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Ever since I was discovered by the website Book Blogger List I’ve become quite the belle of the ball when it comes to books. So far over a dozen writers, publishers and publicists have reached out to me to read and review their books. I am utterly grateful for this. WOW!!!

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Book Review: Dante’s Garden-Magic and Mystery in Bomarzo by Teressa Cutler-Broyles

Frank Farnese is a collector of antique books when he chances upon a first edition of Dante’s classic novel The Divine Comedy. Inside the ancient tome is an inscription. Frank finds this inscription intriguing noting it mentions a mysterious garden located in Bomarzo, Italy. Frank wants to visit this garden to learn more about Dante and The Divine Comedy. Frank decides to visit Bomarzo where he finds himself exploring and falling through Hell’s Mouth, a particularly gruesome and odd sculpture.

When he awakes, Frank no longer finds himself living in the 21st century. He has somehow, through the works of time travel, in the year 1570. To greet him, is Pyrrho Ligorio, a legendary antiquarian of literature and his lady companion, the lovely Lurcrezia Romano. Both Pyrrho and Lucrezia find Frank to be a kindred spirit and invite him on what is about to be an incredible journey.

Thus, begins Teresa Cutler-Broyles novel Dante’s Garden-Magic and Mystery in Bomarzo.

Just as in the modern age of 2017, things aren’t quite right in the world back in 1570 and the three of them know they should make things better.

Frank and his newfound companions find themselves wrapped up in a multitude of adventures, some exciting, some dangerous, some educational and for Frank and Lucrezia quite romantic. Among their adventures is the infamous Inquisition and an astonishing retreat to the iconic Venice. On their journey they meet people (some who actually existed and others fictional). As this unique tale unfolds, Frank and his traveling companions must learn if these people are true allies or those they should avoid for they are truly perilous (and then there are some characters shrouded in mystery).

Did I mention romance? Frank can’t help but fall in love with Lucrezia. Though she is a woman of her time, she is also one with a keen mind and a desire to learn and grow even though educational and vocational opportunities are limited for women. Lucrezia is also a woman with fleshly desires and fully gives herself to Frank despite 16th century sexual mores.

Frank so wants to stay in 1570 but also misses his life in the 21st century, not just the modern conveniences, but his relationship with longtime girlfriend Matilda, who he lovingly calls Tilly.

Or maybe Frank could find his way back to the modern day and bring Lucrezia with him. But how would she live in a world of modern conveniences that we take for granted? How would she adjust? And would she miss her old life back in 1570? And how would Frank explain his absence? Would Tilly and his friends and colleagues buy his tale of time travel? Hmm, he might as well tell them he was in a coma or kidnapped by aliens.

And of course, there is the issue of what brought Frank to this adventure and him questioning his stake in both worlds-his acquisition of an original copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Dante’s Garden is richly written and wonderfully descriptive. Cutler-Broyles has a gift for showing not telling. In my mind’s eye I could see the people, places and things she writes about in glowing detail. In one passage, Cutler-Broyles describes a beautiful gown in shades of green, blue and purple, which filled me with pure joy!

If I have any regret, it is my grasp on European history is way too limited, and I must expand my knowledge gained through PBS documentaries, classic movies and vintage fashion. Cutler-Broyles has a vivid imagination and she clearly has a full grasp on Italian history, which isn’t surprising considering she is a visiting professor at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy and has spent the past ten years leading travels throughout Italy.

Now I’m left wondering if Cutler-Broyles has a sequel in mind. I would love to know how Frank and Lucrezia are affected by their remarkable expedition in the long run, long after their initial story plays out in Dante’s Garden-Magic and Mystery in Bomarzo.

Book Marks

 

bookmarkRose McGowan cancels her book tour after an argument with a transgender woman at Barnes and Noble.

The book biz is booming in Afghanistan despite most people’s inability to read.

Caitlin Moran’s latest literary offering How to Be Famous will be published in late June.

Before it was a Oscar-nominated movie The Shape of Water was a novella called Mrs. Caliban.

