Book Reviews

Jun
06

‘Lean In’ a best seller as it becomes popular as graduation gift

NEW YORK — Caps and gowns are in fashion right now, and so, apparently, are copies of “Lean In” as a graduation gift.

Sheryl Sandberg’s manifesto for women in the workplace will again top The New York Times’ nonfiction best-seller list in the paper’s June 16 edition. “Lean In” had last been No. 1 on the combined print and e-book list May 5.

Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity for Alfred A. Knopf, said Thursday that sales have been especially strong lately because the book is a popular graduation gift. He said “Lean In” is now in its 15th printing and has sold 600,000 copies just three months after publication.

Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, has been encouraging a national conversation on how women can advance in their careers.

 
May
03

Maya Angelou honors mom, grandmother in new book

By LEANNE ITALIE, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Writer, actor, dancer. Activist, teacher, composer. In the melange of Maya Angelou’s 85 years is also daughter, of two women who deserved one with a good memory.

So Angelou writes in her latest literary memoir, “Mom & Me & Mom,” a sweet ode to “Lady,” her mother Vivian Baxter, and “Momma,” her paternal grandmother Annie Henderson, who took her in at age 3 in tiny, segregated Stamps, Ark., and returned her at age 13, when the time was right.

Baxter, rough-and-tumble poor from St. Louis, and Henderson, refined believer in southern etiquette, are both long gone but figure big in Angelou’s legendary life.

The fierce and fun Vivian was Angelou’s abandoner and, later, her most loyal protector. She and Annie are familiar to admirers of the poet and spinner of autobiographical fiction. It’s Angelou’s eighth book to unravel her often painful and tumultuous life, including the 1969 National Book Award winner “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” chronicling her rape as a girl that left her mute for five years.

Angelou lost her beloved older brother Bailey in 2000, after his slide into drugs, and her mother in 1991, at age 79 or 85, depending on who’s doing the counting, joked Angelou in a recent telephone interview from her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., where she has lived part-time for more than 30 years while on the faculty of Wake Forest University.

Her son, Guy, whom she had at age 17, remains with us, enduring years on crutches after numerous surgeries for spinal injuries he suffered in an auto accident.

A conversation with Maya Angelou:

AP: Where does this book fit into your cycle of autobiography? Is this a completion of sorts?

Angelou: Well, I don’t want to say that because it sounds like it’s The End. I don’t want to do that to myself. I had been trying to write it for about 25 or 30 years, but it wasn’t ready to be written. I wasn’t ready to write it. When it came it was right. My mom had said she wanted my brother to write it, and I knew he wasn’t going to. I’m sorry to say drugs had so taken him over.

AP: This is a story about forgiveness. How did you come to that point with your mother?

Angelou: I began to like her. I liked the fact that she didn’t laugh at people. She had everything. You know, she was pretty, she was young, she had money. She had respect, and when she saw people who were poor, who were crippled or uncomfortable in their skin, she didn’t laugh at them, and I liked that in her. It was a big heart.

AP: You were not happy with the notion of leaving your grandmother at 13 to return to your mother in California.

Angelou: It was terrible, because she (Annie) really loved me. She never once kissed me the whole time in Stamps, that I can remember, but she loved me. She was so proud of me, and the fact that I was a mute and had my own problems, she never took the position that, ‘Oh, well you’ve been so injured.’ She’d say, ‘You’re gonna be a teacher. Sister you’re gonna teach all over this world.’ She taught me how to be a victor.

AP: What are some of the revelations in this book, about yourself and your relationship with your mother?

Angelou: Well, I didn’t know I loved her. I just didn’t know I loved her, until I loved her. I’m not trying to be clever or mystic, but I mean I admired her. I got on with her. But I guess when I really began to see that I loved her, it was because she could make me laugh. And she had once tried so hard to make me laugh and I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I was pregnant when I realized that I loved her. She just didn’t do anything that girls’ mothers did. She didn’t put me down. She didn’t make fun of me.

AP: You went through a lot as a young, single mother. What role did your mother play during those years?

Angelou: At one point, Guy was about 3, maybe 4, and I had told him never to go into my purse. Every penny had to be accounted for as far as I was concerned. And I found one day he was chewing gum, so I asked him where did you get the gum. He said out of your purse. So I said you went into my purse? ‘Yes, I wanted the gum.’

So I got a switch from a tree outside, and I pulled his pants down and I spanked him with the switch. And he just looked at me and said, ‘But don’t you love me anymore? Ain’t this your baby?’ And of course it just broke my heart. I said, ‘Well I hope you’ll never do that again.’ He said, ‘And I hope you won’t, either.’

I said, ‘You had lip and I’ve just given you a seeing-to and you still have lip?’ And he said, ‘I mean, do you realize how big you are. I’m only 4 years old or something.’ My mother, who was in the house, heard all of this and she asked, ‘So what will you do?’ I said, ‘Well I’ll never hit him again.’ She said, ‘That’s smart.’

AP: How did your upbringing affect you as a parent?

Angelou: Guy Johnson is a wonder. He’s been physically challenged. He was paralyzed from his neck down at one point. The doctors had told me your son, he will never move again, he will never walk again. I said my son will walk out of this hospital.

