The Lions of Fifth Avenue Book Review

Sometimes, life throws us a twist when we least expect it. What matters is if we choose to go along with that twist or pretend that it never happened.

Fiona Davis‘s 2020 novel, The Lions of Fifth Avenue, starts in 1913. Laura Lyons is living the dream. Happily married with two young children, Laura’s husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library. This allows them to live in an apartment within the library. But she wants more than just being her husband’s wife and her children’s mother.

Things begin to change for Laura when she is accepted into the Columbia School of Journalism. This leads her to the Heterodoxy Club, a group of women who meet in Greenwich Village, flout society’s norms and openly discuss their discontent with being second-class citizens. This opens the door to Laura questioning her life choices and possibly losing everything and everyone she loves.

Eighty years later, Laura’s granddaughter Sadie Donovan is working in the family business. Though she is thrilled when she is promoted to becoming the library’s curator, the questions about her family’s past hang over her head. Her dream job becomes an ordeal when books start to disappear.

In order to save her career and the exhibit that had become her primary responsibility, Sadie has to put her fear of risk aside and work with a private security expert. The investigation goes from strictly business to personal when uncomfortable facts about her family and the building itself come to light.

The book is amazing. Everything that has been said about it is true. Davis’s writing is gripping and powerful and immediately draws you in. The protagonists, Laura and Sadie are easy to follow. In another writer’s hands, it would be easy to get confused with the dual narratives and the numerous characters. But the author writes in a way that each era is clearly delineated.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue is available wherever books are sold.

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Flashback Friday: Queer Eye (2018 to 2021)

One of the myths about gay men is that they are more stylish and culturally aware than the average straight man.

The Netflix show Queer Eye (2018 to 2021) is a reboot of the early aughts reality makeover show of the same name that aired on Bravo. As with its predecessor, five gay guys with expertise in various areas (fashion, food, grooming, culture, and design) helps (mostly) hapless heterosexual males to improve their physical appearance and their lives.

This show is so much fun to watch, mainly because the stars of the program are having fun. As an audience member, I am rooting for that episode’s subject, wishing that they get everything that they want from this experience. It also opens the door to see the LGBTQ community as something more than stereotypes and boogeymen for those with conservative beliefs.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Florida Republican Fuckery II: Banning Books & Tracking Girls Periods is Priority. Saving Lives via Sensible Gun Control is Not.

When someone says who they are (specifically in politics), we should believe them. Whether we believe it or not, they hold our collective future in their hands.

The recent Republican fuckery from Florida is as follows:

There is a debate going around as to whether or not high school-age female student-athletes should be required to provide details about their menstrual cycles. Aside from the anti-transgender laws, the consequences of the potential loss of a woman’s right to privacy cannot be ignored. Whether it is a question of the ending of an unintended pregnancy or forced birth (a la The Handmaid’s Tale), we should not be looking away.

Adding insult to injury, teachers in the state are being forced to make a choice that no educator should be forced into. They can either remove books from their shelf/curriculum that have been labeled as “woke”. If they choose to ignore the law, they face a possible jail sentence of five years. And then, there is the proposed legislation to allow anyone to buy a gun without requiring permits.

I don’t know about you, but DeSantis’s priorities are seriously screwed up.

I am going to end this post with two Instagram posts from Danielle Moodie (co-host of The New Abnormal podcast) and actor Leslie Jones.

Warning: Moodie is not above using the F-Bomb.

Throwback Thursday: Celebrity Undercover Boss (2018)

One of the many dreams of a struggling artist is to be noticed by someone who has already made it.

The reality show, Celebrity Undercover Boss (2018) was an extension of Undercover Boss (2010 to 2016). Instead of a CEO going undercover to discover the issues with their company, the subject of each episode is someone famous. Wearing prosthetics and/or a wig, their goal is to find undiscovered talent and give them the tools to succeed.

I enjoyed the program. Though I am aware that there is always the question of how much of the narrative is “real”, it was not out of the realm of possibility. Sometimes, the struggling artist only needs to be noticed by the right person to see their dream become a reality.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Playing Anne Frank Podcast Review

Among the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust were 1.5 million young people. This cumulative experience of the lost generation speaks to us via The Diary of Anne Frank.

In 1955, the book was turned into a play. The new 7-part podcast, Playing Anne Frank, tells the behind-the-scenes story of how the play was made and its impact on everyone (both the audience and the creators) involved. Mixing historical media with interviews of surviving cast members, it brings the drama to life and reinforces the importance of the work.

I have enjoyed listening to the first 3 episodes. For obvious reasons, both the original text and its various stage/screen incarnations are still relevant, even after all of these years. What I am appreciating is the insights of the cast and that they understood the necessity of sharing Anne’s story.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

New episodes of Playing Anne Frank are released every Tuesday.

