Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell

Empty MansionsWhen most people think of prominent names of  the Gilded Age, a few common ones come up: Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and so on. However, not many people come up with W.A. Clark, who made his money in the copper mines. What happens when a formerly prominent family line dies out, when the only remaining heir is a 104-year-old shut-in who owns expensive homes in three different states, yet prefers to live in a hospital? That’s the mystery that Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell take on in Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.

Huguette and her older sister Louise Amelia Andree’ Clark were the progeny of W.A. Clark and his second wife, the much-younger, Anna. W.A. served in the U.S. Senate and made his money through railroads and copper mining. When Huguette was young, the family owned a mansion on Fifth Avenue. Her older sister died at the age of 17 in 1919, and her father passed on a mere 6 years after that, leaving Huguette and Anna (as well as the family from W.A.’s first marriage) a substantial fortune.

Although Huguette finished high school and married briefly, she spent the rest of her life essentially in solitude. She communicated with others via letters and phone calls, but spent a good deal of her time painting and arranging (and commissioning) her lavish dollhouses while her actual inherited property – a house in New Canaan, Connecticut and another in Santa Barbara, California, went largely ignored, except for the attention of the caretakers who were paid handsomely to take care of them.

Dedman discovered the mystery surrounding Huguette Clark after stumbling upon the empty New Canaan house, and set about piecing together her history. Although he never really comes to the reason as to why she behaved as she did (childhood trauma? overt shyness? mental illness?) he and Paul Clark Newell, a distant relative of Huguette’s, do manage to paint a very detailed picture of her life.

Empty Mansions is available now through booksellers everywhere and on Amazon.com. If you love a good, real-life mystery (like I do) you’ll enjoy this book.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book to review through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own. For more information, please see my disclosure policy above.) 

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 486 easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown

Adulting BookThere are manuals for everything: vehicles, electronics, appliances, so why not one for adulthood? Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 486 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown fills that niche.

Part self-help manual, part manual, Adulting gets its point across with the help of plenty of graphics, including cute drawings (complete with a message) and flowcharts on various things. If you’ve ever wondered how to properly set up your own utilities or how to choose just the right apartment, then this book is for you. Other topics involve how to properly stock your kitchen and how to find a good, reliable auto mechanic.

Basically, it’s aimed at 20-somethings who haven’t quite successfully flown out of their parents’ nests yet. If you’re a 30-something, like me, odds are you pretty much know all of this or have experienced it already.

The book itself is cute, thanks to the doodles and flowcharts, and it’s set up in a logical manner. If you’re in your teens or 20s and have no clue how to become an adult – or are overwhelmed at the very thought of it – then I recommend this book. However, if you’ve been on your own for a while, then you probably don’t need it.

If you’d like more information or find that you need more than 486 steps to become an adult, check out Kelly Williams Brown’s blog by the same name.


(Disclosure: I received a galley of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please check out my disclosure policy.)


1 Comment

Filed under books

Book review: The Power Trip by Jackie Collins

P1020064 Are you ready for a beach read in February? For those of you who are (like me) suffering through  the remainder of winter, Jackie Collins’ latest book, The Power Trip, may be just enough to warm you up.

The plot has all of the intrigue, glamour and glitz that you’d expect from a Jackie Collins novel. Here’s a quick summary, courtesy of Amazon.com, who can sum it up better than me, since I so badly want to give away the ending – but won’t!

“A luxurious yacht in the Sea of Cortez, a birthday cruise for one of the world’s most beautiful women and an invitation no one can refuse.  In The Power Trip you will meet Aleksandr Kasianenko, a billionaire Russian oligarch, as he sets sail on The Bianca. You’ll meet his sexy supermodel girlfriend, whom The Bianca is named after, and five dynamic, powerful, and famous couples invited on the yacht’s maiden voyage: Hammond Patterson, a driven Senator, and his lovely but unhappy wife, Sierra; Cliff Baxter, a charming, never-married movie star, and his ex-waitress girlfriend, Lori; Taye Sherwin, a famous black UK footballer and his interior designer wife, Ashley; Luca Perez, a male Latin singing sensation with his older decadent English boyfriend, Jeromy; and Flynn, a maverick journalist with his Asian renegade female friend, Xuan. You will also meet Russian mobster, Sergei Zukov, a man with a grudge against Aleksandr. And Sergei’s Mexican beauty queen girlfriend, Ina, whose brother, Cruz, is a master pirate with orders to hold The Bianca and its illustrious rota of guests for ransom.”

