Monthly Archives: August 2017

Girl on a Wire: Walking the Line Between Faith and Freedom in the Westboro Baptist Church Book Review

We can choose our friends, we can choose our romantic partners. But we cannot choose our family.

Libby Phelps grew up in the most notorious family in America: the Westboro Baptist Church. The granddaughter of the group’s founder, Fred Phelps, Libby towed the family cause until she reached early adulthood. Then something changed. Her life and her life altering decision is detailed in the book, Girl on a Wire: Walking the Line Between Faith and Freedom in the Westboro Baptist Church. Ms. Phelps, along with journalist Sara Stewart writes about her growing up inside the Westboro Baptist Church and the slow shift she made towards the outside world.

While the book is a little slow at some points, it is also quite fascinating. I found her story to be fascinating because only someone who has grown up in a group like the Westboro Baptist Church can fully explain what it is like to live that life. It is also fascinating because her story speaks of the duality of freedom of speech. On one hand, we can say what we like without fear of recrimination. But on the other hand, what we say can be construed as hate speech by someone else.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely, because it speaks of the sometimes diving duality of what it is like to live in a democracy, especially a democracy where differing opinions are bound to happen.

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RIP Aaliyah

Every generation has their icon that died too young. No matter where we are in life, the moment we hear that person’s name, we are taken back to the moment when we heard that they passed away.

I remember the day I heard that Aaliyah died. She died 16 years ago yesterday. 16 years ago I had just moved into my dorm for my junior year of college. I was sitting at my computer and I saw that she died in a plane crash. There is nothing so profound and heartbreaking to know that a member of your generation, what had everything, including a bright future, was taken far too soon.

If nothing else, it is a stark reminder that life is short and we can go at anytime.

RIP Aaliyah. Only G-d knows what would have happened if fate had taken a different turn. We miss you.

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Flashback Friday-Pee-wee’s Playhouse (1986-1991)

The best children’s programming appeals to both adults and children. It is entertaining and/or educational to the children watching, but can also be slightly subversive to the adults who are watching with their children.

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was on the air from 1986-1991. Paul Reubens played the titular character, Pee-Wee Herman. It was a child’s dream come true. There was wacky characters, cartoons and household objects coming to life.

As a kid, I remember finding the show amusing. But now as adult, not only do I recognize that some of the jokes were very over my head at the time,but I also recognize that several actors, including the late Phil Hartman and Laurence Fishburne has Pee Wee’s Playhouse listed on their resume.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Flashback Friday, Television, TV Review

Wuthering Heights Character Review: Heathcliff

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

There is something magical about a romantic leading man. Even in human form, with his imperfections, there is something ideal and dreamy about this kind of character. On the surface, Heathcliff, the male protagonist of Wuthering Heights seems like the romantic leading who sweeps not just the female protagonist off her feet, but the readers as well. The important word in that sentence is seems.

Heathcliff’s origins are unknown. He is an orphan found on the streets by Mr. Earnshaw and taken back to Wuthering Heights. Raised within the family, Heathcliff’s soulmate is Catherine, Mr. Earnshaw’s daughter. His nemesis is Catherine’s older brother, Hindley.  After Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley becomes master of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is cast out of his comfortable life and forced into servitude.  His bitterness and anger are kept at bay because Catherine is around.

Heathcliff’s bitterness and anger starts to grow exponentially when Catherine gets engaged to Edgar Linton, the son of a wealthy and respectable family. Vowing to get revenge, but still deeply in love with Catherine, Heathcliff comes back a few years later with a tidy fortune and ready to get back at those who he believed wronged him. But along the way of getting his revenge, Heathcliff leaves a few victims in his wake: his wife, Isabella Heathcliff (nee Linton), and the next generation of Lintons, Earnshaws and Heathcliffs. But in the end, it is his pure and abiding love for Catherine that prevents the darkness from completely swallowing him.

To sum it up: the idea of Prince Charming is nice, but Prince Charming is boring. It’s been done to death. Readers remember Heathcliff because while he is a dark character whose actions and morals are questionable (especially in the second half of the book), he loves Catherine. He loves her so much that after she dies, he begs her spirit to stay with him. He keeps going back to her after she has married, knowing full well that she is married and not caring a fig for her marriage. Sometimes the key to a writer’s success is to take a standard character, add in a few out of left field characteristics, flip the character on its head and see what happens. It is the joy of writing and the joy of reading to discover a character who has been seen before, but is also totally new and different that he or she is unforgettable.

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Emily Bronte, Writing, Wuthering Heights

The Things We Cherished Book Review

Love and war are the two things that cause rational human beings to do irrational things.

