Coffee table books might not be something you think to buy as gifts to give let alone buy for yourself. Whether they’re for gift giving or decorating, coffee table books are a great idea any way you pile them! Coffee table books are not meant to be tucked into book shelves and best strew about on any surface that draws a passerby’s attention. More than frivolous picture books, good coffee table books should be over sized hardcovers, capture your attention and be hard to put down. No matter the subject, it should have plenty of visuals to stimulate more than just your eyes. Coffee table books should be informative but not too wordy and bonus marks if they have an element of entertainment. Imagine throwing a dinner party and then serving after dinner drinks to your guests. A good selection of coffee table books can help get the conversation going. Recently I had a gathering and found my copy of Deepak Chopra’s Kama Sutra floating among the guests.
Another handy idea for buying coffee table books is to give them as gifts. For instance, you can pair up the book’s topic with the gift receiver’s hobbies. A few years back my brother started his own tradition of giving coffee table books as gifts and as a recipient I can appreciate the personal attention he gives to my particular interests.
So with these thoughts in mind I would like to suggest a few current coffee table books for you to peruse.

Life: The Classic Collection
Life Magazine

This collection of the 100 best Life Magazine images should conjure up memories from past eras. Like the old adage says, a picture is worth a thousand words. Do you recall the poster of the sailor kissing the nurse? This book contains plenty of recognizable photos and to sweeten the deal, they’ve also included 25 frame ready pop-out prints. This book is perfect for anyone who likes to take a trip down memory lane. I recommend you buy two copies, one to give and one to keep!

Legends of Rock: The Artists, Instruments, Myths and History of 50 Years of Youth Music
Ernesto Assante

This book displays a wonderful montage of pop culture music icons and influences spanning the past fifty years. Like a catchy chorus that you can’t get out of your head this book will be hard to put down. Whether candid or posed, the photos of music idols, album covers and rock memorabilia will surely drum up some of your own memories and tunes. Definitely a choice for the rock music buff but be warned this heavy hitter hogs the coffee table!

O’s Big Book of Happiness: The Best of O, The Oprah Magazine, Wisdom, Wit, Advice, Interviews, and Inspiration
O, The Oprah Magazine

The third collection of Oprah’s successful Best of O, The Oprah Magazine Series. The title basically says it all! Based on the monthly O, The Oprah Magazine, the media maven has amassed a collection of her favourite 100+ articles. The topics deal with relationships, career, and health issues plus the life lessons from an esteemed list of writers, artists, politicians and entrepreneurs. If you enjoy all things Oprah or want to learn about women’s issues then this book is for you or for you to give to any lucky female.

One Hundred Greatest Canadian Sports Moments
James Bisson

Assisted by a panel of eighteen sports media personalities, sports Journalist James Bisson has listed and ranked a rich collection of 100 memorable sports moments in Canada. Bisson highlights 25 sports that showcase Canada’s diverse history in sports. The sports fan will no doubt gravitate toward this book and the list picks might draw some debate! No matter your sport preference, there’s something in this book for every proud Canadian.

Deepak Chopra Kama Sutra
Deepak Chopra

Spiritual guru Deepak Chopra gives his unique spiritual view of sex and sensuality. This book is a far departure from the instructional manual of kama sutra poses. Chopra gives the reader plenty of history and wisdom in his modern interpretation of the kama sutra, balancing the images of beautiful artwork. Far from pornographic, the sensual images wouldn’t make the average adult blush. There should be no concern about this book falling into the wrong hands but if need be then keep it on the bedroom nightstand!

Independent Spirit: Early Canadian Women Artists
A.K. Prakash

This concise collection of art showcases early Canadian women artists and celebrates both the trailblazers and the masters of their art. This book contains descriptive artist biographies, full page images of beautiful works of art and an annotated index of 564 Canadian female artists. This book is a must for collectors, scholars and anyone who has an appreciation for Canadian art.

Treat This Book Like A Bad Date: Forget It And Move On!

