Monday, February 23, 2009

Book 22 of 52: Your Big Fat Boyfriend by Jenna Bergen

There's a lot I could say about Jenna Bergen's Your Big Fat Boyfriend: How to Stay Thin When Dating a Diet Disaster. But I hate writing negative reviews and just had to do so about this book (I read it for a newspaper), so this is all I'll say here:

Cute idea. Awful execution.

If you're faced with this sort of boyfriend diet problem and want useful and practical nutrition information, save yourself the $14.95 and check out Nina Planck's Real Food: What to Eat and Whyor Joy Manning's blog What I Weigh Today.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Book 21 of 52: My Father's Heart: A Son's Reckoning with the Legacy of Heart Disease

Steve McKee did everything he could to save himself from his father's (and grandfather's and great grandfather's fate). He never smoked, he stays in shape, he eats right. Yet he's still diagnosed with heart disease, a victim of heredity.

My Father's Heart: A Son's Reckoning with the Legacy of Heart Disease is about McKee's life, more specifically about his relationship with his father, who died when McKee was just 16. Steve was with him when the heart attack -- his dad's second -- finally claimed him. He tells his story backward, starting with one week after the heart attack, then back day by day until the final chapter is the actual attack (and it ain't pretty -- movies don't show what it's really like).

Using that frame, McKee tells the story of his life, and where his dad fit in, whether he was alive or not. The saddest part (not including the actual death) is McKee sobbing the night before his wedding because his dad isn't there. It's an intimate look at how an event that is so prevalent (heart disease is still the number one killer in American) affects one person and one family.

My issue with the book is that it rambles. McKee addresses so many issues out of chronological order -- yes, even within that frame -- that I got lost (the pages dedicated to the York crowd, his parents group of friends? Too many). He even repeats himself. So it's not a tidy book, even though it's one that had me wondering about the people around me, if they're living a lifestyle (high stress, no exercise, smoking) that could help lead them to the same fate.

The fact that McKee lives a life opposite of his father's and STILL has heart disease is the crux of the book. It goes against what book 18 of 52 says that exercise and diet along can keep you healthy. Sometimes genetics can't be completely trumped. A friend of mine had a heart attack at 25 -- a rare genetic condition was the problem. Again, not everyone who has a heart attack is to blame for what happened.

Even though it's a messy book book, it's still worth reading if you have an interest in heart disease -- your own family, yourself or you worry about someone you love.

On my own ramble -- I applaud McKee for his description of high school musicals. It's spot on:

"High school musicals are a boiling cauldron of out-of-control teen angst, teen hormones, teen frenzy. It is amazing that even one of them anywhere in the country even makes it to opening night. There is a crackling, pervasive tension inherent in putting yourself on stage, maybe for the first time, surrounded by a bunch of kids attempting the same thing, everyone desperate not to look the fool. Marry this vulnerability to a burgeoning confidence, put this sudden sense of a vibrating self in the back stage area that's too dark and filled with too many hidden corners for the adults to keep track of, and you have, quite simply, entered make out heaven."

Hey, how'd he get backstage at the 1997 Haddonfield Memorial High School production of Bye Bye Birdie?

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Testing Book 20 of 52

As I read Great Hair: Secrets to Looking Fabulous and Feeling Beautiful Every Day, book 20 of 52, I stickied pages about taking care of wavy hair and how to blow dry a bob. As much as I LOVED the haircut, I had trouble re-creating the look at home, so I went to Target and bought:

1. A hair dryer with focus nozzle
2. Flat paddle brush
3. De-frizz serum

I also dug out volumenizing foam, which I used once and thought wasn't a good idea on a head of thick, wavy hair. I tried the book's tips on how to let wavy hair dry so it doesn't look like a puff ball. It worked...sorta, but I also walked into a wind storm. Then today I tried the how-to-blowdry-a-bob technique, which was completely foreign to me, but I figured it was better than anything I'd tried before.

