Book Reviews: What I Read in August

Hey! It’s September already, which means it’s time for a few book reviews from the month of August. Let’s start with a book I didn’t like and work our way up to one I absolutely loved.

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

I guess if “These Things Hidden” has one thing going for it, it’s that it was a quick read. Other than that, ugh, where to begin.

Set in Linden Falls, a small town in Iowa, the novel alternates point of view among four characters, Allison, Brynn, Charm and Claire, in each chapter. Sometimes the chapters are written in first person. Sometimes in third person. I don’t know why the author made that choice. But that’s how it goes.

Allison has recently gotten out of prison for doing something terrible as a teenager and has returned to Linden Falls to live in a halfway house and start her life over. Her sister, Brynn, has fled their small town and now lives a few hours away with their grandmother. Their parents have pretty much cut the two sisters out of their lives because of what Allison did.

Meanwhile, Claire owns a bookstore in Linden Falls. She’s adopted a son, Joshua, who was left at a fire station as a baby. Charm’s a nursing student who drops into the bookstore sometimes and feels a connection to Joshua.

The novel has a lot of twists and turns, each one more implausible than the next. It doesn’t really develop its characters beyond flat stereotypes. Charm’s mom is the trashy slut. Allison’s and Brynn’s parents have too high expectations. Their grandma seems nice, but that’s all we get. There’s never really a sense of the why behind each character’s action, except for maybe Claire, who seems driven by her need/desire to be a mom. Snoozefest.

SPOILER

So, OK, let’s just do a spoiler here. You’ve been warned. Allison went to prison for throwing her baby in a river. Turns out that not only did she not know she was pregnant or was somehow able to conceal her pregnancy for the entire time, she was pregnant with twins.

You’re putting two and two together. Yeah, Joshua was the other baby. And! Plot twist! Allison gets a job working at the bookstore, where she instantly recognizes Joshua and decides she must tell her sister about him. Oh, and by the way, Brynn’s very  mentally ill. This is depicted by her saying random words out loud sometimes and by her trying to drown Joshua.

From it’s unbelievability to its handling of characters with mental illness, there’s not much to recommend about These Things Hidden.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

I’ll be honest and admit that I picked up Jojo Moyes’ One Plus One off of the library shelf because I really liked the cover. The story inside was enjoyable, too, but it was really the cover that drew me in. So, “never judge a book by its cover” doesn’t have much weight here.

The formula for One Plus One is pretty similar to Moyes’ Me Before You. A down-on-her-luck single mom, Jess, ends up with a wealthy, but seriously flawed, tech entrepreneur, Ed Collins.  Although the two initially don’t get along, their romance has a chance to bloom over the course of a days-long road trip from their home town on the coast of England to Scotland, where Jess’ daughter, Tanzie, a math whiz, has the chance to win a math contest. The prize money from the contest would be enough to cover the cost of her going to a posh private school.

Of course, there are a lot of literal and figurative bumps in the road on the way to the contest. Turns out Tanzie can’t ride in cars going more than 40 mph, which is why the trip takes so long. Jess doesn’t want to pay for hotel rooms and won’t eat in restaurants, because of concerns about cost. The whole reason they’re riding with Ed is because their rickety Rolls Royce broke down on the side of the road. Ed himself is running from his own demons (and possible jail time for insider trading) at home.

The novel alternates point of view and narration between chapters, giving Jess, Ed, Tanzie, and Nicky, Jess’ stepson, a chance to tell their stories. The change in narrator actually does give you a multi-faceted view of the situation and helps create a deep and engaging story.

Although One Plus One does have a happier ending than Me Before You, it’s not all smooth sailing on the path to love or whatever. Ed doesn’t simply swoop in and save Jess from her financial troubles. Jess doesn’t just jump in and make Ed a better man instantly.

That’s what I love about Moyes’ books. They’re sappy romances, sure, but they aren’t all hearts and love and mush. Her books feel hopeful, but still depict the day to day challenges all people face.

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel L. Everett

I read about Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes in Tom Wolf’s take down of Noam Chomsky in Harper’s in July and decided I really wanted to read it. Chomsky has this theory that language and grammar are innate, that every person has the ability to learn grammar and that all language share things in common, even if those languages are very different. This is an over-simplification, but I’m not reviewing Chomsky here.

Anyway, along comes Everett, who’s spent 30 years of his life living among the Pirahã tribe along the Maici river in Brazil. Everett’s also a linguist and has dedicated himself to studying the Pirahã language. What he’s found is a grammar like no other, with thoughts pretty much exclusively in the present tense and each sentence containing only one thought.

His book, “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes,” is part memoir of his time with the tribe and part linguistic discussion and analysis. It caused a stir in the linguistic community when published, because it did bring Chomsky’s theories into question.

But even if you’re not interested in the intricacies of language and how a culture shapes the language it creates, it’s worth a read. One for the evolution of its narrator, who originally traveled to down the Maici River as a missionary, intent on converting the Pirahã to Christianity, and two, because it’s important to learn about other cultures, particularly about those that are on the brink of being lost.