As a freelance writer I was recently tasked with reading and reviewing a current book on the subject of dating. I picked up Dating Makes You Want to Die by Daniel Holloway and Dorothy Robinson. By all accounts it looked interesting with the title exclaiming “dating makes you want to die but you have to do it anyway” and adds “getting through the absurdity of dating with your soul intact.” This sounds promising right? As the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

This dating advice book is aimed at both sexes in the late twenties and thirties age bracket. Holloway and Robinson mention that their dating audience might be dealing with baggage like roommates or divorce fallout that might hinder their dating prowess. As I read it is obvious that the tag team duo authors are trying to copy and profit with their diluted imitation of the bestselling book He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Guide To Understanding Guys written by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo.

The authors try to make their dating advice fun and witty with sections of back and forth “He Says / She Says” opposing views and Quizzes that question whether you are you ready to meet the parents, move in together, etc. They hit all the dating dilemmas but desperately fall short on giving good advice.

One statement that the authors come up with is “we date for one reason: so we don’t have to do it anymore.” This trite piece of observation might be true for most people but not very helpful. Another statement that annoyed me was their declaration of “a fundamental truth about relationships: they all end.” Maybe it’s the foolish romantic in me but think about how this comes off; the reader might as well put the book down and give up already!

The most disappointing part is that this book is littered with the authors low brow attempts at humour. They poke fun at dating with slurs against homosexuals, autistics, physically challenged and Muslims. I won’t repeat the actual “jokes” since they are too asinine to put into print here. I will say however, that they suggest declaring a jihad to get out of a relationship, mock Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character in the movie “Rain Man” and insinuate latent homosexuality if you don’t want to have sex by the third date. Politically correct, I think not!

Another popular expression mentions that “there’s plenty of fish in the sea”; so take my suggestion that there’s plenty of books on the shelves. You should take a pass on this read and see what else the book store has to offer. I will suggest to the female daters that you read the afore mentioned He’s Just Not That Into You series of books spawned from the “Sex And The City” television show. These books help empower women with a no-nonsense approach to figuring out the difference between Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now. If you’re looking specifically for dating advice then you might want to look for a copy of the recent book It’s Just a Freakin’ Date!: A Guide To a Sane Dating Life by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt.

Dating Makes You Want To Die is basically an insipid waste of time and money with little redeeming substance or value. The advice the authors give is more snarky than sage and might even be considered insulting or offensive to some readers. I would recommend that you save the cost of Dating Makes You Want To Die and buy a ticket to take in the movie "He’s Just Not That Into You" coming to theatres in February.

Something to think about...

Wanda Lynne Young


Susan Vanderburg-Fentie is the author of
Don't Buy THAT, You Clueless Wonder! How To Raise Your Man's Gift Giving IQ
The book is a gift-giving guide written to help communication between men and women. A Registered Nurse and co-founder of the Ontario Autism Coalition, Susan is a mother to four sons, two of whom have autism. Susan has several media credits too numerous to list here. Her more recent contributions as a TV Cogeco host, TVO producer and a research assistant for the movie Sicko show that Susan is a real dynamo! Susan is dedicated to bettering society in any way she can and believes that her sense of humour keeps her spirits alive!

How would you describe your book?

Don’t Buy That, You Clueless Wonder! How to Raise Your Man’s Gift Giving IQ is a practical yet entertaining handbook for men and women alike. Ladies can identify with the gift giving horror stories and guys can hone their gift giving abilities by utilizing the helpful how-to tips. You’ll laugh, cringe, and rejoice at the examples and information in this handy and humorous read.

What inspired you to write about the gift-giving dilemma?
I received a gag gift one Christmas. I’m a nurse and all I wanted was a plain gold wedding band to wear at work so my diamonds wouldn’t get wrecked. Instead, I got a $400 snowmobile helmet. It was addressed to me but clearly meant for him! He thought it would be funny. It wasn’t. I never did get that gold band, either!

How long did it take to research and write the book?

It took almost four years. I was on-call for work and was in the staff lounge at the hospital. I got a pen and paper, and the book was born! I came up with the title that night and it stuck. I’ve been working at it diligently in the middle of a life with four sons. Finally, I get to see it in print!

How did you go about getting published?

