By the Book (Meant to Be Series) Book Review

The haters to lovers trope is one that had been used many times, by many authors, in many different ways. The figurative beauty of this well-known narrative arc is its ability to be dynamic and uniquely moldable to a new perspective.

By the Book is the second book in the Meant to Be Series. Written by Jasmine Guillory and published in May, it is essentially a modern-day rom-com version of Beauty and The Beast. For the last three years, Isabelle has been working at her NYC-based publishing company, hoping to be noticed by her manager. In her mid-twenties, she is one of the few African American employees and starting to become disillusioned.

While on a work trip to California, she finally seizes upon an opportunity to get the appreciation she deserves. Beau is a well-known author who has been radio silent on the status of his manuscript. She decides to try to talk to him in person. When Isabelle finally meets Beau, she discovers that his reputation of being impersonal and hard-headed is not too far off from reality.

Getting Beau to open up is a bigger task than Isabelle initially expected it to be. But as they spend time together, both Beau and Isabelle learn that each of them is lost in their own way and may find what they are looking for in one another.

This book had me at hello. It was delicious, romantic, funny, and held me by the lapels from beginning to end. Guillory holds tight to the Disney narrative while remaking it in her own image. I loved Isabelle’s spunkiness, Intelligence, and drive. Beau, as the leading man, has his own troubles, making him relatable and enough of an asshole to challenge both the reader and his future other half.

Do I recommend it? Of course.

By the Book (Meant to Be Series) is available wherever books are sold.

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Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life Book Review

Where an author lives often plays a role in their perspective and their work.

Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life, by Evan Hughes, was published in 2011. It tells the story of the history of Brooklyn via her writers from the late 19th century until the modern era.

He delves into the writing, the lives, and the neighborhoods of noted authors such as Walt Whitman, Arthur Miller, Truman Capote, Jennifer Egan, and Richard Wright. Each author, in their own way, use Brooklyn and their experience in the borough as a backdrop for their work and their character’s point of view.

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I enjoyed this book. Though it could be seen as a little niche, it could also be seen as both a history book and a series of vignettes about respected writers. As a native Brooklynite, I enjoyed learning about the subjects and how their non-writing life influenced the works they would become known for.

My only complaint was that I wish that Hughes would have included more female writers.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life is available wherever books are sold.

Married… With Children Character Review: Jefferson D’Arcy

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*I apologize for not posting last weekend. There is only so much time in a day.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television show Married… With Children. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. 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 of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

When we get married, the hope is that your spouse says “I do” because they are in love and want to make a life with you. But not everyone marries for love. Some marry for the lifestyle.

In Married…With Children, Jefferson D’Arcy (Ted McGinley) is the second husband of the former Marcy Rhoades (Amanda Bearse). The best description of him is that he is a pretty boy. Younger than his wife, Jefferson has married Marcy for her money. He has no ambition and cannot see beyond his own image. The male version of Peggy Bundy (Katey Sagal), he is fine with sitting at home all day or spending Marcy’s money without a second thought.

At this wife’s urging, Jefferson does try his hand at work. But every job he has goes down in flames, mostly due to the women he works with. Upon meeting her husband’s colleagues, Marcy demands that he quit, sending him back to the life of a pampered househusband.

He also represents Al Bundy‘s (Ed O’Neill) worst instincts. If there is an opportunity for a get-rich-quick scheme, Jefferson is quick to get on board with Al not too far behind him. When it comes to his marriage, Marcy wears the pants and has no problem telling her husband what to do. When she is not around, however, Jefferson is not above mocking his wife, ignoring her instructions, and maybe cheating on her.

To sum it up: Part of maintaining a relationship is honesty. The best thing you can say about Jefferson is that he is honest about his intentions. It is certainly better than some people, who married for money and pretend to marry for love.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

This will be my last character post for Married….With Children. Come back next week to find out which group of characters I will be reviewing next.

Jews Don’t Count Book Review

Intersectionality and progress go hand in hand. We cannot make this country and this world better if we only speak to or include certain groups of people.

