Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Tenth Song- Life’s Twists and Turns

Life is never simple. Our path’s are never straight and narrow. Sometimes the greatest trials we endure lead us to the future we didn’t think of, but when we get to that future, it’s where we were meant to be.

Four years ago, Naomi Ragen broken from her standard storytelling (A young women who rebels from a religious Jewish family) with The Tenth Circle.

She opens the book with  a tell tale line “It happened, like all horrible things happen, at the most inconvenient time”.

Abigail Samuels is living the perfect life. She and her husband, Adam, a successful accountant have three children.  Their youngest daughter, Kayla is in her final year at Harvard Law School, recently engaged to a doctor. When Adam is arrested, accused of funneling money to a terrorist organization, their lives are turned upside down.  Not knowing how to deal with the sudden changes in her life, Kayla drops out of school and flees to Israel.

In the Israeli desert, she meets a mystical religious guru who changes her life. When Abigail is sent to Israel to bring her daughter back to America, she begins to heal from the sudden changes and pain in her life.

I loved this book.  I couldn’t put it down.  Ms. Ragen took a risk, and it was well worth it.  The journey of this family and the changes that they are forced to make felt so real to me.  I could feel their fear, the pain, the agony of not knowing what would happen.

The Tenth Song- A Good Book

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Downton Abbey Series 4 Episode 4 Recap

This recap contains spoilers from Sunday night’s episode. Read at your own risk if you haven’t watched it yet.

Upstairs

Michael Gregson has disappeared and Edith makes a mysterious visit to a London doctor.  A foreshadowing of what’s to come with her for the rest of the series, perhaps? I can’t help but remember a warning that Matthew gave to Rose last series about married men are unhappily married (or married to a lunatic) who seek younger, vulnerable women for a little something-something on the side.

Mary seems to be over whatever she was feeling for Lord Gillingham.  But, I’m not so sure, considering when her mother and sister walked into the library, they didn’t see her dry her eyes. His off screen pseudo fiance has become his off screen fiance.  Evelyn Napier is back (You remember him, the guy who introduced Mary to Kemal Pamuk, who died in Mary’s bed in series 1). He is working for the government to assess the status of the aristocratic homes in the area. Cora invites Mr. Napier and his boss to stay at Downton instead of staying at a hotel.  I have a feeling Mary will not be without male companionship for long.

Isobel convinces Violet to hire a undergardiner to work in the house. Violet suspects that he might have stolen a letter opener.

Rose and Cora are trying to secretly plan a birthday party for Robert. Tom still feels out of place and talks about leaving England for his American cousins, Mary convinces him to stay.  Both story lines felt like filler to me.

Robert actually does something smart business wise, for once. He helps a financially floundering tenant who is on the verge of loosing his family farm, while not putting the financial security of his family and his heritage on the line.

Downstairs

Anna’s rape is no longer a secret, at least between her and Mrs. Hughes. Believing that his wife no longer loves him, John “The Hulk” Bates figuratively twists Mrs. Hughes’s arm to find out what has happened to Anna. The threat is simple, that he will quit at that moment, never to set foot in Downton again. On that she relents , but he continues to twist her arm and find out who raped Anna, forcing her to swear on the memory of her late mother. Mrs. Hughes lies and says it was an intruder.

After speaking to Mrs. Hughes, John goes to his wife and tells her that he loves her. Perfect aww moment. Then he asks who raped her. Again, it’s an unknown intruder, not Mr. Green as he suspects.  I could literally see the vein pop in his neck when Mr. Green is mentioned.  Mr. Green should have a sign above him should he ever re-enter Downton “Dead Man Walking”.

Cora wants to purchase new refrigerators to replace the ice box. Mrs. Patmore is still a technofobe.

We have a brand new ladies maid. Baxter, or OBrien 2.0. Thomas seems to know something about her. Let’s see how long this one lasts.

Mr. Molesley is given the opportunity to temporarily take over as footman for Alfred while he is away.  The offer is turned down, but when Alfred returns, Mr. Molesley conveniently asks about the position. I’m convinced he is the downstairs Edith.

And finally while smug, full of it Jimmy is bragging and just talking about his dreams, Alfred is actually working for it. He doesn’t get into the trainee program at the fancy London Hotel, but Carson’s consoles him. I love Carson, under that traditional, conservative exterior is a soft heart.

