The Sunday Salon: Summer Reading, Summer Fashion

The Sunday

It’s not Sunday, but since I’ve got a full weekend, I’m posting my Sunday Salon piece early.

As of this evening, I have only one more Elin Hilderbrand novel left to read. It’s her most recent The Island, and I’m both eager and afraid to begin. Eager because I’m really enjoying my virtual summer on Nantucket via her works, and afraid because if it’s disappointing, or too short or anything like that it will be as bad as a storm wrecking an actual vacation.

Okay, so maybe not that bad.

I’ve noticed that Hilderbrand’s female characters are always three-dimensional, but her male characters are not so well drawn. They could be mannequins from high-end big and tall clothing stores, each in a different color (mainly pastel) polo shirt and pressed khaki pants and topsiders – the quasi-uniform of men in technology and men with summer homes on coastal islands.

My husband also lives in polo shirts and khaki pants, but unlike the men in Hilderbrand’s novels, his are not pastels. Instead, they are dark: black, grey, forest green, navy blue. He has four sets: those made out of sturdy cotton blends, those made out of lighter cotton blends (and which he says are too ‘flimsy’ for work, though the softer cloth fits his slight form better), those with his own company’s logo on front, and those with the logos of his vendors – Cisco, Foundry, etc.

He never wears the vendor shirts anywhere nice – like me, he has a strong aversion to wearing anything with writing on it outside the house. The few exceptions for him are the shirts from ThinkGeek – one refers to Firefly the other to Star Wars in gently humorous, inoffensive ways. For me, the exceptions are vintage rock band t-shirts and the artsy tees from foreign Hard Rock Cafes. The long sleeve, but lightweight, Tokyo shirt is one of my favorites, and the Hong Kong one is a fave as well. (Both, btw, are designed in much the same way as a vintage rock band t-shirt.)

The women in Hilderbrand’s novels also get better clothes than the men: she name drops designers that are represented by her characters – everything from Kate Spade to Diane von Furstenberg, and from Donna Karan to Liz Claiborne to – for teens – Juice Couture.

Summer novels are great escapes. Through them you can imagine yourself eating grapes and organic cheese and sipping chilled chardonnay on a beach blanket with the Atlantic Ocean flirting with your toes, or you can flip a few pages and find yourself dressed in designer togs and dining at the hottest bistro in town, accompanied by an attractive, but not exciting, man in a pastel polo shirt.

Ahh, summer.

But Can You Use It in the Bathtub?

Generally speaking, I do try to do as much green shopping as possible. I refuse plastic grocery bags, instead using my own cloth bags, I try to find things in the least amount of packaging, and when I’m forced to use veggie bags, I always reuse them. Even though I still haven’t broken my addiction to water bottles, those that we buy are used multiple times (first for water, then for filling the dogs’ dishes, then for dog toys) before they’re finally sent to the recycling bin.

But I still haven’t made the leap to e-books.

Oh, I have a few on my iPhone, and one or two on my computer, but since a good portion of my reading is done on the toilet or in the tub, I still buy actual books. A lot. And most of them are NOT from used bookstores, because I think they smell funny.

But now Amazon has a Kindle on sale for only $139, a price I’m willing to pay. I mean, I’ve paid more for other devices I barely use, and the reality is that if I had something bigger than the iPhone screen and lighter to hold than a computer, I probably WOULD use such an e-reader.

And of course, my birthday’s in a few weeks.

So, I’m actually considering asking Fuzzy for a Kindle.

Yeah, I know…Scary.

Review: Love in Mid Air, by Kim Wright

Love in Mid Air
Love in Mid Air
by Kim Wright

When author Kim Wright offered me a copy of her novel, Love in Mid Air to review, I had to say yes, because even though there’s an abundance of contemporary women’s fiction available on the market, there aren’t many really good stories where the protagonist is around my age (for the record, I’ll be 40 in about three weeks) – generally what I find are stories about women in their twenties and thirties, or women in their fifties and beyond. Forty, apparently, is not a sexy age to write about. (This needs to change. Modern forty-year-olds might technically be middle aged, but most of us look, act, and feel much younger, and lead rich, vibrant lives full of potential.)

