Category Archives: Book Review

Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang: Fifty Makers, Shakers and Heartbreakers from the Victorian Era Book Review

There is a myth about women and art. We can be the subject of the art, but we cannot be the artist.

In the mid 19th century, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood decided to put their own spin on art. Mostly made up of men, their work consisted of bright colors, an ornate attention to detail and subjects that looked like they could be real. But in spite of the impression that this movement was mostly made up of men, there were also a good amount of women artists and models who had a hand in creating this new form of art.

Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang: Fifty Makers, Shakers and Heartbreakers from the Victorian Era was published in 2018. Written by Kirsty Stonell Walker with illustrations by Kingsley Nebechi, this book highlights the work of fifty women who should rightly be given the spotlight.

I picked up this book because the women whose stories are told have as much right to be recognized and appreciated as their male counterparts. To be honest, it was ok. If I was more a fan of classical art, I think I would have enjoyed the book more.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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The Yellow Bird Sings: A Novel Book Review

The bond between a mother and her child is powerful. In times of war, what will a mother to do protect her child?

The Yellow Bird Sings: A Novel was published last week.

Written by Jennifer Rosner, the novel is set in Poland during World War II. Róza and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, are hiding in a barn owned by their Christian neighbors. Her husband, parents and the rest of the town’s Jews have all disappeared. To keep her daughter quiet and calm, Róza tells her the story of a yellow bird. The story works, but not forever.

Soon, Róza must make a choice. Keep Shira with her or send her away with strangers to give her a chance to survive.

This book hits all of the emotional and narrative points that is standard for the genre. However, it did not tough me in a way that other books in the genre do. I wanted to feel the tension as to whether both characters would survive and find their way back to each other. Unfortunately, I did not.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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The Light after the War: A Novel Book Review

Sometimes, surviving The Holocaust required a split-second decision in which one did not know the outcome of that decision.

The Light after the War: A Novel, was published last month. Best friends Vera and Edith survived by jumping from a cattle car headed toward Auschwitz. They spent the rest of the war hiding in a farm. Once peace is declared, both Vera and Edith know that their futures are not in Eastern Europe. They start their new lives in Naples, where Vera gets a job working for an American army officer.

Life becomes complicated when Vera falls for her employer and he for her. They are set to begin a new life as husband and wife, but then the officer disappears. So begins the multiple twists and turns that will take these women across the globe several times and expand their worlds in ways that neither had previously considered.

At the core of this book is a friendship that remains strong under circumstances that would break most friendships. As Vera and Ellen fall in love, go into the work world and expand their horizons, they continue to rely on each other. That is what makes this book great and kept me hanging on to the last page.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life–in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There) Book Review

Just because one is raised in a home and a family that practices a specific faith does not mean that one practices that faith as an adult.

Like many American Jews, former speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz was raised in a fairly religious home. But as an adult, she walked away from Judaism. But then a bad breakup forced her to re-evaluate how she saw the world. Ms. Hurwitz tells her story and what she learned about Judaism is her new book, entitled Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life–in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).

Published last fall, her journey started when she happened upon a flier advertising a Basic Judaism class. That class started her on a journey to rediscover her faith and the beautiful complexity that is Judaism.

This book is absolutely brilliant. I loved it because it spoke to me. My experience with Judaism is similar to the author’s experience. Her book reminded me that my faith, like any faith is not monolithic. It is full of different voices and different perspectives that are just as relevant today as they were in previous generations.

I absolutely recommend it.

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A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman’s Harrowing Escape from the Nazis Book Review

Surviving the Holocaust was sometimes due to intelligence, the ability to predict the future and just plain luck.

Françoise Frenkel was one of the lucky ones. In 1945, she published her memoir, which was recently re-published at the end of last year. It is entitled A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman’s Harrowing Escape from the Nazis. In the early 1920s, Frenkel’s dream became a reality when she opened a bookshop specializing in French and France related books in Berlin. Life was normal for her until 1939. As a Jew of Polish descent, she knew that remaining in her then present location was not a wise decision.

Her first stop in a bid to escape the horrors of the Holocaust was Paris. When Paris was no longer safe, Frenkel made her through Southern France with the help of brave strangers. She knows that survival depends on getting out of Nazi occupied Europe, but it won’t be easy, given the increased brutality by the Nazis.

