Book Review AND a Giveaway: Help Wanted

Reviewed for Chick Lit Central; be sure to click on the link to enter the giveaway!

When Claire Nelson decided that her happily-ever-after lay not in marriage but in a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, she vowed never to tie the knot. But that was before she met Paul Mendez, handsome and charming enough to have her breaking said vow and marrying him shortly after college.

Almost fifteen years and four sons later, Claire is now a burned out breadwinner ready to ditch her quest for happily-ever-after, and Paul has traded his dream of chairing corporate board meetings for volunteering at PTA meetings as a stay-at-home dad. Feeling trapped in a demanding job, Claire’s repeated attempts to get Paul to return to work fall flat. Contemplating divorce, she drafts a letter to the Plate Spinner, a popular advice columnist, asking for help. But when the reply contains an offer that may just put her bestselling author dreams back on track, Claire’s only question is: will Paul be on board? Or does her charming husband make a surprise move of his own? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I can very much relate to Help Wanted. Like Claire, I’m married. I have two rambunctious boys who I’m constantly having to tend to. Although I’m in a much happier place in my own marriage, and I’m not the burnt out breadwinner of the family, I know what it’s like to have a certain vision, an image of how the future will look, and how it feels to not achieve that due to all the various stepping stones of life. I liked the unique perspective Barbara Valentin has brought to light with this incredible novel. I get to identify from the stay-at-home perspective with Paul, while still yearning for my own dreams and aspirations that have fallen short, like Claire’s.

Even though Claire is struggling, inwardly, she wants to fall in love with Paul again, and Paul feels the same way about Claire. That’s another thing I loved about Help Wanted. It’s not often you find a novel that embraces and encourages marital bonds. The issue, though, is whether these two can make it work. Can they find happiness together, or will they be better off apart?

Mixed in are the subtle nuances that reminded me of The Gift of the Magi. Claire and Paul are both in a really tough place, financially and emotionally, yet there are situations where they end up trying to help one another without the other one even realizing it. There is a lot of charm and humor as well, which made this an easy read and one that I had a hard time putting down. That’s probably why I had no trouble reading it in two days! I’ll also stubbornly admit that I got a little teary-eyed towards the end, and I absolutely loved the ending. It was the perfect finish and one of my favorite endings, hands down.

I’m looking forward to reading the first book in this series, False Start. If it’s anywhere near as delightful as Help Wanted, I know I’m in for a treat!

 

Mommy Hair?

Hello Thursday! Meet my blog group, comprised of a fantastic group of ladies  who will dazzle you with insight on various topics.  After reading my post, check out their blogs as well. Just click on:

Froggie (Tracey): One frog’s distinct voice on the world around her.

Merry Land Girl (Melissa): Tales of a suburban mom who likes to talk about pop culture, books, Judaism, family, friendship and anything else that comes to mind.

Darwin Shrugged (Denise): Civilized Observations in an Uncivilized World

For this week’s topic, Melissa chose: “I Can’t.”

According to her directives for this week, this isn’t a self-bashing excersize. She used the example, “I can’t stop eating Oreo’s”. Or, “I can’t wait for the new season of Orange is the New Black.” To be clear here, I absolutely love Oreo’s, especially the Double Stuf kind. And I’ve never seen OITNB, but it’s on my que in Netflix.

For me, I thought about the recent change I’ve made in my life, a physical transformation that every woman faces with a certain amount of trepidation and dare I say it, fear. I sought out the services of a new hair stylist last week, and went for a very bold, very short haircut.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To be fair, I didn’t get the cut I’d wanted, per say. That’s never happened for me, anyway. I go in with a picture, I show the stylist…well, in this scenario, here’s the photo I went in with:

Ginnifer Goodwin

It’s obvious there’s a big difference. My bangs. I wanted longer bangs, and I didn’t receive that. Other than that, though, I am starting to really enjoy the new look. Not to say it hasn’t been a huge adjustment. This is the shortest cut I’ve ever had, so I’ve had to re-learn how to style my hair. What I’ve got going on could easily be designated as a “pixy cut”, and it’s all new to me.

I’ve been met with a lot of positive feedback on my choice to go short. I’ve also been met with some negative connotations on what it means to have short hair. A few people have said, “Oh look, you’ve got mommy hair!” It’s not said in a loving fashion, like having mommy hair is a good thing. No, it’s said in a way that indicates I’ve given up on myself. I’ve let motherhood give me… mommy hair.

I can’t get over the fact that short hair is depicted as mommy hair. I can’t get over it, because it’s simply not true.