Et viola:



That's without a flat iron -- outrageous! I thought I always needed a flat iron to get straight hair like this. This is great! I'm going to give it a shot with the iron later today to see if I can get it closer to how I came out of the salon:



I can't even express how excited I am to have some sort of control over my hair -- especially short hair. I could usually wrestle long hair into something nice, but short hair has been trickier. Not anymore!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Romances! And Love Nubbins!

Finally -- the first article about romance writers is out! It was published in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

This article involved book 11 of 52, book 12 of 52, book 13 of 52, and book 15 of 52. Phew, that's a lot of lovin!

And what's with the title of this post? This quote from the story:

"'They are amazingly intelligent women who are exceptionally talented,' says Sarah Wendell, coauthor of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels (Fireside, April 2009, $15) and a romance-industry blogger at www.trashybooks.com. 'They're not just women in fanny packs or extremely rich women in big pink houses writing about love nubbins all day.'"

I didn't think they'd leave in "love nubbins," but included the quote anyway...and voila, Sarah has introduced the term to the Delaware Valley.

Enjoy!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book 20 of 52: Great Hair: Secrets to Looking Fabulous and feeling Beautiful Every Day

Yes, I'm reviewing a book about hair. But before you start asking "oh, Jen, what's happened?" know this: I read this book for an assignment, and hair is a powerful thing.

How many times have you cringed about a bad haircut? I've cried over some awful chop jobs. How much time do you spend styling it, taking care of it, worrying about your next cut or complaining about bad hair days? And I'm not just directing my questions to the ladies -- I've dated guys who spent more time on their hair than I do.

So while Great Hair: Secrets to Looking Fabulous and Feeling Beautiful Every Dayby What Not to Wear's Not to Wear might not be a great work of literature, it's at least been worth flipping through. He gives great advice on working with wavy hair, and how to dry a bob hair cut straight, which is important to me at the moment:



Because that's my new do.

I've had long blond hair for the last few years. I think it looks nice long -- I have a lot of hair, and it's generally healthy since I don't blow dry it every day, and I don't dye it.

But it is a pain to maintain, plus I shed (how am I not bald?). It doesn't take much for my hair to go from tidy long cut to shaggy overgrown do since I don't get my hair cut that often. But I had kept it long because I thought that long hair was the most attractive way to wear your hair, and I've gotten a lot of compliments about my locks.

I went with a shoulder length cut in November, and liked it, but I knew I'd chickened out on going short. So I went back to the same stylist (Louis Alberta at Bauhaus in Collingswood). I told him to do what he wanted without giving me bangs and while making sure I could pull my hair back (with the help of a headband).

Voila, Jen's got a bob. It looks great wavy, almost like a shaggy do that'll look better in the summer when my highlights come back in curteosy of the sun. But I've been having a tough time getting it back into that slick bob.

That's where Arrojo's book comes in. He gives a lot of pratcial advice, from what product to use to what brush (who knew a paddle brush would work?) with pictures.

He addresses a lot of hair issues for all different types and textures, but the book isn't meant to be read from cover to cover (he repeats -- a LOT), but if you're a hair idiot like me, you might want to take a look.

And I'll let you know if Arrojo's tips on bringing out that sleek bob at home works. I hope so!

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Book 19 of 52: Soldier's Secret Child

We return to the romance for two reasons. First, I am working on another article about romance novelists (the first should be published on Wednesday). Second, I spent all day Saturday on the beach, and after reading about addicts and exercise, bring on the smut!

Soldier's Secret Child by Caridad Pineiro isn't all that smutty, though there's some hot hot lovin'. It also encompasses a lot of things the Smart Bitches write about as being common in the genre including (but not limited to) secret babies, suspense, cowboys and military men.

It's also a book in the Silhouette Romantic Suspense series. I learned about these when I worked at Walden Books -- they're on the shelf for a month, and then replaced with next month's adventure. Whenever the store ran "buy two, get the third free" specials, women would by them by the crate full (literally).

