Wednesday, July 25, 2012

'Mean Girls at Work'

When I first entered the workforce many years ago, I was confronted by many women who did not have my best interests at heart.  A few were part of a clique; they would whisper when I walked by, or demean me in snarky tones.  Some were jealous, a few were controlling.  I ran into many gossips, while others took credit for some of my ideas.  Quite a few were 'talkers' (and, sad to say, I'm part of that group).

Sure, it was confusing, but it made me remember my high school years, when I was first exposed to such women.  But in school, as in my work life, I've learned to ignore the taunts and control (but it can be tempting to listen to the gossip, as long as it's not about a coworker).  I've found some very dear friends who not only lifted my spirits, but also gave me a chance to help them shine.

Women are confronted by 'mean girls' in the work world each and every day, and the youngest members are confused about who can and cannot be trusted.  'Mean Girls at Work', the new book by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster (a book I wish had been around when I first started working), offers a wonderful map that navigates newbies through the tumultuous, yet rewarding, world of the professional work place.  The book is written in a concise manner, and although it appears to be a 'quick read', it contains valuable solutions which will stay with you whether you are new to the work place, or a seasoned veteran.  Both authors know what they're writing about.*

The 'mean girls' described in the book are broken down into sections; 'Meanest of the Mean', 'Very Mean', 'Passively Mean', 'Doesn't Mean to be Mean', etc.  The authors describe particular situations (i.e., the aforementioned cliques) and what not to do in regards to a reaction.  They then offer suggestions as to what to do; one of the best suggestions they offer to dispel anger is exercise, breathing, or any diversion.  By keeping one's mind off the anger, one is able to come up with a logical solution.

Keeping our cool and maintaining a professional attitude is something all of us need to remember.  Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't nurture friendships.

We just need to learn how to weed-out the Mean Girls.  And thanks to Katherine and Kathi, it is now that much easier to maintain our professional integrity.

*Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist, and Kathi Elster is a management consultant and executive coach.  Together, they run K Squared Enterprises, a training firm that helps clients manage difficult situations in the workplace.  'Mean Girls at Work' will be published by McGraw Hill in November 2012.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

'Driving the Saudis'

We live in a time when a mere one hundred dollars is very precious, indeed.  Some of us consider long and hard just how we'll spend it.  Food?  Rent?  Gasoline?

There is a group of fortunate people who don't have to worry about such trivial things.  In fact, gasoline is what enables them to come to the United States and spend spend spend more than just that precious one hundred dollars.  They spend thousands of dollars on shoes and toiletries and undergarments, each and every day.  The clerks in the high-end boutiques must be slobbering the moment they see those women walking down the street...while their limousines slowly follow them. 

They are the Saudi women.  

In a country where they are considered low class, where they have to cover up completely when they go out in public, where they absolutely cannot be seen in public in the company of a man who isn't a family member, they find escape in the United States.  Here, they can go without the covering, they can wear whatever they please (the younger generation takes full advantage of that), and spend until there is nothing left to buy.  Some of the young girls are so spoiled and demanding that I wanted to slap them.  

Sadly, they can't buy freedom, which we have in vast amounts.  Sure, we may be struggling with money, we may dream of dropping thousands of dollars on frivolous items.  Hell, we can't even afford gasoline for our vehicles.  But we have something those women do not have:  Freedom.  And how sweet it is.

'Driving the Saudis', written by Jayne Amelia Larson, gives us a peek inside the world of the Saudi women when they visit the United States; namely, Beverly Hills, California, land of sunshine, relaxation, and Rodeo Drive.  Jayne was a struggling actress, and to make ends meet, she was hired to be a personal chauffeur for them.  She'd heard tales of the Saudi's generous tips, so she spent weeks driving them, being at their beck-and-call at all hours of the day and night.  When the women arrived with forty servants and millions in cash, Jayne soon realized that she got more than she bargained for.  When she writes about her adventures driving the hairdresser, I wanted to slap him, too.