Ask me how long it took for me to perfect my hair when it was long. Go ahead, ask me. Most of the time, I’d throw it back into a ponytail, getting the long, scraggly strands out of my face. That takes about a minute. Maybe 30 seconds? It took me no time at all, even after the blow drying process. In my opinion, my mommy hair was my long hair, hands down.

It takes me forever to style this pixy cut. For the first time ever, I’ve had to purchase pomade. Blow drying is a snap; it’s the work afterwards that takes a long time. Short hair likes to stick up in various directions. Lately, I’ve been using that to my advantage and letting it do it’s thing, putting a cute little headband over everything.

Yes, I just said “cute little headband”. That’s the other thing. I feel sexier, cuter, and more confident with short hair. I always have. Long hair feels like a big heavy weight on my head, hiding my face. Making me feel dull and lifeless. I’ve got thin hair, but lots of it. For whatever reason, short hair allows me to feel a little more girly. It’s nice to experience that on occasion, especially while I live in a household with all males (even the pets are males).

And really, who has the right to designate anyone as having “mommy hair”? Like being a mother is a terrible thing in this world. I’m proud to be a mom. My hairstyle choices in life have never been a direct reflection on whether I’ve have children or not. I was rocking the short hair look long before I’d ever been pregnant. And I had long hair while giving birth to both my boys.

I think we’ve each got our own way of perceiving what makes us feel good. For some of us, long hair is a symbol of femininity. That could be what makes us feel sexy. For others, maybe it’s a sleek bob, or as I’m discovering, maybe a pixy cut is the thing to bring out the confident, strong woman lurking inside of you.

Mommy hair. I think that phrase needs to be retired. To quote something my 10-year old son would say, “It’s dumb.”

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Book Review: Has Anyone Seen My Pants?

Reviewed for Chick Lit Central:

How does a gal with a successful career, great friends, and a razor-sharp wit find herself wandering pants-less through the hallways of a casino hotel in Iowa on New Year’s Eve?

Ask Sarah Colonna.

Has Anyone Seen My Pants? is a laugh-out-loud trip around America (and Mexico!) with Sarah as she braves crying in nail salons, mother-daughter road trips, Iowan casinos, and single-shaming resorts. From a fling-gone-wrong to friend breakups and a new romance, Sarah’s signature wit and sharp observations take you on a journey at once so deviously funny and surprisingly compassionate that it might just steal your heart—not to mention your pants.

Amy Bromberg:

Okay, so basically I LMAO more or less from page one till the end. Beware, you might just pee in your pants…it’s THAT funny! To be honest I had never heard of Sarah Colonna until I saw someone I follow on Twitter retweet her. Then I happened to find out who her publicist is. I’m sure you can figure out the rest. I had to get my hands on Has Anyone Seen My Pants? Who doesn’t need a good laugh, right? Humor within a memoir, however, makes it that much more special and unique.

If I had to pick a favorite part of the book, it would be Sarah’s strong female friendships and her brutal honesty. The reader can totally tell how important girlfriends are to Sarah, and how much she relies and treasures them. It’s unfortunate that I’ve lost touch with many of my college friends. My mom has a small group of girlfriends who get together at least once a month. I’d love to have this in my life. Sarah is so honest, that it can be comical. This makes me think I need to not be so scared sometimes of being honest with other people. For instance, if someone asks if I like something and I say yes, but only because I don’t want to hurt their feelings.

Just like Sarah, most of the time I don’t like talking on the phone. Once in a while I do, especially when the topic is too complicated or will take too long to text or e-mail. It’s sad that all of the virtual technology, social media, texting, etc. has pushed society away from having that personal, one-on-one contact.

There’s nothing negative that I can point out here. Sarah delivers great writing, funny stories, perfect flow, and a sweet ending that made me want to hug the book.

This is definitely a “couldn’t put down” type of book!

Sara Steven:

This was such an undeniably funny and charming book, from start to finish! What I appreciated most was how candid and honest Sarah Colonna is with her writing style and technique. I felt as though she was allowing me a front seat to the chaos and upheaval that can be her life, tinged with humor and humility all at once.

Very reminiscent of one of my favorite shows of all time, Sex and the City, it was interesting to read about Sarah’s take on dating while in your 30’s, living a single life surrounded by couples, cyber dating in this day and age and some of the craziest dating horror stories I think I’ve ever heard thus far (think dirty talking, but taking it to the extreme). I couldn’t help but think about a good friend of mine who is my age (we’re both mid-to-late 30’s, having birthdays two weeks apart from one another) living a single life, never married, no kids. It’s completely different from my own life experiences, and in a way I felt Sarah helped me to get a clearer picture on the kind of life my friend is living. I’ve often felt a little jealous of the supposed freedom she has and how she’s able to fly by the seat of her pants at any given time, but as I’ve witnessed with most things, the grass always appears greener on the other side but always comes with it’s own special list of pros and cons.

