Posts Tagged Amy Steele

book review: The Mother

the mother

The Mother by Yvvette Edwards. Amistad| May 10, 2016| 256 pages | $21.99| ISBN: 9780062440778 |

 RATING: ***/5*

 “What has happened can never be undone and it is the fact that it can never be undone that means it will never be okay.”

As a trial unfolds, a London woman must focus on the details of her sixteen-year-old son’s violent murder. Barely coping and subsisting on drinks and pills, Marcia Williams learns details about her son Ryan’s death and about the accused killer, a teenager named Tyson. While attending the trial with her sister, Marcia’s husband flees the house early each day and the two barely communicate with one another. Every mother thinks she knows her child until the worst happens. Marcia discovers some surprising aspects to his life during the trial. Inevitably she scrutinizes Tyson while comparing him to her scholar-athlete son. She also compares herself and her family to Tyson’s mother and Tyson’s family. How will she come to terms with her son’s death? Will she be able to manage her own grief and salvage her marriage?

Author Yvvette Edwards thoughtfully and thoroughly examines black on black crime. She deals with race and class in London in a classic good vs. evil match-up of star athlete and student planning to attend college vs. delinquent street hustler. Whether black or white or living in a city or the suburbs or a mother or child-free, readers can relate to this family tragedy. The comparison between the two teenagers proves quite interesting. Viewing a trial from a mother’s perspective also captivating. The novel falls a bit short in lingering on Marcia’s wilting relationship with her husband rather than focusing on the murder and trial. Despite the writing, the story proved more predictable than expected. The ending did not sit well with me either. After all that stress and reflection, why did Marcia make that decision?

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Amistad.

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music review: Julianna Barwick

julianna barwick will album cover

During my last two acupuncture sessions I’ve listened to Julianna Barwick’s third full-length album, Will. It’s allowed me to focus on the music and remain in the moment during my treatment. This inventive album scores with its eclectic, gorgeous arrangements and assorted instrumentation. The entire collection exudes transcendent and ethereal vibes with bitter, shadowy undercurrents. An outstanding, striking work of art.

An impressive and glorious pitch combined with strings and piano on “St. Apolonia” reminds me of Chelsea Wolfe’s music. “Nebula” is a completely dreamy, soaring meditative wonder. “Beached” features piano, breathy vocals and a powerful quietness. Opening with expansive and lofty keyboards, “Same” pushes the listener into another realm through the Brooklyn artist’s vigorously exalted vocals. “Someway” conveys a sadness and uncertainty through its layered composition and heartrending vocals. Vibrant electro-beats propel the outstanding and devastating “See, Know.”

This album takes you on the ultimate contemplative aural journey. At turns brooding and at others soothing, there are numerous elements to appreciate, to dissect, to focus upon. Each listen provides a new revelation. Julianna Barwick explained: “While making this record, there were moments of isolation and dark currents. I like exploring that, and I love when I come across songs that sound scary or ominous. I’ve always been curious about what goes into making a song that way.” Somebody on twitter commented that she rarely listened to an album in its entirety. Needing or wanting to listen to an album repeatedly from start to finish remains the rare exception. Will is absolutely that album. Prepare for a spectacular immersive experience with vast appeal.

–review by Amy Steele

Will [Dead Oceans]

Release date: May 6, 2016

purchase at Amazon: Will

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book review: The Wander Society

the wander society

The Wander Society by Keri Smith. Penguin Books| March 29, 2016| 176 pages | $20.00| ISBN: 9780143108368

RATING: ****/5*

A beautiful looking book that explains a secretive society designed to allow a person to get in touch with one’s thoughts, one’s soul and nature. By now everyone knows that meditation, yoga and mindfulness help us pursue calmness and productivity. When author Keri Smith found an old copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, she stumbled upon the Wander Society. The members remain anonymous. Author Keri Smith explains: “While we cannot say for sure exactly who the Wander Society is, I believe its members exist to aid us in our quest to discover our own deepest soul life, to help us move to a higher plane of consciousness. That is the theme that seems to repeat itself again and again in its literature. Smith compiled this book after reading and researching any existing literature she could find associated with the Wander Society.

From an introductory pamphlet: “The path of the wanderer is an experiment with the unknown. To be idle, to play, to daydream.”

