Book Review: The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson

Every once in a while I really need to escape to the fun and fluff of what might be called chick lit.. But sadly, a majority of these books leave me less than sated. The plots are wafer thin and characters are one dimensional.

So thank the twinkly stars above for Teri Wilson’s gem of a novel The Accidental Beauty Queen.

Charlotte Gorman is a bookish lass who adores her job as a elementary school librarian. Her identical twin sister, Ginny, is a stunning beauty and Instagram star.

As The Accidental Beauty Queen begins, Ginny is hell bent on winning the Miss American Treasure pageant. However, her hopes are nearly dashed when she has an allergic reaction and her looks are severely compromised. She convinces Charlotte to go as her replacement, which Charlotte begrudgingly agrees to do even though it compromises her sense of right and wrong. In The Accidental Beauty Queen the Gorman sisters travel a twist and turn journey that opens both their minds and their hearts about the very different worlds they live in.

The premise interested me and thank goodness the novel did not  disappoint. Both Charlotte and Ginny, along with the stable of supporting characters, are multi-dimensional and Gorman girls convey the complexities of sisterhood in a way that is very relatable. They are more than they seem.

Speaking of sisterhood, the contestants are not bimbos or bitches, but funny, bright, accomplished and fully supportive of each other.

And then there is a certain mystery gentleman, Gray, who enters Charlotte’s life. Is he a Prince Charming who will sweep Charlotte off her platform stilletoed feet or a callow playboy who will break her heart into a million little shards? Like I mentioned, I really adored The Accidental Beauty Queen. Wilson can actually write and she keeps you guessing as a reader. She doesn’t rely on tired old clichés that lazy writers often do. She has a clever way with dialogue that is contemporary but wouldn’t seem out of place in a 1930s’ screwball motion picture.

The plot is funny and vibrant, but at times heartbreaking and profound. And her sexscenes are actually sexy, not sleazy.

In other words, Wilson writes chick lit for those who aren’t into chick lit. I can’t recommend The Accidental Beauty Queen enough.

 

Book Review: Crafting With Feminism- 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy by Bonnie Burton

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“We can glue it!” claims feminist and crafter Bonnie Burton. And as a fellow feminist and crafter, can I get an Amen? Or should I say an A-Women?

When it comes to crafting and feminism I don’t know what came first for me? Crafting or feminism? Perhaps it was the same time. I had my first feminist-related click moment when I was five years old and been crafting ever since my mother gave me my first box of Crayolas and I designed clothing for my paper dolls. Both feminism and crafting has allowed me to express myself in so many ways, and a constant refuge in my life in times of triumph and tragedy.

So imagine my utter delight when I found Ms. Burton’s book Crafting With Feminism: 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy. I quickly picked it up and the moment I opened it up I just knew I found a true treasure for creative crafters and fierce feminists alike.

For the most part, most of these projects are inexpensive and fairly easy, so most crafty types, whether experienced or novices can do them. And no matter your crafting style, you will find at least one project you will want to do.

Into needle crafts? Most likely you will be drawn to Feminist Badges of Honor, Em-broad-ery Hoop Art or  Next-Gen Feminist Onesies.

You can decorate your lady lair with with Peace and Equali-tea Aromatherapy Candles, a Grrrl Coat of Arms or Strong Female Prayer Candles featuring the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Detective Olivia Benson or Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek. Of course, these characters are just suggestions. You can pick you own feminist faves. Mine? The Bad Ass ladies of the BAU from Criminal Minds.

As a fashionable feminist I delighted in the Queen Ring Bling and Super Heroine Wrist Cuffs. And you can  crash the glass ceiling with Girl Band Cassette Business Card Holders and a “Male Chauvinist Tears” coffee mug.

After hours, end the day with Drinking Dames Flask and eat some nibbles off of Food For Thought Plates.

As for other potpourri for defying Patriarchy? Crafting With a Feminism is a primer in making Heroes of Feminism Finger Puppets, Monster Week Tampon/Pad Cases, All Hail the Queen Crowns and Power Panties.

