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book review: Sweet Forgiveness

sweet forgiveness

Sweet Forgiveness By Lori Nelson Spielman.
Plume| June 2, 2015| 355 pages |$16.00| ISBN: 978-0-14-751676-3

Rating: ****/5*

An engrossing read that’ll keep you busy at the beach, during a quiet weekend in the woods or in a café drinking ice coffee. Whatever your summer plans, take this fast-paced, creative novel with you. It’s not predictable and contains wonderful, strong characters. It centers on New Orleans local news reporter Hannah Farr and the Forgiveness Stone craze, started by someone who bullied her in school. Hannah received the stones from the Forgiveness Stone creator Fiona Knowles but she’s yet to return a stone to Fiona or send a stone on to someone else.

When her job hits a low spot and she’s interviewing at a station in Denver, she decides that the forgiveness stones might make a good story and allow her to reconcile with her mother who she’s not seen in decades. For years, Hannah’s been involved with New Orleans Mayor who seems to have no desire to be with Hannah full-time. When Hannah decides to head home to see her mother as research for the story it sets many components in motion. Will she be able to come to terms with a dark secret in her past and move on to a happy and productive life?

“The first Monday in July, I load my suitcase in my trunk, struck again by the almost nonexistent footprint I leave these days. I still talk with Dorothy and Jade every day, but I have no job, no boyfriend, or husband or child to kiss good-bye or worry about. It’s both liberating and horrifying, knowing how easily I can disappear. I put the key in the ignition and buckle my seat belt, hoping to drive the ache from my heart.”

Hannah proves resilient and empathetic as she goes through much trauma in re-visiting her past. Her mom is happy to see her. Her mayor boyfriend fears ruining his own reputation and chances for election. He’s not interested in Hannah’s personal despair and makes that quite clear. Finally Hannah understands that he’s been using her as a showpiece, a date to bring around to charity events and political fundraisers. Perhaps he never truly loved her as she loved him. As Hannah faces fall-out from this relationship and her collapsing career at the news station when a segment about the Forgiveness Stones ends up going terribly amiss, she must pick herself up and reinvent herself in another capacity. It’s a quick read and you’ll instantly become invested in Hannah’s challenges and triumphs.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Random House.

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purchase at Amazon: Sweet Forgiveness: A Novel

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music review: Hannah Miller


Nashville-based singer-songwriter Hannah Miller composes edgy folk songs on her self-titled album out today. Her sonorous, introspective and sometimes haunting vocals perfectly suit her passionate and commanding lyrics. Portishead vibes through dark, serene electronica blips and hip percussion on “Help Me Out” as well as the ardent “Been Around.” “Fighting” is a contemplative song about relationship challenges. A mesmerizing lounge feel propels “You Don’t Call.” Sweeter lyrics and melody on the soothing “Watchman.” Things grow deep on the rather lovely and contemplative “Outside In”—“always been on the outside looking in/tired of trying doors that don’t open.” Hannah Miller will sonically and spiritually swathe you through this exquisite album.


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book review: Ongoingness


Ongoingness: The End of a Diary By Sarah Manguso.
Graywolf Press| March 2015.|95 pages |$20.00| ISBN: 978-1-55597-703-0

Rating: *****/5*

“Living in a dream of the future is considered a character flaw. Living in the past, bathed in nostalgia, is also considered a character flaw. Living in the present moment is hailed as spiritually admirable, but truly ignoring the lessons of history or failing to plan for tomorrow are considered character flaws.”

In this riveting pithy memoir, author Sarah Manguso writes about her experience writing daily in a journal for 25 years. It arrived on my doorstep one evening. I opened the memoir the next morning and read straight through before I needed to shower and head to an appointment. On moments. On being. On mindfulness and awareness. What has she learned? Why does she do it? She describes one goal: “My behavior was an attempt to stop time before it swept me up. It was an attempt to stay safe, free to detach before life and time became too intertwined for me to write down, as a detached observer, what had happened.”

