Category Archives: Book Review

Marilla of Green Gables: A Novel Book Review

When readers meet Marilla Cuthbert in the initial chapters of Anne of Green Gables, she is middle-aged, stubborn and unyielding.

Sarah McCoy’s new book, Marilla of Green Gables: A Novel, takes the reader back in time. Decades earlier, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen. Her life changes forever when her mother passes away. Now she must take her mother’s place as a farm wife.

The only way out of farm life is her aunt. Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson never married and earns a living as a seamstress in St. Catharines. Izzy encourages her niece to expands her world. This expansion includes joining the local Ladies sewing circle and helping to raise money for an orphanage that is part of the Underground Railroad. Along the way, Marilla falls in love with John Blythe, the son of a neighboring family.

It seems that her future is set. But politics, history, and personal choices have a hand in changing that future.

I loved this book. I am also a huge Anne of Green Gables fan, which was the main reason I picked up this book in the first place. In telling the story of Marilla’s early days, Ms. McCoy is able to draw a complete picture of Anne Shirley‘s adopted mother.

Though this book is not strictly for the hardcore Anne of Green Gables fans, I would recommend that the reader goes into the book with at least some knowledge of the world that Lucy Maud Montgomery created.

My only criticism is that the beginning of the book is a little slow. But when it takes off, it really takes off.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Guest Book Book Review

As much as we wish it, families are far from perfect. There are secrets, scandals, and sins that have a way of passing down through the generations.

Sarah Blake’s new novel, The Guest Book, was published earlier this year. In the 1930s, Kitty and Ogden Milton have it all. A loving marriage, beautiful and thriving children and the status that comes with being one of America’s leading (and wealthiest) families. Then tragedy hits the family hard. To assuage his wife’s grief, Ogden buys a private island to use as a summer home. The island should be a place of refuge and relaxation for the Miltons. Instead, it becomes a symbol of the family’s secrets.

The secret starts with a refusal that could have saved the life of an innocent just before World War II. Twenty plus years later, the secret grows. Len Levy and Reg Paulding are not the usual guests invited to the island. Len is Jewish and secretly seeing one of the Milton daughters. Reg is African-American and the lone person of color in his world.

The secrets begin to unravel in the 2010s. Evie Milton, one of Kitty and Ogden’s granddaughters, comes to the realization with her cousins that the island is in dire financial straits. She also learns, with the help of her husband, that the family secrets are just below the surface. With a little digging, those secrets are revealed.

What I liked about this book was how Ms. Blake established the world that this novel is set in and the casual racism/antisemitism that is part of this world. I also liked the transition from the past to the present. It takes a skilled author to jump from different time periods and different points of view in a way that does not confuse the reader.

My problem with the book is that the ending is kind of expected. The big bombshell that is supposed to be the “long-buried” secret is not really a bombshell. I saw part of it coming nearly a mile away.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Vox Book Review

In an ideal world, men and women would be equal. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

Christina Dalcher’s debut novel, Vox, is set in a dystopian world in which women are silenced. American women are forced to wear a bracelet of sorts that monitors the words they say. If they speak more than 100 words a day, they can expect to be penalized. Young girls are denied even the most basic of educational opportunities. Adult women have been thrown out of the workplace.

Dr. Jean McClellan is a respected scientist. In shock that she is a second class citizen, she is initially numb to her new normal. Then she is given an opportunity to fight for her rights, her daughter’s rights and the rights of every American female.

I loved the concept of this book. In setting the narrative in our era, the author is able to create a narrative that is visceral and extremely scary. I felt like I could touch and feel the world that Jean lives in.

My only issue with this book is that the ending felt a little rushed. Other than that, this book is incredible and a must-read. It is also a not so subtle reminder that women still have a long way to go before we are truly equal.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

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Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life Book Review

The following is often quoted about women and those brave enough to fight for what they believe in.

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” 

Emma Goldman was not a well-behaved woman, by any stretch of the imagination. She was a revolutionary, an anarchist and a feminist in a time when women were starting to fight for their rights. Vivian Gornick‘s 2013 biography of Goldman is entitled Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life.

Emma Goldman was born in 1869 in Lithuania to a Jewish family. From an early age, she was stubborn, independent and refused to settle into the traditional life of marriage and motherhood. When she emigrated to the United States in 1885, she continued to live in the same manner that she lived in Europe. Depending on whom one spoke to, she was either a hero standing up to injustice or a troublemaker. She died in 1940, after years of exile and still fighting against governments that would keep the little person down.

In my experience, there are two types of biographies. The first type attracts a general reader who is looking to expand their mind. The second type attracts a reader who is interested in that topic/subject or is using the book to reach an academic goal. This book falls into the second category.

It was not the worst biography that I’ve read. However, I felt like this book is the type of book that would be assigned reading in an academic setting as a posed to a book to read just for readings sake.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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The Yellow House Book Review

A house is more than the materials that were used to build the home. It is a place of comfort, love and a shelter from the storms that life can bring.

Sarah Broom is the youngest child of a large African-American family from New Orleans. Her new memoir, The Yellow House, is the story of her family and the house that they resided in from 1961 until 2005 when it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Her parents, Simon and Ivory Mae Broom, each had several children of their own from previous marriages when they married. Sarah is child number twelve. After her father’s death when she was an infant, her mother was determined to keep her home and her family together. As an adult, Sarah moved away from her home city, but it kept calling her back, even after her childhood home was no more.