I have a literary agent in Toronto, and after much discussion, I decided to self-publish this book. My publishing company is Puzzle Piece Publications and I look forward to this being the first of many books to be published by them.

What kind of feedback have you received surrounding your book’s topic?

Every person I’ve discussed the book with, both male and female, thinks it’s a great idea. When I conducted my research, even perfect strangers had the same reaction. Women say, “It’s about time!” while a lot of men say, “I could use a book like that.” There’s really something for everyone in it. Many people will see themselves in the book. It’s intended to help both genders.

What advice would you give a woman who knows she has a clueless wonder for a mate?

Well, my first piece of advice is to buy my book! I have many tips on how to get through to a clueless wonder. While the stories are constructed with humor, there are some constructive tips to use as a way of getting the message across. I’ve also included examples of rather dastardly deeds that have been utilized, complete with a disclaimer. Truly, women can be very resourceful.

What advice do you have for a man who thinks he might be a clueless wonder?

Did I mention I know of a great book about shopping for women? The book has a chapter that speaks straight to the men. It’s the straight-to-the-point tips they’re looking for in order to be a success. There are stories about the guys who get it right, so they can also learn by example. My friend has already transformed from a clueless wonder to a genuine gift guru after adhering to the advice in my book. He’s reported tremendous success with his last gift purchase for his girlfriend. That’s why I wrote this book in the first place.

Where will the book be available for purchase?

It will be in stores throughout southwestern Ontario this holiday season, as well as some retailers and boutiques in the GTA. Check your local bookstores, or visit my website to order a copy today. It’s out just in time for the holidays, too. Ladies, I suggest you buy the book and then pass it along to your mate.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to continue to research and write about the male/female shopping dynamic and I’m eager for feedback from readers. They can visit my website and share their views and comments about the book. I’m also working with a couple of TV producers out of Toronto to produce a reality show version of the book, so be sure to keep a lookout for that.

Do you have any final words for those who might feel it’s just a hopeless situation?

I want people to know that it’s not hopeless if you can’t seem to get on the same page with your partner about gift giving. I saw very common themes in the way that men and women go about gift giving and purchasing, which is why I put all the information into a handy guide. It has tools to help and is presented in a really fun medium. Also, lame gifts aren’t an indication that men don’t care. They do care but they’re just “clueless wonders!” Help has arrived in the form of my book so you don’t have to suffer needlessly.

Libby Znaimer: From Broadcaster to Bosom Buddy

The C-Words
First you dread to hear the word CANCER
and then you wait to hear the word CURE

Libby Znaimer's book In Cancerland: Living Well Is the Best Revenge, is the author and journalist's candid account of her experience with breast cancer. The accomplished Canadian media personality doesn’t like to refer to her treatments as breast cancer battles nor does she want to be viewed as a survivor. These words are too politically correct for her and they don’t seem to ring true for her own breast cancer experience. There’s the word, experience. Znaimer tells the reader about the two C-words that changed her life forever. First she dreaded the word CANCER and then she waited to hear the word CURE. Znaimer reflects on the fateful night, “the discovery of the lump that night started a chain of events that overtook my life.” The breast cancer diagnosis, surgery, genetic testing and treatment decisions left Znaimer feeling as if she was Cancergirl visiting Cancerland. The cancer experience was somewhat of an out of body experience for the typically healthy, physically fit, self-proclaimed party girl. During her treatment, Znaimer wrote a column about her cancer experience for the National Post and eventually decided to write a book. Znaimer approached her surgery and doctor visits with her journalistic skills; researching, asking questions, and journaling. The author shares her story as if she’s speaking to a good friend, a bosom buddy if you will! She writes with a good mixture of medical information, personal candour and yes, humour, but just enough to break the tension. Znaimer speaks about the women she met who shared her experience,

“The breast cancer sisterhood makes for fast friendships, even though it’s a club no one wants to join.”

