Category Archives: Books

Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I’ve Played Book Review

The relationship with our parents is not always black and white. We love them, we respect them, and we are grateful for what they have given us. But we can also be plagued by their flaws and what we wished we had received from them as children.

Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I’ve Played, written by the iconic Broadway performer Tovah Feldshuh, was released last month. In the book, Ms. Feldshuh talks about her life and career while detailing the sometimes difficult relationship, she had with her late mother, Lily. Born in the Bronx and raised in Westchester town of Scarsdale, she lived the comfortable life of a young lady growing up in the middle class in the 1950’s.

Trying to live up to the ideals that her mother believed in, Tovah never quite received the emotional support she craved. It was only years later after her father had died that mother and daughter finally had the connection that did not exist in Tovah’s childhood. Balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, she finally understood Lily in a way that only occurs in adulthood.

This is easily one of the best books of 2021. It’s heartfelt, its humorous, and authentic. Though the details are specific to her life, it could easily be the story of any complicated parent/child relationship. What I took from the book is that it is possible to move beyond the unspoken words between us and our parents. It would have not been unexpected to slide into CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect). But the fact that they were able to not only get along, but understand each other, is a testament that it can be done.

I had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Feldshuh play Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony years ago. It was one of the most powerful and enduring performances I have ever seen on stage.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Mental Health, New York City

Exile Music: A Novel Book Review

Childhood should be a time of love, laughter, friendship, and innocence. But for some children, their early years are far from ideal.

Exile Music: A Novel, by Jennifer Steil, was published this month. Growing up in Vienna in the 1930’s, Orly lives a comfortable life. Her parents are professional musicians and her older brother is well regarded by the neighborhood. When she is not with her family, Orly spends her free time with her best friend, Anneliese. In 1938, her world is shattered by the Nazi invasion and the racial laws that quickly begin to restrict Jewish life.

After her brother flees to Switzerland, Orly and her parents are among the lucky few who find refuge in Bolivia. Settling in La Paz, they are strangers in a strange land. While Orly and her father make due, her mother is not quite ready to give up what they lost. She is also keeping a secret that if got out, could cause trouble. Decades later, when Anneliese comes back into her life, Orly has to make a choice. Does she stay in Bolivia with her family or return to Europe and pick up where she and Anneliese left off?

I really enjoyed reading this book. Orly is relatable character. Her voice and growth throughout the novel felt organic and true to the various stages of life that we go through as we grow up. I also appreciated the undercurrent of the LGBTQ storyline. Instead of feeling forced to make the book stand out, Steil includes in a way that gives her main character a layer and an extra oomph that is not often seen in this genre and this period in history.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Happy Mother’s Day

This is for my mother and all the mothers out there. Happy Mother’s Day!

“My Mother: She is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.”-Jodi Picoult

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Recipe for a Perfect Wife: A Novel Book Review

For generations, the suburbs has been an ideal place to live. But as perfect as they may appear to be, no one can be predict what happens when the doors to the neighbors houses are closed.

Karma Brown‘s 2018 book, Recipe for a Perfect Wife: A Novel, takes place in the northern suburbs of New York City. The book follows two different women in two different time periods. In our time, Alice Hale worked in public relations before leaving the city and her career for a new life as a home owner and a writer. While her husband is at work, Alice has to get used to her new surroundings. While going down to the basement, she discovers old magazines, recipes, and a series of unsent letters written by a previous owner. In the 1950’s, Nellie Murdoch was a housewife who was living the dream. To the outside world, Nellie’s life is faultless. But if one were to step inside the Murdoch home, they would see that her marriage is not all sunshine and roses.

As she learns about Nellie, Alice begins to explore her own life and question her choices.

Brown is not the first author and will certainly never be the last one who uses this type of narrative. The book is not badly written. Far from it, the narrative is captivating and the characters fit well into the world. But it is missing a certain something that makes it stand out.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy Book Review

When the first Star Wars movie, Episode 4: A New Hope premiered in 1977, there was just one prominent woman: Princess Leia (the late Carrie Fisher). Over the last 44 years, the Star Wars universe grew in ways that I guess was unexpected in the late 1970’s. That growth includes a group of female characters who are just as badass and important to the narrative as Leia was then and still is today.

In 2018, Amy Ratcliffe published Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy. This book tells the stories of a variety of female characters that are not always obvious to the fanbase. While some of the obvious names on the list other than Leia are Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), it contains what can only be described as a conclusive inventory of women within that world.

Ratcliffe leaves no stone unturned when it came to the women who are profiled in the book. Sith, Jedi, human, non-human, etc, are all given the spotlight. The artwork is beautiful and worth framing by itself.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, Movies, Star Wars

Real American Book Review

The term “real American” is both simple and complicated. The simple definition is a person who was born in this country or has forsaken their country of birth and has chosen to become an American. The complicated definition is plagued by historical, political, and/or cultural images of who is a “real American”.

Julie Lythcott-Haims is the daughter of an African-American father and a white English mother. Her 2018 memoir, Real American, is about growing up bi-racial in the United States. In the book, she talks about how racism has affected her life and her self esteem.

