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The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle

Written By: Matt Cain

Published By: Kensington Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

              A friend of mine sent The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle to me, knowing just how much I like new and interesting reads.  She hasn’t yet sent me something I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, so I couldn’t wait to start reading this one.  Once I started, I couldn’t put the book down.

              Albert Entwistle is a postman for the Royal Mail.  As he approaches his sixty-fifth birthday, he receives notice of his forced retirement.  A single man, living in the house his long-dead parents left him, Albert isn’t quite sure what he will do with himself once he retires.  The Royal Mail is all he knows.  He leads a solitary life with no one really close to him except his cat Gracie.  Without mail deliveries filling up his days, Albert fears the future.

              As he looks back on his life, he realizes he has fallen into a bit of a routine, never veering from his set schedule.  He begins looking around his house and decides changes are in order, especially after he finds a box of old letters reminding him of a love he once shared.  When tragedy befalls Albert in the loss of his only companion, he decides it is time to seek out his one time love.  This will mean coming out of the shell he has build around him, letting them know the true Albert Entwistle…the one who once loved a boy named George. 

As he embarks on his journey to find George, Albert begins telling people his tale, getting closer to a neighbor who is also trying to find herself while wondering if she is seeing too much in the relationship she is currently in.  Albert finds that he enjoys having friends who he can get advice on and for whom he can give a bit of himself.  In the process, Albert discovers that he was never truly alone, that he is surrounded by a community of coworkers and friends along his mail route who really care about him.  There is no doubt that Albert is a changed man, but one question remains: if Albert finds George, will he want him, or will events from the past prevent the two from ever being together?

Author Matt Cain is an amazing writer, so descriptive that the imaginative reader can picture everything, from Albert’s route, his home, his office and even Albert himself, in their mind’s eye.  Cain manages to make this solitary curmudgeon find a way into the reader’s heart early on.  You will find yourself laughing and crying with Albert’s ups and downs,  And yes, I was crying real tears during the tragic turn that pushes Albert to find George.  I could relate to what the character was going through and I was deep into the Kleenex by the time that chapter was completed, heart-wrenching experience as it was. 

One thing is for sure, the reader will definitely find themselves rooting for Albert all along his journey, saying things to themselves like, “go talk to her” or “stop hiding, Albert.  Let someone in!”  As the journey moves forward, despite all the ups and downs, you will find yourself smiling as Albert does just that.  You will be on the same rollercoaster ride he is on, experiencing the extreme highs and lows of his journey as if it is your own.  At some point, though you hope he finds George, you will be proud of how far Albert has come in the past couple-hundred pages you have read.

I loved this book so much, I was loathe to put it down to eat or sleep.  My only criticism of the tale is that I felt the author was too optimistic regarding the way people treat homosexuals in life.  It seemed that everyone Albert came out to treated him with the utmost respect and happiness.  The real world is not as rosy colored, but one could wish for it to become that way.  The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle is enough to give one hope for that in the future.  It’s a terrific journey you don’t want to miss!  I truly hope someone decides to make a movie out of this book.  I’ll be first on line to see it!

Check out The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle at Amazon


Distributed By: Hulu

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

              The week was a rough one and all I wanted to do was laugh.  I needed a fun comedy to break the stressful mood.  Searching for something on Hulu, I stumbled upon a new film that seemed to be just what I needed a romantic comedy called Crush.

              Teenager Paige Evans (Rowan Blanchard) is an artist, hoping to get into a summer program at CalArts.  Unfortunately, she is struggling with the application prompt requesting artwork that describes her happiest moment.  Paige thinks about various topics, like when she came out to her understanding and forward thinking mother (Megan Mullally) and times with her best friend Dillon (Tyler Alvarez), but all she keeps coming back to is the unrequited love she feels for her crush Gabriela Campos (Isabella Ferreira).  She decides that she needs to devise a way to get close to Gabriela and that could jumpstart her happiest moment. 

              Meanwhile, KingPun, an anonymous artist tagging up all over Paige’s high school with pun-based graffiti, has stepped up their game.  Coach Murray (Aasif Mandvi) thinks Paige is KingPun and he brings her to the principal’s office to receive her punishment.  Suspension would ruin her chance at CalArts, so Paige makes a bargain.  She’ll join the track team, so she can be under the constant supervision of Coach Murray, while she does her research to discover the identity of KingPun and proves her innocence.  An added plus is that Gabriella is on the team.

