Category Archives: Books

Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman Book Review

No matter how old we are, we still want our parent’s love and affection. But what happens we have to make a choice between our parent’s love and our authentic selves?

The new book, Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman, is a memoir written by Abby Chava Stein. Abby was born a boy, the eldest son of a large Hasidic Jewish family in New York City. A direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the expectations on her shoulders as a child were clear. She would follow in the personal and professional path of those who came before her.

But something inside of her said that she was different. In her 20’s, after marrying and having a child, Abby knew that it was time to be herself. Even if that meant being estranged from the family and the community that she grew up in.

I loved this book because the author lays it all on the page. It is an honest, heartfelt, sometimes painful memoir of a time in her life when she was living as two different people. Though Ms. Stein comes from a specific community with a specific faith, her story is universal. There are many of us in this world who live two lives. We know at some point, we must come out of the closet, in whatever form that takes.

If she can do it, so can the rest of us.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, New York City

What She Lost Book Review

From my perspective, the Holocaust is a personal story because it happened to my family and my co-religionists. But for someone who is looking at it from the perspective of history without a personal connection, it’s difficult to contemplate the facts of this time in history. That is where the stories of the survivors and the victims come into play.

The new book, What She Lost, by Melissa W. Hunter, is part fiction novel and part memoir. Based on the story of how the author’s grandmother survived the Holocaust, Sarah Waldman is growing up in a small town in Poland in the 1930s. Her Jewish family is large, tight-knit and devoted to their faith. Then the Nazis roll into town and everything changes. Can she survive, and if she does, will she be able to live a full life again?

This book is fantastic. It is a deeply personal, hard-hitting story of an ordinary young girl who survives an extraordinary time in history. I applaud Ms. Hunter for being brave as a writer jumping from time period to time period. Regardless of the experience level of the writer, it takes skill and consistent effort to create a narrative that is easy to follow for the reader. Ms. Hunter is able to do so while telling a compelling story that in our time, still needs to be told.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, History

Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger Book Review

In public, men are allowed to be angry. However, when it comes to women in public, its another story. At best, it is considered to be unseemly. At worst, she is labelled a harpy, a shrew or a bitch.

In the new book, Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger, editor Lilly Dancyger compiles a list of stories from different women are angry. They come from different walks of life and have different beliefs, but their anger unites them. They are told to keep quiet and smile politely, but in a world in which women are still second class, the anger refuses to stay put.

I really liked this book. Anger is a natural emotion. But in our culture, it is a negative trait in women and a positive trait in men. What I liked about this book is that I felt like it was not only a release for the women whose essays were included in the book. It was also a release for the female reader who is angry but has subscribed to the idea that public anger is wrong.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism

Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation Book Review

It’s no secret that the internet has changed our world. But it has also revealed dark corners can be quite scary.

The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz’s new book is entitled Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation. The book explores how those who he has deemed the “gate crashers” have purloined both the internet and traditional forms of media to share their perspective with the world. Marantz also gains one on one access with those who would share their views and goes into the psychology that drives them to think that way.

What strikes about this book and the subjects of this book is that it reminds the reader that hate and prejudice are alive and well. These people are not the anonymous loners who are making comments behind a screen name just to get attention. If given access to power, they have serious potential to upend this country and everything that we hold dear.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Politics

The Chaperone Movie Review

The opportunity to travel offers more than what it appears to be. It is more than the place one goes to, it is the emotional experience and the growth that comes with travel.

The 2018 movie, The Chaperone, is based on the book of the same name by Laura Moriarty. At the age of fifteen, future silent screen star Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) is given the opportunity to study dance at a prestigious school in New York City. But a fifteen year old girl cannot travel alone, especially in 1922. Norma (Elizabeth McGovern) is there to make sure that Louise stays out of trouble.

But Norma has her own reasons for leaving Kansas and her family behind. Can she find the answers she is looking for and will Louise become the star that she dreams of becoming?

Penned by Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellows, this movie is interesting. I appreciated the parallel character arcs of the lead characters. Though their end goals are different, their individual journeys are remarkably similar. I also appreciated the relationships with the men around them are secondary to the relationship between Norma and Louise.

However, compared to Downton Abbey, this movie is kind of meh. Though I have not read the book yet, I did not have the chill up my spine that I had with Downton.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

The Chaperone is available for streaming on Masterpiece.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Downton Abbey, Feminism, History, Movies, New York City

Hitler and the Habsburgs The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals Book Reviews

As a reader and a history buff, I thought that I had read and/or heard of every story about World War II. But I was wrong.

The first half of the twentieth century is notable for any number of reasons. One of those reasons is the physical deaths and/or dissolutions of most of the major monarchies in Europe. The new book, Hitler and the Habsburgs The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals, by James Longo, tells the story of World War II from a different angle.

As we all learned in high school history class, World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the House of Hapsburg and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. A generation later, a certain German Chancellor (who shall remain nameless on this blog post) controlled all of Europe and was responsible for the massacre of millions. Nursing a decades-long vendetta against the Hapsburgs and their orphaned children, it was the spark that eventually led him to power.

*There would normally be a video here, but there is none to be found.