Burton also provide a list of crafting needs. Most likely you have most of this accessories, but they include such things as beads, glitter, fabric, hot glue gun, Mod Podge, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, a sewing kit and X-acto knife.

Like me, Burton is a big fan of Crafternoons and she has some great ideas on how to make your Crafternoons the place to be. She includes ways to plan a Crafternoon including ways to making them really entertaining.

When it comes to music Burton offers selections like Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill, Q.U.E.E.N by Janelle Monae (featuring Erykah Badu), Cherry Bomb by the Runaways, Respect by Aretha, and Typical Girls by the Slits. Some of my picks? Invincible by Pat Benatar, Sisters Are Doing It By Themselves by Annie Lennox and Aretha and Ladies First by Queen Latifah and Monie Love.

When should you have your Crafternoons? Burton provides some key lady-friendly dates including Galentines Day, February 13th inspired by Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation, International Women’s Day on March 8th, the birthday of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the Notorious RBG) on March 15th, Glitter Day, which is the second Saturday of January and June 11th, International Yarnbombing Day.

Watch some feminist-minded films like Advanced Style, Persepolis, Bend it Like Beckham, Real Women Have Curves and 9 to 5. My picks? Impromptu, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry and The Legend of Billie Jean (because “Fair is Fair!).

Now one can’t always craft; one must also read books. Burton suggests books like Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Craftivism by Betsy Greer and We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. To this list I’d like to add Backlash by Susan Faludi, Bust DIY Guide to Life: Making Your Way Through Every Day, Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters and Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by Amy Sedaris.

Crafting With Feminism also provides tips on crafting for change, teaching others and how to make crafting a money-making venture.

This book is slim, but is big on projects, ideas, and practical advice. Burton writes in humorous, down-to-earth fashion. Crafting With Feminism is a welcome addition to feminist-minded crafters and feminists alike.

 

 

Book Reviews: Dating Tips for the Unemployed by Iris Smyles

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I don’t know what I was looking for when I found Smyles book in the fiction section of my local library. Perhaps what I was looking for was a story about a woman’s difficulty navigating the world of love and romance while also being out of a job, something I bet a lot of us can relate to. Dating and trying to the find the “right one” or at least the “right one at this particular time because I want to get laid or at least not spend a Saturday night on the couch with a remote in one hand and a pint of store brand of mint chocolate chip mint ice cream in the other” while out of work can be quite a conundrum. It can also make for one heck of a book. Alas, not this book.

At first, Dating Tips for the Unemployed looked promising. Its book jacket provided a lot positive comments and Smyles’ author photo showed an attractive woman in a fetching retro look. And speaking of retro, throughout the book featured old school ads found in the back of magazines ages ago.

Smyles can be an entertaining writer, at times filled with wit and whimsy, and at other times, moribund and melancholic. But as Dating Tips for the Unemployed went on (and on, and on, and on), I found Smyles writing style and her story tiresome.

Dating Tips for the most part reads more like a memoir than a novel. First off, the main character is named Iris Smyles. Gee, I guess coming up with a different name was too difficult for Smyles.

For someone unemployed Iris has it pretty easy. There are no stories of trying to get unemployment, updating one’s resume, navigating the on-line obstacle courses of job searches, bad interviews, rejection letters…or worse, no feedback at all. There are no stories of trying to stretch a dollar until it screams, living on Ramen noodles, crying over wondering how you’re going to pay the rent and bills, and thinking you hit the lottery when you find a five dollar bill in a pocket of your blue jeans.

In fact, this book makes unemployment sound like a grand adventure of dating a lot of guys, travels to Greece, and fun nights on the town and goofy tales of family antics. Sure, this pretty much explains what it’s like to be out of work for most people…only not.

But apparently Iris lives in a different world than most of us. She appears to be fully supported by mommy and daddy even though she’s well into her thirties (Smyles was born in 1978). She travels to her family’s country of origin, which is Greece (gee, when I’m down on my luck I can barely afford a tasty gyro from Apollo Café on Brady Street) and men can’t help but be drawn to her. Most of Dating Tips for the Unemployed is devoted to Smyles’ endless cycle of boyfriends that for the most part are never fully fleshed out to be compelling or interesting. Even the sex is a total snooze fest. I’ve written grocery lists that were more erotic.