              This would be a great idea if Paige had any athletic ability whatsoever.  Coach Murray chooses AJ Campos (Auli’i Cravahlho) to train Paige on how to run the 4×1000 relay race.  AJ is Gabriela’s sister and, while that could be useful in getting Paige closer to her crush, the more time she spends with AJ the less she finds herself crushing on Gabriela.  Just when Paige figures everything out, things in her world come crashing down.  Can Paige find a way to fix the mess she created, or will she lose out on the relationship she had been hoping for all along?

              Crush is quite a refreshing look at LGBTQ romance.  This is not a coming out story, an angst-driven tale that has been done over and over again.  Instead, Crush focuses on the idea of the first kiss, that first realization that you really like someone.  It took me back to my high school days and the shyness, angst, secret longings, and more.  Yes, Crush is rather predictable, but when I was watching it, I truly didn’t care.  The movie made me laugh with the over-the-top antics of Megan Mullally, the pun-art of KingPun, the mishaps that befall Paige as she searches for the identity of KingPun while chasing her crush. 

              Crush is a film most people will be able to relate to, what with all the high school teenage angst associated with crushes and hopes for the future.  I found it to be a refreshing teen romantic comedy and would happily watch it again.


Whisper of the Gods

Written By: Peter Golenbock

Published By: Rowman & Littlefield

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

              Football is over and baseball players are headed into camp.  Spring training is coming and I am in the mood for a good baseball book.  The best ones I’ve read have been by Peter Golenbock and happily there are still a few Golenbock books I have yet to read.  I decided to start my prelude to baseball with a newer Golenbock book, Whisper of the Gods.

              Whisper of the Gods: Tales from Baseball’s Golden Age, Told by the Men Who Played It is just that, a collection of baseball stories culled from the multitude of interviews Peter Golenbock has conducted over the years for his various baseball books.  The book features tales told by Roy Campanella, Stan Musial, Roger Maris, Ron Santo, Phil Rizzuto, Monte Irvin, Ted Williams and more.  There are two sections for Jim Bouton who was a good friend of the author and helped inspire the creation of this book.

              Each chapter has a couple of paragraphs by the author, introducing us to the player, what team they played for, and what they will be talking about.  I loved the fact that the players didn’t always talk about themselves, but other players, like what it was like to play with Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, what it was like to play in the Negro Leagues, special games in baseball history, and more.  It was interesting to read as Ted Williams expounded about his feelings regarding the lifetime ban of Shoeless Joe Jackson from baseball and why Shoeless Joe belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  (I happen to agree with him, and if they ever decide to put Pete Rose in, they had better put Shoeless Joe Jackson in first!)

              It is true that the players featured in this book have long stopped playing the sport.  Some are even long dead.  But that’s why this book is so important.  History is very important…the history of the game we love is very important…and it is all well and good to have a baseball historian tell the story, but an oral history told by the men who played the game in its early years is incredibly valuable to someone like me, a history and baseball enthusiast.  Who else can give us the real feelings regarding the change in baseball after the establishment of the union but Monte Irvin?  I loved how he pointed out that the higher salaries being paid some of the players might eventually price out the true fans of the game.  Boy, was he ever on point there!  Who else could compassionately talk about Walter O’Malley and why he moved the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles than Roy Campanella?

              Whispers of the Gods is a terrific baseball book and a great add to any baseball fan’s bookshelf.  Peter Golenbock has done it again, letting the players tell us their tales and give us insight into what it was like to play baseball in their era.  I loved this book and read it in a matter of days.  Now, I just need one more book – my shelves have Golenbock’s books about the Yankees, the Mets, the Dodgers, the Cardinals/Browns, the Red Sox, and the Cubs.  He’s written oral histories about every New York baseball team except the New York Giants.  That’s what I need – an oral history about the New York Giants from my favorite baseball author!  In the meantime, I will re-read some of the tales about the Giants in Whispers of the Gods and hope for the best.

Check out Whisper of the Gods at Amazon


Fried Green Tomatoes

Distributed By: Universal Studios

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            Everyone has that movie – that one movie that no matter how many times you watch it, you never get bored.  It’s the movie that makes you feel good when you’re sick; the movie that makes you laugh when you’re sad or makes you cry when you need to; the movie that despite how many times you’ve watched it, you always spot something new in it.  It’s THE featured movie in your collection – the one you couldn’t do without.  For me, Fried Green Tomatoes is that movie.