As Everett argues, every time a language dies, the world loses something. Knowledge about how cultures can think differently, for one thing. A different way of looking at daily existence, for another.

 

Underground Airlines by Ben Winters

Underground Airlines is a controversial book. Written by a white guy (this is part of the controversy. The other part is the mostly tone deaf NY Times review), it imagines a world where the US civil war never happened and where slavery is still legal in four states, even in the present day. Not only is slavery still legal, but the Fugitive Slave Act is still in effect, meaning if a slave escapes to another state, he or she can be brought back to the plantation (or factory or slaughterhouse) and re-enslaved.

It’s an interesting story, of a former slave who’s been forced to be a bounty hunter for the US Marshals (the government arm in charge of chasing down and recapturing escaped slaves). There are twists and turns, including a particularly chilling revelation at the end.

Although it was set in an alternative world, it was a world with a lot of similarities to our own. Michael Jackson still existed, for example, and was a famous pop star. LBJ became president (although Lincoln was assassinated before he was president, preventing the war). There’s an Internet, there are cars, and so on.

I guess the similarities are important for making the book feel relevant and timely to us. We can’t just be like, ‘oh this isn’t happening, it’s completely fiction,” because there are a lot of parallels between the novel and with how black people are treated in our actual society. The chilling revelation at the book’s end might never be real in our world, but the similarities between how free black people are treated in the book and how they are treated in our society (I’m talking about the shootings, the suspicions and the disregard) are chillingly real.

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

About a year ago, I was with a group of theater people who were discussing a project that commissioned contemporary playwrights adapt or rewrite Shakespeare’s plays. It seems Hogarth has done a similar thing, but in novel form. The Gap of Time is Jeanette Winterson’s take on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

A quick recap, in case you’ve never read The Winter’s Tale (there’s a more fully fleshed out version in the novel itself): A king, Leontes, becomes convinced that his best friend, Polixenes, is having an affair with his wife, Hermoine. Leontes is absolutely sure that the fetus Hermoine is carrying is actually Polixenes’. Sadness and death follow, as the baby, Perdita, is left and Hermoine is killed.

In Winterson’s version, Leontes is Leo, a jealous hedge fund manager and Polixenes is Xeno, a video game designer. Hermoine is MiMi, a singer, and Perdita, is, well, Perdita, a baby found and raised by Shep and his son Clo in New Bohemia (think of it as a fictional form of New Orleans).

I really loved this book, more so than I thought I would. The Winter’s Tale is one of those  Shakespearean plays people don’t know what to do with, since it’s neither purely a tragedy (although there is death and stuff) and it’s not fully a comedy (there’s happiness and marriage at the end, though). The novel tries to figure out what to do with the subject and plot of the challenging play.

Winterson’s version is fully modernized. Leo and Xeno are former lovers (they went to boarding school together). Although Leo is now married to a woman, Xeno identifies as gay. MiMi isn’t just a woman who’s stuck with her husband. She’s a singer, she has her own money, she can make her own decisions. That makes Leo’s treatment of her all the more terrifying.

If anything, Winterson’s version fills in the gaps created by the play and helps solve some of the confusion. One of the big issues with the Winter’s Tale is that Leo’s sudden jealousy isn’t really understood. Winterson has him install cameras in his wife’s bedroom and spies on her and Xeno together. Their interaction is innocent, but Leo twists and perverts it in his mind, setting the events of the book into motion.

It’s worth noting that The Gap of Time isn’t strictly an adaptation. I don’t know how clear the story would be without the introduction that recaps the plot of the Winter’s Tale. Winterson also jumps into the novel at the end, to share her reason for rewriting or covering it. That was a  little jarring, but I guess makes sense if you’re going to look at the book as a cover version, and not just an adaptation of the story.

*I received a free copy of The Gap of Time from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.*

Shopping: Planning a Fall Wardrobe

As I mentioned in my last post on capsule wardrobes, I’m moving away from the concept. Rotating through four seasonal capsules last year definitely helped me get a grip on spending on clothing and helped me avoid impulsive clothing purchases. It also helped me figure out what I like wearing versus what I don’t. But, the process of capsuling takes a lot of time and effort and I’m not interested in investing that time or effort anymore.

One interesting discovery I made doing capsules: I love wearing dresses. I always thought I was a skirt person, but dresses are so easy. It’s one piece. If it fits you well and looks good, all you have to do is put it on and you’re good to go. Of course, the fit part is key.

Another thing I learned from capsuling: I hate quantifying my closet. I really don’t care if I have 37 pieces or 50 pieces, as long as they are pieces that I love and actually wear. That’s mainly why I’m not going to bother with capsules any more. As long as it’s not excessive for you, there’s no reason to obsess about numbers.

