The Daughter of Auschwitz: My Story of Resilience Survival and Hope Book Review

As the years pass, the number of Holocaust survivors who lived to tell their first-hand stories dwindles. At this point, it is only the child survivors who are still alive to speak their truth.

Tova Friedman is one of these child survivors. Her new memoir, The Daughter of Auschwitz: My Story of Resilience, Survival and Hope, co-written with Malcolm Brabant and with a foreword by Ben Kingsley, was published earlier this month. Born in 1938, her earliest years were defined by antisemitism, poverty, violence, and destruction. She saw things that no child should ever see.

By age four, Tova and her mother were sent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Her father was sent to Dachau. What she experienced in the camp was imminently worse than anything she had seen previously. Though she and both of her parents could have been murdered any number of times, all three of them were liberated and found one another.

Now in her early 80’s, Tova is a wife, mother, grandmother, and lecturer. Her mission is to educate about the Holocaust, to make sure that it never happens again.

What makes this book so powerful is her memories. Though the events are nearly a century old, the images are as potent and brutal as if it were yesterday. It is a reminder that this happened in many people’s lifetimes.

Included in the book are pictures. Among them is an image of one of her aunts. Her aunt was liberated from the camps only to be murdered in a pogrom a year later. It is hard to see, but an important reminder of what prejudice can do to us.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Daughter of Auschwitz: My Story of Resilience, Survival and Hope is available wherever books are sold.

Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother Book Review

There is no bond as important as a mother with her children.

When the late Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997, she left behind two young men who were forever changed. The new biography, Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother, by James Patterson, was published last month. It tells the story of Diana and her sons as human beings, not just celebrities or royals who live in a gilded cage.

While ensuring that both of her boys know what their responsibilities and futures will be like, she also gave them the opportunity to be ordinary kids. After her untimely passing, they grow up (with the usual and unusual hurdles due to the family they were born into) into responsible men, husbands, and fathers who continue Diana’s legacy.

What struck me was that Diana learned how to work within the system while rebelling against a way of life that may seem archaic to some. Her love for her sons, specifically when her marriage to Prince Charles (now King Charles III) was falling apart, was evident from the word go. Even when her own mental health issues weighed heavily on her, her boys still came first.

Choosing to live and parent as she did, she set up William and Harry to become empathetic and understanding of the idea that not everyone lives like they do. In doing so, she set the English monarchy on a path that allows tradition and modernity to exist concurrently.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother is available wherever books are sold.

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Heated Book Review

In an ideal world, breaking up with one’s significant other would be as straightforward and painless as humanely possible. But that is not always possible.

The new romance novel, Heated, was published in July. Written by Naima Simone, it is the story of an unlikely relationship. Zora is the owner of a unique business. Her clients pay her to inform their soon-to-be exes that their romantic partnership has ended.

The newest breakup that Zora is about to facilitate is with Cyrus, a respected entertainment lawyer. It should be all business and nothing more. But there is something about him that makes him irresistible.

After a difficult childhood, Cyrus has a plan in mind for his future. Everything is laid down in his mind. Nothing and no one can change it. Except for Zora. When he starts to fall for her, he has no idea that she was the conduit for the breakup with his ex.

This book is so hot that I almost needed a fan at certain points. The chemistry between Zora and Cyrus is on fire from the moment they meet. Though the slow burn is a little too slow, the pages were burning up when they finally got together. I loved that Zora is a plus-sized African American woman who is not trying to change who she is to fit in. She owns her identity with a confidence that is refreshing.

I also appreciated that both Cyrus and Zora have emotional baggage that is organic to who they are as people. It’s not forced to create drama for the sake of it. Their damage and the revelation of those scars allow them to heal and find the happiness they both deserve.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Heated is available wherever books are sold.

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The Weight of Blood Book Review

Bullying is, unfortunately, part of the school experience. Though it may seem normal, the after-effects can linger long after we have grown up.

The new novel, The Weight of Blood, by Tiffany D. Jackson, was published at the beginning of the month. Essentially, it is a modern reboot of Carrie with the added weight of racism.

