Category Archives: History

Ashes in the Snow Book Review

When we think of the atrocities and the mass murder that was unfortunately part and parcel of World War II, we think of the Nazis and the Holocaust. We don’t think of the Soviet Union.

Ruta Sepetys‘s 2018 novel, Ashes in the Snow (originally titled Between Shades of Gray) begins in Lithuania in 1941. Lina is your average fifteen year old girl with a passion and a gift for art that shows promise. Then her world is turned upside down by the occupation of the Baltic states.

Soviet officers force themselves into her home in the middle of the night. Separated from her father, Lina, along with her mother, young brother and many others are forced into crowded trains. Their destination is Siberia and a work camp that is dehumanizing in every sense of the word.

Lina uses her artistic skills to keep herself alive mentally and to draw what she is experiencing while hoping that her drawings will reach her father. In spite of the conditions she is living in, Lina fights to survive with her family, but is that enough to keep them alive until they are free?

This book is amazing and a must read, in my opinion. It is obviously not an easy book to read, but a necessary book to read. Experiencing this world through Lina’s eyes, we see this young girl grow into a young woman under circumstances that I would wish on no one. If one thing stood out to me, was that Lina has this incredible source of inner strength that keeps her going when she could easily give up and let death take her.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Law & Order: SVU Character Review: Odafin “Fin” Tutuola

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. 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 us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

There has always been the debate on whether it is better to see the world in black and white or color. On Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Odafin “Fin” Tutuola (played by actor and musician Ice-T), sees his world and his job as black and white. That view came from his early upbringing on the streets of New York City. As a young boy, he watched as the city rioted after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and saw his mother killed by one of his father’s business rivals.

As a cop first in narcotics and then in special victims, Fin sees the world as black and white. If the accused is guilty, then he or she deserves whatever punishment they receive. This point of view often led him to clash with his colleagues, who saw the shades of grey in the cases they were assigned. Outside of work, Fin sought to keep his private life and his job separate. But he eventually opened up to his partners, who became as close as family.

To sum it up: Sometimes a character is defined by his or her point of view. Fin sees his world and his job as black and white. Which is fine, because that works for the character. But there is also more to him than just a cut and dry perspective on the law. He has a big heart for those who he cares about and is willing to do what it takes to get the job done.

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Guesthouse for Ganesha: A Novel Book Review

When we think of our what may or may not happen on our wedding day, the last thing we think of is being jilted by our almost husband or wife.

This is the inciting incident in Judith Teitelman’s new book, Guesthouse for Ganesha: A Novel. In 1923, brokenhearted that her fiance ran away with another woman on the day that they were to marry, seventeen year old Esther leaves her shtetl (village) for the big city. The baggage she carries is more than her solitary suitcase, it is the unspoken grief and anger of what should have been her wedding day. From that day on, her heart is cold.

Skilled with a needle and thread, Esther makes her living as a tailor and seamstress. Along the way, she marries and has three children, but not even their presence can replace the life she might have had. Then World War II and the slowly tightening noose around Europe’s Jews begins. Esther’s skills and emotional barriers may keep her alive, but for how long?

While all this is happening, she in unaware of her guardian angel, the Hindu G-d Ganesha. Watching and admiring her from his realm, he provides silent support to a woman whose emotional strength may be the only thing to keep above ground.

I was very impressed with this book. On the surface, the mingling of European history from the 1920’s to the 1940’s and a Hindu diety seems like a perfect mismatch. What the author was able is craft a riveting story of strength, survival and the idea that perhaps we all have our own guardian angels. We may not be able to hear or see them, but they are always with us.

I recommend it.

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Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood Movie Review

It takes a creative mind to take an old story and retell in a new and different way.

Quentin Tarantino‘s new movie, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, has just hit theaters. Set in Los Angeles in the late 1960’s, Rick Dalton’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) career was once red hot. But that limelight has faded. His best friend/assistant/former stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is always by his side. While Rick and Cliff try to revive their careers, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is Hollywood’s latest it-girl. But there is danger lurking behind the bright lights and glittering facade. The Manson family is out to commit murder.

This is not the first time that Tarantino has played fast and loose with history. His 2009 film, Inglorious Basterds also played fast and loose with history. What I liked about this movie is that both Rick and Cliff are flawed and likable characters. They just want to return to the success they once had. As Sharon Tate, Margot Robbie tells the story of the real life woman, not the murder victim that we think of today.

If I had to name my favorite aspect of this film, it was the chilling effect of the scenes with the Manson family. Though we know now what plans they had in store, the general public knew nothing about the murders until it was headline news.

I recommend it.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is presently in theaters.

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Summer of ’69 Book Review

The summer of 1969 was one of the most tumultuous in American history.

In Elin Hilderbrand’s new novel, Summer of ’69, the tumult is also affecting the Levin/Foley family. Every summer, the family spends their summer at their grandmother’s house in Nantucket. But this summer is different.

The eldest, Blair is pregnant and at home at the request of her husband. It appears that her marriage has reached it’s breaking point. Kirby, the second oldest is determined to prove that she can be an adult. While firmly believing in social justice movement of the era, Kirby works at a hotel at nearby Martha’s Vineyard. Tiger, the only son, is serving in Vietnam. Jessie, the youngest, is not happy to be left with her mother and grandmother, both who seem to be holding onto secrets.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the characters, I loved the narrative and I loved that even though this book is set 50 years ago, it still feels relevant. I have to commend the author for balancing the number of characters she does. It can be difficult to ensure that every character is given equal time on the page, but Ms. Hilderbrand has done it.