Putting Together a Fall Wardrobe

The aspect I did like about having a capsule was taking the time to plan my wardrobe out. For fall, that means taking a peek at what I have and figuring out if there are any gaps. For example, I don’t currently have a basic navy or black pencil skirt. I have a colorblocked number from Boden, but it’s not that versatile. I’d like something that I can wear pretty much all the time.

Because I love the fabric the Miyani dress from Theory is made out of, and have a blazer in a matching fabric, their pencil skirt is at the top of my list for fall pieces. It’s also made in the US, which is another plus. I actually went to Nordstrom a few weekends ago to try on, but they didn’t have it in stock. That’s OK, though, because my plan is to wait for it to go on sale during a Friends and Family event or similar, rather than pay full price.

Other Fall Wardrobe Pieces

To round out my fall wardrobe, I’d like a casual, light jacket. The jacket I’ve been wearing since 2012 recently ripped and I’m a little over its style (it was a moto style jacket in a French terry fabric. Kinda edgy, but also kinda suburban).

I am usually drawn to coats with some sort of military detailing. For example, I can’t afford it, but I love this jacket from Burberry:


This coat from Banana Republic is a pretty decent and affordable substitute:

Along with a fall jacket, I’m hoping to add a few every day dresses to my wardrobe. I’ve recently become a bit enamored of the selection from Brooks Brothers. I know they’re usually so preppy, but they recently hired Zac Posen as their creative director, and I have to say I really like some of their pieces. A brown and black houndstooth print wool dress is standing out to me particularly. They also have some jackets that look fantastic.

I’m also looking at the Hattie dress, from Boden. It seems to be a simple, stretchy dress with a flared skirt. Perfect for everyday work wear. I’m unsure whether I want to venture into pants this fall, but if I do, the Foster pant from MM LaFleur seems perfect. Everlane is also introducing a ponte pant, which might be worth checking out.

Fall Wardrobe Budget

I’d like to budget around $600, at the most, for this fall’s wardrobe. But the sticker price of all the items I’d like to get for fall is more than $1,000. Yikes. That’s what happens when you start looking at quality over quantity — the price jumps. For that, I could afford to get that Burberry coat (but then, that would be all I could get…).

Of course, we live in the era of never ending sales, or so it seems. For example, I’ve already ordered the jacket for Banana Republic for 40 percent off, and it’s not even the end of August yet.

Still, I’ll obviously  have to make some cuts and decisions about what to get and what not to get. That’s another reason why I’m moving away from a capsule concept.

With the capsule, you stock your wardrobe at the start of the season, which I think can lead to making not the best purchases. Instead, I plan on making sure I actually have a need for an item (like a casual coat, which I will definitely need when the weather gets cooler) before purchasing it. Will I actually  have a need for a new pencil skirt? We’ll see. It might be that I can find one that’s less expensive than Theory, but equally as good.

 

Reviewing the Reviews Part 2: J.Crew Circle Mini Skirt

Let’s do another review of the reviews, shall we? A few months ago (in March), I ordered and reviewed the J.Crew Circle Mini Skirt in Crepe. At the time of my review, I admitted to being skeptical about the skirt’s quality, but also pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t the train wreck I was anticipating. Here it is again for reference:

J.crew circle mini skirt in crepe

Review Revisited: J.Crew Circle Mini Skirt

So, flash forward about four months. How’s the skirt holding up?

Eh, not so well, I’m afraid.

In my original review, I said this about the fabric:

The fabric is a poly/viscose/elastane blend. It’s got some texture to it and a soft hand. I’d be afraid my cat would snag it, but he snags everything, so that’s not really an issue. The skirt is lined, which adds some heft to it.

Some texture and a soft hand equals a nightmare for cat owners. Every time I wear this skirt, it gets covered in cat hair. COVERED. It’s like a cat hair magnet. Even if I don’t pet or cuddle with my cat, the skirt winds up looking like a mess. I must spend about 15 minutes before leaving the house lint rolling the skirt and applying packing tape to it to remove the hair.

It’s not only cat hair that’s the problem, though. The fabric just seems to pick up every stray piece of lint and dust in the world around it. Keeping it looking clean and decent is pretty difficult. It’s dry clean only, so it’s not like I can just toss it in the wash and hope for the best.

I’ve gotten to the point where I wear the skirt at home and change into something else before leaving the house.

Yeah. That kinda sucks.

It’s not just that the skirt is a lint/cat hair/dust magnet. It’s also got some quality issues.

The grosgrain ribbon waistband I was so concerned about is holding up fine. But, the tag inside the skirt has fallen off. I have to say that this is the first time I’ve had a tag fall off of any piece of clothing. That sounds like a minor issue, but if I wanted to sell the skirt at some point, it would be a problem. Not that anyone wants to buy this skirt, given that it looks beat to crap after just four months of wear.

Another deal: the fabric is pilling in spots, notably on the sides of the hips. Blugh.

I think this circle mini skirt is the proverbial final nail for me. I’m done with J.Crew. It’s one thing to sell cheap, low quality clothing and fully admit that. It’s another to sell them while at the same time crowing about your commitment to quality and the like.

