Category Archives: Books

Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now Book Review

They say that hindsight is 2020. However, our past does not always define our future.

Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now, by Evan Osnos, was published last month.

This brief biography takes readers on a journey from President elect Joe Biden‘s early years to the his current life as the future 46th President of the United States. Osnos describes the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, both personally and professionally. His story is that of a man who has not only thrived in spite of everything that makes him human.

I really loved this book. I loved it because it tells Biden’s story in a way that is down to earth, readable, and sweetly brief. If nothing else, it is a reminder why America made the right choice.

I recommend it.

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Flashback Friday: Of Mice and Men (1992)

When a book is adapted into a movie, the results can be mixed. The best of these films brings the novel to life while remaining true to the original content.

In 1992, an adaptation of the John Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men hit theaters. Starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich, the movie follows two nomadic ranch workers in California looking for work during The Great Depression. George Milton (Sinise) is the brains of the outfit. Lennie Small (Malkovich) has a good heart, but he is not the brightest bulb in the box.

Directed by Sinise, this is one of the best book to film adaptations I have ever seen. It holds up to the source material while entertaining the movie-going audience.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Running on Empty Book Review

At a certain point in our lives, we come to the realization that our parents are not perfect. If we are lucky, they are loving, supportive, and provide the foundation that allows us to become happy, healthy, and productive adults. But that does not mean that our emotional needs as children were met.

Running on Empty, written by Drs. Jonice Webb and Christine Musello was published back in 2012. This self book explores how the specter of childhood emotions that have not been dealt with can grow into a shadow that can hold us back as adults. Using a number of examples, worksheets and practical advice, the authors are guiding readers to move beyond the unseen scars of their past.

I really loved this book. The authors are able to explain how CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) does not end when we are no longer children. They also empower their readers to examine and understand their childhood emotions and ultimately, overcome what is holding them back.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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I’m Willing to Give Modern Persuasion a Chance

Oscar Wilde once said the following:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

For two centuries, writers have tried to capture the magic in Jane Austen‘s novels. She is one of those authors whose writing seems easy to replicate. But, upon further inspection, the discovery often is that it is much more difficult than it seems to be.

Yesterday, the trailer for Modern Persuasion was released. It is basically the modern rom-com version of Persuasion. Playing the 21st century Anne Elliott and Captain Frederick Wentworth are Alicia Witt and Shane McRae.

I’m willing to give this movie a shot. However, two things immediately come to mind. The first is that the title feels incredibly lazy. It’s as if it was the working title for the first draft of the screenplay that the writers didn’t bother changing. It is possible to create a modern Jane Austen adaptation and be creative with the title.

The second is that based strictly on the trailer, it feels like the standard romantic comedy. Granted, the trailer is not the move in its entirety. But, the only initial connection so far that the film is based on an Austen novel is the mention of the Laconia (scroll down to the bottom of the page in the link for the reference).

Only time will tell if the film is a success or a failure. Either way, it will be a point of contention for the Janeite community for years to come.

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The Life Ahead Movie Review

Having an adult mentor or teacher when we are young is sometimes all that is needed to guide us to adulthood.

The new Netflix film, The Life Ahead (based on the book entitled The Life Before Us by Ugo Chiti and Romain Gary) premiered this weekend. In a small seaside town in Italy, Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren) is a Holocaust survivor and a retired prostitute. She earns her bread by taking care of the children of those who ply the same trade that she used to.

She meets Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), a young orphan boy who was born in Senegal. In the country illegally, he steals a pair of candlesticks from her in a market. When he is forced to apologize and return the stolen goods, Rosa reluctantly agrees to take him in. What starts as a forced relationship turns into mother/son bond that both Rosa and Momo learn to treasure.

Directed by Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti, this film is easily one of the best of 2020. Returning to the screen after a decade, Loren is nothing short of breath taking as Rosa. Her acting is superb and her character’s arc is perfection. Gueye is a young actor who based on this film alone, has the acting chops to hopefully have a long career ahead of him. What kept me watching was the slow reveal of what was beneath the emotional hard shell of the main characters.

I absolutely recommend it.

The Life Ahead is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump Book Review

The intelligence community is supposed to be non-partisan. Regardless of who is in office, their job is to protect the country. But like anything politically based these days, it is hard to be non-partisan.

Up until a few years ago, FBI agent Peter Strzok was just doing his job and minding his own business. Then you know who was elected and he was pulled into the whirlwind. Agent Strzok’s memoir, Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump, was published in September.