            Set in the south, Fried Green Tomatoes revolves around two sets of friends and how the tale of one set inspires that of the other.  Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) is an overweight housewife who feels under-appreciated and worries about the future of her marriage to her husband Ed.  One day, she meets a sprightly old woman named Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) while visiting her husband’s aunt in a nursing home.  Seeing Evelyn in need of some companionship and having a need for companionship herself, Ninny decides to strike up a conversation with Evelyn. 

            The two become fast friends, Evelyn earning inspiration from the stories Ninny tells about the Threadgoode family, Ruth Jameson (Mary Louise Parker) and Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) in particular.  As Evelyn learns about the adversity faced and conquered by these two strong women, she begins to earn confidence in herself, slimming down, getting a job, and making positive changes in her life.  When Ninny’s lifelong friend dies and she realizes that the home she once knew is gone, Evelyn is there to help Ninny just as Ninny had been there for her.

            Fried Green Tomatoes is a story about friendship and the love that goes into the relationship of special friends.  But it is also so much more.  It’s a story of triumph in the face of adversity.  It’s a murder mystery and a down-home tall tale.  It’s a drama with comic moments.  It’s a story about believing in yourself.  A tale about the importance of remembering our past and handing that memory down to future generations.  It’s all of these things wrapped up in a tremendously enjoyable package.         

            What’s more is that the movie is so damned believable.  Every time I watch this movie, I cry – I don’t want to give away the movie to those who haven’t seen it, so I won’t tell you exactly which scene causes the water works.  I will say that the scene is so well-done, you can’t help but cry in sympathy with the characters.  The whole movie is this way.  Anyone watching it can totally relate to at least one or more of the characters and when they laugh, you laugh; when they cry, you cry.  The acting and direction is just that incredible.

            I recently purchased the Anniversary Extended Version of Fried Green Tomatoes.  In this particular version of the movie, deleted scenes were placed back into the movie.  I had viewed some of these scenes previously during a specially televised version of the film and wondered why they had been cut in the first place, so having the movie in what I perceived as the “whole” version was very important to me. 

            Watching Fried Green Tomatoes again for the umpteenth time was just as magical for me as the very first time I saw the movie.  As I told you before, this is a film in which you will always notice something new.  This time around, I realized that I had always admired the chain the adult Idgie Threadgoode wore in the movie, but never once spotted where it came from.  Watching the movie again allowed me to recognize that this was the same chain that Idgie’s beloved brother hung his watch from…the same chain and watch she was playing with moments before his death.  Obviously this chain was very special to Idgie as a momento of someone she loved very much.  Hats off to director Jon Avnet for his attention to subtle details such as these that are present throughout the movie.

            Hats off as well to the masterful acting by each and every one of the cast members involved in this project.  The casting of this film included some truly talented individuals.  As I later found out when I watched the documentary included in this DVD, Jon Avnet had much to do with the selection of actors to portray the numerous roles in the film.  My opinion is that Avnet did a bang-up job! 

            Kathy Bates is terrific as Evelyn Couch.  Bates has a way of owning the character she portrays, making that character appear to be a real part of our world instead of some invention from someone else’s imagination.  Jessica Tandy is a natural – I can’t imagine anyone else as the lovable Ninny Threadgoode.  Mary Louise Parker, in my opinion, is a rather under-rated actress.  Having seen her in some incredibly dramatic roles – as Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes, as Linda in A Place for Annie, Robin in Boys on the Side – I know that Parker possesses an incredible believability factor.  I’ve also seen her in full-length comedies as well as the comedic moments found in Fried Green Tomatoes and Boys on the Side.  It’s obvious to me that Mary Louise Parker has great range as an actress.  I’ve seen quite a few movies that include Mary Stuart Masterson as a cast member.  Whether she is a member of an ensemble cast or starring in a lead role, Masterson always displays talent and poise, no matter how challenging the role.  I’ve seen her in movies that bombed at the box office and have never been able to say one adverse word about her acting abilities.  Masterson is a pro and I loved her as Idgie Threadgoode.

