Category Archives: Books

The UN and the Israeli Double Standard: Dara Horn Was Right

Last year, author Dara Horn put for a troubling theory in her history/nonfiction book, People Love Dead Jews: Reports From a Haunted Past. Her hypothesis was the non-Jewish world speaks fondly and mournfully of Jews who are no longer among the living. But when it comes to those of us who are alive and kicking, that’s another story entirely.

Last week, the United Nations ratified a resolution denouncing Holocaust denial. Don’t get me wrong, this is super important, given that antisemitism is back at a rate that has not been seen for decades. But while this is happening, they continue with their usual double standard of targeting Israel more than any other nation.

The UN’s charter states the following:

The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.

Clearly, they have failed at their mission.

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The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation Book Review

The Diary of Anne Frank has been read by millions of readers since it was published in 1947. The ending is both hopeful and devastating. The one question that still leaves us hanging after 70+ years, is who was responsible for the betrayal of the residents of the Annex?

The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, by Rosemary Sullivan, was published this month. The book follows the multi-year search led by FBI investigator Vincent Pankoke to answer the question once and for all. Using modern cold case investigative methodologies and working with a team of historians and other experts, no detail is left to the wind. Every clue is followed to the bitter end, leading to a suspect that if proven to be the one, has gone undetected for nearly a century.

I know it is only January, but I can already see this book topping the list of best books of 2022. It is a heart-pounding thriller that kept me hooked until the final page. As we got closer to the end, I wanted to know who was responsible. If nothing else, it is a reminder that getting justice is still possible, even when those directly affected are no longer with us. When it closed for the last time, I knew that there was a light in the darkness. Perhaps history will not repeat itself and we will finally learn the lessons of diversity and respect.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Power of the Dog Movie Review

Toxic masculinity represents a time in human history in which men were expected to be men. There was little room for feelings or expressing themselves in an open or healthy manner.

The 2021 Netflix film, The Power of the Dog, is based on the book of the same name by Thomas Savage. In Montana in 1925, brothers Phil and George Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons) have taken over the running of the family ranch. Phil is a man’s man in every sense of the word, George is considerate and emotionally open.

On the road to the market, they eat at a restaurant owned by Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) and her teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Rose is a widow who has been forced to change her life to support herself and Peter after the abrupt passing of her late husband. Phil’s callous and cruel jokes drive both mother and son to tears. George tries to make up for his brother’s actions, which turns into a marriage proposal. When Rose and Peter enter Phil’s orbit as his sister-in-law and nephew, this new reality turns his world upside down. Taking the boy under his wing, Phil swings between mocking Peter and teaching him how to run a ranch.

The question is, has Phil started to change, or is this a ploy to continue his brutish ways?

This is supposed to be one of the best movies of 2021. Whatever it is that made this film special, I don’t see it.

It has nothing to do with the performers or the story itself. Director and co-screenwriter Jane Campion does what she does best. Cumberbatch once again proves that he is one of the most versatile actors in the business. Plemmons and Dunst are well cast for their roles and the perfect ying to Cumerbatch’s yang. Smit-McPhee is a young actor who solely based on his one role, has a bright future. The problem is that I was on the verge of being bored and wondering why I should care about these characters.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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My Survival: A Girl on Schindler’s List: A Girl on Schindler’s List Book Review

We all know that The Holocaust happened. Six million Jews and millions of others were persecuted, tortured, and murdered simply because of who they were. Yet, there are still some who claim that it is a myth or that the numbers of victims are not what they claim to be. The only way to counter these lies is via the fact and the first-hand accounts of survivors, whose numbers are dwindling as time goes on.

My Survival: A Girl on Schindler’s List: A Girl on Schindler’s List, by Rena Finder and Joshua M. Greene, was published in 2019. Mrs. Finder had a normal childhood until the age of 11, when she, along with her family and all other Jewish families in the area, were confined to the Krakow ghetto. After they were forced out of the ghetto, they were put on trains to Auschwitz. It looked like all was lost, until an unlikely savior came along. Oskar Schindler was a businessman who was known for crossing moral lines that others would never even consider getting close to. But he was also responsible for saving the lives of Rena, her mother, and many others. In total, over 1000 people were alive at the end of World War II due to his efforts.

I really enjoyed this book. It is age-appropriate for young readers while telling Mrs. Finder’s story in heartbreaking detail. In speaking directly to the audience from one child to another, the narrative hits home how important it is that we respect another’s differences, even we disagree with them. Only then, will the souls of the millions who were murdered be at peace and we will have finally learned from the past.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Mansfield Park Character Review: Mary Crawford

*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 novel Mansfield Park. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or watched any of the adaptations. 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.

We all want to be liked. The need to be popular does not stop the minute that we leave school. However, that does not preclude us from being a decent human being. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford is charming, intelligent, confident, attractive, and welcomed into the Bertram household with open arms. But she is also selfish and unable to see past her own needs.