At the height of the 2016 Presidential election, the allegation of possible Russian interference and questions about the contents of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton‘s emails added to the growing tension. It was Agent Strzok’s job to investigate both. He concluded that not only had Russia helped you know who to win the election, their reach into the White House was deep. When his private conversations became public, he was fired after decades of service.

This is not one of the better books about the current state of American politics. Instead of just jumping into the meat of the book, he took his time. The problem is that while it was readable, I would have preferred to just jump into the climax of the narrative.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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RIP Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

It takes a special person to join the clergy of any religion. It is more than leading prayers and being the layperson at various stage of life events. That person has to be able to speak of that religion and its tenets in a way that connects to everyone, regardless of any specific faiths.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was one of those special people. Cancer took his life today.

I had the pleasure of seeing him speak in person a few years ago. It was nothing short of inspiring. It was just before the High Holidays. Those who have attended High Holidays services can attest that as important as those days are, they are quite frankly, difficult and not exactly fun. But they shouldn’t be fun.

Rabbi Sacks was able to explain in very simple terms the emotional and psychological importance of those days. I’ve been attending High Holiday services since I was very young. But that was the first time I was truly able to understand the meaning of the High Holidays.

He recently was a guest on the Unorthodox podcast. Though he was there to publicize his latest book, he also spoke about current events and how morality is as important as it ever was.

May his memory be a blessing. Z”L.

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Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda Book Review

Fans of Broadway musicals and students of Jewish history know the final scene of Fiddler on the Roof all too well. The Jewish residents of the fictional shtetl of Anatevka have been forced out of their homes by the local authorities. As they scatter to four winds, their fate is unknown. Presidential advisor Stephen Miller comes from this world. As do I and millions of Jews of Eastern European descent. But for any number of reasons, Miller has forgotten this history.

Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, written by journalist Jean Guerrero, was published in August. Miller grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in California. As a young man, his political beliefs began to swing to the extreme right, especially when it came to immigration. He was not shy about sharing his opinions, and like many with that perspective, couched his words in a way that would not immediately come off as racist.

After college, he went into politics, which ultimately led him to his current position working for you know who as a speechwriter and policymaker.

In my world, Miller would be described as a shanda (disgrace). As an American and a Jew, he has forgotten the traditions and the history that we carry with us. Without the United States, Miller’s family, like my family would have been part of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.

There is nothing wrong with regulating who can come into this country. But as I see it, his policies are a bridge too far. There were moments while reading this book that I was both outraged and disgusted. While it was a good book, it was a smack in the face that hate, prejudice, and xenophobia is still alive and well in America in 2020.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Anne with an E Review

For multiple generations of readers, Anne Shirley will always be one of their favorite literary leading ladies. The heroine of L.M. Montgomery‘s beloved novel Anne of Green Gables, Anne is a spirited young woman with a wild imagination and an open heart.

The Netflix reboot of the series, Anne with an E, ran for three reasons. Stepping into the hallowed shoes of the young Miss Shirley is Amybeth McNulty. Playing her adopted parents, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are Geraldine James and R.H. Thomson.

I only watched the first episode and I couldn’t help but smile. McNulty is the perfect young actress to play Anne. Her take on the character is everything we expect from Anne Shirley. James and Thomson as the unmarried, middle aged Cuthbert siblings are equally well cast. James is severe while Thomson is willing to give the newest member of their family a chance.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Anne with an E is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Rebecca Movie Review

Rebecca is one of those books that readers come back to time and again. There is a reason that Daphne du Maurier‘s novel of love, jealousy, and secrets is considered to be a classic.

The Netflix reboot starring Lily James, Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas premiered earlier in the week. The unnamed narrator and future Mrs. de Winter (James) is introduced as a paid companion to a wealthy woman who is eager is climb the social ladder. In Monte Carlo, she meets Maxim de Winter (Hammer). Maxim is a widower and the owner of Manderley, a sprawling estate on the English coast. Swept off her feet, she says yes to his marriage proposal.

But upon arrival at her new home, she discovers that all is not what it seems. Her husband’s deceased wife, Rebecca still haunts her former home. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Scott Thomas), takes pleasure in tormenting the new Mrs. de Winter via the memory of the previous Mrs. de Winter.

I wish I could say that I loved this adaptation. The truth is that it was not what it could have been. There is a certain something in the novel that raises the hair on the back of the neck. That feeling is missing from the movie. The other issue that I had is that as good an actor that Lily James is, she is not quite right for the part.

Her performance was stronger when her character began to realize the truth. As a viewer, I couldn’t wrap my head around her youth and naivete in the beginning of the story. Among the main actors, Kristin Scott Thomas was the best part of the film. She was both creepy and charming, if that combination is ever possible.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Rebecca is available for streaming on Netflix.

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