Category Archives: Book Review

Letters Across the Sea Book Review

War has a way to pulling us apartment, forcing us to see someone else as “the other”. It can also bring us together and remind us of our common humanity.

Letters Across the Sea, by Genevieve Graham, was published earlier this year. In Toronto in the summer of 1933, Hannah Dreyfus and Molly Ryan are best friends. Both the grandchildren of immigrants (Eastern European Jews and Irish Catholic respectively), they are friends in a time in which antisemitism is rising in their hometown. Though Molly only sees her BFF and has a crush on Max, Hannah’s big brother, other people are not so tolerant of their differences. Things come to a boil in August during the Christie Pits riot, forcing Hannah and Molly to go their separate ways.

Six years later, World War II is on the horizon. After years of toiling at any job she could get, Molly has finally gotten her dream job as a journalist. Men from across the country have enlisted. Among them are Max and Molly’s brothers. When the letters from the soldiers start to arrive, Molly must contend with the past and the unspoken truth that has been buried since that night in 1933.

This book is amazing. Graham’s eye for the historical facts while creating a fictional world is top notch. I was fully invested in the story, hoping that Molly and Max would get together while praying that the male characters would come home. It was a history lesson in the best way, learning about this time in Canadian history without feeling like the reader is sitting in a university lecture hall.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Period. End of Sentence.: A New Chapter in the Fight for Menstrual Justice Book Review

Menstruation is a normal and natural part of human existence. But in many parts of the world and many cultures, it is considered to be a taboo subject that is both misunderstood and vilified.

Period. End of Sentence.: A New Chapter in the Fight for Menstrual Justice, by Anita Diamant (author of The Red Tent), was published earlier this year. Inspired by the 2018 Netflix film Period. End of Sentence., Diamant explores how one’s monthly visitor is perceived. Throughout most of human history and even into our present day, it is considered to be dirty. There are traditions that state that when someone is menstruating, they must be separated from their families and every day lives. Due to this false and misleading mythology, many women and girls are denied the same educational and professional opportunities that their brothers, fathers, and husbands don’t think twice about. She also talks about how individual companies and governments are slowly starting to undo the menstrual injustice that have plagued humanity for millennia.

I really enjoyed this book. It delves into a topic that it is intrinsic to the experience of half of the human population, but it is not given the respect that it is due. One thing I was surprised about was that some men don’t even know what a period is. Others believe it to be related to sex and sexual activity, forcing young women into a life that does not exist beyond the borders of home and family.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Jane Austen: Writing, Society, Politics Book Review

Art does not come from nothing. It comes from the world around us and the experiences that have shaped our lives.

Jane Austen: Writing, Society, Politics by Tom Keymer, was published last year. In the book, Keymer walks the reader through the Regency era and how that world had a hand in developing her voice as a writer. He goes into the politics of the period, the complete disenfranchisement of women, and how a strict, but slowly fading class system played a role in her work.

I loved it. It was short, concise, and a reminder as to why Austen’s work continues to be timeless and universal. I will say, however, that it is aimed at two specific and different groups of readers. The book can be read in an academic setting, but it is neither dry nor stuffy. It also squarely falls into the Janeite camp. My one warning is that to truly enjoy it, the reader should be well versed in her life and work. Otherwise, they may not understand the nuances and the details that a long-time Jane Austen fan can easily identify.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump Book Review

There are two kinds of loyalty: loyalty to one self and loyalty to others. The question is, where does one draw the line between listening to your inner voice and putting someone else first?

Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer of you know who, published his memoir last year. It is entitled Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump. In the book, he writes in great detail about the years that he worked for the former President. The man he describes is one that cares only for himself. He will say anything and do anything to get his way, not caring about the consequences that other people will face. You know who is crass, crude, racist, cheap, and was known to fly off the handle when he did not get his way. As Cohen spent more time with his ex-employer, he began to lose himself in the job and the person he reported to.

Though Cohen calls it a memoir, I would call it a confessional. He puts everything on the page, leaving nothing behind. The book is well written. As I was walking in his shoes, I understood why he continued his employment in spite of the number of times that the legal and moral boundaries were crossed. Though he comes off as contrite, a part of me will never be able to forget or forgive his actions.

If nothing else, it is a reminder if why this you know who should never be allowed to get anywhere near any political office in this country again.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Milk Fed: A Novel Book Review

Food is more than the physical nourishment our body needs to function. It can also be stand in for something else in our life that has not been entirely dealt with.

In the new Melissa Broder novel published earlier this year, Milk Fed: A Novel, Los Angeles transplant Rachel was raised Jewish, but those days are long gone. Outside of her job at a talent agency, the most important thing is her physical appearance. She counts calories like the world is ending and can be found after work at the gym, furiously working off whatever she eat earlier that day. Following up on her therapist’s recommendation, she cuts of all communication with her mother for 90 days. Since she was little, Rachel has been constantly reminded to watch what she eat.

Shortly after, she meets Miriam, the zaftig employee behind the counter of one of Rachel’s favorite frozen yogurt places. Miriam is more orthodox in her practice of their mutual faith and intent on making sure that her soon to be new friend is well fed. Taken by Miriam, Rachel goes on a journey of family, faith, sex, and learning to love yourself.

