Thursday, May 11, 2017

KFC's Regency romance is gloriously cheesy

Kentucky Fried Chicken has released their own Regency romance novella for Mother’s Day, because it’s 2017 and nothing makes sense anymore.

Tender Wings of Desire centers on young Lady Madeline Parker, who chickens out of her betrothal to the hunky yet boring Duke of Sainsbury. She has many reasons for doing this, from the fact that he resembles a “vanilla biscuit,” to girl power and wanting to travel somewhere she doesn’t have to embroider babies or pump out useless tapestries for the rest of her days. Something like that, anyway.

Of course she runs away, ending up in The Admiral’s Arms, a tavern that caters to amazingly well-behaved sailors, and meets the mysterious Harland Sanders. In a small show of compassion, Harland isn’t portrayed as an elderly Southern spokeshead in the book; a girl wondering if she’s old enough to marry and her romance with an old Colonel Sanders would be too creepy for everyone involved. Madeline meets him when he’s young, seeing the world, and still yet to inherit the massive American restaurant empire that illogically exists in the Victorian era. Once our headstrong heroine meets Harland, he sticks in the back of her mind like a piece of gristle wedged between her teeth. Eventually feathers fly, drama hatches, and everyone receives a Happily Ever After, even the Vanilla Biscuit Duke.

The plot is painted with large, wide brushstrokes, a winking parody of all those tumultuous romances I read in the 1970s. It’s fun and overblown, never taking itself seriously. My favorite line was “Madeline herself did not mind balls,” which made me snort before I finished the sentence about dancing and all the beautiful gowns. Follow that up with “You are too much. Our Madeline is going to have her hands full with you,” and I was cry-laughing through the rest of the book. Aside from the wicked humor sprinkled throughout, there’s only one sex scene, and it was so subtle I had to read the page three times to make sure they HAD done it, and not just participated in a stellar make-out session. Some news outlets have labeled this a “steamy” read, but they don’t read the same books I do.

While the novella itself may be a light-hearted PR move, KFC’s intentions are not. They know that the romance novel industry is worth $1 billion every year. They also know that Mother’s Day is their busiest day of the year. It’s nice to see them recognize that romance sells, and everyone needs an escape now and then, even if it’s with a bucket of chicken and a free cheeseball read for dessert. Maybe for Halloween, Yum! Brands will give us star-crossed lovers and a werewolf romance in Taco Bell.

**This piece also appeared on The Huffington Post**

Friday, March 31, 2017

4 Books to Wrap Up Women's History Month

You’re a busy person and March is almost over. How many books about women did you squeeze in? If the answer distresses your inner book nerd, don’t worry. Here are four great books packed with history, stories and projects that will inspire you long after the official holiday has passed.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs

I’ve researched a lot of remarkable women for my own blogs, but Maggs surprised me with a few I hadn’t heard of before. These are 25 profiles of accomplished women who faced tremendous odds, from rocket scientist Mary Sherman Morgan to author and World War II spy Noor Inayat Khan. The selection of women is diverse, and it covers fascinating topics like female spies and thrillseekers in addition to science, invention and medicine. Want to know about female ninjas? She has you covered. Maggs’ writing style is relatable and fun, which keeps the history popping.

Bad Girls of Fashion: Style Rebels from Cleopatra to Lady Gaga by Jennifer Croll

These days, the push for change in women’s careers is through STEM, but Jennifer Croll takes another path, reminding everyone that women have used whatever tools were at their disposal to change the world. This book is fun and fascinating, covering icons from Marie Antoinette to Rihanna and Madonna. For as long as male-dominated society has dictated what women should wear, ladies have rebelled and done their own thing. Amelia Bloomer advocated the right to wear pants in the 1850s, Josephine Baker shed her clothes and became the toast of Europe, and Rose Bertin broke the law by simply owning and operating a women’s clothing shop in 1770s Paris. The book also covers women’s fashion as political statements and shock value; a bright, colorful and inspiring read.

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines by Gail Collins

If you’ve ever doubted that women played a major role in establishing the United States, doubt no more. Rich with detail and mesmerizing stories of strong women, this book is a must-read for every girl and young woman who thinks they can’t accomplish something. Also, feel free after reading this to roll your eyes every time someone mentions “The Scarlet Letter,” because women weren’t demure, delicate little things; they had their own opinions, desires, and work; they ran the household and created everything, including fabric, from scratch. Puritan men often complained that the women in their lives had bad attitudes, while the younger set caroused with the opposite sex and had frequent girls’ nights out. They also ran family businesses, chased tax collectors with boiling water, became preachers and more. The author digs through tons of research and makes each woman and her story come alive.