Analysis

I think Julian Fellows is building up to something big. I don’t know what it is, but it’s going to be big. My favorite scene was with the babies. So cute.

Dowager Quote/Moment Of The Week

“I wonder your halo doesn’t grow heavy. It must be like wearing a tiara around the clock”.

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Never Again

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

I write this post 69 years after the end of war, in America, far from the Europe that again slaughtered it’s Jews because they were Jews.

I am the descendant of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, who saw their future and the future of their family in America. Without their decision to leave Europe, I would not be sitting here today.  I am also related, through my great-grandparents to their relations who stayed in Europe and were part of the martyred Six Million.

These people were no different than you or I.

To borrow from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

“I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example?”.

Never Forget. Never Again

Yad Vashem1 Cattle Car Yad Vashem2

 

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Philomena- Phenominal Film

The only way to start my review is to say that Judi Dench is an international treasure an actress.  Every performance is so nuanced and different, that the audience sometimes forgets that it is one performer playing all of these characters.

Philomena is the true story of woman’s journey to find the son she was forced to give up.

In the 1950’s, Philomena Lee (Sophie Kennedy Clark) has a son outside of wedlock. Her only home is a nunnery where she works in slave labor like conditions and is only allowed to see her son an hour a day. When her son is taken from her, Philomena is heartbroken, but never forgets her first child.

50 years later, her daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell-Martin) meets a disgraced journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) who takes up the story as a human interest piece. That leads them to Washington DC where they search for her son.

This movie is fantastic. Both Steve Coogan and Judi Dench give nuanced, understated performances. I love the yin and yang of Philomena’s faith in spite of her experiences and Martin’s lack of faith.  The thing I loved most is that despite what the nuns did to her, Philomena still clings to her faith and forgives those who took her child from her.

This film and all involved deserves any and all awards send it’s way.

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On This Martin Luther King Jr Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday.

There are some people who are meant to shine brightly in our lives, cause change that will last beyond their physical years and leave us when we still need them.

It’s nearly 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

While his physical presence is long gone, the imprint he left on our country and our world will live forever.

We, as a society would be different without him.

Happy Birthday and Rest In Peace.

 

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Downton Abbey Series 4 Episode 3 Recap

As usual, this recap contains spoilers. Read at your own risk if you haven’t seen last night’s episode.

Upstairs

Tony Gillingham  (Tom Cullen) proposes to Mary. My initial reaction was that he is moving waaay too fast. Logically, he would be a good choice for her. He is handsome, titled, in love with her and they knew each other from when they were kids.  But she turns him down, using Matthew as her reason. Lord Gillingham also has an off screen pseudo-fiance. At the end of the episode, Mary tells her father and Tom that she may come to regret it. That may be true, but I have been spoiled enough to know that there will be another man vying for her affections in a future episode.

Edith and Tom do the walk of shame (cue the Pink song). While Edith disregards her aunt’s advice, Tom is kicking himself for letting Edna get him drunk and seducing him.

I feel bad for Tom, I can honestly understand why he is feeling lonely. He has married into this family, whose lifestyle is far different from the way he was raised. His wife is dead, he is a single parent and trying to navigate the social rules of his new lifestyle.

Dr. Clarkson is opening an outpatient clinic and bring Isobel into help. If this is his way to changing her status from widow to wife, he is persistent.

While visiting Rosamund in London, Rose insists that they all go to a nightclub, where she has a meet-cute with Jack Ross (Gary Carr), a black  musician. Mr. Ross comes in at the perfect time, rescuing Rose from her drunk and upchucking date. Of course Mary, Tony and Rosamund are horrified of this simple act of dancing together. And of course Tom to send to bring her back to the table My spoiling of this series also tells me that this is not the last we will see of Jack Ross. What else is a rebellious young lady from an aristocratic family to do than to start a relationship with a black musician?

Edith is clearly her father’s child. Michael Gregson asks her to sign a document taking over his affairs while he obtains his German citizenship. Of course she doesn’t read it before signing. Lack of business acumen seems to a family trait.

I just love that Rosamund brought up Sir Anthony while trying to convince Edith to end her relationship with Michael Gregson. Bringing up the ex-fiance who publicly embarrassed her by ending the relationship at the alter is really a good argument.