I think for the most part, Smyles is self-absorbed but not exactly self-aware, a trait that wears pretty thin after someone gets past the age of 25. She tries to come across as quirky and different, but is just another flavorless manic pixie dream girl like a piece of chewed Juicy Fruit gum that’s been on your bed post for a couple of days.

And no I’m not being a jealous hater. She’s very fortunate to have supportive parents and yes, she is quite attractive. I can figure out why men are drawn to her. But after a while, she’s just another boring #privilgedwhitewoman, nothing new under the sun. She’s more Elizabeth Gilbert than Dorothy Parker.

In the end, Smyles book was one I should have ignored and left on the library shelf. If I want to read about a young woman dealing with being out of work and out of money, I’ll re-read The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel. And when it comes to a woman and her collection of paramours, you can’t go wrong with Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band.

Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

I became a fan of Roxane Gay when I first saw her speak at Boswell Book Company about her book, the part memoir/part assortment of essays, Bad Feminist. Bad Feminist blew me away so when I found her latest release, a collection of short stories called Difficult Women, I just knew I had to read it. I hoped Gay’s singular voice in writing non-fiction would translate into writing fiction.

I am glad to say I am not disappointed. Gay is a writer who fully recognizes the complex lives of women’s truth, from the most of grand experiences to the tiny minutiae that make of their daily lives (and ours). Some live in impressive privilege and others dreary lives of poverty.

Difficult Women is made of 21 stories, dissimilar yet fully connected. The opening chapter “I Will Follow” is about two sisters who were abducted as children and experienced deplorable acts. The sisters’ past makes them eerily, yet touching connected well into adulthood as they follow each other all over the country. Even though these sisters (by society’s standards) should have staked out their own separate lives, I understood how this might be nearly impossible for them.

The title story “Difficult Women” Gay defines “loose,” “frigid,” “crazy” women along with mothers and dead girls through vividly written definitions and descriptions:

Just what does a loose woman see when she sees herself in a mirror? “Nothing. She doesn’t look. She doesn’t need to. She knows exactly who she is.”

Where does a frigid women go at night? “There are places for people with secrets and she has secrets, so many of them that sometimes they threaten to choke her. She goes to the places for people with secrets for people with secrets and there she waits.”

What happens when crazy women snap? “She is sitting at her desk, working late, when her boss hulks his way into her office, sitting too close, on the edge of her desk, taking up space in the way men do. He stares down her blouse and it’s the presumption in the way he doesn’t hide his interest that makes her hold the sharp letter opener in the cool of her hand.”

As for mothers? Well, mothers can only be described in their roles as mothers on from what she sees in her child’s face to how she loves.

Dead girls, you are now wondering? What about them? Well, they are dead. How do you define them? Are they more interesting? Do you find them beautiful?

Another story I adored is Gay’s fable-like “Requiem for a Glass Heart.” In this story the wife is made entirely of glass, her husband is fully-human. The glass wife is smooth, hairless, and transparent. Day after day she takes care of child also made of glass. The husband has matted chest hair and calloused hands who earns his money as a stone thrower. He also has a mistress on the side, one made fully of flesh and blood. Does the glass wife know about the mistress? She just might. Perhaps being made of glass doesn’t quite this woman as transparent as she may initially seem….

Other stories are complete stand-outs—“North Country,” “Bad Priest,” and “Best Features” quickly come to mind. But to be honest, every single story in Difficult Women is so remarkable that choosing a favorite is quite, well, difficult.

As I came to Difficult Women’s close, I found myself not only thinking of Gay’s voice as a visionary writer, but how these stories played out like mini-movies in my mind’s eye. Difficult Women would make for a great TV series, perhaps all the stories adapted by female screenwriters and directed by female directors. Or maybe in an interesting twist, some stories adapted by male screen writers and directed by male directors.