“My dear Miss Price,” said Miss Crawford, as soon as she was at all within hearing, “I am come to make my own apologies for keeping you waiting; but I have nothing in the world to say for myself — I knew it was very late, and that I was behaving extremely ill; and therefore, if you please, you must forgive me. Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” (Ch. 7)

Mary enters the inner circle of Bertram family with her brother, Henry, when she moves into the neighborhood with their older sister and brother-in-law. Compared to the Bertram’s niece, Fanny Price, she is not afraid to share her opinion or insert herself into an existing conversation. As all young women at the time were expected to do, Mary knows that she must marry and marry well. The easy option is Tom Bertram, the oldest son and heir to the family estate and fortune. But she is instead drawn to the younger son, Edmund Bertram.

As time wears on, Mary begins to fall for Edmund and he begins to fall for her. It seems like their relationship is going in the right direction, until Edmund tells her that he will earn his living via the Church. Horrified that she may one day be the wife of a preacher man, Mary does her best to convince him to seek out another way of earning a living. She is also unaware that Fanny is in love with her cousin, creating a very interesting love triangle.

While this is happening, a second love triangle develops between Henry, Edmund’s sister Maria, and Maria’s fiance, Mr. Rushworth. She does nothing to discourage her brother from flirting with Maria. After the wedding, the siblings collude to make Fanny fall in love with Henry. But Fanny is not as easily charmed as her newly married cousin. After Fanny turns down his marriage proposal, Mary does her best to convince Fanny to give him a chance. The chance occurs when Fanny is sent home after refusing to change her mind. Henry follows her and it seems that wedding bells are on the horizon. But they never chime.

This sends Henry back into the arms of Maria, a decision that scandalizes both families. Mary’s attempts to smooth over things with the Bertrams does not go over well, leading to a breakup with Edmund. The last time we see Mary Crawford, she is still single and looking for a husband. Edmund, the man she is still looking for, is living in wedded bliss with Fanny.

To sum it up: It’s easy to like Mary Crawford. Her easygoing and intelligent manner would draw out even the shyest of wallflowers. The problem is that she cannot see beyond the edge of her own nose. It doesn’t take much to put someone else first. Though there are quite a few opportunities to put her needs aside, she never does. It becomes her penance to bear, pining for the one who could have been hers, but instead becomes the one that got away.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Feminism, Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Best New TV Shows of 2021

*I apologize for the delay in posting. I should have written this before New Year’s Eve.

  1. Loki: Tom Hiddleston shines once more as Loki, the complicated immortal who has become much more than the standard antagonist. Forced into new circumstances, he goes on a journey that forever changes him.
  2. The Wonder Years: This reboot of the beloved 1980’s/1990’s series is just as poignant as its predecessor. The choice of making the main character and his family African-American only adds to its relevancy.
  3. Law & Order: Organized Crime: This spinoff of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit starring Chris Meloni as returning Detective Elliot Stabler is a thrilling and spine tingling hour of television.
  4. Ordinary Joe: This new NBC series is the story of one man and three distinct life paths before him. Told concurrently and using different colors for each decision, is is a reminder of how one choice can affect the rest of our lives.
  5. Impeachment: American Crime Story: The latest chapter of this long running F/X series focuses on the affair between Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) and former President Clinton (Clive Owen) and the impeachment trial that followed. Instead of focusing on Clinton, the story is about the women who were directly affected by his less than honorable actions.
  6. WandaVision: This first foray by the MCU via DisneyPlus is everything it promised to be. Wanda Maxmioff and Vision (Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) are living in family sitcom wedded bliss. But it not what it seems to be. With a star making turn by Kathryn Hahn as Agatha Harkness, this series is a must see.
  7. All Creatures Great and Small: Ths unexpectedly Masterpeice/PBS series is adorable and charming. A rookie vetenarian starts his career in rural Yorkshire in the 1930’s and grows in unexpected ways. The new season starts tonight at 9PM ET/ 8PM CT.
  8. Atlantic Crossing: This second Masterpeice/PBS series tells the story of the friendship/supposed affair between Franklin Delanor Roosevelt and Crown Princess Martha of Sweden during World War II. Forgotten for nearly a century, this tale of one woman’s drive to save her nation is truly worth watching.
  9. The Book of Boba Fett: This latest entry into the Star Wars universe from DisneyPlus just premiered on December 29th. Though only two episodes have been released, it is already asking questions that are begging for answers.
  10. Behind Her Eyes: Based on the book by Sarah Pinborough, this six part Netflix series about a married man’s affair with his secretary has a delicious ending that is jaw dropping and completely out of left field. Few endings have wowed me as this did.
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Mansfield Park Character Review: Henry Crawford

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

*I apologize for not posting last week. There is only so much writing I can do in a day.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the novel Mansfield Park. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or watched any of the adaptations. 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. Charm is a wonderful thing, it can open the door when being honest or dor cannot. However, when it comes to our potential or current significant other, authenticity goes a long way.

In Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford is introduced to the Bertrams when he and his sister Mary move into the neighborhood. On paper, he is everything a gentleman should be. Handsome, charming, wealthy, cultured, educated, etc. But he is also disingenuous and unable to be real when it counts. He immediately catches the eye of both Bertram daughters, Maria and Julia. While Julia is single, Maria is not. Knowing that Maria is engaged, he intentionally flirts with her.