 

That all said, if anyone has any recommendations for a well made, black skirt, I’m all ears.

Books: What I Read in July

And … I’m back. Decided to take a bit of a break from blogging for July, so I’m going to skip reviews of what I read in June and get right to the books I read last month. Except for the first book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, because it’s really five books and I read them over the course of June and July, along with a few others.

Ready? Let’s begin.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I have a bit of a hypothesis about Douglas Adams’ books. I like the Hitchhiker’s trilogy (it’s actually five books. Just let that sink in and you’ll get the humor found through the books). But I love Dirk Gently. And I think that’s because I read the Dirk Gently series first. Meanwhile, people who read Hitchhiker’s first love it, but only like Dirk Gently. My hypothesis that whichever Adams series you read first is the one you like more could have nothing to do with anything and could just because we are different people, and so we like different things.

Anyway, Hitchhikers. The basic premise: Right before Earth is destroyed so that an intergalatic superhighway can be built, Ford Prefect (an alien) whisks Arthur Dent (a human) off of the planet. Hilarity ensues, over the course of five books.

Admittedly, some of the books are better than others. I found the third book, “Life, the Universe and Everything,” to be a bit of a slog, while I thought the fifth book, “Mostly Harmless,” was the most enjoyable (after the first book, which is absolutely hilarious). “Mostly Harmless” is a little on the dark side and the ending is a bit, “whoa, OK, did that just happen?” But I liked it.

If you’ve never read Hitchhiker’s, go read it. But first, I’d recommend reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Just to test my  hypothesis.

 

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

July was all about re-reading books I’d enjoyed in the past. I first read The Children Act, a slim novel from Ian McEwan, when it was published in 2014. It’s been on my re-read list ever since.

Fiona Maye is a high court judge in the family court in London. She’s earned praise and recognition for her level headed decisions in challenging cases, most notably a case involving conjoined twins. Severing the twins would save the one, but kill the other. Leaving them attached would kill both.

In The Children Act, Fiona faces another challenge. A 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness has leukemia and is refusing blood transfusions, because of his religion. The transfusions would most likely save his life. Fiona has to decide whether to accept that his wishes are valid or rule in favor of the hospital giving him the transfusions.

At the same time, her personal life is going to shit. Her husband has announced that he’d like to have an affair (but stay married) and promptly leaves their shared flat. Fiona’s constantly wondering if she made the right choice in not having children. Although she ultimately makes a decision in her case, a few of the choices she makes at the same time come back to haunt her.

Although The Children Act is a short book, it packs a powerful punch. Fiona’s a character steeped in regret. She’s done well professionally, but she’s not sure if she made the right choices throughout her life. The books not only focuses on the big choice she must make and the ramifications it will have for Adam (the teenage boy) and his family, but also how the small choices and decisions she’s made and continues to make have affected her life and those around her, for better or for worse.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Not only was July re-read a few favorites month. It was also “man month,” in that I only read books by male authors. I guess it happens sometimes. The last book I read in July was Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I first read the book in 2003,  after the Oprah’s book club debacle (my copy actually has a small label on it announcing the book as a book club pick. Oops.)

If you’re never read the book, it centers on the Lambert family. Albert and Enid, the dad and mom, live in a small town in the midwest. Their children have scattered, with their oldest son, Gary and their only daughter, Denice, in Philly. Their middle child, Chip, is in Lithuania by way of New York City and some terrible life choices.

The first time I read the book, I was a super naive 20-year-old. Now, I’m a less naive 33-year-old, a year older than the youngest character, Denice. So, I guess I got the book a bit better this time around. There were parts of it that I found funny, and I don’t remember there being so much humor the first time I read it. There were parts of it that were more relatable.

Although The Corrections was Franzen’s third novel, it’s interesting to re-read it and note how much like a first or beginning novel it feels. There’s a lot of heavy handedness about it, in terms of metaphors and symbolism (true to its title, the book sure talks about things being corrected a lot).  It’s like you can feel him trying to write the Great American Novel. There’s a sense of strain throughout, like he’s trying to achieve greatness. I’ll have to re-read Freedom and Purity, but I don’t remember getting the same sense from those two books.

 

Shopping: Nisolo Smoking Shoe

A good pair of shoes is hard to find. Everyone’s feet are slightly different, sizes vary, quality of material varies. Since I work at home, I probably wear shoes more infrequently than the average person. But, I still need to go out from time to time, and that requires shoes.

nisolo smoking shoe

Luckily for me, I recently found not a just a good pair of shoes, but a great pair of shoes. Handmade in Peru, the Nisolo Smoking shoe is super comfortable, well-made, and decently priced.