            In addition to the terrific performances by the lead actors, Fried Green Tomatoes is blessed with a plethora of supporting actors who deserve just as much credit for their performances: Stan Shaw in his portrayal of Big George, one of Idgie’s closest friends; the remarkable Cicely Tyson as Sipsey, Threadgoode family friend and mother of Big George; Timothy Scott as Smokey Lonesome, the alcoholic train tramp with a good heart; Nick Searcy as the despicable Frank Bennett, Ruth’s husband; Gary Basaraba as Sheriff Grady Kilgore; Chris O’Donnell as Buddy Threadgoode, Idgie’s brother; and Raynor Scheine as Sheriff Curtis Smoote.  All of these actors did an amazing job in helping to bring their characters to life.

            The soundtrack of Fried Green Tomatoes fits the movie perfectly.  It’s a mix of country, blues, oldies and contemporary music.  Much of the soundtrack is performed by various performers with a variety of styles and features such artists as Jodeci, Taylor Dayne, Patti La Belle and Marion Williams, just to name a few.  The musical score composed by Thomas Newman is absolutely incredible.

            In addition to the movie, the Anniversary Edition of Fried Green Tomatoes included a few extras, the most notable being a documentary about the making of the movie.  In Moments of Discovery: The Making of Fried Green Tomatoes, we learn about the dedication of everyone involved in making this movie.  This documentary combines several interviews of cast and crew members.  There are also interviews with Fannie Flagg, the author of the novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, upon which this movie is based. 

            Some documentaries can be very dry and…well, frankly, quite boring.  However, this documentary shoots back and forth between the actors, director, author and crew members, each offering little known facts about the creation of the film and personal, often funny tales about the filming itself.  One such humorous story involved a scene filmed in a pond.  Apparently, when director Jon Avnet was laying out the scene, a water moccasin decided to accompany him there.  He was not the only victim of the pond’s indigenous wildlife – Mary Louise Parker had a run in with a particularly hungry leech!

            I had always admired the ability of Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker and their ability to portray the close bond of friendship felt between the characters that they portrayed.  In watching this documentary, I learned that the two had become fast friends on the set and that they really weren’t acting when it came to the friendship aspect of their character’s relationship.  When they discussed the food fight scene, it was with fondness and genuine laughter.  Much of the scene was mapped out, but a great deal of it was unscripted and you could tell that the actresses had terrific fun in its creation.

            Moments of Discovery revealed the difficulty of transforming a novel into a script and still keeping the basic integrity of the novel.  Fannie Flagg revealed that she had made an attempt at the transformation but failed.  Other people were commissioned to complete the task, but came up just short of the intended goal.  One script even turned the novel into a musical.  I simply can’t imagine Fried Green Tomatoes as a musical.  Finally, Jon Avnet’s love for the book pushed him to write the script that was used for the film.

            In watching this documentary, I was surprised to learn that much of the set used to create Whistle Stop wasn’t actually a sound stage created for the film.  The director and his crew actually found a mostly abandoned town and set up shop there.  The town was fairly deserted and quite overgrown.  In fact, if you’re observant enough, you’ll notice that the graffiti on the wall of one of the shops shown in what is supposed to be present-day Whistle Stop displays a single word – “KUDZU”.  This is in reference to the foliage of the same name that had to be removed from the facade of many of the structures in the town.  I was delighted to discover that the town they used resurrected itself after the filming was over.  Ruth and Idgie’s Whistle Stop Café actually exists and is filled with memorabilia from the film.

            Now, anyone who knows me knows how much I love outtakes and deleted scenes, so I was happy to see that this DVD included these sections.  Upon viewing the deleted scenes, I had to wonder why these scenes were cut at all.  Why weren’t these scenes added into the movie’s extended version?  When I watched Moments of Discovery, I realized that there were even more deleted scenes that never even made it into the Deleted Scenes section of the extras.  Why not?  The outtakes from the movie were funny, but I expected more – I eventually got more from the documentary, but why have a section marked Outtakes when the funnier outtakes were included in the documentary?

            The DVD extras also included a Poster Campaign (I had no idea just how many posters there were for Fried Green Tomatoes), Production Photos (a virtual ton of these) and Sipsey’s Recipes, a set of down home cooking recipes that you can also find in the back of the original novel.  I can’t wait to make me some fried green tomatoes!  Every time I watch the film, my mouth waters at the sight of them.

