Book Review: Home Again by Mariah Stewart

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Summer is the perfect season for a light beach read, especially in the awful year of 2020. Needing a break from all the doom and gloom I borrowed Home Again by Mariah Stewart from my mother.

Dallas MacGregot seems to have it all. She’s an award-winning movie star married to a successful film producer named Emilio Baird and the mother of a delightful little boy named Cody.

But soon Dallas’s world comes apart when her husband is caught with two women in a scandalous sex tape. Dallas decides to divorce her scummy husband and escapes the tabloid scrutiny by returning to St. Dennis, Maryland where she spent her youth in the comfort of her family and close community.

Dallas is not alone in this time of upheaval. While in St. Dennis Dallas reunites with her fun-loving great aunt Beryl “Berry” Eberle. Berry was once a movie star herself during Hollywood’s golden age.

And there is also another resident of St. Dennis that has Dallas’s heart, local veterinarian Grant Wyler. Grant was Dallas’s first love. Is the spark still there after so many years apart? Maybe so.

Dallas finds solace and support in St. Dennis as she goes through her divorce and faces tabloid trash. She connects with other St. Dennis residents, even her rival for Grant’s affection. She fuels her creativity by working on an adapted screenplay of a popular book and getting the chance to make into a film.

And just as Dallas thrives in St. Dennis so does her son Cody. However, Dallas’s dastardly ex, Emilio arrives in St. Dennis. Is he going to cause havoc or try to make amends with Dallas and Cody? And what about Grant? Is he going to be a brief fling or a lasting love? Heck, even Aunt Berry might face a few changes in her life both professionally and in the department of romance.

Home Again kept my interest from the very first page. Though I felt that Dallas was written too good to be true and Emilio was too much of a cad,  I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Stewart writes in a very vivid and descriptive way that fills all five senses. I especially liked how the ice cream sold at the local shop Scoop was described. My mouth watered over the unique flavors.

And another interesting element of Home Again are the diary entries of Grace the editor of the local paper St. Dennis Gazette. These diary entries focus on Dallas and Berry’s lives. Hey, Grace is a journalist. She’s always interested in getting the “scoop” on St Dennis’s most famous residents.

And though Home Again was a bit predictable once it came to its closure, I found it a satisfying read as summer winds down.

Book Review: How to Fall in Love With a Man Who Lives in Bush a by Emmy Abrahamson (Translated by Nichola Smalley)

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I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But let’s face it – an intriguing title can really make you think to yourself…

“I must read this!”

This leads me to my latest book review How to Fall in Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush written by Swedish author Emmy Abrahamson. With a title like that I know I had to read this novel.

How to Fall in Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush is a fictionalized account of Abrahamson’s early days with her now husband, and it is one hell of a love story, and chick lit for those usually not a fan of standard chick lit.

Meet Julia, a Swedish woman on the verge of turning 30. She’s currently living in Austria teaching a Berlitz course in English as a second language, dealing with a lot of students who challenge her patience with every lesson.

In her free time, she “Netflixes and chills” and comes up with ideas for novels she’d love to write. Unfortunately, these novels have already been written, like The Shining by Stephen King and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte to name a couple.

With a near non-existent love life, Julia also spends time with her friends at local pubs and restaurants, including an obnoxious frenemy named Leonore.

It isn’t long before Julia hits a moment of serendipity. While sitting on a park bench, Julia meets a homeless man, Ben. At first Julia is a bit disgusted by her new acquaintance. He’s barefoot, stinks and well, yes, is HOMELESS!

But despite all this Julia is drawn to Ben and they begin “dating” – well, whatever you want to call dating when man literally lives in a bush.

Has Julia met her Prince Charming? Or has she met her Prince Alarming?

Not one to reveal too much of the plot of this charming romance because I want it to be a delicious surprise to my faithful readers, I’ll just hope that they trust me and pick up a copy of their own.

One thing How to Fall in Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush is love doesn’t always move in straight lines. Often is moves in squiggles and resembles a turned over plate of pasta.

