Category Archives: Book Review

The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power Book Review

Progress does not come out of mere wishing and praying. It requires us to step up, take a risk and do something that probably scares the sh*t out of us.

The Women of the 116th Congress was published back in October. With a forward by Roxane Gay, and photographs by Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman, the book is nothing short of history making. To be fair, the 2018 midterm elections was history making in itself. Between the House of Representatives and the Senate, 131 women were sworn in. It is the largest number of women in the halls of power in American history. Each woman is photographed and given a brief opportunity to speak directly to reader.

If I had to sum up this book, it would be via a quote from the late Martha Wright Griffths.

“All I want to be is human and American and have the same rights and I will shut up.”

I loved this book. It was a reminder of how far American women have come, but also how far we have to go. This generation of American women stand on the shoulders of women who paved the way for us to succeed. If our daughters and granddaughters are to do the same, it is now up to us to pave the way for their future success.

I absolutely recommend it.

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I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture Book Review

The image of a “geek” is not particularly attractive. He or she is socially awkward, has a limited social life or none at all and is known for being a fan of something that is not “cool”.

Writer A.D. Jameson is looking to change that image. In his 2018 book, I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture, Mr. Jameson explores how so called “geek culture” has expanded to general pop culture. Using examples from Star Wars, Star Trek, the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, etc, the author talks about geek culture is not only accepted, it has become cool to let your geek flag fly.

I loved this book, it is brilliant. From one geek to another, Mr. Jameson talks about geek culture as only an insider can. One of the points he brings up (which many do not) is that movie/television studios and companies that make the accompanying paraphernalia is they think that fans are blindly loyal. Slap the name of the movie or the television show on anything and we will hand over our money. It is one of several misconceptions that Mr. Jameson brilliantly discusses.

I recommend it.

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The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern Book Review

History is made in small moments. When we are in that moment, we cannot see how things are changing. We can only see how things have changed when we step back and are able to see the big picture.

Earlier this year, Professor Robert Morrison published his new book, The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern. In the book, Professor Morrison explains how the Regency era was the beginning of the political, cultural and religious shift that would later create modern Britain.

Using noted figures of the period such as writer Jane Austen, aristocrat, poet, and politician Lord Byron and French statesman Napoleon Bonaparte, Professor Morrison deconstructs the period and changes that would forever affect Britain as we know it to be today.

I liked this book. It was a deep dive into a period that I thought I knew a lot about. I was wrong. This book took me into the intricacies and details of the Regency era that would only be known to someone who lived in that time or a modern historian who had done their homework.

I will say, however, that this book is not for everyone. It is for someone like me who wants to know more about the period outside of the novels of the era. Or, it can be used for academic purposes. But it does not read like a dry college textbook. Professor Morrison writes in such a way that the reader is quickly absorbed and taught about the Regency era without feeling like they are in a lecture hall.

I recommend it.

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A Beginner's Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death Book Review

There are two things in life that are guaranteed: death and taxes. Everything else is up in the air.

While death itself is simply explained, everything else around is difficult. A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, by BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger, takes away that difficulty. The book is a step by step process of dealing with death. From the legal and financial paperwork to dealing with the healthcare system, preparing for the funeral and the grief that follows, the book is the complete guide for dealing with death.

I originally picked up this book because as someone who lives with depression, I wanted to get another perspective on illness and death. What I got instead was a book that is tremendously helpful. As my generation gets older and our parents reach the age in which their health comes into question, we will need to deal with issues we have not dealt with before.

While this book cannot completely help with the emotional aspects of this topic, it can help with the legal, medical and logistical aspects that make illness and death just a little easier to cope with.

I recommend it.

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The Mother of the Brontes: When Maria Met Patrick Book Review

It is said that opposites attract. It can also be said that one can learn a lot about a person by knowing who and where they come from.

At first glance, the marriage between Maria Branwell, a gentlewoman from Penzance and Patrick Bronte, a fiery and poor clergyman from Ireland seemed like a mismatch. But if one were to look closer, one would see a marriage seemed almost ideal.

Sharon Wright’s new book, The Mother of the Brontes: When Maria Met Patrick, is the story of the marriage of Maria Branwell and Patrick Bronte. Maria was born in Penzance in 1783 to a prosperous family. Patrick was born in 1777 to a large and poor family in Ireland. Their courtship and marriage in 1812 to some might seem a bit impetuous. By the time she died in 1821, Maria brought six children into the world. Three daughters and a son, Branwell lived to adulthood. Her daughters, Charlotte, Anne, and Emily are revered today as some of the greatest writers of all time.

I loved this book. I loved it because it gave Maria the spotlight she rightly deserves. When we talk about the Brontes, their mother is often a footnote or a line or two. She is rarely given her due as a mother ought to receive. In bringing Maria’s story to life, the reader gains a greater perspective on her daughters and the literary worlds they created.