Znaimer reveals in detail what frightened her and what reassured her during her cancer experience. Each chapter deals with a subject that can be affected by the breast cancer diagnosis. She weighs in on family, friends, career, couple hood and self esteem, just to list a few. Znaimer’s mother had a mastectomy and died later in life from ovarian cancer. She regrets being a bit cavalier about her testing regime and waiting for her family doctor’s referral to a high risk breast screening program. Znaimer notes that her navigation through the health care system was haphazard but she’s also grateful for the socialized system. The spirited Znaimer serves up words of warning to women about being vigilant; keeping to a mammogram schedule and adhering to extra breast screening monitoring where recommended.

After her lumpectomy, a positive genetic test for the BRCA-2 mutation, chemotherapy, radiation and a prophylactic removal of her ovaries, Znaimer remains optimistic about her prognosis and looks forward to the possibility of breast reconstructive surgery. She’s been through her fair share of trials and tribulations but considers herself lucky! Determined to live her life as normal as possible Znaimer feels as if she’s gained “a new zest for life” to go along with her new hairstyle and color.

My mother is nearing her 20th year as a breast cancer survivor. At the early age of 47 she was diagnosed with cancer after her first routine mammogram. I'm 42 and anxiety doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings about my ever present threat. My mother insists that I “need to get a grip, just live your life and stop worrying so much!” Libby Znaimer sums up her attitude toward her “new normal” life by stating the old adage that “living well is the best revenge.”

Something to think about...

Wanda Lynne Young

From Oprah To Chopra

Self-Help On The Shelves

If you’ve visited a book store lately and tried to navigate your way through the self-help isles then you might feel the need to take a meditation break from the dizzying number of categories and subject matter available to choose from. You can find anything from daily affirmations to the kama sutra to help spice up your sex life!

If you like to follow along with popular culture then I’ve included a few Oprah Book Club picks. I have to admit that Oprah is the go-to -gal for guru interviews and good reads! Read on for a list of current, still relevant or soon to be released books in the self-help section.

Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose is a profound read that tells the reader how to shift consciousness and deal with power of the ego. If you got anything out of The Secret then you might enjoy this book but you do need to be in the right frame of mind to let the ideas sink in and be open to the messages. Eckhart tells the reader up front “this book is about you” so you need to be ready for self reflection.

Mitch Albom’s book For One More Day is a story about second chances and the importance of family. After his mother’s death the main character Charley goes through a period of drinking and depression. His family is torn apart and he eventually commits suicide. Charley goes through a “rebirth” and gets a chance to spend a day with his mother. He gets to ask her questions, tell her how he feels and have the much needed closure that he longed for since her passing. If you recently lost a loved one or just want to have a good cry then this book is for you.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch is the inspirational true story told by the terminally ill professor and author. The book is especially poignant in lieu of his recent death. Through his stories and memories the author leads the reader to question his or her legacy asking what life lessons would you have to hand down to your children? Living life to the fullest and appreciating the little things in life is the author’s perspective and recommendation.

If you are a fan of the popular Chicken Soup For the Soul series of books then you would be pleased to know about this month’s release of Woman To Woman: Women Sharing Their Stories Of Hope, Humor, and Inspiration by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. This collection promises to be full of inspiring stories, advice and tips for women. The strength of the book is women supporting each other through sharing. The book is full of laughs and tears and sure to be a good bedtime read.

If you are looking for a book with a more of psychological slant then What Happy Women Know: How New Findings In Positive Psychology Can Change Women’s Lives For The Better by Dan Barker PhD. and Cathy Greenberg PhD. might be more your cup of tea. Happiness is the goal in this book and it concentrates on using the newest research and discoveries in psychology, stressing that women’s brains are wired to “feel more” so to speak. The focus is for women to draw on their own strengths to take control, avoid the self sabotaging traps and ultimately achieve a healthier and happier life.

In the book Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World written by Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger, the Toronto brothers try to motivate the reader to live a less materialistic life. They give practical advice on how to change the world around you and live a communal life. Their message is self-help through helping others. The Kielburger brothers share a great philosophy and their outlook can be an eye opener.