While reading this book I wanted to smack both Julia and Ben and I also wanted to cheer them on. But no matter what, these two lovebirds kept me interested. And the ending made me gasp with shock and surprise but it also left me hoping for a sequel.

Most known for her young adult novels, How To Fall In Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush is Abrahamson’s first novel for adults. I don’t just feel I discovered a talented new writer; I feel like a met a new friend.

We Interrupt This Blog for This Special and Important Announcement!

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According to Sheryl Dee, her book Rhythm and the Body Electric is contemporary romantic fiction that is as turns dark, funny and quite erotic. It follows a woman’s journey to life that fulfills her both emotionally and creatively even though she has to deal with several personal obstacles along the way. Interspersed throughout Rhythm and the Body Electric is Dee’s provocative and sensual poetry.

Speak in Short Words

Speak in short words, each breath stolen from the divine.

Slip the grip of time. 

Slay beastly doubts with dazzling strokes.

Open your throat. Eat your foe. 

Burn, build or braid a way.

Heal with hands, hymns and heat. 

Give more than you get.

Sing a unified theory in ten lines or less. 

Each day, chase genius. Find grace.

The following is a brief synopsis of Rhythm and the Body Electric provided by the author:

“Virginia’s got her sexy, silly groove back and is ready to rock the world, but will love, lust and dangerous desire kill the music?

Environmental engineer Virginia “V.” Will, the youngest in a protective, Southern family, has played it safe for years. The death of her adventurous mother is a wake-up call. At age 39, V. leaves her job and joins the D.C. band Love Bunny as a drummer, but she wants more than just a drum throne and a voyeur’s view of the wild parties of her twenty-something bandmates. Just when she thinks her family was wrong about the dangers of the nightlife, she starts feeling very out of sorts at a band party. And did she just hallucinate her favorite actor Jack Leeds? Not good.

Jack Leeds knows how to blend into the background to enjoy a beautiful talent. He sees V. at a Love Bunny show. He must have her. He plans to approach V. at a listening party, where her odd behavior interrupts his kinky preoccupations. Can he keep her safe and protect his TV career and his heart?

Hot sex, soulful art, empowerment, obsession and violent secrets give the lust and love story of Jack and V. its own seductive rhythm, now accentuated with layered, provocative and lyrical pieces from the author (me), an award-winning poet.

Fans of BWWM romance, leading ladies with a sense of humor, power exchange, poetry, erotica and nerds getting love will have a blast dancing to the beat of Jack and V.”

Ms. Dee was also kind enough to provide a glimpse of Rhythm and the Body Electric through the first chapter:

Chapter 1 Bold Bunny Beat

Rumble and caress cohere. As the beat fades, sorrow and hope wash over me in waves.

Gavin tips his pork pie hat and says, “And that, my friends, is yet another reason we’re so lucky to have our V. Show some love for her.”

Scattered across the crowd, my friends clap and hoot. The love on their faces lifts me.

Gavin introduces the fans’ favorite Love Bunny song. The energy elevates. I scan the den for my college pal until Zander the DJ blocks my view.

“Yo, great remix, V.,” Zander says. “Let’s toast to drummers getting some love tonight.”

This drummer already has. And she doesn’t plan to share it with a disconcerting DJ.

No, no. Let me be gracious. This night’s been amazing. I can at least be civil.

I smile at Zander. His goatee’s darker and his blonde hair’s lighter than I recall. He hands me an open bottle of ale from my favorite local brewer. I take in a big mouthful and am surprised at its sweetness. I check the label. Summer blend at a fall soiree, no biggee. I swallow.

“Hey girl, about that song,” Zander says in his incongruously deep voice.

I talk with Zander for minutes. He drones on about his approach to production.

“I wish this rapper I heard would get that.”

“He probably does,” he says.

“She has cool flow. Her empowerment message is amazing. Her tracks are just too thin.” 

“Maybe I should holler at her, professionally,” he says.

“You should try. She’s D.C. born and raised.”

“Local. Cool. We could get that chedda,” he says.

“OK, but she’s about something. She won a grant for social entrepreneurship.”  

“Does she keep it real?” he says. “I can’t stand fake shit.”