I recommend it.

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Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Book Review

We all want to achieve the American dream in one form or another. The question is, how far does one go to achieve the American dream without crossing moral and/or legal boundaries?

Journalist Vicky Ward’s new book, Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, tells the dangerous story of how Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are on their way to unchecked power and wealth.

She starts with her subject’s early years. We all know about Ivanka’s childhood, but the story of Jared’s early years and his family history may be unknown to some readers. His paternal grandparents, Joseph and Rae Kushner survived the Holocaust with a zeal that few survivors had then or have now. Their youngest son (Jared’s father), Charles Kushner, was found guilty in the early 2000’s of financial crimes and witness tampering.

Both Jared and Ivanka grew up in very comfortable surroundings. When you know who was unfortunately elected President in 2016, they followed him to Washington D.C. Instead of being the “adults in the room”, they are using their access to the corridors of power and to the powerful for their own needs.

This book is well done and a must read. What scares me is that if these allegations are true, there is no one to stop Jared and Ivanka throwing away everything this country stands for so they will head of the pack. The other thing that scares me is that someone with antisemitic beliefs would easily be able paint any member of the Jewish faith with a broad brush because of Jared’s image, history and access to the wealthy and powerful.

I recommend it.

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Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World Book Review

When one is the first at anything, especially when one is a minority or disenfranchised, they are often labelled as a hero to those who they have paved the way for. But behind that bold heroism is years, if not decades of drive, hard work and fighting against prejudice.

Linda Hirshman’s 2016 book, Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, tells the story of the lives and careers of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who were the first and second women to join the Supreme Court respectively.

On the surface, the women couldn’t have been further apart. Sandra Day O’Connor was born into a Christian family who owned a large ranch in Arizona. Ruth Bader Ginsburg grew up in an immigrant Jewish family in New York City. Coming of age in era when a woman was expected to marry and raise a family while her husband brought home the literal bacon, both women defied the rules of their era by earning law degrees and dared to openly question why women were second class citizens.

Along the way, they inspired and continue to inspire generations of women in every industry to fight for their rights and the equality that is their right.

What struck me about this book is that though both Justice Ginsburg and Justice O’Connor had very different early lives, they are remarkably similar in the paths they took, the challenges they faced and the paths they blazed for future generations of women.

Though this book has moments of being a dry academic style textbook, it is also a reminder of how far women have come and how far we need to go.

I recommend it.

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Thoughts On the Harriet Trailer

One of the ills that comes with racism and prejudice is the lack of on-screen representation. Thankfully, many filmmakers are starting to see the light and tell the stories of those who have been ignored or maligned in the past.

The new trailer for the Harriet Tubman biopic was released today. Entitled Harriet, the film stars Cynthia Erivo as the legendary freedom fighter.

Though some may label this film as potential Oscar bait (as films of this nature usually are, especially given it’s November release date), I think the message of the story is more important than the awards it may or may not win. It is also about time that a woman of Harriet Tubman’s stature and bravery was given her due on-screen.

Now we can only hope that the film lives up to the hype and the trailer.

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My Real Name Is Hanna Book Review

The story of the Holocaust and the millions who perished needlessly sometimes feels too big to swallow or believe. Sometimes it takes the story of one person to remind us that it was not so long ago and far way that it happened.

Tara Lynn Masih’s new novel, My Real Name Is Hanna, is set in a rural Ukrainian village during World War II. Hanna Slivka is an ordinary fourteen year old girl living with her family. She is also a Jew in a time and place when being Jewish meant having a target on your back. As the noose tightens around them, Hanna’s family makes the choice to go into hiding in the forest.

While in hiding, they deal with hunger, disease and the fear that they will be discovered by the Ukrainian peasants who are more than willing to go along with the Nazis. Then Hanna’s father disappears and Hanna does what she must to keep her mother and younger siblings alive.

Based on a true story, this book is powerful and hit’s home like a bolt of lightning. I loved the first person POV, the universality of being in your early teens and the hard truth that this story is as relevant now as it ever was.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Shame on You, Rand Paul

When the volunteers and first responders ran toward the still smoldering rubble that was the Twin Towers on September 11th, 2001, they were not thinking of the compensation they would later be receiving from the government or the diseases that they would be dying from. They only though of finding survivors and recovering the remains of those who did not survive.

This year is the 18th anniversary of the attack. Approximately 90,000 Americans put their lives on hold to help with the rescue and recovery effort. Nearly half of these people, numbering around 40,000 have been diagnosed with cancers that could have only come from the toxic air that was expelled from the remains of the towers.

It should, therefore be a no-brainer that these men and women (and their families by extension) are financially compensated, especially given the expensive medical bills that come with cancer.

But Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) believes otherwise. He and fellow Republican Mike Lee (R-Utah) voted against the funding. Senator Paul’s reasons for not voting for the compensation fund is as follows:

“It has long been my feeling that we need to address our massive debt in the country,” he said. “And therefore any new spending …  should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable. We need to, at the very least, have this debate.”

There is nothing to debate. More than our thanks or our verbal support, these men and women need our financial support. While they battle cancer, they should not be worrying about being able to pay their mortgage or put food on their tables. They should only be worrying about their health and their loved ones.

From my perspective, this is just another sign that the Republicans, as a party, have forgotten who hired them and who they are responsible to. I am not saying that the Democrats are perfect, but at least I know that they are doing the jobs that the average American voter hired them to do.

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