#MeToo founder Tarana Burke is writing her memoirs.

Being a librarian isn’t as easy as it looks.

Have an aspiring artist in your midst? You might want to check out these books.

Doctor’s office prescribes reading and offers free books.

Can Instagram help make poetry happen? Let’s find out.

One of my favorite television programs, The Good Place, offers four lessons for better writing.

 

 

 

Revenants-The Odyssey Home by Scott Kauffman

Meet Betsy, the teenage protagonist of Scott Kauffman’s novel Revenants: The Odyssey Home. In the era of the Vietnam War and the turmoil that went along with those days, Betsy is deeply grieving the death of her older brother, Nate, who has lost his life while serving in Vietnam. Betsy goes into a tailspin of depression, acting in ways she knows Nate would never approve of.

Hoping to shake her grief, stay out of trouble, and get some meaning to her life, Betsy volunteers at the local VA hospital. Everyday she is dealing with patients who have witnessed atrocities she can only imagine and dares not think what her brother may have witnessed.

One of these patients is an elderly man, near death, who served in World War I, “The Great War,” as if war can be considered “great.” This gentleman has one wish, to go home to be with his family before he dies.

Betsy decides it is to be her mission to get this man back to his family before he dies even though she knows so little about him. He is a true mystery. However, Betsy isn’t the only one who is interested in this man. So is a crooked politician, Congressman Hanna, who has a great deal of control of this hospital and the small-town in which it is located. Congressman Hanna knows this dying patient’s name and if this man’s name is revealed, Hanna can pretty much say good-bye to his political career and his long marriage.

Betsy is not alone on this odyssey. One person who supports Betsy is her younger brother Bartholomew who shares her grief over the loss of Nate and offers her encouragement. And then there is aspiring newspaper reporter, Matt, who knows getting this scoop on this elderly veteran and how he is connected to Congressman Hanna would be a definite career change. However, he is there to help Betsy not use her.

Throughout the novel there are twists and turns as Betsy, along with Matt, learns more and more about what about this old man and how it infuriates Congressman Hanna. And there are times when Betsy feels the wrath of Hanna and wonders how it will affect her in the long run. Betsy and Matt’s relationship grows from one that at first strictly professional but soon grows to be a friendship (which a times hints at the romantic).

Interspersed throughout the novel are scenes of Betsy working with other veterans at the hospital and chapters devoted to the elderly veteran what he went through during World War I that were quite chilling indeed. These chapters really got into the crux of what war can do to one singular human being. And Nate’s letters home to Betsy are also a welcome addition. Sure, he’s a teasing older brother but he is also loving and kind towards his little sister.

At the end Revenants, things don’t go exactly as planned and things don’t get wrapped up in a pretty bow. But Betsy does learn one great lesson. She has more power than she originally thinks and if she realizes it she can use these powers to help others as well as herself. She does a lot of growing up during this journey.

For the most part I liked Revenants. Betsy is a heroine who is realistic, at turns a rebellious teen and at others an incredibly brave young woman. Matt is a wonderful support system and I admire his tenacity in getting this important news story together using good old-fashioned gumshoe journalistic tactics (especially in our age of clickbait and “fake news”). As for Congressman Hanna? Well, he is no mustache twirling villain, just sleazy and corrupt. I must admit I rather liked how Hanna was so threatened by a teenage girl and a cub reporter.

I do have a few issues. At times I forgot about Bartholomew and it was odd how Nate’s letters to Betsy there was nary a mention of Bartholomew.

But these issues are minor. For the most part I found The Revenants to be a very relevant novel, and even timeless in the year 2018 when it comes to war, politics, journalism, the plight of our veterans and people’s desire to make a difference.

Book Report:We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

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Funny lady Samantha Irby of the blog Bitches Gotta Eat and author of Meaty is back with another brilliant book We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

Among this collection of essays Irby writes about her musings on love and sex. She tells of the scattering of her father’s ashes and her mother’s health struggles. Irby writes about her job at a vet’s office and her rather precarious relationship with a cat named Helen Keller. Irby also writes about finding true love in a way that both surprises her and delights her.