David Baddiel‘s 2021 book, Jews Don’t Count, takes this racist concept and drops it squarely in the lap of the reader. He speaks about antisemitism on both the right and the left, referring to certain politicians in both the US and the UK. On the right, we are not accepted because we are Jews. On the left, we are seen as the oppressor because the image of the Jew is often of one of Ashkenazi descent (i.e. White). And of course, the issue of Israel is packed in and used as needed.

He also takes on Jewface and the controversy of a non-Jewish performer playing a Jewish character. Particularly when this character is a full-on stereotype without the nuances and humanity that are given to the non-Jewish character.

The problem he points to is loud and clear: if we are to move forward and create a better world, all groups must be included. No one should be left out.

There are only a handful of books that I think everyone should read. Jews Don’t Count is one of them. Especially those of us who are fighting for a future in which we are all equal and judged on our merits, not on our labels.

There was one line that has stayed with me. At this stage of his life, Baddiel is an atheist. He stated that if he were a hidden Jew who was outed during World War II, he would still be killed because he is Jewish. Nothing else would have mattered to the Nazis.

A couple of recent headlines perfectly summed up this idea. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro (whom I disagree with about everything) made the following statement about Reform Jews:

“What do you think about what former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer once said: that Israel should put its political fortune in the Evangelist community rather than in the Reform Jewish community [in the US]?” Segal asked Shapiro, who at just 38 years of age has written 11 books.

“As a matter of blunt fact, that’s true,” Shapiro answered. “It’s an unfortunate reality of life in the United States that Reform Judaism, as a branch, does not see Jewish identity in a serious way, as central.

“It’s a very simple rubric for me: If as a Jew, your values are more in line with same-sex marriage, transgenderism and abortion than they are with, for example, the safety and security of the State of Israel – I have serious questions about how you think about yourself as a Jew,” he continued, receiving a standing ovation.

Then Pennsylvania Senator Doug Mastriano (who is also on the political right) said the following about Shapiro:

“We don’t want people who are atheists. We don’t want people who are Jewish. We don’t want people who are, you know, nonbelievers, agnostic, whatever. This is an explicitly Christian movement because this is an explicitly Christian country.” He also added: “Ben Shapiro is not welcome in the movement unless he repents and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior

It doesn’t matter to Mastriano and his ilk that he and Shapiro have the same beliefs when it comes to this country’s identity and future. It only matters that Ben Shapiro is a Jew.

The only way to stop this kind of thinking is to stand together. Until we do, the ideals that our founders believed in will be just that.

Do I recommend it? Without a doubt.

Jews Don’t Count is available wherever books are sold.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings Book Review

“Normal” is relative. What is every day to one person is out completely out of the ordinary for another.

To say that Chrysta Bilton‘s childhood was anything but ordinary is an understatement. Raised in and around Los Angeles, her story is told in the new memoir, Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings. It was published earlier this month.

In the early 1980s, her mother, Debra was out of the closet and wanted to be a mother. Other than getting married to a man and making a baby the old-fashioned way, her options were limited. She would have to go to a sperm bank. While getting her hair done one day, Debra met Jeffrey Harrison. He was everything she wanted the father of her children to be.

Through Debra tried to create a traditional family structure for both Chrysta and her younger sister, it was anything but. She had a series of partners, addiction issues, and tried to support her daughters via get-rich-quick schemes.

When Chrysta finally discovered the truth about her parentage and her many half-siblings, she was forced to face a reality that would force her to shift her worldview.

This book is amazing. Bilton’s story is complicated, emotional, difficult at times, and shows the truth about what it is to have a family. What I found inspiring is that Bilton somehow came out of this extraordinary childhood with a resolve and a strength that some might not have developed at all.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings is available wherever books are sold.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir Book Review

America has been built on the back of immigrants for over two hundred years. But in every generation, there are those who forget this and try to limit who can enter this country.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir, by Jane the Virgin writer by Rafael Agustin, was published this month. Born in Ecuador, Agustin entered the United States with his parents as a young boy. He believed himself to be as American as any other child. That belief is shattered when he tried to get his driver’s license in high school and is unable to do. When he gets home, Rafael is told that they entered the country illegally and have been undocumented ever since.