If you like the writings of Deepak Chopra then I can suggest his new book Why Is God Laughing? The Path to Joy and Spiritual Optimism. The fictional tale of a comedian on the road to recovery appears to be loosely based on Canadian comedian Mike Myers. You can read it just for the laughs or look for the deeper meaning in the story. This book is a good mixture of both entertainment and enlightenment.

There is one thing that all these books have in common. Either the book or the author has been endorsed in some way by Oprah. The mighty Oprah might just be the Dalai Lama of pop culture!


Have you ever overanalyzed a relationship after a breakup? Have you watched in dismay as a girlfriend pines over a guy who’s not worth her time? Well then, read on for a glimpse into what I would call “the eternal sunshine of the lovelorn mind.”
Diane Schoemperlen’s At A Loss For Words is a love story told in a cathartic manner through a candid character. It’s a first-hand account of a woman addicted to being in love. All the love cliches apply here; “Love is blind,” “Love conquers all” and “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” just to name a few. The novel is very readable with its “he said, she said” back and forth banter between unnamed characters. “She” is a well-known author who rekindles a romance when “he” comes back after a 30-year gap. The reunited couple carries on a long-distance relationship that serves as a distraction and catalyst for her writer’s block. She uses horoscopes, crossword puzzles and writing exercises to help find a cure for the common literary euphemism. In an attempt to keep the relationship alive, the couple tries to communicate through e-mails and phone calls. Things start off hot and heavy (literally and figuratively) but soon Jack and Jill roll down heartache hill. His sketchy contributions turn oblique, ambiguous and passive-aggressive in nature. Her frequent e-mails come off as desperate, needy and pathetic. He says their relationship is “a work in progress.” She says it’s too much work and not enough progress and sums it all up when she writes, “I am thinking about how often I hated myself for loving you. I am thinking about how it proved to be a very short leap from thinking I am crazy about you, to thinking I am just plain crazy.” In her lovesick angst, she realizes that he is stringing her along and letting their relationship die a slow death. The mementoes from the misbegotten romance just become detritus reminders of failure. As the relationship ends, she talks about the D’s: despair, despondant, desolation, desperation and depression. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not all depression talk, there’s plenty of witty thoughts and insights to keep the reader laughing whether it’s at the character or your own “been there, done that” recognition. The not-so-surprising ending adds to the theme about lessons in love that serves as a warning to women everywhere. Something to think about.

Summer Suggestions: Current Books

If you're looking forward to delving into a few good books this summer and eager for reading suggestions then look no further! You might want to pick up a book that's fresh off the presses or get into one of the tried and true classic books on the proverbial must-read list.


REMEMBER ME by Sophie Kinsella

The author of the Shopaholic series of books takes the reader on Lexi Smart's intriguing tour to retrieve her memory. She awakes in a hospital bed after a car accident but the kicker is she's missing three years of her life. The story is an adventure filled with schemes and secrets, hilarity and hope.

CHANGE OF HEART by Jodi Picoult

The critically acclaimed author writes a dynamic novel about justice, retribution and salvation. June Nealon has an empty heart after the tragic loss of her daughter. Shay Bourne has lost his reason to live but finds truth and connection in an unlikely situation. The story addresses the literal and metaphorical meaning of having a heart.

THE THIRD ANGEL by Alice Hoffman

The author's novel Here On Earth has the distinction of being on the Oprah Book Club list. In The Third Angel the reader is introduced to women with the common bond of being in love with the wrong man. Madeleine is headstrong and in love with her sister's fiance. Freida is a free spirit who vies for the attention of a rock star. Bryn is torn between her fiance and her ex-husband. At the heart of the story is the tragic character Lucy who is looking for the third angel to help renew her faith. The novel is a testament to the griping nature of love.

HELPLESS by Barbara Gowdy

Bestselling author Barbara Gowdy writes a story about obsessive love. It's not a romance novel but rather a troubling tale. Celia is a single mother to nine year old Rachael who goes missing during a blackout. Stricken with guilt and terror, Celia's worst nightmares come true in the form of a misguided abductor. Suspenseful and provocative, the novel takes the reader down an uncomfortable path into a disturbing world.