In We Are Never Meeting in Real Life Irby also offers her application to The Bachelorette, her trip to Nashville and needing a new job. She also gives us a list of 13 questions to ask before getting married.

My only quibble with We Are Never Meeting in Real Life? No recipes. Why, Sam, why? This bitch has gotta eat!

Book Marks

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The best movie adaptations of famous books according to the Stylist.

Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky’s list of his best books on film making.

Essential reading on the movie industry according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The Vulture’s list on the 100 best screenwriters.

Good Reads’ list of essential biographies, autobiographies and memoirs written by old school movie stars.

Good Reads’ list on film reviewing that movie buffs should read.

Great movie scenes that took place in libraries.

Great movies scenes that took place in book stores.

Writer Digest’s guide on writing adaptations for film.

The late Ursula K Le Guin’s list on the books that meant the most to her.

 

 

 

Book Review: And Then I Am Gone-A Walk with Thoreau by Mathias B Freese

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There is one thing people realize once they come to their “twilight” years. They have more of a past than a future. This is a time when they often take stock of their lives – good, the bad and the ugly. Writer, teacher and psychotherapist Mathias B. Freese is one these people, and now he shares his journey in his thoughtful memoir And Then I Am Gone: A Walk with Thoreau.

Thoreau, of course is Henry David Thoreau author of the classic Walden Pond, which many of us probably read back in high school. For Freese, Thoreau is a muse who guides him during his journey of self-examination. Ultimately Freese is asking himself, not the cliché “What is the meaning of life?” but “What is the meaning of my life.”

And Then I Am Gone is divided into two parts. Part one sets up the tone for the book and provides several chapters focusing on moving to Alabama, finding happiness with Nina, a past love affair, his relationship with his children and his own childhood, his thoughts on Trump, writer Norman Mailer, the movie Citizen Kane, and Thoreau as therapy. Part two focuses on Freese’s new life in a new home, his journey with Thoreau and coming to grips with his own mortality.

Born and bred in New York City, Freese is a secular Jewish man now living in Alabama with his southern belle, Nina, an Irish-American Roman Catholic. Not surprisingly, Freese finds country life below the Mason-Dixon line a complete cultural shock and often has difficulty navigating a world so different from the hustle and bustle of city life. However, it does force him to come to grips with his past. Freese has had success with his professional life, but his personal life was often in shambles. Childhood was difficult with a mother suffering with mental illness. Freese has been married and divorced a few times, and is also estranged from his daughter but is closer to his son Jordan.

Okay, Thoreau. Just what is life all about, hmm? Freese wants to know, You wrote a damn book about it. Surely you’ve got the goods. Now pony up!

Freese has questions and Thoreau provides answers, which often leads to Freese having more questions. Needless, say this can be quite maddening, which often leaves Freese feeling downright pessimistic.

But as I kept reading And Then I Am Gone, I thought to myself. Well, maybe we’re not always meant to have all the answers to our questions after we ask them, whether we ask Thoreau, our best friend, a therapist, our horoscope or a stranger on the street. At times those answers will leave us not exactly happy or more confused than before. Or sometimes we will find clear, concise advice or wise counsel in a time of confusion (especially in one of the most messed times in our nation’s history).

I found Freese’s book to be a true inspiration as I go through my own journey of self-exploration and after year of great difficulty, self-care. There are times I look for answers and feel nothing but despair and at times I feel true joy. We’re not supposed to solve the mysteries life and just accept things are going to be murky. At times we live life to the fullest and at times we are slackers on the couch. we should just live our lives the best we can before we are shuttled off this mortal coil.

I also appreciated Freese’s vivid style of writing. He can be a curmudgeon but he’s also wise, funny, a true storyteller. And Then I Am Gone is a treasure of a book.

Now if only I had kept that copy of Walden’s Pond….