Manguso soon realizes, particularly after the birth of her son, that living in the moment might be best and need not be written. By analyzing her journal she could detach from the past and center herself: “All I could see in the world were beginnings and endings: moments to survive, record, and, once recorded, safely forgot.” Manguso writes: “I wrote about myself so I wouldn’t become paralyzed by rumination—so I could stop thinking about what had happened and be done with it.” That’s a positive. Then: “Imagining life without the diary, even one week without it, spurred a panic that I might as well be dead.” That’s problematic. She went through her journal at one point and eliminated an entire year because she felt nothing of interest occurred. Would think that would drive up her anxiety level.

Many of us keep journals to record our thoughts and activities. We keep mood journals to record our moods. Some people scrapbook to have things to look back on at a later date. Remember all the concerts we went to. Remember the people we dated. Remember various decades, specific years, turmoil and triumphs. But is that the only reason we write things down. And does one keep the journal, keep recording or does one get rid of the journals? I found myself involved from the first page. It’s a gorgeous reflection on time and record keeping.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Graywolf Press.

Sarah Manguso reads at Harvard Book Store tonight at 7pm.

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FILM: Stand-Out Performances of 2014

these films didn’t make my 12 BEST FILMS of 2014 list but included stand-out performances:

railway man

Colin Firth in The Railway Man
director: Jonathan Teplitzky


Minnie Driver and Gugu Mbathal-Raw in Beyond the Lights
director: Gina Prince-Blythewood


Julianne Moore in Still Alice
director: Richard Glatzer


Mia Wasikowska in Tracks
director: John Curran


Marion Cotillard in Deux Jours, Une Nuit
director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

fort bliss

Michelle Monaghan in Fort Bliss
director: Claudia Myers


Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher
director: Bennett Miller


Ben Schnetzer in Pride
director: Matthew Warchus


Dakota Fanning in Night Moves
director: Kelly Reichardt


Emma Roberts in Palo Alto
directed by: Gia Coppola


Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
directed by: Richard Linklater


Eva Green in White Bird in a Blizzard
directed by: Greg Araki


Juliette Lewis in Kelly & Cal
directed by: Jen McGowan


Kristen Wiig in Hateship Loveship
directed by: Liza Johnson

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TV REVIEW: The Red Tent


I’m not familiar with The Bible or bible stories. I tend to avoid them if I can. I know Noah’s ark and saw Noah in theaters. I saw Mel Gibson’s Jesus film. I did quite like The Red Tent by Anita Diamant published a decade ago. What I like is that Diamant imagined a feminist biblical story for Dinah, who only warrants a brief mention in the bible. Where a woman isn’t the temptress, whore or maternal figure. In The Red Tent, Dinah learns to be a caring compassionate woman and midwife from her mothers—Jacob’s four wives Leah [Minnie Driver], Rachel [Morena Baccarin], Zilpah [Agni Scott] and Bilhah [Vinette Robinson]–when they spent their menstrual cycles and share wisdom and traditions in the red tent. Dinah’s happy childhood spent inside the red tent where the women of her tribe gather and share the traditions and turmoil of ancient womanhood. The Red Tent is a feminist work about women working together, women sharing their knowledge and a young woman, Dinah, persevering when she loses everything.

red tent

It’s a very good miniseries with an all-star cast including Minnie Driver, Debra Winger, Iain Glen [Game of Thrones], Monica Baccarin [Gotham, Homeland] and Rebecca Ferguson [The White Queen] as Dinah. The Red Tent is a two-part miniseries and focuses on Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter—Leah is her birth mother– and Joseph’s sister. The first part focuses on Dinah’s childhood and growing up with her mothers’ guidance. The lovely Driver exudes strength and wisdom as first wife Leah. As Jacob’s greatest love Rachel, stunning Baccarin is gentle and open. Rachel teaches Dinah to be an empathetic and exceptional midwife.

