-willing to comply. It seems she just recently had her first kiss, and now she’s compiling quite a huge list of lovers.

It is t this point of How to Build a Girl, Moran could have become a moralizing shrew and had Johanna/Dolly suffer some horrible tragedy for conducting herself like the town trollop. She could have had Johanna/Dolly suffer a brutal rape, get a rather annoying STD (or even worse, AIDS) or gotten knocked up. To my delight, Moran eschews these literary clichés, and allows Johanna/Dolly to embrace her sexuality, make mistakes that nobody would judge if she were a guy, and keeps on going while trying to mature in a world that often looks down on young women who don’t quite live up to middle class respectability.

But you know what? To hell with middle class respectability! The more I read about Johanna/Dolly’s adventures and journey to adulthood the more I liked her. Sure, she has her obnoxious moments—what teen girl doesn’t? But I cheered her on as she immersed herself into the intoxicating world of rock and roll, got her writing gig with Disc & Music Echo, met up with her favorite musicians, didn’t shy from expressing her musical opinions, admitted to being as horny as any boy, and somehow stayed devoted to her messed up family. I also felt deep compassion for her when she admitted to moments of crushing low self-esteem, family strife, embarrassing encounters of all kinds, and her struggles to connect with others.

How to Build a Girl’s Johanna Morrigan/Dolly Wilde is a vividly drawn character, both over-the-top bon vivant and down-to-earth geek. I’ve long admired Caitlin Moran as a columnist, and now I admire her as a novelist. How to Build a Girl is a literary rock star!

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Ecobeauty: Scrubs, Rubs, Masks and Bath Bombs for You and Your Friends by Lauren Cox

Eco beautyI’ve been a big fan of homemade beauty and bath products ever since I learned to make my own soap nearly seven years ago. And since then I’ve also learned to make bath soaks, exfoliating scrubs and massage oils. I’m always on the hunt for more homemade beauty and bath recipes, so I was very happy to find Lauren Cox’s book Ecobeauty: Scrubs, Rubs, Masks and Bath Bombs for You and Your Friends.

Cox learned to make homemade beauty and bath products from her mother Janice, who has also written about the topic. In fact, I have the elder Cox’s book Natural Beauty for All Seasons: More Than 250 Simple Recipes and Gift-Giving Ideas for Year-Round Beauty on my bookshelf and I’ve referred to it many times. Now it’s the younger Cox’s turn to pass her homemade wisdom to others.

Divided up into several sections, Ecobeauty‘s recipes are for your face, body, mouth (yes, you can make your own homemade mouthwash), hands and feet and hair. They include facial masks, bath bombs, foot soaks and deep hair conditioners. There is also a section on combining Ms. Cox’s recipes into different gifts, and fun packaging and wrapping ideas.

A majority of the recipes can be made using products found easily at any grocery store. Some require items only found in health/nutrition stores or online. Do your homework when purchasing these items to find the best deal. And if a recipe calls for more exotic ingredients, stick with the instructions and don’t try substitutions. However, there are times when a recipe can be amended. Use your best judgment.

For the most part, the recipes are very easy to follow. The layout of the book is clean and crisp, and the photos of the products are lovingly done. Interspersed throughout are quick tips on being environmentally conscious, saving money, health and beauty. One quibble: I’m not fond of the book’s binding. I would have preferred a spiral bound book because then I could lay it flat on my work space in my kitchen.

Ecobeauty is an informative manual for anyone interested in making homemade beauty and bath products for both personal use and as gifts. This book helps you to be green, creative and economical. Making these creations is also fun for a girls’ night in, a slumber party or other activity, and it’s full of recipes for everyone’s taste, need and spending habits. It’s one book you just want to refer to again and again.

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Every Little Thing by Pamela Klaffke

KlaffkeImagine a newspaper columnist who is part Joan Rivers (RIP) and part Edina Monsoon from “Absolutely Fabulous.” Now imagine this newspaper columnist is your mother.

In Pamela Klaffke’s second novel, Every Little Thing, the protagonist, Mason McDonald, doesn’t have to imagine. Her mother was the notorious Britt Castleman, a San Francisco-based gossip columnist who ruthlessly informed her readers about the filthy rich upper-crust high-society types and their salacious scandals. She also wrote extensively about her daughter, and no detail was too juicy (or mortyifying) to reveal.

As Every Little Thing begins, Mason has returned home to San Francisco from her chosen refuge in a remote Canadian town to attend her mother’s funeral. Britt couldn’t even die like a normal mother. Instead, mommy dearest died while having plastic surgery on a rather delicate area. Mason is not glad to be back, nor is she glad to confront her mother’s past.

Facing unplanned motherhood herself, Mason becomes the subject of quite the disgrace after a chance meeting with an editor gets her an online column. Mason also gets involved with a cheesy reality TV show that focuses on different mother archetypes. Mason is the “bad” mother, and her unconventional life is quite the talk of the town — and the Internet.

Caught up in notoriety, gossip, and all-around tawdriness, Mason realizes she can’t escape her mother’s shadow. And, despite doing everything in her power to differentiate herself from her mother, Mason realizes she has ended up just like her. Maybe this will force her to finally grow up. Or maybe it won’t. All Mason knows is she’s got a lot of self-examination to do for herself and her unborn child.

Mason can be a difficult character to like. She’s self-absorbed and sour. She can’t handle her childhood friends growing up and moving beyond their rebellious high school years. She hates her friend Janet’s boyfriend simply for being a much older man. But as Every Little Thing progresses, Mason begins to mature and to accept reality. She becomes a bit more self-aware, yet still retains a snarky sense of humor. She can piss you off, but you also want to root for her.

Every Little Thing is fast-paced and engrossing with vivid characters. It’s a perfect read for anyone who is addicted to dramatic and over-the-top reality TV, who has a weird obsession from everyone who has a weird obsession with D-list stars, and who can’t make it through the day without checking for updates on TMZ or Perez Hilton.

 Every Little Thing wasn’t written to transform your life. It’s here to entertain, and it achieves just that.

Book Marks

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