Category Archives: Book Review

The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar's and Everything in Between Book Review

Religion is a fascinating thing. It’s more than the basic tenets of the faith and the lifestyle dictated by that faith.

Released last fall, The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between is written and compiled by the hosts of the podcast Unorthodox (produced by Tablet Magazine).

Primarily written by podcast hosts Mark Oppenheimer, Liel Leibovitz, and Stephanie Butnick, this book is more than your standard encyclopedia. It contains images, charts, and illustrations, it is the story of Judaism, past, and present.

The thing that I loved about this book is that though it is an opportunity to learn, it does not feel like the reader is learning something. It is a fun read and a wonderful opportunity to open hearts and minds, regardless of one’s knowledge or level of practice of Judaism.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books

The Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel Book Review

It’s hard to be the younger sibling. Especially when your older sibling(s) are beloved.

The late Princess Margaret, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, was quite the wild child back in the day.

Her story is told in the new novel, The Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel, by Georgie Blalock. Through the eyes of Vera Strathmore, the daughter of an impoverished aristocratic family, the viewer is swept into the world of Princess Margaret. At the beginning of the novel, Margaret is young, spoiled, passionate and tempestuous. Vera, still hurting from the death of fiance during World War II, is a writer who dreams of moving to New York.

A chance encounter with Margaret changes Vera’s life and her priorities. Drawn into Margaret’s inner circle, Vera watches as she falls madly in love with Peter Townsend. Peter works for the royal household, is older and married. Despite the criticism, Margaret is determined to have her man.

While Margaret is cordoned into royal responsibilities, Vera begins to wish to be untied from a life tied to the Princess. Soon another scandal envelopes Margaret and Vera must choose how she wants to spend the rest of her life.

This book is brilliant. There is a perception when it comes to royalty, that living that life is akin to a fairy tale. But the reality of that is life far from the fairy tale that it is perceived to be. In telling Princess Margaret’s story through the eyes of Vera, the viewer is taken to a world that is essentially a golden cage. It is a cage that when perceived from within, can be unappealing.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Fairy Tales, History, New York City, Writing

An Unorthodox Match: A Novel Book Review

It has been said that sometimes when things go bad, they are actually blessings in disguise.

Naomi Ragen’s new novel, An Unorthodox Match: A Novel, was published last fall.

Leah (previously known as Lola) Howard and Yaakov Lehman are both going through tough times. Leah was raised by a Jewish mother who was Jewish by history, but consciously rejected the standard middle class life that she was raised in in Brooklyn. Growing up in California, Leah was raised as a neo-hippie. Yaakov is a recent widower with five kids who life has fallen apart since his wife’s death. He is falling behind on his bills, his oldest daughter has taken on her mother’s role and his life is an overall wreck.

They meet in the Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park. Leah is a baal teshuva, needing a new direction in her life after the death of her fiance. Yaakov needs someone to watch his younger children during the day. In the world of Orthodox Jews, a potential marriage is not ideal between Leah and Yaakov. But Leah and Yaakov are a perfect fit. Will this couple meet each other at the chuppah or will gossip and judgement tear them apart?

I’ve been a fan of Ms. Ragen and her books for quite a few years now. What I love about her books is that though they are set in the world of Orthodox Jewry, her characters are thoroughly human. One does not need to be Jewish or even an Orthodox Jew to get sucked into her writing.

As a reader, I felt for her main characters. Both Leah and Yaakov are lost and looking for something or someone to anchor themselves to. I also felt frustrated because this couple was potentially going to be torn apart not by circumstance, but by outsiders who believed that they knew better. In calling out the bullshit within this community, Ms. Ragen is challenging both her characters and her readers to not be so quick to judge others because they are different.

I absolutely recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, New York City

With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace Book Review

To be a woman in a man’s world requires one to have a backbone. To be a woman of color in a white man’s world requires one to have much than a backbone.

Nikki Haley was formerly both the Governor of South Carolina and a state legislator. She was also the US Ambassador to the United Nations. In her new book, With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace, Governor Haley writes about her perspective on politics, national events, and international events.

Though I don’t agree with her on everything in regards to politics, I admire her ability to be who she is and stand up for what she believes in. She is thriving in a professional world in white men still dominate. Women, especially women of color are still too much in the minority.

My problem, however, is with the book. The first third of the book is too slow for my taste. There were moments when I was ready to throw in the towel. It was in the second third of the book when it finally picked up.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Politics

The German House Book Review

After a war, those who have survived just want to get back to normal. But what happens years after the war when the sins of the past come back to haunt you?

The new novel, The German House, written by Annette Hess and translated into English by Elisabeth Lauffer, takes place in Germany in 1963. Eva Bruhns is 24 years old. Her memories of World War II are nothing more than foggy memories of childhood.

Like many of us at that age, Eva is ready to stretch her wings. Her parents are the owners of The German House, a successful restaurant. She lives with her family in the apartment above the restaurant and is ready to marry her wealthy boyfriend.

Accepting a job as a translator, Eva works for David Miller, an investigator who wants nothing more than to prosecute those who were responsible for the death of millions. As she is pulled further and further into the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, Eva begins to question not only her life choices but the history of her nation and her family.

In theory, this book should have been a good read. Within the World War II/Holocaust genre, this is a narrative that does not receive the same attention as other narratives within the genre.

