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: Man Mission-Four Men, Fifteen Years, One Epic Journey by Eytan Uliel

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“The pick-up truck hurtles down a dirt road in rural New Zealand. In the back it’s just me, four loaded guns, and some kilo of drugs. I’m going to die, I think. And not for the first time today.”

Well, that’s one way to grab my attention. It’s also the opening of the book Man Mission-Four Men, Fifteen Years, One Epic Journey-a bloke version of Eat, Pray, Love, but also a complete anti-thesis.

Written by seasoned traveler and writer Eytan Uliel, Man Mission is an exotic stew with hearty heapings of fiction, travel guide and possible memoir. And it’s also an eye-opener for anyone whose idea of roughing it is no room service and believes a week of adventure is a vacation at the local water park.

Man Mission is about four young men, still in college and about to start life in the “real world.” Because of their friendship and their love of travel, these four mates will get together to travel to one country per year and will deal with the good, bad, and ugly as only they can (or think they can). They continue to do this even as they embark on careers, marriage and family life. All four friends find challenge in both the humdrum of domesticity and the excitement of their “Man  Mission.”

Man Mission is divided into three parts, simply called part one, part two, and part three; and it packs it up at the end with an epilogue called Home.

Some of the countries these mates traverse include Vietnam, Thailand, Fiji, South Africa, Iceland, Spain, Peru, and the good, old US of A. Included with the Man Mission is their manifesto, which includes such gems like going beyond one’s limits and no luxuries allowed.

A certain pink bracelet also is part of the Man Mission, a dude’s version of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

Over the course of 15 years these mates straddle a high wire of challenges of their vacations with the challenges of careers and domesticity (and like I mentioned, often the last two seem more challenging than the actual adventures).

The travels are definitely crazy and audacious. And the dialogue among the men is very rich and detailed, filled with both macho bluster and candid vulnerability. It certainly gave me a look into the male mind. Men, are both simple and complex (in other words, human).

If I have one quibble when it comes to Man Mission, I do wish Uliel would have painted the women in Man Mission with a more colorful brush. To me, they came across with all the depth as a shot of tequila when I would have preferred a full margarita (FYI-raspberry margaritas are my fave).

But at the end, Man Mission is a fast-paced, comical, and riveting book. I think it would make one heck of a movie. Hugh Jackman, call your agent!

 

 

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

Here is a quick book report on Daniel Torday’s novel Boomer1.

IMG_20181211_205509This novel explores the battle between boomers and millennials from the perspective of three people, Mark Brumfeld, his mother Julia, and Mark’s ex Cassie. In the beginning Mark has it all-a great career in media, a stellar education (he’s getting his PhD), a place in a bluegrass band, and Cassie. And then Mark loses it all and moves back in with his parents. Bitter, Mark dons a disguise, calls himself Boomer1 and uploads videos to YouTube solely blaming baby boomers for his lot in life. His videos go viral setting off a revolution and Cassie’s attention. Meanwhile Julia is dealing with her own issues.

Boomer1 seemed so promising, but Torday’s writing is pretentious and moves at a snail’s pace. Mark and Cassie are unlikable. And Julia is just meh.

Grade D

Book Review: Half the Child by William J. McGee

Portrayals of single fathers seem to fall into only a few tired and clichéd tropes-the fun-loving, weekend dad, the deadbeat dad behind on his child support payments, the “my ex is a bitch so all women are bitches” bitter single dad and the completely absent dad who disappears from his children’s lives.

Fortunately, Mike Mullen from William J. McGee’s novel Half the Child is none of those things when it comes to being a single dad.

On the surface Mike seems like a regular guy. He’s a loving and devoted father to his little boy Ben. He works as an air traffic controller at LaGuardia while working on his master’s degree in psychology. He comes from a loving, yet at times, testing Irish Catholic family.

But Mike is also going through a contentious divorce that will turn his world upside down, especially when it comes to both his personal and professional life.

Divided into four distinct chapters called books, Half the Child follows four consecutive summers in the lives of Mike and Ben.

In the beginning, Mike is separated from Ben’s mother and they are on the verge of getting a divorce. It isn’t long before the divorce turns sour and Mike’s ex abducts Ben and leaves the country.

