Book Review: A Nantucket Christmas by Nancy Thayer

A Nantucket ChristmasA Nantucket Christmas by Nancy Thayer
Publisher: Ballentine Books
Release Date: October 29, 2013
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Holidays on this Massachusetts island are nothing short of magical, and the season’s wonderful traditions are much loved by Nicole Somerset, new to Nantucket and recently married to a handsome former attorney. Their home is already full of enticing scents of pine, baking spices, and homemade pie.

But the warm, festive mood is soon tempered by Nicole’s chilly stepdaughter, Kennedy, who arrives without a hint of holiday spirit. Determined to keep her stepmother at arm’s length—or, better yet, out of the picture altogether—Kennedy schemes to sabotage Nicole’s holiday preparations. Nicole, however, is not about to let anyone or anything tarnish her first Christmas with her new husband.

It’s Christmas time and you know what that means. Time for the cheesy, heartwarming Christmas books! Nantucket Christmas is the perfect mix of both. Sure, I knew pretty much exactly where the story was going about a fourth of the way in – much in the same way that you quickly figure out how a Lifetime movie will end once you start watching it. I didn’t mind this at all though. It was just what I wanted to get me even more into the Christmas spirit. I loved Nicole and her endless holiday cheer. I wanted to be her daughter by the end of the book.

There is conflict in the book but nothing too serious. Kennedy is a spoiled bitchy brat and I wanted to slap her silly at times. But it’s not like she was planning to murder Nicole or anything. And Kennedy’s mom was even worse than her! Luckily she didn’t play a big part in the book.

If you like to veg out watching a Lifetime movie on a lazy Sunday afternoon then this is the book for you. At only a little over 200 mass market sized pages, you will be able to finish it in one sitting. And you will have a smile on your face when you do.

Book Review: No Land’s Man by Aasif Mandvi

No Land's ManNo Land’s Man by Aasif Mandvi
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: November 4, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aasif Mandvi is probably most familiar to you as the Senior Muslim Correspondent on The Daily Show. At least that’s how he was most familiar to me. In listening to this book, I discovered that he had a very successful career before The Daily Show, including winning an Obie for his one-man show Sakina’s Restaurant.

No Land’s Man is not a humor book per se. It’s a collection of stories from Aasif’s life. Some are definitely funny but some are heartbreaking as well, like the one from his time at an English boarding school. He is a very talented writer and is capable of inspiring a wide gamut of emotions from the listener. The boarding school story almost made me cry. I think the story about starring in a film directed by Ismail Merchant frustrated me as much as it did Aasif. And the story about crashing Brooke Shields’ party made me laugh out loud.

The title No Land’s Man comes from the fact that Aasif was born in India, moved to England as a baby and then immigrated with his family to Florida as a teenager. The overriding theme is about Aasif’s search for identity given his wide experience with different cultures. A side note – I was unaware of how much racism brown people experience in England. That part of Aasif’s childhood was definitely hard.
Now you are wondering, what about The Daily Show? Does he mention that? Yes, he does. He talks about his path to becoming a regular on The Daily Show and the effect it had on both him and the wider American Muslim community.

Aasif narrates his book himself, a wise choice. It’s the same tone he uses on The Daily Show. A little loud and staccato but it works. This is a great book to learn more about Aasif and about what a brown person must go through to become a successful actor in America. At around four and half hours it’s a quick listen and definitely worth your time.

(I received this audiobook courtesy of the publisher.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks to all the authors, booksellers, bloggers and publishers for enriching  my life with bookish goodness.

Page to Screen: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

If you’re a Hunger Games fan, then you’ve certainly seen The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 by now.  So let’s discuss what we thought of it. I will avoid spoilers since some of you may not have seen it yet.

Firstly, I was skeptical that the first half of Mockingjay – and the movie does end at almost the exact middle of the book – could be stretched into a two-hour movie. After all, it’s not an epic tome like Breaking Dawn or the last Harry Potter book. Mockingjay did what I thought it would do. It told the behind the scenes story of which Katniss was unaware. These scenes are not in the book since the book is told in first person by Katniss. Some of the physical action is expanded and made more dramatic as well. Suzanne Collins, the author of the book, was part of the team that adapted the screenplay so I assume that she approved of these additions. Entertainment Weekly likened this approach to the movie as playing with the font and margins to make a term paper longer. I disagree – I liked how the book was adapted and I thought it was still a very faithful adaptation.