Having read what I’ve been referring to as the “Pants” book, I’m totally psyched to check out Sarah’s other book, Life as I Blow It. I have a feeling it will be just as entertaining and eye-opening, while giving me a laundry list of comedic moments and honesty that in my opinion is Sarah’s forte. A must read!

You’re the Poet in my Heart

Hello Thursday! Meet my blog group, comprised of a fantastic group of ladies  who will dazzle you with insight on various topics.  After reading my post, check out their blogs as well. Just click on:

Froggie (Tracey): One frog’s distinct voice on the world around her.

Merry Land Girl (Melissa): Tales of a suburban mom who likes to talk about pop culture, books, Judaism, family, friendship and anything else that comes to mind.

Darwin Shrugged (Denise): Civilized Observations in an Uncivilized World

If you could travel with any band for one week, which band would it be, and why? What sort of experiences do you think you’ll encounter? This can be a band currently in existence or one that is no longer, the sky’s the limit!

The movie Almost Famous inspired this week’s blog topic. I’d seen it on Netflix in recent months, watching it again with a more mature prospective. I think the last time I’d seen it, was when it had first come out in 2000. I was 22.

The gist of the movie: a teenager tours with an up and coming band, writing about his experiences. While watching the movie this go around, at nearly 37, I wondered what it would be like. What if I had the opportunity to hang out with one of my favorite bands?

I had a hard time choosing just one band. I enjoy music. There’s the usual suspects in my pocket, like Nirvana. Anyone who knows me, figures I’d pick them. Or Garbage. I really love Garbage. I know, that sounds silly in a sentence.

No, I decided on a group of very talented musicians, singers, and songwriters. The band I’d been introduced to while listening to my mother’s records as a kid. They’ve sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling bands of all time. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Received the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.

I’m referring to Fleetwood Mac.

Not the Fleetwood Mac of today, though. It would be a once in a lifetime experience, to say the least, if I’d be invited backstage with this amazing group for their latest concert tour but the past is calling me. I want to go back in time, to the music that first drew me in. To Rhiannon, or The Chain.  Or maybe an early 80’s Hold Me.

There are plenty of behind-the-scenes documentaries focusing on FM, but I wish I could have been there, first hand. I’ve always fancied myself a bit of a hippie. I think I would have fit in all right. Were there, or are there female roadies? Maybe I’d be moral support, creating a new version of groupie. Or maybe, just maybe I’d follow in Almost Famous’ footsteps, and write about my experiences with the band, while they’re on their way to becoming one of the most influential bands of all time.

I can’t even begin to imagine the thrill of hearing Sara live for the first time. Stevie wouldn’t be singing exclusively for me, but I’m sure I’d feel like she were. A while back, I’d watched a documentary on Netflix, and John McVie is describing the emotions he feels while listening to Christine McVie (his ex-wife) sing Songbird. He said even now, after all these years, it still brings him to tears. How would that feel, to be in the presence of such talent, devotion and love? It’s pure, and real.

I’m sure there are plenty of stories we don’t know, and will never know. Parties, rubbing shoulders with other celebrities. The high life, and I bet there are plenty of dark times that seem to always plague the rich and famous. The past has made FM who they are today, however daunting it had been.

The most I can ever hope for in reality is a ticket to a FM concert. And listening to my music. And day dreaming.

Book Review: Bellamy’s Redemption

Review for Chick Lit Central:

The opening scene in Bellamy’s Redemption reminds me of a typical Monday evening at my house. Sitting in front of the television, eagerly anticipating the drama and chaos that will ensue when The Bachelorbroadcasts. I’m sure that’s why I was undeniably hooked just a few pages in while reading “Bellamy.” In fact, much of this novel made me feel as though I was getting a behind-the-scenes look at what really goes on when dealing with reality television.

Emma Van Elson, the sweet and kooky female lead, is just as hooked as I am. She’s waiting to see who Alanna Rutherford will choose for her husband, on a show quite similar to The Bachelor. When Alanna doesn’t pick the man of everyone’s dreams, Bellamy Timberfrost, it feels as if the whole nation, including Emma, has let out a collective gasp. What was Alanna thinking?

Bellamy now has the chance to seek out love in front of millions of viewers on his own show, “Bellamy’s Redemption”. Emma has to get on the show. She’s never met Bellamy, but she has to discover if he’s just as dreamy in person as he is on the small screen. Emma has complete and total tunnel vision, even blocking out a potential love interest who lives just down the hall from her in her apartment building, all in the name of romance.