            So, now that you know I love the movie and would recommend it to just about anyone, you’re probably wondering how I felt about the Anniversary Edition of the film.  Well, I loved the extended version of the movie and the documentary that was included in this edition.  To me, purchasing the Anniversary Edition is worth it just for those particular features.  But, if you’re just interested in the movie, you can buy any version of the film and be satisfied.  As for reading the novel the movie is based on – I’ve read it and it was highly enjoyable.  However, I must remind people that the movie was based upon some of the characters and some of the situations.  If you don’t separate the novel from the film in your mind, you’re likely to be disappointed.  If you can separate the two, I’m sure you’ll find that they are both enjoyable in their own ways. 

            In any case, watching Fried Green Tomatoes is a must for any serious movie fan.  It has everything – important messages delivered and wrapped in an incredibly enjoyable story (truly two stories in one), a great soundtrack, fantastic acting, incredible scenery, attention to detail and more.  This is a movie created through the love and devotion of all involved and it certainly shows.  Fried Green Tomatoes is definitely a movie worth watching again and again and again and….

Check out Fried Green Tomatoes at Amazon


Star Wars: Queen’s Peril

Written By: E.K. Johnston

Published By: Disney Lucasfilm Press

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

              Last year, I read Star Wars: Queen’s Hope and thoroughly enjoyed this new look at Padmé Amidala and her handmaidens.  I had always wanted the powers that be in Star Wars-land to delve deeper into some of the characters in the prequels and had gotten my wish.  Then I discovered that Queen’s Hope was part of a trilogy and realized I had to get my hands on the rest of the books.  My latest acquisition from the trilogy: Queen’s Peril.

              Star Wars: Queen’s Peril tells us the beginning of Padmé’s journey, introducing us as she is just about to be elected Queen of Naboo.  We learn how Padmé’s original handmaidens were chosen and how they were integrated into something more than just handmaidens.  It was important for Quarsh Panaka to incorporate the handmaidens into Padmé’s security forces.  He intentionally picked intelligent teenagers with special skills who looked similar to Padmé but had no desire to be in the forefront of things.  Tsabin was a musician who looked most like Padmé and could teach her breathing techniques that would help hide emotions.  Rabene, the artist and crafty con artist, would help Padmé not only hide her feelings, but be deceitful when necessary.  Eirtama, the costume designer, would design new clothing that would emulate the traditional Queen’s garb, but would be less ungainly and would have some hidden surprises should things get rough.  Suyan was skilled weaver who would change the large headpieces Queen Amidala wore into lighter, more manageable constructs.  Sashah, the youngest of the group, would teach them all how to hide in plain sight.

Panaka was proud of his choice of handmaidens, but he eventually learns he has underestimated Padmé and his selections, how close they would become, and how crafty.  They would change their names and assume specialties: Rabé would be the wardrobe mistress, Eirtaé would become the communications specialist, Yané would be the liaison with the palace staff and droids, Saché would become a paige, and Sabé would be the assistant.  They would all learn the other’s job and all would learn how to be Amidala so they could be the Queen’s decoy if necessary.  Padmé could then hide in plain sight as one of her own handmaidens, often gaining direct access to her people and their plights.

Though frustrating for Panaka, this would prove to be a valuable tool for, unbeknownst to Queen Amidala and her allies, trouble was brewing.  The Trade Federation was about to enact a blockade in the Naboo sector and a Sith was about to make trouble for them all.  Even with the help of Jedi, Queen Amidala will need every last one of her handmaidens to bring all of her subjects together, including the outcast Gungans, in a fight for the very freedom of Naboo and its people.

I loved Star Wars: Queen’s Peril.  We got a very close and personal look at Padmé Amidala and her rise from citizen to Queen Amidala, treasured Queen of Naboo.  We also got a better look at each of the handmaidens, their lives before they accepted the job, and the ways in which they sacrificed themselves for their Queen and their sisterhood.  I love that E.K. Johnston does not back down from any formerly taboo subject in the Star Wars Universe.  I always wondered how it was that the people of Star Wars could have children, but never seem to have sex.  No one ever seems to suffer from period cramps.  Homosexuality was never a thing in the Star Wars Universe.  Not so in this book.  E.K. Johnston breaks the boundaries.  Yes, Padmé has a period and so do her handmaidens.  Young teenagers reading this book will recognize what Saché is going through when she gets her first period.  They will enjoy the tales of budding romance, no matter the gender. 

