26 October, 2010

Review: Good Girls Don't Get Fat by Robyn Silverman

Are you a girl?
Are you the parent, grandparent, friend, teacher or caregiver of a girl?
Do you know any girls?

Go ahead and buy Good Girls Don't Get Fat. (You might even couple it with another fairly recent release, The Hundred Year Diet by Susan Yager.) Reading Dr. Silverman's guide on helping children avoid eating disorders is like a window into your own damaging programming. In America, we do equate size with value. In a human, the lowest possible volume has the highest value. It's good to be hungry, it's good to be unhealthy if you can show the right silhouette. Good Girls Don't Get Fat points out how this message is turned into self hatred by young women every day. Nothing tastes as good as chasing the approval of others is supposed to feel.

Dr. Silverman points out things the average person might not consider. If a father praises a stepmother with a different figure than the mother, a child sharing that body type hears that she is unattractive. In her mind, her mother's appearance and her own are tied together. Her stepmother's physical type replaces her mother's as an ideal to strive for. If a mother talks about her own weight concerns, the child adopts those as her own as well. An unthinking comment about outgrown clothing can be twisted into a message that the child needs to lose weight. Even the natural weight gains of puberty, the puppy fat years, are made undesirable by the increase in images of undersized tween starlets.

Dr. Silverman's book is easy to use, practical and so very important to understanding how our attempts to foster a positive body image can occasionally be the cause of the child forming a negative one. Really, the only thing Dr. Silverman does not cover is how to model healthy body image if a parent is morbidly obese. Not every parent reading will be able to model body acceptance or healthy weight control.

Reading Good Girls Don't Get Fat reminded me of The Hundred Year Diet in that both deal with artificial media images causing real health concerns. For the former, it's beauty images. For the latter it's scare tactics. Every diet under the sun has it's roots in an earlier diet that didn't really work for that generation either. Long before America actually had a weight crisis, it believed it had one and manufactured chemical food substitutes to answer a weight concerned market. Without fad dieting, there is no diet cola. While Good Girls Don't Get Fat has only a minor flaw, The Hundred Year Diet is a less perfect read. It's information is also compact and usefully categorized, but it fails to feel as vital. Taken together they're the perfect tools helping your tween understand how the diet industry teaches her to hate her body.

25 October, 2010

Review: Dirty Sexy Politics by Meghan McCain

Meghan McCain made me fall a bit in love with her during Dirty Sexy Politics. She's so engaging I understood why I had been oddly attracted to her father in his initial run for the Presidency. (I say oddly because if there is one thing I am not, it is a Republican.) And here is where the tough love kicks in.

The girl thinks she's a conservative. I completely understand. How can you be John McCain's adoring daughter and NOT think you belong to his party? She goes on a bit about how much she believes in living your life free of government interference, then she talks about how the most important issue facing her generation is civil rights for the LBGT community. (Meghan, I am so with you on that.) McCain prides herself on always being willing to face reality, but here she falls down. You can't eradicate civil inequity without using the tools of government. It's sort of charming how she thinks Reagan and Goldwater would be on her side. McCain thinks the party has changed and moved to the extreme right. She talks about how the GOP longs for the days when we all ignored AIDS and... Meghan? We didn't all ignore it. Some of us faced it, we identified it, we fought for recognition of it while people died around us. You know who fought us the hardest? Yea.

Anyway, she also believes that her pro-life views make her a Republican. She points out that it's pretty easy not to get pregnant, so teaching contraception is vital. While I agree with her on the teaching, I disagree with her on her strong pro life views. Rape happens. Incest happens. Carrying a non-viable but much wanted baby happens. It's not as simple as it seems when it's not unfolding in your own life. There's the thing about Meghan. She's so young. Achingly young, for all her college degree and her life experiences. One day, she will look at these inconsistencies and she will realize the reason the party kept pushing her aside is that she doesn't belong in the party. In America, we only have two viable choices. Neither side is perfect, but Meghan is definitely Team Democrat, and when she's ready to come out of the closet we will embrace her. Because she's got all of her father's best qualities. She's clear in her opinion, common in her touch, and fearless in her honesty. It's a pleasure to spend a few hours with her and realize that no matter how annoying your parents are at least they don't spring the Palins on you at important family events.

13 October, 2010

Review: Pleasures Of A Notorious Gentleman by Lorraine Heath

It's almost unfair that a book like Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman comes out in December. We're all busy with various holidays, our "Best Reads of 2010" lists are locked into place, there just isn't any room in the month to start squealing with the excitement of a really good read. I'm going to suggest that you clear some time in your calendar in advance. Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman shouldn't be put off to 2011.

This is the second book of what will be at least a trilogy dealing with three half-brothers. (I say at least because their mother could carry a book on her own, if romance embraced a forty-something woman torn between a younger man and a past love.) While reading October's Passions of a Wicked Earl will certainly add emotional impact to Pleasures, it's not required to follow the story. Stephen is the middle brother, the one that charms effortlessly and uses that as the currency of his life. Sent into the military during the Crimean War, Stephen is reinvented as a man of integrity and inspiration. Unfortunately for him,  Stephen has no recollection of his life since the close of Passions. He has (in a sense) laid down as a beautiful but useless man and arisen as a broken and confused one.