The road to romance is never easy. Emma is up against some fierce competition when she is accepted onto the show. It seems as though all the other women are gorgeous and much better suited for Bellamy, although the majority of them don’t seem to be there for the “right” reasons. And, where do Emma’s loyalties lie, anyway? While she’s finding herself becoming more and more infatuated with Bellamy, she can’t seem to get her hunky neighbor out of her head. Is she getting sucked into the limelight, or is Bellamy the one for her?

“Bellamy” was absolute fun from start to finish. I loved the catty scenes with the other female contestants, including a surprise guest that no one saw coming, throwing a huge wrench into Emma’s plans. What I also appreciated: the blindsides. Many times I’ve had an inkling as to which direction a book was headed, but “Bellamy” is an absolute surprise. It keeps you guessing, all the way through.

The Smell of Circus

Hello Thursday! Meet my blog group, comprised of a fantastic group of ladies  who will dazzle you with insight on various topics.  After reading my post, check out their blogs as well. Just click on:

Froggie (Tracey): One frog’s distinct voice on the world around her.

Merry Land Girl (Melissa): Tales of a suburban mom who likes to talk about pop culture, books, Judaism, family, friendship and anything else that comes to mind.

Darwin Shrugged (Denise): Civilized Observations in an Uncivilized World

Denise’s topic choice for this week: Write about a time (at least one, can be more) someone else described you and you were shocked — either because they were so wrong or because they were spot on.

I attended my first psychic fair the summer I turned 18. At the time, I was interested in all things metaphysical. I loved reading all I could on horoscope and astrology, often pinning certain characteristics onto my friends and family based on their birth date. A psychic fair seemed the next step in my budding interests.

The heat was nearly unbearable, out of the ordinary for Salem. Salem, Oregon, not Salem, Mass. The fair consisted of a variety of tents and booths on display, all outdoors and all random. There were palm readers, tarot card readers, psychics, aura photographers. Some were selling crystals or jewelry. Artwork. I had a $20 dollar bill nestled deep into my shorts pocket, a lot of money for me in those days. I had to be choosy.

I stopped in front of an older woman whose sign read: “Palm reading, past lives. $20.” I don’t know why I chose her. Maybe it was intuition. She didn’t look like someone you’d stereotype as a palm reader, a mystic. She was squat, with short graying hair, and quiet. She wasn’t trying to peddle anything, not like most of the others. I remember admiring that about her. I felt like I could trust what she had to say.

I was nervous, then. I always get that way before I’ve had my palm read, or my cards examined. You never know what will be said, and considering this being my first time I was even more nervous. I smiled shyly while she waved her hand at the empty seat in front of her. “Are you interested in having your palm read?” she asked me. I nodded and took a seat.

“For $15 dollars, I will do the reading. For $20, I can tape it for you. Which would you prefer?” She showed me a blank cassette tape, and a bulky tape recorder sitting next to it. “I’ll pay $20.” I told her, digging into my shorts pocket for the $20 crumpled up inside it. I felt a twinge of regret while I handed the money over. Something else I usually feel when parting with hard-earned money.

The woman stuck the cassette tape into the recorder, pressing “record”. Then, she reached out and grabbed onto both of my hands, palms facing up. I knew a little about palm reading, knowing my life line, head line and heart line. That was the extent of it, though. She studied my hands with intensity, which made me even more nervous. What would she find buried deep within the markings of my palms?

“You’ve had a hard life. I see you as a mother with a lot of kids, very poor. Living on the streets.” She peered into my palms. “I also see you as a man, a viking.” It was at this point where I started to seriously doubt choosing her to read my palms. She kept coming up with stories that anyone could conjure up. A princess in the Renaissance period. An avid bird watcher in the 1920’s. What was next, that I was Cleopatra in my past life? Doesn’t that honor belong to Shirley Maclaine?

“I see you working in a circus. You were a circus performer. There are elephants.”

I’d been looking down at my palms for most of the conversation, trying to see what she saw, trying to figure out what she interpreted by the lines and etchings of my hands. This time, I quickly glanced up at her and looked her dead in the eye. “What did you say?”

“A circus. You were a circus performer, and your act involved many elephants.”

When I was very little, around the age of 3, I had a reoccurring dream. In it, I couldn’t see anything. There was nothing but darkness, as though I kept my eyes closed the entire time while in my dream state. But where there was the absence of sight, I could smell and hear everything around me.  A strong smell of hay, the sounds of people talking. I could smell the animals, and I kid you not, I could hear the trumpeting of elephants. There was so much going on around me that I’d wake up from this dream feeling confused and disoriented. I’d never been to a circus and to this day I still haven’t been to a circus. Where did this memory stem from?