I walked into the intensive care and my son said, ‘Mom, that which I feared is upon me.’ I can hear it now and this is 40 years later. He said, ‘Mom, I have to ask you a favor no one should ever ask their mother. I know I’m your only child. I know you love me, but if there’s no recovery I refuse to live as a talking head. Will you pull the plug?’

I started shouting. At the top of my voice I said, ‘In that case, recovery. I see you swimming. I see you walking. I see you dancing. And I thank God for it, and I’m claiming it loudly.’ And he said, ‘Mom, please, control yourself. There’s some sick people in this place,’ which of course made me laugh. He did walk out of the hospital.

AP: Were you channeling Vivian at the time?

Angelou: I guess so.

AP: Is that her gift to you?

Angelou: I guess so. I never thought of that until this minute. I guess so.

AP: Her strength?

Angelou: Yep.

AP: Where would you be without it?

Angelou: I don’t know. I can’t even think of what I’d be without it. All I’ve done. I mean, you know, it sounds like I’m bragging. Well maybe I am, but I don’t mean it, but you know a black girl growing up in a village like Stamps, Ark. You know, I just look at all the things, and so much of it is because of Vivian Baxter. She said if you want it, get it. Do it.

 
Apr
30

Dark but funny turns in new derelict mom books

By LEANNE ITALIE, Associated Press

NEW YORK — These moms curse a lot, drink to excess, reveal scary truths and draw twisted little stick figures of their kids pooping and whining relentlessly. And this Mother’s Day, they’re bringing their derelict parenting to you.

The authors behind a fresh round of parenting books love their munchkins, to be sure, but there’s something about the scorched earth narrative that sells memoirish parenting books these days.

Is the goal an instructional one? Inspirational? How about some advice?

“No, there isn’t any. I don’t have anything. No advice. Nobody has any advice,” laughed Amber Dusick, a Los Angeles mother of two who brings us “Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures.”

The book’s 50 “crappy laws of parenting” include this at No. 16: “When you sneak to the pantry to eat chocolate, you will get caught.”

The f-bombs fly, the flavored vodka flows and husbands pay dearly, but what’s the point of dwelling on the smeared, sleep-deprived underbelly of life with kids? Even if it is just for a laugh.

“We’ve opened up the dialogue,” offered Nicole Knepper, who has two kids and wrote “Moms who Drink and Swear,” complete with a chapter titled, “Suck it, Santa Claus.”

“People have really found ways to be more authentic about who they are and how it affects us as parents. My mom’s generation, they did a lot of pushing down their own interests and their own personalities because they were all about the kids, and this was their job and their focus, whereas my generation (she’s 43 and lives in Plainfield, Ill.), the expectations are different. You multitask. You do it all, only nobody can do it all well.”

Jill Smokler’s Scary Mommy certainly can’t. “Motherhood Comes Naturally (and other vicious lies)” is her second spin off her popular blog and parenting community at Scarymommy.com. The first was “Confessions of a Scary Mommy.”

The 35-year-old mom of three, including boys just 20 months apart, has noticed a difference in exactly how much filth and frustration parents are willing to reveal in the five long years since she first put up her blog.

“There wasn’t this acceptance about being this sort of less-than-perfect mother, but all of a sudden it feels like that is becoming the norm rather than the exception,” said Smokler, in Baltimore, Md. “There came a tipping point where everybody just couldn’t keep up that facade anymore and there was just a backlash, and here we are.”

On the dad side, Ian Frazier’s popular cursing mommy character from his columns in The New Yorker now has her own novel called “The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days,” a diary of dereliction spread over a year of boozing, bad parenting and expletive-infused mockery of a capacitor-hoarding husband named Larry.

There’s this entry for Wednesday, April 13: “Yes, lying in a steaming tub with a bottle of Kahlua and ignoring the children’s knocks on the bathroom door all afternoon is not the most mature coping strategy. So stipulated, your honor!”

And there’s Adrian Kulp, the man-child who lost his job and turned his stay-at-home dad blog into a book, “Dad or Alive,” writing of his daughter after his wife went back to work: “All I had to do was move our four-month-old from one station to the next so she didn’t get bedsores. … The idea of going outside seemed monumental.”

An engineering-minded dude pair, Andy Herald and Charlie Capen, have provided an illustrated primer on co-sleeping, “The Guide to Baby Sleep Positions,” complete with names for each diabolic configuration: The Stalker, the Yin and Yang and The Exorcist among them.

Dusick, whose boys are 6 and 3, began blogging nearly two years ago. Her childlike drawings lend a creepy air to life with the Crappy family, including that fateful day when they all get sick. Tempers and temperatures flare, and bodily fluids fly all night, brought alive by her hollow-eyed illustrations.

“It’s a healthy balance of being able to laugh at things and yet still reassure ourselves that this is normal and we still love our kids, and parenting is really hard,” she said.

Knepper’s kids are 13 and nearly 9. She considers it far healthier to share the grief than do what her mother’s generation likely did: “Hide their Valium and their vodka in the linen closet, where nobody could find it.”

But she acknowledges that “schtick is schtick,” especially when trying to sell books that began as blogs.

Smokler’s blog has a “confessional” for anonymous commenters and she weaves some of their contributions into chapter starters. “I invited you into my home as a guest. And you brought my 2-year-old permanent markers and Play-Doh,” reads the one for “Lie (hash)4, It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.”

“Next time I visit you, I’m bringing your teenage daughter condoms and crack.”