“She’s as real as gentrification.”

Gavin announces the last two songs before I can tell Zander the rapper’s name. Maybe that’s a good break for her.

The choice of the manager plays. The crowd claps. The new song unfurls. It ends to loud applause. My heartbeat thumps like a scared rabbit. I wonder if the excitement’s gotten to me.

I see my friends out, trying not to let on at my dizziness. I wait in line for the bathroom. I wash my face with cool water to little lasting effect.

I spot Pei. I doubt I can cross the dining room without stumbling.

“Pei, I better head out.”

“Girl, ya had a few too many. Ya better sit down before ya fall down,” Pei says.

“I didn’t finish a drink, not one.”

“I gotta schmooze,” Pei says as she tucks a lock of blue hair behind her ear. “I’ll get Zander to set ya up with some chips and a quiet spot upstairs ‘til we drive ya home.”

I fight to control my bottom lip. It feels stretchy.

I hate being drunk. I’d only had half the ale. Is low tolerance another vagary of aging?

The dining room’s tilting. I may’ve been drugged. I should be incensed. Am I floating?

Zander guides me up tricky stairs. I wobble by a guy who looks like my favorite fantasy lover, Jackson Leeds. Same strong jaw and soul-stirring eyes.

I must be hallucinating. I’m definitely unwinding. Here’s hoping all my trips are as lovely as Jackson.

Book Info
Author: Sheryl Dee
Page Count: 200 (more with the poems)
Word Count: 50,000
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Author Bio: 
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Sheryl Dee is a writer, drummer, researcher, voice over artist and more. She studied creative writing at UNC Chapel Hill and took Poetry for the People at UC Berkeley. She won the first Pearl Street Publishing author fellowship and a Gemini Magazine poetry contest. 513 206 0278

Book Review: Dante’s Garden-Magic and Mystery in Bomarzo by Teressa Cutler-Broyles

Frank Farnese is a collector of antique books when he chances upon a first edition of Dante’s classic novel The Divine Comedy. Inside the ancient tome is an inscription. Frank finds this inscription intriguing noting it mentions a mysterious garden located in Bomarzo, Italy. Frank wants to visit this garden to learn more about Dante and The Divine Comedy. Frank decides to visit Bomarzo where he finds himself exploring and falling through Hell’s Mouth, a particularly gruesome and odd sculpture.

When he awakes, Frank no longer finds himself living in the 21st century. He has somehow, through the works of time travel, in the year 1570. To greet him, is Pyrrho Ligorio, a legendary antiquarian of literature and his lady companion, the lovely Lurcrezia Romano. Both Pyrrho and Lucrezia find Frank to be a kindred spirit and invite him on what is about to be an incredible journey.

Thus, begins Teresa Cutler-Broyles novel Dante’s Garden-Magic and Mystery in Bomarzo.

Just as in the modern age of 2017, things aren’t quite right in the world back in 1570 and the three of them know they should make things better.

Frank and his newfound companions find themselves wrapped up in a multitude of adventures, some exciting, some dangerous, some educational and for Frank and Lucrezia quite romantic. Among their adventures is the infamous Inquisition and an astonishing retreat to the iconic Venice. On their journey they meet people (some who actually existed and others fictional). As this unique tale unfolds, Frank and his traveling companions must learn if these people are true allies or those they should avoid for they are truly perilous (and then there are some characters shrouded in mystery).

Did I mention romance? Frank can’t help but fall in love with Lucrezia. Though she is a woman of her time, she is also one with a keen mind and a desire to learn and grow even though educational and vocational opportunities are limited for women. Lucrezia is also a woman with fleshly desires and fully gives herself to Frank despite 16th century sexual mores.

Frank so wants to stay in 1570 but also misses his life in the 21st century, not just the modern conveniences, but his relationship with longtime girlfriend Matilda, who he lovingly calls Tilly.

Or maybe Frank could find his way back to the modern day and bring Lucrezia with him. But how would she live in a world of modern conveniences that we take for granted? How would she adjust? And would she miss her old life back in 1570? And how would Frank explain his absence? Would Tilly and his friends and colleagues buy his tale of time travel? Hmm, he might as well tell them he was in a coma or kidnapped by aliens.