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The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz Book Review

To the Nazis, most of their victims were nameless sub-human creatures who were marked for death. They had no identity and were without the distinct characteristics that made them unique.

But there was one name that was known: Magda Hellinger. Her story is told in the 2022 memoir, The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz. The book was co-written with Magda’s daughter, Maya Lee, and edited by David Brewster.

Before the war, Magda was a kindergarten teacher. After she was transported to Auschwitz, she made the bold (or stupid, depending on your pov) to speak up for her fellow prisoners. Instead of sending her to the gas chambers, she was put in charge of the camp’s female “inhabitants”. Magda was forced to walk the daily line of keeping as many alive as she could while making sure that their captors looked the other way. By honing her intelligence and survival skills, she was able to save her life and the lives of many others.

This book is amazing. It speaks to the inner strength that allows us to live with situations that would otherwise kill us. The images from the Holocaust often show my co-religionists meekly going to their deaths. It is stories like Magda’s that prove that there was still a fight to be fought, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

It also proves once more that women can do anything.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz is available where books are sold.

Tyre Nichols Should be Alive Today

The purpose of law enforcement is to serve and protect, not to attack community members who are just going about their business.

Last Friday in Memphis, Tyre Nichols was on the way home when he was stopped by police. Instead of just being ticketed or taken in for questioning, he was beaten by five officers. By the time Sunday night rolled around, he was dead.

Now there is another son without a father, another mother without her child, and another town struggling to understand how and why another black man was killed by law enforcement.

After the murder of George Floyd, I would have hoped that logic would have dictated that everything would have been done to make sure that it never happened again. But I have been proved wrong too many times.

The only upshot is that the police officers who stopped him have been fired and charged with his murder. What makes it more complicated is that the men accused of his murder are also black.

I don’t know what it will take to get the message across on how to treat a potential suspect. But I do know that an innocent man is dead and there are too many unanswered questions hanging in the air.

May his memory be a blessing. Z”l.

Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present Book Review

It has often been said that we can learn from history to prevent future mistakes. The caveat is that we have to be willing to understand what went wrong in order to make sure that it won’t happen again.

Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, was published in 2021. In the book, the author traces the history of autocratic and fascist leaders over the last 100 years. She starts with Benito Mussolini, and ends with modern leaders such as you know who and Vladimir Putin. Though they come from different parts of the world and speak different languages, the blueprint is the same:

  • Subjugation and persecution of minorities, perceived enemies, the LGBTQ community, and those with opposing political views.
  • Degrading women down to the traditional roles of wives and mothers (with the exception of the females in their personal orbit).
  • Proclaim that they are the one person who can save their country.
  • They claim to protect “democracy” and ensure law and order while doing the very opposite.

I think this book is a must-read for everyone who believes in a democratic government and what it stands for. As the last few years have shown us, complacency opens the door to a form of government that manipulates and destroys. It is only when we respect and fight for the constitutional way of life can we truly be free.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present is available wherever books are sold.

Women at War Season 1 Review

It is a sad truth universally acknowledged that women are only allowed to step when their men are called away to war.

The first season of the French television series Woman at War was recently released on Netflix. As World War I rages on, four women step up to save their country. Marguerite (Audrey Fleurot) is running from her past. Agnes (Julie De Bona) is a Mother Superior whose convent has been turned into a military hospital. Suzanne (Camille Lou) has the law on her tail. Caroline (Sofia Essaïdi) has been tasked with running the family business while her husband is on the front lines.

Blending personal drama with the compounding effects of a military conflict made for one heck of a story. The writing was fantastic, the actors were pitch-perfect and I was thoroughly drawn into the narrative.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Women at War is available for streaming on Netflix with English subtitles.

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Holocaust ended 78 years ago. Though it may seem like ancient history, the truth is that it happened in the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and specifically, the liberation of the survivors of the Auschwitz death camp.

When I think of what has been happening in the past few years, I see scary signs of what could happen again. I think it goes without saying that we don’t want to make the alarm bells ring all of the time. But, given recent events (Kanye, for one), I can’t help but make connections to the recent past.

One of the things that I wish was more well-known was the persecution of the LGBTQ community. Before the war, Berlin was known for its openness to those who were not heteronormative. The ended in 1933. Thousands were murdered and many more were persecuted.

The problem is that many continue to turn a blind eye to this hatred, even those of my faith. Ben Shapiro (whom I dislike with every bone in my body), has been open about his association with the right and their hatred of everyone who is not them. What he conveniently forgets is that at the day, he is still Jewish. The antisemites would still slap a yellow star on his chest and send him to his death.

It has been said that we die twice. The first time is when shuffle off this mortal coil. The second is when we are forgotten. Many of those who were killed have died twice.

May the memories of the millions who were murdered always be a blessing. Z”l.

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