I loved this book. Instead of being one of those obnoxious skinny women who makes the rest of us feel unattractive, Rachel is human, complicated, and completely relatable. I loved her emotional trek as she opened herself up to eating, Miriam (and everything Miriam represented), and learning to let go of the parental criticism that makes itself too comfortable in our consciousness.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

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My Name Is Selma: The Remarkable Memoir of a Jewish Resistance Fighter and Ravensbrück Survivor Book Review

The ability to survive a war is due to a combination of both luck and timing.

In 2020, Jewish Holocaust survivor and resistance fighter Selma van de Perre published her memoir. It is entitled My Name Is Selma: The Remarkable Memoir of a Jewish Resistance Fighter and Ravensbrück Survivor. The third of four children, van de Perre’s live was relatively normal until World War II started. In her late teens at the time, fate determined that it was not her time to be rounded up by the Nazis. After her father was summoned to a work camp and her mother and little sister were in hiding before found and sent to Auschwitz, Selma died her hair blonde, lived under an assumed name, and joined the resistance. It seemed that luck was on her side. That is, until 1944 when she was captured and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Her Jewish identity remained a secret until after the war, when she finally able to reveal her true self safely.

I wanted to like this book. If I am to be completely honest, it was an infodump. In writing terms, an infodump is where the writer(s) provide the reader with a lot of information without emotion or insight into what the characters are thinking or feeling. Now granted, this is a memoir and not a fiction book. What I was missing was the quickening of my pulse and the uncertainty of the dangerous situations she put herself into.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir Book Review

Our names are more than just a random scrambling of letters. They are our identity, both internally and externally. They also have a say in our fate and the way we live our lives.

Noted writer and technology psychoanalyst Sherry Turkle published her memoir earlier this year. It is entitled The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir. For a good part of her life, Turkle lived with a secret that only those within her immediate family knew. Born in the late 1940’s in Brooklyn to a Jewish family, the man the world knew as her father was not her father. The man who contributed to half of her DNA was out of his daughter’s life. Knowing that she could never speak the truth, she learned to be empathetic to others. As she grew up, attended college, and became a full fledged adult, she learned to deal with her past, the growing addition of computers to our lives, and find her own way in the world.

I am going to be blunt. I was not impressed with this book. While I was very much hooked into the drama regarding her family, I was bored by her career path and various steps she took to get to where she is today professionally. Normally, this would be an enticing topic, given that she came of age during 2nd feminist wave in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But not even that or recognizing certain locations in borough we both grew up in was enough to make me like this memoir.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope Book Review

Motherhood is one of the most profound and challenging experiences of a woman’s life. Wartime and the sheer will to survive forces a mother to make decisions that would otherwise not even be considered.

In 2015, Wendy Holden published Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope. The book tells the story of three Jewish women incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II. Not knowing the fate of their husbands or their families, Rachel, Anka, and Priska know that being pregnant is a death sentence. They do everything they can to survive, not knowing if they or their babies will not just live, but one day see the light of freedom.

I loved this book. In telling the story of these three women, Holden brings the cold and dangerous reality of this era of history. It is a reminder, in the most in your face way possible, how quickly hate and prejudice can descend into destruction and murder. I felt as if I was in these camps with these women, instead of reading about them generations after the Holocaust happened.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Rotten Tomatoes: Rotten Movies We Love: Cult Classics, Underrated Gems, and Films So Bad They’re Good Book Review

Going to the movies is always an experiences. Regardless of whether we loved them, hated them, or somewhere in between, there is something fascinating about the conversation that comes from the sitting in a dark room and watching the flickering lights of the screen with strangers.

Rotten Tomatoes: Rotten Movies We Love: Cult Classics, Underrated Gems, and Films So Bad They’re Good, was published back in 2019. Written by the editors of Rotten Tomatoes, the book delves in 101 films that according to the website are rotten. But what the critics said, the audience didn’t always agree with. Neither do the writers of this book, who also point out why some movies don’t initially do well at the box office, but somehow become cult classics.

This book is the perfect read for the film buff. It reminded me why fans and critics sometimes disagree. I loved that there is a down to earth feel to the writing, talking to reader instead of talking down to us.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Daughter of the Reich: A Novel Book Review

Our teenage years are the most confusing and exciting times of our lives. We are torn between the expectations of our families and the excitement of the newness of everything that occurs during that period.

Daughter of the Reich: A Novel, by Louise Fein, was published last year. In World War II era Germany, Hetty Heinrich, whose father is moving up in the ranks of the Nazi party, is everything a daughter was supposed to be. She is respectful of her parents and goes along with the new society that the regime has created. That all changes when she reunites with an old friend, Walter Keller. Walter is Jewish. Despite the risks to both of their lives (and their families by extension), they start to fall for one another. When it becomes clear that the danger is ramping up tenfold, Walter and Hetty have to make a decision about their future.

OMG. This is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It was such a visceral experience to see this world and this time in history through Hetty’s eyes. If nothing else, it was a reminder of how equally powerful love and hate can be. As I got further into the novel, it was not hard to see the parallels between the 1930’s and today.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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