My only warning is that this book is not for the casual Bronte fan or the average reader looking for another book to read. It is for a reader who is well versed in the Brontes and their books.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Filed under Anne Bronte, Book Review, Books, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, History, Writing

How to Fight Anti-Semitism Book Review

When one has a problem and wants to deal with it, the first step to admit that you have a problem. But one first had to admit that they have a problem, which more often than not is the hardest step.

70+ years after World War II and the Holocaust, the number of antisemitic acts is rising to records that has not been seen in decades.

Earlier this year, journalist Bari Weiss published her new book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism. The book opens with the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Ms. Weiss’s hometown. The main focus of this book is that up until recently, American Jews have felt safe. We live in a nation that guarantees our rights as citizens, that allows us to openly practice our faith. That facade of safety is crumbling to reveal the ugliness of hatred and antisemitism.

Ms. Weiss hits the nail on the head. Not only does she go into detail about antisemitism in history, she also talks about how antisemitism has infiltrated American politics. Not just on the right, as one might assume, but on the left as well.

She forces the reader, regardless of faith or family background, to not look away from the darkness of antisemitism. By looking directly at the darkness, the reader is challenged to fight against antisemitism and ensure that all of us are treated respectfully.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Marriage of a Thousand Lies Book Review

Living a double life is not easy. But there comes a point in which the person must choose: do they continue to live that double life or be themselves?

In SJ Sindu’s 2018 debut novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, Lucky and her husband Krishna are living a double life. On the surface, they fit right in with their conservative Sri Lankan American community. They appear to be a traditional heterosexual married couple. But appearances are deceiving.

Both Lucky and Krishna are gay. Keeping up appearances as a straight married couple allows them to date on the side without making waves. When Lucky’s grandmother’s health takes a turn for the worst, she is forced to return to her family. She also reconnects with Nisha, her childhood best friend, and former lover.

Nisha has agreed to marry a man that she has never met. Both women are at a crossroads. They can start a new life together or continue to live with the lies that have been their comfortable companion since they were young.

I loved this book. The characters felt real and universal. Lucky is an outsider, as both a gay woman and a woman of color. It is that outsider-ness that gives the novel the narrative thrust and sucks the reader in immediately. Great novels are great because the characters have a universal quality to them. As a reader, I felt like I understood Lucky, Nisha and the conundrum they both faced.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught In Between Book Review

War has a way of bringing out both the best and the worst in people.

The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught In Between, by Michael Dobbs, was published earlier this year. It tells the story of the Jewish residents of Kippenheim, a small town in South Germany. Before World War II, it was a pleasant place to live. The Jewish and non-Jewish residents found a way to co-exist peacefully. That is, until 1940.

In the fall of 1940, the Jews of Kippenheim were forced to leave their homes and live in a camp in France. They knew that their only way out was to emigrate. But the world was closing its door to the Jews of Europe. The odds of getting out of Europe were slim at best. No one knew what was coming, but they knew that their lives were in danger.

This book is amazing. Meticulously researched and written, the book does not read like a college textbook. Using letters, interviews and diaries, the author takes the reader on a journey that can only be described as unsettling. Reading like a novel, the author slowly reveals the fate of the book’s subjects.

I recommend it.

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Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators Book Review

When the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in 2017, it did not break out of thin air. Getting the story to the public took time, effort and going against powerful people who would do almost anything to keep the story out of the news.

Ronan Farrow was one of those reporters. In his new book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, Farrow walks the reader through the process of reporting the story of the Weinstein scandal and the major barriers that were in his way. Back in 2017, Farrow was working for NBC. What started out as a routine investigation blew up into a news story that revealed a dark side of our culture that few were willing and/or able to expose.

Though this book is non-fiction, it reads like a spy thriller. The scary thing about this book goes well beyond what Weinstein did. The scary thing is that he had accomplishes who actively helped to bury the story. To my eyes, it says that men like Weinstein still hold all of the cards. The women he attacked and intimidated are powerless.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. There are good people in this world, like Ronan Farrow, who despite the challenges, are willing to stand up for what is right.

If only there were more like him.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman Book Review

No matter how old we are, we still want our parent’s love and affection. But what happens we have to make a choice between our parent’s love and our authentic selves?

The new book, Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman, is a memoir written by Abby Chava Stein. Abby was born a boy, the eldest son of a large Hasidic Jewish family in New York City. A direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the expectations on her shoulders as a child were clear. She would follow in the personal and professional path of those who came before her.

But something inside of her said that she was different. In her 20’s, after marrying and having a child, Abby knew that it was time to be herself. Even if that meant being estranged from the family and the community that she grew up in.

I loved this book because the author lays it all on the page. It is an honest, heartfelt, sometimes painful memoir of a time in her life when she was living as two different people. Though Ms. Stein comes from a specific community with a specific faith, her story is universal. There are many of us in this world who live two lives. We know at some point, we must come out of the closet, in whatever form that takes.

If she can do it, so can the rest of us.

I recommend it.

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