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How to Bake a Perfect Life

June 9, 2011

How to Bake a Perfect Life

by Barbara O’Neal

I must preface this review by saying that I didn’t have high expectations of this book. My very kind sister-in-law gave it to me for my birthday and I somehow couldn’t get past the first chapter for months! But once I started focusing properly (e.g. when Maya wasn’t around) I could not put  How to Bake a Perfect Life down.  This is one of those fabulous chick-lit books that seems to have it all: it’s heart-wrenching, relatable, and very entertaining.

This is the story of Ramona, a 40-year-old baker who loves her daughter Sophia – a child she had when she was an unwed teenager – more than life itself. She loves her so much that when Sophia rushes off to Germany to take care of her injured soldier husband, Ramona takes in Sophia’s 13-year-old step-daughter Katie without a second thought. Ramona does this despite the fact that she is struggling to keep her bakery afloat, to make ends meet, to mend fences with her dysfunctional extended family, and to repair her own love life.

I think the main reason I loved this book so much was because halfway through I realized I want to be more like Ramona. I mean I’ll most definitely pass on her self-described “muffin top” and her predilection for very old men, but aside from those minor character flaws, I do admire so many things about Ramona:

  1. Her ability to take a risk – I am so risk-averse it isn’t funny.
  2. Her ability to put her child first – I put myself first Far. Too. Often.
  3. Her selflessness – I am selfless about nothing.
  4. The fact that she can roll with the punches – My Type-A self can’t roll with anything except my schedule, which is set in stone.
  5. The fact that she knows that ultimately happiness can’t really be defined by a dollar sign – I haven’t quite come to this realization yet but I’m getting closer every year. Maybe by the time I’m 75 I’ll fully believe this.

There is one tiny thing I didn’t admire about Ramona however, and that’s the way she let people talk to her. From her daughter Sophia to Katie, from her mom to her long-lost love interest, Ramona didn’t seem to have the backbone to put people in their place. This kind of saddened me, especially since I have the same problem.

Bottom Line: I am so impressed with the author’s ability to weave so many stories together effortlessly and the relatibility factor here is priceless. Barbara O’Neal is truly an amazing writer and I will be hunting down the rest of her books.


The Paris Wife

May 28, 2011

The Paris Wife

by Paula Mclain

Since I have so little time to read these days I get justifiably upset when I read something completely overrated. And The Paris Wife? It is so overrated that I am mystified as to how this book came to be published.

I was on the fence about reading this book when I read the synopsis but I decided to move forward because 

a. I LOVED the cover of this book
b. I am obsessed with Paris, and
c. I found a copy sitting in my mom’s family room.

Needless to say I learned my lesson that a free book + a beautiful cover does not always equal a good read.

Frankly, I don’t understand why this book has such a great reviews! Even reviewers – whom I usually consider the holy grail for objective and spot-on reviews – gave this a million and one points. Go figure.

In short, The Paris Wife is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway, his first wife Hadley, and their life together in Paris. While this book cannot be considered non-fiction, it is, according to author Paula McClain, based on historical material and Hemingway’s own works. In other words, it is mostly true. Or as far as Paula Mclain is concerned anyway.

What I liked about this book:

  • Prior to reading this I had no idea that Hemingway struggled so much, as a writer and as a person. Clearly he had some sort of mentally instability or maybe he was depressed? In any case this book certainly brought me up to speed in an educational sense. (Assuming once again, that McClain knows what she’s writing about.)
  • Paula Mclain has done what appears to be a good job thoroughly researching and compiling information about Hemingway.
  • I love the pretty cover. I may have already mentioned that.

What I didn’t like:

  • Aside from depicting the glamour and energy of a city I love, this book is utterly boring.
  • The main problem with the characters isn’t that there are so many – which there are – but rather that they are flat and uninspiring. Am I supposed to believe that Ernest Hemingway’s only qualities are that he’s self-absorbed and unfaithful? And what about his wife Hadley? I wanted her to get angry, to freak out, to show some personality! But to my disappointment, Paula Mclain did not bring Hadley, Ernest, or any of the other characters to life.
  • Since this is a fictionalized account of Hemingway and Hadley’s life I would imagine the author had limitless opportunities to inject excitement so I’m not sure why Mclain didn’t take the opportunity to do so.

I somehow managed to muddle through this entire book and yet I still have no idea what made Hemingway and Hadley’s marriage special. To me they were just like any other couple…their marriage was full of challenges when it comes to money, family, and career. But so what? If I wanted to know more about a dysfunctional marriage I’d  just pick up a copy of People.

