Category Archives: Books

A Life of My Own Book Review

Writing about your own life requires introspection, honesty and the ability to examine what you have or have not accomplished.

Claire Tomalin is known as the author of quite a few successful biographies. Her new book, A Life of My Own, is her autobiography. Born in 1933 to a French academic father and an English musician mother, Tomalin used books and reading as an escape hatch from her tumultuous and painful life. As a child, she watched as her parent’s marriage crumble.

In her adult years, her own marriage was far from picture perfect. Her late first husband was not exactly loyal to his wife or his vows. Her son was born disabled and she lost one of her daughters to suicide. But she was able to maintain a respected literary career and find love again, even after her disastrous first marriage.

I have to be honest. I love Ms. Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen. It is brilliant and as perfect as a biography can get. However, I found this book to be on the boring side. I should have been inspired by how she overcame what stood in her way. But I wasn’t.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Fix Her Up Book Review

Sometimes love and the right person is closer than we think.

Tessa Bailey’s new novel, Fix Her Up, is set in the small suburban community of Port Jefferson, New York. For most, if not all of her life, Georgie Castle has been looked down as the baby of her family. She has also nursed a crush on Travis Ford, her older brother’s best friend since junior high.

Georgie earns her living as a children’s entertainer and birthday clown. Travis was once the hottest thing in major league baseball since sliced bread, but a physical injury has put an end to his career. Post professional baseball, Travis’s life consists of alcohol, takeout and self pity. Then Georgie pushes her way in and forces Travis to get back on his feet.

They plan to pretend to date to shock her family and give some life back to his career. But this pretend dating turns into something more.

I can’t say that I loved this book. There are sections that, frankly added more to the narrative that was needed. However, the book also has moments that are funny, that are sexy and that are emotionally raw, elevating Travis and George above what is expected of lead characters in this genre.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

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The Bookish Life of Nina Hill Book Review

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls when we are least expecting or liking them.

Nina Hill is the titular character in the new Abbi Waxman novel, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Nina Hill is content with her life. The daughter of a single mother, Nina lives with her cat, works at a local bookstore and spends her free time at book clubs and pub quiz tournaments.

Then she is thrown for two loops. The first loop is that the father she never met dies and wants to bring her into his large extended family. The second loop is her attraction to Tom, a member of a rival quiz team.

I loved this book. I loved that I totally understood Nina’s perspective and why she reacts to the changes in her life. I also love that Ms. Waxman approaches mental health in a way teaches without preaching or standing on a soap box.

I absolutely recommend it.

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North and South Book Review

Love at first sight is cheesy, predictable and boring. Hate at first sight is fun, interesting and when done well, has the ability to suck a reader or viewer into the story.

Elizabeth Gaskell‘s 1854 novel, North and South, starts with the standard hate at first sight narrative with issues of politics, wealth and worker’s rights thrown in. Margaret Hale lives a comfortable life with her parents in the south of England. When her father is forced to leave the Church because of a disagreement with his bosses, the Hales move to Milton, a town in the north of England.

While Mr. Hale is employed as a tutor to the mill owner John Thornton, Margaret begins to explore. She is quickly disgusted by the poverty, the dirt, the grime and an obvious distinction between the mill owners and the mill workers. She is also disgusted by her father’s pupil, who she believes to be cold and emotionless.

Then Mr. Thornton proposes marriage. The battle of misunderstood messages, a polar opposite world view and the fight to hide their mutual attraction begins.

Though this book is set in the mold of Pride and Prejudice, Gaskell takes it to another level. She is telling the story of the working class in 19th century mill and factory communities that often seen and not heard in these kind of stories. I have seen the miniseries, but up until recently, I had not read the book. I loved the chemistry between the lead characters and the brilliant way that the author highlights the real issues of working class characters.

I recommend it.

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Carrie Book Review

Bullying in school is an age old experience. But few writers have used that as a basic narrative as Stephen King.

In his classic 1970’s novel, Carrie, Carrie White is having a teenage experience that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Socially awkward and quiet, she is bullied by her peers at school and by her ultra-religious mother at home. When she is humiliated at a school dance, her telekinetic powers come forward and all Hades breaks loose.

I have a confession to make: this is the first time that I have read Carrie. I have seen the movie adaptations, but I have yet to read the book. What I liked about this book is that King takes an unorthodox approach to the narrative. He tells Carrie’s story not just from her perspective, but also from the perspective of the wider community that is affected by her bullying.

I recommend it.

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The Song of the Jade Lily Book Review

Jane Austen once wrote the following about friendship:

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”

The new book, The Song of the Jade Lily, by Kirsty Manning is about the power of friendship during difficult times. The book is set in two different eras. In 1939 Shanghai, native born Li and Jewish refugee Romy are best friends. Like millions of others across the world, the girls are unaware that the coming war will forever change their lives and their friendship.