But alas, Difficult Women is for now, is a book, one I implore difficult women everywhere (and the beguiled men who love them) to read.

Book Review: Copygirl by Anna Mitchael and Michelle Sassa

copygirlI’m not usually the biggest fan standard-issue chick lit featuring hapless, yet hopeful heroines working in “glamour” industries like fashion, PR, show business or advertising usually in New York City. The cover is usually some shade of pink and features one of the holy trinity of chick lit graphics—statement handbag, high-heeled shoe, or fancy cocktail.

Copygirl, authored by Anna Mitchael and Michelle Sassa, features a pink cover the shade of a rather attention grabbing shade of fuchsia. However, there was no handbag, shoe or cocktail to be found on Copygirl’s cover. Furthermore, Copygirl was described as a hybrid of The Devil Wears Prada and Mad Men. I actually liked The Devil Wears Prada, who hasn’t had a nightmare boss? And I just finished binge-watching Mad Men and related only too well to copywriter Peggy Olson, so I decided to give Copygirl a whirl.

Meet Copygirl’s protagonist Kay, after finishing college where she studies advertising, she follows her crush Ben to NYC where they both get jobs one of the city’s hottest agencies with the unfortunate of initials of STD. While in ad school, Kay thought she would write memorable copy like “Think Different” and “Just Do It.” She also thought she’d get romantic with Ben. Sadly, none of those dreams seem to be coming true for our heroine. Instead, Kay is dealing with the STD’s overlords who make Pol Pot look like Mr. Rogers and is writing hapless copy for accounts her much cooler hipster co-workers reject outright. As for Ben? Right now he’s sleeping on Kay’s couch, not her bed.

STD is riddled with egotistical tyrants, high fashion hotties, pretentious creatives and one Diet Coke-obsessed intern with the last name of Bouffa. Bouffa may not have the schooling or experience for this particular internship, but she does have something deemed more important—family connections.

Kay feels completely out of it at STD with her family connections from the Midwest, her wardrobe of sneakers, jeans and hoodies and her low-key, modest and easily intimidated personality. Will she ever measure up and find success? And will she find love with Ben or will she lose him to the office hot girl?

To appease her battered and bruised sense of self Kay makes wax dolls and films them in absurd situations. The main character of Kay’s magnum opus is a doll named Copygirl who warns everybody “Don’t be a copygirl.” Kay shares her videos with her best friend who is currently studying in France. This best friend starts uploading Kay’s videos for the world to see and they become a huge sensation, making Kay feeling both awkward and proud.

Meanwhile, Ben moves out and Kay is convinced he is having a fling with the office hottie. However, Kay finds this hottie is more than a pair of designer boots and a killer wardrobe, and though Bouffa may have family connections, she is also willing to work hard and is pretty nice kid. And then there is suit-wearing guy who might be more than what he seems.

Kay struggles daily with writing appropriate copy for the latest, hippest soda trying to grab the much-wanted Millennial market only to be treated with contempt by her fellow creative co-workers, clueless clients and tyrannical agency heads. Will she find the secret sauce to come up with the right lines that will be iconic as such classic ad copy she dreamed of writing? Or will she be fired with only her wax dolls to keep her company?

Ultimately, I liked Copygirl. It was a fun and breezy read, and I rooted for Kay throughout the book even though at times I wanted to shake her. Spending time in the copywriting trenches I could totally relate to her daily struggles, pretty much dealing with the same obnoxious behavior she dealt with even though I come from Milwaukee. And I also know how creative “me-time” activities Kay indulged in helped alleviate her stress and gain her both kudos and confidence.

But what I really liked about Copygirl was how it didn’t focus so much on romance, but on Kay’s growth in her career and how she forges strong bonds with her female co-workers rather than seeing them as competition both professionally and personally.

In the end Copygirl is a fun read, both fluffy and profound, and I think most working girls will be able to relate to Kay’s plight even if your Devil wears H & M, and your place of work is a mixture of both Mad Men and Mad Women.