Madison “Maddy” Washington has been a social outcast for as long as anyone can remember. Raised by her fanatical Caucasian father in a small Georgia town, no one knows that she is biracial. That is until a storm reveals the truth and Maddy becomes an ever bigger target for the popular girls/school bullies.

When a video of this incident is leaked out, the administration has some serious explaining to do. The leaders of the student body (one of whom is Maddy’s tormentors) devise a plan to hold an integrated prom for the first time in the town’s history. Feeling guilty for everything that has happened, Wendy, the class President, knows that something has to be done. She asks her African American quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to the prom.

For the first time in her life, Maddy starts to believe that she will be like any other teenager. She does not know that her peers have one more trick up their sleeves. But they don’t know that she has a secret of her own, which could be deadly if and/or when it is unleased.

I loved this book. Jackson does an amazing job of being true to the original text while taking the narrative to another level. In adding racism to the already heightened story of a girl who is teased and humiliated by her classmates, she speaks of the short-term and long-term damage that both create.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. In fact, I would say it is in the top ten new books of 2022.

The Weight of Blood is available wherever books are sold.

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Her Hidden Genius Book Review

There are some men (both in the past and present) in this world who cannot fathom the idea that a woman can be more than a wife and a mother. When she dares to enter his world, he will do anything in his power to strip away her power and status.

One of these women is Rosalind Franklin. One of the scientists who discovered and published her findings on DNA, her male colleagues claimed her work as their own after her passing. Franklin’s story is told in the new novel Her Hidden Genius. Written by Marie Benedict and published in January, Franklin was ahead of her time. In the years after World War II, the daughter of a respected and wealthy British Jewish family chose work over marriage and motherhood.

Employed by labs in both London and Paris, she was the only female on nearly all-male teams. While working in the UK, three of her male co-workers did everything they could to upstage and unnerve her instead of coming together to reach a common goal.

Benedict does it again. She gives the spotlight to a woman who rightly deserves it. Up until I read this book, Rosalind Franklin was a complete stranger to me. I am thoroughly ashamed that it has taken almost a century for her to be given the credit she is rightly due. The narrative immediately sucked me in. By the time I got to the final page, I felt like I knew her, both a person and a feminist icon.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Her Hidden Genius is available wherever books are sold.

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Any Given Tuesday: A Political Love Story Book Review

Politics is not for the faint of heart, especially if you are female. It requires grit, strength, a spine made of steel, and confidence.

Lis Smith has all of these qualities. Despite all of the challenges that have stood in her path, she has somehow been able to make a career out of it. Her new political memoir, Any Given Tuesday: A Political Love Story, was published in July. The narrative starts in the early 2000s when Smith was a college intern. Taking the reader through the ups and downs of the last twenty-odd years, they are introduced (or re-introduced) to some of the most well-known and controversial political figures of our day.

Throughout the story, Smith is honest about her mistakes, her missteps, and her belief that those in the halls of power can affect greater change for the good.

I really enjoyed the book. Smith not only reveals what happens behind closed doors when the cameras are off, but she is also extremely candid about what she learned along the way.

It is a terrific read for those of us (myself included) who are frustrated with our current legislative climate and want our governmental representatives to do the jobs they were hired to do.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Any Given Tuesday: A Political Love Story is available wherever books are sold.

Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble Book Review

Free speech is the cornerstone of any thriving and legitimate democracy. However, there are limits to this concept (i.e., yelling fire in a crowded theater). There are also those who push this concept to the boundaries. Specifically, when using certain language about certain people.

Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble, by Judy Gold, was published in 2020. A respected and award-winning comedian, Gold argues that comedy has no limits and censorship is a harbinger of what could happen when we stop telling the truth via jokes. Using her own background as a Jew, a woman, a mother, and a member of the LGBTQ community, she speaks her truth. Gold also explores how politically speaking, the last few years have challenged us all in terms of what is funny and what crosses the line.