Star Wars: Queen’s Peril is a tale any Star Wars fan could love.  It reveals the backstories of some very important prequel characters.  It contains characters that are relatable and easy to like.  There is action, intrigue, drama, and a little bit of tongue-in-cheek fun.  Most of all, the stories of Star Wars have become a little bit more realistic.  Wars don’t happen without death, horror, and destruction.  PTSD is a real thing to be dealt.  The writers of Star Wars are now dealing with realities of life and I applaud this move into a more realistic Star Wars than we have ever seen before. 

Check out Star Wars: Queen’s Peril at Amazon

Stranger to Ourselves

Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us

Written By: Rachel Aviv

Published By: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

I am very interested in the field of psychology, so when Netgalley offered me the opportunity to read Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv, I jumped on the chance.  The book was described as a “groundbreaking exploration of mental illness and the mind.”  According to the description, Rachel Aviv was going to explain how mental disorders can affect who we are in society and she would do this by inviting us into the lives of a number of individuals diagnosed with mental disorders.  I quickly downloaded the book…and then it sat.  Life was such that I didn’t get the chance to read Rachel Aviv’s book until now, but I can’t wait to tell our readers about the experience.

Rachel Aviv is not a psychiatrist or psychologist.  She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker with unique insight into the world of mental disorders – she was diagnosed with one at a young age.   Thus, he opens the book with a discussion of her childhood diagnosis of anorexia after the divorce of her parents and their ongoing custody battle.  Her stay in the hospital was supposed to help her overcome anorexia, but Rachel tells us something that we may not realize – staying with others who have the same or similar diagnosis can lead to an intensity in your own diagnosis.  She would learn tricks of the trade, so to speak, from other patients who had been dealing with the diagnosis much longer than she had, how to avoid meals, how to eat large meals and get rid of them shortly afterwards, etc.  While her parents were blaming each other for her anorexia, Rachel was learning how to be a better anorexic from her hospital mates.  After six weeks, she was released from the hospital and soon afterwards she was no longer exhibiting symptoms of anorexia.  Could the symptoms have been exacerbated by her stay with other anorexics or was this something Rachel needed to work out herself?

The other stores Rachel has included in her book are just as thought-provoking.  Particularly of interest are the chapters about Bapu and Naomi.  Through her research of these individuals’ journals, interviews with people who knew them, and more, Rachel paints us a picture of how a lack of culturally educated psychology harmed these two individuals.  Bapu was a Brahmin, a daughter to a family in India’s highest caste.  Her arranged marriage proved to be difficult for her and eventually, she turned to religion to deal with the pressures and stresses of everyday life.  She immersed herself in religion, eventually believing that she was a prophet.  This, of course, landed her in a psychiatric institution, but she would only ever thrive when people allowed her to be the person she believed herself to be. 

Naomi was a single mother of multiple children in an economically depressed area of Chicago.  She had become obsessed with the history of Black women in America and the deprivations her ancestors faced.  Naomi looked at her current situation, growing up in poverty and then becoming a single mother in the same situation as her own mother, and she could see no way out.  She thought she was saving her children when she threw them from a bridge.  This led to incarceration and time in a psychiatric institution.  However, there is a great deal of cultural bias in psychology and not a great deal of knowledge regarding how other races, religions and creeds respond to the idea of getting psychiatric help.  Naomi’s issues weren’t looked at objectively and it took a great deal of time for Naomi to come to terms with her illness.

Strangers to Ourselves asks us to read each story with an open mind as we learn that the field of psychiatry is not always infallible.  Sometimes meds are good for a patient, sometimes psychotherapy is needed.  Some doctors just tend to throw meds at patients without really getting down to the real diagnosis.  Cultural bias can often get in the way of treatment.  Cultural education regarding differences between cultures of countries, socioeconomic cultures, and more are necessary for purveyors of psychology to embark on a useful treatment for any individual patient.

This book questions various methods, mistakes, medications and more without actually saying any one thing is wrong.  By doing so Rachel Aviv forces us to ask our own questions as to whether reform is needed in the field of psychology.  Strangers to Ourselves is a captivating and educating journey and well worth the read.