Included in this brief book: The Nature of Wandering–includes definition; the philosophy; the importance of “randomness” and how to find fellow wanderers; The Wander Society’s Tactical Guide—includes essentials; time; how to be invisible; wandering meditation; Wandering Initiation– includes setting out; creating a uniform; how to invoke an inner wanderer; Assignments/Research/ Field Work—there’s a ton in this section such as documentation; low wandering; sound tracking; leaving symbols; wandering by bicycle; library wandering; random painting; How-To Section—carving a wandering stick; making a wander belt pouch; making a wander notebook. In the end she includes Wander Society Lexicon; Leave Behind Quotes; Excerpt from Leaves of Grass; the Wanderer’s Creed and Wander Symbol’s Key.

Whether you decide to take up wandering every day or once a month, this book will certainly encourage you to try it. The beautiful typeset, photos and organization of the book create an appealing guide. It’s also the perfect size and weight to take along as a reference and inspiration during your wandering. Smith writes: “We need more rambling, daydreaming, thinking, perusing, being, looking, existing, allowing, ambling, opening, listening, because it teaches us what we are capable of. The nomadic tendency of wandering allows us to take pause, to consider what is really necessary, what is important for living well.” Wandering is a bit aimless but it’s also a way to think and observe. It’s a way to break our reliance on technology and take moments to savor the world around us. She adds: “The wanderer becomes one with himself or herself and the universe. We connect with the energy of all living things. We live according to our inner nature.” Another beautiful concept behind wandering: “When we enter into the wandering mindset, which can take a while to kick in, we actually change into our true self, not the person we are trying to be for society.”

In this book you will discover that wandering incites creativity. Smith writes: “qualities of great wanderers: “curious, inquisitive, nonconformist, rebellious, daring, revolutionary, inventive, visionary, solitary, self-sufficient.” That sounds ideal. Many of us—the writers, the artists, the radicals, the free-spirits—desire to be seen as change-makers, running against the grain, anti-societal expectations and precepts. Some well-known wanderers include: Walt Whitman; William Wordsworth; Charlotte Smith [an English Romantic poet and novelist]; Charles Baudelaire; Henry David Thoreau; Aristotle; Thich Nhat Hanh; Oscar Wilde; Rebecca Solnit  and Virginia Woolf. So add wandering to your list which should include yoga, mindfulness [read the chapter on Wandering Meditation if you aren’t familiar with mindfulness because there’s such a thing as mindful walking] and meditation. So pack a snack, a notebook, a camera and a bottle of water and head out there to commune with the earth, discover something fresh. Wandering inside in libraries or old bookstores works too.

–review by Amy Steele

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

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purchase at Amazon: The Wander Society

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book review: The Big Rewind

big rewind

The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore. William Morrow| February 2016| 241 pages | $14.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-240353-7

RATING: ***/5*

“We never had to lose touch with anybody; our Facebooks were filled with people we hadn’t spoken to in years, just in case we ever needed to find out how many kids our best friend from nursery school had or whether the guy who sat in front of us in Earth Science had ever come out as gay.”

Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young—one of my favorite 2015 films– features two GenXers who meet two hipster millennials obsessed with anything retro i.e. skateboards, vinyl, Atari. Things from the GenXers 20s and teens. No tapes or even Laser Disc players. Remember those? Wave of the future. This novel reminded me of that. The married couple spends time with the younger couple and becomes detached from their current lives. Turns out regression doesn’t solve anything. Appreciating one’s age and the past remains vital to being in the moment. That’s what I’ve learned from therapy and social media.

Jett moved to Brooklyn with plans to pursue a career in music journalism [tough field to be in, I should know]. She’s temping and living in her grandmother’s apartment. Jett finds her neighbor KitKat dead when she brings a mis-delivered mix tape to her apartment “I had the honor and the horror of finding her body. Not the cleaning lady or the cops, just a neighbor with a mistaken piece of mail.” Jett and her best friend Sid[obvious 80s reference] play records and watch old television programs while lamenting their dating lives. We get it Libby Cudmore, you like the 80s and this mystery/romance follows a standard rom-com blueprint [think When Harry Met Sally meets any Nicholas Sparks novel].

Chapter titles are song titles: Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now; Watching the Detectives; Everyday is Like Sunday; This Charming Man [lots of Morrissey and The Smiths]; The Impression That I Get; A Girl in Trouble [Is a Temporary Thing]; Smile Like You Mean It; Only the Good Die Young. You get it.