Occupying four luxury hotels, the family's opulent lifestyle afforded them huge shopping sprees.  The only female driver, Jayne soon became a confidant to a few of the servants.  She also gives us a startling insight into the habits and eccentricities of the younger royal females:  the forced marriages, the luxury to slap hundred-dollar bills down on the counter of a grocery store...and not go back for the change.  We are given a peek at one of the few royal women that earned my regard; I felt her despair at the thought of marrying a man she didn't love (and if that wasn't bad enough, he was old), when all she really wanted to do was stay in the United States to attend college.

The stories are bizarre, the contradictions and prejudices are many.  It's a tale for our time; how massive amounts of wealth can corrupt and spoil us.  But, most of all, it's about what we would do for money.

When I fill my gas tank now, I consider that lifestyle.  I remember the shopping sprees that Jayne has so vividly described.

And then I decide that the next car I buy will be an electric one.

Driving the Saudis will be released in October 2012 by the Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster

Sunday, July 22, 2012

'The Wind Through the Keyhole'

"A person's never too old for stories.  Man and boy, girl and woman, never too old."  -Roland the Gunslinger

In 1974, when I was on the verge of adulthood, a book landed in front of me (Literally.  My sister threw it at me over the front seat of the car), a book which not only hogged my attention, but brought into my life an author who has helped me appreciate the craft of writing.  And what a wordsmith he is!

No matter how many book reviewers criticize Stephen King's work, there are many more who adore every word he writes.  True, not all of his books thrilled me ('Lisey's Story', 'Insomnia', to name very few), but the majority held me fast and never let me go.  And they still do.  I reread 'The Stand' every year or two, and I think that 'The Shining' is one of the best ghost stories ever written (but the Stanley Kubrick-directed film version didn't do it justice).

But it is King's masterpiece series, 'The Dark Tower', that has found a home on my bookshelves and a place in my heart.  If you haven't read it, do so (it's a seven-book series, and it's long, but well worth your time).  But if you have, you just might enjoy this welcome addition.

'The Wind Through the Keyhole' takes place between 'Wizard and Glass' and 'Wolves of the Calla'.  Roland the Gunslinger, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy the billy-bumbler are riding out a storm that suddenly appeared as they were continuing their journey along the Path of the Beam.  During their confinement, Roland tells a story of when he was a young gunslinger:  His mother has died and his role in her death has left the young man in torment.  News arrives that a 'skin man' (or shapechanger) has massacred many people in the town of Debaria.  Sent by his father to hunt it down, Roland befriends young Bill, a terrified boy who has not only lost his father to the skin man, but can also identify the murderer.  As they await the reappearance of the fearsome creature, Roland calms the boy by reciting a story from a book he loved when he was a boy, Magic Tales of the Eld.  It is the legend of Tim Stoutheart, a young hero who goes on a dangerous journey, but held steadfast by a strong love for his victimized mother.

Motherhood is the central theme here, and King's sensitivity shines throughout.  We learn more about Roland's troubled youth and get a glimpse of the man he will become.  The characters remain fresh and vital, even though the last Dark Tower book appeared in 2004.  It's as if King briefly left that world just to keep us informed of the ka-tet's latest adventures.

So, if you've been missing 'The Dark Tower', enter that fascinating world once again via a well-told tale that will stay with you long after you've finished it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

'The Romanov Conspiracy'

Oh, I love you!  So many distractions; BBQs, vacations, gardening. Outdoor activities that lure us outside into the bright sun.  And, believe it or not, reading is high up on that list.  You wouldn't think it, would you?  Reading is a placid activity, despite the fact that our brains are spinning and whirling like little kids in a three-legged race at a company picnic.  

And there's nothing better than sitting in a lawn chair (on the sand, on a freshly-mowed lawn, or a shaded porch) and reading a book that takes us away, yet keeps us mindful of what's going on in our 'real' world.

I found it so while reading 'The Romanov Conspiracy', by Glenn Meade.  And I'm not kidding, dear reader.  It's exciting.  It flows, and you cannot put it down.  I haven't been so absorbed in a thriller since I read 'The DaVinci Code'.  While reading is great accompanied by an icy glass of tea or lemonade and a plate of cookies, the food will soon be forgotten when you immerse yourself in this thrilling tale.