In real life, her kids are 5, 7 and 9. The oldest, her only girl, is a couple years shy of the first time Smokler’s own mom washed her mouth out with a bar of soap. Smokler’s crime? Telling mom she hated her.

“My daughter has told me she has hated me many, many times and I have never washed her mouth out with soap. I just roll my eyes at her, I get on my site and I say something snarky about her, and I move on,” she said. “It’s a big relief for my readers to realize that they’re not the only parents who have ever been driven crazy by their kids.”

Relief, yes, and also revelation. While her own mom never cursed, Smokler’s daughter dropped her first F-bomb at age 4, when a tower of blocks toppled over, her offspring making it clear, “I heard it from you.”

“My parents just didn’t talk like that,” Smokler said. “It’s funny, now they do. At least my mom does now.”

So what do these derelict moms want for Mother’s Day?

“I’ll beg for time to curl up in bed and read for the whole day,” Knepper said.

Dusick: “I would really like to sleep in.” Is that gonna happen? “Probably not.”

Smokler the Scary Mommy is doing the unthinkable.

“We’ll be in Disney World, so it’s sort of my anti-perfect Mother’s Day, but that’s OK.”

 
Jan
27

Katherine Applegate, Jon Klassen win children’s literature awards

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer

NEW YORK — Katherine Applegate’s “The One and Only Ivan” won the John Newbery Medal for the outstanding book of 2012, while Jon Klassen’s “This Is Not My Hat” received the Randolph Caldecott Medal for outstanding illustration, the American Library Association announced Monday.

The Newbery and Caldecott awards are the top honors for children’s literature.

Applegate’s book tells of a daydreaming gorilla and the life lessons he receives through his friendship with a baby elephant. It was inspired by a real gorilla, one who lived decades without meeting another of his kind before spending his final, happy years at an Atlanta zoo.

Klassen was the author and illustrator of “This Is Not My Hat,” his picture story about a fish and his blue hat, and the successor to Klassen’s popular “I Want My Hat Back.”

Bryan Collier’s illustration for a book edition of Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too, Am America” received a Coretta Scott King prize for outstanding work by an African-American. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s “Hand in Hand” won the King award for best text.

Alire Saenz’s “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” won twice: the Stonewall Book Award, for works about the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender experience, and the Pura Belpre Award for best Latino/Latina author. David Diaz’s work on “Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert” won the Belpre for illustration.

Katherine Paterson, 80 years old and winner of the Newbery, the National Book Award and many other honors, received the Laura Ingalls Wilder prize for lifetime achievement.

Steve Sheinkin’s “Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon” was named the best nonfiction book and the “most distinguished informational” book.

 
Nov
23

Book explores space between disability, identity

By LEANNE ITALIE, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Gay, dyslexic and the survivor of near-death depression, writer Andrew Solomon has been acutely aware of his differences for most of his 49 years.

Palpable discomfort from his wealthy, Upper East Side parents over his sexuality, relentless bullying on the bus of his fancy private school — he never realized exactly how his differences connected him to a constellation of others who fall outside the mainstream.

That is, until he delved into deaf culture for a magazine story 15 years ago, leading him to dwell during a decade’s worth of research in the space between disability and identity for a new book, “Far from the Tree.”

Following up his National Book Award-winning work of nonfiction on depression, “The Noonday Demon,” Solomon amassed hours and hours of interviews with more than 300 families dealing with profound differences in their children, from deafness and dwarfism to prodigies and criminality.

His interviews include villagers in Bali where deafness is prevalent due to a recessive gene, women in Rwanda who raise children of rape amid genocide, and the first substantive interview with Tom and Sue Klebold, the parents of Dylan, one of the teen killers at Columbine.

All the while, Solomon relies on his own story, beginning the book as a damaged son and finishing it with a chapter on fatherhood, having decided to become one while making the book, out from Scribner on Nov. 13.

Our conversation with Andrew Solomon:

AP: This is a 10-year undertaking for you. Why did you take this on?

Solomon: I had felt very lonely, in some ways, in dealing with being gay, and then all of a sudden I discovered that I had something in common with all of these other people. And I felt all of them seemed to be lonely in their particular identities, and I thought, I wonder whether I can possibly describe what it was like to have to go through my experience and what our experiences have in common. And that, I think, was really my objective. It was to show that the differences that feel so isolating actually connect us to one another, and to try help people to feel less alone in their life experience.

AP: Journalistically speaking, was this fresh ground?

Solomon: It was. Each of the individual areas I was investigating had been written about extensively. There are hundreds of thousands of books on autism and a great many on Down syndrome and quite a lot on crime, but there was nobody who had actually looked at this particular commonality, of how do families who perceive themselves to be essentially normal respond to having a child whom they initially, at least, perceive to be aberrant, and how do they wrap their minds around the difficulty of dealing with that child, and in what way does the experience of parents who are dealing with that, with children who fit into all of the categories that I’ve listed in the book, how does that relate to the experience of all parenthood?

AP: What surprised you about what you found?

Solomon: I think I went into this project thinking, OK, I’m going to look at these terribly difficult situations and see how people have struggled with them and look at the nobility of their suffering, so I wanted to write about, you know, the grandeur of this experience. But what I didn’t really anticipate was how much genuine joy I would encounter, how many of these people talked about a deep and meaningful connection to their children and how many of them said that having had children who had any of these qualities had actually made them better, stronger, wiser, kinder people than they otherwise would have been. In the end I felt that many of these parents ended up grateful for experiences they would have done anything to avoid.

