Category Archives: Books

It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree Book Review

Genealogy, to me, is very interesting. While most of the focus of genealogy is our individual family trees, it also speaks of the large family tree that is the human race.

A.J. Jacob’s new book, It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree, is not just about his three-year journey to put together his own family tree. It is also about finding distant cousins that he would have never even considered previously (a former US President, well-known performers) and the fact that underneath the labels of race, family origin, etc, we are one big human family.

The story was absolutely fascinating.  It is fascinating because he discovered what many in the genealogy community only dream of discovering. Most of us can only go back four or five generations, if we are lucky. But the fact that Mr. Jacobs was able to make familial connections with strangers and go back as far as he did is amazing to me.

I recommend it.

 

 

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Thoughts On The 200th Anniversary Of Persuasion

No one goes through life without making mistakes or having regrets. It is part of being human.

200 years after, Jane Austen‘s final completed book, Persuasion, was published posthumously with Northanger Abbey, the first novel she completed.

It’s been nearly a decade since Anne Elliot saw Frederick Wentworth, her former fiance. At the time, Anne was 19 and living with her sisters and her emotionally bankrupt, but spendthrift aristocratic father. Frederick was a penniless sailor, not exactly an appropriate match for a daughter of the aristocracy.  Lady Russell, who was a close friend to Anne’s late mother and acts as a mother figure to Anne and her sisters, convinces Anne to break off the engagement. Anne does as advised.

Cut to the present time. Anne’s father has bankrupted the family and they must leave their ancestral home, Kellynch Hall, for more financially feasible lodgings in Bath. Before going to Bath with her father and sister, Anne spends some time with her married younger sister, Mary. Among the visitors to Mary’s home are the Admiral and Mrs. Croft, who have signed the lease on Kellynch Hall. Frederick Wentworth is Mrs. Croft’s brother, he too is welcomed into Mary’s home. The tension between Anne and Fredrick is palpable. Can their relationship be repaired and move forward or will they both be stuck in the past?

Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel. Not just because of the maturity of Austen’s voice as a writer, but also because the narrative contains a maturity that did not exist in her previous novels.  Their breakup weights heavily on the mind of both lead characters and colors how they see themselves and their world for most of the novel. That breakup and that unspoken anger/grief feels very modern, even though the book was published 200 years ago.  Austen was writing this novel at the very end of her life. It almost feels like she was using this novel as a way of exploring her own regrets, especially when it came to the question of how her life had turned out, had she made a different set of decisions.

Persuasion is beautiful, heartbreaking, romantic and simply one of the best books ever written. If you have not read this book, do yourself a favor and read it. I promise you that you will not be disappointed.

 

 

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Lies Jane Austen Told Me Book Review

On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss Jane Austen’s novels as just another series of romance novels. The key with Austen is to look deeper, to find the subtle and subversive message that Austen has left for her readers, if they know where to look.

In Lies Jane Austen Told Me, by Julie Wright, Emma Pierce thinks she has it all. A solid career and a boyfriend named Blake who is about to propose. But the proposal does not go as Emma though it would. Heartbroken and angry, Emma throws herself into work. Then Emma finds out that her boss is hiring Blake’s brother Lucas as a consultant.

Emma is determined to keep the relationship as professional as possible, but Lucas is the polar opposite of his brother. He also has his own secrets.  Emma will learn that romance and relationships are as complicated in real life as they are on the page. Can she create her own happy ending from the chaos that is her life?

There are two types of modern fiction writers who use Austen’s characters and narratives for the backbone of their novels. One type of writer only skims the surface without truly understanding what Austen was writing about. The other type of writer not only understands Austen, but finds a way to integrate her work into their own without making the reader feel like there is a disconnect. The problem with this book is that Ms. Wright is the first type of writer.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

 

 

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Thug Notes-Emma

*The videos below contain spoilers. Read and watch at your own risk if you have not read the books or watched any of the dramatizations. 

One of my favorite things about Jane Austen’s novels is that her narratives and characters are universal. Despite being set in a specific time and place, it doesn’t take much to grasp the worlds she created in her books.

One of the more unique examinations of classic literature is the video series Thug Notes. Their latest video is an examination of Emma.

The thing that I take away every time I see one of these videos is that I am reminded why certain books are still read and cherished. These videos are also very funny, illuminating and well worth watching.

P.S. if you liked the video above, you should check out their Jane Eyre and Pride And Prejudice videos.

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Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus Book Review

A circus is supposed to be entertaining. The political arena, especially when it comes to Presidential elections is not entertaining.

Earlier this year, writer Matt Taibbi published Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus. Following the 2016 Presidential election from the moment that the candidates announced that they were running up until the moment that the election was called in favor or Donald Trump, Mr. Taibbi is writing on the moment, real-time essays about the mess, the chaos and yes, the circus like atmosphere that was the 2016 election.