I enjoyed this book. While speaking about and to her fellow comedians, she is not afraid to speak the truth. We live in a country in which comedy is more than subjective. There are many who have drunk the Kool-Aid and will take offense to anything that does not fit into their worldview. Moreover, they are not above using whatever means they have at their disposal to share their opinion.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble is available wherever books are sold.

The Serpent Queen Review

It is a truth universally acknowledged that for most of human history a woman in a seat of power has had a precarious position. She is either beloved (i.e. the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II) or reviled as a temptress and viewed as unworthy of the title (i.e. Cleopatra).

The new Starz eight-episode miniseries, The Serpent Queen, tells the story of Catherine de Medici. Based on the book Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, by Leonie Frieda, the first episode tells the story of the French Queen. Played by Samantha Morton, she tells her story to Rahima (Sennia Nanua), a servant girl who has been sent to bring the Queen her dinner. Through backstory, we learn about the young Catherine (Liv Hill) and her traumatic path to the throne.

What I like is that so far, is the younger Catherine breaks the fourth wall. She is also cheeky, intelligent, and driven. As an adult, she is also not above using underhanded methods to retain power.

So far, I have mixed feelings about the series. It’s compelling but has yet to completely suck me in as a viewer. As a character, Catherine breaks the mold in an unsettling way that makes me curious, but also sends warning signs to my brain. This woman is not one to be ignored to taken lightly.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

The Serpent Queen airs on Starz on Sunday at 9PM.

Electable: Why America Hasn’t Put a Woman in the White House . . . Yet Book Review

Over the last half a century or so, there has been a shift in regard to women and politics. Many nations across the world have had at least one female in the highest office in the land. Except for one….the United States.

Electable: Why America Hasn’t Put a Woman in the White House…Yet, by Ali Vitali was published last month. Dissecting the events of the 2020 Presidential election, she examines how it was both history-making and business as usual. Though there were a good amount of female candidates (Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, etc), Joe Biden still ultimately won the Democratic nomination.

She also deconstructs previous elections (the 2008 and 2016 Presidential elections to be specific) and how both Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were viewed by the press and the voters. As usual, the questions of “likability” were applied unequally. The qualities that were questionable or just plain wrong in terms of the female candidates were brushed off as completely fine for their male counterparts.

Throughout the book, Vitali asks two important questions:

  1. When will we finally be able to say “Madame President” in this country?
  2. When will women and men truly be equal, both legally and socially in the US?

This book is an important and vital read. It is a reminder of the fact that the glass ceiling is still intact and how far women still have to go. Given our present political circumstances (i.e. Roe V. Wade being overturned in June), we need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask why only a man can be President.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Electable: Why America Has Not Put a Woman in the White House…Yet is available for purchase in bookstores.

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Ben and Beatriz: A Novel Book Review

Among the thousands of writers that have existed throughout history, there is only a handful who have reinvented or added to stories as we know them to be today. One of them is William Shakespeare.

Katalina Gamarra‘s new romantic comedy, Ben and Beatriz: A Novel was published last month. It is essentially Much Ado About Nothing set among a group of modern twenty-somethings. Beatriz Herrera and Ben Montgomery are as different as night and day. Beatriz is a queer, biracial Latina who can take you down a peg or two with her sharp tongue if needed. Ben Montgomery is an all-American boy who comes from a WASP 1% family whose politics couldn’t be farther from Beatriz’s.

Though they claim to hate one another, underneath that hate is an attraction that cannot be ignored. As their expectations about one another begin to dissipate, there is a question of whether they can be honest about their feelings and their future as a couple.

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I was so excited to read this book. Unfortunately, the excitement quickly turned to disappointment. The promises made by the description were not fulfilled. Though the reader is told that Beatriz is queer and trying to hide it because of the political climate, it was barely mentioned. I kept asking myself if it was just being used to pull in readers without truly exploring this part of her persona.

Though the author does a good job of balancing the original text while recreating it in our time, it cannot be overcome by the expectations that were not met.

Do I recommend it? No.

Ben and Beatriz: A Novel is available for purchase in bookstores.

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