Downstairs

Anna is still raw from her ordeal. Everyone notices the change in her, even daft Robert, but only Mrs. Hughes knows and is still keeping her secret. John is trying to figure out what is going on with his wife, but she is pulling away from him, insisting on returning to the house instead of living with her husband in their cottage. Out of love for husband, she doesn’t tell him, afraid that he will go after Mr. Green and go to jail again.

We’ve become so accustomed to not just violence, but sexually  related violence that normally this type of story line would be just another story line.   For Julian Fellows to choose Anna represents so much more. The shame, the anger, the fear is universal. Joanne Froggatt is an incredible performer and deserves any Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG Award , etc for this past two episodes alone.

Raise your hand if you loved Mrs. Hughes during this episode. Elsie “Mama Bear” Hughes has a good heart and is a good person, but the claws come up when someone tries to hurt someone she cares about. Evil Edna was stupid enough to leave a book around telling her how to have sex without getting pregnant. Clearly Edna’s plan to seduce Tom, fake a pregnancy and force him to marry her was doomed to fail.

My favorite scene was the one between Thomas and Edna in the stairwell. Call it Bitchfest 1922. Thomas wins this round with his job intact while Edna is once more out a job.

Alfred sees an opportunity to train as a chef in London and leave the career doldrums of being a footman behind.

The Ivy/Jimmy/Daisy/Alfred love quandrangle is boring. Unless Fellows pulls something out of his hat, it will become my least favorite story line this series.

Analysis

My favorite character this episode was Mrs. Hughes. She is compassionate when she knows Anna’s secret and when she gives Carson a framed picture of his former sweetheart. She is instantly in charge and ferocious when she confronts Edna with her failed plan to force Tom to marry her.

Dowager Moment/Line Of The Week

“Another brick falls from the wall”.

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The Sisters Weiss Book Review

There is always something about an ultra-religious insular community that always seems to intrigue the less religious, more modern secular world.

Naomi Regan has made a career of writing about women in the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities of Israel and New York. I’ve read Jephte’s Daughter, Sotah, and the Sacrifice of Tamar, but it’s been a few years since I’ve delved into the her novels.

Her latest novel, The Sisters Weiss, tells the story of two sisters and the very different paths their lives take.

Growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the 1950’s, Rose and Pearl Weiss are raised in a loving ultra-orthodox family. At the beginning of the book, Rose is the good girl, favored by her parents over her  younger trouble making sister. When Rose meets Michelle, she is exposed to the outside world and begins to slowly rebel from her parents and her community.  The night before Rose is supposed to marry a boy chosen for her, she runs away, affecting everyone in her family, including her younger sister.

40 years later, Pearl’s youngest daughter, Rivka is eager to experience the world and runs away. Her mysterious and unknown Aunt Rose seems to be the best person to run to. Rose has been exiled from her family. Because of Rivka’s actions, both Rose and Pearl must not only deal with the world they were raised in, but also the consequences of their actions.

Since it’s been a number of years since I’ve read Ms. Ragen’s books, I’ve forgotten what an incredible writer she is.  These characters could be very stereotypical, but they aren’t.  The relationship between the sisters seemed real, no different than any other sibling relationship.  I could understand Rose’s rebellion, but I also understood Pearl’s need to cling to the life and the beliefs that she was raised with.

You don’t have to be religious or Jewish to enjoy this novel. I highly recommend it.

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Downton Abbey Series 4 Episode 2 Recap

As usual, this recap contains spoilers.  If you have not seen the episode, read at your own risk.

Upstairs

Edith brings Michael to meet her parents and hopes to receive approval on their relationship. Robert’s lack of money and business acumen comes into play once again when he nearly loses the estate in a card game and Michael has to bail him out.

Half listening to Carson, Robert agrees that Dame Nellie Melba (Kiri Te Kanawa), who is coming to perform should dine with the servants.  Cora rightly calls him out on his error.

Robert is a nice guy, but for the rest of his life, to keep his wife and family happy he should do two things.  Every time Cora makes a suggestion, the only words he should say in response is “yes, dear”.  Any money or estate matters should be filtered by Mary and Tom, otherwise there might be nothing left for George and Sybee.