Bottom Line : My main problem with this book is that it didn’t need to be written. Why? Well because any true Hemingway fan would simply pick up a biography instead of a work of fiction. But I’m obviously in the minority here, so read this if you have any interest in following the story of a woman who is basically a doormat for a husband who drops her like a hot potato as he rises to fame and fortune.

Mommy, Why is There a Server in the House?

May 6, 2011

Mommy, Why is There a Server in the House?

by Tom O’Connor, Ph.D.

Review by: Maya Din

My daddy takes a lot of business trips – sometimes he goes away for weeks and other times he takes short trips. I always love it when he goes away and comes back with neat presents. Once he brought me a plastic yo-yo with “VMware” emblazoned on it. Another time, he brought home this really cool whistle that someone named “HP” gave him. First my mom would only let me blow the whistle in my bedroom with the door closed, but then the whistle disappeared! I looked everywhere but couldn’t find it. My mom says she has no idea where it went. I’m not sure I believe her though because she wouldn’t look at me when she said that.

Another time, my daddy went up to Seattle to visit a guy named Bill. My mom said that since this Bill person has more money than God she expected some better swag than this silly book. But I love all the cool things my dad brings me back and I think this book is pretty funny.

Mommy, Why is There a Server in the House is a story about a “stay-at-home” server. The book says that most big people have servers at their office (just in case you don’t know, an office is boring place where big people go to do boring things and say bad words) and not usually at home. But when a daddy loves a mommy a whole lot he gives her a home server as a gift. I was confused when I read this because my mom said that if my dad ever bought her a server as a gift he’d have to find another place to live.

My dad just shook his head and said my mom is high-maintenance.

Anyway, the book says that a dad can easily install the server himself and once he does, all the computers in the house will be connected and you can share things like pictures, music, and files. The funny thing is that my daddy couldn’t set our server up. It took a whole team of people and they had tools and ladders and tons of cables. (I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want anyone to know he couldn’t install the server by himself so please don’t tell anyone.)

My favorite part of the book was when the doggy went potty on the computer and it blew up!

I think anything to do with potty is pretty funny. Lucky for the doggy the stay-at-home server was backing things up so no files were lost. Otherwise he would have been in BIG trouble.

The book says that some people think servers should only be in an office so sometimes kids might make fun of you for having one at home!

Kids are mean. But that’s just because they are jealous and they wish their daddies would buy them a stay-at-home server so they too could have a giant black box in the laundry room with tons of blinking lights.

I’m sure that you wish you could have a copy of this great book. Guess what? You can! Even if your daddy isn’t friends with Bill and Melinda you can pay $5.95 plus shipping and buy this from Mommy, Why is There a Server in the House? My mom couldn’t believe it either. You should order them fast though because I’m sure this book will probably sell out soon.

Well I hope you liked my second book review. I have to go now…I’m going to go push some buttons on our stay-at-home server, just to get some attention. It makes my daddy real mad but surprisingly, my mom just thinks its funny.

See you next time!

P.S. I received no promotional consideration from Microsoft for this review.

The Castaways

May 2, 2011

The Castaways

by Elin Hilderbrand

I have read all of Elin Hildebrand’s previous books and they all seem to share similar premises: the trials and tribulations of unhappily married Nantucket couples. This particular book is not any different. That said I read this book in just three days and it really is hard to put down!

The author illustrates the lives of 8 friends (4 couples) and how they are affected by the sudden deaths of one couple in a boating accident. Andrea, Chief, Delilah, Jeffrey, Tess, Greg, Phoebe and Addison or the “Castaways” as they call themselves deal with their grief in many different forms – from Andrea’s depression and resulting inability to get through even the most mundane daily tasks, to Phoebe suddenly and unexpectedly releasing her grip on her various pill addictions. Then there is Addison who we quickly learn was having an affair with the now deceased Tess and Jeffrey who still loves ex-girlfriend Andrea but also loves his wife Delilah.

Honestly, trying to keep track of all 8 characters was quite challenging in the beginning. I found myself having to go back to the first few chapters at times trying to clear up my confusion. The characters are all interconnected and it takes quite a bit of focus to keep things straight. Thus this is not a beach read but more of a serious novel that one needs to devote attention to. Easier said than done when you have a 4-year-old constantly pestering you with questions!

