Monthly Archives: December 2015

Best Books Of 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, many of us make lists. Some things on the lists are good, some things on the lists are bad. This is my best books of 2015. In no specific order are the best books (and honorable mentions) of 2015.

Best Books

  • As If: Author and journalist Jen Chaney interviewed cast and crew to provide readers and fans with an inside view of the making of Clueless. A good book and a good read, especially for fans of the film.
  • The Nightingale: A World War Two era drama about two sisters whose lives are altered by the war. An intense historical drama with real relationships that is one of the best books of the year for me.
  • Lady Maybe: A lady’s maid travels with her employer. When her mistress appears to be killed in a carriage accident, the main character is presumed to be her dead mistress. I’m not really a fan of historical romance novels, but the writing was excellent and it was without the over sexed romantic sap that is usually part and parcel of novels of the genre.
  •  Fear Of Dying– Erica Jong’s most recent novel about an aging former actress still trying figure out what she wants out of life. Fans Of Jong will recognize the voice from her previous novels, but there is also an appreciation for women of a certain age, which is not often seen in our culture.
  • Lies We Tell Ourselves– The story of two young women coming of age in the South in the 1950’s. One is black, one is white. While the reader may think they know what is coming, there is a twist that elevates this book to a new level.

Honorable Mentions

  • Becoming Un-Orthodox– Former Orthodox Jew Lynn Davidman interviews other adults who made the conscious choice to leave the extreme religious communities that they were raised in. The book is revealing, but can get tedious with the same stories being repeated over and over again.
  • Stolen Legacy: The story of a Jewish woman trying to regain property that was stolen from her ancestors by the Nazis during World War II. A fascinating memoir, but a bit dry.
  • Young Elizabeth: A memoir of the life of Queen Elizabeth II from birth to her coronation at the age of 25. Another fascinating memoir that was also a bit dry.
  • Re Jane: A modern re-telling of Jane Eyre. Jane is half Caucasian, half Asian. Living with her late mother’s relations who treat her poorly, Jane takes a job as a nanny for a couple in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. A nice re-telling of Jane Eyre that would make Charlotte Bronte proud.
  • Emma: A modern take on Jane Austen’s classic novel, Emma. While the book is true to the source material, some changes might turn off readers who prefer the original novel.

This will be my last post of 2015. Thank you to everyone who read, liked and commented on my blog throughout the year. Wherever you go, whatever you do, have a safe and happy New Year. I will see you in 2016.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Charlotte Bronte, Emma, Feminism, History, Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, Life, Movies, New York City

Throwback Thursday-Great Expectations (1998)

A good book is like an old friend. No matter how much time has passed, you can always go back and it will be waiting.

In 1998, director Alfonso Cuaron took the classic Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations out of Victorian England and into the then modern world.

In New York City, Finnegan Bell (Ethan Hawke) has been in love with Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow) since he was a boy. But her ice queen adopted mother, Ms. Dinsmoor (the late Anne Bancroft) has taught Estella to keep all men at a distance. When a mysterious stranger gives Finnegan the opportunity to see his dreams become reality, Finnegan will use this opportunity to see another long-held dream come to light: render Estella as in love with him as he is with her.

Will Finnegan finally have the woman of his dreams by his side or will she continue to reject him?

I have not seen this move in a very long time. As I seem to recall, with the exception of being set in 1998, the movie is true to the book. And there is a lot of green.

Do I recommend it? Why not?

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Downton Abbey Series 6 Episode I Review

As many Downton Abbey fans across the globe know, the sixth series is its last.

Last night, I was lucky enough to be able view the first episode. I promise to keep this review as spoiler free as I can.

Based on the first episode, the overall feeling is loss and change. Not just for the audience who have already or will in the few next months say goodbye to their favorite show, but also for the characters.