CERTAIN GIRLS by Jennifer Weiner

A sequel to Good In Bed, Weiner's Certain Girls takes up where heroine Cannine Shapiro started her new life. Content in her happily ever after life Cannine's world is shook when her daughter Joy discovers her novel. Joy begins to question everything about her family and herself. The novel is about lies, loss and love in a family that just wants to be happy.

SUNDAY AT TIFFANY'S by James Patterson

Jane is a lonely girl who wishes her busy mother had more time for her. She has a friend named Michael. He's a funny, handsome and comforting man. If that's not unusual enough there's also the twist that only Jane can see him. Later in her thirties Jane becomes reacquainted with Michael but for reasons unknown to her. Sunday At Tiffany's is a novel about the power of love and the child inside of us.

A NOVEL ABOUT MY WIFE by Emily Perkins

Tom Stone is madly in love with his wife Ann but she's a mystery to him. He wants to understand her; get into her head. The couple has a complicated and emotional relationship as they deal with their new home and a new pregnancy. The novel explores the meaning behind the term "love makes you blind" as Tom discovers his wife's darker side.


A mixture of fact and fiction, the author tells the tale of the clandestine love affair between Mamah Borthwick Cheney and the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Cheney narrates her personal struggle between her responsibilities and her desires. Cheney's influence on the greatest American architect of his time is given it's full weight despite the scandal they're involvement brought to Chicago's society. A fascinating and provocative read with a stunning conclusion.

Summer Suggestions: Classic Books


THE HANDMAIDS TALE by Margaret Atwood
In this futuristic science fiction novel Atwood writes about sex slavery in the former United States. The heroine Offred recalls a different time when her life was her own. Now she is only viable as long as she can produce children. The novel inspired a movie which shocked society as much as the novel.


An instant best seller set inthe Depression era's American South, To Kill A Mockingbird continues to be an all-time favorite. The story is told through the eyes of eight year old Scout Finch. The author gets to the root of human behavior dealing with issue of race and class and tackles views on humanity, dignity, justice and freedom.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens
Set in London during the American revolution and Paris during the French Revoution, A Tale Of Two Cities takes the reader back to a time when spies were thought to be everywhere. Considered a classic and brimming with quotable lines such as "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Dickens' novel captures the readers attention from start to finish.

ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy
A passionate but misguided love affair introduces issues of morality. The author own soul-searching journey asks many questions but leaves it open for the reader to interpret and answer. Still relevant in today's world, this intrguing novel still stands the test of time.

A coming-of-age story traces Del Jordan from awkward adolescence to wanton womanhood. Vivid and touching in it's details the highly acclaimed novel is a must read for every woman. It's well worth reading any books written by Alice Munro since they're sure not to disappoint.

The Complete Novels Of Jane Austen
If you're drawn to romances then this author will get you swooning. While away the summer days with the complete collection of Jane Austen's novels Sense and Sensibility, Pride And Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Lady Susan. Connversation driven and full of dialogue suited to a play, several of Austen's novels have been made into movies which are worth watching as well.

ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
A satirical political allegory about the uprising of mistreated farm animals. The animals take over the farm in a revolution toward justice and equality. All goes well until the pigs gets out of hand. The quote "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" rings true for this novel.

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A novel set in the Jazz Age wrought with excess and greed. Jay Gatsby has money and all it can buy but he's not satisfied. What he really wants is Daisy but she's married to Tom. The story is a testament to Fitzgerald's generation but also a timeless cautionary tale about the pursuit of the American Dream.

The Mother Loade

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother's side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.”
Erich Fromm

