Retro Review: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

When I look back at the books I loved as a child I think of the books by Judy Blume, Dr. Seuss, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the poetry of Shel Silverstein. I think of the classics and think of getting lost in a world of fairy tales, myths, legends, and folklore.

And then there is the Newberry Medal Winner The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

Even as a little girl I was a bit of a fashionista. I played dress up and adored my Barbies. I even made clothes for my paper dolls.

The Hundred Dresses is about two classmates and besties, Maddie and Peggy. Wanda Petronski is their classmate.

Wanda has a funny last name, lives in a scary place called Boggins Heights, and her family is very poor, not exactly a recipe for popularity.

Wanda also wears the same raggedy dresseveryday, which her leads her classmates to tease her, including Maddie and Peggy.

Wanda tells her classmates she has a hundred dresses at home. She has to be lying. If this is true why does she wear she wear the same dress? The girls continue to tease Wanda. They are total bullies.

Then one day Wanda isn’t in class. It turns out she won’t be back. The Petronski family are moving.

Soon after the class learns about Wanda’s hundred dresses, conveyed by her creative and artistic talents.

Though released in 1944, The Hundred Dresses is very important book. Bullying still exists and people deemed as different are still demonized.

But on a positive note, The Hundred Dresses is an inspirational tale of how art and creative expression can be an act of healing and human connection.

I loved this book as a child, truly appreciate it as an adult. Estes’s writing is warm and heartfelt. And Louis Slobodkin’s impressionistic illustrations are lovely.

The Hundred Dresses is a tale that endures.

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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 Report: The Fashion Intruder by Roma E Black

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The Fashion Intruder by Roma E. Black should be an ideal book for me. It involved elements I adore-high fashion, culture and art, the silliness of celebrity worship, strong female characters (like our main character Sophia, an attorney who takes a job at a fashion start up) who band together and take no bull, a European setting and lots of twists and turns.

However, The Fashion Intruder turned out to be less than satisfying. Black ignored filling us in on the issues of launching a startup, especially in the rough world of fashion and I found it odd that Sophia rarely used her experience and knowledge as an attorney to advance the plot. In the end, I didn’t end up caring about Sofia, her gal pals or pretty much anything they did when it came to solving the mysteries of fashion, high art and the people who make up these intriguing words.

The Fashion Intruder should have been the September issue of Vogue magazine of fashion fiction. Sadly, it’s more of a moldy Sear’s catalog  circa 1980.

Grade C

I Read It So You Don’t Have To: How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

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Whenever I write a book review I remind myself an actual human being wrote this book-remember to be empathetic in your review, be fair, be firm.

But when it comes to Cat Marnell’s memoir How To Murder Your Life…well, screw being nice. As the kids say, “I can’t even.”

Now I’m a pretty caring and compassionate person, especially when it comes to someone in a cruel grip of addiction and mental health issues. I’ve read countless books about people dealing with these issues and I know people in real life who have dealt with these issues. And have offered an open-mind and a shoulder to cry on to them.

Knowing a smidge about Marnell due to my interest and experience in both fashion and media I picked up How to Murder Your Life thinking it would be a book about a young woman’s harrowing journey through addiction while trying to make a living in two very challenging industries while also dealing with personal issues like family, education, friends, love and various mundane tasks like paying the bills and making sure the fridge is full.

I thought How To Murder Your Life would convey how Marnell finally realized she had a problem and had a someone or several someones intervene and tell her she needs to get help. I thought it would be a tale of Marnell agreeing to get help, go to rehab and at turns deal with breakthroughs and breakdowns finally arriving on some type of sobriety and doing everything in her power to stay that way. I expected wisdom, clarity, vulnerability and redemption. I was at the very least, hoping for a well-written book.

I got none of these things.

Marnell grew up posh and privileged in the DC area. Her family is both loving and at times infuriating. Marnell, as a child, seems to be silly, fun, creative and like any kid, a bit of a handful. Well, aren’t we all? From a very young age Marnell is interested in the fashion/beauty industry and develops a passion for magazines, going to the point of creating her own ‘zine.

When she reaches her teens she decides to attend boarding school and soon after goes into a tailspin, some of it where she is truly a victim (she loses her virginity to what seems to be date rape), but most of it where she is a willing and enthusiastic participant. Lazy, obnoxious, and fully entitled, Marnell barely graduates high school, can’t quite get into a proper college and gets addicted to various substances thinking it makes her dangerous, edgy and glamorous like she’s the Edie Sedgwick of the modern age.

But despite her lack of education, talent and mastery of anything other than taking an alphabet of any drug she comes across, Marnell gets an enviable gig working for Lucky magazine. Much of her easy entry is due to being privileged, white, thin and spoiled and well-connected. Granted, this isn’t exactly rare in the world of media and fashion.

Thus, Marnell continues to be a complete trainwreck, professionally, personally and romantically. From her early days with Lucky to later on where Marnell is working for the website xoJane under the “legendary” Jane Pratt.

Drugged out her gourd, Marnell’s life is a collection of missed deadlines and missed periods. But instead of being horrified by her life, she seems almost proud. And sadly, she is coddled by nearly everyone in her realm and as How to Murder Your Life reaches its conclusion, Marnell is still a fucking junkie!