Another issue with dividing one book into two movies is where to end the first movie. I thought this movie was about two scenes too long. When you see it, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Ending two scenes prior would have been a much more suspenseful climax for people watching the movie that haven’t read the books.

The major deviation from the book is that a few minor characters are combined into one composite character. I thought this was a brilliant move and kept the movie from getting bogged down in a subplot  in the book that I didn’t care much about anyway and actually found a little confusing.

Overall, I really liked this movie. I wish it wasn’t going to be a full year before the last movie is released!

What did you think?

Launch Party: Winning Marriage by Marc Solomon

Last night I attended the Kansas City launch party for Marc Solomon’s new book Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits – and Won. Missouri State Senator Jolie Justus spoke first and introduced Solomon. Solomon is currently the National Campaign Director of Freedom to Marry, an organization that campaigns for same-sex couples to have the right to marry in the United States.

I just got the book last night so I haven’t read it yet but I’m really looking forward to reading it soon. Solomon said that it’s about all the advocacy and behind the scenes battles that it took to go from zero states allowing same-sex marriage in 2003 to where the movement to gain marriage rights for all same-sex couples stands today. (See the end of this post for the publisher’s description of the book.)

My biggest take-way from his talk was this: He said that before 2003, most  people said that legal same-sex marriage in the whole country was impossible and that now only ten years later, most people see legal same-sex marriage for all states as inevitable. He cautioned to avoid thinking of something as either impossible or inevitable. If it’s impossible, what’s the point of working to change it? If it’s inevitable, then it’s okay to stop working because it will happen no matter what.  We need to keep working to push the momentum in the movement forward and not get complacent now that it seems that same-sex marriage rights are coming quickly to more and more states.

Publisher’s Description of Winning Marriage:

Ten years ago no state allowed same-sex couples to marry, support for gay marriage nationwide hovered around 30 percent, and politicians everywhere thought of it as the third rail of American politics—draw near at your peril. Today, same-sex couples can marry in seventeen states, polls consistently show majority support, and nearly three-quarters of Americans believe legalization is inevitable.

In Winning Marriage Marc Solomon, a veteran leader in the movement for marriage equality, gives the reader a seat at the strategy-setting and decision-making table in the campaign to win and protect the freedom to marry. With depth and grace he reveals the inner workings of the advocacy movement that has championed and protected advances won in legislative, court, and electoral battles over the decade since the landmark Massachusetts ruling guaranteeing marriage for same-sex couples for the first time.

From the gritty battles in the state legislatures of Massachusetts and New York to the devastating loss at the ballot box in California in 2008 and subsequent ballot wins in 2012 to the joyous victories of securing President Obama’s support and prevailing in the Supreme Court, Marc Solomon has been at the center of one of the great civil and human rights movements of our time. Winning Marriage recounts the struggle with some of the world’s most powerful forces—the Catholic hierarchy, the religious right, and cynical ultraconservative political operatives—and the movement’s eventual triumph.

Author Event: Stephen King!

The Kansas City bookish crowd turned out en masse to hear Stephen King speak last week in Kansas City. He was brought in by local independent bookstore Rainy Day Books and the format of the event was a conversation with the owner Vivien Jennings. This event was quite a big deal –  before Stephen came out, Vivien said that she was even more nervous to speak with him than when she was in conversation with Hilary Clinton!