Check out Strangers to Ourselves at Amazon


Life Will Be the Death of Me

Written By Chelsea Handler

Published By: Spiegel & Grau

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               If you have ever read one of comedienne Chelsea Handler’s books, you would know that they are full of sex, drugs, booze and hilariously funny stories about her life, friends, and family.  I have read and really enjoyed a couple of her books, so I was happy to get her latest book, Life Will Be the Death of Me as a recent gift.  It came at a time when I could really use a laugh.

               Life Will Be the Death of Me comes at a point in Chelsea Handler’s life when she is questioning everything around her.  Donald Trump has become President, something she never believed was possible.  The world around her is becoming intolerable and Chelsea feels like she needs help understanding her anger and anguish.  She has tried therapy before, but it never seemed like it “worked.”  Finally, she has found a psychiatrist that can go head to head with her stubborn, snarky self and help Chelsea delve into past situations that may have shaped the woman she has become. 

               We soon learn that there was a profound event in Chelsea Handler’s life that shaped who she is – the death of her brother, Chet.  When Chelsea was nine years old, her brother decided to forego the annual family trip in preference to a hike with friends.  He fell to his death during that hiking trip and Chelsea Handler’s life would never be the same.  Her family didn’t deal with Chet’s death well, so Chelsea was never able to grieve properly.  She was taught to avoid grief and her expressions of grief were associated with frustration and anger.

               Over the years, this history of the avoidance of sadness parlayed itself into a lucrative comedic career for Chelsea, but she always felt that something was missing.  Now, decades later, she was finally willing to face what it was that was haunting her all of these years.  Of course, that is not to say that she doesn’t experience some wild and crazy events along the way.  What would a journey through the grief of the past be like without the insanity of Chelsea Handler’s present life, right?

               Life Will Be the Death of Me was nowhere near what I expected it to be.  I expected another funny book filled with Chelsea Handler’s over-the-top antics.  Instead, I got a book filled with self-exploration and an understanding of how grief can truly affect someone and mold their future.  Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, it is delivered with that classic Chelsea Handler wit that she has featured in all of her books.  Funny tales about her childhood, her dogs, and her obsession with Special Counsel Robert Mueller help lighten things up a bit.  You simply can’t help but laugh.

               Life Will Be the Death of Me is unlike any Chelsea Handler book I have ever read.  It’s a rollercoaster ride of laughter and tears, anger and excitement, pain and healing.  I was looking for a laugh when I started reading this book.  By the end, I realized that I had gotten so much more, a glimpse into the life of Chelsea Handler that she never really lets the public see.  It was well worth the read.

Check out Life Will Be the Death of Me at Amazon


Happy Valentine’s Day…Maybe?

Whether you classify Valentine’s Day as a Hallmark Holiday or one of your favorite times to express love for your sweetheart, the fact of the matter is that Valentine’s Day is coming. Valentine’s Day is on Tuesday. If you work from home during the week, you can prepare an awesome dinner and dessert (wink, wink). But if you travel to work, a Tuesday Valentine’s Day spells certain disaster. So, you are probably thinking of going out over the weekend prior to Valentine’s Day. For football fans, this year’s Valentine’s Day can be especially problematic. Unfortunately, the Super Bowl is this weekend. Huge football fans who don’t know what is good for them are going to try to take out their significant others on Friday or Saturday, causing all of the good venues to be booked. Argh! What can we do?! Alas, Amazon has the answers, but you have to be quick to order! You don’t have much time! Click on the link below and buy your loved one’s affection (LOL)…I mean show them just how much you really care:

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Assassin’s Creed: The Ming Storm

Written By: Yan Leisheng

Translated By: Nikki Kopelman

Published By: Aconyte Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I’m a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series books based on the popular Ubisoft video game series.  It all started for me with the book Renaissance, featuring Ezio Auditore and his life as a member of the Brotherhood of Assassins.  I was completely mesmerized by his story and was so enthused by the tale that I went out and purchased the trilogy of video games the books were based on.  Since then, I have been purchasing Assassin’s Creed novels whenever I could find them.  My latest foray into the series ties back to the original Assassin’s Creed novels.

               Taking place during the time of The Ming Dynasty, Assassin’s Creed: The Ming Storm chronicles the story of Shao Jun.  If you have followed the Ezio Auditore novels, you might remember a mysterious Asian woman who asked Ezio to help her rebuild her sect of the Brotherhood.  Shao Jun is one of two survivors of the massacre of the Central Plain Brotherhood by the Eight Tigers.  After training with Ezio, Shao Jun returns to China to avenge the death of her clan with the help of her mentor, another hidden survivor of the massacre.  Together they will work to root out the evil members of the Eight Tigers and eliminate them one by one, destroying the power of the Templars in China.