 

 

Readin’, Writin’ and Rantin’

To my readers, I know a majority of you are fully woke (or whatever the vernacular is called these days) and keep abreast of social issues. And in the age of #Metoo, #Timesup or as I like to call it The Days of Weinstein and Roses, you probably heard of a less than pleasant date and sexual encounter a young woman named “Grace” had with actor, stand-up comic and author Aziz Ansari (more on Mr. Ansari later).

This incident was first reported by Katie Way for the website Babe.net. Babe.net, a website whose existence I was not aware of until several days ago. You can read Way’s article here.

But to sum it up, Grace and Asiz went on a date. Later they went back to his place where they proceeded to have sex. Grace wasn’t exactly too enthused to have sex and expressed herself using both verbal and non-verbal cues. Aziz would stop and then proceeded in ways that are both awkward and icky.

Not surprisingly Way’s article, not to mention Babe’s existence, became the ultimate clickbait and was fodder for all kinds of media, including Jezebel.com, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Samantha Bee from “Full Frontal,” and TMZ.

One person who made her opinion on this article and the murky world of dating and sex, included legal analyst Ashleigh Banfield who made her opinion known, not just on the situation but on Babe.net and Katie Way.

With her feelings hurt, Way stomped her little feet and sent a childish, snot-nosed email, which insulted the color of Banfield’s hair and her burgundy lipstick. Way also insulted Banfield’s place in journalism. Banfield wasted no time responding to Way’s hissy fit in a way that made me cheer. Here it is:

Hey, Ms. Way, when you were eating paste, Banfield was proving her journalistic mettle from ground zero at the ruins of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Okay, Katie I’ll let you off easy for insulting Banfield’s looks and age. I’m not exactly fond of your some your generation’s use of vocal fry, up speak and thinking a quick tweet is the same of doing the hard work of fighting for women’s rights.

However, I must instruct you on Banfield being a product of second wave feminism. Banfield was a child during the heady days of second wave feminism. She came of age of the third wave a feminism, which included books like Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. It was a time of Sassy magazine and when both Bust and Bitch were being launched by Generation X feminists. It was also a time of Riot Grrrl. It was a time when Generation X women were doing everything from starting their own bands to fighting for their reproductive rights. Such notable names when it comes to third wave feminism include Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Amy Richards, Jennifer Baumgardner, Liz Phair, Ani Di Franco, Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Jessica Valenti, Inga Muscio, Queen Latifah and Salma Hayek. It was a time of Lilith Fair, the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, movies like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and books like Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. And it pretty much kicked ass with a well-worn Doc Martin.

Furthermore, Katie. What is up with your solipsistic view that nobody under the age of 45 has heard of Ashleigh Banfield? Girl child learn your herstory. If I had told the advisor of my college newspaper I had never heard of women like Barbara Walters, Katherine Graham, Jane Pauley, Eleanor Clift, Nellie Bly, Linda Ellerbee, or Martha Gellhorn not only would I have been stripped of my title of editor I would have been kicked off the staff.

Now as for Aziz. As a fan of his, I must admit I am disappointed in his behavior if Grace’s story is true. He’s always come across as a male ally and totally feminist. But I find his behavior with Grace disturbing. It isn’t exactly rape or sexual assault, but it isn’t exactly the kind of behavior I would want from a man during sexy time. At best, he seems to a be a man in a state of arrested development who hasn’t built up the skills to decipher a woman’s words and gestures properly, which perhaps is something he should have a bit of handle on at 34 years old. At worst, he is rude and not respectful of a much younger woman with not as much life experience including when it comes to dating and sex. Aziz needs to keep that in mind.

As for Grace, part of me wants tell her to put on her big girl panties and tell her what she had was a bad date and regrettable sex. Next time be more assertive in her words and actions. Then I remind myself I’ve been in her situation and I forgot all about putting on my big girl panties and being assertive, too.

Relationships, even in our more enlightened times are still blurred. There is black and white, and murky shades of gray. Sexual situations often resemble a pot of noodles in various curlicues of confusion. And I hope as time goes on men and women will open up and discuss our individual experiences situations with compassion, mutual respect, open-mindedness, and a willingness to listen fully. I truly want all of us to get along.