Not to bore you with the details but I want you to get a sense of how different this event was from the other author events Rainy Day books holds. Usually, a person buys a ticket which is the price of the whatever book is being promoted.  For that price you get your ticket, a guest ticket and a copy of the book. After the author is finished speaking, everyone lines up to get their books signed. Sometimes the author lets you take a picture with him or her, sometimes not. At Stephen King, your $30 ticket got you a copy of his new book Revival – no guest ticket and there was a limit of four tickets per customer. Vivian let us know that after Stephen came on stage, he would stand up for approximately 30 seconds and we could take pictures of him at that time – with no flash. After he sat down, there would be no more photos or videos. Finally, there was no signing at the end. King randomly signed some copies of his book and if you were lucky, the book you got was signed. Unfortunately, my copy was not. Oh, and there was not one, not two, but THREE security guards in the lobby. Stephen King is truly a rock star in the literary world!

Okay, now on to his actual conversation with Vivien. King said his new book, Revival, is about the power of religion and the scars that it leaves. It allowed him to express all his reservations about religion. He said that the title, Revival, has more than one meaning. There is the church revival and there is also revival as in bringing someone back from the dead.

He said that he chose the Methodist church as the religion in Revival because he grew up Methodist.  He mentioned that one of the main characters participates in MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) as a child, like he did. I thought that was funny because I also grew up Methodist and was in MYF. Stephen King and I have so much in common.

Vivien asked him was he thought about fiction being divided into different genres (e.g. horror, literary, women’s fiction). He said there is an arbitrary divide between literature and fiction. [Which I agree with - who decides what is what?] He said he when he was awarded the 2003 National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters it felt like the equivalent of winning Miss Congeniality in a beauty pageant. He pointed out that the same thing happens in the movie world. He felt that Dee Wallace Stone deserved an Oscar for her performance in the movie Cujo but of course was never considered since Cujo is labeled as a horror movie.

He told a really funny story: He was grocery shopping and a lady came up and asked him if he was Stephen King. He said yes and she proceeded to tell him that she didn’t like his books because they were too dark and disturbing. She said she preferred uplifting books like Shawshank Redemption. When he said he wrote that too, she protested and said, “No, you did not!” She really didn’t believe him.

When Vivien asked him about critics, he said that he believes that if every critic says the same thing, then it’s probably true but every critique is different, then the critics are full of crap. He also said that if someone takes away a book from you, buy it and find out what they don’t want you to know. [Good advice!]

Stephen talked about his love of music and that he plays guitar. Vivien’s husband Roger brought out a $2,000 guitar (sorry, I know nothing about guitars so I can’t tell you what kind it was or anything)  that a music store lent them for the occasion and asked Stephen to play.  He played The Shadows of Knight’s Gloria and the 1,200 person sold-out audience sang alone and gave him a standing ovation. Then he mysteriously vanished…. (or exited the stage, I’m not sure which.)

***I want to thank my friend Average Jane profusely for letting me use the photos she took at the event in this post. I do not take pictures well under pressure and all of mine turned out really crappy.***

Book Review: Hanukkah in America: A History by Dianne Ashton

Hanukkah in America: A HistoryHanukkah in America: A History by Dianne Ashton
Publisher: NYU Press
Release Date: October 14, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In New Orleans, Hanukkah means decorating your door with a menorah made of hominy grits. Latkes in Texas are seasoned with cilantro and cayenne pepper. Children in Cincinnati sing Hanukkah songs and eat oranges and ice cream. While each tradition springs from its own unique set of cultural references, what ties them together is that they all celebrate a holiday that is different in America than it is any place else. For the past two hundred years, American Jews have been transforming the ancient holiday of Hanukkah from a simple occasion into something grand. Each year, as they retell its story and enact its customs, they bring their ever-changing perspectives and desires to its celebration. Providing an attractive alternative to the Christian dominated December, rabbis and lay people alike have addressed contemporary hopes by fashioning an authentically Jewish festival that blossomed in their American world.

The ways in which Hanukkah was reshaped by American Jews reveals the changing goals and values that emerged among different contingents each December as they confronted the reality of living as a religious minority in the United States. Bringing together clergy and laity, artists and businessmen, teachers, parents, and children, Hanukkah has been a dynamic force for both stability and change in American Jewish life.  The holiday’s distinctive transformation from a minor festival to a major occasion that looms large in the American Jewish psyche is a marker of American Jewish life. Drawing on a varied archive of songs, plays, liturgy, sermons, and a range of illustrative material, as well as developing portraits of various communities, congregations, and rabbis, Hanukkah in America reveals how an almost forgotten festival became the most visible of American Jewish holidays.