Determined to find out who killed KitKat, Jett embarks on an investigation that begins by analyzing KitKat’s collection of mix tapes. Why tapes? The sound isn’t great. Difficult to grasp that anyone would make actual tapes these days. I spent many a Saturday afternoon making mix tapes in the 80s. It’s time consuming. There’s a college professor that may be KitKat’s romantic interest instead of her under-suspicion current boyfriend Bronco, who is gay and doesn’t want anyone to know despite living in New York where things generally go over well. On KitKat: “She was a party on a purple ten-speed, a neat-banged brunette who baked red velvet cupcakes and pot brownies, read tarot, and had both an NES and a Sega Genesis.”

By digging into her neighbor’s relationships, not surprisingly Jett examines her past relationships and in the process makes a realization about her present. At first I couldn’t figure out the age of main character Jett and that bothered me. Finally there’s a mention that made me pinpoint her age at 28. Not many want to read about struggling 40somethings. This strong concept falls flat and becomes formulaic and cliché at times. If you’re looking for a sentimental light read, this should fit.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.

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purchase at Amazon: The Big Rewind: A Novel

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STEELE PICKS: BEST NONFICTION OF 2015

Drawing Blood by Molly Crabapple [Harper]
–from my review: Feminist and activist Molly Crabapple details her journey from burlesque dancer to artist who sketches conflicts and society’s woes with fervent energy in this compelling memoir. The memoir maintains a perfect tone. Molly assumes nothing. She’s not arrogant or condescending but genuine and earnest. She describes events just enough to remind us of what happened and provides us with insight from her perspective. Just what a memoirist should do. These pages burst with stunning moments, pure honesty, inspiration, scrappiness, art and politics. Just read it already! It’s truly perfect and riveting. purchase at Amazon: Drawing Blood

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Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso [Graywolf Press]
–started reading this one morning and couldn’t stop until I finished. It’s a thin but potent meditation on journaling and why we keep records of what we do. what’s important then and now. fascinating. purchase at Amazon: Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

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Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein [Riverhead Books]
–One of the best music memoirs ever. Engrossing. Honest. Raw. Strong feminist voice. purchase at Amazon: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir

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Moody Bitches by Julie Holland, MD [Penguin Press]
–Every woman should read this. Important info about meds, sleep, sex and overall health. appreciate the mind-body connection and alternative treatments discussed. some new, some older information all tied together quite nicely and in an open, honest, conversational manner. purchase at Amazon: Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, The Sleep You’re Missing, The Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy

moody bitches

Project Animal Farm by Sonia Faruqui[Pegasus Books]
–from my review: Even when you know that there’s mistreatment among dairy and animal farms, as I do, this remains a shocking and detailed expose into the disheartening and mostly cruel world of food production. purchase at Amazon: Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates [Spiegel & Grau]
–outstanding. honest. gorgeous writing. purchase at Amazon: Between the World and Me

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We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [Anchor]
–everyone needs feminism. everyone needs this book. it’s perfect. purchase at Amazon: We Should All Be Feminists

we should all be feminists

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon [Dey Street Books]
–from my review: Gordon writes rather quite a free-form drifting from subject to subject and playing around with chronology. A reader can easily skip around and not be confused. The sections with vivid descriptions of New York in the 1980s and 1980s stand-out for authenticity and color. There’s plenty of awesomeness in this memoir. Insecurity combined with risk taking. Deconstructing one’s experiences.Throughout this memoir, the feminist, artist and musician provides readers coolness, the detachment and strong opinions. Gordon removes herself from personal situations and provides a detached observer’s perspective. At other times she’s a bit warmer. While rambling and occasionally disjointed, it works. purchase at Amazon: Girl in a Band: A Memoir

girl in a band

Missoula by Jon Krakauer [Doubleday]
–rape culture at The University of Montana. It’s enraging, complex and incredible. An important read. purchase at Amazon: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

missoula

Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas [Random House Trade Paperbacks]
–Accomplished and determined pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu seeks to prove a connection between concussions and behavioral changes. The NFL fights him the entire way. An engrossing true life medical mystery. Dr. Omalu has depression and that makes his interest in the brain even more fascinating. It’s also interesting how he balances living with depression with his career. purchase at Amazon: Concussion