Crafting With Feminism: 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy by Bonnie Burton

Burton’s book isn’t about history, but it gives you something to do after you finish the first three. The craft projects vary from beginner-level to advanced, so there’s something for everyone to do. Burton also recognizes that feminists come in varying levels of volume and taste, so you can make Peace and Equali-tea Aromatherapy Candles or realistic Vagina Tree Ornaments. The Strong Female Character Prayer Candle is definitely a fun one, even for my own legendary craft klutziness, and one day I will finish my “Emma Watson as She-Ra” candle. It’s a great way to show off your dedication to equal rights and have some fun at the same time.

*This piece also appeared on The Huffington Post*

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Literary Masters Write Complaint Letters

Let’s face it: life can be irritating, even if you’re deep, thoughtful and just finished writing a masterpiece in spite of your downstairs neighbor’s stereo.  In this golden age of complaining, what would classic authors tackle next after “The End?”

Jane Austen:

“Facebook, I have not the pleasure of understanding you. There is no sense or sensibility to my newsfeed. How can I match my friends to suitable hook-ups when they keep appearing and disappearing on my Wall? Also, someone named Darcy keeps poking me. “

Herman Melville:

“Call me pissed. Some days ago, although it feels like years, I emptied the little money in my purse to your representative in the assurance I would have cable TV. I am growing grim about the mouth because it’s nearly time for Shark Week and I have no cable TV! I would have more luck launching a TV antenna toward a whale than actually seeing one of your technicians pull up the driveway.”

 Dorothy Parker:

@GenericSubShop Your subs are aptly named; I wouldn’t eat one again but I wouldn’t mind it going down.

 Ayn Rand:

“Who is Draconian Airlines? My recent flight was way too generous in terms of space. Why, the person next to me had nearly six square inches to himself and still managed to complain. You can’t possibly be making a profit on this, you should consider squeezing the seats together so more can fit on the plane, and quit offering such luxuries as food or entertainment. If I may be constructively critical, however, I would request you not fly during the twilight hours. I hate the twilight.”

 Edgar Allan Poe:

“To the cur who lives beneath me: turn down your stereo, especially in the evening hours. The bass pounds my living quarters so loudly, it’s as if I harbor a giant, beating heart under the floorboards every night. Do this, and I will instruct my raven to stop stealing your mail, although I must say he now has a fondness for your Victoria’s Secret catalogues.

 Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“Dear Contractor: I must insist you return to fix this abode immediately! Houses should have seven gables, not sixteen. Currently my residence looks like a gathering of tall men in amusing hats, not the serious and sober place it should be. Knock off some of these gables or I shall make you wear a large, red letter “A,” arseface.”

 Washington Irving:

“Your inattentive employee mistakenly presented me with decaf coffee this morning, making this a very sleepy hollow indeed! When I ride my horse through your drive-thru, I expect to receive a fully caffeinated beverage. Why, I’d lose my head without my morning java.”

 Agatha Christie:

“Attention, postmaster: Where did my package go? It is a mystery. I ordered three items to be delivered, and then there were none. Orient yourself to the Express service!”

 John Steinbeck:

“I am highly disappointed with your wine, which I paired with a roguish dish of flat tortillas. The merlot was not robust or powerful! These are not the grapes of wrath, they were grapes that were only mildly inconvenienced.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

John Oliver turns 20-year-old children's book into bestseller

What happens when John Oliver uses your 1996 children's book about a kid running for president to poke fun at the 2016 election? You have a belated bestseller.

Dan Gutman wrote "The Kid Who Ran For President" in the 1990s, and has had a steady career in children's books for decades, but when that book cover was prominently featured on screen, people flocked to Amazon to buy it. The slim volume tells the tale of a 12-year-old class clown who runs for President, and the humorous lessons he learns along the way.

Oliver used the book to illustrate similarities between a child who has never read the constitution and the verbiage used by Republican candidate Donald Trump, ending the bit with an invitation for the candidate to appear on his show.

