Category Archives: Book Review

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement Book Review

Some people are born to change the world. Others change the world by a twist of fate, forcing them to step into the spotlight and speak for those who for any number of reasons, cannot do so themselves.

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement, by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, was published last month. Born in the Bronx, Burke was sexually assaulted as a girl. Believing that she was at fault, she let the shame settle into her emotional bones and change her. She thought it could be simply hidden away and life would simply go on. But the experiences would force her to not just confront her own past, but how other women have lived with similar traumatic experiences. She specifically explores how those responsible for such heinous acts are often given a free pass. At the same time, their victims must live with the scarlet letter that is forced upon them for something they were not responsible for.

This book should be on every must-read list of 2021. In telling her own story, Burke speaks for the millions of women across the world, past, and present, who were called all sorts of names simply because some man thought they were there for his sexual pleasure. By calling out those who would shelter sexual predators and supporting those who have suffered, she is challenging all of us to break the status quo and make assault/rape the criminal act it should have been all along.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, New York City

Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood Book Review

Antisemitism is on the rise. It is a fact that is sadly indisputable. When innocent congregants were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th, 2018, it was a wake up call.

Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood, by Mark Oppenheimer (co-host of the Unorthodox podcast), was published earlier this month. In the book, Opppenheimer focuses on the community, both past and present. It starts with the history of both the city and the neighborhood and ends with how it has bounced back since that day. What makes Squirrel Hill unique is that it is both diverse and has retained it’s Jewish neshama (soul). While in other parts of the country, there is an obvious demographic, cultural and religious shift over the decades, this district has maintained its identity.

When the gunman (who the author does not mention by name and shall be referred to in the same manner in this review) entered the synagogue, it was an event that can only be described as knowing the rose colored glasses off of our collective faces. With a journalist’s eye and the heart of an ordinary human being, Oppenheimer speaks to survivors, the victim’s family members, local residents, historians, and others to tell the story of a moment in time that will forever be preserved in a moment of hate, fear, and heartbreak.

I loved this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on multiple lists of the top books of 2021. If the author’s approach would have been to wallow in grief and anger while telling this story, he would have had every right to. But he treats the subject with sensitivity and the understanding that not everyone involved is ready or able to talk about that day and its aftermath.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World Book Review

When we think of rituals, we often think of them attached to a specific religion or religious experience. But rituals can be more than that. They give us structure and allow us to deal with challenges and occurances that life can throw our way.

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, by Sasha Sagan, was published earlier this month. Sagan is the daughter of the late scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan and writer/producer Ann Druyan, was raised as a secular Jew. A secular Jew is one who is part of the faith by virtue of being born to Jewish parents. They identify as Jewish, but limit how, when, and where they practice. As a child, she was taught nature, science, and space can tell us more about life and it’s various stages more than any tale created by humans.

When Sagan’s daughter was born, she started to examine how the concepts she learned as a youngster influence how we approach life events. Her goal was to create new rituals that emphasize the moment without relying on a specific religious perspective.

This book is very interesting. Her approach is to study multiple religions and cultures to compare and contrast how each views and approaches life and its various changes. Talking about life, death, and everything in between, Sagan is both respectful and curious, introducing the reader to people and beliefs they may or may not have heard of.

If nothing else, we learn that for all of our outward differences, human beings are all the same. The names, procedures, and details differ. But once we get past that, the similarities are remarkable.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Judaism

People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present Book Review

Anyone with an inkling of knowledge of Jewish history knows that it comes down to one phrase: they tried to kill us, we survived, now lets eat”. Though its a joke, the truth behind it is far from funny. Over the millennia, we have been accused of lies, forced to convert and assimilate to survive, persecuted, and murdered.

Dara Horn‘s new book, People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, was published last month. A respected novelist and writer whose work has often focused on anything and everything related to Judaism, Horn examines how we look at deceased Jews are looked with starry eyed nostalgia. But yet, when it comes to living members of the faith, antisemitism is still an all too dangerous part of our lives. Using examples such as Anne Frank, Shylock, and the Auschwitz. Not Long Ago, Not Far Away, Horn looks at how modern Jews are experiencing the same bullshit that our ancestors went through.

I loved this book. Pulling no punches, the author knocks the rose colored glasses off the reader’s face. She forces us to take a long and difficult look at the past and how its time to get real. As I see it, we have an opportunity to put to rest the deception that has caused too many generations to suffer for no reason. The question is, are we willing to do so? Or is it easier to just repeat the actions of our predecessors?

Do I recommend it? Yes.

P.S. There is an adjoining podcast, Adventures With Dead Jews that is the perfect complement to the book.

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The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal Book Review

Healing is never easy. It requires strength, fortitude, and the courage to face your demons. Though this is often applied to difficult life challenges and mental health, it can also be applied to a shared historical or cultural past.

Mary Trump‘s new book, The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, was published in August. Combining a new examination of American history and her professional background as a psychiatrist, Trump forces the reader to ask the difficult questions that few have had the courage to even consider. She goes deep into the institutions that have built up this nation and how they have been changed, for better or for worse. The throughline is if we can trust both the individuals and establishments that are supposed to keep this nation going. If we can’t, what needs to be done to rebuild that trust?