AP: How does that compare and contrast to your own parents and their reaction to you?

Solomon: My parents took a little while to come through to acceptance. What I discovered in researching the book is that love and acceptance are two different things, that you can love your child even before you’ve managed to accept your child. I found that I had mistaken, as people do over and over again, some deficit or hesitancy in acceptance for a deficit of love. It took them a little while to accept having a child who is different. It takes everyone a little while and my family actually did it reasonably quickly and reasonably well.

The feeling I used to have, that they loved me and they still weren’t nicer about this, is actually the way it works. That’s the structure of it, and I wished there had been someone at the time to say to me — I mean I knew it at some level — of course they love you and they can’t yet accept this because it’s new to them, and you have to help them get to the point of acceptance, and once you do the depth of their love will be more obvious.

AP: This book was a journey to parenthood for you. How did this project lead you to embrace the role?

Solomon: A lot of people have said to me, surely writing a book about all of the things that can go horribly wrong in parenting would have been enough to put anyone off the idea of becoming a parent. And I said actually, what I think the book is really about is the fact that people do manage to love the children they have, whoever those children are, and it made me think, gee, if I have a child who presents some challenges, or I can say now when my children grow up some challenges, whatever they are, I think I’ll be better equipped to respond to those challenges in a positive and constructive way and I’ll be more certain that those challenges aren’t going to undermine feelings of love. So it made me feel more confident in the extraordinary and embracing quality of parental love.

AP: You interviewed the Klebolds. This was a rare interview for them. How do you think the experience of telling their story has changed them?

Solomon: It was clear soon after we met a) that they were good and decent people, which is what I had already gathered, and I think they were full of this story which for so long they had been unable to tell and this was the chance for some voice to be given to it. I really do like them. I think of them as friends.

In the period immediately after the massacre, there was this endless press which said those parents should have known and those parents should have been able to control the situation. It was all those parents, those parents, those parents. I hope that they will have the feeling now that we’re on the far side of the process that in telling their story to me, there’s a public declaration that they actually are good people and it wasn’t their fault, and I think it makes it easier to live in the world if you don’t think that all the people who don’t know you think you’re awful.

 
Oct
11

Book review: ‘Vampirina Ballerina’

By Merrie Leininger, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

“Vampirina Ballerina”
By Anne Marie Pace, illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Disney-Hyperion
Ages 2-6, $14.99

If a little vampire wants to be a ballerina, there’s a lot of things she has to consider. First, you have to find a class that meets at night. You also have to remember that some people get scared when you show your fangs and turn into a bat. And, of course, you have to practice a lot.

“Vampirina Ballerina” goes through all these lessons and more for little aspiring ballerinas. But even if you’re not a vampire, you might get something out of this book. It is cute, with creative, funny illustrations showing the little vampire ballerina’s struggles and her family, who all support her dream. When it comes time for her dance recital, the work she puts in pays off and the other girls in her class realize she’s not so scary.

Parents will enjoy reading this book with your children. “Vampirina Ballerina” is a great sugar-free Halloween treat for your little one.

 
Sep
29

New book battles tiger mom syndrome with laughs

By LEANNE ITALIE, Associated Press

NEW YORK — One mom lured her daughter to bed — at age 8 — with a trail of chocolate chips up her townhouse stairs. Another found herself on the floor of a plane screaming “Save the Jelly Bellys!” They spilled as she fed them to her preschooler to fend off in-flight earache meltdowns.

A third mom who avoids sweets and high fructose corn syrup like they were poison has her toddler begging for his “medicine candy” when it’s time to take the dreaded Tylenol.

Don’t go diving for your dog-eared parenting guides or Googling Dr. Sears on the above, but if you’re looking for a little validation of your crappiest mom moments as not such a huge deal after all, hunt down “Sh-tty Mom,” the unofficial companion to last year’s best-seller “Go the (Bleep) to Sleep.”

The latest in irreverent parenting books is part parody and part painful truth. It’s written by four very busy, often tired working moms looking to offer some overdue laughs as counterpoint to today’s parenting-to-perfection mania.

“Even the helicopter moms and tiger moms have their shitty mom moments. Maybe they missed their daughter’s fifth ballet practice that week or were five minutes late to her piano lesson,” said co-writer Mary Ann Zoellner. “The whole idea of the book is to just give yourself a break.”

Zoellner and Alicia Ybarbo, both segment producers for the “Today” show, cooked up the idea with Karen Moline one night over margaritas about three years ago. One among them was avoiding her kids’ bedtime madness back home.

The three were paired by an agent with Laurie Kilmartin, a joke master for “Conan” and single mom to a 5-year-old in Burbank, Calif.

“The target audience is women who are tired of books coming out that tell you you’re kind of doing everything wrong and if you only did this, this and this you would be doing a better job and your kids would turn out better,” Kilmartin said. “I think tiger mom put everyone over the deep end, and so it was sort of a pushback.”

Written in guide format, the book includes easily consumed chapters and tips like these:

  1. Send your daughter sick to daycare. Not bubonic plague sick. Just sniffle sick. And maybe a little fever, something you wouldn’t know about because you avoid the thermometer to preserve deniability.
  2. Pretend you don’t know your son in the playground after a sand-throwing incident, leaving the discipline to the victim’s mom because she seems really good at it.
  3. Play dead while your daughter scream-whispers “Are you awake?” at 5 a.m., at least until you’ve trained her to head for daddy’s side.