concussion

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker [Scribner]
–clever this memoir in letters. Bits and pieces of a life. Amusing, touching, maddening, endearing moments. Mary-Louise Parker reveals herself in novel, random, intimate and raw ways. purchase at Amazon: Dear Mr. You

dr mr you

Troublemaker by Leah Remini [Ballantine Books]
–listened to the audio which I highly recommend. Leah has an upbeat, brash and fiery personality that comes through in telling her story. She gives details about the celebrity culture of Scientology as well as its strange requirements. She talks about Tom Cruise, his wedding to Katie Holmes, children Connor and Isabella and their non-relationship with Nicole Kidman [“she’s an SP,” Bella tells Leah in disgust]. I’ve read Going Clear and watched the documentary so am somewhat familiar with the Scientology process. Leah truly opens up about the money she paid, the classes she took and the time she spent on this religion— hours every day and millions of dollars. Leah questions many aspects of Scientology and the higher-ups try to punish her and silence her and she finally decided to leave the church. Leah also speaks about King of Queens and her brief time on The Talk. It’s sometimes shocking and always unapologetic. purchase at Amazon: Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology

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book review: Tightrope

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Tightrope by Simon Mawer. Other Press| November 2015| 512 pages | $15.95| ISBN: 978-1-59051-723-9

RATING: 4.5/5*

In Tightrope, author Simon Mawer focuses once again on Marian Sutro, the central figure in 2011’s Trapeze which details Marian’s experiences during WWII. It’s a novel I recall fondly—a magnificent story that tracks Marian’s training and challenges working in espionage during the war.

Bilingual [French mother and English father] and well-educated Marian Sutro worked in Special Operations for Britain in WWII. After her release she returns to her parents’ home in Great Britain and begins to forge a post-war existence for herself. As many returning from a war, she finds herself distant from her family and unsure about her place in the world. She wants independence but isn’t sure about her identity at times. Is she a war hero—she has the awards to prove it—or is she just another woman chasing contentment? She finds work for a peace-keeping organization.

While I adored Trapeze it came out three years ago and I don’t remember minute details so I’m not sure how this can qualify. Is it a sequel? The novel stands alone so I’m not sure I’d call it that. However, it’s the second novel about the same character so by definition, it’s a sequel. When I tweeted about this I got a response from the author himself so it should be considered sequel. I got slightly confused by the narrator at times, a man who knew Marian when she was a teenager. He’d always had a crush on her. I’m not sure why the novel needed this narrator. At one point I forgot who he was and had to turn back to the novel’s beginning for a reminder. But then I decided I’d not let it bother me and just appreciate Marian Sutro and this novel. Mawer writes exquisitely and Tightrope draws you in to Marian’s life, the consequences of her actions during WWII and how she copes in the present.

Why is Marian Sutro a superb literary character worth revisiting? Mawer writes: “Try to see yourself as this lot see you. A stunning woman, dressed like a film star, who has done things no one here would dream of. Parachuted into occupied territory, lived a secret life, been captured and I don’t know, tortured probably.” She’s an independent spirit. She’s a feminist. She has lavish style and intensity. You want to be her or be friends with her. She exudes a magnetic charm and fierceness. Her military experience forces her into a gray zone. Whose side is she on? She was a spy and POW in WWII. She has sex with whomever she wants. She married a man who intensely pursued her, not particularly for love but perhaps for companionship. It doesn’t keep her from affairs with other men during her travels. On the cover, Marian looks like she’s in a Tamara de Lempicka painting. She’d be an ideal subject for the bold artist.

Mawer includes cold war fears, atomic bombs, a gay scientist (Marian’s brother) as well as Marian’s love affair with a Russian Jew. On this relationship, Mawer writes: “In Absolon’s presence she no longer thought of Benoit, or Clement, or Veronique or Alan. They all seemed irrelevant. And she no longer contemplated death and betrayal but speculated instead on the possibility of staying with this man, Absolon, for the rest of her life, in Canada maybe, under an assumed name. Absurd, of course, but she had these thoughts.” Marian’s brother is one of the scientists working on weapons and, more importantly, bombs. He’s gay during a particularly dangerous time to be gay in England. Marian scoffs at his choice of lover: “Her brother queer, the lover of some skinny, common youth.”