And of course, there is the issue of what brought Frank to this adventure and him questioning his stake in both worlds-his acquisition of an original copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Dante’s Garden is richly written and wonderfully descriptive. Cutler-Broyles has a gift for showing not telling. In my mind’s eye I could see the people, places and things she writes about in glowing detail. In one passage, Cutler-Broyles describes a beautiful gown in shades of green, blue and purple, which filled me with pure joy!

If I have any regret, it is my grasp on European history is way too limited, and I must expand my knowledge gained through PBS documentaries, classic movies and vintage fashion. Cutler-Broyles has a vivid imagination and she clearly has a full grasp on Italian history, which isn’t surprising considering she is a visiting professor at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy and has spent the past ten years leading travels throughout Italy.

Now I’m left wondering if Cutler-Broyles has a sequel in mind. I would love to know how Frank and Lucrezia are affected by their remarkable expedition in the long run, long after their initial story plays out in Dante’s Garden-Magic and Mystery in Bomarzo.

Book Review: Up All Night-From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist by Rhonda Shear

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I’ve often used the phrase “if so and so didn’t exist we’d probably have to invent them.” I’ve used them so often that it’s become a tired cliché. Note to self: Make one of your New Year’s resolutions to come up with a new phrase.

But I don’t have to apply this to Rhonda Shear. Shear is all about invention and re-invention. In fact, Shear is a potpourri of re-invention, a sex kitten who has lived nine lives, and will probably live nine more. And she dishes the dirt and tells her tale in her biography, Up All Night-From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist.

During her life, Shear has been a New Orleans beauty queen and a struggling and striving actress who got to kiss Fonzie from the TV classic Happy Days.  Shear later became a stand-up comic and host of the popular USA network program Up All Night, fueling the fantasies of horny teenage boys, grown men and probably a few lesbians. Shear is also a hopeful romantic who found her way back to her teenage love, now husband, Van Hagen. And last but now least, Shear is now a successful “bimboproneur,” inventor of the Ahh Bra and other underthings, which she sells on HSN.

Life began very modestly for Rhonda Honey Shear born and raised in New Orleans. Named after movie star Rhonda Fleming, Shear’s parents, Jennie and Wilbur Shear, doted on little Rhonda and got her involved in dance lessons at a very young age. It was then and there Shear knew she was destined to stardom. She began to compete (and win) local beauty pageants. She also found the love of her life, Van Hagen and together they had a sweet but somewhat volatile teen-age courtship. After high school, Shear got a BA in communications from Loyola University.

After she received her degree, Shear moved to Los Angeles, where she tried to make it as an actress. She got parts in D-list fair but also got a role in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. She guest starred on quite a few TV shows like the aforementioned Happy Days, and shows like Cheers and Dukes of Hazzard. Shear. (But she also had to deal with a lot of #metoo issues from some unsavory types in the age before the “Days of Weinstein and Roses.”)

It was through these appearances Shear was able to hone her comedy skills, which inspired her to do her own comedy act. She spent plenty of time working at some questionable clubs but also did her act at iconic comedy showcases like the Comedy Store. She worked a lot with other comics like Gilbert Gottfried, but also developed a comedy act with other funny ladies.

But her teenage swain, Van Hagen, was still on her mind. Through the power of social media, she found her high school honey and once again they connected in a way not often seen other than in Hollywood romantic movies.

But Shear also had dreams of owning her own business and along with her new hubby, created a successful lingerie and lounge wear company, which after a few struggles is doing very well and is sold both via HSN and her website Rhondashear.com. One notable item from her line is the Ahh Bra, an actual comfortable bra!

Up All Night is composed of three parts, part one is about Shear growing up in the Big Easy, part two is about her life in Hollywood and part three is about her life in Florida with hubby Van Hagen and her life as a successful business women. These three parts are composed of chapters Shear calls lessons, lessons which include: Beauty Matters, Don’t Wait for Opportunities, Create Them and Love Has No Expiration Date.