One chapter is titled “Stop Looking for a Great Babysitter and Settle for One Who Shows Up On Time.” Another, “How to Deal with Moms Who Exercise,” suggests — if you’re in survival mode — limiting friendships to other “bare-minimum moms,” avoiding those who throw their abs in your face.

There’s “This Tradition Must Die: Handwritten Thank-you Notes” and “Unspeakable Evil: Private Birthday Party — with a Bouncy Castle — at a Public Park.” Has your son stormed the castle uninvited? “Keep a low profile until your kid gets busted. It’s best not to outwardly condone grifty behavior.”

The book out in mid-September just hit the New York Times best-seller list at 12th in its category and the five co-writers are fielding supportive email, including one from Alicia Hunter in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

She has a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old and immediately recognized herself in print. Among her favorite book bits:

“The chapter on hating the zoo/playing with my kids in general when they ask me to use my imagination,” Hunter said in an interview, “Let’s play school! Let’s play house! Let’s play grocery store! Unless it’s a board game WE actually like, please do not ask us to play a game that involves using our imagination. We used that up by the time we were 13.”

Count Hunter, a beauty and weight-loss coach, among moms who never felt a kinship with those who read each piece of paper that comes home from school, have dry erase boards listing deadlines for homework and fulfill the teacher’s wish list of supplies five minutes after said supplies are requested.

The two daughters of Jelly Belly mom Robyn Roth-Moise in Manhattan are grown now, but she bought several copies of the book for friends.

“I can remember having to go to the store and my daughter had chicken pox and there was no one to watch her,” she said. “So I did what every mom does, wrapped her up and prayed no one noticed her. Did I feel guilty? Yes. Did I have another option? No.”

Corporate trainer Liz Wolfe in New York has an 11-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, the latter being the follower of chocolate chips — not, for the record, directly to bed but to the bathroom sink first to brush her teeth.

Wolfe is often frustrated by parenting experts and plans to hop on the “Sh-tty Mom” bandwagon.

“Here I am, a college educated business owner, making all kinds of good stuff happen in my life, and I still can’t live up to the ideal mother image,” she said. “I wish my kid loved to do homework, or was one of those kids who came when I called them etc., etc., but sadly they don’t. Short of beating them into submission, I simply do the best I can.”

For Ybarbo, who has four Emmys and two kids, best sometimes means locking herself in a closet for a work call while her kids are in front of the TV watching “Top Gear.”

Zoellner, with three Emmys of her own and two kids, says having it all isn’t a myth if it means having it all on alternating weeks — one filled with vegetables and the next with too many cupcakes.

“Some weeks you can do it all. Some weeks you can’t do it all. Some weeks we’re shitty moms. Some weeks we’re shitty wives. Some weeks we’re shitty producers,” she said. “It’s really all about laughing at those less-than-perfect moments.”

 
Sep
22

Book review: ‘How to Look Hot in a Minivan’

BROOKE LEFFERTS, For The Associated Press

“How to Look Hot in a Minivan: A Real Woman’s Guide to Losing Weight, Looking Great, and Dressing Chic in the Age of the Celebrity Mom” (St. Martin’s Press), by Janice Min

Photos of styled, svelte celebrity moms splashed on magazine covers can be disheartening and misleading for new mothers. “How to Look Hot in a Minivan” reveals star secrets and offers advice to get moms out of maternity pants and into feeling good about themselves.

Author Janice Min, editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, cut her teeth at celebrity weeklies, including People and Us Weekly magazines. She combines her firsthand experience as a mother of three with her inside scoop on how some divas dazzle after baby.

The book details information Min gleaned from her years covering the rich and famous, from baby bumps to body bounce-backs. Getting the skinny from Hollywood stylists, trainers and doctors on how stars stay fit and beautiful, she says that advice should be as accessible to carpool moms as those who walk the red carpet.

Min’s point is that you don’t have to be a big name to want to look your best and everyone — including celebrities — needs a little help. The book is meant to empower women, suggesting if you look good, you feel good, which is not always easy for mothers who tend to put their kids first.

Min’s familiar tone makes the book read like a girlfriends’ chat after mommy and me class. She shares personal stories about her pregnancy, postpartum and parenting issues — from muffin tops to working-mother guilt — with refreshing honesty, candor and humor.

It’s no surprise the book is reminiscent of a lifestyle magazine filled with stunning celebrity photos, but Min’s style is engaging and she provides useful advice for regular moms. “If it were your full time job to look … glamorous — and you had all the money in the world — you could probably look like an A-lister too. But this is real life … we have to start aiming for goals that are actually attainable,” she says.

The fashion chapter includes a list of essential wardrobe pieces and stylists’ tips on how to choose the most flattering fit. Although Min highlights clothes and products with varying price points, the book is aimed at those who have a substantial fashion and beauty budget.

Busy moms can skip the tedious research and a trip to the salon by taking the book’s hair and skin recommendations, with specific product names and ways to color and style hair at home. Min presents several easy and inexpensive fixes for typical problems.

When discussing exercise, Min points out obstacles (time, cost, fear) and delivers specific routines and tools to get moms moving. She also includes eye-opening charts of healthy foods, bad snacks and how long it takes to work off those calories in the gym.