Part fiction, but mostly based on fact (the fun part is trying to decide which is which), 'The Romanov Conspiracy' is the story of the Romanov family execution and the people involved in the plot to rescue them.  It opens in our present day, when American forensic archaeologist, Dr. Laura Pavlov, and her team discover a body perfectly preserved in the permafrost of a disused mine shaft on the outskirts of the Russian city of Ekaterinburg.  Close by is the house where the royal family was executed in July 1918.

The body is female, and she is holding a locket, something that propels Dr. Pavlov to Ireland, where she finds, and talks to, someone who knows all-too-much about the incident that took place so long ago.

Full of conspiracies, torture, misplaced loyalty, and longing, it will be hard to separate fact from fiction.  Many of the participants were real people, and Mr. Meade has done a stupendous job in tracing their footsteps through one of the bloodiest times in Russian history.  Author Meade encourages the reader to explore the website where they will find a wealth of information for those interested in the history of the Romanov family.

So if you find yourself sitting on a quiet stretch of sand, or relaxing after mowing that thick, green lawn, pick up 'The Romanov Conspiracy' and get ready to spend the rest of your week reading a story that is impossible to put down.

Mosquitoes be damned.  

'The Romanov Conspiracy' will be published by Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) in August 2012.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

'My Berlin Kitchen'

There's nothing like a new cookbook to shake things up a little.  Huddled on the sofa, cup of tea on the table next to me, I'll slowly turn the pages, reading each recipe and bookmarking each one I want to try.  I have several friends who read cookbooks as if they were novels.  Of course, I wouldn't want a steady diet of cookbooks, but they make my cooking friends very happy, and along with the happy comes great cooking.

Not only do I enjoy a good cookbook, but I also appreciate a well-written memoir.  I love Ruth Reichl's memoirs; so vivid and eye-opening when you read about her childhood and her career with Gourmet magazine (her adventures as a food critic are especially hilarious)  Learning about when these writers/cooks discovered their 'bliss' is so very worthwhile.  Especially when they include recipes.

'My Berlin Kitchen', written by Luisa Weiss (author of the wonderful blog, 'The Wednesday Chef') is a great addition to the long list of culinary autobiographies.

Luisa grew up in Berlin, the child of an Italian mother and an American father.  Although she started cooking in her mother's kitchen in Berlin, she decided to devote her time to cooking while living in New York and working in the publishing business.  She amassed a large collection of recipes, and started a blog ('The Wednesday Kitchen') in 2005 to document her adventures in the kitchen.

But her autobiography is much more than just about cooking (although you can feel her joy whenever she describes her time in the kitchen).  Luisa reveals the happiness and sorrow that came into her life, and how difficult it was to shuttle between both parents after their divorce (her father returned to the U.S., while her mother lived in Berlin).  She also discusses a major romantic heartbreak, which eventually led her to a life quite unexpected (visit to learn about her greatest creation).

Written with great honesty, 'My Berlin Kitchen' takes you into the heart and mind of a woman passionate about good cooking and retaining ties with beloved family and friends.

Good things come to those who wait....and cook.

'My Berlin Kitchen' will be published in September 2012 by Viking.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

'Fifty Shades...of Boredom'

A lot has been said about the 'Fifty Shades...' series by British author E.L. James.  

I, for one, have nothing new to say about it.  Before I started reading the first book, I was hoping to discover something new in the world of erotica.  But, alas, nothing really happened. Nothing made me blush.  I felt as if I were reading a fifth-rate romance novel.

Absolutely nothing made me want to even finish it.  But I plodded on, hoping against hope that the story would get better.  

But it didn't.  In fact, I became angry.  I am upset that an intelligent woman would submit herself to a selfish (albeit handsome and wealthy) man just so she could convince him that she could change him; in other words, perhaps he would learn to love once he got over his need to dominate.  