Plenty of elements keep you intrigued. It’s not the confusing John Le Carre-type espionage plot which I could never follow. This novel remains character-driven with lovely descriptive passages and a riveting narrative.

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

 

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book review: Tomboy

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Tomboy: a graphic memoir by Liz Prince. Publisher: Zest Books. Graphic/memoir. Paperback. 256 pages.

“A boy can be celebrated because of his personality and talents, regardless of how he looks. In fact, talent can make a guy attractive who may not be by traditional standards. But a girl is usually only popular if she looks good.”

An outstanding, contemplative examination of identity, status and fitting in. Liz Prince is a talented cartoonist who takes us back to her childhood to examine her choice and comfort in being a tomboy. At a young age, Prince rejects standard female looks and prefers to dress like a boy. Shiloh Jolie-Pitt anyone? She chooses to wear a hat, blazer, jeans and t-shirts to dresses and skirts. Of course she gets picked on in elementary school without really understanding why. She states: “I didn’t even know what a tomboy was until I started school and was expected to follow the “rules of gender.” She prefers what we consider boys’ toys and games and most of her role models were boys like Huck Finn, Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones. She wants to be a boy instead of a girl because even in elementary school she knew that boys might have it better than girls. Prince suffers intense bullying for not looking like the girl her classmates expected her to look like with long hair and soft edges. She plays on the little league baseball team and also joins a girl scout troop.

As Prince becomes a teenager she grows confused as she’s a girl who wants to be like a boy and dress like a boy but she’s not gay. She’s attracted to boys. This throws another loop in her quest for identity. Like many teens she struggles for acceptance and for a boy to like her. I wore pink in high school and never had a boyfriend so I can relate. She worries about puberty—getting her period and developing breasts. She’s extremely body conscious. She notes that she started feeling dislike for girls and their girly ways. “For boys, there seemed to be more options available: there were more ways to be a boy and still be accepted whereas the popular girls all seemed to be cut from the same cloth.” So true.

I always preferred skirts and dresses and still do. I still defined myself as a feminist in fifth grade. I don’t recall a lot of girls wearing dresses when I grew up but I did. It’s my style. It’s what I’m most comfortable in. When I wear jeans I just don’t feel like myself. But I had wavy hair, unruly hair in the 80s and most girls and teens had straight hair. I fought my hair for many years until my senior year when I gained a slight bit of self-confidence and started to go with the flow regarding my hair. Clearly many adults never wear skirts and dresses but wear makeup and clothes that accent their femininity. Outside of fancy events and modeling shoots, I’ve never seen Gisele Bundchen wearing a skirt. She’s generally in jeans. But no one would confuse Gisele for a boy with her long hair, curvy body and makeup.

Being critical only suits one’s own egoism. There’s not many ways to tell who someone is based on her personal style and looks. Don’t put people in boxes. Don’t be so quick to judge someone based on her appearance. It’s about personality, capabilities, desires and communication. The way someone dresses is completely personal expression and comfort.

Boys and girls accuse Prince of being a lesbian or not liking boys. “The stereotype of the butch lesbian has plagued me my whole life but I don’t dress like a boy to attract girls. I dress like a boy because it feels natural to me.” A friend of Prince’s mom, Harley, runs a zine and asks Prince to contribute. Harley is this “cool” childfree adult who takes an interest in Prince’s desire to be a graphic/ comic artist. She’s also the first adult to explain to Prince about societal expectations for boys and girls. Through Harley, Prince realizes that it’s not girls per se she dislikes but the way that our society expects girls to act and dress. Thus a young feminist is born. Prince changes to a more progressive school where she doesn’t feel so out of place with the other “misfits:” Goth kids, punk kids, a hippie, a nerd. She also does an internship at an art collective and meets some cool kids there.

Another graphic memoir that’s stand-out poignant and provocative is Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me. This is en par with that in quality and meaning. Tomboy is a fascinating meditation on identity through fantastic cartooning style. Sometimes amusing. Often heartbreaking. Always honest. An important read for all ages.

RATING: ****/5*

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Zest Books.

Liz Prince will be reading at Trident Booksellers and Café on Thursday, October 23 at 7pm.

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purchase at Amazon: Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir

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Bride of New France: book review

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Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers. Publisher: W.W. Norton (2013). Historical Fiction. Paperback. 294 pages. ISBN: 9780143173380.

