Category Archives: History

Park Avenue Summer Book Review

It’s not exactly a secret that men underestimate women. But that is often our secret to success.

Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen was released earlier this year. Alice Weiss is 21 in 1965, a transplant from Ohio and dreams of becoming a photographer. But like many young people who come to New York City with a dream and not much else, Alice has to get a job.

She gets a job as the secretary for the late Helen Gurley Brown, the author of Sex and the Single Girl and the new editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan. At that time, the magazine was on it’s death bed. It was up to Helen to turn the magazine around, but it seemed to be a Herculean task. The magazine was shedding employees like a snake sheds it’s skin and the men who run the parent organization are more than ready to shut the magazine down.

When a fellow employee tries to pull Alice in into a plan to spy on her boss, Alice goes the other way. She will do everything in her power to help Helen succeed. Along the way, Alice learns a few things about life, men and success.

Described as a literary love child of The Devil Wears Prada and Mad Men, this book is more than the story of a young woman discovering herself. It is the story of an unconventional woman who succeeds in a man’s world on her own terms.

I recommend it.

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The Winemaker’s Wife Book Review

Both love and war have a way of forever changing our worlds. When they come together, that change can span generations.

The new novel, The Winemaker’s Wife, by Kristin Harmel is set in two different time periods: World War II and 2019. In 1940, Ines and Michel are newlyweds. Michel is the owner of a prestigious champagne house Maison Chauveau. Soon after the wedding, the Germans invade. Michel starts to treat his wife as if she was his child.

Feeling angry, alone and desperate for affection, Ines makes a foolish connection with a collaborator. She is unaware of her husband’s work with the resistance and that his chef de cave‘s half Jewish wife, Celine is taking a chance by falling in love with a man who is not her husband.

In 2019, Liv’s marriage is over. When her imperious and wealthy French grandmother announces an out of the blue trip to France, Liv has no choice but to go. The trip will be nothing short of life changing.

I loved this book. The characters felt alive and real, as if I was watching a movie instead of reading a book. I loved that this book reminded me that there were good people during World War II who did not stand idly by during the Nazi occupation. They fought back with whatever means they had.

About halfway through the book, I thought I knew how it would end. But Ms. Harmel surprised me with a twist that thoroughly shocked, surprised and delighted me.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Maxwell and Finnegan: A Reminder of Love on 9/11

Eighteen years ago today, nearly three thousand people lost their lives due to hate.

As I was listening to live stream of the memorial ceremony this morning, one thing struck me. Those who died that day and those who died in the aftermath were of different races, nationalities, religions, etc. But the one thing that they all have in common is that they are victims of September 11th.

But love still prevails. On the streets of New York City, two young boys, Maxwell and Finnegan, are best friends. Maxwell’s father filmed the boys, one black and one white as they randomly met on the street. The video, which has gone viral, is nothing short of beautiful.

Today we remember and mourn those who lost their lives. But this video and this friendship gives me hope that there is still love in this world. Hate may have it’s day in the sun, but in the end, love will always prevail.

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Thoughts On the Post 9/11 Generation

Tomorrow is 9/11.

Those of us who are of a certain age and older will forever remember that day and the following days after the towers fell. I will never forget coming home for fall break from college in October of 2001 and craning my neck to see the remains of the towers as the bus drove into New York City.

I sometimes wonder what the kids who were very young or not yet born (Gen Z) think and know about September 11th. Especially that tomorrow is 18 years since the attack. An entire generation has grown up with 9/11 as just another aspect of their lives.

I wonder if they see it as living history or just as history in the same way that my generation sees Vietnam or the assassination of JFK (for context, I am in my late 30’s). I would hope that they understand how significant and life changing that day was for this country. I hope that they mourn and remember those who 18 years ago tonight, had no idea that their time on Earth was growing short.

May the memories of those who perished that day and of those who sacrificed their time, the health and ultimately their lives in the days after 9/11 to be a blessing to us all. Z”l.

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Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II Book Review

When it comes to Hollywood personalities, there are sometimes two people: the real person and the image crafted to sell tickets.

Audrey Hepburn is one of the most recognized and revered celebrities of Hollywood’s golden age. Movies such as Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady have endeared her to generations of film fans.

The new biography, Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II, by Robert Matzen, tells the story of a portion of the late Ms. Hepburn’s life that is sometimes overlooked: her childhood during World War II. She was born in 1929 to a British father and an aristocratic Dutch mother. Her parents divorced when she was young. Her father left the family soon after and Audrey was raised by her mother.

When she was a pre-teen, World War II started. The Dutch believed that because their country was neutral during World War I, nothing would change. Little did they know how history would forever change their country and affect the future film icon that is Audrey Hepburn.

I loved this book. I was aware previously that Ms. Hepburn was a child during World War II, but I had no idea of how much the war would have a life long affect on her.

I absolutely recommend it.

