The Guest Book Book Review

As much as we wish it, families are far from perfect. There are secrets, scandals, and sins that have a way of passing down through the generations.

Sarah Blake’s new novel, The Guest Book, was published earlier this year. In the 1930s, Kitty and Ogden Milton have it all. A loving marriage, beautiful and thriving children and the status that comes with being one of America’s leading (and wealthiest) families. Then tragedy hits the family hard. To assuage his wife’s grief, Ogden buys a private island to use as a summer home. The island should be a place of refuge and relaxation for the Miltons. Instead, it becomes a symbol of the family’s secrets.

The secret starts with a refusal that could have saved the life of an innocent just before World War II. Twenty plus years later, the secret grows. Len Levy and Reg Paulding are not the usual guests invited to the island. Len is Jewish and secretly seeing one of the Milton daughters. Reg is African-American and the lone person of color in his world.

The secrets begin to unravel in the 2010s. Evie Milton, one of Kitty and Ogden’s granddaughters, comes to the realization with her cousins that the island is in dire financial straits. She also learns, with the help of her husband, that the family secrets are just below the surface. With a little digging, those secrets are revealed.

What I liked about this book was how Ms. Blake established the world that this novel is set in and the casual racism/antisemitism that is part of this world. I also liked the transition from the past to the present. It takes a skilled author to jump from different time periods and different points of view in a way that does not confuse the reader.

My problem with the book is that the ending is kind of expected. The big bombshell that is supposed to be the “long-buried” secret is not really a bombshell. I saw part of it coming nearly a mile away.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Can Kristallnacht Happen Here?

81 years ago tonight, the semi-comfortable world that European Jews knew came to an end.

Up until Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass, the uptick in antisemitism that German Jews had experienced was mostly non-violent. November 9-10, 1938 changed everything. Jewish synagogues, homes, and schools were destroyed. Around 100 German Jews were killed and 30,000 German Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.

Given the current political and social climate that we live in in 2019, I feel like I have to ask if it can happen here, in the United States?

The scary answer is yes. The shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway in California occurred less than a year apart. In my hometown of New York City, the number of hate crimes against Jewish residents is rising quickly.

I sometimes take for granted that I live in a country that guarantees me the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I also take for granted that I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world.

I wish I could say that I live in a better world that German and European Jews lived in. But I don’t. Antisemitism is still alive and well. Until such day that antisemitism is dead and buried, a small part of me will be concerned that another Kristallnacht can happen here.

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defending mansfield park: a series of rebuttals

She read my mind. It’s about time that Fanny Price was appreciated.

coffee, classics, & craziness

Image result for mansfield park book cover(source)

I recently reread Mansfield Park for the first time since 2016 and found that many of my thoughts about the novel had changed.  I’ve always liked it more than most other Austenites do (not trying to sound prideful or anything – it’s just the way my tastes go) but I found myself enjoying it even more this time around.  I feel as though I’ve matured into it; it’s become a novel that speaks to me even more than it entertains. 

I wanted to write a post defending Mansfield Park from some of its usual criticisms, while sharing why I love it as much as I do.  It was hard to figure out a format though because Mansfield Park is such a dense read – there’s so much to discuss!  I ended up deciding to list several of the most common complaints leveled against the book and its characters and…

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Flashback Friday-Undercover Boss (2010-2016)

Unless you walk a mile in another person’s shoes, it is impossible to understand their point of view.

Undercover Boss aired on CBS from 2010-2016. Based on the British series of the same name, the show follows either a company owner or a high-level manager as they go undercover as an entry-level employee. After a week of going undercover, the boss reveals who they really are. At the conclusion of the episode, changes to the company are put in place or individual employees are rewarded for their hard work.

What I like about this show is that it highlights how difficult work is and how important it is to be recognized for doing your job well. Granted, it is a reality show. But there is something to be said when employees are respected and appreciated for the work they do.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Law & Order: SVU Character Review: Katriona “Kat” Tamin

*This will be my last character review for Law & Order SVU. The next group of characters I will be reviewing is….you will have to come back next week.

*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 of 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 is a certain advantage to being the youngest and the newest employee. Unlike an employee who is experienced both in the job and within the company, this new employee may have an energy and an enthusiasm that overtakes their lack of experience.

On Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the new detective on the squad is Katriona “Kat” Tamin (Jamie Gray Hyder). A transfer from Vice, Kat is young, eager and takes her job seriously. Her first case is going undercover as a young actress who is nearly assaulted by Tobias Moore (Ian McShane).

As dedicated as she is to her job, she understands that a little delicacy is sometimes needed. When a transgender woman comes forward with a rape accusation, Kat gently pushes the victim to provide the information needed to close the case.

To sum it up: To be young and enthusiastic about work is a unique experience that only comes during a certain time in our lives. Though we may become dejected or cynical later in life, it is this time that teaches us about the workplace. As a character, Kat stands out because of her youth, her energy and her dedication to her job. It is a lesson about work that should not fade, regardless of how long we are in the working world.