The author has a tendency to go into great detail which can be good but also a bit tedious. Do we really need to know what each person ordered at a restaurant in Las Vegas? Um, no. Does it matter how long Delilah’s labor was? Not really. But for the most part I did appreciate the great deal of depth that Elin Hilderbrand put into each character and I loved the detailed descriptions of Nantucket which sounds like an amazingly beautiful backdrop.

I found the author’s ability to flash back and forth between the present and times before the accident, while also flashing back and forth between the points of view of each of the 6 surviving friends quite remarkable. I have no idea how she kept all the characters and timelines straight with so many factors in the mix. I wish I had half of her writing ability.

If you are looking for an entertaining, well written book about marriage and friendship this is one to definitely check out. Not Elin Hilderbrand’s best but definitely close to the top. I also recommend her books A Summer Affair: A Novel and Barefoot which are also excellent.

After You

May 2, 2011

After You

by Julie Buxbaum

There is a fine line between chick lit and meaningful chick lit. While I have nothing against the light, airy nature of chick lit, I often find myself looking for something with a bit more substance. You know how it is, there is a time and a place for different genres, depending on your mood, your time, and your attention span. Well I was in the mood for something serious but relatable as well and I found exactly that in this engrossing novel.

Ellie Lerner’s best friend (Lucy) was murdered, leaving behind a devastated husband (Greg) and eight-year-old daughter (Sophie). Ellie quickly leaves her crumbling marriage in Boston to fly to London and take care of Sophie and Greg. She stays on after the funeral to address her own demons – her inability to move past a stillborn child, her parent’s marriage woes, her own seemingly insurmountable insecurities.

I was very interested in the unique premise of this novel. Sophie won my heart over immediately as a very likeable and sympathetic semi-orphan. As a mother, I couldn’t imagine how traumatized a child would be after seeing her mother killed. The author does an excellent job of fleshing out Sophie’s adult-like character.

Initially I did not take a liking to Ellie. Her character wore on my nerves with her indifference to her husband and job and responsibilities back home. I guess I am the kind of person who moves on from negativity pretty quickly and the fact that Ellie couldn’t get past a tragedy she AND her husband shared really bothered me. I wasn’t fond of her needy nature. As the novel progressed, however, Ellie became a lot more likable. As an impatient mother I appreciated the seemingly endless attention she showered on Sophie…from taking her to counseling to reading The Secret Garden (one of my favorite novels of all time) together. I don’t want to give anything away so I will say this – with a few unexpected turns in Ellie’s life and surprising information regarding Lucy, the novel quickly became a page turner.

This book left me thinking of all the different messages the author conveyed through the novel: how to move past a tragedy, how to value the people in your life, and how to remember what is truly important in the grand scheme of things. I highly recommend this novel, if not for just a temporary escape into someone else’s problems, than for the sole reason of reminding us what really matters in life.

Since this review was copied from my original blog, I am pasting relevant comments below:


Don’t You Forget About Me

April 2, 2011

Don’t You Forget About Me

by Jancee Dunn

Do you remember your high school years? If so, were you one of the popular crowd or one of the smart kids? Were you a cheerleader or did you play in the band? Did you blaze new trends? Or did you do your very best to blend in with the crowd? If you could revisit that time in your life, would you? These are the themes in this very funny and relatable book.

If you are anything like me you try your very best to block out any and all memories of high school. Those four years were quite possibly the four worst years of my life. Could I have been any nerdier? Could I have been any more awkward looking? I was too tall, too thin, my hair was (is) uncontrollable, I had braces, and absolutely no self-confidence. While I had friends I can’t say that any of them were really good friends. We were just a bunch of girls who sat together at lunch so we didn’t have to sit alone. Safety in numbers, right? And after graduation – one of the best days of my life – we parted ways without ever really looking back.

In Jancee Dunn’s Don’t You Forget About Me, protagonist Lillian Curtis happily “hurtles backward” into her high school years after being blindsided by her husband’s request for a divorce. Unlike me and probably most of the rest of the world, Lillian recalls her teen years as some of her happiest and is quickly agreeable to turning back the clock. So at 38-years-old Lillian takes a leave of absence from her job as a producer in New York City to return to her parent’s home in New Jersey to lick her wounds and reassess her life choices. Her return also happens to coincide with her twenty-year high school reunion.