They're small -- slightly larger than my hand -- and short. In the case of this series, different authors take a crack at the story line from novel to novel (January's book is about another character's brother).

Soldier's Secret Child is about Macy Ward, a widow with a secret: her son father is not who he thinks she is. Even though she loved her husband Tim, TJ's dad is actually Fisher Yates, a military man she slept with once before marrying Tim (the "on a break" excuse). Tim was well aware that TJ was not his son, but Yates, who skipped town soon after his blanket bed down with Macy, never knew.

TJ's in a bit of trouble, and the suspense rolls from there. There's lots of "this boy needs a man," "tight jeans," and women pregnant with other guys' babies falling in love and marrying not-the-fathers, but it's cleanly written (if a tad descriptive) and a perfect beach chair companion. I finished it quickly, too -- though I did that with the last three books between time in airports, on planes and sitting on the beach.

For the situation? It worked. Who wants taxing material while browning (or burning -- ouch, I need some aloe).

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Book 18 of 52: Healing Through Exercise

If you work out, you probably know this already: exercise makes you feel good.

In Healing through Exercise: A New Way to Prevent and Overcome Illness-and Lengthen Your Life (pub. date March), Jorg Blech explains why, culling together a lot of research about how exercise can heal and/or prevent everything from asthma to cancer to Alzheimer's to ADHD.

Blech starts by throwing the idea of "bed rest" right out the window. Resting doesn't always do a body good and can even slow or prevent healing. He writes at length about exercise and cancer, how patients undergoing chemotherapy can benefit from exercise.

Some of the research is obvious -- exercise can help throw back adult onset diabetes -- and others not so much. Who knew that relaxing after a heart attack is, according to a lot of research, not a good idea because it's better to build those muscles back up? And Blech isn't talking about heavy duty workouts here, either -- usually 30 minutes of walking or cycling five times a week.

I was most shocked by information about asthma. I had exercised induced asthma in high school, and used that and a torn ligament in my shoulder as reasons not to exercise in college and beyond.

But I run now and don't have issues with either (except when it's incredibly cold -- then I feel the asthma). Berg writes: "Children with asthma are often excluded from physical education and are encouraged to take it easy, which actually makes their troubles worse: Muscles waste away, which makes the children even less able to breathe properly, starting a vicious cycle. Regular moderate exercise would instead improve their bodies' resilience. Although the illness is not cured, people with asthma can become better at increasing the threshold for attacks, thereby avoiding them."

Interesting. I remember having some trouble with asthma when I started running three years ago, but I thought I'd grown out of it. My shoulder hurt, too, when I started, but that pain's mostly gone since I built up muscles in that area rather than leaving it be. I still hurt sometimes, but it's only a tenth of what I felt before.

Berg is harsh on pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, and even though I'm not really a fan of either, I think he goes to far. I interview doctors about research for work I do with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and they're interested in healing people any way they can -- especially the researchers trying to figure out why our bodies do what they do so they can prevent disease. Berg insinuates that all big pharma cares about is money, and holds many doctors in the same light. I just don't see that being the case. I'm also not convinced when he says that exercise can prevent cancer. Yes, there's a lot of evidence that it helps, but I there's so many other factors to consider in that equation.

Still, it's a book worth reading, or at least skimming, especially if you or someone you know could use a healthy dose of exercise in their lives. And it's interesting too, which isn't always easy to do in such a research heavy book. The book's been stuck in my head since I started reading on Thursday.

For fun, I put Blech's theory to the test. Well, it was more of a necessity. I'm writing this blog post from St. Pete Beach, Florida. I'm on the board of directors of the University of Tampa National Alumni Association. What a great excuse to get in some February beach time!

My first night in town, I'd stayed out late with a group of law students in town for a mock trial and dentists attending a conference (sorry, mom, I do talk to strangers, and it's fun). I woke up the next morning feeling sluggish and worn down. I closed my eyes and told myself to take it easy and go back to sleep, but that's not what Blech would do, so I got up and ran four miles.