I was in the middle of yet another Elin Hilderbrand novel when Ms. Wright’s book arrived, and then I got distracted by something else, but I finished it a couple of days ago, and I have to say it was thoroughly enjoyable, and even plausible.

Elyse, a nearly forty-year-old Southern woman with a young daughter and a pottery studio in her garage, is on her way back from a trip to the Southwest, when she meets a fellow traveler, Gerry. As can often happen when you’re stuck rubbing elbows in the back of the coach class on an airplane, the two struck up a conversation, one that was almost instantly loaded with chemistry. Despite the fact that their flight lands late, making both have to literally sprint for their connecting flights (she to her Southern suburban home, he to New England), they recognize a spark between them, and even though both are married to other people, they take a moment to share the perfect airport kiss.

Reading this at the same time that I’m watching (and trying to be supportive of) two of our close friends struggling with their marriage, I completely got it. Elyse and her husband Phil, from the outside, had a great relationship, but people outgrow each other, and her needs, those of a grown woman with an education and an artistic soul, were not being met.

The plot point of Elyse and Gerry having an affair (one where they only see each other once a month or so, for long weekends, in cities where neither lives), may be a bit predictable, but the affair isn’t really the point of this novel. It’s merely a catalyst, a device used to illustrate Elyse’s growing dissatisfaction with her current way of life.

Fortunately, Elyse is supported by other strong women, who serve as confidantes (especially in the case of her long-time friend Kelly, who once had an affair of her own), and a sort of Greek chorus. While none of them knows what’s really going on, each has her own issues, and even “throwaway” lines give us glimpses into the secret lives of suburban church women.

While this book is never going to be topping the list of gifts for men at redenvelope, it isn’t at all chick lit. It’s a satisfying, well written, incredibly candid novel about adult women and adult relationships, and how all of us find ourselves in mid air – figuratively, at least – at some point in our lives.

Would I recommend this book as a gift, though? Yes. I’d recommend it to women who want to write, to women who are roughly my age, and even a bit older or younger. I’d gift it to my women friends (and, in fact, will be passing my own copy on to my mother when she comes to visit in August), and to select members of my family. I think giving a book as a gift is much better than giving anything that is a mere object, because with a book, you are giving a few hours of reading pleasure, and the gift of imagination.

Goes well with: Unsweetened iced tea and a chicken Caesar salad.

Booking Through Thursday: HOT


On Thursday, July 15th, Booking through Thursday asked:

Well, folks, I don’t know about where you are, but right here, it’s HOT.

So … when you think about “hot reading,” what does that make you think of? Beach reading? Steamy romances? Books that take place in hot climates? Or cold ones?

When I’m hot, I tend to read two kinds of books: those that take place at the beach, which I generally read poolside, and those that have a lot of cold or inclement weather. This summer, I’ve been devouring Elin Hilderbrand novels the way merchant account resellers collect transaction fees, but I’ve been breaking them up with other things, as well.

In fact, just yesterday, I downloaded a favorite Star Trek book to read via the Kindle app on my iPhone, not just because I was feeling nostalgic for old-school Trek, but because I knew that novel had a lot of snow and ice and cold weather in it. (The novel in question: Traitor Winds, by L.A. Graff). It was a nice virtual cooling down, and while reading it, I did feel cooler.

I’ll probably go back to Hilderbrand in the next day or two, but I have some books I was asked to review that I need to get to sooner, rather than later, and then, if I can find something, I’ll probably find a good novel or memoir that takes place on a boat.

Review: Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard

Lunch in Paris
Lunch in Paris: a Love Story, with Recipes
by Elizabeth Bard

When I picked up Elizabeth Bard’s wonderful foodie memoir, Lunch in Paris, I’m not sure what I was expecting. I mean, I knew the story of a young American woman in Paris wasn’t going to be about the side effects of diet pills or overspending with credit cards, but I think I was expecting something more like Julie and Julia.

What I got was sort of Adam Gopnik with food. This memoir begins at lunch, quickly moves to the author’s then lover’s (now husband) flat, and then into the kitchen before going back to bed. As I do, she associates food with highs and lows in her life, and has a recipe – familiar or French, sometimes both – for every milestone in her life. Her tales of going to the market are completely envy-inspiring, and her description of standing in her tiny kitchen licking the knife after making a flourless chocolate gateau are drool-worthy.

