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: Leading from the Roots-Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World by Dr. Kathleen E. Allen

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“Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” – Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail

You know I like a book when I mark it up with post-its, write notes in the margins, highlight certain passages and nod my head along like one of those bobble-head figurines. Which is exactly what I did while reading Dr. Kathleen E. Allen’s fascinating, timely and revolutionary’s book Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World.

This book implores organizational leaders (and pretty much anyone else with a stake in the workplace) to look beyond the confines of the physical spaces where we toil to nature and how it can help us and our companies thrive.

Leading from the Roots is divided into 11 well-researched,  and finely-written chapters on concepts like cooperation, diversity, lack of waste, curbing excess, the power of limits and so much more.

Each chapter gives ample evidence on how nature can help worker’s productivity and commitment to their jobs and how simple it is to work these practices into the workplace that won’t break the bank, take up too much time, or distract us from our tasks at hand. Dr. Allen provides ample evidence through both her extensive end notes and bibliography. And each chapter concludes with a summary of the chapter’s main focus and points to ponder and discuss.

Simply put, Leading from the Roots inspired me. Dr. Allen’s lessons are doable, practical and very audience-friendly. It’s ideal for everyone-managers, workers, students and grads, religious leaders, politicians, activists, teachers, creative types, social workers, medical personal, entrepreneurs, and so on.

Leading from the Roots is a great addition to my book shelf. I highly suggest you add it to your book shelf.

Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

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: Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions by JR Helton

In his memoir, Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions, JR Helton (who goes by the name Jake in the book), visits his younger years in 1980s Austin, Texas. It’s a time of working shitty barely blue collar gigs that are hardly on the fast track to respectability and career success. And it’s also a time when he found himself on a never ending cycle of crappy decisions, which included a bad marriage, toxic friends and family members, drugs and alcohol and educational aspirations cast to the wayside.

Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions begins with Jake dropping out of the University of Texas-Austin to try his hand making it as a writer. Alas, Jake has to give up his writing ambitions and find himself a “real job.” His first job is a soul-sucking job with Austin Paint and Spray, which morphs into other awful painting jobs working with dangerous chemicals and even more dangerous co-workers and shitty bosses. Helton writes about his co-workers in exquisite detail that they spring to life on every page.

Jake’s personal life is also in shambles. He’s married to his high school sweetheart, Susan, but their marriage proves to be more sour if not outright dysfunctional. The only thing these two lovebirds have going for them is a really hot sex life. Whereas, Jake eeks out a living painting, Susan takes on bunch of lowly office jobs, but soon finds her way into Austin’s growing movie production scene where she often has affairs with her co-workers, throwing it back in Jake’s face every chance she gets.

And it doesn’t help that Susan’s parents make for less than ideal in-laws. Her father is a washed-up football star with serious mental health issues and her mother is a faded, has-been actress.

But don’t feel sorry for Jake just yet. He proves to be less than an ideal husband. He’s sullen and misanthropic. His communication skills are almost non-existent. And he spends most of his time with Susan pissed off and has a strangely flirtatious relationship with her mother.

As for his own family? Well, they don’t come across quite some cuddly and lovable either.

And thus Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions goes on-Jake working one bad job after another and making poor decisions, which hound him in his younger years until he finally realizes it’s time to grow up and get it together when it comes to work, education, his substance abuse and to his too long marriage to Susan.

Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions is a memoir that reads like a novel, a bit similar to Ariel Gore’s We Were Witches. It also reminded me of two other memoirs of poverty and blue collar life-Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth and Ben Hamper’s Rivethead. It is a book written with true to life characters, a compelling plot and richly-detailed dialogue.

And though Jake is a bit of an anti-hero, he is one you end up rooting for especially once Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions reaches its satisfying end, which of course, you’ll have to read yourself.

 

 

 

Book Review: Night Beast by Ruth Joffre

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To me, the hardest book reviews to write are the ones where the book is just “meh,” neither one that is super praiseworthy or one that deserves utter scorn. But “meh” is where I am when it comes to Ruth Joffre’s collection of short stories in her book Night Beast.

In Night Beast, Joffre’s characters are caught up in various predicaments including coming in terms with one’s sexual identity, romantic heartbreak, the struggles of parenthood, challenges in the workplace, gut wrenching grief, and all kinds of abuse. And they are depicted using various genres such as sci-fi, fantasy, romance and true to life-some that work, some that don’t.