I appreciate the written word, and respect those authors who have the courage to put their stories out in the bookworld.  But the 'Fifty Shades...' series embarrassed me, and not because of the sex and the S&M.  Such an interesting premise, if written in a more sensitive and realistic way, could have become a welcome addition to a long list of classical erotica, but I found it to be a disappointment.

So, that brings me to a shortlist of books that did make me blush and smile...and add to my precious bookshelves.

Anne Rice is one of my favorite authors.  Not only is she a talented writer, but she is a generous person.  I met her at a manager's conference one year (when I was 7-months pregnant), and she made me sit down and take a load off.  We had a wonderful, but short, conversation (we didn't discuss her new book; we talked motherhood), and my respect for her grew even larger.  I recommend Anne's fantastic 'Beauty' series, written under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure.  A new spin on the age-old fairy tale, the real business begins at the beginning (as well it should), and her glorious words and intelligent characters are now part of classical erotica.

I first read the 'The Story of O', by Pauline Réage, when I was a teenager.  Not only did it make me blush and consider sexual possibilities when I got a bit...older, but it is also a great contemporary erotic story.

'Lady Chatterley's Lover' is at the top of my list.  D.H. Lawrence could write like no one else, and his sensitivity shines a subtle light throughout this story of an ignored noblewoman and her caretaker lover.  Her dilemma is real; physically handicapped husband, or lusty lover?  Lawrence took his story in the right direction and is one of the greatest classics in literature.

'The Life and Adventures of Fanny Hill', by John Cleland, is lusty, sexy, and I cheered on such an independent protagonist.  Fanny knew what she wanted and went for it.  

And don't forget Anaïs Nin's 'Delta of Venus' and 'Little Birds'.  Her affair with author Henry Miller is the stuff of legend.

There is far worthier erotic literature out there, dear reader.  Set aside 'Fifty Shades...' and explore some stories that will challenge you, make you blush, and appreciate the fact that these books still exist.  Once you read them, you just might forget about a sniveling, needy girl and a man who just doesn't get it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

'Chanel Bonfire'

Why do so many people feel the need to expose family secrets?  Are they flaming narcissists?  Could they be in it for the money?

Or do they have a need to drop the baggage and leave it at the airport?

Some of the so-called memoirs that I've read seemed to be a combination of all three.  That is, until I read 'The Glass Castle' by Jeannette Walls.  Jeannette's book left me feeling very angry, yet I couldn't stop laughing.  Sure, she and her siblings lived a gypsy-type of life; without money, always on the run, forced to leave everything they loved behind.  Her parents acted like spoiled, selfish brats, and when I was three-quarters of the way through the book, I wanted to strangle them.  Seriously.  Read the book and you'll see what I mean.

We now have a welcome, yet cringe-worthy, addition: 'Chanel Bonfire', a memoir written by actress Wendy Lawless (no relation to Lucy 'Zena' Lawless).  I started reading it with a bit of trepidation, and two hours later, I finished it.  It is a compelling portrait of a family with big issues.  Wendy's mother is at the center of this well-written memoir, a selfish, vain woman who feels that the world owes her everything.  Although she's compared to Truman Capote's 'Holly Golightly', I feel as if she were the Wicked Witch of the West.  "Me! Me! Me!" was her mantra, and everyone else could go to hell.  She moved her little family from New York to London, living the high life and collecting admirers and haute couture along the way.  

Her mothering skills were nonexistent, and her two daughters suffered immeasurably.  Robin, the youngest daughter, grew to become a rebellious woman, while Wendy was the peacemaker...and the one who tried to shield the world from her mother's actions.  Both women eventually found the courage to live their own lives and escape their mother.  The end of this memoir is astounding and heartbreaking.

The woman had mental problems, true, but she wouldn't get help.  She lied, she cheated, she tried to commit suicide, and she stole other men (I wanted to gag when she tried to steal Wendy's boyfriend) who soon had the good sense to leave.  But worst of all, she lied to her daughters and kept them from a father who loved them dearly and would have given them a normal life.

Trust me:  You have to read this book when it debuts in January 2013.

You'll rethink your parenting skills.  And discover you aren't doing such a bad job.