{FOF Guru Book Review} Hotel Vendôme–will this book Steel your heart?

Every book that FOF Danielle Steel has ever written has been a New York Times bestseller, including her latest novel, Hotel Vendôme (Random House Publishing Group, November 2011). It follows an ambitious man as he transforms a shabby Manhattan inn into a luxurious, five-star hotel. His seemingly perfect life comes to a halt when his wife, Miriam, takes off with a rock star, leaving him to raise their 4-year-old daughter, Heloise. Is this Eloise for grown ups? Not quite… But, Kirkus Reviews says the novel will “appeal to the most dedicated of Steel’s fans,” although many readers say it falls flat. “It seems Steel has run out of story lines,” says one Amazon.com reviewer. “44 Charleston Street, about a single woman who opens her home to boarders, was disappointing as well. Now we have a hotel. What’s next, an apartment complex?”

Does FOF Book Guru Barbara Phelps agree? Did Hotel Vendôme make her want to check in or out?

Did you enjoy this book?
Three quarters of it. The description made me feel like I was owning and running a grand hotel. I could feel the passion of the owner and I was gripped by the things that he and his daughter experienced. However, the plot became a runaway carriage ride–rampant changes of scene, many emotions running high…I wanted to slow it down!

Was it a page-turner or did you have to push through it?
It was a page turner and really had me wound up in their lives and emotions.

What would you want to ask the author, now that you’re done reading?
I would ask Ms. Steel why she felt the need to try to cram so much into the last quarter of the book.

Would you recommend this to other FOFs?
I would recommend it to other FOFs–to both those who love Danielle Steel and those new to her. It was a bit different from her average plot lines.

If you had to classify this book would you call it a “must read” a “pass” or a “skim it” book?
A must-read. I did find it flying by as I read it and was excited to get back to it each day.

One FOF will win a copy of The Intolerable Gourmet cookbook to review. By entering this contest you are agreeing to read and submit a written review of this book to FabOverFifty and to send a photo of yourself to accompany the published story.

(Contest closes 12/1/2011 at midnight E.S.T. See all our past winners. See official rules. Our panel of editors will choose winners based on the quality of their written comments. We look for clear, concise writing; creativity; and thoughtfulness.)

{FOF Guru Book Review} Bonjour, Happiness

Jamie Cat Callan grew up in Connecticut, though she claims, “I have French blood running through my veins.” As a little girl she observed her French grandmother– the way she dressed, the way she cooked, the way she loved. French women don’t worry about being skinny, young enough or accomplished enough, she observed.

In her most recent novel, Bonjour, Happiness! (Citadel Press, 2011) Callan studied the lives of French women to discover the recipe for true happiness, or ‘joie de vivre,’ and to share it will all her readers. “[It] translates the joie de vivre into a language of life that is not so foreign.” wrote a book critic for Kirkus Reviews. But, what did our FOF guru, Orelle Jackson think? Is there such thing as a recipe for happiness? And if so, did she find it in this book?

1. In a nutshell, what is the book about?
Happiness. Early in the book the author points to the subtle difference between the American “pursuit of happiness” and the French term “la recherché du bonheur” or “looking for happiness.” In this, she suggests we are chasing happiness. We see happiness as something elusive – down the street, around the corner, while the French are looking for happiness. It’s as if they already know it’s there, hiding in plain sight and if they stop they will find it – Voila! The author, who had a French grandmother, suggests French women may have the edge on the rest of us when it comes to happiness or joie de vivre. In part, this book is a guide to French style and taste and the French way of life, but it also is her own journey of discovery.

2. What is the genre of this book?
This book would fall into the self-help genre.

3. Did you enjoy it?
While this is a charming book, I didn’t love it. I liked parts of it, but I found it repetitive and the whole premise problematic. I found the process of her self-discovery tedious, exasperated by her infatuation with everything French and her belief that this was the path to happiness. I was relieved to get to the last part of the book when the author finally realizes that the secret to happiness is “finding those moments in your own ordinary life, finding the people and the simple pleasures of living that will bring you happiness.”

4. Was it a page turner, or did you have to push through it?
Although it was light reading, I found it difficult to stay focused because it did not hold my attention. This is the kind of book I wanted to merely skim through.

5. What would you want to ask the author, now that you’re done reading?
I was struck by the relationship she had with her mother and wondered if she got closer with her mom before she passed away.

6. Would you recommend this to other FOFs? Did you find yourself telling friends about the book as you were reading it?
I did tell friends about the book, but I would not give it a strong recommendation.

