Category Archives: Book Review

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Book Review

It has been said that all that glitters is not gold. The same could be said about Hollywood.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Reid Jenkins, was published back in 2017. Back in the day, Evelyn Hugo was an A list movie star. But her time in the spotlight has long since passed. After years of living quietly in the background, Evelyn is ready to tell her story. She chooses Monique Grant, a young writer to be her scribe.

Monique has a lot on her plate at the moment. Her marriage is all but over and her career is stuck in the mud. Though she is not entirely sure why she has been chosen, Monique seizes upon the opportunity that has been handed to her. Evelyn’s life story is full of ambition, forbidden love, and friendships that were unexpected. Along the way, Monique discovers that she and Evelyn are connected in ways that surprise them both.

Sometimes, stories about old Hollywood, whether they be fiction or non fiction, can veer off into two different voices. They can either be a tabloid-y tell all, or sound like comes straight out of the studio PR department. I really loved this book. I loved the characters, I loved the narrative, and I loved the twist that was absolutely perfect.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Beyond the Ghetto Gates: A Novel Book Review

A woman’s brain is a fearsome thing to behold. Especially when she is not afraid to use it.

Beyond the Ghetto Gates: A Novel, by Michelle Cameron, was published last spring. The books tell the story of two different women. Though they are separated by religion, they are brought together by fate and the French invasion of their home city of Ancona, Italy.

Mirelle is Jewish and like all Jewish residents of the city, she lives in the ghetto. Though she has a mind for numbers, it is inconceivable that she could join her father in the family business. Her only goal, as she is told over and over again, is marriage. She could agree to say “I do” to the older and wealthy businessman that everyone is telling her to marry. Mirelle could also run away and elope with her French Catholic lover, but the consequences of such a union would be disastrous.

Francesca is Catholic and lives in the Christian part of Ancona with her husband and children. To say that he is not Prince Charming is an understatement. When he gets involved with the wrong crowd and helps to steal a miracle portrait of the Madonna, Francesca has a hard choice to make. She could do her wifely duty and support her husband, even when she knows what he did was wrong. Or, she could speak up and create trouble for herself.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I was drawn in by the premise of the novel, the well drawn characters, and the detailed description of the world late 18th century Italy. I also loved the ending, which is atypical for the genre. But if there is one major flaw in the narrative, is that the romance. It is supposed to be the high point of the story, but it falls flat.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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I Am Nujood, Age 10, and Divorced: A Memoir Book Review

The concept of marrying for love is new in the course of human history. Throughout most of our time on Earth (and still in some parts of the world), marriage is a business arrangement. A woman is sold or given to her husband as though she is an animal or an inanimate object.

The memoir, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced: A Memoir was published in 2010. In 2008, Nujood Ali was a young girl living with her family in Yemen. Married off to a man decades older than her, Ms. Ali told her her story with the help of journalist Delphine Minoui. Used as a servant by her new family and abused by her husband, she knew that she had no choice but to run away. Arriving at the local courthouse, she asked for a divorce.

In the west, we like to think that marriage is between two consenting adults that are ready, willing, and able to make what will hopefully be a lifetime commitment. But marriage is other part of the world is seen differently. Child marriage is is more common than we think it is. I loved this book. Ms. Ali not only broke barriers in her home country, she inspired millions of women across the world to do the same.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Recipe for Persuasion: A Novel Book Review

No one goes through life without regrets. It is part of the human experience.

Recipe for Persuasion, (based on the Jane Austen novel, Persuasion)by Sonali Dev, was published last year.

Chef Ashna Raje has a lot on her plate. She is trying to ensure that her late father’s beloved restaurant lives to see another day. Her overbearing and emotionally distant mother, Shobi, is trying to control her life. Out of sheer desperation, Ashna signs up for the reality cooking competition, Cooking with the Stars.

What could only make a bad situation worse is being partnered with Rico Silva, the recently retired superstar soccer player. He is also her ex-boyfriend from high school/first love.

Rico is not happy that he will be working with Ashna and is determined to prove that he has moved on. Their first meeting after twelve years does not go well. As much as Rico and Ashna would prefer to work with someone else, their chemistry is undeniable. But with too many unanswered questions about the past and unspoken feelings, is there even a possibility of re-kindling their relationship?

Among the six completed books by Austen, Persuasion is the hardest for modern writers to replicate. The past romance between Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth creates a narrative complication that is unique to this particular novel.

That being said, it is not the worst JAFF (Jane Austen fanfiction) that I have ever read. Though the middle of the novel is a bit slow, I like that the author gave the reader insight into both Rico and Shobi’s perspectives, fleshing out the overall story. Austen only gives her readers a short time to see the world through Wentworth’s eyes, the rest of the story belongs to Anne.

I also liked the insight into traditional Indian culture, which I suspect is not much different than other traditional cultures.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Rude: Stop Being Nice and Start Being Bold Book Review

From an early age, one of the first lessons we are taught are manners. Though some of the rules that fall within manners are cut and dry, others are not quite as clear.

Rude: Stop Being Nice and Start Being Bold, by Rebecca Reid, was published last month. The spark that was the impetus for this book came from personal experience. Reid, a journalist and a comedian from the UK, was a guest on a TV show. After being talked over several times by a male comedian, she spoke up. Instantly labelled “Rebecca Rude” by social media, she could have easily given into the criticism. Instead, she saw it as an opportunity to harness the concept of “rudeness” into a positive thing.

Using examples within the world of popular culture and several prominent women wo were given the label of “being rude”, Reid points out how it is not entirely a bad thing. In speaking up for their individual needs, these women stood up for what they wanted and needed. She also points out that while men are allowed and applauded for being aggressive and speaking their minds, women are given all sorts of nasty labels for acting in a similar manner.