This flirtation continues after Mariah’s wedding. The consummate actor, he feels no shame in leading her on, despite the fact that she is off the market. While this is happening, he decides to turn his attention to Fanny Price, the Bertram’s niece. Unlike her cousin, Fanny believes Henry to be the consummate actor, forever changing based on his surroundings. Though she is grateful that he has helped her brother, William, climb up to the next rung in his career, she is not falling into his arms, ready to accept his marriage proposal.

When that marriage proposal does come, Henry is rejected, an outcome that surprises him. What is even more surprising is that he is genuinely starting to fall in love with Fanny, not knowing that she loves her cousin, Edmund. After Fanny has been sent back to her family home in Portsmith as a punishment for turning him down, Henry follows her, eventually getting the yes that he has been hoping for.

His future with her ends when he returns to Maria, a decision that makes the local gossip rags. They end up running away together, creating a scandal that ruins them both. When we last see Henry Crawford, he has refused to marry Maria, and they part ways, forever tainted.

To sum it up: True change occurs when we want to change. It’s easy to say that we want to be a better person, but unless we put our money where our mouths are, it will never happen. Henry Crawford may appear to be the man who is willing to do what he has to do be with Fanny, but in the end, he chooses not to.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

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The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal Book Review

We all grow up with tales of the family members who have come before us. The question is, what is fact and what is fiction?

Journalist Silvia Foti grew up with the story that her maternal grandfather, Jonas Noreika, gave his life for his native Lithuania, fighting against the Communists. As her mother breathed her last, Silvia promised that she would write the long-awaited book about Jonas. Her initial research matched her expectations: a martyred war hero whose name and reputation earned him a place of honor. What Silvia did not expect was that he was a member of the Nazi party and ordered the deaths of thousands of his Jewish neighbors.

Her journey is chronicled in The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal, which was published last March.

This is a memoir to savor. Foti brings in both her journalist experience and the want of a granddaughter to find out the truth about the man who partially contributed to her DNA. With the ever-present shadow of antisemitism and the sadly still too present Holocaust denial, this book is the light in the darkness. I wish there were more people like Silvia Foti. By both bringing Jonas’s actions into the spotlight, she is opening the door to making sure that the victims are remembered and there will never be any chance of claiming that the Holocaust never happened.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Around the World in 80 Days Review

When we travel, we do more than step out of our comfortable bubbles. We see the world from another perspective and perhaps learn from that perspective.

The new Masterpiece/PBS series, Around the World in 80 Days, is an eight-episode miniseries based on the Jules Verne book of the same name. The program stars David Tennant as Phileas Fogg, Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout, and Leonie Benesch as Abigail “Fix” Fortescue. Their goal (as explained by the title), is to travel to different parts of the globe and return to England within 80 days of their departure date.

To be clear, I have not read the book. I have heard of it, but it has yet to be on my TBR list. This review is based solely on the television program.

The problem is that whatever it is that should hook me in is missing. Maybe it’s because I’m not really a fan of Verne or his books. Or maybe it’s that I was just bored.

Do I recommend it? No.

Around the World in 80 Days airs on PBS on Sunday nights at 8PM.

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Best Books of 2021

  1. The Four Winds: Kristen Hannah has done it again. Her Cinderella-esque tale of a woman who resecues herself from a live of drugery, poverty, and low self esteem is one to be read again and again.
  2. Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People: Ben M. Freeman‘s treatise on Jews, and Jewish history is a must read for anyone who for once and for all wants to defeat antisemitism and all forms of hate.
  3. Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol: Mallory O’Meara‘s non fiction book explores how inspite of a certain image, women have been creating and drinking all forms of alcohol for centuries.
  4. I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trumps Catastrophic Final Year: The subject of you know who will be on the lips of writers and political historians for years to come. Authors Carol Leonning and Philip Rucker examine how the former President believed that he did not need help in running the country.
  5. Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood: Writer and podcaster Mark Oppenheimer tells the story of how a single neighborhood was affected by the murders of eleven Jewish residents in 2018.
  6. Peril: Bob Woodward and Robert Costa take a deep dive into how close the American democracy got close to destruction.
  7. The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh: This JAFF by Molly Greeley gives the spotlight to Anne de Bourgh, a minor Pride and Prejudice character who has yet to be fully seen or appreciated.
  8. Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable of Three Dutch Teenagers Who Become Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assasins-and WWII Heroes: This fascinating and powerful tale of three young ladies who led an underground war against the Nazis during World War II.
  9. Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers: Written by the Bonnet at Dawn podcast hosts, this book examines the life and works of the women writers we have loved and respected for generations.
  10. The Matzah Ball: A Novel: Jean Meltzer’s Chanukah themed rom-com about two people who are secretly in love, but cannot speak the words due to the current and past trauma.

Here’s to the books we loved in 2021 and the books we will love in 2022.

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