Is this book perfect? Of course not. At times I found it a bit rushed and not fully developed. I wish Shear would have gone deeper into various phases of her life. At times, Up All Night just skimmed the surface. I wanted more cake, less frosting. Perhaps, Shear’s life would be better served through several volumes of her life story. But it’s very likely her publisher wanted to pack it all into one book.

Some of the advice Shear offers verges on Hallmark card clichés or something you might find on a bumper sticker or a fortune cookie (but then again, the advice is pretty good and I think Shear’s heart is in the right place-she really wants to be there for the reader).

Oddly enough, I found myself quite interested in her life as a beauty queen. This could be because I’m from the land of the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin, where women where cheeseheads, not tiaras.

And as a fledgling jewelry designer with a mad love for Martha Stewart and lesser known ladies of business, I gobbled up her tale about developing her business, coming up with the Ahh Bra, and other sexy and also comfy lingerie and lounge wear designs. And I appreciate how Shear shared the good, the bad and the ugly of running one’s business, how she made her mark on HSN and life as a lady mogul. When it comes to our breasts, ladies, I don’t care if you are an A Student, packing a couple of killer Bs, a tempest in a C cup or a cornucopia of riches, a comfortable bra is every women’s birthright!

Ultimately, I grew to like Shear and her brand of feminism. Feminism is often open to interpretation (not too mention misunderstanding). You can be a feminist in so many ways, and Shear more than proves it.

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 they 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!

Book Review:Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E Smith

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to take things so literally. When picked up Ms. Smith’s book, I truly thought it would be about collecting records (or musical downloads considering it’s the 21st century), with intelligent and knowledgeable essays about various musical genres, musicians, singers, songwriters and how they can affect you as a woman and a lover of music.

After reading Record Collecting for girls, I now realize why we are told “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

On paper Smith seems like the coolest girl in the universe. She honed her love of music while in college. For nearly a decade she was the music programmer and manager of label relations at MTV. She chose videos for 20 of MTV’s musical platforms. Reading about her tenure and her multitude of accomplishments truly excited me as a reader…and to be honest, kind of intimidated me.

But Smith’s time with MTV was the only thing that impressed me as I kept on reading and discovered her experience with music has all of the depth of a 12 inch extended re-mix of Duran Duran’s classic song “Hungry Like the Wolf.” I was hoping for a younger version of one of my favorite music journalists Lisa Robinson. Sadly, Smith is just another “Becky,” more boy crazy than a true connoisseur of music.

Record Collecting for Girls is more of a memoir of Smith’s various boyfriends; for the most part music is secondary. After a while, I started thinking, “Okay, I get it, Courtney. Guys think you’re hot. Now will you please write more on why music is such an important part of your life?”

For someone who spends a lot of time discussing her boyfriends, Smith has all the charm of a constantly skipping vinyl record while teaching us on the difference between “groupies” and “wives.” And she wastes no time ripping apart one of the most famous groupies of all time, the lovely Pamela Des Barres (who was married to rocker Michael Des Barres for quite a long time). To Smith, Des Barres is nothing but an airheaded twit who allowed herself be exploited by rock and roll greats. To Miss Pamela’s credit, she is quite forthcoming when it comes to the good, the bad and ugly of being a woman and a fan in the world of rock and roll. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She’s also a vastly superior writer to Smith. Smith’s derision towards other female rock fans is truly “mean girl.”

When it comes to women who play music, most of her wasted ink is on both the Bangles and the Go-Gos. There is nearly zilch on other lady music luminaries like Debbie Harry, Patty Smith, Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Carol King, Annie Lennox, Joan Jett, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Nina Simone or Janis Joplin. Other bands with a strong female presence like Heart, Sonic Youth, The Talking Heads, The Runaways, The Velvet Underground or The Breeders also don’t get much of a mention. Also pretty much ignored? Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Jewel, Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morrisette and any band related to the Riot Grrrl era.

Smith also ignores the positive female icons of hip hop like Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Missy Elliott, Salt n’ Pepa, and TLC.