While this book is sarcastic and funny, it is also quite scary. It is scary because it shows how far we, as a country, are from the political and social ideals that are cornerstone of our democracy.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

 

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The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

A Christmas Carol is the progenitor of every Christmas story has been published since 1843.  The Charles Dickens novel has not only become synonymous with the holiday, but also with the idea of being kind to our fellow mortals.

The new film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, stars Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens. With the recent success of Oliver Twist,  Dickens is under pressure to write his next novel. But with the creative well running dry and his bank account running equally as dry, he has to do something. Soon the idea for his next novel will start flowing, but so will the tension with his wife, Kate  (Morfydd Clark) and his father, John (Jonathan Price). He must also contend with the characters that are talking to him, including the man who will soon be known to the world as Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and face his own past.

 

As a writer, it is always fascinating to see how other writers go on their creative journey to create their work. As an audience member, for me at least, it is fascinating to watch how a screenwriter can expand not just upon the myth, but on the everyday human struggles of their characters, especially ones that are as well known as Charles Dickens.

I recommend it.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is presently in theaters. 

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Flashback Friday-Tamara Drewe (2010)

Returning to our childhood homes can either be a heartwarming or traumatic.

In the 2010 movie Tamara Drewe, the title character played by Gemma Arterton returns to her childhood home in the English countryside to sell her family farm after the death of her mother. It should be a simple affair, but it proves to be more complicated, especially when her neighbors get involved in the process. Tamara also has three men vying for her affection: Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) who has nursed a crush on her for years, Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam), who is older, married and unfaithful to his wife and Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), the drummer of a popular rock band.

Loosely based on the Thomas Hardy novel, Far From The Maddening Crowd, this movie is an interesting reboot of the source material. The thread that ties the narrative in the movie and the narrative in the book together is not only the question of how we would like to live our lives, but who we potentially spend our lives with.

I recommend it.

 

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Growing Up Fisher: Musings, Memories, and Misadventures Book Review

A celebrity autobiography is a funny thing. It is part confessional, part life story and part point of view that can only be told uniquely by the celebrity who is writing the book.

Joely Fisher is the daughter of Connie Stevens and the late Eddie Fisher, in addition to being the half-sister of the late Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher. Recently, she has published an autobiography entitled, Growing Up Fisher: Musings, Memories, and Misadventures. Written candidly and openly, Ms. Fisher talks about what it was like to grow up in a famous Hollywood family and how that experience shaped her career and her adult life. She also writes about her sister, as only a devoted and loving family member can.

I really loved this book. I loved it because Ms. Fisher is not afraid to reveal her faults and her missteps. She is also talks about what is to be the daughter of Hollywood and how it affects how one’s view the world.

I recommend it.

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Hunted Book Review

On the surface, fairy tales seem like frothy, predictable stories. But underneath that froth and predictable narrative, are lessons about life that can stay with us, even when we grow up and grow out of fairy tales.

Meagan Spooner’s novel, Hunted, is an adaptation of Beauty And The Beast. It starts out with the traditional telling of the story. The Beauty in this story is Yeva, the youngest daughter of a wealthy merchant. When her father’s business goes under, Yeva and her family must downsize. But this is where Ms. Spooner takes the story in a new direction. Yeva is a hunter, like her father. He is the only one who has come close to killing the mythical Beast that lives in the forest.

Then her father goes missing. Yeva has a choice: marry her wealthy suitor and return her family to the life of luxury they knew or find and kill the Beast that Yeva presumes has killed her father. Instead of taking the easy way out, Yeva hunts the Beast and unfortunately becomes his prisoner. While she is imprisoned in his castle, she will learn not only a few things about her captor, but about the fairy tales she was told as a child.

While every genre has its standard plot points, the author not only hits the plot points, but takes the reader in unexpected places.  There is so much emotional depth to the characters and the narrative, in addition to the magic and the mythology, that I felt like I was reading Beauty And The Beast for the first time. I also appreciated that Yeva is a strong female character who is not just a bad ass, but is also complex, interesting and human.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America Book Review

America woke up on November 9th, 2016. When Donald Trump won the Presidential election, it was a shock to us all. It was a reminder that freedom and democracy must be fought for. We cannot sit back and hope we will wake up tomorrow with the same rights as we did today.

The new book Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America, edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding  is a collection of essays by prominent female journalists and activists who are using their voices and their podiums to speak of the wrongs that Trump is doing to America and her citizens. The list of contributors the book include Rebecca Solnit, Cheryl Strayed and Nicole Chung.

I loved this book. The contributors all write about a variety of experiences, but their message is the same. We have to resist, there is no other choice in matter. If we don’t, our children and grandchildren will ask us questions we will be able to answer.

I absolutely recommend it.

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