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I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist

Betty Halbreich, with Rebecca Paley. Penguin Press, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59420-570-5

Sartorial style becomes a philosophy of life in this spirited memoir by Halbreich (Secrets of a Fashion Therapist), Bergdorf Goodman’s legendary personal shopper and the subject of the 2013 documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s. From her affluent childhood in 1930s Chicago, through her moneyed but turbulent married life in New York, to her divorce and nervous breakdown at middle age, Halbreich recounts her life in clothes. High-end shopping had long been her major consolation when, in 1977, she found her calling: to help women—rich and poor, famous and obscure—find themselves by finding the right outfit at Bergdorf’s. When dressing clients, Halbreich explains, “I try to steer them away from the herd and make them understand the beauty of individuality.” She is a beacon of good taste and good sense, particularly when sharing her tart opinions on the vulgar fashion trends of the past quarter-century. The downside to her philosophizing is a tendency to lapse into cliché. (Perhaps we do not need a personal shopper to pronounce that when she was unhappy she did not know herself, whereas “now I am happy, because I do know myself.”) Still, Halbreich comes across as sage and gracious as she narrates a life full of incident, taking us inside the fashion industry and one of its great institutions. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Women in Clothes

Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton & 639 others. Penguin/Blue Rider, $30 trade paper (512p) ISBN 978-0-399-16656-3

Thoughtfully crafted and visually entertaining, this collection, edited by Heti (How Should A Person Be?), Julavits (The Vanishers), and Shapton (Swimming Studies), uses personal reflections from 642 contributors to examine women’s relationship with clothes in a deceptively lighthearted and irreverent tone. Reminiscent of women’s collaborative book projects from the 1970s, women (and a few men) are quoted in survey responses, essays, artworks, and recorded snippets of conversation. Though the book satisfies voyeuristic pleasures, on a basic level, it also inspires meaningful questions by virtue of its structure; contributions are well-organized in short sections (participants like Lena Dunham and Cindy Sherman are granted longer entries) with surprising juxtapositions—for example, rapid-fire answers to the editors’ survey questions about shopping sit comfortably next to an essay on the political and personal implications of wearing a head scarf. The prose is spliced with striking visuals, such as photos of actress Zosia Mamet (Girls) imitating 50 poses from fashion magazine covers, and many passages yield deeper revelations: “What I Spent” uses a diary-style record of clothing and toiletry purchases to examine the effect that physical difference, such as scoliosis, has on self-presentation and confidence. A provocative time capsule of contemporary womanhood, this collection is highly recommended. B&w illus and photos throughout, 32 pages in full color. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontës, and the Importance of Handbags

Daphne Merkin. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-14037-3

For her first essay collection in more than 15 years, noted literary and cultural critic Merkin (Dreaming of Hitler: Passions and Provocations) assembles a diverse array of work, most of it previously published. Included are profiles of Richard Burton, Bruno Bettelheim, Mike Tyson, and Cate Blanchett, as well as essays on Anne Carson’s “unclassifiable” poetry, the books of W.G. Sebald, and the resiliency of Jean Rhys (who “speaks to the inner bag lady in all of us”). The keenly perceptive Merkin adroitly tackles high and low culture—the troubled trajectory of the women’s movement and the meaning of lip gloss, the fabled Bloomsbury Circle and the “current prima-donna status” of pets. Drawn to “fragile sorts” because she “understood the desolation that drove them,” her critiques and profiles pinpoint her subjects’ foibles while remaining deeply empathetic. Sensitive to how hard it is to keep one’s bearings in our unmoored, consumerist society, she is refreshingly candid about her anxieties, writing of her family’s “pathological discretion” on the subject of its wealth, her ambivalence about her Orthodox Jewish upbringing, and her quest for the perfect handbag. No matter what topic, readers will be treated to mesmerizing prose, lively wit, and penetrating analysis; the collection is a joy to read. Agent: Markus Hoffmann, Regal Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Famous Frocks: Little Black Dress: Patterns for 20 Garments Inspired by Fashion Icons

Dolin Bliss O’Shea. Chronicle, $29.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-45212365-3

Author O’Shea knows that many women long to combine the “perfect LBD” (little black dress) with the sought-after style of such celebrities as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Princess Diana. Her solution? This stylishly presented collection of sewing patterns for 10 LBDs; O’Shea also shows how each pattern can be adapted to another look. Whether readers want to copy the swinging ’60s miniskirt style of Mary Quant, the knitwear elegance of Coco Chanel, or Ava Gardner’s sultry evening gown, patterns and careful instructions are here along with designs based on photos. Just a glance through the book should alert sewists that these are complex and demanding patterns, and, indeed, the instructions assume that users are at least at an intermediate level. While patterns are tucked into the cover (and the author and publisher should be commended for including sizes S–XL), even they will require careful preparation before use. But the designs are lovely and classic, making this book a wonderful addition to the experienced sewist’s idea cache. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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No Sew Love: 50 Projects to Make Without a Needle and Thread

Ashley Johnson. Running Press, $20 paper with flaps (224p) ISBN 978-0-7624-5106-7

Time to stock up on double-sided fusible adhesive tape! It’s the solution to all of a non-sewist’s sewing needs, according to the author, writing her first crafting book. The creator of the popular Make It & Love It blog, she presents 50 no-sew ideas, all scrupulously—and impressively—illustrated with step-by-step photos, after a helpful introduction. In general, her non-clothing ideas are the best, whether she suggests making grommet curtain panels, a pretty fabric mobile of circular motifs, or fabric scrap eggs for Easter and spring celebrations. The clothing, on the other hand, looks fine in the appealing photos, but often involves laborious steps of gluing and matching fabric to create a product that simply won’t be as sturdy as it would be if it was sewn; a “basic skirt,” for example, requires 20 separate steps to complete. Even the author advises that sewists “consider items made with fusible adhesive more like specialty items... not ‘everyday’ clothing.” For sewing-averse, this might prove to be a treasure trove, but most crafters will find only a pattern or two worth trying out. Full-color photos. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality

Rochelle Greayer. Timber Press, $35 (320p) ISBN 978-1-60469-477-2

Columnist and blogger Greayer offers a kaleidoscope of gardening schemes to help amateur gardeners give identity and style to their outdoor living space. Her eclectic combination of refurbishing, arts and crafts, and landscape design create new possibilities for the garden to become a living extension of home decor. For example, the section “Cultivated Collectors” re-envisions plant display with a creative cluster of bromeliads spilling from the drawers of an antique library card file. The section on the garden for “Bohemians” introduces airy ethereal plants such as tall verbena and cow parsley to lend elegance to a quirky garden scheme. Even so, it is not all about the plants. Arranging outdoor space also involves knowing the correct way to hang and best position a tire and use the right outdoor fabric on the patio furniture. The extravagant use of color photos on each page brings visual clarity to otherwise improbable schemes. Whether depicting “retro rockery,” topiary, trellising, Danish or Zen features, the book offers needed guidance for designing outdoor space in a way that helps gardeners bring unique personality to their living, growing outdoor decor. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Thinking Differently: An Inspiring Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities

David Flink. Morrow, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-222593-1

In 1998, then college student Flink established the nonprofit Eye to Eye, which pairs LD/ADHD college student mentors with younger mentees (who have similar disabilities) to work on art projects. In this impressive guide, Flink uses lessons from leading Eye to Eye, as well as his personal struggles with dyslexia and ADHD, to advise parents, older children, and teens. The first step for a parent who suspects that his or her child may have dyslexia, ADHD, or another learning disability is to have the child evaluated. Receiving an LD and/or ADHD diagnosis may be a relief since it provides an explanation for why some learning can be so difficult. Throughout, Flink stresses that “learning disabilities and ADHD have nothing to do with native intelligence.” In addition, he devotes a full chapter to discussing laws that mandate accommodation for students with LD/ADHD, and explains how to take advantage of these laws. Other chapters build on this foundation of diagnosis and securing accommodations, to discuss finding allies, becoming an advocate, and joining the larger community of people with LD/ADHD. In this inspiring book, Flink ends with a call for all with LD/ADHD to accept their condition, and share it with others so that the world will eventually accept all types of learners equally. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Motherhood Smotherhood: Fighting Back Against the Lactivists, Mompetitions, Germophobes, and So-Called Experts Who Are Driving Us Crazy

J.J. Keith. Skyhorse (Perseus, dist.), $19.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-62914-658-4

In her first book, Keith, a mother of two, presents an irreverent manifesto for cavalier mothering. Her philosophy in a nutshell: “I try not to be a dick to my kids, but it’s okay if sometimes they are inconvenienced by my need to be a human in addition to being a mother.” Keith wants mothers to do what works for them, rather than drive themselves crazy in the quest for perfection. According to Keith, decisions that are often cast as “moral imperatives,” such as natural childbirth, are just not that big a deal. With ample self-deprecation, she recalls some of her parenting choices (such as zealously attending mommy groups), rails against the obsession with homemade baby food, and blasts the habit of thanking dad for “babysitting” his children. Though the chapter urging women to shelve the mommy wars is brave and important, and many new mothers will enjoy Keith’s musings, the book feels light on content. Agent: Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health

Al Vernacchio. Harper Wave, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-226951-5

A high school sexuality educator and English teacher at Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, Pa., Vernacchio has been featured in a 2011 New York Times Magazine cover story. Based on his Psychology Today blog, this account of his frank, outspoken approach to sex education strays far from the stilted warnings of yesteryear. Vernacchio suggests trashing the old baseball model (first base, scoring) with the stereotype of boy as aggressor and girl as defender, and replacing it with a “pizza model,” in which kids learn to approach sexual relationships with respect for each partner’s (or “sweetheart’s”) decisions, boundaries, and desires. Taking parents through the topics he covers in class (such as values, love and relationships, body image, gender myths, sexual orientation, sex and technology) Vernacchio explains how to foster honest communication and explore the subject of sex as a “necessary and normal” part of teen life. Discussing sex with teens, the author points out, is not about being a sex expert but, rather, about establishing a dialogue. Vernacchio’s no-blame, no-shame approach will inspire parents to drop their fears, judgments, and inhibitions in order to help their kids navigate the teen years. Agent: Scott Waxman, Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence

Laurence Steinberg. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-544-27977-3

In this commentary on, and action plan for, raising young adults, Temple University psychology professor Steinberg (You and Your Adolescent) mines cutting-edge research that unveils the neuroplasticity of the teen brain—a discovery that makes adolescents “the new zero to three,” a time in which experiences greatly influence brain development and future success. During adolescence, the brain’s malleability offers extraordinary opportunity as well as great risk and peril (the latter if environments and experiences are toxic), Steinberg notes. The author calls upon parents, schools, and American society to take a new approach to this developmental stage. By parenting authoritatively, with warmth, firmness, and support, parents can help their children develop self-regulation and noncognitive skills that promote physical and psychological well-being. Explaining complex brain science in a clear-cut manner, Steinberg offers parents and educators practical advice, as well as innovative ideas about how society can better support its youth and adapt to the times; many of our youth-related issues, he asserts, are uniquely American. This is a convincing and eloquent call for change. Agent: James Levine, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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