Some of Joffre’s stories show great promise but are written in a choppy, too short manner. They lack enticing plots, compelling character development and satisfying conclusions (think of bad sex with no orgasm). It’s as if Joffre got bored and decided to stop writing. I wish she would have just left these stories out of her book (or a good editor would have cut them out).

But there are a few stories I found entertaining and quite thought-provoking, showing Joffre’s strength as writer of fiction.

In the opening chapter Nitrate Nocturnes, everyone is outfitted with a timer that counts the exact amount of time in years, days, seconds and so on until they meet their true soul mate. But it is also a future where everything is timed out including death. This story was quite chilling in our day of digital media and technological “advances.” How long before something like this actually happens? I shudder to think!

In Go West and Grow up, Joffre tells a tale of a mother and daughter just trying to survive as they escape an abusive and alcoholic husband and father with very little resources and support. This story really got under my skin, and I hope if Joffre writes another collection of short stories she provides a sequel to Go West and Grow Up or perhaps this could inspire her to write a novel based on this story.

Another punch to the heart is the story I’m Not Asking, which tells the tale of two women coping with the loss of their unborn child and how it affects them as women, lovers and would-be mothers. I’m Not Asking would also make for a good novel.

Joffre is not a bad writer at all. I think she shows great promise and potential. She just needs to keep her fingers to the keyboard to fully shape the stories that are less than satisfying and a kindly editor who can help her round out her writing a bit more. Night Beast may be “meh,” but Joffre has the capability to become truly magnificent.

Book Review: Popular-Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Care Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships by Mitch Prinstein

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“Popular!
You’re gonna be popular!
I’ll teach you the proper ploys
When you talk to boys
Little ways to flirt and flounce
I’ll show you what shoes to wear
How to fix your hair
Everything that really countsTo be popular
I’ll help you be popular!
You’ll hang with the right cohorts
You’ll be good at sports
Know the slang you’ve got to know
So let’s start
‘Cause you’ve got an awfully long way to go”

-Popular from the musical Wicked

The word popular, one that must send shivers down most of our tailbones. It’s one of those words that take us back to our teen years when popularity was everything. And whether you were part of the “in-crowd,” a rejected outsider or somewhere in-between, the concept of popularity probably still affects you even though high school is now in the review mirror of life.

And that’s why Mitch Prinstein’s take on popularity is such an interesting and informative read with his book Popular-Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Care Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships.

According to Prinstein we are most likely familiar with two types of popular. On type of popularity is based mostly on wealth, status and fame. Back in high school the most popular kids were the athletes and the cheerleaders. Today this type of popularity is best portrayed by people like President Trump and reality stars like the Kardashians or world famous celebrities like Taylor Swift or Kanye West. This popularity is considered controversial because even though these people have their admirers, they  often quite detested and often, deservedly so.

And then there is another kind of popularity based on actual likability, wealth, status and fame notwithstanding. To me, these include people like the Pope, President and Mrs. Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and so on. Sure, these people have their share of “haters,” but for the most part, these people are admired for their contributions to society. Wealth, status and fame are a by-product.

Of course, looking back at high school a lot of the athletes and cheerleaders were completely likable. And I don’t hate the Kardashians as individuals, I’m just not fond of them as a concept…but I digress.

In the book Popular Prinstein goes to great lengths to explain how popularity affects us personally and professionally, especially in the age of social media, where far too many of us are too dependent of followers, likes, retweets and so on to assess our worthiness.

To get us past the digital high school halls of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, Prinstein offers compassionate ideas on how to be genuinely likable that will bring us true happiness and gratification and will affect society in a positive way.

Prinstein also doesn’t shy away on how not being popular in both childhood and adulthood can leave scars and how people can heal, whether they have experienced moments of neglect or rejection during those unpopular moments.

In Popular, Prinstein uses studies, interviews and other assorted methods of research to write about popularity in an audience-friendly way. He also asks readers carefully chosen questions on how on how popularity affects one’s sense of self. Popular has its academic moments, but is never dry and boring. It took me only a couple of days to read Popular and it’s still food for thought, especially when I get hung up on how many followers I have on Twitter.

I especially recommend Popular to parents and teachers.