I’m pretty sure the gorgeous cover drew me to this novel. That and the Paris/ “New France” connection of the 17th century, something I’ve read little about. This title doesn’t suit it at all. The main character, a young strong-willed woman name Laure, doesn’t become a bride in Canada well until the final third of the novel. It’s hardly about that at all. I found the subject matter fascinating but the writing difficult perhaps too academic. Author Suzanne Desrochers says she based the novel on a thesis idea. She’s a PhD student. At times the novel dragged along. Clearly the author found her subject matter completely enthralling and couldn’t decide what to include and what to withhold in this fictional account of an 18-year-old orphan’s journey from Paris to the uncharted wilds north of Quebec.

At the time, the King of France wanted to keep men in Canada so shipped women over there and would reward those who bore children. Many men endured the three years required service in the harsh Canadian wilderness and jumped onto a boat back to France, others stayed when given their own land knowing they had nothing better to return to in their homeland. For the women they had no idea what to expect as the men were living on their own for such a long time. They’d become used to that lifestyle as well as seeking companionship with the local native American women, known as “savage women,” who unlike the French women would put up with almost anything from the Canadian men.

“Because most of the men only stay a short while in the colony before returning to France, there seems to be less concern for respecting superiors. There also seems to be little protection for women from foul-mouthed men like this fur trader. “

When Desrochers kept calling the Iroquois Indian (he’d been kidnapped by an Algonquin tribe as a child) who Laure ends up having an affair with ugly without providing a physical description of him it truly bothered me. She only said that he was uglier than Laure’s husband. Most of her descriptions were pretty decent up to that point so I was quite disappointed and almost stopped reading but I wanted to see how it ended. Laure found herself pregnant with the Indian’s daughter and forced to give her up to be raised by the Indian tribe. Lucky for her, the husband, who himself had been sleeping with Indian women all along, died en route home to see the birth of what he thought was his child.

Laure showed resilience throughout her tribulations though proved to be a mostly quiet, reflective character. The details about the orphaned women in Paris homes run by religious orders, comprising the novel’s first third, could be its own novel. The journey to Quebec, the second third, a harrowing trip at that time and finally dropping these women off in parts unknown and wedding them off to men they’d never met. What a nightmare! This isn’t the best historical fiction for its characters but for introducing readers to rare subject matter and the author deserves some credit for her efforts.

RATING: ***/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.

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Lifetime TV movie review: A Sister’s Nightmare

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Cassidy (Natasha Henstridge) spent 15 years hospitalized for being criminally insane and on release shows up at her younger sister Jane’s house. Jane’s a police officer living with her teenage daughter (Peyton List) and fiancé (Matthew Settle). From the look on Jane’s face she seems doubtful she can trust Cassidy or that she’s been fully rehabilitated even after more than a decade. I’m always wary when films portray the mentally ill as too dangerous. Yes, there are those mentally ill who cannot interact with society and need to be under constant care and supervision a hospital wouldn’t release a woman after 15 years if it didn’t believe she’d be okay as long as she took her medication and continued therapy. There are double-checks. Of course then there wouldn’t be these Lifetime films. I’m dubious about this film.

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“It’s so private here. You could do whatever you wanted and nobody would know,” Cassidy says when she sees the beautifully open living room in her younger sister Jane’s home.

Jane keeps having flashbacks to whatever it is that occurred so many years ago that landed Cassidy in the psychiatric facility. They’re very tense with each other. Cassidy also flirts with Jane’s fiancé and cozies up to her daughter which she doesn’t appreciate at all. Jane tells her fiancé that she’s had regular calls with Cassidy’s doctor and he’s never once indicated that she’d be released any time soon. He told her about mood swings and memory loss. Jane travels to the hospital to investigate. Cassidy’s psychiatrist retired. A letter indicated that she should be released and continue her treatment as an outpatient. Jane remains suspicious.

“I cut my sister out of my life for good reason. Cassidy is mentally unstable,” Jane tells her daughter.
“Like me?” [her daughter has water phobia]
“No. You’ll grow out of that.”