Nisolo Smoking Shoe in Noir

My friend actually told me about the brand (she was raving about it), and gave me a $25 discount referral code (thanks!).  I wanted a pair of black flats to replace my well-worn BR flats, but didn’t actually want a ballet flat. The smoking shoe fit the bill. It can go casual with jeans (not that I wear jeans that much) or work well with a business casual look. If you need to go professional and don’t like heels, I think you could pull these off, too.

nisolo smoking shoe

The shoes are made from leather, leather, leather and there’s a rubber cap on the heel to keep it from wearing out too quickly. The insole has a bit of cushioning and arch support, to make the shoes more comfortable.

I ordered a size 10, the largest size available, and crossed my fingers that they would fit. They did, with a tiny amount of room on the sides, so I hope they don’t stretch out too much as I wear them.

The leather of the shoe isn’t super stiff right out of the box, which is nice, but I do get the sense that they will need a bit of a break-in period before I can walk miles and miles in them (which I can easily do in my BR flats at the moment).

The company’s stated commitment to making the fashion industry more sustainable attracted me to Nisolo. Like Everlane, they share the production process of their products on their site and describe the company’s mission.

The shoe are also great. I can see these lasting for a long time, and when the heels wear out or whatever, they’d be easy to bring to a shoe repair shop for a fix.

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Shopping: J.Crew Cherry T-Shirt

This past weekend, J.Crew was doing a somewhat fun promo in store: they gave out scratch-off cards with different percent off values. I had stopped in to check out the J.Crew cherry T-shirt in person and landed a 30% off scratch off card. But, the cutesy discount offer isn’t the point of this review. The cherry print T-shirt is.

J.Crew Cherry T-Shirt

J.Crew Cherry T-Shirt

It’s pretty cute, right? The fabric is soft, thin cotton, and I guess I am a little worried about how long it will last. The care tag says to air dry it, so I think doing that will help prolong its life.

The website describes the cherry T-shirt as having a slightly loose fit. It looks pretty fitted in the picture above, but that is because I’m in the Extra-Small. The store in Philly was out of smalls, so I brought both XS and medium into the fitting room with me.

J.Crew Cherry T-shirt

There’s the medium. Whoa, did I gain 10 pounds? No, I just put on a t-shirt that is slightly too big. And then took a blurry photo of it.

In contrast, here’s the XS with those same green shorts:

J.Crew Cherry T-shirt

Seriously, much better. If you prefer your shirts fitted, I’d recommend picking up the cherry t-shirt in size smaller than usual. If you do want a looser fit, that you can slightly blouse out when you tuck in, go for your usual size.

What else? Let’s talk about those shorts.

J.Crew Chino Shorts, 4-inch Inseam

I own the chino shorts with the 4″ inseam in a light grey, which I ordered online a while ago. They seemed to have different colors in store compared to online, including a pinky-purple and the sort of mallard duck green pictured above. Although the grey shorts look cute and casual on me, for some reason I just didn’t dig the green color.

The fit is fine — these are a 6 and they sit right on my hips, but not too low. I think 4 inches is a good inseam length for me (at 5’10”). 3 inches is a little too scandalous while 5 inches is a little too matronly.

J.crew chino shorts

Another complaint — the lighting in the dressing room cast weird shadows on my legs, making it look like I had a lot of cellulite. I don’t get that. Retailers, the dressing room is the try-out room. It’s where your clothes get to audition for us. If you’ve got bad lighting that makes us look terrible, there’s no way those clothes are making it out of the dressing room and over to the register.

I’m not asking for movie and TV studio quality lighting here, but lights that don’t cast terrible shadows are going to help you all sell some more clothes.

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Books: What I Read in May

Hey, I kinda read a lot in May. I mean, I think so, at least. Is five books, one of them a graphic novel, a lot? It seemed like a lot, and as if I was onto a new book every week. Let’s review:

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offil

Dept. of Speculation was a strange little book. Short and fragmentary, it traces the beginning and break down of a marriage. A woman and a man fall in love, get married, have a child, get bedbugs, have or contemplate affairs, move out of the city.

Each of the book’s short paragraphs is a concise observation. It reminded me of the books of Buddhist proverbs my partner has. I’d read one of the paragraphs, think, oh that was profound, forget what it was, and not be able to find it again.

Although it was a quick read, there was depth to the book. It was more about the sum of the short paragraphs than each of them on their own. Reading about the couple’s baby daughter, for example, you get the impression that the wife finds her annoying. But, keep reading, and it becomes clear that despite the baby’s irritating behavior, the mother has nothing but love for her.

Dept. of Speculation doesn’t develop its characters in a realistic, fully fleshed out way. We get only the mother/wife’s perspective, we only see snippets of other people in her life. If you’re looking for a quick read that’s moving and heartbreaking, I’d recommend the Dept. of Speculation.

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

People are getting married later and later (if at all). Despite that, people still associate the beginning of adulthood with marriage and children. All the Single Ladies, by Rebecca Traister, takes a close look at the evolution of the single woman in recent decades, using statistics and interviews to paint a full picture of what life is like for women and what the postponement of marriage means for society over all, and how society should respond.