Part feminist mantra and part self help book, this is the perfect way to overcome our personal and cultural prejudice against women who are act and speak as men do. Reid also encourages her readers to fight for their dreams and not be afraid to stand up for what they need to see their dreams become a reality.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Mad and Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency Book Review

Towards the end of Jane Austen‘s novel, Persuasion, there is a conversation about books and the portrayal of women within the world of literature. This conversation ends with the following statement that is as true in Austen’s time as it is in ours.

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

The new non fiction book, Mad and Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency, was published in the fall. Written by Bea Koch (co-owner of the Los Angeles area bookstore, The Ripped Bodice), the book tells the story of women who did not fall in the White/upper class/Heterosexual/Christian category. It shines the spotlight of women of color, Jewish women, female members of the LBGTQ community, and women who actively chose to step out of the boundaries of what was considered to be appropriately “feminine”.

I wish that this book had been around when I was younger. It is one of the best history books I have read in a long time. It is educational, entertaining, and a reminder that there have always been women who have been willing to buck tradition to follow their own path.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Best Books of 2020

  1. Hearts, Strings, and other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins: This modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel Mansfield Park is one of the best professionally published fanfictions I’ve read in a long time.
  2. Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump: You Know Who’s only niece, Mary Trump tells her uncle’s story as only a close family member can.
  3. Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now, by Evan Osnos: This biography tells the President-elect’s story from a human perspective, giving the reader an insight that the news headlines cannot.
  4. Bronte’s Mistress, by Finola Austin: Austin delves into the myth of the affair between Branwell Bronte and Lydia Robinson, his older and married employer. Giving voice to Branwell, his youngest sister Anne and Mrs. Robinson specifically, she introduces the reader to the woman behind the rumor.
  5. Rage, by Bob Woodward: Legendary journalist Bob Woodward takes the reader into the current Presidential administration and the chaos created by you know who.
  6. The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron: Cameron’s book follows the story of Stefania Podgorska, a Polish-Catholic teenage girl who saved thirteen Jews during World War II.
  7. Jagged Little Pill: The reader is taken into the world of the hit musical, Jagged Little Pill: The Musical.
  8. Pretending: A Novel, by Holly Bourne: April believes that she is damaged goods, romantically speaking. When she creates an alter ego named Gretel, the results are surprising.
  9. A Star is Bored: A Novel, by Byron Lane: Lane, a former assistant to the late actress and writer Carrie Fisher, spins his time working for her into a hilarious and entertaining novel.
  10. Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, by Jean Guerrero: This insightful and frankly scary book tells the story of Presidential aide Stephen Miller.

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Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth Book Review

The news, whether reported on television or via the newspaper of one’s choice, used to be a simple thing. The facts were given and the viewer and/or reader was given the leverage to make up their own minds. These days, the news is not so simple.

Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth, by Brian Stelter, was released back in August. In the book, Mr. Stelter examines how you know who and Fox News have distorted the truth to fit their view of the world. Every previous President has spent their working hours speaking to their peers across the globe and coordinating with various divisions of the government to keep the country going. This President watches hours of television (Fox News to be specific), marks out his favorites and lets them have a hand in dictating his policies. They are also hypocrites, telling the audience one thing while believing another thing entirely.

I couldn’t help but get angry as I read this book. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the basic tenets of journalism remain the same. In twisting the facts to fit their perspective, the message is clear. It is not about letting the audience think for themselves. It is a political and business strategy that benefits only you know who and Fox News.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Pretending: A Novel Book Review

The romance genre has been part of our literary world since the creation of stories. It is therefore, up to every writer to do what they can to make their particular narrative stand out.

Pretending: A Novel, by Holly Bourne was released in November. In her early 30’s, April is living a relatively normal life. But there is one thing she longs for: a boyfriend. Every relationship April has had up this point has ended in heartbreak.

Her way of dealing with this is to create an alter ego: Gretel. Gretel is everything that April wishes she was. Via a dating app, April/Gretel starts chatting with Joshua. After one dating dumpster fire after another, it finally looks like April has the romantic life she has longed for. But, she also knows that she will have to tell Joshua the truth eventually.

Some books hook you right away. Others take a little time to pull the reader in. Pretending: A Novel falls into the second category. I liked this book and I liked the main character. April is not your average “someday my prince will come” romance novel heroine. She is real, complicated, and has a past that is not completely dealt with. Adding elements of the #Metoo movement and mental health issues beefs up the narrative, elevating the overall novel from your typical modern romance.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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I’m Writing You from Tehran: A Granddaughter’s Search for Her Family’s Past and Their Country’s Future Book Review

I don’t know about anyone else, but as the descendant of immigrants, there is a part of me that longs to know about the world my family knew before they came to the United States. But with no one alive to share those stories and that world long gone, it can be seen through documents and the work of fiction.

French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui does not need to jump through such hoops. The only thing she needs to do is buy a plane ticket.

Her new book, I’m Writing You from Tehran: A Granddaughter’s Search for Her Family’s Past and Their Country’s Future was published in the spring.

Translated by Emma Ramadan, the book is a memoir of the ten years that she lived in Iran. In the late 1990s, she was in her twenties and brand new to the world of journalism. She was also mourning for her recently passed grandfather. Her stay in Tehran was supposed to be a short ten-day trip. It eventually turned into a decade long residency.

During the course of that decade, Minoui doesn’t just live in Tehran. As her journalistic instincts kick in, she experiences everything the city and the country offer at that time. By the time she leaves Iran, she has grown in ways she could not have imagined

I really liked this book. It shows that Iran is much more than it is perceived to be in the headlines. Which frankly, sometimes don’t tell the whole story. Each chapter is a letter to her grandfather, describing in vivid detail what day to day life was like for Minoui.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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