Well, isn’t that a trip? Is How to Murder Your Life well-written? No. Marnell’s writing is distraught, callow, unenlightened and so purple Prince would probably say, “Okay, that’s enough.” And the name dropping of celebs, high priced cosmetics and designer duds just made me roll my eyes. Your not only one to apply MAC to your lips, Marnell. It doesn’t make your special (As I type this I’m wearing Chanel no. 5. Yes, you may touch the hem of my ancient Limited sweater).

Fortunately, there are countless on books about drug addiction that are worthy of your time. How to Murder Your Life is clearly not one of them.

 

 

Retro Review: My Way of Life by Joan Crawford

When it comes to a film diva’s way of life I can’t help but think of Joan Crawford. Certainly she was so much more than using evil wire hangers to beat her kids and being hailed as Mommie Dearest, right?

Well, of course one of the first ladies of Hollywood’s Golden Age is full of wisdom, so what a blessing it was to find Crawford’s book My Way of Life, a book written long before Gwyneth Paltrow thought up “unconscious coupling” and told us to stuff vagina eggs up our tampon tunnels via her lifestyle website Goop.

My Way of Life is part memoir/part self-help book. Published in 1971, long after Crawford’s heyday and just a few years before her daughter Christina told us her tale of the abuse she and her siblings were slung at the hands (and yes, wire hangers) of “Mommie Dearest.”

My darlings, Crawford just knows we are clueless when it comes to our love lives, our careers, our households, our looks, our child rearing and our entertaining skills. And she’s only too willing to help because she’s a giver. Plus, she does this with a lot of juicy Hollywood tales and a steaming heap of name dropping that TMZ’s Harvey Levin and Perez Hilton would sell their mothers for!

Now, I’m sure most of you know some of the common sense ideas Crawford pontificates upon in My Way of Life. You’re very own Mommie Dearests probably taught you these things when you were growing up. You should always prepare for the day by writing down a to-do list, or as Crawford calls it “plan of action,” and it’s best to do this the night before. No matter what, remain confident and positive. And it’s a good idea to have your day’s outfit already laid out and cleaned and pressed.

Okay, but what else Joanie?

Well, we should never let our husbands know about childrearing and cleaning routines. Apparently, they can run Fortune 500 companies or run a country, but that can’t handle changing a diaper or loading the dishwasher.

Crawford also tells us to not to get fat and ugly or a man will leave us for another woman.  But a man should never catch his wife without a full face of make-up on or with curlers in her hair.

When it comes to eating Joan admonishes us to never serve a dish featuring the colors red and yellow together. Well, there goes my corn, tomato and basil salad. And Crawford wasn’t exactly fond of butter, potatoes, cheese and avocados. You’ll get my butter, potatoes, cheese and avocados out of my cold, dead hands.

When it comes to making your figure slim and chic, Crawford advises us to never sit on a soft chairs because it spreads out one’s hips. And here I thought my curvy hips was due to genetics.

Scrubbing the floor is great exercise. If you want to go without a bra you should swim for it’s good for the chest. Well, sorry, but my girls need a house.

Crawford is full of advice when it comes to beauty and fashion. Moisturizing is key. Or as Crawford puts it, “Moisturizer is probably the most blessed invention of the past two decades” (Dr. Jonas Salk, “Bitch, please!”)! We should never have our face in a sour, disagreeable expression because it makes us ugly.

Ahem…

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As for our wardrobes, Crawford has a lot of advice on extolls the virtues of matching, hats, gloves, and jewelry. And never dress for yourself; dress for the man in your life.

Did I mention men? Yes, according a Crawford thinks a woman needs a man like a fish needs water. And she isn’t reticent on how to please our husbands. For instance, learn about every aspect of his life including his job (as for you having a job? Well, your husband is your job, silly!). It doesn’t matter if your man pumps gas for a living or is the Chairman of the Board for Pepsi-Cola like Crawford’s fourth husband Alfred Steele. Make his career your career and he’ll be happy morning, noon and night. Also, never let you man know about the mundane aspects of your life. You’ll just bore him. Let him know nothing of household purchases. Goodness, don’t you ever let hubby see that box of Kotex or his testicles will shrink into Rasinettes.

As for childrearing you ask? Well, never once does Crawford mention wire hangers as a method of discipline. But boy does she know how to raise kids. According to My Way of Life. Crawford is the perfect mother.

For the most part, I couldn’t help chuckle and roll my eyes while reading this book. However, I did think it had some good advice on keeping healthy with both exercise and good, decent non-trendy food choices. I do think some of her fashion advice was pretty timely even today like finding your own style, choosing your clothes for your way of life and find the colors that make you most happy. I also appreciated her praise of sex, not just for one’s man but for one’s self, too. She also mentions about the importance of relaxing after a long, hard day, advising readers to put the phone away, have a glass of wine and have a good conversation with people you love.

Yes, a My Way of Life is dated and a bit silly, but it’s still a fun read in our age of Kardashian, and one retro read I can highly recommend!

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).

So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.

Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:

  1. The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live
  2. The Feminisms
  3. The Future
  4. Epilogue

In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.

In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”

And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).

Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.

And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.

“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”

True…so true.

Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:

  1. The Rich are Blithe
  2. Poor People are Clever
  3. Two Things Men Need to Understand About Women
  4. How I Learned About Sex
  5. Let Us Find Another Find Another Word For Rape

And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:

  1. The Real Equality Checklist
  2. What Really Gives Me Confidence
  3. All the Lists of My Life

So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!

P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.