7. What part of the book did you like the most? What parts did you like least?
One of the most poignant parts of the book is when the author goes with her mother to get fitted for a bra after her radical mastectomy. In other parts of the book there seems to be an emotional gap between the mother and daughter. In this short but beautiful section, the complexity and the beauty of the mother-daughter relationship is revealed. The chapters “Good Enough to Eat” and “Weight Watchers in France” are also interesting. These two chapters really get to the big differences between us and our French sisters – our attitudes toward food and weight! While we use food as medication, punishment, or reward, our French counterparts use food as nourishment, celebration and occasion. On the opposite end of the spectrum I could not help but notice ambiguity. If happiness comes from loving yourself “for who you are right now – your beautiful, fragile, imperfect self” then why did it feel like most of the book implied if we were only French or behaved like French women or dressed like French women, we would be happy? In some ways I felt like this book should have been two books (or two essays) one about French living and style and one about Ms. Callon’s journey of self-discovery.

8. Is this book similar to any other books you have read? Which?
I have not recently read a similar book.

9. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
There are beautiful, elegant and happy women in all parts of the world, and while their environment and ethnicity may play a role in their happiness, it is their ability to accept themselves and to see beauty in themselves and in the world around them that accounts for their happiness. While reading this book I was once again confronted by the fact that for most of our lives we measure ourselves against others and too often, find ourselves lacking. We torture ourselves with these perceived inadequacies. We punish ourselves because we are not enough – not smart enough, not thin enough, not rich enough, even not “French” enough. It is wonderful that as an FOF we begin to gain some perspective or enlightenment and realize we are “enough.” Let’s hope we can shorten this journey of enlightenment for the women and girls in our lives.

Also, while reading the book, I kept wondering just how happy French people are, so finally I did a very basic (non-scientific) internet search on depression levels in France. The results indicate France has a high rate of depression. The World Health Organization (WHO) report referred to in this article is complex and interesting.

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By entering this contest you are agreeing to read and submit a written review of this book to FabOverFifty and to send a photo of yourself to accompany the published story.

(Contest closes 11/17/2011. See all our past winners. See official rules. Our panel of editors will choose winners based on the quality of their written comments. We look for clear, concise writing; creativity; and thoughtfulness.)

{FOF Guru Book Review} The Earthbound Cookbook

If anyone is an authority on organic food, it’s Myra Goodman, co-owner and co-founder of Earthbound Farm, the world’s largest grower of organic produce. Her first cookbook, Food to Live By (2006), was praised by a Library Journal book reviewer who compares it to The Organic Cook’s Bible by Jeff Cox (Wiley, April 2006), one of those most well-known organic cooking resources to date.

In her latest cookbook, The Earthbound Cook: 250 Recipes for Delicious Food and a Healthy Planet (Workman Publishing, 2011) Myra pairs green living tips with all new recipes. Is this cooking guide as fresh as her first? FOF book reviewer, Darla Martin worked her way through and reported back.

In a nutshell, describe this cookbook.
It is about eating well and living green. It includes lots of recipes and green living tips.

Did you read her first book?
No, but I would like to now.

Did you enjoy it?
Yes, indeed.

Was it a page turner, or did you have to push through it?
Even though it is a cookbook, I read it page by page just like a novel.

What recipes and tips did you like most? What did you like least?
I liked finding new ways to cook a few veggies. I tried the cauliflower tart which I liked very much. I have marked the Coconut-Crusted salmon (p. 134) to make soon and the Chicken and Green Olive Enchiladas (p. 109). I’ve made enchiladas before but this is a new twist. The Jicama and Orange Salad with Orange-Sesame Vinaigrette sounds like a great winter salad to make when traditional greens and tomatoes aren’t in season.

I didn’t like searching here and there for the green living suggestions, which are sprinkled randomly through out the book.

Is this book similar to any other books you have read? Which?
I own and read a lot of cookbooks. This is a nice addition to my collection and I think it has a definite “California” feel.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share . . . ?
While I enjoyed the book, I don’t think I’d recommend it for everyone. Several recipes called for hard to find ingredients, such as lemongrass, or ingredients that are expensive such as truffle oil. I’m a dedicated foodie and live in a cosmopolitan area (San Fransisco Bay) so I’m willing to hunt down unusual or even expensive items. I don’t think that most people would.

Want to review books for FOF? Apply to be a book guru, here.

Want to review books for FOF?

 

Calling all bibliophiles. The books are stacking up at the FOF offices and we are looking for smart, insightful FOFs to read and review them!

