“Skinnygirl Solutions: Your Straight-Up Guide to Home, Health, Family, Career, Style, and Sex,” by Bethenny Frankel (Touchstone)
Many women ask if they can have it all. In her new book, “Skinnygirl Solutions: Your Straight-Up Guide to Home, Health, Family, Career, Style, and Sex,” Bethenny Frankel says you can, just not all at once.
Frankel has been a Hollywood assistant, event planner, professional chef and reality TV star, making her experienced in many areas. She’ll soon launch a national talk show and is a notable entrepreneur, with multimillion-dollar businesses from pre-made cocktails and nutritional foods to shapewear and workout equipment — all aimed at women. She knows exactly who her customers are, and attributes her success to understanding what women want and how to solve their problems.
The hundreds of fan questions Frankel receives via social media and personal appearances inspired many topics in the book. In the wellness chapters, she advises readers to dump the diets, focus on making good food choices and not deprive themselves. Refuting every excuse for not maintaining a healthy eating plan, she gets extremely specific, from what to order at a Chinese restaurant to the best snacks for premenstrual syndrome.
Frankel writes frankly about how women see their bodies and what head games they play when it comes to food and exercise. While she admits she’s not a dietitian, her plan is reasonable and forgiving.
The lifestyle section promotes time management, keeping order at home, travel and entertaining. Some readers may find the detailed instructions on how to use a smartphone micromanaging. Many of the tips on vacation and party planning seem obvious, but may be aimed at younger fans with less life experience.
The chapters on work are beneficial for women interested in rejuvenating their careers or starting a business. Frankel tells fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about her business deals, showcasing successes and admitting failures. She offers advice to moguls-in-the-making, including a checklist to determine if you and your idea have the right stuff, and lists of pros and cons of quitting your job and becoming self-employed. Frankel also emphasizes the importance of managing money as a form of self-empowerment.
The voice is classic Bethenny: candid, sassy and opinionated, punctuated with self-deprecating humor. She writes like she’s talking to her girlfriends — unedited and not afraid to show a vulnerable side in the brief mentions of her painful divorce. With hundreds of self-help books, Frankel’s connection with her fans sets this one apart. Her ability to tap into how women think and feel creates an intimacy with readers.
The book reveals aspects of Frankel’s personality that hint at how she’s become so accomplished. She’s not exaggerating when she calls herself neurotic about cleaning and organizing her home. Her attention to detail seems to translate from the bathroom to the boardroom, as she says she’s “obsessive” about getting her products right and keeping her hand in every part of her businesses.
Critics are likely to point out the shameless marketing throughout the book, as Frankel sings the praises of seemingly every Skinnygirl product available. But that in itself is a lesson to never miss an opportunity at self-promotion.
“Skinnygirl Solutions” is written from the heart. The book is lovingly dedicated to women and it’s clear Frankel genuinely cares about making life better for them, whether it’s sharing a low-fat recipe or creating a business plan. Her pluck and unrelenting work ethic will inspire fans and will probably be responsible for a new generation of female entrepreneurs who are healthy, organized and impeccably dressed.
“Coming Clean: A Memoir,” by Kimberly Rae Miller (Amazon Publishing/New Harvest)
What’s it like to live with hoarder parents? In Kimberly Rae Miller’s memoir, “Coming Clean,” the writer doesn’t minimize the destruction the disorder causes families. But she uses her own experience to paint a much more compassionate and nuanced portrait of the illness than is usually shown on reality TV shows like “Hoarders.”
Growing up, only child Miller knew her family was different. Her father spent most of his time listening to NPR and inspecting whatever piece of paper out of his vast collection happened to be at hand, while her mother constantly ordered unnecessary items online and then let the boxes sit, unopened, to collect dust.
Their house was covered with paper and broken or disused objects. Couches, floors, tables and most other surfaces — eventually whole rooms — were lost to junk. After Miller’s mother has a botched surgery that leaves her disabled and depressed, the squalor grows: at its worst, pipes break, causing floors to turn into a soggy swampland and bathrooms to stop functioning. Rats skitter between piles of junk and fleas infest the house. The boiler breaks and there is no heat or hot water. Unable to call a repairman because of the state of the house, the family showers at a local gym.
The mess causes constant fighting within the family and a constant fear of being discovered. Miller finally escapes to go to college, and her parents move to other homes to escape the mess, but their hoarding always quickly resumes.
Miller isn’t unscathed by her parents’ problems: at one point as a child she stops speaking, later she attempts suicide and still later she compulsively cleans her spotless Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment with harsh chemicals and becomes pathologically afraid of getting bed bugs.
But Miller, who became an actress and writer, doesn’t write vindictively about her parents. She describes them as “doting, fallible people that gave me everything they had, and a whole lot more.”
She recalls how loving and playful her father was when she was a child, and how her mother scrounged together money so that she could spend a semester abroad when financial aid fell through. When they were eating out, as they were commonly forced to, or doing anything away from their home, they instantly became a laughing, loving, nearly functional family.
Her parents seem aware of their problems, but powerless to make substantial life changes.
“How am I crazy today?” her father says affably whenever Miller calls as an adult to talk about treatment or causes of hoarding.
Her mother is more regretful. “One day you aren’t going be able to pretend everything was okay, and you’re going to hate us,” she says.
But it is to Miller’s credit that she never does. Meeting a new friend who confesses that she also grew up with a hoarder parent, they muse over why people stay with hoarders. Her friend is mystified, but Miller says she understands why.
“I did know why her father stayed, and my mother stayed and why we, as children, stay,” she writes. “Life without their stuff just wasn’t worth life without them.”