Category Archives: Books

If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings Book Review

School used to be a place in which we nurture the minds and futures of the next generation. It has in recent years, become a place of death and heartache.

If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings, by Loren Kleinman and Amye Archer, was published in 2019. Inspired by a text sent by one of the students who survived the Parkland shooting, the book follows the history of school shootings. Interviewing survivors and family members of the victims, the reader is taken into the emotional heart of the experience and the reverberations that last long into the future.

I really enjoyed this book. It hit me in the right place. I was both angry and sad. I was angry about the lives that were lost. I was sad for the families who would never see their children grow up. What struck me was that most, if not all of the shooters fit into a certain type. They are mostly angry white males who have a grudge and turn to violence to get back at those who they feel have wronged them.

The aspect of the book that has stayed with me was the responses from those who survived Columbine and the other shooting that occurred in the late 1990s. Many of us who were on the verge of adulthood back then are now parents. Though it has been decades since they were nearly killed, hearing the news immediately took them back to that day. It is a reminder that trauma of this kind never truly leaves us, regardless of how many years have passed.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings is available wherever books are sold.

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Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel Book Review

A bookstore is much more than it seems to be. It is a magical place in which dreams become reality and we can travel as far as our imagination takes us. It is also a place of business in which office politics and society’s rules play a role in the work environment.

Natalie Jenner‘s new book, Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel, was published last month. It takes place in 1950. Bloomsbury Books has been in London for a century, catering to the city’s book lovers. While times have changed, the store remains firmly stuck in the past. The staff (who are mostly male) are ruled by a list of 51 rules that are unbreakable. Despite this, the three female employees are doing what they can to break boundaries.

Vivian lost her titled fiance to World War II. He was killed in action, leaving her heartbroken. Five years after the war, she is focused on her career. Fashion-conscious and incredibly smart, she knows that she can do more than her current responsibilities.

Grace finds solace in her job. Married with two young sons, she is the sole source of income for her family. Though she loves being a mother and is trying to be a good wife (in spite of her husband’s faults), she would love to do her own thing.

Evelyn has raised herself up from being a farm girl and housemaid via a university degree. When she is turned down for an academic position due to her gender, she takes the job at the bookstore. Just because she is down does not mean that she is out. She has a plan for the future.

I love this book. Like its predecessor, it is well-written, charming, and completely entertaining. I was immediately drawn into this story of three women navigating a world and a job in which they are second class. Instead of shrinking and meekly accepting their roles, they stand up for themselves. It is a lesson that unfortunately, is just as relevant today as it was 72 years ago.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

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How to Save Money in NYC

We all know that NYC is an expensive place to live. As much as I love this city, I am fully aware that the cost of everything is higher. But, if you know where the look, there are ways of saving a few dollars.

  1. Take public transportation. Like anyone who lives there, I am fully aware of the downsides of using the MTA to get around. But even with those problems, there is no beating that for one fare, you can go from one end of the city to another, 24/7/365.
  2. The dollar store is your best friend. Not everything is cheaper than the big box stores, but the deals may be surprising.
  3. Not everyone can afford to live alone. Though the roommate experience is sometimes hit or miss (as I painfully remember), it is the most economical way to reside here if you cannot afford an apartment on your own.
  4. If you need furniture, there are multiple options: local stores, Craigslist, various apps, etc. If you must buy new and prefer to go to a name brand store, hit up Target or Ikea. They are a pain in the ass to put together (even if you have to pay someone), but overall, it is worth it. The pieces I bought from Ikea more than a decade ago are still in good condition.
  5. When it comes time to get a haircut, find a local salon. Their work is just as good as the expensive salons and many will throw in a free blowout. In my experience, the ones owned by AAPI owners provide a pretty good service at a price that will not break the bank.
  6. Buy in bulk, large sizes, and store brands. If you do have access to a car, stores like Sam’s Club and Costco are worth the drive and the membership fee.
  7. Take advantage of the opportunities to be outdoors. Most, if not all of the parks and beaches are free to enter.
  8. If you are a bookworm like me, I highly recommend that you take advantage of the public library. If you must buy a book, hit up a local bookstore or 2nd hand store/thrift shop. This is also good if you are looking for a gift for someone. Now granted, you might not find exactly what you are looking for. But you never know what you may find. My favorite bookstores are the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan (great for browsing), Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, and of course, Housing Works.
  9. If you have a New York State driver’s license, you can get into some museums for nothing or almost nothing.
  10. Use Yelp and Time Out. Yelp is great because the reviews come from customers. Time Out has listings for things to do that will please almost anyone.
  11. Finally, if you want to see a Broadway show, there are ways to have this experience that will not empty your wallet. If you are willing and/or able to climb stairs, seats on the upper levels of the theaters are always cheaper. For me, it’s about the experience. I don’t mind going up a few flights. Organizations like TKTS sell tickets at discounted prices. However, not every show is listed (especially the popular shows) and the desired seats are not always available. There is also the option of going to one of the booths. The primary one is located in Times Square. Just prepared to be waiting in a very long line.
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A Lady for a Duke Book Review

I hope and believe that anyone’s greatest wish is to love and be loved in return, regardless of who they are.