I loved this book. In telling her family’s story and the story of the house that she grew up in, the author speaks to all of us. It is a story of a family, a story of a home and a story of a city.

I also appreciated that the reader is introduced to a part of New Orleans that most of us only knew because of the hurricane. When we visit a city, the natural inclination is to go to the standard tourist spots. We don’t think of visiting the neighborhoods that are not listed in the tourism books or the fliers found in the hotels.

I recommend it.

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The Bluest Eye Book Review

We all want to fit in. We all want to be loved, to be appreciated, to be accepted. But sometimes, as much as we wish it to happen, it may never happen.

The late Toni Morrison‘s debut novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The main character in the book is Pecola Breedlove, a young African-American girl growing up in the 1930s and 1940s. Because of her complexion and the way that the rest of the world sees her, Pecola wants to be White. She wants to have blonde hair, blue eyes and fit in with the world around her.

As her wish becomes more fervent, her life begins to fall apart in ways that most, if not all of us, would find troubling.

If this book is not a mirror to our reality, I don’t know what is. Issues of race, class, and questions of who is considered to be beautiful bounce around this book like a painful ping pong ball. It is, I think, a necessary read because we are still wrestling with the same issues today that the characters are wrestling with decades ago.

I recommend it.

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Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era Book Review

When you get to a certain age, your friends become your family. For ten years, the television show Friends reflected that time in our lives.

Back in September, pop culture historian Saul Austerlitz published his latest book, Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era. The book takes readers and fans behind the scenes from the conception of the show to height of its popularity and ends by reflecting on it’s legacy as a modern American sitcom. Containing interviews with the cast, the creative team and the crew, this book is one that Friends fans will want to read.

This book is well written. However, it is not for the casual Friends fan or someone who only knows of the show in passing. This book is for the superfan who has seen every episode, can quote every line and knows everything that there is to know about this program.

I would like to say that I loved this book. But I can’t. I felt like there were moments that the author was only writing for the superfan. As a casual fan, I felt like the author was not writing to or for me, which nearly led me to put the book down without finishing it.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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Journeys: An American Story Book Review

The story of America is the story of immigration. It is also the story of those who oppose immigration.

Journeys: An American Story, was published last year. Edited by Andrew Tisch and Mary Skafidas, the book is a compilation of immigrant stories. The stories of immigration range from the earliest days of the United States to the present. Those interviewed can trace their families to every part of the globe and range from the well known to the average person on the street.

I enjoyed reading this book. I live in a country and a world that looks down on immigrants, especially those fleeing poverty and persecution. If nothing else, this book reaffirms the idea that instead of punishing immigrants or forcing them out, we should welcome them with open arms. If we prevent them from coming, we may never know what their descendants may accomplish.

I recommend it.

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Cilka’s Journey Book Review

For untold generations, women have been told that our beauty is our only asset. But during war, using our looks may mean the difference between life and death.

Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris is a follow up to her previous novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Based on a true story, Cecilia “Cilka” Klein is just sixteen when she was transported to Auschwitz from her home in Czechoslovakia. She is saved from the gas chambers by her looks and is forced to become a sexual slave. When the war is over, Cilka looks forward to freedom.

Instead, she is accused of willfully sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian work camp. The conditions in the gulag are similar to those in Auschwitz. But there is one difference: the kindness of a female doctor. This doctor gives Cilka the opportunity to work in the camp hospital. This job helps to bring Cilka back to life and show her that love is still possible.

When we talk about the Holocaust and World War II, the subject of sexual assault and #Metoo is a subject that does not come up very often. But I think it is a topic that we should be discussing, especially given our current political and cultural climate.

From a very young age, women are socialized to the idea that their main asset (if not their only asset) is their beauty. But we are also penalized when we use our looks to get by. From the instant we meet her, Cilka is a character that I admired and I wanted to hug. Many would have not lasted as long as she did in the same set of circumstances. But Cilka did and for that alone, she deserves as much recognition as she can get.

I recommend it.

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She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement Book Review

Throughout history, there has been an obvious power imbalance between men and women. Especially when it came to sex.

When the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in 2017, it forever changed the way that rape and sexual assault are viewed. But bringing that story to the front page was not easy. In the new book, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, New York Times writers Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey recount the months long and difficult process of bringing this story to the public.

For decades, there were whispers within Hollywood about producer Harvey Weinstein. But as soon as reports surfaced of allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault, they were put down as mere rumor. That is until Kantor and Twohey started digging. That digging opened a Pandora’s box of truth, lies and the people who would do almost anything to close that box again.

This book reads like a fictional thriller instead of a real story. It is a heart pounding roller coaster ride until the very end of the book. We know how the story ends, but there were so many blockages for Kantor and Twohey that I started to wonder if justice would finally prevail. When I finally finished the book, I was relieved that Weinstein was finally getting what was coming to him.

The thing that strikes me about this book and this story is that it is universal among women. The women who come forward in this book tell the same story, with minor details changed for their specific narrative. They range from Hollywood A-listers to fast food workers to teenage girls assaulted by their drunk male classmates. If nothing else, I think that this book and others of this nature are a starting point for a conversation that is more than overdue.

I absolutely recommend it.

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