               Although this novel plays out as an entertaining martial arts drama, Assassin’s Creed: The Ming Storm is not one of my favorites.  There are a great many typos in this book which take away from the story.  This may have occurred when the story was translated from Chinese to English, but one would expect that someone should have proofread the book before its publishing. 

I usually love martial arts books that play out like a movie and once you get past the mistakes in the book, this is exactly what The Ming Storm feels like.  I enjoyed the fight scenes and the incredible skill of Shao Jun, especially her rope dart and sword skills.  Her mentor’s martial arts skill and ability to control his chi are also enjoyable, but the story soon becomes a bit farfetched with the introduction of a zombie-like army led by Zhang Yong, ruthless leader of the Eight Tigers.  I just couldn’t seem to wrap my head around it.

Usually, the Assassin’s Creed novels are heavily steeped in historical fiction and, yes, the Brotherhood of Assassins have been fighting for years to prevent the Templars from accessing the creators of the world.  This means that there are some god-like creatures with fantastic instruments at play in this series, but zombie warriors?  A bit much for me.  I think that this novel would have been much better without them.  Shao Jun is an interesting character and her journey toward avenging the murders of members of her clan would have been enough.  Adding this weird element ruined the tale for me.  The Ming Storm was one Assassin’s Creed novel I could have skipped.

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The NFL Playoffs

Just a quick word about the Wildcard games of the past week and the playoffs next week:

Brady‘s Buccaneers only got in because the division is so horrible. After all, they made it in with a losing record. So, it comes as no surprise that the lost to the Dallas Cowboys. People are saying that the Cowboys are a great team because of that win. Again, I will caution them against the heavy praise after playing against a sub-par team that should not have been in the Wildcard and wouldn’t have been if we were following the rules a few years ago.

That brings me to who the Cowboys will be facing next week – the San Francisco 49ers. I have to say that I like this team. They lost two quarterbacks and are winning with their third string! This is a team that has gelled like no other and each member of the team works hard to win, offense or defense. There was no way that Gino Smith and the Seattle Seahawks were going to walk all over them. The 49ers are going to be a hard team to beat in the playoffs.

I expected the NY Giants to win over the Minnesota Vikings who have been incredibly inconsistent over the past few weeks. Kirk Cousins did one thing right during this game – he didn’t throw a pick, something he is very good for at least once or twice a game. That being said, the Giants just seemed to want it more. Much is being said about Daniel Jones, and though I will agree that he made better decisions and played better in this game, one can’t deny Sequan Barkley‘s role in this offense. Without him and some really good defense, the Giants don’t win this game. But can they win against the Philadelphia Eagles? If the Eagles play against them like they did the last time they met, when the Giants almost beat them with their third string players on the field, then yes they can!

Was there any doubt that the Cincinnati Bengals would win over the Baltimore Ravens? Not in my mind, though I did expect the game to be rather nasty. Both teams are hard-hitting, but I look at the Ravens as kind of dirty hard-hitters. Their quarterback tried valiantly, but without Lamar Jackson, this team is one-dimensional. Tyler Huntley tried, but he is not a running quarterback…not Jackson caliber.

The Buffalo Bills should have squashed the Miami Dolphins, especially without Tua Tagovailoa. Instead, they decided to make it interesting thanks to Josh Allen‘s inability to cough up the ball to the other team and the defense‘s inability to stop the Dolphins from scoring. The Bills better shore things up if they want to get further in the playoffs. The rematch between the Bills and Bengals is going to be very emotional. I’m not sure what to expect from this game. Though I want the Bills, I would not be surprised if the Bengals won.

No one could have predicted that Trevor Lawrence‘s Jaguars would have beat Justin Herbert‘s Chargers. Sure, the Jaguars had momentum, but woah! As a football fan who hated Lawrence’s attitude when he hit the NFL, I can definitely see some maturity in the young quarterback. I especially was heartened by the fact that he didn’t blame the team or coaches for any of his failings, just shouldered his issues and said he had to get better. And better he did get. But can he go to KC and win against Mahomes and the Chiefs? I don’t think so!

What do you think?

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