Alexis Hall‘s new regency romance novel, A Lady for a Duke, was published last month. Up until Waterloo, Viola Caroll hid her true self. When it appeared that she did not survive, she took the opportunity to become the woman she knew she was inside. But there was a price to pay for being herself.

Among her losses is her best friend Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood. When they reunite years later, Gracewood is a shadow of his former self. Relying on alcohol and other substances to dull the pain, he has become a recluse who is living in the past.

Doing everything she can to bring back the man she knew, new feelings of both the physical and emotional kind bubble to the surface. Viola wants to tell Justin the truth, but doing so may cost her everything she has fought for.

I love that the cover is giving me Beauty and the Beast vibes. I also love that the heroine is transgender. It was a lovely change to a genre and a narrative that many of us know all too well. The problem is that the spark between the main characters is missing. While the author does a great job of keeping us in Viola and Justin’s heads, the all-important “will they or won’t they?” question is missing. I badly wanted to root for them. But the chemistry that should have pulled me in was simply not there.

Do I recommend it? A highly disappointed no.

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The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem Series One Review

Family is complicated. Marriage is complicated. We can only do our best and hope that it is good enough.

The new Netflix series, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, is based on the novel, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem: A Novel, by Sarit Yishai-Levi. The first series is set in the 1920s and 1930s. It follows the women of the Ermoza family, a Sephardi Jewish family living in Jerusalem. Gabriel (Michael Aloni) is in love with another woman but is forced to marry Roza (Hila Saada), by his mother Merkada (Irit Kaplan). He tries to be a good husband and father but is not exactly dedicated to his family. Almost twenty years later, their eldest daughter, Luna (Swell Ariel Or) is growing up in a time of political tension and struggle.

I don’t recall if I read the book, but the first series is fantastic. Set against the backdrop of British-controlled Palestine (i.e. pre-1948 Israel), the emotional conflicts within the Ermoza family collide with the heady and complicated world events of the era. It is fantastic, immediately grabs the viewer, and does not let go until the final credits roll. If nothing else, it reveals a side of history in this region that is not often talked about in the mainstream press.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The first season of The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is available for streaming on Netflix.

P.S. The second season is scheduled to be released sometime in July. I eagerly await its arrival.

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Out of the Corner: A Memoir Book Review

From an audience perspective, it would appear that both starring in a blockbuster movie and coming from a respected performing family guarantees success in Hollywood. Anyone who knows the truth would say otherwise.

Out of the Corner: A Memoir, by Dirty Dancing actress Jennifer Grey, was published last month. Grey is Jewish acting royalty. Her paternal grandfather, Mickey Katz was one of the most famous comedians and musicians of his day. Her parents, Joel Grey (of Cabaret fame)and Jo Wilder followed in her grandfather’s footsteps. Raised in both New York City and Los Angeles, she rose to fame in Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and other 1980s classics.

The reader is taken on an emotional journey through her early years, the ups and downs of her personal and private life, and finally, her finding peace with her identity.

This book is amazing. Grey’s tale is emotional, human, honest, and goes straight to the heart. She leaves no stone unturned, revealing her flaws, her mistakes, and the various heartaches that came her way. Within the narrative, there were two stories that stood out. The first was her father publicly coming out almost a decade ago after spending a lifetime in the closet. The second is her wish to speak to co-star Patrick Swayze one last time. It is a heartfelt wish that I think that anyone who has lost a loved one will understand.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on a “best of” list come the end of the year. It is one of my favorite books of 2022.

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If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be Series) Book Review

At its heart, Cinderella is the story of finding the good in life and rising about the shit that fate has sent our way.

If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be Series), by Julie Murphy, was published last year. Cindy Woods is a plus-sized recent college graduate. After spending the last four years in New York City, her career path is stuck in first gear. With no other options, she returns to Los Angeles and her childhood home. She is welcomed with open arms by her stepmother, Erica Tremaine, and her stepsisters.

Cindy is a fashion fanatic. Due to her size, finding the latest and greatest clothing that fits her has always been a problem. When Erica’s Cinderella‘s themed reality dating show, Before Midnight (a la The Bachelor), is down a contestant, Cindy agrees to step in. It was supposed to be a way of getting her designs noticed. It also doesn’t hurt that the guy at the center of the program is good-looking.

Instead of quietly staying in the background, Cindy becomes a fan favorite. She also starts to fall for the guy. She will have to take a jump into the unknown, not knowing if it will end in heartbreak or a happy ending.