As for well-known female millennial artists like Taylor Swift, Kesha, Katy Perry, Rihanna, or Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj or Janelle Monae? Forget about it.

Smith does go on forever when it comes to Madonna, but who hasn’t? And she does have a love for the Pussycat Dolls. I won’t hold that against her; for there is a place in my heart for both Bananarama and the Spice Girls.

Now what about the men of rock and roll? Smith has a particular dislike for the Smiths because guys who like the Smiths also are fans of serial killers. Gee, I’m not exactly a fan of someone who spells Morrissey’s first name wrong. It’s Steven, not Stephen.

And FYI Courtney. It’s Berry Gordy, not Barry Gordy and it’s “Jennifer Juniper,” not “Jennifer Jupiter.”

Now that I’ve written that sentence I am several IQ points stupider. Or should I say “stupiter?”

Her chapter on The Beatles vs. The Stones hardly breaks new ground. And her chapter on the various songs couples choose as “our song,” break up songs, and songs for making out won’t keep Rob Sheffield up at night.

There are some highlights. She provides lists of songs at the end of each chapter that might help you pick out new music to listen to and she writes well when writing about some of her favorite artists, which include REM, Fiona Apple, Elvis Costello, Stevie Nicks, and Sleater-Kinney.

But other than those few crumbs, Record Collecting for Girls is a waste of time. Smith’s writing is both hollow and pretentious. You’re better off reading High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, or at least renting the John Cusack movie of the same name.

Book Review: Startup-A Novel by Doree Shafrir

The workplace always has a way to inspire a good book, and it definitely inspires author Doree Shafrir in her spot-on satirical release Start Up: A Novel.

Startup is about a collection of driven and talented millennials and how they are making their way in the world of social media, work culture, and high tech in the world of startups in New York City, a culture where often you’re only as good as your last tweet and a text read by the wrong person can ruin people’s careers. However, it is also a novel that examines the complex relationships between men and women, both professionally and personally, and all too relatable no matter what generation you got slid into (FYI-I’m a card-carrying member of Generation X).

The world of startups is one that both baffles me and intrigues me even though I’ve spent some time in newly formed entrepreneurial organizations. Sometimes I hear the word “startup” and I feel my blood turn into icy cold rivers. A lot of the startup culture seems to be about making something out of nothing valuable or meaningful to our society. Yet, at the same time one of my favorite shows is Startup on PBS, which examines new companies and entrepreneurs who are creating products and/or services that are creative, useful, and add value to their communities.

Sadly, the latter doesn’t seem to be the startup in Shafrir’s novel, but does it make for a fun and witty read.

Startup focuses on several characters, who are both infuriating and intriguing. There is Mack McAllister, the CEO of the startup Slack who is having an affair with Isabel Taylor, one of his employees. There is Katya Pasternack, a tough reporter for a high tech media publication and her boss, managing editor Dan Blum. And then there is Dan’s wife, Sabrina Choe Blum, back to work at the startup, trying to fit in and get back to speed after several years as a stay at home mom.

Mack may seem to be on the top of the world as CEO, but in reality he is lonely so he hooks up with Isabel. Isabel is initially fine with the casual hook ups she has with Mack but is now at the point where she wants their sexy time to stop and get back on track to focusing on her career.

Katya, sees several texts sent from Mack to Isabel on Isabel’s phone at a networking party. Three of these texts feature Mack’s fully-engorged member saying, “don’t tell me u don’t miss this.” Katya wonders if she should she ignore the texts or should she publish the photos and write an exposé that could blow up the entire world of Slack, not to mention the careers of both Mack and Isabel. Gee, which option do you think she’ll pick? I bet you can figure that out.

Meanwhile, Dan is at this tether at both the tech magazine and with his marriage and home life. He just figures he is worth of more respect by both his colleagues, especially Katya and his wife Sabrina.

And poor Sabrina feels in over her head at her new job; she feels a bit out of the loop when it comes to her tech savvy, eternally smart phone watching and social media updating co-workers and questions how she measures up.