No matter what happens between Trump and Oliver, the real winner is Gutman. As of August 31, his book ranked #6 in its category on Amazon.

"That's the highest any of my books have ever been in my 30-year career," said Gutman in an IndieWire interview. He added that he regularly watches the show, but that the mention came as a complete surprise to him. He surmised that someone on Oliver's staff read the book as a kid, remembered it and came up with the idea for the bit.

"The book has probably sold over a million copies in the last 20 years," Gutman said in the interview. "But it's nice to have it get a little publicity now of all times."

The full segment is available on YouTube.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Future Olympic Event: Synchronized Shelving

Librarians in New Zealand were so inspired by the Rio Olympics, they invented a new sport: synchronized shelving. They put together this adorable video as a petition to get their tongue-in-cheek sport into the Tokyo 2020 games!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

#DollarReads Review: The Queen of Whale Cay

As a faithful book nerd, I pick up books wherever I can find them, and the thrill of the hunt is strongest at spots like dollar stores, library sales and used books shops. I found THE QUEEN OF WHALE CAY: THE ECCENTRIC STORY OF JOE CARSTAIRS, FASTEST WOMAN ON WATER by Kate Summerscale and it did not disappoint. Yes, that's a doll on her shoulder in the cover photo; more on that in a minute.

Marion Carstairs was born at the turn of the 20th century. Her father was out of the picture, and her relationship with her mother was dysfunctional at best. She was a fast-moving person of little inner reflection, a woman who wanted to live as a man. Between her ambition and her family's money, she charged ahead with many jaw-dropping accomplishments considering the period: she was a driver during World War I, opening a garage with her war buddies afterward; she raced custom-made speedboats alongside men in world championships, and even bought and ran an entire island community in the Caribbean. She also renamed herself Joe, dressed as a man, smoked cigars, had tattoos, and was a lesbian with a voracious sexual appetite: the book estimates she had more than 120 girlfriends during her life, including Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. She kept photos of most of them, souvenirs of the roguish lifestyle she fashioned for herself.

During and immediately after World War I, gender roles were loosened for women due to the shortage of young men. This was the perfect time for Joe, where she could feel free to act as she wanted. That wouldn't last, but Joe would; she never changed her hard-driving ways even though society eyed her with suspicion. In order to deal with her emotions and family dysfunction, she learned to connect with inanimate objects rather than people. The doll, Lord Tod, was a gift from a lover and Joe funneled part of her soul into him, making him part of her ultimate wish to be a man. The doll was the one person she stayed with throughout her life, until her death at age 93.

The book was written in the late 1990s, and it presents Carstairs as eccentric. This may well be, but reading it in 2016 presents the question of Joe's gender disparity. She lived hard and fast, reveling in eternal boyhood, splintering her mind so she could cope. It's a fascinating and often entertaining read that stays with you long after the book is closed.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The compassion of Hawthorne's daughter

Rose Hawthorne was born on May 20, 1851, to famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia.  Rose spent her youth in Europe, marrying George Lathrop when she was 20, after the death of her mother.  Married life wasn’t kind to Rose, who suffered the death of her five-year-old son and an ongoing relationship with an apparently abusive alcoholic husband.  She wrote poetry and short stories, trying to channel the talent of her father; in her volume of poetry, Along the Shore, she talks of his gifts:

“Where spells were wrought he sat alone,
The wizard touching minds of men
Through far-swung avenues of power,
And proudly held the magic pen.”

Even though her poetry has a sweet, innocent tone, she didn’t achieve the success she hoped in writing. More and more, she spent time away from her husband and delved into social work. She did write one more book, a recollection of her father’s life called Memories of Hawthorne. The book was written as she began a new chapter in her life in 1897. Her husband died two years before, and she trained to become a nurse in 1896 to further her skills in caring for those who needed it most. Her book consists of her mother’s letters and her own commentary, and it seemed to reclaim her family name and identity. Mentions of literary stars like Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others brighten the pages, making it a very tame celebrity tell-all.  

Shortly after publishing it, Rose made her dedication to God and charity official, becoming Mother Mary Alphonsa and starting the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. She spent the rest of her life caring for disadvantaged cancer patients until she passed peacefully at the age of 75, leaving behind a legacy of compassion and sacrifice. Both of her books are currently available for free at Project Gutenberg. Just click the links above.