Category Archives: Books

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War Book Review

Books are more than words on a page. They can educate, inspire, and provide hope in a time when all seems lost.

The Syrian Civil War will be a decade old next year. As of 2015, 3.8 million Syrians found refuge outside of their home country. 380,000 souls have been lost since 2011. Once thriving cities and towns have been destroyed beyond recognition. And yet, those who stayed found light and life via books.

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War was published last month. Written by Delphine Minoui and translated by Lara Vergnaud, the book follows the conversations Minoui had with a group of resistance fighters who kept a secret library in Daraya during the war. As government forces pounded the city, these young men came upon a small library. Within a month, they created a sanctuary that contained 15,000 books. Containing literature of every genre and subject, they found a brief respite from the destruction that was their new normal. Speaking to journalist Delphine Minoui via social media, they told the story of survival, hope, and faith.

I found the concept to be compelling. Beyond my love of books, I was drawn to the idea that the medium is able to give us something to hold onto when all seems lost. The problem is that the story does not live up to the hype it creates.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, International News, World News

Jagged Little Pill Book Review

In every generation, there are handful of musicians who bust open the door musically and emotionally. They speak their truth and in doing so, allow their fans to do the same.

In 1995, Alanis Morissette burst onto the scene with her third album, Jagged Little Pill. It became an instant classic, speaking for and to a generation of young people who were confused, angry, and disappointed. Last year, the musical adaptation of JLP opened on Broadway. Combining Morissette’s music with a narrative that is firmly entrenched in our era, it became a hit and has been nominated for 15 Tony Awards.

In November, the official book from the musical was released. Taking readers behind the scenes, the book contains interviews with the cast and crew, discussions of the real world issues that are weaved into the narrative, and incredible photography.

I loved this book. It is a must read for fans of both the musical and the original album. I loved how deep readers are taken in, for me it is a reminder why this show is so dam good. It is also the perfect companion to keep us happy until next spring, when Broadway (hopefully) re-opens.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, Music

Cinderella Is Dead Book Review

We all know the story of Cinderella. Her tale has been part of our culture for an untold number of generations.

Cinderella Is Dead, by Kalynn Bayron, was published back in July. In the fictional kingdom of Mersailles, women are chattel. At the age of sixteen, young girls are required by law to present themselves at the annual ball. If any one of them is unable to find a husband by the time she turns eighteen, her fate is either servitude or disappearing forever.

 Sophia Grimmins is sixteen. She would rather marry her girlfriend, Erin, than be forced to say I do to a man she does know or care for. But she also knows what could happen to her parents if she does not attend. At the ball, Erin falls in line with the other girls. But Sophia is having none of it. After she escapes, she finds herself in Cinderella’s mausoleum. Meeting Constance, a direct descendent from one of the step-sisters, the girls hatch a plan to remove the King from the throne. Sophia also learns that the tale of Cinderella that has been drilled into her is missing a few critical pieces of information.

This book is interesting. A sort of The Handmaid’s Tale meets YA/LGBTQ fantasy, it is not our grandmother’s simplistic, Disney-fied version of the story. Which is perfectly fine with me, I am always up for a fractured fairy tale. I love the author’s creativity, the world she created is nuanced and feels closer to our world than the traditional world these narratives take place in.

The problem is initial chapter and the concluding chapters feel rushed. Instead of dropping the big reveal on the reader and letting it soak in, she pushes through it as if it were a minor plot point. Which, to be honest, was a little bit of a letdown because I wanted to feel the climax. But I didn’t.

Do I recommend it? The answer is a strong maybe.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Fairy Tales, Feminism

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 the challenges in his way.

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. It was a reminder that unlike the so called paragon of perfection that sits in the White House, Joe Biden is presented is imperfect, human, and thoroughly fallible.

If nothing else, it is a reminder why America made the right choice.

I recommend it.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Politics

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Flashback Friday, History, Movie Review, Movies

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Mental Health

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Jane Austen, Movies, Persuasion

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, History, Movie Review, Movies, Netflix

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, National News, Politics

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, International News