Saturday, May 27, 2006

What You Wear Can Change Your Life by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine

This companion to the BBC television program What Not To Wear caught my attention at a book store recently. Much kinder and gentler than the brutally helpful show, this book is a comprehensive guide to choosing clothing, accessories, shoes, hair styles and make-up to show off your personal "assets".

In case you are wondering why in the world I am reading this book, well, I have to confess I'm quite hooked on the TV show. As someone who is not much concerned with my personal appearance, I still want to look "nice" and I like the way that Trinny and Susannah, believing that all women are beautiful, focus on making the most of what you have instead of sending women off to get surgery or go on extreme diets to change their appearance. I have to admit that I am quite clueless when it comes to anything related to "fashion", and this book (along with the TV program) has helped me to be a bit choosier when I go into clothing stores. I'm not trying to look like I just stepped off the pages of Vogue but I am getting a little tired of the harried suburban mother uniform of jeans and baggy t-shirts.

Unfortunately, there were some areas of this book that seemed to fall a bit short of what I and other clueless women need; for instance, the section on choosing colours that go well together seems to assume that you have a clue about what colours actually look good on you. Also, the overall effect of reading all this stuff about things I have never thought about - necklaces, scarves, shoe styles, handbags, makeup etc. is a little overwhelming. Oh well, I'll keep reading and watching and maybe by the time I'm 40 or so I will have it figured out.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Twilight Children by Torey L. Hayden

This, it turns out, was the book I needed to read to get me out of my "reading slump". Torey Hayden's books are always gripping and this was no different. Well-written, compelling and often impossible to put down, Twilight Children chronicles Hayden's experiences working in a psychiatric ward for children. Her patients this time are Cassandra and Drake. Cassandra is an explosive, seriously disturbed child who was abducted from her mother by a vengeful father, who subjected Cassandra to shocking abuse and neglect before she was finally located and returned to her mother more than two years later. When she reaches Hayden's care, Cassandra is unpredictable, destructive and foul-mouthed - almost impossible to like or to reach. Drake is Cassandra's counterpoint - a charming and attractive fellow who gives every appearance of being a perfectly normal, outgoing, intelligent little boy except for his total lack of speech. During the course of the book, Hayden overcomes considerable odds to work with these children, figure out what they need, and help to make their lives more normal.

It can be hard to read about children experiencing abuse, and Cassandra's tale is particularly brutal. However, though she doesn't hold back any of the facts to spare her readers, Hayden doesn't sensationalize what these kids have been through. The wonderful thing about her books is reading about the power that Torey Hayden has to get through to kids whose situations seem utterly hopeless, to create a powerful connection with them, and help them to heal. In the end, after reading a Torey Hayden book, I feel a strong sense of hope that even though there are people in the world who mistreat children, there are also people out there like her who are making it possible for those children to find their way to a healthy and normal adult life.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

I have been in quite a slump recently when it comes to reading, and so when I found out this book was waiting for me at the library on Saturday I was hoping it would be just the thing I needed. In many ways, Blue Shoes and Happiness did not disappoint; it was lovely to be back with all the familiar characters, and to learn more about the small but satisfying triumphs of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. These books are relaxing and undemanding reading. They won't win any prizes for great literature, but they have a way of drawing you in irresistibly with their quirky fluffiness.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that Blue Shoes and Happiness grabbed me in quite the same way as many previous installments in this series. I can't quite put my finger on what was "off" about this book. Maybe it was just a bit too formulaic, maybe the author was trying too hard, I don't quite know. All I can say is that many of the things that I found appealing in previous No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books just didn't quite work this time around. I wonder if Mr McCall Smith is getting tired of his characters; at times he almost seemed to be mocking them, and the character development this time around was pretty much nil. I was also disappointed that he seemed to need to knock me over the head with his message about how lovely Africa and the African people are; in past books, this was made clear through loving descriptions of the landscape and through the behaviour (and, occasionally, the internal monologues) of the people themselves. This time, that subtlety was gone, which had the effect for me of making the country and its people less charming.

Overall, then, this wasn't *quite* what I needed to get me out of my slump... but I will keep looking for that book.