The characters are fabulous, the setting is droolworthy, and the plot is nothing short of fast-paced excitement. I couldn’t put it down, and I doubt that you will either.

The Power Trip by Jackie Collins went on sale earlier today at booksellers everywhere, including Amazon.com. Whether you want to read it now or wait for warmer weather is up to you. 🙂


(Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Power Trip by Jackie Collins from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. My opinions are my own, and for more information, please check out my disclosure policy.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Return to the Big Fancy by Freeman Hall

Full disclosure: I used to work retail. In fact, I spent two years as a “seasonal” employee at Kohl’s while I was in college working on my first college degree. Of course, I was stationed at the cash registers and wasn’t a salesperson paid on commission like Freeman Hall was at The Big Fancy.

For those of who haven’t read his first book, Retail Hell, here’s a quick background: Freeman Hall moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter, but in order to pay the bills while working on his screenplay, wound up working in the handbag (don’t call it a purse!) section at a department store referred to as The Big Fancy. There he encountered numerous customers (dubbed “custys”), a shoposaurus (who pretty much bought out most of the store on a regular basis), piggy shoppers (who made a mess and were generally disgusting) and NATS (“nasty ass thieves” who stole merchandise and returned for a tidy profit.)

In the sequel, Return to the Big Fancy: A Riotous Descent into the Depths of Customer, Corporate and Coworker Hell, Hall goes into more depth on the many ways that a large corporation can suck the will to live out their employees. Many of the customer encounters, coworker disasters (never work with a “shark”) and awful examples of the trio of head honchos dubbed the “Gestapo” at work were both hilarious and wincingly painful at the same time.

What brought this on? Well, it turns out that writing a successful screenplay and having it actually go into development are two different things. So, once again, Hall goes to work for The Big Fancy. This time his manager is nice, but most of his co-workers are painful to deal with. Between corporate forcing stupid policies on its workers, buyers who purchase the wrong merchandise for the store, and, of course, those ever-present customers, his life is made into a walking, never-ending hell of insipid phone calls, annoying training sessions and hard to reach sales goals.

Anyone who has ever worked retail will simultaneously understand where Hall is coming from and laugh hysterically at the tales within Return to the Big Fancy. And if you haven’t worked retail, hopefully it will help you put yourself in the shoes of those people ringing up your purchases the next time you go shopping.

In order to help you sympathize with retail workers everywhere, Hall has declared that Saturday, November 24th is Be Kind to Service Workers Day. Next week, November 18th through the 24th, all of The Big Fancy e-shorts will be on sale for 99 cents each (I haven’t read them yet, but I’m sure they’re just as awesome as Retail Hell and Return to the Big Fancy) and his first book, Retail Hell, will be on sale for $2.99.

Return to the Big Fancy is available now at retailers everywhere, and for more information on Freeman Hall or to air your retail drone grievances in public, please check out his blog, Retail Hell Underground.


(Disclaimer: I received a copy of Return to the Big Fancy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. And honest I am; I loved the book! For more information, please see my disclosure policy.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips

 Unfortunately for Lucky Bird, her name doesn’t match up with her life. She grows up without her mother – AnnMarie, who vanishes mysteriously and suddenly. Lucky is then raised by her grandmother, Marian, and forced to endure the abuses heaped on her by Tom, Marian’s boyfriend.

It’s very hard to go into the rest of plot without giving up key points, so I’ll leave things kind of general: Marian and Tom do despicable things, Lucky is “rescued” by a kind young man and his family, and after a tragic string of events, a horrible family secret is unveiled.

I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips unfolds quickly, and the plot moves along at a rapid pace. There are a ton of small details that put you right into each scene and, since the story is told from the point of view of Lucky herself, you get a first-hand look at how she’s feeling. However, the only downfall of this point of view is the fact that you truly don’t find out what really happens to AnnMarie and Marian until the end — which is bad if you’re impatient like I am — although the ending is completely worth waiting for.

A ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year award finalist, I Am Lucky Bird is author Fleur Philips debut novel. For more information, or to order the book, go to her website here.


(Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please read my disclosure policy.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready

Raise your hand if you’ve seen the movie Outlander. You know, the one with Jim Caveziel where he plays a humanoid alien from another planet who lands on Earth in 709 A.D. and ends up becoming the king of a tribe of Norsemen? That’s the first thing that came to mind when I read the description of Timeless Desire as an “Outlander love story.”