Kate Long’s novel The Bad Mother’s Handbook, introduces three generations of women trying to exist in the same household. Set in working class England, the novel presents three distinct women’s voices. The family dynamics are both entertaining and heartbreaking. With cramped quarters and one bathroom, the three women find themselves butting heads on a regular basis.
We meet Karen at age 33 as a divorced teaching assistant. She finds herself sandwiched as a caregiver to her mother and a battleaxe to her pregnant teenage daughter. Karen’s mother, known as Nan, is an 81 year old widow prone to bouts of senility and lucidity. She hides food, steals the mail and supplies a good amount of the comic relief. Nan’s childhood flashbacks serve to both fill in the family’s history blanks and cement the bonds between the three women. Karen’s daughter, Charlotte is an intelligent 17 year old who is desperately trying to find her place in the world. Her mother tells her, “You spend too much time in your own head”. Feeling neglected and bored, Charlotte becomes easily distracted by boys and the party scene. In an awful twist of fate both mother and daughter find out they both dated the same man. Both mother and daughter find themselves stubbornly closed off from each other, all the while wishing for a stronger relationship. When Charlotte finds herself heartbroken and pregnant, the tension between mother and daughter grows even more strained. When Karen tells her she’s not fit to be a mother, Charlotte yells, “At least I won’t try and make it responsible for my own shortcomings!” Karen sees her daughter’s potential and future as “squashed dreams”. Karen sees Charlotte repeating her own history of teen pregnancy. Nan’s enthusiasm toward the upcoming birth makes Karen grow even more frustrated as she feels her control slipping away.
To add to the household upheaval, both daughter and mother find out that Nan has been keeping an adoption secret. This revelation poses several challenges for the women as they search for Karen’s birth mother and their own identities. With feelings of regret and resentment, Karen questions her loyalty and ability to be both a dutiful daughter and a decent mother. Karen acknowledges her shortcomings and jokes to herself that she must be taking notes from the imaginary “Bad Mother’s Handbook”.
Long’s novel is mainly about the mother-daughter relationships but there are good male characters namely Karen’s ex-husband Steve and Charlotte’s boyfriend Daniel. The author manages to write a story that is both heart wrenching and humorous; a story about drifting apart and coming back again. A “robin hood” good read with plenty of cockney slang; you can hear the accents that go with the dialect.
Mother’s really only want what’s best for their children. Karen’s wish was for her daughter to learn from her mistakes. Karen later apologizes to Charlotte, “I’ve been rotten to you over this pregnancy. I only wanted you to have a happy life.” Truth be told, mothers can’t prevent their children from making their own mistakes. As they make their way in the world it can be hard to just stand by and not interfere. The key to a good mother-daughter relationship is to be supportive and try not to judge your daughter as a reflection of yourself.
Something to think about...

Wanda Lynne Young

Inheriting the Holocaust

National Memorial Holocaust Day falls on April 30th this year. I thought it befitting to review a book selection keeping this topic in mind. In Marianne Meyerhoff’s book Four Girls From Berlin: A True Story of a Friendship That Defied the Holocaust the author writes a stirring memoir of her mother and her three friends growing up in Nazi ruled Berlin. Marianne’s mother Charlotte (Lotte) is Jewish and her friends, Ursula, Ilonka and Erica are Christians.
Meyerhoff was born in America and grew up in Los Angeles with her mother Lotte as her sole family connection. Lotte the only person in her family to escape Hitler’s grasp. Marianne’s father survived as well but remarried after the war. He was not a significant presence in her life. Lotte was a proud American who maintained that she never wished to return to the homeland that rejected her. Traumatized by her past, Lotte was silent about the details of her early life in Berlin. Meyerhoff writes, “The lips of people whom war afflicts so often remained silent...”
Meyerhoff has always had an insatiable drive and determination to connect with her past. She wanted answers and details. She was compelled to fill in the gaps of her family history and strived to collect every bit of knowledge about her Jewish heritage. Meyerhoff muses, “What sort of future could I have with no sense of the past?” She managed to draw out some names from her mother but none of their stories. Then there was a break in the silence. There was an awakening for Lotte and Marianne when a box arrives from Berlin. The box contained a cache of family treasures. Lotte’s friends had risked their lives to collect and hide her family keepsakes. The box of mementoes fuelled Marianne’s curiosity. As a young woman, Meyerhoff eventually travels to Berlin and re-connects with her mother’s friends and their families. She gains insight about her own family history and finds herself adopting them as her own extended family.
The book is presented like a journal and a scrapbook all in one. It includes photos of family, friends and scenic locations like the Black Forest along with documents, letters and heirlooms. The author’s detailed dialogue scream out for a movie script which is no surprise since Meyerhoff also dons hats as both a director and producer for television and cinema. Meyerhoff’s research called her to become involved as an interviewer for Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust oral history project called Survivors of the Shoah.
The author’s family history is a story of persistent human spirit and enduring friendship triumphing in the wake of tragedy. The friendship between the four heroines withstood the tests of time, distance and the horrors of humanity. Meyerhoff writes her story as a plea for the victims of the Holocaust. The author sounds off about dwelling on guilt, giving forgiveness and the need for catharsis but stresses more the importance of acknowledgement and remembrance. All of humanity is responsible for the Holocaust. It’s a world of shame indeed. The children of Holocaust survivors have inherited both the history of the Holocaust atrocities and the legacy of silence. The author exclaims that we need to “break the silence with which history cloaks it’s violence.” If we fail to speak, teach and learn about this epochal dark period of “humanity” then the silence will continue from generation to generation. This reminds me of the popular quote from the philosopher George Santayana states “those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.”
Something to think about...
Wanda Lynne Young
Inheriting The Holocaust was published in the April '08 issue of Real Women Magazine in the Reader's Corner column.