The Red Tent

As Jacob’s only daughter everyone cherishes and protects Dinah. When she and Rachel travel to the palace to help with a birth, Dinah meets and falls in love with the prince. Dinah faces adversity when she secretly marries the prince and her brothers avenge her honor (as one did and often still do) by brutally slaughtering every man in the palace. Of course Dinah becomes pregnant and her mother-in-law takes her to Egypt where she raises Dinah’s son as her own.

After several years, when her son gets sent away to be educated, Dinah gets cast out of the compound. At first Dinah sells homeopathic remedies in the market but soon she’s convinced to utilize her incomparable midwife skills. Soon she meets a charming man and they marry. Later Dinah’s son arrives at her door. He’s working as a scribe and his master’s wife needs help with her birth. Dinah’s reunited with Joseph who gained power in Egypt. When their father falls ill, Joseph and Dinah return to make amends.

Under fire for its biopics lately, maybe Lifetime best stick to original films. Lifetime does an admirable job with this adaptation. Impressive cast and quality script by Anne Meredith [Bastard out of Carolina, Cavedweller]. I often discount Lifetime for not airing enough works written and/or directed by women as it is the network for women. The cast and crew filmed in Morocco which offers intensity and a suitable locale to reconstruct the time when Joseph [Will Tudor] rises to control over Egypt. It’s harrowing, violent and epically sprawling. The miniseries clearly centers on Dinah. As Dinah, Rebecca Ferguson proves to be strong, resilient and unflappable. She’s mesmerizing. Ferguson possesses a natural and effortless beauty just right for this biblical-influenced tale.

Night One Premieres Sunday, December 7, at 9pm ET/PT on LIFETIME

Night Two Premieres Monday, December 8, at 9pm ET/PT on LIFETIME

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October is National Depression Awareness Month

sometimes I’m like this:

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sometimes I’m like this:

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occasionally I’m like this:

in library

I have clinical depression, anxiety and an unspecified mood disorder. the stigma surrounding mental illness astounds me. I’ve never gone off my meds and have always been under the care of both a psychiatrist and a therapist since I was diagnosed at age 27. Currently I’m part of an extensive year-long mentalization program at McLean Hospital. It’s challenging to be mentalizing when I can’t afford anything, I have no career and therefore not engaging in interpersonal relationships as one would in her 40s. Also most of the time I feel McLean doesn’t fucking care about Amy Steele, her mental health and general well-being. I’m just a fucking number. I’m not a person with feelings and emotions and goals.

I’m really stuck. I’ve been looking for work for years. A friendship ended badly several years ago and I’ve been cyber-harassed for four years. I’m tired all the time yet I also have severe insomnia. I can have days (or nights) where I’m extremely sad or unmotivated. I’m insecure but I also think I’m rather cool. I think about killing myself often. I’m just not as professionally and personally successful and satisfied as I thought I would be by this time.

Every day I take several medications. I will always have to take those medications. In addition I exercise for my mind and body and I have cut way down on sugar intake. Two years ago I cut out diet soda and although I didn’t drink it in massive amounts I feel better.

Depression means keeping a mood journal. It means being kind to yourself. It means lots of self-care and not having as many expectations for oneself as you may have had. It doesn’t mean I’m lying about in bed all day and night. I have goals and aspirations. I do a lot but some days I get extremely tired both physically and mentally. And that’s okay.

I’ve had a few hospitalizations– very brief stays– that didn’t lead to much change in my care. After one major breakdown four years ago I changed psychiatrists and meds, I took CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and completed a partial program. One year ago, at this time, I was in the hospital for a week where I was ignored, lost five pounds and then at my insistence got into a program at McLean Hospital (my psychiatrist had to call them but I had a psychiatrist who was a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital). After the partial at McLean in April, I was recommended for the Mentalization program and took a six-week introductory course. In August I started the year-long program which consists of weekly individual therapy and group therapy. Not sure what’s going on in the program and feel as much of a misfit and as judged as I do anywhere else.