But, I digress. While Outlander the movie was pure sci-fi with a teeny bit of romance thrown in, Timeless Desire consists of a lot of romance with a little time sci-fi-ish time traveling, just for good measure.

The main character, Panna Kennedy is librarian who has lost her husband. She’s sad and lonely until curiosity gets the better of her and she explores the library and finds an odd door that has been padlocked shut. If this has been a horror movie, a demon would have been behind it, but since this is a love story, that’s not the case at all. After walking through the doorway, Panna is magically transported to the 18th century. There, she meets and falls in love with the man whose statue was in her real-time office – the very British Colonel John Bridgewater.

Colonel Bridgewater is on house arrest and accused of betraying the crown, and he first thinks that Panna is a spy, sent to betray him further. The plot unfolds with both quietly falling for each other as their 18th century lives become more and more complicated. I won’t say any more than that – you’ll have to read it for yourself in order to see it ends!

If you’re a fan of both time travel based sci-fi and romance (or just romance) then you will love Timeless Desire. The unique plot and fast-paced storyline make it hard to put down!

To purchase a copy of Timeless Desire, please follow this link, or you can check out Gwyn Cready’s website.

(Disclaimer: A copy of the book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please check out my disclosure policy above.)

1 Comment

Filed under books

Book review: Blogothon by Danny Schechter

Most bloggers (myself included) write about things that interest them. In my case, its books, pets and a loose category I like to call “pop culture whatever.” In Danny Schechter’s case, it’s the news. He treats his blog – The News Dissector as an extension of the mainstream media, only going into more depth, asking the questions that they were afraid to, and in some cases, critiquing their reporting.

Blogothon: Reflections and Revelations from the New Dissector, is a compilation of blog posts with a few articles that Schechter has written for other publications thrown in, dating as far back as 2003, although the majority of them are from 2010 through 2011. Rather than being placed in chronological order, they are divided into categories like “Dissecting the Financial Crisis” and “The Activists Among Us.” Anyone who follows the news can pretty much guess what exactly is contained in the few sections that I’ve mentioned, but you’ve never seen that news presented in the logical, truthful, yet opinionated format that makes up this book. It really makes you think.

If you’re a news junkie, or just want to read the whole truth (and some opinions) about what’s going on the world, then you will love this book. It’s available now through Amazon.com. For more information, go to Danny Schechter’s blog – The News Dissector.

(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exhange for my honest review. For more information, please check out my disclosure policy above.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Quinoa Cuisine by Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser

Raise your hand if you have no idea what quinoa is. Okay, hands down. Here’s a quick tutorial:

Quinoa is classified as a “pseudograin” by nutritionists and can be used in place of wheat in many, many things. Since Quinoa is gluten-free, it’s an excellent substitute for those with gluten sensitivities, fibromyalgia and celiac disease. You can use to make biscuits, add it to beef stew and even turn it into a tasty and crusty topping for those tilapia fillets that you bought at the grocery store. Quinoa is so  high in iron, fiber, potassium, calcium, protein and vitamins B and E that it’s considered a superfood. Even if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity or medical condition that is exacerbated by consuming gluten, it’s a good idea to eat at least a few meals each week with quinoa in them.

Now, before you go all “health food- aaaugh” like my husband. Here’s a tasty cracker recipe that will change your mind:

Multigrain Crackers

These crispy rustic crackers just beg to be topped with a creamy spread, such as goat cheese, flavored cream cheese, or pub cheese. For variety, try different seeds on top—roasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, white or black sesame seeds, or chia seeds. These seeds, as well as the spelt flour used in this recipe, are easily found in natural food stores or a well-stocked grocery store. This is also a good chance to experiment with fancy salts, like smoked sea salt or pink

Himalayan salt; larger grains work best.

Makes about 3 Dozen Crackers

Good for Company, Healthy Choice, Vegetarian

1 cup quinoa flour

½ cup spelt flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup water, or as needed

2 tablespoons flax seeds

2 tablespoons quinoa flakes

1 tablespoon flaky sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, place the quinoa flour, spelt flour, whole wheat flour, and salt. Pulse to combine, about 10 pulses. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube, then gradually drizzle in the water until the mixture clumps together well when you squeeze it in your hand. You might need more or less water to achieve the right texture.