It’s not a bad book to read, I was just underwhelmed by the time I reached the end of the story.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, History

Best Books of 2019

To say that I am a bookworm is an understatement. As you might expect, I’ve read quite a few books this year.

Without further adieu, my list of the best books of 2019 is below.

  1. The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power: This book is #1 because it represents how far American women have come and how far we need to go before we are truly equal. In celebrating the success of these female politicians, the authors are paving the way for the next generation of women to represent their country.
  2. The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught In Between: This compelling and true story of one small town and it’s Jewish residents during World War II is as compelling as any fiction novel of the Holocaust.
  3. Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II: Telling the story of Audrey Hepburn‘s childhood during World War II, this book is a must-read for both movie junkies and history nerds alike.
  4. Summer of ’69: History is not just facts in a book. It the lives and experiences of those who lived through that period. In telling the story of one specific family, the summer of 1969 comes alive.
  5. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators: The revelation of Harvey Weinstein’s actions two years ago was appalling and world-changing. In bringing his actions to the light, the authors are giving his victims what should have been theirs in the first place.
  6. Unmarriageable: A Novel: This adaptation of Pride & Prejudice set in Pakistan proves why Austen’s novels are universally loved and rebooted time and again.
  7. The Mother of the Brontes: When Maria met Patrick: The previously untold story of Maria Bronte (nee Branwell) is a fascinating story of the women who would bring Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte into the world.
  8. Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman: It takes guts to be yourself. It takes even more guts when being yourself means that you are no longer part of the community you grew up in.
  9. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement: The reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal knew what they were up against. They also knew how important it was for the public to know the truth.
  10. The Winemaker’s Wife: Love and betrayal are enough to handle. Add in war and you have this marvelous novel set in France during World War II.

Leave a comment

Filed under Anne Bronte, Book Review, Books, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Feminism, History, Jane Austen, Movies, Pride and Prejudice

The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power Book Review

Progress does not come out of mere wishing and praying. It requires us to step up, take a risk and do something that probably scares the sh*t out of us.

The Women of the 116th Congress was published back in October. With a forward by Roxane Gay, and photographs by Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman, the book is nothing short of history making. To be fair, the 2018 midterm elections was history making in itself. Between the House of Representatives and the Senate, 131 women were sworn in. It is the largest number of women in the halls of power in American history. Each woman is photographed and given a brief opportunity to speak directly to reader.

If I had to sum up this book, it would be via a quote from the late Martha Wright Griffths.

“All I want to be is human and American and have the same rights and I will shut up.”

I loved this book. It was a reminder of how far American women have come, but also how far we have to go. This generation of American women stand on the shoulders of women who paved the way for us to succeed. If our daughters and granddaughters are to do the same, it is now up to us to pave the way for their future success.

I absolutely recommend it.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Politics

I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture Book Review

The image of a “geek” is not particularly attractive. He or she is socially awkward, has a limited social life or none at all and is known for being a fan of something that is not “cool”.

Writer A.D. Jameson is looking to change that image. In his 2018 book, I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture, Mr. Jameson explores how so called “geek culture” has expanded to general pop culture. Using examples from Star Wars, Star Trek, the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, etc, the author talks about geek culture is not only accepted, it has become cool to let your geek flag fly.

I loved this book, it is brilliant. From one geek to another, Mr. Jameson talks about geek culture as only an insider can. One of the points he brings up (which many do not) is that movie/television studios and companies that make the accompanying paraphernalia is they think that fans are blindly loyal. Slap the name of the movie or the television show on anything and we will hand over our money. It is one of several misconceptions that Mr. Jameson brilliantly discusses.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Movies, Star Wars

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern Book Review

History is made in small moments. When we are in that moment, we cannot see how things are changing. We can only see how things have changed when we step back and are able to see the big picture.

Earlier this year, Professor Robert Morrison published his new book, The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern. In the book, Professor Morrison explains how the Regency era was the beginning of the political, cultural and religious shift that would later create modern Britain.

Using noted figures of the period such as writer Jane Austen, aristocrat, poet, and politician Lord Byron and French statesman Napoleon Bonaparte, Professor Morrison deconstructs the period and changes that would forever affect Britain as we know it to be today.

I liked this book. It was a deep dive into a period that I thought I knew a lot about. I was wrong. This book took me into the intricacies and details of the Regency era that would only be known to someone who lived in that time or a modern historian who had done their homework.

I will say, however, that this book is not for everyone. It is for someone like me who wants to know more about the period outside of the novels of the era. Or, it can be used for academic purposes. But it does not read like a dry college textbook. Professor Morrison writes in such a way that the reader is quickly absorbed and taught about the Regency era without feeling like they are in a lecture hall.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, History, Jane Austen

A Beginner's Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death Book Review

There are two things in life that are guaranteed: death and taxes. Everything else is up in the air.

While death itself is simply explained, everything else around is difficult. A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, by BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger, takes away that difficulty. The book is a step by step process of dealing with death. From the legal and financial paperwork to dealing with the healthcare system, preparing for the funeral and the grief that follows, the book is the complete guide for dealing with death.

I originally picked up this book because as someone who lives with depression, I wanted to get another perspective on illness and death. What I got instead was a book that is tremendously helpful. As my generation gets older and our parents reach the age in which their health comes into question, we will need to deal with issues we have not dealt with before.

While this book cannot completely help with the emotional aspects of this topic, it can help with the legal, medical and logistical aspects that make illness and death just a little easier to cope with.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Mental Health