In 2016, Romy’s granddaughter Alexandra leaves London with a broken heart and takes refuge in her grandparent’s home in Australia. Her grandfather is dying and the secrets of her grandparent’s past are slowly being revealed.

After her grandfather passes away, Alexandra moves to Shanghai for work. But she is also curious to see if the city can reveal the secrets of her family’s past. What she discovers will finally reveal what has been kept locked away for decades.

This book is amazing. Ms. Manning tells the story of friendship that remains strong, even when war threatens to tear the friendship apart. She also tells the story of Shanghai, the only port that would take Jewish refugees who could not obtain visas. It is a narrative that in the overall Holocaust narrative, that does get the spotlight that it should.

I recommend it.

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The Jane Austen Society Book Review

Today, Jane Austen is everywhere. 200 years after her passing, she is one of those authors who is as popular as an author whose book is on the New York Times Best Seller list.

But it was not always this way. It is thanks to the original members of the Jane Austen Society that Jane Austen is alive and well in our culture.

Coming out next Spring, The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner tells the story of the founding of the Jane Austen Society. Just after World War II, Chawton, the village where Austen wrote and/or revised her six novels is a sleepy little English town. There is a trickle of visitors to Chawton House, the ancestral home of Jane’s older brother, Edward Austen Knight, but not enough to call it a tourist attraction.

Through their love of their local celebrity, the original members of the Jane Austen Society are able to preserve the memory of Austen’s name and work for generations to come.

I really liked this book. Though the characters are fiction, they embody why Jane Austen is still one of the most popular authors today. The characters in this book are all different, but what brings them together is the love of Austen and the beloved fictional worlds that she created.

I absolutely recommend it.

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America’s First Daughter Book Review

They say that history is written by the victors. They may also say that history is written by those who have access to the pen. For thousands of years, men have told their stories. It is only recently that women have been given the pen and the spotlight.

America’s First Daughter was published in 2016. In the book, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the story of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph, the eldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson. The book starts when Martha, known to her family as Patsy, is a young girl. After her mother’s death, Patsy becomes her father’s companion and confidant.

When her father named as the American minister to France, Patsy travels with her father. Compared to her Virginia home, Paris is another world entirely. Growing up within the world the of pre-revolution French aristocracy, Patsy becomes suspicious of Thomas’s relationship with Sally Hemmings. She also falls in love, but this love will not turn into marriage.

After Patsy returns home, she follows the prescribed path of marriage and motherhood. But her life will not be that of the average American woman of her day. It will not only shape the lives of her family, it will shape the lives of millions of Americans.

Based in on real life letters, this book tells the story of the early days of America from the female perspective. It is a perspective that in either fiction or non fiction, is not given the attention that it should receive. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is well written, well researched and worth the time it takes to read.

I recommend it.

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Home Again Book Review

Teenage love is supposed to be romantic, sweet and all together wonderful. But what happens when the real world sets in?

In Kristin Hannah’s 1996 novel, Home Again, Angel DeMarco appears to be on top of the world. A Hollywood superstar, Angel lives what can only be described as a very Hollywood life. Then reality crashes in with a heart condition that could kill him.

Madelaine Hillyard is assigned to be his cardiologist. Madelaine is a superstar in her field, but find it’s difficult to balance a hectic work schedule with raising her rebellious teenage daughter, Lina, as a single parent. Lina is desperate to find out who her father is and makes no bones about it.

Once upon a time, Angel and Madelaine were inseparable. When they are brought together again, they face a tough choice. Can they heal the wounds of the past and their broken hearts (physically and metaphorically) to live as had wished at one time?

Though the book is a little slower narrative wise than the other novels of Ms. Hannah that I have read, I absolutely loved it. The conflict and the drama was just enough to hook me without being either too over the top or too predictable.

I recommend it.

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After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years that Followed Book Review

History can be told in one of two ways. The first way is cold, hard facts written down in a neat and orderly timeline. The second way is to tell the stories of those who lived through history.

After the Fall New Yorkers Remember September 2011 and the Years That Followed was published days before the tenth anniversary of the attack. Edited by Mary Marshall Black, Peter Bearman, Catherine Ellis and Stephen Drury Smith, the book contains a series of interviews with a group of diverse New Yorkers who worked or lived near the Twin Towers in the fall of 2001.

I loved this book. Those of us above a certain age all have stories to tell about 9/11. But these stories are personal, hard hitting and may draw a few tears. I especially appreciated the interviews with the survivors who are Muslim-American or originally from South Asia. After the towers fell, it was all too easy to point the fingers at anyone who even remotely looked like those who were responsible for 9/11. It is much harder to separate those responsible from the average person of color who was just as affected by the attack as any American.

I absolutely recommend it.

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