Furthermore, she’s got a shopping addiction and the credit card bills to show for it. She tries to hide this addiction (not to mention the bills) from her hubby Dan. To pay for her bills, Sabrina starts selling her dirty undies on-line and actually gets a nice cash flow coming in. Yes, it sounds disgusting but everybody has their kinks and Sabrina is just providing a product some people are willing to buy.

From the opening line of Startup to the last closing line, I found myself caught up in the whirlwind of these characters’ lives both professionally and personally. Though a lot of them made some bad decisions, I truly had their best interests at heart. I wanted things to work out for all involved, and I could relate to a lot of their problems. Yes, even Sabrina selling her unmentionables. Nope, I’m not going to sell my dirty dainties on Craigslist, but I have been told more than once I should make extra money via phone sex due to having a “hot and sexy” speaking voice.

But I digress…

In the hands of a lesser writer, these characters could be written in broad non-dimensional strokes, the men all douchebro cads, the women all overly ambitious shrews or weak milquetoasts. But all are fully-dimensional. You both root for them while at the same time shake your head in disgust.

Plus, I could totally relate to this novel even though I’m a generation older than the characters and live in Milwaukee, not the Big Apple. I’ve worked in the world of media and newly formed organizations. But I also dealt with these issues while working in older companies and retail establishments. It seems like the more things change , the more they stay the same. From Mad Men to the mad world of startups, Startup: A Novel is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: Love is a Mix Tape-Life and Loss, One Song at a Time

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Just what is love? Philosophers, poets and song writers have been asking that question since the beginning of time. To music journalist Rob Sheffield, love is a mix tape. The author has chronicled the cross section of music and love in debut book called Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

Long before people downloaded music into their smart phones or other hand-held listening devices with their favorite music, they made mix tapes. Mix tapes were very personal. Not only did they reveal some of our favorite songs, they also revealed our hopes, desires and thoughts. Mix tapes were therapy on a magnetic strip.

Rob Sheffield is no different from every music obsessed Generation X-er. A total music geek, he found solace and a reason for being through his love of music. Starting as a young child, he DJ-ed at school dances, collected albums and tapes like baseball cards and debated the merits of different bands with his friends.

In the late 1980s, Sheffield met Renee. Renee couldn’t have been more different from Rob. He was tall; she was short. He was a shy geek from Boston. Renee was an extroverted Southerner. The only thing these two seemed to have in common was an intense love of music, and it seemed music was all they needed. The two soon fell in love and were married until Renee’s untimely death from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 31.

Sheffield deftly writes about his all too brief marriage to Renee and he does this with a catalog of different mix tapes he made. Each chapter starts with a different mix tape, complete with the names of songs and artists. Some tapes are for making out, some for dancing and some for falling asleep. Sheffield proves to be no music snob, mixing top-40 guilty pleasure pop with the alternative music of the 1980s and 1990s. Each lovingly crafted mix tape conveys an intricate detail of the sometimes loving, sometimes rocky, and all-too-human relationship between two very interesting and complex souls.

Love is a Mix Tape had me riveted. Sheffield is an amazing writer, handling his love of music and his love of Renee with tender loving care. He gives an intimate glimpse into his marriage without revealing too many intimate details. The marriage of Rob and Renee is never conveyed in a way that is too saccharine or maudlin. These are two very real people who seemed to leap off the page. Often when men write about the women in their lives they do it more as a reflection of their own egos rather than writing about these women as three-dimensional human beings. Sheffield does not fall into this trap. I really felt I knew Renee. In fact, I wish I knew Renee. She was an Appalachian Auntie Mame who told her husband to “Live, live, live!” and tells the reader to do the same.

And even though I began reading Love is a Mix Tape knowing of Renee’s death, I was still very shocked when it happened. How could this ebullient soul not be cavorting somewhere on the planet? And Sheffield’s grief was so palpable I felt a dull ache in my heart as he described existing as a young widower.

I highly recommend Love is Mix Tape to anyone who considers music as vital as breathing and knows only too well the ecstasy and heartbreak true love can bring. Rob Sheffield has written an amazing book. I hope he has more books in him.

To learn more about Rob’s affiliation to write about love and music please check out my review of his book Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke.

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.