Don’t let the title (taken from a Beyonce song) fool you. This is not a light read. It’s informative and engaging, but it’s packed full of facts. All the Single Ladies looks at women on both ends of the financial/economic spectrum. It includes stories from those who are wealthy and from those who aren’t so wealthy. It discusses portrayals of single women in the media and how those portrayals have influenced people’s thoughts and feelings about women. Think Murphy Brown in the 1980/1990s, Sex in the City in the late 1990s, Cathy the comic strip. It includes opinions from people who look disapprovingly on women who don’t get married. More importantly, it includes opinions and feelings from real women who are single or not exactly chomping at the bit to get married any time soon.

Get married, have babies isn’t where the story ends (or even where the story goes) for many women today. But, it’s taking a long time for people to realize that.

Patience by Daniel Clowes

I read Patience in one sitting. Which is what I think you’re supposed to do with graphic novels, but I’m never sure. I know I’m not one to focus much on the actual graphics of the book. I don’t study each frame or image carefully, but instead of pay attention to the story.

But, Patience has graphics that demand attention. It’s a sci-fi time-travel tale about a man, Jack who goes back in time to save his wife, Patience, who was murdered in their home. This being a time traveling tale, there are twists and unexpected jumps throughout. It’s stuff along the lines of “what if you go back in time and cause the thing you’re trying to prevent?”

The effects of time travel on Jack’s body are frighteningly and graphically portrayed by the imagery. The panels in Patience are bright, vivid, and grotesque. They jump between being realistic cartoons (is that a thing?) and being technicolor nightmares come true.

First Bite by Bee Wilson

I thought Bee Wilson’s first book, Consider the Fork, about how the development of utensils changed the way we eat, was interesting, so when I saw First Bite sitting on the shelf at the library, I decided to pick it up. First Bite examines how people learn to eat and what influences shape their tastes and preferences, from early childhood to adulthood.

She argues that our tastes aren’t set in stone. Once we decide that we like (or dislike) something, we’re not stuck with it forever. Instead, the book relies on a lot of research and data to suggest that our tastes and preferences can, and do change with time and effort. You can teach yourself to like spinach and kale, even if you grew up on a diet of French fries and pasta.

As with any book that comes out about food, the author touches on her own personal struggles with eating as younger person and there’s a chapter on disordered eating. It’s not all about bulimia and anorexia, though. The chapter brings up adults who are so picky as to have severely limited diets. People who are so picky as to avoid eating in social situations because they aren’t sure they’ll find something that’s on their acceptable list or because they are worried how others will perceive them.

One of the more fascinating sections of the book concerned Japan. Nutritionists and health experts often point to Japan as having a fantastically healthy diet. Japanese live longer because of their healthy diets, right? But guess what — that Japanese way of eating is relatively  new. Before the 20th century, the nation’s diet didn’t primarily consist of fish and vegetables. It was carb-heavy and not so healthy. The point being that, yes, you can get yourself to eat better, and yes, you can eventually get yourself to eat so well that you (and everyone around you) completely forgets that once upon a time, your diet was primarily junk food.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The central premise of the The Nest is “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” It’s a novel about four siblings who are waiting (eagerly) to inherit their trust fund. Their father created the Nest for them, not thinking it would be that big. But, a series of smart investment dramatically inflated its value. That is, until Leo Plumb, the oldest, gets in an accident. To buy the silence of the teenage passenger injured in the crash,  their mother uses most of the fund’s money.

The Nest is one of those novels with overlapping story lines, family resentment and dysfunction, and ultimately, a happy(ish) ending. Things work out for the characters. Not because they become good people, necessarily, but because they find a way to work through their issues or move on.

I felt that the novel’s seams showed through a bit too much at times. (Oh really, there’s are two characters, a man and a woman, who perfectly  match the damaged Rodin statue that one of the other characters has hidden in his apartment?) But all in all, it was a fun, engaging read.

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Summer Capsule Wardrobe 2016: The Last One

summer capsule wardrobe

Another season has gone by, which means it’s time to roll out my summer capsule wardrobe. Since I don’t need to wear sweaters, blazers or really anything warm in the summer, this season’s capsule wardrobe looks a bit light. Maybe sparse is a better word.

At any rate, counting shoes, there are 33 pieces in it, not all of which are pictured here. The wellies in the photo are actually not really part of the capsule either, they just happened to be in the closet when I took the picture. Here’s a layout of most of the capsule:

 

Summer Capsule 2016

Not every shirt is pictured above, because I couldn’t find photos of a few older tops online. But, you can get the general gist of the summer capsule wardrobe from the set.

A few thoughts about capsules. One, I’m kind of over the idea. It was fun at first, picking out pieces from my closet each season and spending a lot of time making lists of what was in my capsule, taking photos of outfits, and what not. But, now I feel it’s a bit tedious. Although I long ago dispensed with the idea that I needed to only have 33 or 37 or whatever pieces in my wardrobe, taking the time to sift through everything every three months got old after about six months. Plus, since I’m wearing pretty much the same clothes season after season the big reveal got pretty dull. It wasn’t like I was going out and getting an entire new wardrobe each season.