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Vox Book Review

In an ideal world, men and women would be equal. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

Christina Dalcher’s debut novel, Vox, is set in a dystopian world in which women are silenced. American women are forced to wear a bracelet of sorts that monitors the words they say. If they speak more than 100 words a day, they can expect to be penalized. Young girls are denied even the most basic of educational opportunities. Adult women have been thrown out of the workplace.

Dr. Jean McClellan is a respected scientist. In shock that she is a second class citizen, she is initially numb to her new normal. Then she is given an opportunity to fight for her rights, her daughter’s rights and the rights of every American female.

I loved the concept of this book. In setting the narrative in our era, the author is able to create a narrative that is visceral and extremely scary. I felt like I could touch and feel the world that Jean lives in.

My only issue with this book is that the ending felt a little rushed. Other than that, this book is incredible and a must-read. It is also a not so subtle reminder that women still have a long way to go before we are truly equal.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

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Did T.I. Check if His Sons are Still Virgins?

The inclination of a good parent is to protect their child from the evils of the world. But, at a certain point, protecting one’s child should be replaced by trusting that child and being able to have an honest conversation about difficult topics.

In music news, rapper T.I. has admitted that he goes to the gynecologist with his eighteen-year-old daughter to confirm that her hymen is still intact. In other words, he is checking if she is still a virgin. According to medical experts, having an intact hymen (or lack thereof) is not an indication of whether one is still a virgin.

There are so many things that are wrong with this story. Granted, his daughter is young and he is looking out for her. However, this story smacks of the idea that she is not a flesh and blood human being with dreams, faults, and ambitions. She is a thing to be owned.

I have to wonder if he took his sons to the doctor to confirm the same information. But then again, a boy’s sexuality is never questioned in the same way that a girl’s sexuality is questioned.

I’m not a parent, but I know enough to understand the difference between a concerned parent and a parent who crosses boundaries. This is clearly a case of crossing boundaries.

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Throwback Thursday-Batman: The Movie (1966)

Batman has been part of our popular culture since his introduction to the public in the late 1930’s. Every generation, in its own way, has reinterpreted the Batman story to fit their era.

In 1966 Batman: The Movie was released. A spinoff of the television series, it is another fight against those would happily destroy the world as it exists. Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) must find a way to stop the United Underworld from holding humanity ransom via humans that have been turned into crystals.

Like the television show, it’s out there, to say the least. It is colorful, over the top and much lighter than the more recent adaptations of the Batman story. However, given the period, this film fits right in and has a sense of humor that later adaptations do not.

Do I recommend it? Why not?

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I Love My Red Hair

When you’re a kid, you want to fit in. The last thing you want is to stick out like a sore thumb. When you’re a redhead, you stick out whether you like it or not.

Though I am proud of my red hair now, there were many times as a kid that I wished that my hair was another color. It took many years and a lot of work, but at nearly 40, I have come to love my hair.

Today is National Redhead Day. Thanks to this day, How to be a Redhead and three of the characters below (which is a short version of a very long list), I appreciate my hair in ways that I did not in the past.

Zelena-Once Upon a Time (Rebecca Mader)

Zelena is a redheaded badass because she knows what she wants and she goes after it. Though she may not (at least in the beginning) care that she is hurting others, it is her confidence and her one-liners that makes me proud to be a redhead.

MeraAquaman (Amber Heard)

Mera is a queen in every sense of the word. But instead of being the standard female royal who waits for things to happen (i.e. rescued from the big bad), Mera takes charge of her own life. She is also unafraid to stand up for what is right, even if that means going into battle.

Demelza PoldarkPoldark (Eleanor Tomlinson)

It takes a strong woman to be true to herself in an era when a woman is supposed to be meek, mild and subservient to her husband. Demelza Poldark (nee Carne) may have been born a miner’s daughter, but she has not forgotten who she is. Though she is a member of the upper class through her marriage, Demelza is still a tough as nails working-class girl who is intelligent and more than capable of standing on her own two feet.

I am going to end this post with a quote for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. It’s time to not care what others think and embrace who we are.

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”-Dr. Seuss

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Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life Book Review

The following is often quoted about women and those brave enough to fight for what they believe in.

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” 

Emma Goldman was not a well-behaved woman, by any stretch of the imagination. She was a revolutionary, an anarchist and a feminist in a time when women were starting to fight for their rights. Vivian Gornick‘s 2013 biography of Goldman is entitled Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life.

Emma Goldman was born in 1869 in Lithuania to a Jewish family. From an early age, she was stubborn, independent and refused to settle into the traditional life of marriage and motherhood. When she emigrated to the United States in 1885, she continued to live in the same manner that she lived in Europe. Depending on whom one spoke to, she was either a hero standing up to injustice or a troublemaker. She died in 1940, after years of exile and still fighting against governments that would keep the little person down.

In my experience, there are two types of biographies. The first type attracts a general reader who is looking to expand their mind. The second type attracts a reader who is interested in that topic/subject or is using the book to reach an academic goal. This book falls into the second category.

It was not the worst biography that I’ve read. However, I felt like this book is the type of book that would be assigned reading in an academic setting as a posed to a book to read just for readings sake.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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