Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: Helen of Pasadena by Lian Dolan

Helen of Pasadena by Lian Dolan
Paperback, 288 pages
Prospect Park Books (November 1, 2010)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, for my participation in the Manic Mommies Book Club

Summary from the author's website:
Helen Fairchild, is leading a privileged Pasadena existence: married to a pillar of the community; raising a water polo- playing son destined for the most select high school; volunteering her time on the most fashionable committees. It only bothers Helen a tiny bit that she has never quite fit in with the proper Pasadena crowd or finished that graduate degree in Classics or had that second baby. The rigid rules of society in Pasadena appeal to Helen, the daughter of Oregon “fiber artists,” even if she’ll never be on the inside.

And then along comes a freak accident, killing her philandering husband and leaving Helen broke, out of her “forever” house, and scrambling to salvage her once-rarefied existence. Enter Dr. Patrick O’Neill, noted archaeologist, excavator of Troy, and wearer of adorable nubby sweaters. A job as Dr. O’Neill’s research assistant is the lifeline Helen needs to re-invent herself professionally, personally, and romantically. Helen’s world widens to include a Hollywood star, a local gossip columnist, an old college nemesis, a high-powered Benefit Chair, an unforgiving admissions director, the best real estate agent in the biz, and, of course, the intriguing Patrick O’Neill. While uncovering secrets about Ancient Troy alongside her archaeologist, Helen discovers something much more: a new sense of self and a new love.

My Thoughts:
Helen of Pasadena was a very enjoyable read.  I have to admit that I cracked up at the beginning of the book when the demise of Helen Fairchild's husband was explained.  Although the aftermath of his death left Helen in horrible circumstances, I was still pleased with the way that Karma stuck it to him.  Helen herself, was portrayed as a very strong woman - forced to pick her self up and recreate a life for herself, both personally and professionally.  She was fortunate to have very solid friendships to rely upon after her husband's death.

Lian Dolan was successful in weaving a bit of archeology into the story.  I'm always happy when I feel that I learn a bit from a novel, instead of it being self-indulgent.  In all, I found the story very well thought out, while it still managed to be a light and easy read.  I think that Dolan did very well as a first time novelist.  Her sense of humor was critical to making Helen of Pasadena a success.  I'm looking forward to reading future novels by this author!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Will She Always Think I'm Super-Mom?

J and I were browsing through the latest Harry and David catalog this week, when we saw this beautiful photo of scrumptious looking petit fours:

I'll let your mouth water for another few seconds....

Okay, so where was I?  Yes.  So, J tells me that we are going to make these this weekend!  Emphatically.  No question.  We're going to do it! 

My response was mixed, and I'm now second-guessing whether I let her down a bit.  I told her that it was really hard to make something this small and beautiful.  "Did you see how many layers are in the chocolate one?  Cake, filling, cake, filling, cake, filling.  Then it's coated with icing."

She was not deterred.  Her mom can do it.  Super-Mom.

I wish that I always had the confidence in myself that she has in me!  Stay tuned to see if Super-Mom and her trusty sidekick J can pull this one off...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Year of the Kindle...So Far

Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G, 6" Display, White - 2nd Generation

With my recent work travelling binge, my Kindle has become a valued companion.  I often can't bring myself to boot up my laptop during the three hour flight between D.C. and Houston, so I read instead.  I'm also usually pretty spent after a 12 hour day at the office, so I unwind with a book in the hotel room.  Packing up two or three extra books a trip can be heavy - especially, when I prefer to sneak in an extra one or two pairs of shoes into my already overpacked luggage.  I've found my Kindle to be the perfect answer.

This year I've already logged quite a few digital page miles.  Here's a recap of what I've read so far:

The Hunger GamesCatching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life
Left NeglectedThe 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content.Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

The Hunger Games Trilogy:  The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay - these were recommended by fellow Manic Mommy Tracy during November's Escape.  Once I finished The Hunger Games, I knocked out Catching Fire and Mockingjay back to back.  I really enjoyed the series.  I've heard rumors that a movie is in the works - I'm prepared to be disappointed again by the big screen interpretation of a good book.

365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life - Every once in a while (like lately), I feel the need to get grounded and hear stories about how other's made an impact in the world, or in their own life.  365 Thank Yous was a very touching memoir about how one man made a pact to write a personal thank you each day for an entire year.  It reminded me about the importance of being grateful for the little things in life, and how a handwritten note can still mean a great deal.