The last chapter delves into nitty-gritty details and costs of plastic surgery procedures — from liposuction to vaginoplasty (gulp) — teetering on TMI-territory. Min demystifies Botox for regular folks who might be intimidated, noting that in Los Angeles, it’s as common as a teeth cleaning. Her clinical, informative descriptions are careful not to promote the knife, but instead warn against the dangers of turning into “Frankenmom.”

Critics may say the book feeds our collective obsession with the superficial, but Min seems to walk a fine line — promoting the tools and methods of celebrities, without deifying them. She concludes that moms taking time for themselves sends a positive message to kids, and often when mama’s happy, everyone’s happy.

 
Jun
22

Librarians give their summer reading list recommendations

The Orange County Register

If Junie B. is not your child’s cup of tea, or if your children are closer to 20 and past grade-school literature, we’ve asked library staff members to offer their suggestions of engaging summertime reading for young readers, pre-teens and teens.

Ages 3-5: “Little Owl’s Night” by Divya Srinivasan

Sure to make going to bed a snap. Join this endearing little owl on his adventures through the night. Preschoolers will enjoy making many of the animal sounds while a parent or caregiver reads from this book.

— Recommended by Rachel Tustin, youth services librarian, Anaheim, Calif., Public Library

Ages 5-6: “Rhyming Dust Bunnies” by Jan Thomas

Not only a rhyming book, it’s funny, fuzzy and comes with a surprise ending. It also gives readers a new slant on vacuum cleaners! (Adults will enjoy it too.)

— Recommended by June McIntire, Fullerton, Calif., Public Library

All ages: “Go Out and Play! Favorite Outdoor Games from Kaboom!” by Kaboom!

The book contains about 70 different activities that range from old favorites like flashlight tag, to new adaptations of old favorites like drip, drip, drop. Simple instructions for how to play each game, as well as a brief list of the number of players, recommended ages, space required, and suggested materials, are included on each page.

— Recommended by Janine Jacobs, Fullerton Public Library

Ages 6-8: “Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door” by Adam Rub

A quirky and hilarious picture book about Mr. Fookwire and the crafty squirrels who plague his life. In this story, however, follow up to “Those Darn Squirrels,” Folkwire and the squirrels face another annoyance: Muffins, the neighbor’s antagonistic feline who bullies the squirrels and annoys the birds. Muffins gets his comeuppance when the squirrels organize a plan to make Muffins an indoor cat permanently.

— Recommended by June McIntire, Fullerton Public Library

Ages 6-9: “Escaping Titanic: A Young Girl’s True Story of Survival” by Marybeth Lorbiecki

Ruth Becker is traveling with her mother and siblings, enjoying the amenities of the famed luxury liner RMS Titanic. When the ill-fated ship strikes an iceberg, Ruth and her family go to the lifeboats. The 12-year-old is separated from her family but manages to get on another lifeboat. From that vantage she watches in horror as the mighty ship sinks. In honor of the Titanic’s 100th anniversary, this book offers young readers the tale told from a child’s point of view about the disaster that history will never forget.

— Recommended by Janine Jacobs, Fullerton Public Library

Ages 6-9: “I Broke My Trunk” by Mo Willems

Gerald the elephant tells his best friend Piggie a long, crazy story about how he broke his trunk. Mo Willems is the author of “Knuffle Bunny” and the “Pigeon” series along with the “Elephant and Piggie” books. Children can relate to these silly stories and will laugh out loud at some of the conundrums that ensue.

— Recommended by Kristine Russell, Orange County, Calif., Public Libraries, Ladera Ranch Library

Ages 6-9: “Just a Second: A Different Way to Look at Time” by Steve Jenkins

This nonfiction picture book explores time and how we think about it in a different way — as a series of events in the natural world (some of them directly observable, others not) that take place in a given unit of time. The bold illustrations will catch the attention of young readers and the interesting facts will fascinate them.

— Recommended by Kristine Russell, OC Public Libraries, Ladera Ranch Library

Ages 6-9: “Keeping the Castle: a Tale of Romance, Riches and Real Estate” by Patrice Kindl

Tired of the dark future trend in teen fiction? Try “Keeping the Castle,” a return to the bright past of the Regency romance novel, published just in time for light summer reading. Althea Crawley is the sad scion of an aristocratic family fallen on hard times. The aforementioned castle, like their fortunes, is teetering on the brink of ruin. When Lord Boring takes over his uncle’s rich estate, Althea is determined to keep the castle using all the means at her disposal.

— Recommended by Ryan Gan, Orange Public Library

Ages 6-9: “The Hop” by Sharelle Byars Moranville

A twist on the traditional “Frog Prince” story, this chapter book focuses on Tad, a young toad, and his quest to find the “Queen of the Hop.” If Tad can find and kiss the Queen, his home, Toadville-by-Tumbledown, will be saved from destruction.

While Tad is off on his own quest, a young girl named Taylor is busy trying to save her beloved grandmother’s pond from being turned into another strip mall. Will Mother Earth and Father Pond (yes, pond) bring these two together in time? Filled with magic, adventure, and family life, this environment-friendly book will appeal to many this summer.