I loved this book. Murphy pays homage to the 1950 animated Disney film while writing her own story. In another narrative, Cindy would either have to lose weight to achieve her goals or be forced into the fat and funny sister/best friend role. The cherry on top for me is that Cindy is not looking for a man, her priority is her professional future.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Eternal Book Review

Growing up is never simple. We are often faced with challenges that force us to make difficult choices or face a reality that we would prefer not to.

Eternal, by Lisa Scottoline, was published earlier this year. Growing up in Rome, Marco, Sandro, and Elisabetta have been best friends since they were young. Marco is the son of a former cyclist and ardent follower of Benito Mussolini. Elisabetta was raised in an artistically inclined family, Her dream is to become a novelist. Sandro is Jewish and a promising mathematics genius.

Two major events upend the world as they know it: World War II and their teenage years. Marco loves Elisabetta. But Elisabetta loves Sandro. As their love triangle intensifies, so does the fascist government and the increasing influence of Nazi Germany.

Soon, they will all be tested. As a Jew, Sandro’s world becomes ever restricted by the antisemitic Nazi race laws. Marco gets involved in local government and Elisabetta must fend for herself. Everything and everyone they know will become unrecognizable, forcing all of them into adulthood and the complications that arise from this transition.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a reminder that the Holocaust extended to the whole of Europe. The Jews of Southern Europe were a target as much as their Central and Eastern Europe co-religionists. What was different was that Rome’s non-Jewish community did not wholeheartedly accept the ideology of the German invaders. There were many who maintained friendships with their Jewish friends and neighbors while helping them in whatever way they could.

Though it is not a quick read, it is well worth the time it takes to complete the novel. I was quickly engrossed in the tale and the changing relationship between the main characters.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Eternal is available wherever books are sold.

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The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story Book Review

To be the descendent of a Holocaust survivor is to grow up with a trauma that stretches well beyond the first generation. They have a unique responsibility to tell the stories of their loved ones that sometimes feel more pressing than those of us whose direct families were out of harm’s way during the war.

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story, by Nechama Birnbaum, was published at the end of last year. The book tells the story of her late grandmother, Rosie Greenstein. Though Rosie was often told that her red hair was undesirable, she believed that it was an asset. Though her family was poor, Rosie’s childhood was idyllic. Raised by her widowed mother, she dreamed of her wedding day and future husband.

That dream came crashing down in 1944. The Jews of Hungary were forced out of their homes and sent directly to Auschwitz. The only thing that is keeping her alive is her fierce spirit and the will to survive in the face of all-encompassing death.

This biography is written in such a way that every gruesome and horrific detail is hard to ignore or forget. The narrative flashes between two different time periods until the story converges: Rosie’s life before the war and her time in the death camp. What I got from the book was more than a granddaughter’s love for her grandmother. It was pride in the strength that was passed down through the generations and families that come into the world since the end of the war.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. P.S. I also recommend following the corresponding Instagram account.

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story is available wherever books are sold.

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Thoughts On the Persuasion Trailer

If I were to rank Jane Austen‘s novels, Persuasion would be on the top of my list. This story of second chances is one that over 200 years later still hits readers in the heart and sends a few tears down our cheeks.

The trailer for the newest adaptation of the book was released earlier this week.

The film stars Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot, Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Frederick Wentworth, and Henry Golding as Mr. Elliot. For those unaware, the plot is as follows: eight years before the book starts Anne Elliott and Frederick Wentworth were young, in love, and newly engaged. She was persuaded to end their relationship due to his lack of status and income. Cut to the present and Anne is still single, still hurting from her decision. Wentworth is back in her life. He is a war hero, wealthy, and considered to be a catch. He is also still bitter from their breakup.

I would love to say that I am jumping for joy, but I have a few reservations. I am going to try to keep my concerns at bay because this is only the trailer. Trailers don’t always match up with the full movie.

  1. The dialogue in the scenes that we see so far seems to be loosely taken from the original text. Maybe it’s the Janeite in me, but I would prefer the wording to be as it is in the novel. To paraphrase her brilliant writing (especially in a reboot set in the Regency era) could be seen as a shanda (disgrace).
  2. The casting of Dakota Johnson as Anne. I have nothing against Johnson. I have a bias against American actors playing lead characters in Austen adaptations. It goes back to the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1996 Emma. Her portrayal of the character rubbed me the wrong way. But who knows, maybe Johnson will prove me wrong.
  3. Her hair should not be down unless it is either the beginning or the end of the day. Only young girls wore their hair loose. By the time they got to their mid to late teens, their hair was up. On a side note, that was my only beef with Sanditon. Charlotte Heywood’s (Rose Williams) hair should have been up.
  4. It comes off a little too rom-com-like. I like a romantic comedy as much as the next person, but Persuasion is not and has never been one. To turn this story into a rom-com is a double shanda and sure to turn off the fanbase.

On the upside, we see the early romance between Anne and Frederick. In previous film versions, the audience is only told about this experience.

That being said, I am willing to have an open mind and not condemn the film before it is released.

Persuasion will drop on Netflix on July 15th.

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