By Amy Brozio-Andrews

The Dinner Club
By Saskia Noort

Translated by Paul Vincent Bitter Lemon Press, 2007
253 pp.

I don't know which is catchier-- the title of Ariel Gore's new book or the cover, a bright blue backdrop and the backlit silhouette of a  figure in a field of stars with a line of red theatre chairs along the  bottom and the title graphic like a vaudeville-style sign. But once I'd finished reading the prologue, I was hooked on the story, and   couldn't care less about the title or the cover, just like any good book dazzles its reader with story, not style.

Frankka (nee Frances Catherine, stage name St. Cat) makes her living as part of a traveling theatre troupe, The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show. Her talent? Stigmata on demand. After seven years of free-spirited performances, a sudden media spotlight positioning   St. Cat as a miracle worker or charlatan throws the group into a   seismic shift. Frankka, who believes one of her fellow performers sold  her out to a reporter, flees on a solo journey of introspection,  meditation, prayer, and redemption that ultimately shows her where she  belongs.

Is it time for Frankka to give up her wandering lifestyle and finally   come to terms with the deaths of her parents when she was only four years old? Or maybe it's time to forgive the God who, although her   nana prayed steadily and believed mightily, never seemed to provide   much in the way of spiritual or physical comfort; the only way in   which Frankka could combat her grandmother's despondency and get her   attention was through her discovery that she could physically manifest   the stigmata on her hands when hungry enough.

Ariel Gore, founder of the progressive parenting magazine Hip Mama and   author of The Mother Trip and Atlas of the Human Heart, has written a   moving and mystical book that speaks volumes about the power and reach of faith and family.

The narrative is inter-cut with brief re-tellings of the lives of   particular saints and how to ask for their intercession, always in a   thoroughly modern style and always apropos and supportive of the main story (the tale of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus ("if you need rest"), who escape persecution by sleeping in a cave until danger passes,    bookends a chapter in which Frankka makes an underground escape of her own). Ariel Gore's novel is a curious blend of the miraculous and mundane. Frankka's cynicism, bordering on irreverence, adds a   distinctive lightness to the book that balances out her crisis of   faith without demeaning it.

The characters are quirky, well-developed, and vibrant. Frankka herself has a vulnerability that's immediately endearing to the   reader, even more so when we learn that she was orphaned at such a   young age. Her crisis of faith is genuine, and even readers who cannot relate to Frankka's Catholic roots will be able to empathize with her doubts about the tenets of her faith and values.

While thick with the symbolism and culture of the Catholic saints, Gore's warm tone and solidly contemporary spin on sainthood and modern miracles ensure wide appeal to a broad audience of fiction readers.  The themes of faith, forgiveness, redemption, and family transcend religion, in this case, the frame for some powerful storytelling.


Bad Bridesmaid: Bachelorette Brawls and Taffeta Tantrums--Tales from the Front Lines
By Siri Agrell

Henry Holt and Co.; 2007
192 pp.

For women looking to add more than just order to their lives, who want  to feel real ownership and control over the things they do,  Emily  Dubberley's Whip Your Life into Shape encourages readers to re-slant  their thinking and take charge of their time, energy, and commitments.  While you can't control what's going on around you, you can control how you react and respond to it with class, confidence, and grace.

By applying the dominatrix principles to everyday situations,  Dubberley advocates that women who know how to get in touch with heir  inner domme can successfully stand up for themselves and what they  need. According to the book, by learning to lead instead of follow in all aspects of their lives, from personal, professional, and romantic relationships, to time management and the art of saying "no," women will find their well-organized lives more fulfilling and relaxing, and they'll be more satisfied.

Whip Your Life into Shape is divided into sections, each with a particular focus and sprinkled with coy illustrations. Readers get easy-to-read prose supported by boxed nuggets of additional  information: Whip Workshops (one-page how-to's or lessons that drill down into a specific subtopic of that chapter, i.e., dating websites),  and Dominatricks, Whip's Words of Wisdom, and Dominatips, all of which   are more helpful hints, i.e., when saying "no," use it at the  beginning of the sentence. Related quotes from famous people like Oprah, Cher, Dale Carnegie, Erica Jong, and Mark Twain are also scattered throughout the book. The format of the book, with its frequent and highly descriptive subheadings ("People Who Steal Confidence") makes it easy to skim just the chapters you're interested in, or return to passages you've marked for further reading.

Dubberley's authoritative voice sets exactly the right tone for the theme of her book. No-nonsense advice is given directly, with examples where possible and charts of various do's and don'ts in each chapter.  The author's point of view is clear-- those who are confident and secure are women; submissive types are referred to as "girls." Her comprehensive scope covers a broad array of problems the modern woman might face-- whether it is a paramour that can't/won't satisfy to a boss that makes unrealistic demands-- and offers solutions that ensure a woman's able to address the situation without giving up her power or surrendering her authority.

The dominatrix theme is attention-grabbing, and Dubberley does do a good job of keeping the theme consistent throughout the book. But the dominatrix principles themselves, including confidence, honesty, humility, timing, decisiveness, and respect, aren't anything new that hasn’t been propounded by self-help experts before. Cloaking it in an exciting and titillating S&M flavor doesn't really change what's been solid advice in the past-- how important it is to know your own mind and stand up for yourself while respecting yourself and those around you.

Amy Brozio-Andrews ( is a freelance writer and book reviewer.


© Melt Magazine 2007