Bard is a journalist, by trade, of course, so it helps that she already knows how to hook a reader. I’ve never read any of her magazine writing, but I love her writer’s voice in this book, and really hope she does more like it. Soon.

And yes, I have tried at least one of the recipes.

Goes well with: a dry cappuccino and a single square of dark chocolate

Mini-reviews: Three by Elin Hilderbrand

I’ve been reading a lot of Elin Hilderbrand’s work this summer. In fact, I think I now own all of her Nantucket novels, though I still have at least three left to read. These novels, which are not a series, but are all set on the island of Nantucket, are easing my yen for the beach the way the best weight loss pills help you shed pounds safely.

Here’s a brief wrap-up of the last three Hilderbrand novels I’ve read:

The Castaways

The Castaways is the story of four successful couples, all friends for years, who refer to themselves collectively as The Castaways. When one of the couples dies in a tragic boating accident, secrets about the intertwining relationships among the surviving six people then come out. This was a deliciously dishy novel about affairs of the heart and the flesh, and it’s much more satisfying a read than I thought it would be.

Nantucket Nights

Nantucket Nights starts out being a story about female bonding, when three long-time friends meet for their annual ritual of Midnight Swimming, off a remote stretch of beach, after the summer season is officially over, but one of them doesn’t come back from the swim. All three women, Val, Kayla and Antoinette, are distinctly different but still strong personalities, but I thought the mystery element of the plot was a bit predictable.

Summer people

Summer People is the most recent novel I’ve finished reading, and while I enjoyed it, it felt a little unfinished. While the adult storyline is a little weak – that of Beth grieving over her dead husband while being confronted almost daily with her former lover, a year round Nantucket resident, as opposed to she and her family who are summer people – the teen storyline is a little meatier: Beth’s twin teen children, Winnie and Garrett each deal with grief and first love during their summer, Winnie with Marcus, the son of her dad’s last client, and Garrett with his mother’s ex-lover’s daughter. Like Nantucket Nights, this novel includes an unwanted pregnancy story, and the pair leave me suspecting that author Hildebrand is anti-choice, but despite that, her stuff is wonderful summer reading.

Goes well with: Fresh caught saltwater fish, grilled, with summer veggies, and either lemonade, iced tea, or beer.

Review: Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea
Three Cups of Tea
by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I initially picked up Three Cups of Tea some time last year, in the same shopping trip that included picking up a couple of different anti aging creams for my mother, having my hair done, and spending some time alone with a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich at Barnes and Noble. I didn’t actually read it until recently, however, because it got lost in my house – so lost, that I actually picked up a second copy thinking I’d never purchased the first!

I’m glad I finally read this book though, because the story is beautiful. I mean, I disconnected a bit in the first third of the book when author Greg Mortenson, whose story this is, was living in his car to save money so he could get back to Pakistan, but by the time I got to the end of his book – which is really just the beginning of his legacy – I was completely invested in the man and his mission.

For the five people who haven’t read it, Three Cups of Tea is the story of an American mountain climber who fails to reach the summit of K2, becomes severely ill during his descent, and gets lost in a remote corner of Pakistan, where local villagers take him in, help him recover, and essentially adopt him. As thanks, he promises to return and build a school where the young women of the village can be educated. He eventually makes good on his promise, first building a bridge, then the first school, then heading a foundation with a mission of building more schools in Pakistan, all for educating women and girls, while still being respectful of local religion and customs.

And to top it all off, this is all taking place at the very beginning of the Taliban’s rise to power.

While, at times, my not-so-inner snob found her skin crawling at the less-than-pristine conditions of Mortenson’s living arrangements, I finished the book with tears in my eyes. I feel this book should be required reading for everyone, everywhere.

Goes well with: Tea and flat bread.

Review: Hope in a Jar, by Beth Harbison

Hope in a Jar
Hope in a Jar
by Beth Harbison
St. Martin’s Griffin, 368 pages
Buy it from Amazon >>

When I saw Beth Harbison’s novel Hope in a Jar staring at me from the summer reading table at the bookstore, I didn’t connect the title with the Philosophy product at all, mainly because I haven’t used Philosophy in over a decade. I’m an Aveda girl, for the most part, although I’ve been branching out a little lately.