The world is changing. While Robert, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and the Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith) can wax poetically about the past, even these stalwarts of another era know that the world as they knew will soon be gone. The 1920’s is in full swing. While the Wall Street Crash of 1929 is still four years away, there is a hint of how catastrophic the crash maybe on the Crawley’s and their servants.

Downstairs, the specter of Mr. Green still haunts Mr. and Mrs. Bates (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Frogatt). All they want is peace and prosperity, but all they seem to get is agita and trouble. Chelsie (Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes(Phyllis Logan)) are a go, but Julian Fellows has added enough comedy to lighten up the seriousness of their relationship.

As usual, the odd couple of Violet and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) go at it, while Violet and Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) vie for the best lines.

I laughed, I cried, I cheered. I want more. It’s going to be a good series.

The sixth series of Downton Abbey premieres on Sunday, January 3rd at 9PM on PBS. 

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Young Elizabeth Book Review

For those of us under a certain age, Queen Elizabeth II of England is simply the Queen Of England. She has ruled England since 1952. We don’t know her as anything else or anyone else.

Kate William’s new book, Young Elizabeth, The Making Of A Queen,  takes the reader back to Elizabeth’s childhood and tells the story of how she became Queen.

Born in 1926 to the Duke and Duchess of York, Elizabeth was not expected to become Queen. Her father (who would only ascend to the throne after his elder brother abdicated to marry his American mistress) would later become King George VI, was the second son. Having no brothers or close male relations who could step in front of her, Elizabeth, the first-born of two daughters, became heir to the throne when her father became King.  The book starts with an overview of Elizabeth’s family tree and includes her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.  It then takes the reader through Elizabeth’s life up to her 25th year, when she ascended to the throne.

As an Anglophile, a history nerd and a feminist, I found this book to be very interesting. History is full of Kings, but Queens, especially ones that have ruled for as long as Elizabeth has are far and few between. However, the writing tends to be dry in some areas. I get that this is a memoir and not a novel. However, that does not mean that the writing cannot have a life and a bounce to it. I enjoyed it, but someone who does not have the interests I have may not.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

 

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Best & Worst Movies of 2015

2015 has been a good year for movies. With less than a week until 2016, I think it’s time to share my list of the best and worst movies of 2015.

Best Movies Of 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens & Brooklyn

If you asked me to choose between these two movies for top movies of the year, I honestly could not.  Star Wars: The Force  Awakens reminded me why I have been a fan since high school. It was everything that the first three films were and then some. Brooklyn was the perfect film. Fully formed characters, a plot that anyone can relate to, and of course, it takes place in my home town.

  Trumbo

Another surefire award winner, Trumbo is the story of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). One of the most respected and highest paid screenwriters in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Dalton Trumbo was part of the Hollywood Ten. Accused of being a communist, Trumbo is jailed and nearly forfeits his career.

Suffragette

Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) is an ordinary woman who is pulled into the pre-World War I feminist movement in Britain. Choosing between her family and her new-found beliefs, Maud must make some hard decisions.  A reminder of why we still need the feminist movement, this film is a reminder of not just how far we have come, but how far we need to go.

Honorable Mentions Of 2015

Ricki and The Flash

Years ago, Ricki Randazzo (Meryl Streep) gave up the life of an ordinary suburban wife and mother to become a rock and roll singer. That plan has not worked out so well and Ricki must face the turmoil from her ex-husband and her children.

Pitch Perfect 2

Several years after the original movie, the girl are back.  When a performance does not go as planned and embarrasses the Bellas, Becca (Anna Kendrick) & Co must pull together and remind the rest of the world why they are the Barden Bellas.

Far From The Madding Crowd

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) has recently inherited her late uncle’s house and his fortune. Based on the book by Thomas Hardy, Bathsheba has no interest in marrying. But three men come forward who present her with a glimpse of what married life could be.

Worst Movies Of 2015

The Intern

In this new-age e-commerce film, Ben (Robert DeNiro) is a retiree with too much time on his hands. Jules (Anne Hathaway) is the owner of an online fashion company that is looking to senior interns. While the premise was interesting, the writing felt like it was lacking.