Left Neglected - I was blown away by Lisa Genova's Still Alice last year and couldn't wait for her next book.  Left Neglected was downloaded as soon as it came out and was one of those books that I couldn't put down.  Genova has a way of describing a medical condition with such clarity, but I'm most amazed by how she can capture the impact to the surrounding family members while still writing in the first person.  She has become one of my favorite authors.

The 4 Hour Work Week - I had to see what all the hype was about.  Is a 4 hour work week really possible?  The suggestions in this book are really good, but just like author Timothy Ferriss suggests, a four hour work week requires the ability to completely alter your interaction with others and how you process your work.  As a person who is required by my corporation to capture every hour of my time for billing and audit purposes, a four hour work week wouldn't really be feasible in my current position.  I did capture a few time saving ideas, but overall I couldn't see myself implementing the ENTIRE approach.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - Another one where I had to see for myself if a book was up to all the buzz.  When I downloaded, I was in Houston and had just received an email from our daughter's teacher about a behavior issue.  Guilty-Mom Syndrome kicked in and I started to question whether we were being to soft and accommodating in our child-rearing.  Amy Chua's book was really enlightening and I was happy to see that she was able to describe the ups and downs of her approach.  While I didn't rush out to buy a violin for J, I think that I needed a little more Tiger Mother thrown in to balance things out.

Do you have an e-reader?  Any recommendations for a good download?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - April 18, 2011

I continue to be a huge fan of menu planning - it's one way that I can keep my week organized.  We have a few weekly family traditions:  Taco Tuesday and Pizza Night on Wednesdays.  Knocking these two days off of the plan each week is fantastic.

I'm always looking for new easy weekly meal ideas, so I love browsing around the sites for other menu planners.  Check out Menu Plan Monday, hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie for wonderful suggestions!
Here's what's on our menu for this week:

Sunday:  Taco Tuesday (moved to Sunday this week at our daughter's request, and with giggles was dubbed Saco Sunday!)
Monday:  Sautéed Chicken, Yellow Rice and Green Beans
Tuesday:  Marvelous Mini Meatloaves, New Potatoes and Peas
Wednesday:  Pizza Night - even though we're hours away from Florida, we've kept up our weekly family Pizza Night tradition
Thursday:  Leftover Night
Friday:  Scrambled Eggs with Toast
Saturday:  Lasagna

Do you have any weekly family traditions that make planning a little bit easier?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton

The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton

Hardcover, 321 pages
Ballantine Books (March 22, 2011) 

I received a copy of this book for participation in the Manic Mommies Book Club, hosted by Mari from Bookworm with a View

Summary from Goodreads:
Meg Waite Clayton’s national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters was a word-of-mouth sensation and book club favorite. Now the beloved author is back with a page-turning novel that explores the secrets we keep, even from those closest to us, and celebrates the enduring power of friendship.

Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant.

But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever.

Once again, Meg Waite Clayton writes inspiringly about the complex circumstances facing women and the heartfelt friendships that hold them together. Insightful and affecting, The Four Ms. Bradwells is also a captivating tale of how far people will go to protect the ones they love.
My Thoughts:
Once upon a time, way back in junior high and high school, I had a dream that I would become a Supreme Court Justice.  I have an uncle that still suggests that I should become a lawyer.  The Four Ms. Bradwells made me very nostalgic and dreamy - it even filled me with a little bit of regret for what might have been.  I think for this reason alone, Betts was my favorite character in the book.  I admired her ambition, her intellect, her love for her only daughter, and I grieved that she didn't have her husband to share it with.

The friendship between the four women was so interesting to me.  I do not have similar relationships to compare this to, and it made me wish that I had similar friends that I grew up with, that knew (most of) my secrets and who were there to rescue, protect and encourage me whatever the circumstance.

I really enjoyed The Four Ms. Bradwells.  Although it brought up feelings of regret and what-if in my own life, I think that the author's ability to vividly describe the four women and to give the reader something to relate to made it a success.  I'm looking forward to hearing the thoughts of other members of the Manic Mommies Book Club this week - I'd like to know if I was the only one who found a little piece of themselves in Betts, Laney, Mia or Ginger.

Have you read The Four Ms. Bradwells, or is there another book that you've read that had you looking back at your childhood dreams with a new light?