Anthony Gillingham (Tom Cullen), a childhood playmate of the Mary and Edith has come to visit and seems to be the one who might finally pull Mary out of her grief.

Isobel is still grieving for Matthew. While she doesn’t want Mary grieving for the rest of her life, Isobel is unable to move past the death of her son. My favorite performance of the entire episode was Penelope Wilton’s performance.  While the press and praise often go to Michelle Dockery or Maggie Smith, Ms. Wilton deserves the same press and praise.  If I could have walked through the screen to hug Isobel, I would have.

Tom is feeling out of place and foolish, trying to socialize with his in law’s friends.

Downstairs

I don’t want to talk about Mr. Green raping Anna, but it’s unavoidable.  Of all of the female characters, Julian Fellows chose this fate for Anna. If he was looking for a way to shake up the marital happiness of Anna and John Bates, there are other story lines. Unless he is looking to make a statement.

Mrs. Patmore has an anxiety attack and is forced to relinquish control of her kitchen.

Evil Edna is determined to lay her claws in Tom, even if it means seduction.

Analysis

The series is moving along and as happens in everyone’s life, things happen.  I am looking forward to next week’s episode.

Dowager Moment/Quote Of The Week

“If I were to search for logic, I would not look for it in the English upper class.”

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The Glass Menagerie- Timeless

There is a reason that Tennessee Williams is one of the most brilliant playwrights of the 20th century. His characters are so human, full of the same experiences, joys and mistakes that we all go through in life.

This weekend, I saw a revival of The Glass Menagerie starring Cherry Jones.

The Glass Menagerie is the story of a family living in the midwest during the 1930’s. Amanda Wingfield  is a single mother living with her adult children, Tom (Zachary Quinto) and Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger).  Tom is working at a local factory and frequently argues with his mother. Laura is walks with a limp and only socializes with her mother and brother, suffering from anxiety attacks if she has to socialize with anyone else.

Amanda is determined to bring in gentleman callers for her daughter and fondly remembers her youth and the gentleman callers she used to entertain.  When Tom bring in a gentleman caller (Brian J Smith) home for dinner, a slim chance of happiness and marital bliss appears for Laura, only for it to be smashed into tiny pieces by the end of the play.

Tennessee Williams is one of my favorite playwrights. I love Streetcar Named Desire, it’s one of the most brilliant plays ever written, Blanche Bubois is hands down one of the great characters ever created.  The same themes of reality vs. fantasy, the dream like memories of the past vs. the rough and not so nice present appear in both plays.

Cherry Jones is a wonder in this part. I saw her a few years ago in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. She blew me away then and she blew me away this weekend. Zachary Quinto and Celia Keenan-Bolger as her children seem on stage as if they are really siblings, instead of actors pretending to be siblings. Brian J Smith as the gentleman caller gives the audience hope that Laura may find the happiness that both she and her mother want to have.

The play closes on February 23rd. If you have the opportunity to get tickets, I highly recommend this show.

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The Innocents Book Review

Edith Wharton’s Age Of Innocence is  a classic. Newland Archer’s inner struggle between personal desire and duty is timeless.

Francesca Segal’s debut novel, Innocence, moves the story from Gilded Age New York to a predominately Jewish suburb in North London. Newland Archer has become Adam Newman. Adam’s life is well ordered and perfect. He is living in the same community he was born into, newly engaged to Rachel Gilbert, his longtime girlfriend and working for Rachel’s father at his law firm.

His world and his decision making is turned when Ellie, Rachel’s independent, rebellious and headstrong cousin returns from New York, running from a scandal. When Adam takes on Ellie’s case, he begins to question if his well ordered and perfect life is really what he wants.

There are some fans who are so cannon (fanfiction term for original script or novel) that any reboot which removes the characters and story line from their original setting seems blasphemous. I am not one of those fans.

However, there is something to be said when a writer takes a risk and tells a new story, instead of retreading the path of another writer. It doesn’t take much to change Ellen Olenska, a woman trying to divorce her abusive European aristocratic husband to Ellie Schneider, a young woman escaping a sex scandal involving a prominent public figure.

Did I enjoy the novel? I can’t say I didn’t, but I look forward to her next novel when she tells a new story instead of re-writing an old one.

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