Macbeth

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is one of the most respected and well-known Shakespeare plays. That does not mean that it translates well to the screen every time. While the individual pieces of the film are fine, they don’t work together as  well as they should.

See you in 2016!

 

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Filed under Books, Feminism, History, Movie Review, Movies, Star Wars, William Shakespeare

Demelza Book Review

Life, like marriage is hard work. Some days are good, some days are bad and others we hope are in between.

Demelza, A Novel Of Cornwall, by Winston Graham, is the second book in the Poldark series.

In this book, Demelza is no longer the teenaged house maid of Ross Poldark, the protagonist of the series. Demelza is now married to Ross, a first time mother and a member of the upper classes. But her life is not all sunshine and happily ever after. While Ross struggles to keep his mines open and support the communities that work in the mines, George Warleggan does everything in his power to stop Ross.  While adapting to her new family and her new role in society, Demelza becomes close with Verity, Ross’s unmarried cousin who is still nursing a broken heart for the man her brother and father rejected years earlier.

Will Demelza find peace and her place in this world? Or will this miner’s daughter always be a miners daughter?

After reading books 1 & 3 and watching the recent PBS miniseries, I was eager to read the books. I was not disappointed. In contrast to what was expected of a “lady” of the era, Demelza is smart, capable and true to her roots.

I recommend it.

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The Danish Girl Movie Review

History is not always made in large, bombastic moments. Sometimes it takes one person, in one quiet moment to forever change history.

In the new film, The Danish Girl, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) is an acclaimed and respected painter in Copenhagen in the mid 1920’s.  At home, Einar’s loyal and loving wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander) is also an artist, but her career is not as successful as her husband’s.  But something is not right with Einar.

Just for fun and because Einar is not a party animal, Gerda encourages her husband to dress in drag and introduce herself as Einar’s cousin, Lili at an artist’s ball. Then things get tricky when Einar begins to disappear and Lili takes hold of his life. Gerda loves her husband, but is confused and torn about her feelings and her husband’s new identity.When Lili has the chance to be the first person to surgically change gender, she takes the chance, despite the dangers.

Will Einar successfully become Lili and will Gerda stay by his side?

This movie is nothing but Oscar bait. Eddie Redmayne is absolutely brilliant. Alicia Vikander breaks your heart. Lili Elbe is an icon and a trendsetter in the transgender community. While Lili’s story is decades old, she continues to speak for the millions of men and women across the globe who are experiencing what she went through.

I absolutely recommend this movie and I would not be surprised if Eddie Redmayne walked away with a second Oscar for his role.

The Danish Girl is presently in theaters. 

 

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Late Flashback Friday- Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)

Appearances can often be deceiving. The most mundane looking couple could have a very exciting life and the most exciting looking couple could have a life that is dull as dull can be.

In Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), John Smith (Brad Pitt) and Jane Smith (Angelina Jolie) appear to be the average, if not boring suburban couple. Five days a week they put on their suits and go to their average if not boring office jobs. On the weekends, they do what every normal suburban couple does.

But looks are deceiving. John and Jane are assassins and their jobs far from average or boring. Neither knows that the newest targets are each other. But when they find out the truth, some information that has been hidden may come to light to shake up this marriage.

This is the movie that brought together the couple that the tabloids call Brangelina. At the time, Brad Pitt was the other half of Friends star Jennifer Aniston.

The movie is not all bad, but knowing what we know now about the star’s off-screen relationship, it adds a new level of reality to their on-screen pairing.

Do I recommend it? I would put this one in the maybe category.

 

 

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Flashback Friday-Dharma and Greg (1997-2002)

The plot line of opposites attract is not new.

Between 1997 & 2002, Dharma and Greg told the story of how opposites attract and attempt to maintain a marriage.