— Recommended by Andrea Roque, Orange Public Library

Ages 6-9: “Scream Team: The Werewolf at Home Plate” by Bill Doyle

Follow Karl, the werewolf who resembles a poodle, and his gang of misfit monster friends as they create their own Scream Team after failing to make the school’s baseball league. Enlisting the help of the wealthy and eccentric two-headed coaches, the Conundrums, the Scream Team is quickly set to play against the JC Monster League from which they were rejected.

— Recommended by Monica Barrette, Orange Public Library

Ages 7-10: “No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season” by Fred Bowen

Starting with Ted Williams dream of being the greatest hitter who ever lived as he grew up in San Diego, this true story shares the drama and excitement of Williams’ quest to finish the season with a batting average of .400.

— Recommended by Janine Jacobs, Fullerton Public Library

Ages 8-12: “No Talking” by Andrew Clements

The Laketon Elementary School’s noisy fifth-grade boys challenge the equally noisy fifth-grade girls to a “no talking” contest.

— Recommended by California Young Reader Award Medal committee (students, parents, teachers and librarians)

Ages 9-12: “Heat” by Mike Lupica

Because his parents and birth certificate are still in Cuba, pitching prodigy Michael Arroya is banned from Little League because he cannot prove that he is really only 12-years old.

— Recommended by California Young Reader Award Medal committee (students, parents, teachers and librarians)

Ages 10-14: “Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam” by Cynthia Kadohata

A young soldier in Vietnam bonds with his bomb-sniffing dog.

— Recommended by California Young Reader Award Medal committee (students, parents, teachers and librarians)

Pre-teens: “Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer” by John Grisham

Theodore is the son of two lawyers and has lawyer inclinations at an early age. Like the “Nancy Drew” and “Hardy Boys” sleuths, he gets involved, perhaps over his head, with a major criminal case in town, sometimes skirting the boundaries of his school and parents.

The first book ends with a cliff-hanging conclusion, so the following book, “Theodore Boone, the Abduction,” is a must read as well as the third in the series, “The Accused,” which has had a long waiting list at the library.

“Theodore Boone” is a series that will most likely develop a huge following. Although Theodore is a boy willing to take risks, his parents and home life are comfortingly stable. The appeal will range from the most reluctant readers to the adventurous.

— Recommended by Emi Wong, OC Public Libraries, Fountain Valley Branch Library

Pre-teens: “Inside Out and Back Again” by Thanhha Lai

Written in prose, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama. It is a story of heartbreak, growth, and accomplishment as a new immigrant struggles to find her place in a new country and culture.

— Recommended by Kristine Russell, OC Public Libraries, Ladera Ranch Library

Pre-teens: “Dead End in Norvelt” by Jack Gantos

It is 1962 and Jack Gantos, age 12, is “grounded for life” by his parents, who fight all the time. Jack ‘s mother sends him to help a feisty old neighbor for the summer and he ends up typing obituaries. He learns a great deal about the people of his small town in Pennsylvania. What seemingly is the worst punishment of all turns out to be full of fun, adventure, and mystery. Winner of the 2012 Newbery Award, it is well worth a read.

— Recommended by Ruth Callahan, OC Public Libraries Rancho Santa Margarita Library

Pre-teens: “Summer of the Gypsy Moths” by Sara Pennypacker

The latest book by Sara Pennypacker, the bestselling author of “Clementine.” Set in Cape Code at the beginning of summer, the book tells the story of Stella, an 11-year-old girl who is living with her great aunt Louise while her mother is trying to find a job and get her act together. Louise is also a foster mother for 12-year-old Angel.

When Louise dies unexpectedly, the girls, out of fear of being removed from her home, bury her in her garden and convince those around them that she is still alive. With survival skills honed through years of parental neglect, the pair is not only able to live on their own but also manage a four-cottage vacation retreat.

Their adventures and misadventures while pulling off this somewhat unbelievable ruse make this an interesting read.

—  Recommended by Mary Anne Ramsey, children’s librarian, Mission Viejo Library

Teens: “Article 5” by Kristen Simmons

In the near future, in a society where the authority is controlled by soldiers instead of police, life is under tight control. Society is enforced according to Article 5 – the Moral Statutes. Punishment for the violation of Article 5 can be harsh. People get arrested for reading the wrong books, behaving in a certain way, and disobeying the curfew.

Ember Miller, 17 years old, remembers the time when life in the United States was much different. When her mom violates Article 5 for not being compliant, Ember has to come to her mother’s defense. Ember also learns that the person who arrested her mom is Chase Jennings, the boy she is in love with. Those who love “The Hunger Games” will definitely like this book. The narrator’s voice is compelling and believable. It is definitely one of the best teen books for 2012. An excellent summer read!

— Tony Lam, Anaheim Public Library

Teens: “Anna and the French Kiss” by Stephanie Perkins

While studying abroad in Paris, Anna meets handsome Etienne, who is funny, thoughtful, and speaks with a British accent to boot. He’s perfect in every way, except he has a girlfriend. This charmingly written book captures all the longing and giddiness associated with first love. It really is a fantastic romance that sparkles with chemistry.

— Recommended by Rita Law, children’s librarian, Fullerton Public Library

Teens: “Graceling” (series) by Kristin Cashore

Katsa is a Graceling, someone who has two different-colored eyes and who possesses a special power. She has been trained by her uncle the king to kill, but when she leaves to solve a mystery in the seven kingdoms, she is joined by a Graced prince who helps her discover her true gift. Full of intrigue and romance, this elegantly written book will leave you wanting to march to the library for its sequels.