Though the truth is out, the question of Rafael’s future is now unknown.

I loved this memoir. His voice is so clear that you can easily see the world as he knew it to be then. The narrative speaks to the American dream and why so many have walked on that same path.

If nothing else, it reminded me of why my own relations immigrated more than a century ago. Their dreams of their future and their children’s future were the same as Agustin’s parents, even in a different time and place.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir is available wherever books are sold.

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Flashback Friday: Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers (1988 to 1990)

There is something about a childhood cartoon that instantly takes you back to that time in life. That innocent, simple era when decisions were uncomplicated and nothing was impossible.

Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers was a Disney cartoon that aired from 1988 to 1990. The series followed best friends Chip (Tress MacNeille) and Dale (Corey Burton) as they fight crime with their friends and save the day.

This show was so much fun when I was a kid. It was charming, it was entertaining, and perhaps there was a lesson or two subtly built into the narrative.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Throwback Thursday: Big Eyes (2014)

Art knows no gender. That does not mean, however, that a female artist is going to get the same respect/reception that her male counterpart will.

The 2014 film, Big Eyes, tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). In the early 1960s, Margaret was a divorced single mother who was trying to get by via her art. She is soon swept up off her feet by Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). After marrying Walter, Margaret continues painting. What she does not know is that her husband is claiming that the work is his. In doing so, he is getting attention for both the success and failure of the paintings.

When she finds out the truth, she knows that she has only one option. Reveal the truth and rely on only herself to get by.

Directed by Tim Burton, this film falls very securely within the theatrical vision that audiences have become accustomed to. Adams and Waltz are perfectly cast. My problem is that I quickly got bored. Within a half hour of watching this movie, I felt no need to continue on. I hate to say that I was bored, but there is no other word to describe it.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

Never Stop Dreaming: The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres Documentary Review

Dreams sustain us when everything seems dark. Without that light and that hope that dreaming provides, what we wish for will always seem far away.

The new Netflix documentary, Never Stop Dreaming: The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres tell the story of the late Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres. Born in a small shtetl in Eastern Europe in 1923, Peres and his family immigrated to what was then British-controlled Palestine in the early 1930s. When the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, he joined the newly formed government and over the decades, rose up and down in the ranking of leadership.

His story is both the story of Jews in the 20th century and Israel as we know it to be today. He faced political challenges that are universal and unique to the region. Above all, he believed that peace and co-existence with the nation’s Arab neighbors are not unattainable goals. Though they were not achieved within his lifetime, Peres opened the door for future generations of Israeli leadership to follow in his footsteps.

Narrated by George Clooney, this narrative is about a dreamer who was also realistic. Peres knew what he wanted the future to look like. At the same time, he understood that it would take work, courage, and being open to new possibilities to get the job done.

What I took away from the film was that dreaming is a good thing. But without getting your hands figuratively dirty, the image in your mind will remain just that. That inspiration crosses all boundaries and perhaps provides the lift we need to get off our buts and do what we need to do.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Never Stop Dreaming: The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres is available for streaming on Netflix.

Thoughts On the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Trailer

Death, as we all know, is a part of life. Some of us are fortunate to die in our sunset years, others leave this world far too soon.

When Chadwick Boseman passed away from cancer in 2020, it was a loss that was palpable. He was a well-liked and respected actor with a bright future. After the dust settled, there were obvious questions about how the creative team behind the Black Panther film series would go on without its lead actor.

Earlier this week, we sort of got the answer. The trailer for the sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was released. As is normal for this stage of the game, the details are kept close to the vest. The only things we know so far is the future of Wakanda is in question and the loss of Boseman and his character, T’Challa is keenly felt.

I have a feeling that this film is going to pack an emotional punch and perhaps force fans to shed a few tears.

Am I looking forward to it? Without a doubt.

P.S. If I were a betting woman, I would put my money on Shuri (Letitia Wright) as the new Black Panther.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will be in theaters in November.

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