Dharma Finkelstein (Jenna Elfman) is the daughter of unconventional, hippie parents, Larry Finklestein (Alan Rachins) and Abby O’Neil (Mimi Kennedy). Greg Montgomery (Thomas Gibson) is the son of successful businessman Edward Montgomery (Mitchell Ryan) and socialite Kitty Montgomery (Susan Sullivan). As much as their parents and everyone around them try to convince Dharma and Greg how incompatible they are, the more Dharma and Greg fight to stay together.

As a television rom-com, Dharma and Greg is not bad. There was enough conflict and comedy to keep the series going for five years, which is a nice run for a show of this genre.

Do I recommend it? Why not?

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Flashback Friday-1960’s TV- The Munsters (1964-1966), Bewitched (1964-1972), I Dream Of Jeannie (1965-1970) & Gilligan’s Island (1964-1967)

The 1960’s are remembered as part of the golden age of television. They also marked a subtle shift in American society, reflecting the larger change that would come in later decades.

In this Flashback Friday post, I am going to examine four different shows from the era and see how they represented the change that was coming to America.

The Munsters (1964-1966)

Before the Munsters, audiences were used to seeing creatures such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Werewolf in a horror movie. What they saw was these former movie monsters as their on-screen neighbors. Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) is the bumbling, sometimes idiotic Frankenstein’s monster. His wife, Lily (Yvonne De Carlo) and her father, Grandpa (Al Lewis) are vampires. Lily had to sometimes play peacekeeper between her husband and her mad scientist wannabe father. Herman and Lily’s son, Eddie (Butch Patrick) is a werewolf. The “normal” one in the family is Marilyn (played first by Pat Priest and then by Beverley Owen), Lily and Herman’s blonde hair, blue-eyed, all American looking niece. The Munsters think they are a normal family, but cannot comprehend why they get certain reactions from the people around them.

Bewitched (1964-1972)

Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) is a witch. Her husband, Darrin (First played by Dick York and then by Dick Sargent) is a mortal man. Darrin would like a normal wife. But he married a witch. Samantha tries to subvert her powers to please her husband, but those powers somehow always come back to the surface. Add in the most meddling of meddling mother in-laws, Endora (Agnes Moorehead) and a nosy neighbor with too much time on her hands and too much imagination, Mrs. Kravitz (First played by Alice Pearce and then played by Sandra Gould) and you have a sitcom with just enough subversiveness to rock the boat without being obvious.

I Dream Of Jeannie (1965-1970)

Major Anthony Nelson (Larry Hagman) is an astronaut. While on a mission, he finds a mysterious bottle. Rubbing the bottle, Anthony releases Jeannie (Barbara Eden), who promises to serve Anthony. The only problem is that due to Anthony’s highly classified work, he is always being watched. Having  Jeannie around would certainly bring about unwanted questions, especially considering her non mortal abilities.

Gilligan’s Island (1964-1967)

A small boat goes on what is supposed to be on a three-hour tour. Instead a typhoon derails the small ship’s itinerary and send its inhabitants to a deserted island. The boat’s captain, The Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) and his bumbling assistant Gilligan (Bob Denver) do their best to take care of their guests. Mr. and Mrs. Howell  (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafter), are the millionaire couple who thinks the world revolves around them. The Professor (Russell Johnson) comes up with fantastic gadgets that no one would ever think of creating on a deserted island. Ginger (Tina Louise) is the Marilyn Monroe-ish movie star. Maryann (Dawn Wells) is the farm girl next door.

While Gilligan’s Island is utterly ridiculous, it is very funny. Reflecting the shifting culture in the 1960’s The Munsters reflects the idea that it’s okay to be different. Bewitched and I Dream Of Jeannie, reflected the then burgeoning second generation of the feminist movement. Both Samantha and Jeannie try to subvert their powers to keep their men happy, but the audience knows who really holds the cards in those relationships.

Do I recommend them? Yes.

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