This book is very good and very tough to read. The pain and anger of dealing with racism on a daily basis is immediate from the word go. I could feel it radiating from the page. If I could have, I would have directly apologized to her not just for my own innate prejudices, but for what the image of person of color is to the outside world. If nothing else, the author is challenging her readers to take a hard look at themselves and how they have been taught to look at some people deemed as “the other”.

I also appreciated the unique format of the text. Though it may seem a little out of the box, it fits in well with the message.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Room on Rue Amelie Book Review

When we make a choice, we never know what the consequences of that decision will be. We can only hope that it will turn out for the best.

In Kristin Harmel‘s 2018 book, The Room on Rue Amelie, Ruby is a young woman in the late 1930’s. Attending college in New York City, she meets and instantly falls in love with Marcel, a Frenchman from Paris. After the wedding, they move to Marcel’s hometown. At first it seems as they are in newlywedded bliss. But then World War II starts and their marriage is forever altered. The man she married and the man who stands in front of her are two different people.

After he is killed, Ruby discovers that her husband was part of the resistance. Picking up where he left off, she hides Allied soldiers who have landed in enemy territory. One of them is a RAF pilot who Ruby immediately connects with. She also takes in Charlotte, the young daughter of her Jewish neighbors who have been arrested. As the war continues on, the level of danger grows tenfold. They know they want to survive, but fate may have other plans.

I really enjoyed this book. Harmel’s story of love, resistance, fate, and hope is emotional and powerful. The relationship that kept me going was the one between Ruby and Charlotte. Their sisterly bond was the strongest among the characters, keeping them both going in a time when their circumstances could have easily broken them.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Being Mr. Wickham Review

Charm has its uses. It can get us places that being curt or direct cannot.

The new play, Being Mr. Wickham premiered worldwide (via the internet) this past weekend at the Theatre Royal St. Edmunds Bury in the UK. In this one hour, one man play, Adrian Lukis brings his 1995 Pride and Prejudice character, Mr. Wickham back to life. It’s been 35 years since the book ended. Wickham is now 60 and contemplating how his life has turned out. His marriage to Lydia Bennet is still somehow thriving after what looked to be a rocky start. Sitting in his library and enjoying a brandy while his wife sleeps upstairs, Wickham tells his story as only Wickham can.

This play is such a treat for Austen fans. Though it has been 26 years since Lukis played Wickham, it feels like no time has passed at all. He is still the charming, smooth talking rogue that he was in his youth. But age and experience has mellowed him out a bit. Co-written by Catherine Curzon and directed by Guy Unsworth, it is an intimate look at one of the most infamous characters in classic 19th century literature.  I feel like wherever she is, Austen would approve. It is fanfiction of her work in the best sense of the word.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Books, Broadway Play Review, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Review

*Warning: the post contains spoilers about the end of the third season. Read at your own risk if you are still catching up.

The anticipated release of a new season of a favorite television series is both exciting and nerve wracking. It has to build on the narrative of the previous seasons while opening the door to wherever the new season may go.

The 4th season of The Handmaid’s Tale premiered on Wednesday on Hulu.

The first episode starts off right where the 3rd season ended. The plane full of women and children has safely landed in Canada. In Gilead, the repercussions of June/Offred’s (Elisabeth Moss) rebellion have created a ripple effect. She has become a Moses like figure to the fugitive handmaids who are desperate for freedom. The authorities in Gilead have a different take on her actions and have deemed her to be enemy #1.

In Canada, Commander and Serena Joy Waterford (Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski) are in the custody of the government and bickering. Meanwhile, June/Offred’s husband, Luke Bankhole (O-T Fagbenle) and her friends who are refugees, are dealing with the consequences of her actions from another angle.

So far, the first three episodes are fantastic. It is dark, gripping, and completely intoxicating. Next Wednesday and episode 4 cannot come soon enough.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Handmaid’s Tale is available for streaming on Hulu. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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Filed under Books, Feminism, Hulu, Television, TV Review

The Parting Glass Book Review

Within an upper-class or aristocratic household, the relationship between a member of the family and their valet or lady’s maid is a unique one. Though they are employer and employee, there is an emotional and physical bond that has the potential to go beyond the traditional bounds of the relationship.

The Parting Glass, by Gina Marie Guadagnino, was published in 2019. In the 1830s, in New York City, Mary Ballard’s job is that of lady’s maid to Charlotte Walden, one of the most sought-after young women in society. But Mary is not who she says she is. Her real name is Maire O’Farren. Maire is an Irish immigrant who was forced to leave her homeland after being caught in a compromising position. On her nights off, she frequents the unseemly parts of the city, where she gets involved with a prostitute and drinks with friends who are part of an underground society.

Maire/Mary is caught in a bind. She is in love with her mistress, who is having an affair with Maire/Mary’s brother. When the shit hits the fan, she has a choice to make, which has the potential to result in heartbreak.

Starts at 13:22

I have mixed feelings about this book. I love the concept of the narrative, blending a traditional historical novel with an LGBTQ protagonist and the reality of what it was to be an Irish immigrant during that time period. Though the middle of the story lags at moments, the ending is fantastic, and the details are nothing short of perfection.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

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