And presto! I felt much better when I got back -- and a lot better than if I'd stayed in bed. I don't think it would have worked if I was hung over, but the workout helped me shake off the sleepies.

Blech has great things to say about running, too, which is something I worry about. I obviously love to run, but my mom's worried about its impact on my knees. I've seen a lot of senior runners out on the road between my 4 miles on Thursday and the 7.5 miles I did today. Blech writes: "And yet physicians traditionally thought older people would not have these capabilities. When older runners started attempting marathons, doctors and organizers wondered if they would need additional care. But these runners did just fine: older athletes can reach the finish line just a comfortably as younger ones."

Holla!

I have one more day in Florida -- well, less than that since I'm leaving at 6am tomorrow. I wish I could have stayed longer. Wouldn't you if this was your view?



And you could walk to the Village Inn?

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Book 17 of 52: The Addict: One Patient, One Doctor, One Year

Uplifting topic, eh?

The Addict: One Patient, One Doctor, One Year
(pub date April) is a non-fiction book about Dr. Michael Stein, a doctor who treats addicts . The book follows, in part, the first year of Lucy Fields' attempt to get clean. Her drug of choice? Vicodin. While tracking the progress of Lucy, Stein writes about other patients who have succeeded and failed and about why he became a doctor and why he treats addicts.

It's not the best book in the world, unfortunately. Stein asks too many rhetorical questions, sometimes in never ending chunks of question marks. But I still think it's a book worth reading because it tells the story about how some people become addicted, and how they can't just stop. I won't tell Lucy's back story because it would ruin the narrative of the book, but another of Dr. Stein's patients was a mother of two and business owner who took one Vicodin and liked how it made her felt -- and she kept using. He also worked with a chef who could always find pills from other cooks in the kitchen.

The best parts are when Lucy talks about how people make comments about addicts around her -- while not knowing he's an addict. One person even puts them on the same grouping as terrorists. Have you ever heard someone throw around judgments about folks they know nothing about? It seems to happen to Lucy all the time, which both shows that addict don't always look any different than the rest of us, and that books like this can help tear down those stereotypes, even if they're not completely engaging works of literature.

I used to avoid books like The Addict: One Patient, One Doctor, One Year. I dated someone with a serious alcohol problem, and addiction books or tv shows or movies send me back to that place, at least mentally. No fun. But the more time that passes from when he broke up with me (about two years now), the more interested I am in the subject. I think I've healed enough to look back at what happened and almost see it as something that happened to someone else.

He used to describe himself as the "train with no brakes." One drink turned into 12. He set and re-set boundaries to tell himself he had things under control. If he kept it to the weekends, and it didn't affect work, then he was fine. Then, when I started getting text messages at 3 a.m. on weekdays, it was OK if he had to drink on a weekday because his friend had a tough day.

No fun. It's the only relationship I can honestly say I'd never relive, even if I should have learned some lesson in the process. The experience crushed me and has affected every relationship I've had since.

But it also forced me examine my relationship with alcohol. I quit drinking for about six months this year because I felt I was using it too much, but why? The best I can come up with is that this summer was stressful with my book out, and that I was scared. I'd climbed this huge professional mountain -- a book! I published a book! -- and didn't know what to do next. I was and still am terrified about becoming a one hit wonder. It's a problem a lot of type-A women have, so I hear. I also dating someone who I thought was way WAY out of my league. So going out and drinking was an escape front thinking about those things, and me trying to be someone I'm not (who is someone who likes red wine but can't have too much of it or she gets sick).

I guess the point of this rambling is to show that even if a book isn't the best thing you've ever read, it can still be an important read, like this one was for me. Very enlightening.

The best book I've read about addiction is Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story. It's a harrowing story of her alcoholism. It's not told with a hint of Lifetime movie schmaltz. It's a very rational and clear account of something terrible that happened to her -- it's a book that gets five stars from me.

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