Don’t let the fact that Hanukkah in America is published by an academic press scare you off. It’s a very readable book about the history of Hanukkah and how it evolved from a minor Jewish holiday into the holiday that most non-Jews think is the holiest of all the Jewish holidays.

I happened to already know that Hanukkah is a minor holiday but I wasn’t aware of how it became the elaborately celebrated holiday that is today. This book explains in detail how Hanukkah has grown and changed over the last century to deal with what has become known as the December Dilemma. As the author of one Hanukkah guide mentioned in this book observed, “Christmas heightens one’s awareness of one’s Jewishness almost as much as any single Jewish holiday.” Because Jewish children felt left out of the fun and merriment of Christmas, Jewish leaders tried various things to make Hanukkah more fun for them so that the children’s families wouldn’t feel the need to erect a Christmas tree as some of them had been doing. On example is that a Kansas City chapter of the NFTS (National Foundation of Temple Sisterhoods) printed directions for a Hanukkah party complete with food, games, costumes and more.

Whenever a book I read mentions Unitarians, I feel compelled to point it out since it is such a rare occurrence for us. In this case, the book explains that Reform Rabbi set up Christmas-Hanukkah meeting between his Temple Youth League and the teens of the local Unitarian church because “that very liberal Christian group could be trusted not to evangelize to the Jewish youngsters.” (Not all Unitarians are Christians but I understand the point.)

I found Hanukkah in America to be a really interesting, educational book. I think people of all religions could learn a lot from this detailed account of how Hanukkah has become what it is today.

(I received this book courtesy of the publisher.)

To Re-read Or Not To Re-read…

… That is the question.

I haven’t had as many reviews to post lately because I’ve been doing a lot of re-reading. I re-read both Gone Girl and This Is Where I Leave You in preparation for the movies and then I re-read Slant of Light to prep for reading the sequel, This Old World.

Because my memory is so terrible, I try to re-read the book that a movie is based on before I see the movie if it’s been more than a few months since I read the book originally. I do this mostly so that I can write a detailed Page To Screen post. I didn’t do much re-reading of books turned movies before my blog. I have a friend who says that she prefers not to re-read the book so that she won’t notice every little detail of how the book is different and can just sit back and enjoy the movie. Of course if there are huge discrepancies, she’ll still notice. I can definitely see the advantage of not re-reading to avoid being disappointed.

Again, because of my terrible memory, when a new book in a series comes out, I try to re-read at least the immediate previous book in the series to refresh myself on what was happening with the series. Usually, if I read a book twice then I do a much better job of remembering what happened in it so I don’t have to re-read EVERY book in the series every time a new one comes out. For this reason,  in the case of series that have a set number of books determined at the outset, like trilogies, I’ll wait until all the books are released before starting the series so that I can read them all in quick succession, thus avoiding re-reading. I even did this with the Twilight series believe it or not. I resisted the hype for as long as I could!

The last type of re-reading is re-reading books just because they are favorites. I have rarely done this. In fact, I can’t remember doing it at all as an adult reader. Sometimes I will listen to a book I have previously read on audio though. There are just so many books and so little time that I can’t justify re-reading to myself in that case. What if I don’t read all the books before I die because I spent time re-reading?!

What are your thoughts on re-reading?

Monopoly Marathon

West, Neve and I started a Monopoly game this morning. Then when Cash and Travis returned home from a scouting event, we started over so they could play too. We played straight up until bedtime with only a couple of near meltdowns. I’ve loved Monopoly since I was a child and it’s so fun to see the kids getting into it. And they are even learning – making change, budgeting, patience, delayed gratification, negotiation skills, strategy, sportsmanship -  the list goes on. Don’t tell them though! Let them think they’re just having fun.

Reunited and It Tastes So Good…

Did you know these candy bars are still around? I found this one at Toys R Us. This was my favorite candy bar to eat while studying in high school. Ah, memories!