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Natasha Henstridge plays the mysterious, potentially still volatile Cassidy really well. Sometimes blank faced, confused, sad, distraught. Often jealous, confused and trying to fit in. Occasionally hopefully. She shows so much in her eyes and her delivery truly effective for this wounded character. While Kelly Rutherford (who I’ve only seen on Gossip Girl) acts the perfect foil to her older sister who scares her so much.

She says that her sister’s bipolar with a borderline personality who murdered her husband. Jane explains everything that happened early on to her fiancé. Although mental illness doesn’t truly manifest until mid-to-late 20s. There’s another twist that I don’t want to reveal.

I DO want to stress, if you have a mental illness don’t go off your meds without medical supervision.

There’s an intense twist at the end of A Sister’s Nightmare.

–review by Amy Steele

A Sister’s Nightmare debuts September 7, 2013 at 8pm on Lifetime.

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Big Brother: book review

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Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. Publisher: Harper (2013). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 384 pages. ISBN: 9780061458576.

“But what or rather who, is the skinny? By conceit, the rail-thin are harsh, joyless, and critical. They suffer from the same chronic dissatisfaction as average-size people, but on top of applying a ruthless ruler to themselves they are reliably dissatisfied with you. Their proclivity for self-control inexorably bleeds into controlling everyone else as well. . .Scrawnies are superior, haughty, and elitist.

Lastly, the well and truly fat. I think we long ago put to rest their reputation for jollity. Misery, more like it. Melancholy, perhaps. Helplessness. Self-indulgence and self-deceit. Defensiveness. Resignation to the present; fatalism about the future.”

Lionel Shriver expresses so many thoughts about obesity epidemic, how we indulge, how food is a treat, a central focus for holidays, outings, dates, meetings etc. [“Gathering were tagged by whatever you might put in your mouth; let’s have coffee, get together for a drink, do dinner some night.”] Also how people look at obese people and can rarely see beyond the body to the personality. When Pandora picks up her brother at the airport, the once handsome and assured Edison now weighs nearly 400 pounds. She’s understandably shocked and saddened at the sight. He’s unhealthy and nearly unrecognizable. Quickly she decides that she’ll help her brother lose the weight with an extreme weight loss plan. They move into an apartment together at her husband’s utter disapproval. Mainly because she says she’s giving the diet a year and needs to live with Edison in order for it to work as he needs her full encouragement and support.

Long in the shadows of her celebrity father [he starred on a sitcom in the 80s] and her high-school dropout jazz musician brother Edison, 40-year-old Pandora became an extremely successful female entrepreneur. After folding her catering business after 11 years, she started this strange boutique company that manufactures one-of-a-kind dolls called “Baby Monotonous”– pick a doll and have a voice installed which mimics a friend or loved one. Her husband works from home on his unpopular handcrafted furniture.

Not only does her husband dislike Edison but there’s perhaps jealousy in the brother-sister relationship vs. the husband-wife. Stepdaughter Cody likes Edison but stepson Tanner isn’t that keen. Tanner however isn’t sure he wants to graduate from high school and before Edison arrived on the scene he hadn’t planned to go to college even though Pandora saved money for him to go. [“Though already a month into his senior year of high school, he had yet to evince the slightest interest in the college education for which I was expressly saving the proceeds from my business. He wanted to write, but he didn’t like to read. That summer the boy had announced that he’d decided to become a screenwriter as if doing Ridley Scott a personal favor.”]

Pandora’s a striking character. Independent. Unique. Goals but not too driven. Just right and completely a woman to whom I could relate. Chose not to have children. Didn’t get married until after 35. Not clinging to men surrounding her. No awkward begging for her husband to give her second chances. She’s successful and the primary money source. Equally riveting is Edison in his disgustingness. He’s so over the top with his narcissistic attitude. He needs to be the center. He needs the attention. He needs it all but he left home at 17 with no plan and honestly what kind of outcome did he expect without an education or some sort of training.

Of course her brother gets comfortable living with and relying on her to maintain his weight loss. He also starts getting more confident in his weight loss despite the unhealthy diet. He’s been a drug addict and now Pandora worries what will happen when this diet ends. Will he just gain all the weight back? Can Edison maintain the weight loss without Pandora in his life? Shriver thinks about every possibility and every angle. I didn’t want this to end. Dazzling writing, vocabulary and character creation up until the ending. Why that disappointing ending?

RATING: ****/5 [only because I didn’t like the ending]

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the Harper Collins.

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