Mercy meets Stephen after Passions but before his final injury. As one of Florence Nightingale's nurses, she was a witness to the best of his character under the worst of times. Stephen, of course, remained Stephen. He may have been a better version of himself, but he was still a licentious one. When Mercy returns home, she returns home with Stephen's child. Believing him killed in battle, she brings her son to his father's family. She is completely unprepared for the man she finds there. He is neither the Stephen of Passions nor the Stephen of her experience. War changes a man, then peace changes him again.

Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman deals with so many things and so well.  Is your identity what you recall, or what people expect from you? Are you who you were or who you want to be? Does the factual truth matter or the emotional truth? What makes a parent? While Mercy and Stephen struggle with these issues, Mercy is refreshingly uninterested in less than her son deserves from a father. Nor is she interested in settling for less than she deserves in a husband, low as her prior expectations were. She has seen what Stephen is capable of, even if he has not, and she expects him to conduct himself appropriately.

My only problem with Pleasures is the cover. (It seems wrong not to have anything to complain about since complaining is one of my favorite things.) I was completely distracted by Mercy's breasts. Has she been airbrushed? It seems to me that given the amount of flesh exposed some gradual color change should be occurring, especially on the left. I'm not sure why Mercy chose to dress in such a tonal match to her bedding, either. It's confused Stephen - look how his hand is under the blanket to raise her head. Who knows how long that poor man has been searching for something more than the sheet? Sartorial issues aside, buy this book. Lorraine Heath is proving herself to be one of romance's best authors and this is one of her best books. Call it a holiday gift to yourself.

06 October, 2010

Review: Medusa's Folly by Alison Paige

It has been suggested to me that I am a snob. Several books have been presented to me as Worthy Reads that I have rejected because I think they're probably dreadful reads. Unwilling to pay for the Alison Paige book suggested to me, I paid for a short story instead. Erotic elements have been a much larger part of romance over the last decade or so as they get redefined as making the read 'hot' or increasing the emotional connection between the characters.

(It is interesting to me, if I can take a side road for a moment, how the politics of sex and romance change over the years. In the 80's we had the sweet books, the rape books, and the interracial books. Now we have the inspirational books, the hot reads, and the erotic books. Interracial relationships are pretty much gone, even the horrible depictions from the plantation novels.)

You know the classic definition of pornography, right? I know it when I see it? I am not sure why it is unacceptable to call something porn. If romance cannot be labeled 'porn for women' (and I agree, it should not be) then what should porn for women be called if not, well, porn for women? Erotica is a different animal - it is something that rises above it's primary goal of sexual titillation to successfully portray deeper dynamics of human relationships. While I don't care for Megan Hart, I do think she clears that bar. Anne Desclos clears that bar with both her work The Story of O and it's repudiation, Return to Roissy.  (There is some controversy over the author of the second work. I find it brilliant in it's splintering of the fairy tale O has sold herself in the first.) Mr. Benson clears the bar for John Preston. Alison Paige takes the bar in the gut.

I don't know why that has to be a pejorative judgement. As porn, individual taste is individual taste. I am certain there are people who are perfectly content to read about greek goddesses leaving snail trails of 'cream' on acid rain bathed gargoyles without needing it to say anything more than that. Porn is where the money is. As a story, judged as more than a temporary shelter for a sexual offering, Medusa's Folly completely failed me. The initial explanation, that Medusa is so hungry for gratification that she must cling with desperation to whatever she can find makes no sense to me. If she has (as she suggests) been sexually involved with men she then met the gaze of (turning them to stone) mid act, one would think she has quite a collection of stone partners. With about five minutes consideration, she could easily create a way to have sex with human men without meeting their gaze. Her desperate hunger for human contact falls flat.

We will grant that she has run about checking to see if any of the gargoyles are up for it. So now we have Medusa, created to seek the destruction of all men because of her anger at her long ago rapist, and this stone dude who suddenly comes to life because.... that's not important. He was created by another goddess for failing to grant her sexual favors when he was obviously a man-whore and totally up for it with everyone else. Pissed her off. (Nobody seeks his consent, isn't that rape?) Turns out she's Medusa's mother. (Figures.) With one meeting of the eyes, Medusa and Uphir have fallen in love. Because they do, whatever, it's an eternal and devoted love. Mom doesn't understand. So she makes a deal. If they revoke their god status, they can be together. Of course they do. Because otherwise neither of them can ever have human sex again.

(Another side note - yesterday Amazon was selling this title. Today it disappeared from title search results, but was still on the author's search results. This evening it is no longer for sale to US customers. Is Amazon feeling some Kindle article heat? I don't know. Amazon has been good to me, we're cool.)

Anyway, I'll take a pass on the more expensive book. I know what I like and I'm just not interested in porn. Erotica I'll consider, but I prefer books about human relationships in their emotional and psychological complexity. Maybe one day we will understand why, as women, we can't just have porn. Maybe we'd spend less time defending conventional romance if we stopped trying to make the umbrella big enough to encompass every possible description. Maybe not. People do love to hate books where woman are respected or valued. Almost as much as they love to award ones where they are abused and thrown aside with the trash.