— Recommended by Rita Law, children’s librarian, Fullerton Public Library

Teens: “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

Books by John Green tend to feature clever, witty teens who muse poetically about growing older. Except in this book about cancer-stricken Hazel and Augustus, there is no growing older. There is only the present, and they spend it falling in love and trying to figure out what happens at the end of a book by Hazel’s favorite author. Tragic yet hopeful, this novel is one of John Green’s stronger offerings.

— Recommended by Rita Law, children’s librarian, Fullerton Public Library

Teens: “The Future of Us” by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Josh and Emma live in 1996 and they’ve just signed on to AOL for the first time. Miraculously, they discover their Facebook profiles 15 years into the future. Josh is ecstatic when he learns about the future, but Emma — not so much, and she races to change it. This book takes an insightful look at the immense consequences of our everyday decisions, and there is a hint of romance in it to please young readers.

— Recommended by Rita Law, children’s librarian, Fullerton Public Library

Teens: “The Disenchantments” by Nina LaCour

Ever since eighth grade, Colby and his best friend Bev have had a plan: graduate high school and spend a year traveling around Europe. But on a pre-Europe mini-tour of the West Coast with Bev’s girl band “The Disenchantments,” Colby learns the devastating truth — Bev will be going to college in the fall.

With his plans in ruins, Colby has to figure out why Bev ditched him, what he’s going to do with himself and how to make it through the next few days touring in a VW bus with the girl who crushed him. On a road trip full of friendship, love, art and music, this is a story of the journeys both literal and metaphorical the characters take to discover who they are and where they want to be and the people they meet along the way.

— Recommended by Melissa Dolby, OC Public Libraries, San Juan Capistrano Library

Teens: “Divergent” (trilogy) by Veronica Roth

This is one of the best dystopian series since “The Hunger Games.” In a futuristic Chicago, society is divided into five factions based on aptitude for honesty, intelligence, bravery, pacifism and selflessness. Tris learns in her 16th year that she is Divergent (fitting into more than one faction), which makes her “dangerous,” and she transfers unexpectedly into the faction known for bravery.

— Recommended by Rita Law, children’s librarian, Fullerton Public Library

Teens: “Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick” by Joe Schreiber

If you’re ready to move on from zombies, vampires and werewolves, how about trying teenage assassins? Lithuanian exchange student Gobi insists on going to the prom and Perry is the escort of choice. What Perry doesn’t know is that Gobi has another agenda — one that requires his driving skills and his father’s red Jaguar. On this wild and crazy night, Perry will uncover secrets and mobsters as he is chased and shot at through the streets of Manhattan. Keep a look out for the sequel, publishing in November.

— Recommended by Jill Patterson, OC Public Libraries, La Habra Library

Teens: “Between Shades of Gray” by Ruta Sepetys

In 1941, 15-year-old Lina, her mother, and brother are pulled from their Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp. She fights for her life, vowing to honor her family and the thousands like hers by burying her story in a jar on Lithuanian soil. Based on the author’s family, includes a historical note.

— Recommended by Kristine Russell, OC Public Libraries, Ladera Ranch Library

Teens: “Where Things Come Back” by John Corey Whaley

There are strange goings-on in the small town of Lily, Arkansas. First, a woodpecker thought to be extinct is sighted. Then Cullen Witter’s younger brother disappears. This first novel just won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from the American Library Association. Whaley is an authentic Southern voice whose next novel may be worth waiting for.

— Recommended by Mary Smith, OC Public Libraries, El Toro Library

Teens: “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak

Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel — a young German girl who’s book-stealing and storytelling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors.

— Recommended by Marie Twombly, OC Public Libraries, Aliso Viejo Library

Teens: “In Honor” by Jessi Kirby

Summer is the perfect time for road trips, and this book will fulfill your craving for a sweet and comforting road trip read. Honor’s big brother was killed in action in Iraq, and she is reeling from the loss when she receives a final letter from him. It contains a pair of concert tickets and a postscript that playfully instructs her to say hi to their favorite singer for him. With the concert only days away, Honor takes this as a last request, and heads out from their home in Texas to California in her brother’s 1967 Impala.

— Recommended by Allison Tran, teen services librarian, Mission Viejo, Calif., Library

Young Adult: “Parrot in the Oven” by Victory Martinez

Set in Fresno, Calif., this coming-of-age novel focuses on narrator Manny Hernandez, a Mexican American teenage boy from a large, troubled family. One of four children, Manny struggles to find his place in the world in the midst of woeful poverty and troubled family relationships, complete with an alcoholic, violent father, an unhappy mother, a wild sister and a wastrel older brother.

The winner of the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Fiction, “The Parrot in the Oven” is a worthwhile portrayal of a boy growing up in the barrio.

— Recommended by Cathy Diem, Fullerton Public Library

 
May
16

Cookbook a great resource for busy moms

By Erica Marcus, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

“Enough with the frozen chicken nuggets” and “You signed me up to bake what?” are two of the exasperating problems that Katie Workman sets out to solve in her engaging and hardworking new “The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket” ($16.95, Workman Publishing Company). Workman’s breezy, no-nonsense recipes are made even more useful by sidebars indicating what can be made ahead, what can be made vegetarian and “what the kids can do.”