This sets off Mike into a nightmarish tailspin as he fights for his parental rights, which affects his personal life, including a budding romance. It affects him physically, emotionally, and mentally. Professionally, Mike is a mess. Mike begins to suffer a deep depression and often contemplates suicide. How will he cope with every obstacle that comes his way? What will happen to his relationship with Ben? Is it beyond repair? How will survive Mike survive this nightmare? All I know is I read this book with bated breath, turning page after page, hoping there would be some light at the end of the tunnel entrapping Mike.

Written by someone of lesser talent, Half the Child would come across as way too over the top to be believed. But McGee is a thoughtful and gifted writer whose “voice” rings true. Every character is rich in detail, no matter how major or minor. And the various scenarios in Half the Child are shown, not merely told.

At turns, Half the Child is heartbreaking and hopeful. It is filled with suspense, humor, anger, and intimacy, truly a grand achievement in story-telling. McGee is a writer to watch for, and I can’t wait to read more of his work.

Book Review: You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

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I’ve been a fan of author Curtis Sittenfeld ever since I read her debut novel Prep several years ago.  Since then Sittenfeld has written several critically acclaimed books. Now she’s back with her latest release, a collection of short storie, called You Think It,  I’ll say It.

In You Think It, I’ll Say It, Sittenfeld chronicles the lives of men and women in our modern day, both the mundane and the complex.

In the opening story, a man and a woman (married to other people) play a game called You Think It, I’ll Say It. It is their way of coping with their less than ideal relationship issues and marriages that have known better days. Little do they realize their little game just might lead to dire consequences.

In Gender Studies, Henry elopes with his student Bridget. Left behind is Henry’s longtime former girlfriend Nell. At first, Henry thinks he has done the right thing leaving Nell, for he has enough with her smugness. But has he found the ideal woman in a less “affected” woman like Bridget? Or is he just with her because of her youth, and what he believes is her less than formed identity?

In Bad Latch, a new mother struggles with breastfeeding and the judgmental attitude of mothers. Is she less than a mother because breastfeeding isn’t this magical bonding moment and she might have to turn to (oh horror), formula? In Bad Latch, a “Breast is Best” activist character is a hilarious highlight.

In Off The Record, entertainment reporter, Bridget copes with new motherhood while on a business trip to interview an up and coming actress. The actress reveals a juicy tidbit asking Bridget not to put it in the article. But finding this actress a bit of an obnoxious twit, Bridget wonders if she should put in this detail in the article out of spite. Should she she? Hmm, maybe she should.

And clearly The Prairie Wife is based on The Pioneer Wife (and other lifestyle bloggers) and a total hoot in all its snarky bitchiness.

Pretty much all of You Think It, I’ll Say It is a tremendous collection, written in Sittenfeld’s sharp voice that makes her such a singular voice her generation. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Caina by Joe Albanese

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If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read as the days of summer dissolve into fall you can’t go wrong with the novel Caina written by Jersey native Joe Albanese.

Lee and Grant Tolan are identical twins, but apparently in looks only. Whereas, Grant is hugely successful with a thriving career and a finely-tuned Jaguar as his car, Lee is a ne’er do well and over-shadowed by Grant. Lee is mixed up with various gangs and less than savory behavior.

Up to his eyeballs in debt, Lee decides to swallow his pride and crawl back to Grant hoping to reconnect after years of estrangement.

However, Grant dies under mysterious circumstances. And Lee, after making a life of bad decisions, decides to assume Grant’s identity and finally live a life of respectability and success (not to mention, also drive a Jag).

But people aren’t always what they seem and this is true of Lee’s late brother. Posing as Grant, Lee finds himself caught up in a world of mob activity, dealing with the DEA and other malfeasance.

To survive all this Lee enlists the help of his friends and they all get caught up in death with the Irish and Italian mafia, drug dealers from Mexico and quite a few other activities that test their mettle. Lee also begins to realize Grant wasn’t what he seems. And if Grant wasn’t what he seemed, may Lee can isn’t what he seems and can redeem himself. Well, if he doesn’t end up “sleeping with the fishes.”

I found Caina to be fun and fast-paced, with interesting characters and dialogue. I often found myself seeing this as a movie or a TV show. It has elements that made me laugh and made me cringe, and despite Lee and company’s bad decisions, I truly wanted them to win in the end.

Caina is a good read by a very promising young writer.