I enjoyed this book. Trump’s approach is both firm and supportive. She is challenging all of us to take a hard look at what needs to be done and be unafraid to do it. Which may come, at the end of the day, making hard decisions.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth Book Review

The Alamo is one of the iconic and problematic events in American history. The defeat of the Mexican army by a small band of rebels in Texas is emblematic of the idea of freedom and independence that is the United States. But that does not mean that the story that we know today has been told in its entirety.

Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth was published in June. Written by Bryan Burroughs, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford, the book explores not just the narrative of the battle at the Alamo, but how it has been changed over time. After telling the story as it was experienced by those who were there, the authors delve into how it was reshaped to match the perspective of the majority Caucasian population. The fact that the Americans were aided by Tejano fighters and that the war was about keeping slavery legal when it was outlawed in Mexico was conveniently forgotten.

This book is uncomfortable to read, in a good way. It forces the reader to take a hard look at not just this event, but our history as a whole. Are we being told of the facts or those that are convenient to those in power? A well written chronicle makes the reader think. If nothing else, Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, starts to turn the wheels and ask questions that have remained unanswered for far too long.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh Book Review

One of the great things about fanfiction is that the writer has the opportunity to shine the spotlight on characters who the reader knows very little about in the original text.

The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh by Molly Greeley, was published at the beginning of the year. The novel focuses on Anne de Bourgh. In Pride and Prejudice, Anne is the daughter of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the cousin of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Supposedly sick from birth and engaged to her cousin, she fades into the background without the audience truly knowing who she is as a person.

The Anne we are introduced to in Greeley’s novel is not the quiet, retiring character that exists in Austen cannon. She is vivid, intelligent, and curious. But because her imperious mother continues to believe that her daughter is unwell, she is prevented from the experiences that she would have had otherwise. Finally gathering enough nerve to break with Lady Catherine, Anne flees to London, where is she welcomed by her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.

When Anne’s strength has recovered, she begins to see what life can truly offer. But being that she has been locked away from society her entire life, she is unprepared for the not so polite underbelly of the season. This includes love with a person that she could have never expected. Anne must not only contend with forbidden romance, but with her mother, who is still determined to rein her daughter in.

I loved this book. This is how fanfiction is done. The balance between what the reader knows about Anne de Bourgh and where Greeley goes with the character is fantastic. I loved the LGBTQ twist that she adds, elevating what could be a predictable narrative into a story that the reader does not see coming.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Fanfiction, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City Book Review

Food is more than the nourishment our body needs to survive. It tells the story of the people who prepared it.

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City by Scott Seligman was published last year. One of the major tenets of traditional Judaism is keeping kosher. That means that certain foods are off limits. Meat and dairy dishes cannot be combined in the same meal. There must be two sets of dishes and two sets of preparation tools. Most of all, the only acceptable meat is kosher. The problem with kosher meat is that it is more expensive than its non-kosher counterpart.

In May of 1902, many Jewish families who resided in New York City were poor immigrants, barely struggling to get by. But in spite of the hardships, they were determined to maintain their traditions. That included the food they purchased and consumed. When the price of the animal based proteins rose beyond what many could afford, women took to the streets, believing that price gouges were responsible for the increase. What started out as a non-violent movement turned into a battle for the hearts and minds of the community. Led by women who lacked the education and opportunities of their uptown peers, it is a story of not just economic survival, but the average person fighting against the powerful.

This book is obviously a niche subject and right up my alley. This is my history and the women I come from. Instead of keeping silent, they stood up for themselves and their community. In doing so, these women blazed a path and helped to created the blueprint for the modern non-violent protest that we see today.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Rose Code Book Review

War is not always fought in the battlefield. For every soldier with a weapon in their hand, someone is working equally hard behind the scenes to ensure victory.

The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn, was published in March. In England in 1940, as World War II is about to explode, three women join the war effort. Accepting jobs as code breakers at Blectchley Park, they are responsible for cracking the codes that have been intercepted from Germany.

Osla is the debutant who wants to be known for more than her status in society. She is also dating Prince Philip, who was still a few years away from marrying the future Queen Elizabeth. Mab climbed her way out of her poverty driven childhood in the East End of London. While she works furiously to save lives, she is looking for a husband to give her the life she did not have when she was young. Some might say that Beth is shy, but those who know her will say that she is incredibly intelligent and eager to see what the world has to offer. The war brings these women together before tearing them apart.

Seven years later, the country has united under happier events: the royal wedding. Osla, Beth, and Mab have not spoken to each other since the end of the war. When two of them receive an encrypted letter, the unspoken lie comes to the surface and they must work together to catch a traitor.

I loved this book. It is one of the best that I have read this year. The story is a thrilling rollercoaster of friendship, the sacrifices that war demands, and three women whose lives are turned upside down. It was half spy novel and half coming of age narrative with an undercurrent of early 20th century feminism that is sometimes forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen’s Novel to Film Book Review

Though it appears that a film or television appears as a finished product as if out of thin air, the reality is that it takes a lot of people working together to bring the magic that feels seamless.

The 1995 book, The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries: Bringing Jane Austen’s Novel to Film, takes the reader into the process of making the 1995 adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility. Written by the movie’s screenwriter and star Emma Thompson (who played the lead role of Elinor Dashwood), the book contains the complete screenplay and Thompson’s diaries of the making of the film.

This book is so much fun to read. Seeing the screenplay in black and white was a treat. Thompson’s journal from the period is bawdy, funny, honest, and full of delicious minutiae of movie making that only adds to the joy of this beloved classic.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, Jane Austen, Movies, Sense and Sensibility