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If You Must Read One Book This Labor Day, Read Common Sense and a Little Fire, Second Edition: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965

In the working world, there are certain things that we are used to: a reasonable wage, a set number of working hours, a safe working environment, etc. But it was not so long ago that it took mass protests and generations of union workers demanding their rights for these to happen.

If you must read one book this Labor Day, I highly recommend Common Sense and a Little Fire, Second Edition: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965 by Annelise Orleck. Telling the story of Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson and Pauline Newman, Ms. Orleck tells the story of how four immigrant women created and defined the labor movement for their time and for our time.

I think this book is important to read, especially today, because many of us have off today. We take for granted the rights that we have as employees, especially those of us who are protected and supported by a union. In the time of the women whose stories are told in the book, joining a union and protesting at best meant being professionally blacklisted and at worst, meant a trip to the hospital after being beaten during a protest.

These four women and many others paved the way for the working world that many of us know of today. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing today, if you have a chance to read this book today, I highly recommend that you do.

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Caging Skies Book Review

Growing up happens in different ways. However, during war time, growing up often happens quicker than during peace time.

Christine Leunens’s new novel, Caging Skies, is set during World War II. Johannes Betzler is a young man living in Nazi occupied Vienna. Like many young men of his time, he becomes an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth.

Then he discovers that his parents are hiding Elsa, a Jewish girl behind a wall in their home. His initial disgust turns into infatuation and then obsession. After his parents disappear, Johannes is the only person who knows about Elsa. Her fate is in his hands.

I hate to use the “p” word (potential) when writing a review, but that is the only word I can use to describe this book. When I started reading this book, I was engrossed in this story of a boy who goes through quite a transformation. The book is described as a sort of dark comedy. Frankly, I did not get the comedy and I was disappointed by the time I reached the end of the story.

Do I recommend it Not really.

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Mrs. Everything Book Review

Whether we like it or not,when we grow up with siblings, we are assigned roles within the family. However, that does not mean that we stay within those roles as adults.

Jennifer Weiner’s new novel, Mrs. Everything, starts in the 1950’s. Jo and Bethie Kaufman are living an idyllic middle class life in Detroit. Jo is the rebel and the tomboy. Bethie is the little lady and conformist. But their adult roles will not match their childhood roles.

Over the next couple of decades, personal experience and the outside changing world will switch their roles. Jo becomes the suburban wife and mother. Bethie is the rebel who never quite settles down. Though both women seem to be settled as adults, they both question if they have made the right choices in life.

This book is amazing. The details of the time periods that she writes in are superb. I love that the sisters are fully formed, they are so different, but somehow incredibly similar. I also loved that the human quality of the relationships between the female characters. The relationships between the girls and their mother, between Jo and Bethie (a lovely nod to Little Women), between Jo and her daughters was absolutely perfect.

I absolutely recommend it.

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We Never Learn: Hate Flourishes 70 Years After World War II

Warning: this post contains mild spoilers about Blinded by the Light.

74 years ago, World War II ended. Millions were dead and it seemed like the evils that brought on the war were dead. But instead of remaining in the past, the evils of hate and prejudice are alive and well in our world.

I recently saw the new film Blinded by the Light. The film, in case you have not see it (and if you haven’t you should) is about a Pakistani-British boy who wants to be a writer. It is set in late 80’s Britain, at a time when both economic uncertainty and hate are on the rise. One of the neighbors of this young man is a World War II veteran. Upon finding one of these boy’s poems about the local hate groups, this man proudly states that he fought for Britain during the war.

My question is, if we (when I mean we, the cultural we) fought for freedom and democracy 70 years ago, why does this battle seem futile? According to an article on NPR from February, hate groups have risen 30% over the past few years.

I wish we lived in a better world. I wish that we treated each other as human beings. I wish that we judged each other as individuals before seeing someone’s skin color, ethnicity or choice of religion.

But not all wishes come true, do they?

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90 Years After the Hebron Massacre, Another Child is Killed Because She is Jewish

August 24th, 1929 started out as an ordinary day for Jewish population of Hebron. By the time the sun set, nearly 70 Jews were murdered in what would become the Hebron Massacre. As a result, the authorities (which was then the British) moved the survivors out of Hebron. After thousands of years of Jews calling Hebron home, it was Judenrein.

This week, another young lady was killed because she is Jewish. The same blood lust and hatred that killed nearly 70 people 90 years ago caused the death of Rina Shnerb. 17 year old Rina was hiking with her brother and father when they were hit by a terrorist bomb. Rina died at the scene. Her father and brother were seriously injured and are still hospitalized.

I am not saying that every Muslim who lives in Middle East or any place in the world for that matter has a blood thirsty hatred of Jews. However, there are many in that part of the world that would dearly love and would do anything to see the region become Judeinrein.

May the memories of Rina and the people killed in Hebron be a blessing and a reminder that until this blood thirsty hatred ends, Israel and Jews around the world must always be on the defensive.

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