Two, although I don’t think I’ll officially be putting together capsules for the next few seasons, I do appreciate the idea. I used to shop a lot. Now I don’t. I probably buy  more  clothing that people who don’t care about clothing, but I now put a lot of thought into what I buy, versus just grabbing stuff because it was on sale or because I thought I needed to have an orange skirt in my closet (that happened last summer . . . ).

Three, everyone’s always talking about personal style these days. Although I’ve argued that capsules don’t need to be boring, I have found myself leaving the house in some of the dullest outfits known to humankind. Which isn’t my personal style, at all. I do love a great navy and black outfit, but I also love print and color. And sometimes, the capsule wardrobe limited me to a white button up and basic pencil skirt, which, ick. A capsule can help you define your style, but sometimes I felt it was doing that opposite of that, painting me into a weird corner.

In sum, the limits of a capsule wardrobe definitely  helped me get my clothes spending and buying under control. But, I didn’t find that really  helped me hone in on my style, necessarily. I learned that I like dresses a lot, I’m not super into chunky jewelry, and that most button front shirts just don’t work on my frame (which is unfortunate, but oh well), but I don’t think I always applied those lessons to my capsule. It was occasionally difficult to work with the pieces in my capsule to put together outfits I really felt great in, (at least during the spring). Maybe this is all to say that I write about fashion and clothing, and I still have no idea what to wear a lot of the time.Save

Shopping: Boden, Everlane and MM LaFleur Reviews

Ah, the beauty of backorder. You order something one day, pay for it, and months later, it’s like Christmas when suddenly a bunch of packages show up at your front door. And so, I have Boden, Everlane and MM LaFleur reviews for you today. A couple of them are odds and ends from orders placed a while ago, another was a bit of an impulse buy of more recent vintage. Here we go:

Everlane pima tee black

Everlane Pima Stretch Mid-Sleeve Tee

I have a few boatneck, 3/4 sleeve vintage cotton t-shirts from J.Crew that I love. The only problem? They are from J.Crew, which means the seams fell out and they developed holes sooner, rather than later.

So when Everlane introduced a mid-sleeve tee in Pima cotton, I jumped at the chance to order it. Except, I guess I jumped too slowly, as the T-shirt was on backorder from early March until mid-May. They don’t really tell you that when ordering, which is kind of annoying. I was originally under the impression that the shirt would ship at the end of March, but no. I ended up writing to them, after waiting two months, and it just so happened that my order shipped within a few hours of my writing to them. Coincidence? Probably, right? They gave me free shipping on my next order as an apology, so I’m fine with it.

Anyway, this shirt was worth the wait. It’s a soft, stretchy cotton that doesn’t feel as though it’s about to fall about or develop a hole. The fit is good – I’m in a small and my only gripe is that the sleeves were a touch snug.  I don’t have particularly large arms, either.

I’ve machine washed and line dried it once so far and it seems to have handled that pretty well.

boden ballet wrap dress

Boden Tie Waist Ballet Dress

The tie waist ballet dress from Boden was my slightly impulsive buy. It’s available in three colors – green, blue, and a black “brushstrokes” pattern. Since I’ve got enough blue and green dresses, I went for the black.

The beauty of this dress is that it’s a jersey viscose with just the right amount of drape. The skirt isn’t too full as to add weight and the fabric isn’t so flimsy as to cling or make me feel self-conscious. I’m wondering how the fabric will hold up to washing and wearing, but only time will tell. I’ve had good luck with ponte fabric (which can pill quickly) from Boden in the past, so we shall see.

The fun feature of the dress is the ties at the waist. Two long sashes are attached to the waist on either side. You can wrap the ties around your waist in the front and tie in the back, wrap around the back and tie in the front, or just tie in the back. I also experimented with tying over my shoulders and my neck, but that just looked weird.

A note on sizing, though. Usually, I look like a little girl playing dress up in some of Boden’s tops and dresses, ie, there’s lots of room up there. Not so with the tie waist dress. It wasn’t too tight, but it was actually fitted/snug in the bodice. So, if you’re usually between sizes in Boden’s tops or dresses, I’d recommend going up a size.

mm lafleur reviews emily dress

MM LaFleur Emily Dress

One of my new favorite brands, MM LaFleur, brought their pop up shop to Philly in April. I booked an appointment with a stylist and spent about an hour trying on their dresses, skirts, and pants at a swanky hotel on Rittenhouse Square. It was really fun to see their collection up close and to try on styles I wouldn’t usually pick for myself.

Although I did get to take home one dress, the Annie in Aubergine, that day (I got the last one!), I had to wait for the Emily dress in Deep Indigo to ship. It took about a month, but I was anticipating that.