Don’t call the police on someone who is depressed. The police are not trained to deal with the mentally ill. If someone says “hey I’m lying here with a bag over my head and I’m about to duct tape it” or “I just swallowed 200 pills” then yes, call 911. Otherwise, call that person directly and suggest a chat or meeting over tea. It’s much more useful and shows empathy.



–major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.3

–affects 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.

— the median age at onset is 32.5

–Women are 2 times as likely to suffer from depression than men.

–20 million people in the United States suffer from depression every year.

— Many creative individuals experienced depression, including Ludwig van Beethoven, John Lennon, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Georgia O’Keefe, Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath.

–Mood disorders such as depression are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults ages 18 to 44.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America


Psych Central



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ON TOUR: DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist


It’s the Renegades of Rhythm Tour with DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. These world-renowned artists and turntablists are spinning the well-loved and well-worn vinyl from the record collection of the founding father of hip-hop and “Master of Records,” Afrika Bambaataa.

11/6 – Pawtucket, RI – The Met
11/7 – Brooklyn, NY – Verboten
11/8 – Montreal, QC – Corona
11/10 – Syracuse, NY – The Westcott Theater
11/11 – Buffalo, NY – Town Ballroom
11/12 – Detroit, MI – Majestic Theatre
11/14 – Pittsburgh, PA – Mr. Smalls Theatre
11/15 – Charlottesville, VA – Jefferson Theater
11/17 – Athens, GA – Georgia Theatre
11/20 – Winnipeg, MB – Garrick Centre
11/21 – Saskatoon, SK – O’Brien’s Event Centre
11/22 – Edmonton, AB – Encore at WEM
11/23 – Calgary, AB – Flames Central
11/25 – Oakland, CA – The Fox

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throwback thursday IN THE REALM: 2007 interview with Claire Danes

Youth, beauty, it all seems so meaningless now.
–Lamia [Michelle Pfeiffer]

“Hi Guys! Are you freezing? It’s so cold in here,” Claire Danes exclaims as she wraps her vintage jacket about her lithe frame. The jacket is tan which complements her long, honey blonde hair and it has cool orange swirls on it that gives it flair. Not that Ms. Danes needs any. She wears jeans, a gray shift and great clunky stone rings on her fingers. Actually, I take note of three on one finger.

She wraps her legs under her and sits down, bending forward, with a smile, to speak
about her latest film, Stardust, at a local Boston hotel a few weeks ago. Known for her roles in Romeo and Juliet, the summer’s very moving Evening, Shopgirl, The Family Stone, Les Miserables and forever as Angela Chase from television’s My So-Called Life, Danes will makes her Broadway debut in Pygmalion this fall.

is a wonderful, if sometimes goof-ball, fantasy film. It’s often Shakespearean in tone: think Midsummer Night’s Dream meets Princess Bride. This delightful escape relishes in clever and witty dialogue, off-beat, quirky, layered characters, unexpected moments and thrilling, dream-like sequences. Danes finds herself in good company: Michelle Pfeiffer, as an unattractive, deliciously wicked witch with piercing eyes who seeks everlasting beauty and youth brings an exuberance and fervor to her character. Robert DeNiro, in really not that much of stretch considering the Meet the Parent films, plays a cross-dressing pirate. Adding to the fun: British actors Jason Flemyng, Sienna Miller [nearly unrecognizable] and Charlie Cox. Danes plays a star, Yvaine, who fell to the ground and wants to go home. Who wouldn’t love this film and this role? A star personified! And Evie is happy but also a bit pensive being a star. You’d think she would be conceited and powerful but she’s at times insecure and very sweet. An endearing, bright-eyed gentleman named Tristam [Cox] travels across the barrier to this “forbidden” but special and magical land and finds Evie. Together they go on an amazing journey which, naturally, becomes one of self-discovery. Stardust really charms, remaining unique while it addresses: age/youth, beauty, love, and destiny with all the magic, intrigue, adventure and humor of any smart film.

