Playing Anne Frank Podcast Review

Among the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust were 1.5 million young people. This cumulative experience of the lost generation speaks to us via The Diary of Anne Frank.

In 1955, the book was turned into a play. The new 7-part podcast, Playing Anne Frank, tells the behind-the-scenes story of how the play was made and its impact on everyone (both the audience and the creators) involved. Mixing historical media with interviews of surviving cast members, it brings the drama to life and reinforces the importance of the work.

I have enjoyed listening to the first 3 episodes. For obvious reasons, both the original text and its various stage/screen incarnations are still relevant, even after all of these years. What I am appreciating is the insights of the cast and that they understood the necessity of sharing Anne’s story.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

New episodes of Playing Anne Frank are released every Tuesday.

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The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz Book Review

To the Nazis, most of their victims were nameless sub-human creatures who were marked for death. They had no identity and were without the distinct characteristics that made them unique.

But there was one name that was known: Magda Hellinger. Her story is told in the 2022 memoir, The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz. The book was co-written with Magda’s daughter, Maya Lee, and edited by David Brewster.

Before the war, Magda was a kindergarten teacher. After she was transported to Auschwitz, she made the bold (or stupid, depending on your pov) to speak up for her fellow prisoners. Instead of sending her to the gas chambers, she was put in charge of the camp’s female “inhabitants”. Magda was forced to walk the daily line of keeping as many alive as she could while making sure that their captors looked the other way. By honing her intelligence and survival skills, she was able to save her life and the lives of many others.

This book is amazing. It speaks to the inner strength that allows us to live with situations that would otherwise kill us. The images from the Holocaust often show my co-religionists meekly going to their deaths. It is stories like Magda’s that prove that there was still a fight to be fought, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

It also proves once more that women can do anything.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz is available where books are sold.

Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present Book Review

It has often been said that we can learn from history to prevent future mistakes. The caveat is that we have to be willing to understand what went wrong in order to make sure that it won’t happen again.

Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, was published in 2021. In the book, the author traces the history of autocratic and fascist leaders over the last 100 years. She starts with Benito Mussolini, and ends with modern leaders such as you know who and Vladimir Putin. Though they come from different parts of the world and speak different languages, the blueprint is the same:

  • Subjugation and persecution of minorities, perceived enemies, the LGBTQ community, and those with opposing political views.
  • Degrading women down to the traditional roles of wives and mothers (with the exception of the females in their personal orbit).
  • Proclaim that they are the one person who can save their country.
  • They claim to protect “democracy” and ensure law and order while doing the very opposite.

I think this book is a must-read for everyone who believes in a democratic government and what it stands for. As the last few years have shown us, complacency opens the door to a form of government that manipulates and destroys. It is only when we respect and fight for the constitutional way of life can we truly be free.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present is available wherever books are sold.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley Book Review

*Mary Wollstonecraft will be referred to as MW. Mary Shelley will be referred to as MS.

There are numerous ways that a parent can influence a child, even after they have passed away. Charlotte Gordon‘s 2015 biography, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, is the story of the iconic mother/daughter duo.

Though they never knew each other in life (MW died soon after MS was born), the similarities are inescapable. MW wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Women. MS wrote Frankenstein. Both books were earth-shattering in their own right. The men (William Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley respectively) who they made their lives with were far from conventional. By the standards of their time, MW and MS broke all of the rules of what it was to be a female. In doing so, they paved the way for future generations of writers (female especially) to fulfill their dreams.

I loved this book. Gordon introduces her subjects to the audience in such a way that they feel modern. While reading, I was inspired to give the proverbial middle finger to what is “normal” and not care what others think. If nothing else, I think that is the legacy of this extraordinary pair of women.

The only thing I will warn is that Gordon’s narrative is not linear. She alternates each chapter between MW and MS. I took a minute to understand where Gordon was going. After that, I had no problem with the story.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley is available wherever books are sold.

Sanditon Character Review: Lord Babington

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the book and the television show Sanditon. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

Love is a complicated thing. We can hope and pray that the one we love returns our affection. But that is not always the case. As painful as it is, the only choice is to walk away. But what if we can’t? In Sanditon, when Lord Babington (Mark Stanley) meets Esther Denham (Charlotte Spencer), he is immediately smitten. Esther, on the other hand, is not impressed.

Encouraged by her aunt, Lady Denham (Anne Reid), he continues his suit. But Esther keeps pushing him away. She only has eyes for her stepbrother, Sir Edward Denham (Jack Fox). A less determined man might walk away and put his hopes on another woman who is not continuously putting roadblocks in his way. But not Babington. It is Esther or no one.

Babbington finally gets his chance after Edward and Clara Brereton’s (Lily Sacofsky) plan to locate their aunt’s will is revealed. Declared to be persona non grata by Lady Denham, Esther is now her aunt’s heir. Seeing her stepbrother for what she is, Esther is able to look at Babington with new eyes. When proposes, she says yes. When we last see him, he is happily married and in the thrall of newlywed bliss.

From a modern feminist perspective, Babington could be seen as a problematic character. He does not seem to understand that Esther keeps saying no. Instead of heeding her words, he keeps coming back to her. But, from a romantic perspective, he is a man in love. A man in love will do crazy things to secure the person he wants the most.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

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Finding Me Book Review

No one gets through childhood without an emotional scar or two. What matters is how we respond to those scars.

Finding Me is Viola Davis‘s memoir/autobiography. To say that her childhood was far from idyllic is an understatement. The last to youngest of five children, she grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who was forced to scrape the bottom of the economic barrel to get by. Living in Rhode Island, Davis was one of a handful of black children in the community and was bullied for her skin color.