The Emily is made of a smooth, somewhat stretchy, woven polyester. It’s not lined, which makes it light enough to wear on very warm days. It also washes well and didn’t need an iron after being hung up to dry.

I like that it’s a simple dress that has interesting touches, such as the 3/4 sleeves and the square neckline. It has pockets, which is always a nice touch. So far, I’ve worn it on its own and with a scarf around my waist as a belt.

mm lafleur reviews emily dress

 

All in all, I’m very happy with the two dress and t-shirt, proof that the best things are worth waiting (and waiting) for.

Books: What I Read in April

It’s time again for another book reviews round-up. I only read three books last month, two of which I really enjoyed, one of which was a bit of a trashy read. Can you guess which was which?
The book reviews:

book reviews animals emma jane unsworth

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth

Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals was everything I wanted the Amy Schumer film Trainwreck to be, but wasn’t. Oh man, when Amy’s character did that stupid cheerleading thing to “get the guy,” I wanted to claw my eyes out. Seriously. Can’t we have a movie or piece of media where a woman doesn’t have to completely transform or deny herself to find love and/or happiness?

Anyway, Animals is the story of two girl friends, Laura and Tyler, in their late 20s/early 30s who are struggling with the whole “time to grow up” thing. Laura’s engaged to a guy who, let’s face it, sounds like an absolute bore. She lives with Tyler, her best buddy, a privileged American living in the UK. Tyler’s your classic direction-less, privileged young woman — overly educated, yet not doing much with her life. She drinks a lot (A LOT) and does (too many) drugs. Yet, no matter how messed up her behavior, she’s still charismatic and draws people towards her.

Laura’s feeling a pull between her friend and her fiancé. She goes out and gets wild with Tyler, only to have Jim, the fiancé, disappointed with her decisions.

In your typical rom-com, you’d have Laura giving up some part of herself for one or the other. Not so with Animals. It’s a coming of age tale, it’s bittersweet, but it’s a story that says you don’t have to compromise or be untrue to yourself to figure out who you are.

 

book reviews

The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich

Who doesn’t love a trashy thriller every now and then? I guess I can really take or leave The Hand That Feeds You, a novel that is very loosely based on Les Liasons Dangereuses (or, for those of us who grew up in the 1990s, Cruel Intentions). It was one of those books that was hard to put down, but also one of those books that make you wonder why on earth you are reading it. Morgan Preager is studying victim psychology at John Jay College of Criminology in NY. She comes home one day to find her fiancé dead in her room, apparently mauled to death by her usually friendly dogs.

So, as it turns out her beloved was a fake, a guy with multiple girlfriends and identities along the East Coast. Morgan starts to feel more like the victims she studies for her graduate thesis and also starts to try to figure out who her fiancé really was. She’s also sure that her dogs couldn’t possibly be the ones to have killed him, despite all the evidence, and sets out to prove their innocence.

What makes a good thriller? It needs to be a page turner. It needs to be somewhat implausible, but not so implausible that you don’t buy it or its characters (this one teetered on the edge of that. So many bad things happen to Morgan that you’re kind of like, “really? REALLY?”).

And, I think most importantly, a decent thriller needs to keep you guessing until the end. I came up with a lot of hypotheses about  Morgan’s affianced during the book, most of which turned out to be wrong. But, I did figure out the ending well before the end, so that was a bit of a let down. Also, the structure of the ending was a big letdown. Not just in terms of the big reveal, the big “who did it,” but in terms of how quickly it all resolved. If you like this type of book usually, you’ll probably love The Hand That Feeds You. If not, I wouldn’t recommend reading it.

 

book reviews brief candle in the dark

Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science by Richard Dawkins

Hm. For someone who’s all like, “I don’t really read memoirs,” I read a lot of memoirs. Case in point, Brief Candle in the Dark, by the biologist Richard Dawkins (I guess some might know him better as an atheist).  The sequel to his first memoir, Appetite for Wonder (which I didn’t read), Brief Candle traces his life as a scientist, from his early days as tutor at Oxford through all of the books and films he’s worked on.

Although it does touch on personal bits of his life (he’s married to Romana II from Doctor Who!), the memoir focuses mostly on his work, which I prefer. I’ve only read two of his other books (the Selfish Gene and the God Delusion, both of which I’d recommend), so it was nice to get an introduction to the rest of his oeuvre from the man himself. (I’ve put the the Extended Phenotype and The Magic of Reality on my to-read list).

One of the things I like about Dawkins is that he’s really passionate about science. When he’s talking about religion, that passion might come across as a bit pompous or a bit offensive, but when it’s directed towards biology and evolutionary theory, it really makes the subjects come alive. Admittedly, some parts of the book were a bit dense, but it never felt like a slog to read through.

Another think I like about Dawkins is that he shows that one can be scientifically minded and creative at the same time. Growing up, I feel there was a big emphasis on the division between the arts and the sciences, and I think that limited some of the choices I made about school and career, but really there’s no reason the two can’t get along just fine in one person.