This book is very interesting. It is obvious that the author thoroughly researched the period and his subjects. The story takes the reader on a journey that I have not experienced in a long time. However, this book is not for the casual reader. It is for one who is well versed and interested in the period and the history of that period.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, History

The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation Book Review

Unless one is a diehard political junkie, the confirmation process of potential Supreme Court judges is an event that can be missed. But the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh last year was must-see TV. The sexual assault allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford made viewers and those in the halls of power ask if Judge Kavanaugh was truly up to the task at hand.

The new book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation, by New York Times writers Kate Kelly and Robin Pogrebin, is more than the story of Judge Kavanaugh. It is a mirror that reveals the truth that America is a divided nation, politically, socially and culturally. While telling the story of Judge Kavanaugh’s life, Kelly and Pogrebin do a deep dive into who their subject is and the accusations that nearly stopped his career in its path.

Like many Americans, I watched this story like a hawk last fall. What I like about the book is that the writers leave the perspective up to the interpretation of the reader. Though they make clear that the allegations are serious (as they should), they do not play judge and jury.

As a feminist, I have two perspectives on this story. The first perspective is that Judge Kavanaugh acted in a way that only one who is young, immature and stupidly drunk will act. It appears that in middle age, he has matured well beyond the young man he was in the 1980’s. The second perspective is that this is a man who has no respect for women, especially when he is not sober. If he truly has no respect for women, how is able to make sound legal judgements that can potentially affect millions of American women?

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

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

Thoughts On the New Emma Trailer

In Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, Emma, the novel’s titular heroine, Emma Woodhouse is introduced as “handsome, rich and clever”. She thinks that she knows the ways of the world, especially when it comes to love and marriage. Thinks is the keyword in the sentence.

The latest film iteration of this beloved novel will be released into theaters in February. Stepping into the well-worn shoes of Miss Woodhouse is Anya Taylor-Joy. Starring opposite her as George Knightley, Emma’s neighbor/verbal sparring partner is Johnny Flynn.

This is one movie that I am looking forward to seeing. Austen’s comedy of manners is more than the story of who will hook up and when they will hook up. It is the story of a young woman who learns that she does not know everything, but it is written in such a way that the reader does not hate Emma.

I hope that this version will make Jane Austen proud.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Emma, Jane Austen, Movies, Thoughts On....

Marilla of Green Gables: A Novel Book Review

When readers meet Marilla Cuthbert in the initial chapters of Anne of Green Gables, she is middle-aged, stubborn and unyielding.

Sarah McCoy’s new book, Marilla of Green Gables: A Novel, takes the reader back in time. Decades earlier, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen. Her life changes forever when her mother passes away. Now she must take her mother’s place as a farm wife.

The only way out of farm life is her aunt. Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson never married and earns a living as a seamstress in St. Catharines. Izzy encourages her niece to expands her world. This expansion includes joining the local Ladies sewing circle and helping to raise money for an orphanage that is part of the Underground Railroad. Along the way, Marilla falls in love with John Blythe, the son of a neighboring family.

It seems that her future is set. But politics, history, and personal choices have a hand in changing that future.

I loved this book. I am also a huge Anne of Green Gables fan, which was the main reason I picked up this book in the first place. In telling the story of Marilla’s early days, Ms. McCoy is able to draw a complete picture of Anne Shirley‘s adopted mother.

Though this book is not strictly for the hardcore Anne of Green Gables fans, I would recommend that the reader goes into the book with at least some knowledge of the world that Lucy Maud Montgomery created.

My only criticism is that the beginning of the book is a little slow. But when it takes off, it really takes off.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, History

The Guest Book Book Review

As much as we wish it, families are far from perfect. There are secrets, scandals, and sins that have a way of passing down through the generations.

Sarah Blake’s new novel, The Guest Book, was published earlier this year. In the 1930s, Kitty and Ogden Milton have it all. A loving marriage, beautiful and thriving children and the status that comes with being one of America’s leading (and wealthiest) families. Then tragedy hits the family hard. To assuage his wife’s grief, Ogden buys a private island to use as a summer home. The island should be a place of refuge and relaxation for the Miltons. Instead, it becomes a symbol of the family’s secrets.

The secret starts with a refusal that could have saved the life of an innocent just before World War II. Twenty plus years later, the secret grows. Len Levy and Reg Paulding are not the usual guests invited to the island. Len is Jewish and secretly seeing one of the Milton daughters. Reg is African-American and the lone person of color in his world.

The secrets begin to unravel in the 2010s. Evie Milton, one of Kitty and Ogden’s granddaughters, comes to the realization with her cousins that the island is in dire financial straits. She also learns, with the help of her husband, that the family secrets are just below the surface. With a little digging, those secrets are revealed.

What I liked about this book was how Ms. Blake established the world that this novel is set in and the casual racism/antisemitism that is part of this world. I also liked the transition from the past to the present. It takes a skilled author to jump from different time periods and different points of view in a way that does not confuse the reader.

My problem with the book is that the ending is kind of expected. The big bombshell that is supposed to be the “long-buried” secret is not really a bombshell. I saw part of it coming nearly a mile away.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, History