As she got older and started on the path to becoming a successful performer, she was forced to reckon with her demons. It was only when she sat down and dealt with her past did she finally make peace with it.

In telling her story, Davis is raw, emotional, and unapologetically open. It is a tale of perseverance, strength, and the willingness to move beyond what is holding you back.

I loved it. This is not an award-winning actress talking. This is the real person underneath the Hollywood glam machine. I find her journey to be an inspiration. If Davis was able to heal her wounds, make her inner child smile, and have it all, then maybe the rest of us can.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës Book Review

For everyone who makes a crack in the glass ceiling, they stand on the shoulders of someone else who made that crack possible. Lovers of classic literature are (hopefully) well-versed in the lives and works of Jane Austen and the Brontes.

What has been lost to history is that without Anna Maria and Jane Porter, neither Austen nor the Brontes would have been able to become published authors. The story of the Misses Porter is told in Devoney Looser‘s new book, Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës. Published last fall, Looser introduces modern readers to the sisters and their numerous works.

They lived what can only be described as a double life. Though they were respected authors/celebrities of their era, the Porters were never financially secure. Debt and poorly made monetary decisions followed them from the time they were young. They were also posthumously buried by the male writers of their era (Sir Walter Scott to be specific), who never publicly named the Porters as the inspiration for their own works.

It goes without saying that the book would be completely up my alley. It goes without saying that it is for a niche audience. But that’s fine. What Looser does so well is to bring her subjects and their world to life. I felt like I knew them as human beings, not as icons and proto-feminists. While she kept to the standard womb-to-tomb biography format, it was far from the dry academic title that it could have been.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. It is a must-read.

Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës is available wherever books are sold.

Heretic: A Memoir Book Review

The path from childhood to adulthood is a rocky one. Along the way, we make decisions that can affect the rest of our lives. One of these choices is how to live our lives. If our adult selves are different than the rest of our family/community, do we have to courage to go our own way? Or do we put on a mask to feel included and loved?

Heretic: A Memoir, by Jeanna Kadlec, was published last fall. Raised in an Evangelical Christian family, Kadlec grew up in a world in which the rules were unbreakable. Everything revolved around their faith. Because she was a girl, Kadlec was expected to be quiet, and obedient, and act as a female was supposed to act.

But Jeanna Kadlec was not one to follow the rules. Her memoir is not just her story of finding herself. It is the revelation how of Evangelicalism has seeped into every aspect of American culture, regardless of whether it is wanted or needed. She also talks about how women are perceived and treated, and how those who are queer are seen.

This book is amazing. Kadlec’s journey is raw, emotional, troubling, and hopeful at the same time. The only way to solve a problem is to first identify it. In sharing her tale, she puts a name and a face on an issue that many refuse to see.

There is nothing wrong with religion, there are many benefits to believing in a higher being and coming together to pray to that deity. The difficulty comes when one group decides/believes that they have the right to tell the rest of us what to think.

I admire the author. She chose to be true to herself instead of staying in her marriage and pretending to be heterosexual. Though it was the road less traveled, it was the one that felt right to her. If only we could all have the courage to do the same.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Heretic: A Memoir is available wherever books are sold.

Sanditon Character Review: Diana Parker

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the book and the television show Sanditon. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

Determination is a wonderful thing. It allows us to pursue our goals when all seems lost. But, at the same time, it can create blinders to being open to change. In Sanditon, Diana Parker (Alexandra Roach) is the only daughter of the Parker family. With three brothers, Arthur (Turlough Convery), Sidney (Theo James), and Tom (Kris Marshall), and a comfortable inheritance, she does not have a care in the world. Or so one would think.

Diana is hypocondriac. Any sort of perceived malady or over-exertion sends her down a wormhole of anxiety. Joining her down this wormhole is Arthur. Though she can be perceived as a concerned older sister, she can also be seen as enabling him to lead a sedentary life. Rarely seen without Arthur, they can best be described as co-dependent. That does not mean, however, that she is not in bed all day.

Like all of the Parkers, she is active in supporting the town and Tom’s dream of creating a seaside resort. Unlike Tom, she is not married and has yet to consider the prospect. her 30’s, she would prefer to watch other people dance at balls rather than step onto the dance floor herself. Upon seeing Arthur pair up with Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) at a local dance, she becomes concerned that he has matrimonial designs on the heiress. But at the end of the day, he returns to her side.

Starts at 1:15

To sum it up: Diana is an interesting character. She (and Arthur by extension) provides comedic relief, creating a balance with the drama. While we laugh at her, we can see her love for her family and the stubbornness that exists in all of the Parker siblings.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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The Accidental Empress Book Review

Since childhood, we have been told that in fairy tales, the hero and heroine (usually a prince and princess) live happily ever after. The reality is that the world in which the highest levels of society live in (royalty included) can feel like a gilded cage. There are rules and traditions that can seem archaic and frankly weird to the average person.

The Accidental Empress, by Allison Pataki, was published back in 2015. The novel tells the story of Empress “Sisi” Elisabeth of Austria. At fifteen, she met her future husband, Franz Joseph I of Austria. He was supposed to be her older sister’s husband. Instead, they defied tradition and married for love.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie of Austria, was a dominant figure in her son’s life. Sisi often found herself fighting not just for her husband, but for a sense of autonomy. Her life at court was night and day from the rural estate that she grew up on.

The only way to survive is to use her brain and figure out how to live in a world that can only be described as dog-eat-dog.

I truly enjoyed this book. Told from Sisi’s perspective, the story starts with a naive young girl and ends with a woman who has learned how to play the game. Along the way, there is love, heartache, growth, and the sometimes harsh lessons that come with figuring out who you are.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Accidental Empress is available wherever books are sold.

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