Just a few chapters into the sometimes fluffy, sometimes deadly serious story about Allie and Olivia – childhood best friends who part ways over a dark rumor only to reconnect at their 20-year high school reunion – I realized that this writer was my contemporary in more ways than one, and not just because of the dialogue that covered everything from fat burners that really work to which flavor of Lip Smackers is the coolest (I liked root beer, personally), but because I actually recognized every single pop-culture reference in her story.

There’s comfort in the familiar, which is why even though the plot was fairly predictable, I enjoyed this novel immensely. Books don’t always have to have a lofty purpose, or educate a starving mind. Sometimes, it’s okay to read for the sheer pleasure of being entertained, and Harbison excels at entertaining. Sure, I figured out the ending way before the end of the book, but I still enjoyed watching the characters get there, because the dialogue was spot on, the relationships made sense, and the descriptions were so vivid (as vivid as many of the outfits we all wore as children in the 1970s and 1980s) that it was almost like attending my own 20-year high school reunion, without any of the attendant angst.

Hope in a Jar made me laugh out loud, a lot, and sometimes, that’s what a book SHOULD do. I haven’t read any of Harbison’s other work, but I know that when I do, I’ll enjoy it immensely.

Goes well with: Steak-ums sandwiches and cold Tab

Booking Through Thursday: Discussion


On Thursday, July 8th, Booking through Thursday asked:

Do you have friends and family to share books with? Discuss them with? Does it matter to you?

When I was little, my mother and I had an unofficial race to see who be the first to read each month’s issue of Ms. Magazine. I usually won, simply because I got home to check the mail before she got home from work, and I usually got in trouble for taking her magazine without permission. By the time I left for college, however, we’d learned to share our books, and to this day, I’ll read things she recommends and vice versa. In fact, most of what she reads lately comes from the boxes I send to her every few weeks – her magazines, and my paperbacks (once they’ve been read).

While my mother and I can talk about anything from the latest pronexin reviews to my novel ideas and her newest purse design, we rarely discuss the books we read, though a recent exception was Melissa Gilbert’s memoir, which we both liked because in it Gilbert comes across as a real person, with real flaws.

But I have other friends with whom I can discuss literature. For example, my good friend Deb, shares my love of Charlaine Harris, so we share Sookie Stackhouse and Aurora Teagarden novels, as well as other books, and often talk about them.

What I have never done, however, is join a book club, not because I wouldn’t love more people to discuss books with, but because I read so quickly, that I can’t imagine finishing a book, and then having to wait days or weeks to talk about it.

Review: The Blue Bistro, by Elin Hilderbrand

The Blue Bistro
The Blue Bistro
by Elin Hilderbrand
St. Martin’s Griffin, 336 pages
Buy from Amazon >>

The Blue Bistro may be the fourth of author Elin Hilderbrand’s novels set on the island of Nantucket, but it’s only the second I’ve read. Thankfully, her novels are not a series, as much as they are a collection. Most don’t even mention the same restaurants.

In any case, this novel, which is set in and around a beach front restaurant, (restaurant books are not the best appetite suppressants, by the way), tells the story of 28-year-old Adrienne Dealey, freshly off the Colorado ski slopes, where she worked as the concierge in a tone-y hotel, and looking for a new life, without her old lover, who wasn’t good for her. Telling is the fact that she misses the dog, more than the man.

Having been advised to try Nantucket for the summer, Adrienne begins looking for work, and in the process, meets Thatcher Smith, who co-owns the famous Blue Bistro with his childhood friend, the reclusive, but amazingly talented, Fiona Kemp. What follows is part hard work, part romance, and part mystery – what hold does Fiona have on Thatcher, that he can’t (or won’t) even spend the entire night with Adrienne after they become lovers?

As is expected of Hilderbrand novels, there is sophisticated, realistic romance set against the charming backdrop of Nantucket in the summertime.

You can almost feel the salt in your hair.

Goes well with: Champagne and lobster tails.