Here’s how it works: Apply to be an FOF book guru, here. If selected, we’ll contact you about what books we have in stock and send you books periodically. Write us a fabulous review within one month of receiving the book, and we’ll publish it and send you your next book!

{Book Expert} A beach read that’s anything but sunny.

A book about a pedophile-child relationship its not what you’d normally refer to as a “beach read,” but you might want to reconsider. According to FOF Linda Wolfe, Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tiger, is, like the best beach reads, impossible to put down. Unlike many beach reads, however, it’s also impossible to forget. Here’s why….

(Plus, enter to win a copy of Tiger, Tiger when you answer this question in the comments below: What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?)

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One of the most compelling books I’ve read recently is Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tigernot to be confused with the controversial Tiger Mother or the precocious Tiger’s Wife (not to mention the Broadway show Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo – what is it with tiger titles lately?)  Fragoso’s book is a memoir, the astonishing story of how, at the age of seven, she was seduced by a man more than forty years her senior, a once-jailed pedophile with whom she maintained a secret, intimate relationship until she was twenty-two, and he, at the age of sixty-six, committed suicide.

Perhaps in the previous sentence I should have said “why” she was seduced and “why” she remained in the relationship instead of “how,” for this book, explicit, insightful, and elegantly written, has much to tell us about what makes certain children easy prey for pedophiles.

In Fragoso’s case, her earliest childhood years were wrenching.  Raised by an explosive, alcoholic father and a mentally unstable mother, Fragoso grew up fearing her father, having to mother her mother, and longing for what all children want: attention, encouragement, praise.  She meets Peter Curran, the man who will give her these things, while bathing at a neighborhood pool with her mother. Watching him splash and play with two little boys she assumes are his sons, she paddles up to him and asks, “Can I play with you?”

Curran obliges, includes her in his games with the boys – who turn out to be the sons of a woman in whose house he rents a room  – and several days later invites her and her mother to visit the family and the house.

It’s a place that’s vibrant with life: in addition to the boys and their mother, the house is home to a large furry dog, a tankful of iguanas, a cage full of rabbits, and even a small baby alligator. Both Margaux and her mother are enchanted, and become regular after-school visitors.  Curran calls Margaux “princess” and “angel,” tells her how talented she is when she writes little stories or  puts on little playlets, and patiently plays whatever games she proposes.  He also introduces games of his own choosing: “an enhanced version of Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Mad Scientist” and “Tickle Torture Time.”  Then one day he takes Margaux down to the basement to check on the health of Fiver, a sick rabbit, and asks her to look at his penis.

In a shattering scene, Fragoso describes her eight-year-old reaction to Curran’s request.

“I climbed into the cart with Fiver and said, ‘Look, Peter!  I’m a rabbit!’

“I started to drink from the water bottle, tasting the sweet metal and the sweet, warm water.  I picked up [Fiver’s food], offered it again to him, and when he refused it, I ate it myself….Peter came and picked me up gently, placed me on my feet; but I instantly sank again, to my hands and knees, to crawl on the ground like a baby, to feel the cold hard floor beneath my hands.

“‘I’m a baby now, not a rabbit.  No, wait.  I’m a baby rabbit!  Chase me!’”

Curran ignores her agitation and, dropping his pants, exposes his genitals.   “The whole contraption looked like a bunless hot dog with two partly deflated balloons attached,” Fragoso writes.  But, afraid to offend this man who has become the affectionate  male figure her life has so lacked, she tries to conceal her disgust and say something nice about the disturbing sight. “It kind of reminds me of….an ice cream cone,” she says.

I’ll spare you what happens next.  Suffice it to say that Curran makes her his sexual toy.  But after years of being abused by him, when Fragoso becomes a teenager, she turns the tables on him.  By then, aging and in ill-health, he’s become dependent on her, and knowing this, she torments him, mocking him for his weakening legs and toothless mouth and maintaining the relationship even as she begins dating boys.

Throughout this disturbing tale, Lolita from Lolita’s own viewpoint,  the author is unflinchingly honest, aware of her own complicity in the abusive relationship.  It makes her book absolutely mesmerizing. Fragoso’s insights into pedophiles and the damage they inflict on the children they entrap are profound.  But just as importantly – arguably even more importantly — she is a profoundly talented writer.  This is a book you won’t be able to put down, and once you’ve finished it, won’t be able to forget.

Enter to win a copy of Tiger, Tiger when you answer this question in the comments below: What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

(See all our past winners. See official rules. One winner is chosen at random from all those who ask a question. Contest closes July 7, 2011.)