What did you like about this project?

Claire Danes: “I loved the story. It’s charming and engaging. The dialogue is witty and wry and Evie has a trajectory. She changes which is appealing. She is knowing and wise because she’s ancient but unbelievably naïve.”

What do you like best about acting?

Claire Danes: Laughing: “The costumes are fun. I really like the challenge of imagining what it is to be another person and exercising empathy and stretching the imagination.”

What do you do for fun?

Claire Danes: “walk my dog, draw [takes life drawing classes in down time], dance.”

Do you think you will always live in New York?

Claire Danes: “NY is home to me. I travel constantly for work.”

What is the best part of working on this film?

Claire Danes: “The rewarding part of this movie is working with Charlie [Cox]. He’s a special guy—appealing, honest, expressive and great person.”

What attracts you to a role?

Claire Danes: “exploring new territory and new genres. Characters with dimension and complexity and who undergo change. And grow and transform. Usually women exist to facilitate change and growth in male characters.”

What are some of your favorite films?

Claire Danes: “Waiting for Guffman, Sophie’s Choice, and I know everyone says it but, Citizen Kane.”

What are some favorite films of your own?

Claire Danes: “Romeo and Juliet, Stealing Beauty, Shopgirl and Brokedown Palace.”

Originally published in The Harbus, the Harvard Business School student newspaper.

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DVD Recommendations

20140619-AngriestManBrooklyn-GV copy

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn
starring: Robin Williams, Mila Kunis, Melissa Leo
rating: B+

–surprising solid dark comedy about a man (Robin Williams) mistakenly told by a doctor (Mila Kunis) that he has 90 minutes to live due to a brain aneurysm. Williams and Kunis are both fantastic. Henry runs around Brooklyn trying to make amends to his wife (Melissa Leo) who he’s drifted apart from and his estranged son. Simultaneously Dr. Sharon Gill (Kunis) tries to track him down to tell him that she made a mistake in telling him he had such a short time to live and to bring him back to the hospital. It’s at times funny, at times thoughtful.


Words and Pictures
starring: Juliette Binoche, Clive Owen
rating: A-
–this appealed to me for the creative aspect– a writing teacher and an art teacher at a prep school spar over whether words or pictures are better communications. both are art forms. if you appreciate literature, art, culture, you’ll like this film. Both Juliette Binoche (Dina) and Clive Owen (Jack) play sharp-tongued, slightly bitter characters with panache. Dina, once a celebrated artist, moved to this small community to be near her famlly as her RA progresses and she’s less able to function on her own. Jack, a once-promising author and popular teacher, is an alcoholic and he may lose his job. Though they don’t get along at first, the two find they have more commonalities than differences.

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on 9/11: in memory of Amy Sweeney


Growing up in Acton, Mass. I knew the hockey-playing Sweeney family. Maybe went to a party at their house. Nashua, NH native Amy Todd married Michael Sweeney and they had two children Anna and Jack. They lived in Acton. She’d been a flight attendant for 14 years.

Amy was the Flight 11 flight attendant who calmly and bravely provided integral seat information for Mohammed Atta and the other terrorists on Flight 11. I’m proud that she’s from my hometown.

Amy’s last words to American Airlines manager Micheal Woodward: “I see water. I see buildings. I see buildings! We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low. Oh my God we are flying way too low. Oh my god!” (American 11 crashes)

Madeline “Amy” Sweeney’s name is inscribed on Panel N-74 of the National September 11 Memorial’s North Pool

Madeline Amy Sweeney 9-11 Memorial

There’s a Madeline Amy Sweeney Award for Civilian Bravery given annually to a Massachusetts resident who demonstrated “exceptional bravery, without regard for personal safety, in an effort to save the life or lives of another or others in actual imminent danger.”


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