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I’ve read quite a few Holocaust books, both fiction and non-fiction over the years. As the years pass by and the survivors begin to leave this world, it becomes ever more important to hear the stories of the Holocaust first hand. Unfortunately, this book is not the best Holocaust book I’ve ever read.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Emma. Movie Review

When Jane Austen introduced Emma Woodhouse, the eponymous title character in her 1816 novel Emma, she wrote the following:

“I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”

The new adaptation of Emma. was released into theaters this weekend. Stepping in the shoes of Highbury’s queen bee is Anya Taylor-Joy. Unlike Austen’s other heroines, Emma is not hard up for cash and is not looking for a husband. She spends her days tending to her hypochondriac father, Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) and arguing with her neighbor and long time friend, George Knightley (Johnny Flynn).

She also thinks that she is a matchmaker. When one of her matches lead to a successful marriage, Emma starts to believe that she has the magic touch when it comes to marriage and romance. She will soon find out how wrong she is.

I loved this adaptation. Director Autumn de Wilde adds delicious looking pops of color while screenwriter Eleanor Catton kept as close to Austen cannon as she could have gotten. It is a joyful, hilarious and absolutely wonderful film.

I absolutely recommend it.

Emma. is presently in theaters.

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The Stationery Shop Book Review

In our world and our culture, the idea of young love is put on a pedestal, especially when it is enveloped in the idea of class or political warfare. The question is, can this young love overcome the challenges?

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali was published a few weeks ago.

The book is set in two periods: Iran in the early 1950’s and New England in 2013. In the early 1950’s Iran is torn between the past and the present, between democracy and a religious autocracy. In this world our lovers, Roya and Bahman meet for the first time. They are young, passionate and eager to begin their lives as a married couple. But on the day that they are to say their vows, Bahman disappears.

When it becomes obvious that Bahman is not coming back, Roya moves to America and a new life. Decades later, a twist of fate brings Bahman and Roya back together. After sixty years, she still is still asking why he abandoned her.

I know that it’s only February, but this is one of the best books of the year. Using a narrative baseline of Romeo and Juliet and mixing in Iranian history with class politics, the author is able to weave together a story of young love that stands the test of time.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman Book Review

Among certain people, the idea of a proper female is slim, conventionally attractive and compliant.

Lindy West is none of those things. She is also brilliant and not afraid to call out the b*llshit when she sees it.

In her 2016 book, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, West lays it all on the line. She rubs some people the wrong way just for being herself. She is not a size 2, outspoken and unlike many people, says what we all are thinking.

I loved this book and I loved how authentic she is. When confronted by jokes or comments that are distasteful or rude, most of us adhere to the rules of politeness that we learned as children. But not Lindy West.

That is why I loved this book and I absolutely recommend it.

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Believe Me: How Trusting Women Can Change the World Book Review

We all know that for most of human history, women have been at best second class citizens and at worst, property. When it comes to sexual assault and rape, the complaints, if they have been made public have not be received and responded to as they should have.

Believe Me: How Trusting Women Can Change the World is a new compilation of essays edited by Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman. In their own words, each writer answers the following question: what if we not only we believed women, we took their claims of rape and sexual assault seriously?

The best thing about this book is the variety of writers. Each writer brings his or her own experience into the essay, answering the question in a way that is both personal and profound. By attaching a human face and a unique story to these very difficult topics, these writers are helping to break down the barriers and start a conversation that should have started a long time ago.

I absolutely recommend it.

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”A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide Book Review

After the Holocaust, many proclaimed “never again”. But the reality is that the phrase has become just words as humanity has proved that we have not learned from the Holocaust.

In 2002, former diplomat Samantha Power released her searing indictment of America’s attitude to massacres across the world in ‘A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide. Re-released in 2013, the book covers various atrocities across the globe and how America reacted. She starts with the Armenian Genocide and ends with the war crimes in Kosovo in the late 90’s.

Going into great detail, she uses historical documents, first hand accounts and press clippings to tell the stories of the massacres and the innocent lives lost.

When I finally finished the book, I noticed several things.

  • Though the details of each massacre are different, the overall story is the same.
  • The targeted group is a minority who has historically dealt with persecution.
  • There were individuals within the United States who were ready, willing and eager to save as many lives as they can.
  • However, the collective reaction from those in the halls of power range from cold indifference to talking about saving lives, but not actually doing anything to save said lives.

I’ve always believed in the greatness of the United States. More than a century ago, this nation welcomed my forebears and allowed them to flourish. But I ‘m also completely aware of this nation’s flaws.

We can do better, we must do better. While we cannot go back and prevent the loss of innocent life, we can learn from our past. Otherwise, we will repeat it at some point.

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