3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Working with about a third of the dough at a time, roll it into a thin rectangle, no more than ⅛ inch thick. Prick the dough all over with a knife, then use a pizza wheel or pastry cutter to cut the dough into squares, diamonds, or any size or shape you wish. Transfer the crackers to the prepared baking sheet and brush each cracker with water, then sprinkle with the flax seeds, quinoa flakes, and flake salt.

4. Bake until the crackers are hard and browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before storing in an airtight container. The crackers will keep for 2 to 3 days.

After a quick introduction to quinoa, Quinoa Cuisine by Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser dives right into the good stuff: the recipes. Starting with breakfast, where recipes for porridge, pancakes and crepes can found, this cookbook then moves on to starters, salads (really!), soups and stews, side dishes and pilaf, meat and fish, vegetarian meals, desserts and even ideas for portable edibles perfect for lunches and picnics, and larger dishes for potlucks and parties. Pretty much any type of meal that you could possibly encounter is included, and there are multiple recipes for each. With easy to follow recipes and clear instructions, each entrée, dessert and side dish is simple to make.

If you’re thinking about going gluten-free (or have to, due to dietary restrictions) or simply want to eat a little healthier now and then, check out Quinoa Cuisine. It’s available now at Amazon.com and booksellers everywhere.


(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please check out my disclosure policy.)


Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book reviews: Jen Lancaster’s entire catalog (thus far)

To be completely honest, I was going to review Jen Lancaster’s latest, Jeneration X several weeks ago, but never quite got around to it. Earlier today she posted an incentive on her blog that motivated me to finally write this – a free short story – so this post is finally getting written, only in a modified format. Rather than just review one book, I’m going to post a little something about all of them.

I’ll admit to coming late to the party and purchasing both Bitter is the new Black and Bright Lights, Big Ass at the same time. After reading them both over the course of a weekend (I can read fast and her books are hard to put down) I made sure to preorder her next book – Such a Pretty Fat –  as soon as I could. This eventually became a pattern, especially after Pretty in Plaid, which I had to go to two different bookstores in order to find a copy of the same week that it came out. I never made that mistake again, and wound up receiving My Fair Lazy, If You Were Here and Jeneration X all within days of their official release dates. Thank you, Amazon.com!

But enough about how I obtained her books. The real question is why? For one thing, she’s funny. Each book has moments that make me laugh out loud, and that’s very rare. Even the most supposedly humorous books keep me from smiling at times. Hers never fail to make me snicker, even when I was dealing with an infected wisdom tooth that hurt so bad I wasn’t able to sleep at night – true story. I could go on and on about her unique tone and point-of-view, or the fact that with some memoirs, it’s hard to get a true sense of who the memoirist is, and that’s not the case at all with any of Jen Lancaster’s books.

Before this turns into a total mushfest, I can see how some more exhalted reviewers could complain about how she ignores some basic grammatical rules, uses a whole lot of the F-word and is obsessed with footnotes, but those things don’t bother me. I don’t read books that are known solely for their highbrow literary value — in fact, many of those books put me to sleep. Instead, I read books that keep me entertained. And all of these aforementioned titles by Jen Lancaster certainly do that.


Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: American Chick in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson

After answering a newspaper ad, Jean Sasson moved to Saudi Arabia in 1978. She was supposed to spend two years there, working in the Royal Hospital, but wound up staying there (and elsewhere in the Middle East) for many years afterwards. In this short, 80-page book, she decides to switch it up a little and begin telling her story, including her first impressions of the country, spending a day “under the veil” dressed as a traditional Saudi woman, and introducing her readers to several interesting women — all of whom are at a different place in their lives.

Sasson is the author of many books on women in the Middle East, including the best-selling Princess trilogy (Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia, Princess Sultana’s Daughters, and Princess Sultana’s Circle) and Growing Up Bin Ladin: Osama’s Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World.

As someone who is fascinated by other cultures, I found American Chick in Saudi Arabia hard to put down. At only 30,000 words, I finished it in a matter of hours, and then found myself purchasing the first book in the Princess series, because I just had to know more. I cannot wait until the second segment of Sasson’s memoir comes out, because I’m curious to know more about her life in the Middle East. One of the many things that amazed me in this book is the fact that many women in Saudi Arabia (at least back then) seemed to be content with their place in life, or were too afraid to say anything to the contrary.

American Chick in Saudi Arabia is available as an e-book at many online booksellers, including Amazon.com. If you’d like to know more about Jean Sasson’s books, please check out her website.


(Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. For further information, please check out my Disclosure Policy.)

1 Comment

Filed under books