Upon her return to New Jersey, Lillian reverts back into her former life of being on the cusp of her friends’ popular clique. She drives too fast, blasts mixed tapes of 80’s songs, reads old notes she saved in her dresser drawer, and betrays her non-popular friend Dawn (again). She also falls back into an old relationship with ex-boyfriend Christian, and allows him to once again call all the shots in their relationship.

Initially Lillian was not a very likeable character. One would assume that a 38-year-old TV producer would know a whole lot more about how to treat people. But unlike a Mean Girl character Lillian didn’t mean to be a horrible person. The problem was that in her efforts to be more appealing to her friends and ex-boyfriend, she was rather harsh to those she deemed at the low-end of the totem pole. Having been at the bottom of that pole at one point in my life, my heart went out to Dawn and to some of the other characters that Lillian treated quite terribly (I won’t go into more detail because I don’t want to give too much away). I was glad that at one point in the book Dawn found the courage to stand up for herself. One could say I was living vicariously through Dawn instead of through Lillian, as I’m sure the author would prefer!

After some deep discussion with her older sister Ginny, and revelations of forgotten memories, Lillian becomes much more relatable and finally likeable. She realizes her past didn’t exactly play out the way she thought it had. She realizes that some things just aren’t worth going back to. She also realizes that while being a grown up is hard, it is a much better alternative to the horrible process of trying to be someone you aren’t.

The verdict? I loved this book and finished it in just a couple of days. The references to the 80’s were spot on and reminded me of my own teen years. Remember John Hughes’ movies? What about Wham! and tape recorders? Do you also recall trying to fit in at any cost? Do you remember spending an insane amount of time worrying about what everyone thought of you? This book is sort of a bittersweet look back at things I loved (could count them on one hand) and hated most about high school, which I’m sure many others can relate to. I highly recommend this book for a good laugh and maybe some not-so-good reminders of the past. I look forward to reading the author’s other books as well.

Is there anyone else out there who would sooner shave their head than relive those tedious years?

Since this review was copied from my original blog, I am pasting relevant comments below:

House Rules

May 25, 2010

House Rules

by Jodi Picoult

About twenty times a day I think, “If I only I knew then what I know now.” For example, today I thought:

  • I probably could have accomplished more at the age of 34 if I’d watched a little less MTV and studied a little more during college.
  • I regret counting calories and not eating more french bread slathered in Nutella on my trip to Paris last year.
  • What was I thinking when I decided to channel my inner Madonna back in the 80’s by sporting very unattractive stirrup pants and big floppy hair bows?

Considering that I have my share of regrets it probably seems odd that I also recently concluded ignorance can be bliss.

I am a professional worrier. I am the type of person who worries about how I’m ever going to clean the freezer if the sponge keeps sticking to it? Or better yet, how am I going to fill up my gas tank when Ali took the gas card with him to NYC? Since I obviously worry about the most ridiculous things, you can imagine how much more I would have freaked out about Maya if I’d known more about autism and the potential link between vaccinations and autism.

My already gray hair thanks me for not knowing.

In Jodi Picoult’s latest book House Rules: A Novel we meet Jacob Hunt, a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. As a high functioning autistic Jacob is brilliant academically but is unable to handle most social situations. Among other symptoms, Jacob finds it difficult to make eye contact, to form emotional connections, and is very sensitive to things like bright lights and loud noise. He takes everything very literally and needs order and routine in order to function. As a coping mechanism Jacob immerses himself in the world of forensics and begins to “help” the police solve cases. But things backfire when Jacob finds himself on trial for the murder of his social skills teacher.

As with most of this author’s work I enjoyed Jodi Picoult’s extensive research into autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. I also found her exploration of the potential link between vaccines and autism both thought-provoking and worrisome, and her court scenes were as thorough and impressive as always. But even I, as a non-expert, can say that the author misrepresents “aspies” throughout the book. I mean how can someone like Jacob, with so many debilitating symptoms, still function at such a high level? I also had issues with Jacob’s mom Emma. It is a mystery why she never outright asked her son if he committed the crime! And since I guessed the book’s “twist” early on in the story I was quite disappointed in the sloppy, loose ending. For the first time I actually found myself wondering why I’d bothered to read a Jodi Picoult book at all.

I fear that Jodi Picoult is going the way of Danielle Steel, i.e. her cookie-cutter books are beginning to lack the heart and soul that made me fall in love with her writing in the first place. While I was okay with cutting ties with Danielle Steel’s sub-par books years ago, I would definitely be sad to eliminate this talented author from my life. I do hope she gets back on track with her next book.

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