After the palm reading was over, the woman popped the tape out for me and handed it over. “Enjoy the rest of your day, ” she said with a knowing look in her eye. She knew she’d gotten to me.

Years later, I have no idea where that cassette tape is. I don’t remember a lot of the reading, but I’ve never forgotten the elephants. I’m not sure what I believe when it comes to mystical things, now. Age and life have dulled down my interests where the metaphysical is concerned, yet I will never forget my reoccurring dream, or the woman who knew about it just from looking into my palms.

Book Reviews: Heartbreak Cake and Office Girl

As always, my reviews are through Chick Lit Central.

I’ve read my fair share of books that revolve around food. I chalk it up to being a self-professed foodie. I find myself gravitating towards anything with delicacies and if there’s a cherry on top of some tasty little dessert morsel, even better. What I didn’t count on, however, were the intricacies that surround Heartbreak Cake. There’s plenty of mouth-watering desserts and goodies, but there’s also plenty of drama, intrigue, and chaotic moments that make this a total page-turner.

Indira owns the Cake Pan, an up-and-coming sensation best known for it’s creative cakes and delicious desserts. While she holds it together in the kitchen, the rest of her world is falling apart. She’s fallen in love with a married man, who in turn has professed his undying love for her, yet he’s never truly available. While they forged a kinship based on baking, it doesn’t help that he’s the one who becomes her biggest competition, managing a restaurant which far exceeds the Cake Pan monetarily. Indira has to make a lot of tough decisions where her heart and her head are concerned, especially when an opportunity arises in the form of a very rich client who needs a wedding caterer. This could catapult the Cake Pan into the stratosphere, should she get the account, and should her former lover not stand in the way of her success.

Rumors fly. Soon everyone knows about Indira’s indiscretion, which only hurts her and her business. Somehow she’s the one left with the scarlet letter on her chest and has to figure out a way out of the mess. How can she move past this, while attempting to heal a broken heart?

I loved the realism behind this book. I felt like I was reading someone’s story, not just a story line. Human nature dictates that we’re bound to make mistakes in order to learn and grow in our lives. I could see real growth and progression for Indira. It certainly helps when she comes face to face with a potential love interest along the way, and has to make a choice between the past and the future. While there’s plenty of cake in Heartbreak Cake, there’s also plenty of fun, a little pain, and a lot of love.

***

Something I’ve been struggling with lately, is my lack of a college education. I never intended to stray from the four-year plan. I wanted to be a teacher. I attended a solid community college to save money, ready to transfer to a teaching college in Nebraska when the time came. Unfortunately, a lot of chaotic life experiences got in the way, and my goal of becoming a teacher fell by the wayside.

Reading Carey RavenStar Robin’s memoir, Office Girl: A romantic comedy and true story about the terrible jobs one reader and writer suffered after majoring in English, I wonder if those chaotic life experiences may have been a blessing in disguise for me! For Carey, after majoring in English, obtaining a teaching certificate, an extra year of undergraduate credit, a paralegal certificate and 24 Master’s credits in English, she can’t seem to get a job! Not a very good one, anyway. You’d think with credentials like that she’d score something big. Instead, she’s a secretary, where she’s very much underutilized. Or a desk clerk for a motel. When she breaks into teaching, she’s barely scraping by with low-wages and non existent health care, not to mention the odd-ball coworkers who love to undermine Carey at seemingly every chance they get! With job prospects like this, who needs a career?

Things aren’t going well in Carey’s love life, either. Divorced, she’s come up with a scoring system of men she’s run into, based on their potential for loss of time and energy, self-esteem, etc. I was laughing at the similarities of some of the “winners” I’ve dated in the past, easily fitting my own experiences into each category Carey has conjured up. I love the humor and easy-does-it approach she uses when it comes to her love life. Really, what other choice does she have?

Carey is a very candid and funny storyteller. Just when I thought things were going to look up for her, something else would happen that would knock her back a step or two, but she keeps coming back, swinging and fighting even harder to achieve success in her life. There is a lot Carey identifies with from her past, parallels she drudges up and it’s obvious she doesn’t want to make the same mistakes she’s seen others in her life make. I know that scenario all too well, making it easy for me to relate with Carey.

Will I ever get back into the college game myself? I decided after having my own children that teaching wouldn’t be the best fit for me. I just don’t think I’d have the patience for it, not anymore. I’m still open to college, however. There are other passions in my life I can pursue, too, and where there is passion, there is hard work and a rollercoaster ride of achievements and failures. Office Girl is a true, honest, enjoyable testament to that!

 

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