In Pam Chenoff’s 2011 book, The Things We Cherished, lawyer Charlotte Gold is trying to shake off the scars of the past. The only child of a mother who survived World War II and the Holocaust because she was on the Kindertransport, the last thing Charlotte needs back in her life is her cheat of an ex-boyfriend, Brian. He pleads with her to taken on the case of Roger Dykmans. Roger Dykmans is a wealthy businessman and the brother of a man who was martyred in the Holocaust. He has been accused of leading the Nazis to his brother and the innocent people his brother tried to save.

Charlotte will be working with Brian’s estranged brother, Jack. While they have professional and potentially romantic chemistry, their job is hampered by Roger’s refusal to prove that he is innocent. The only evidence Roger will provide is in a clock that has not been seen for decades. While Charlotte and Jack try to prove Roger’s innocence, they run into a long-held secret: the mutual love between Roger and Jewish his sister-in-law, Magda.

Like all of Pam Jenoff’s books, I loved it. It’s hard to balance a historical narrative with modern characters who are going through a journey of their own. But she finds a way to do that while keeping the tension and making sure that the details are on point.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, History

Throwback Thursday-The Happening (2008)

The end of the world happening through mysterious circumstances has been a standard narrative within science fiction for many years. It depends on the writer or writers to flesh out this very predictable narrative to make it feel alive, new and interesting.

In the 2008 movie, The Happening, Elliot and Alma Moore (Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel) are watching their world crumble around them. A mysterious plague has hit the world, causing those infected to commit suicide. Elliot, a science teacher is trying to use his knowledge to figure the cause of the plague and find a cure, but that might not be enough to save his life, his wife’s life and the life of Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), the daughter of a friend who they are trying to protect.

On paper, this the premise of the film sounds interesting. Unfortunately, it’s one of those movies that only sounds good on paper.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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Filed under Movie Review, Movies, Throwback Thursday

Billy Joel Wear Stars 0f David And Makes a Statement

The rally in Charlottesville nearly two weeks ago rattled all of us. If nothing else, it was a sad and scary reminder that hate and prejudice are still alive and well in America.

In the face of the all the hatred and prejudice that come to the light, it’s easy so say nothing and give into the fear. What is right and harder to do is to stand up to the hate.

Musician Billy Joel stood up to the hate. He wore a yellow star at his concert last night. Jews were forced to wear yellow stars during World War II, marking them for persecution and ultimately death.

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”-Albert Einstein

I think the one lesson that I personally take away from Charlottesville is that we have stand up and fight. We have to be vocal, we have to be loud and we have to drown out the voices of hate. If we don’t speak up and speak up loudly, hate has won once more and we not learned the lessons of the past.

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Filed under History, Music, National News

Jane Austen, The Secret Radical Book Review

On the surface, Jane Austen seems to write typical romances. It had the same overall narrative as every story in the genre: the meet cute, the ups and downs, the will they or won’t they and finally, the happily ever after. But Jane Austen was writing far more than fluffy, predictable romances. She was writing about human folly and the injustices of the world around us.

Published last year, Jane Austen, The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly dives into the subtle and subversive that only a seasoned reader of Austen will understand and appreciate. Using her pen and her imagination, Austen deftly and quietly writes about the injustices of slavery, the treatment of women in her era, the anxieties of going to war, the power of the Church, etc.

This book is not for the newbie Austen fan or someone who has simply read one of her books because they’ve heard of it. This book is for the hardcore Janeite who has read her books many times and finds joy in discovering something new with every read. I really enjoyed this book because it points out things that even I didn’t know of. That above all, made this book a joy to read.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Emma, Feminism, Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Writing

New Randy Rainbow Video- “Yes, We Have No Steve Bannon”

Randy Rainbow (the genius that he is) has done it again.

In the wake of Steve Bannon‘s ouster from the White House last weekend, Randy Rainbow has created the perfect musical satire.


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Filed under National News, Politics, Randy Rainbow

RIP Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis

A good comedian is more than the joke coming out of their mouth. A good comedian makes us laugh, brings people together, helps to create understandings and heal the wounds that hate and prejudice create.

Yesterday, we lost comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. A few hours ago, Jerry Lewis passed away.

In the 1960’s, Dick Gregory was the face of black comedy in America. Breaking the color barrier, he used his platform to speak of the injustice that African-Americans faced. He use his celebrity to fight not just against prejudice and hatred that were part of daily life for African-Americans, but he also protested against the Vietnam War by going on a hunger strike.

He was 84.

Jerry Lewis is more than an actor/comedian/philanthropist. He is an icon. Pairing with Dean Martin in the 1950’s, Lewis was the goofball compared to Martin’s straight man. When they professionally parted ways, Lewis became a star in his own right. One of his most beloved movies (and my personal favorite) Jerry Lewis film is The Nutty Professor. While on the surface, it is slapstick comedy, there is a more subtle message about self-esteem, finding love and being brave enough to show the person who you love your real self.

He was 91.


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Filed under History, Movies