Imagine having a twin sister. Now, imagine having a conjoined twin sister, a craniopagus conjoined twin sister at that!

In the fictitious novel The Girls author Lori Lansens introduces sisters, Rose and Ruby Darlen. Set in rural, southern Ontario, the girls are born in 1974 during a destructive tornado. Their unwed teen aged birth mother was passing through their town and eventually fled after giving birth to them. The sisters have separate bodies and minds, save for a bonding of their heads. After their whirlwind entrance into the world, Rose and Ruby are raised on a farm by Aunt Lovey, the nurse who attended their birth, and her husband Uncle Stash. The conjoined sisters or "the girls" as they are called, share an extraordinary but surprisingly ordinary life.

Lansen's intuition and imagination help her portray a sensitive account of the girls' shared life experience. The author tells each sister's story as a narrative memoir. The reader alternates from chapter to chapter, bouncing back and forth between both sets of eyes just like the way people look and stare at them. Rose is the writer and the avid sports fan. Ruby is the collector of native artifact. Rose is strong and carries the weight (literally) of Ruby, the sickly sister. Their personalities are very different which lead to conflicts and pinching episodes. Even with their different perspectives and distinct voices, the pair of inseparable sisters love, respect and support each other. They have jobs, experience love and sex, oh yes, and they live relatively normal existences despite their situation as they call it. At the age of 29, they get the distinct notoriety of being the oldest living craniopagus twins in history. The sisters struggle with their declining health and their impending demise as they race the clock to finish writing their book "Autobiography Of A Conjoined Twin" Rose hopes to make it to the ripe old age of 30 and Ruby attempts to plan a surprise birthday party for her sister. The lives of Rose and Ruby might make the reader rethink what it means to be independent, brave and strong. The girls are true survivors and heroines, determined to live life to it's fullest and not as sideshow freaks mind you! Rose muses, "There has never been a possibility of my being separated from Ruby. We have know it could not be, and declared that ever if we could, we wouldn't."

The author has strong empathy for her characters as she describes their lives, family, friends and neighbours. The characters are well developed and very believable. As a point of special interest, the author was born and raised in Chatham and also wrote the critically aclaimed novel Rush Home Road. She slips in the local charm and references locations and landmarks from her "neck of the woods". As I was reading, I just kept thinking that there's so many layers to Lansen's writing. Chronologically speaking, there's a bit more jumping around than I would have liked to have experienced, a sort of reading turbulance, but nonetheless a worthwhile read. Touching and hilarious at times, The Girls is like a rare flower or gem to be cherished and admired just like Rose and Ruby. Their connection isn't purely of a physical nature but a deeper, entwined meshing of their souls. How fortunate it would be to share such a bond! Whether a life is considered ordinary or extraordinary, just being human is our shared experience and we're all connected in some way afterall.
Something to think about...

Wanda Lynne Young

Tête-à-tête will be published in the March '08 issue of Real Women Magazine in the Reader's Corner column.