The Last Checkmate: A Novel Book Review

When we talk about the Holocaust, we sometimes forget The Righteous Among the Nations. These are non-Jews who put their lives and safety aside to save their Jewish neighbors.

The Last Checkmate: A Novel, by Gabriella Saab, was published last year. Maria Florkowska, a Polish-Catholic teenage girl, has been forced to grow up quickly. The only connection to her life before World War II is her love of chess. A member of the Polish underground, Maria, along with the rest of her family, is caught by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz.

After her parents and siblings are murdered, Maria is initially stuck in an emotional cycle of grief and anger. When one of the camp’s commanders notices that she plays chess well, he decides to use her skill to entertain the guards. This opens the door to doing everything she can to get him transferred to another camp. When they met again at the war’s end, Maria challenges him to one more game, not knowing the outcome.

I truly enjoyed this book. If nothing, Maria is proof that there are good people in this world. It also shows that when it seems darkest, there is always some spark to keep us going. I love Maria’s sass, I love her intelligence, and I love her fight to stay alive.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely?

The Last Checkmate: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

Chess Game Move GIF by Envy - Find & Share on GIPHY

Married… With Children Character Review: Kelly Bundy

*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 weekend. The family came first.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television show Married… With Children. 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.

If we can say nothing else about Kelly Bundy (Christina Applegate), we can say that she is a chip off the old block. Like her mother, Peg (Katey Sagal), Kelly is not above using her sexuality to get her way. Like her father, Al (Ed O’Neill), she isn’t the brightest bulb in the box. Combine that with the blonde hair, and you’ve got the typical dumb blonde teenage girl.

Though she has a long series of boyfriends, none of them last. Al takes particular pleasure in sending them packing. She also loves to mock her little brother, Bud, who turns around and mocks her right back. When she is in school, Kelly would prefer to be elsewhere. Which accounts for grades that are nothing to brag about. In the eyes of her classmates, she is the mean girl.

But when push comes to shove, she is a Bundy. Bundys stick together, no matter what.

To sum it up: Obviously, Kelly is a dumb blonde who relies on her physical features to get by. But that is what makes her a brilliant character. She is a satire of a character who in another program might be wholesome, studious, and, well smart. In being who she is, Kelly ridicules the trope that often appears in family sitcoms. Applegate is clearly a smart performer. It takes a certain kind of intelligence to play a girl like Kelly.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

My Best Friend Anne Frank Review

Outside of your family, no one knows you like your best friend. It is a connection that can hopefully withstand whatever life throws at it.

The new Netflix movie, My Best Friend Anne Frank, premiered last year. It tells the story of Hannah “Hanneli” Goslar (Josephine Arendsen), who was best friends with Anne Frank (Aiko Beemsterboer) before the Nazis tore their world apart. The film flashes back between two different time periods. The first is the semi-carefree normal teenage girl experience that we all can relate to.

The second is a few years later, in Bergen-Belsen. Up to this point, Hannah, her father, and her baby sister have received “special treatment” due to having passports to pre-Independence Day Israel (known then as Palestine). When she hears that Anne is alive and in the camp, Hannah has to make a choice. She can either do nothing or try to help Anne, knowing that she could possibly be killed in the process.

We all know Anne’s story. This is an angle that adds to her humanity and universality. It also points out (which is unfortunately still necessary), that the Jews were top on the list for extermination and reminds the viewer that Anne was killed because of the faith she was born into.

The problem is that the drama is a little slow. I understand the reason for the pace, but it could have been picked up a little. By the time we get to the scene in which Anne and Hannah are reunited, I did not feel what I expected to feel.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

My Best Friend Anne Frank is available for streaming on Netflix.

Best Movies of 2021

  1. Quo Vadis, Aida?: This harrowing tale of one woman’s choice to save her family or save as many people as she can during the Bosnian War is as powerful as a film can get.
  2. Mass: Two sets of parents meet after one of their sons has killed the other in a school shooting to figure what happened. Along the way, they are forced to answer questions that are painful and difficult.
  3. Spencer: This fictional take on Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) and what might have occured during Christmas in the early 1990’s is a unique take on the myth of the late royal.
  4. Belfast: A young boy is growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 1960’s. As he starts to transition from a child to a young adult, he begins to realize that nothing is ever a simple as it seems to be.
  5. Black Widow: After ten years, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) finally gets the movie she should have gotten. Trying to atone for her past while living in the present, she must face reality and make up for mistakes.
  6. Framing Britney Spears: This Hulu documentary took viewers in the life and career of Britney Spears and how it has changed since her father took control over both.
  7. West Side Story: Steven Spielberg’s adapation of this beloved musical takes it into the 21st century while retaing its message about prejudice and lack of opportunity.
  8. The Eyes of Tammy Faye: Jessica Chastain not only brings Tammy Faye Bakker back to life, she reveals the real person behind the punchline.
  9. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: This latest addition to the MCU is more than just the first all Asian cast. It is the story of a complicated father/son relationship and a young man who cannot run from his fate.
  10. Moxie: A shy teenage girl stands up to the sexist bullshit at school and empowers her fellow female students in the process.
rajanrathodfilms GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
This will be my last post of 2021. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing tonight, have a safe and happy New Year. See you in 2022.

Actor Spotlight Throwback Thursday-Anne Hathaway- Princess Diaries (2001) & Ella Enchanted (2004)

Tonight’s actor spotlight and throwback Thursday post is Anne Hathaway.

In the early 2000’s, she made a name for herself in the type of roles that many young actresses do: princesses and fairy tale heroines.

The first movie is The Princess Diaries (2001).  Based on the books by Meg Cabot, Mia Thermopolis is the average teenage girl. Gawky, insecure and invisible to most of her classmates, she does not know that she is not the average teenage girl. Mia is next in line to rule the fictional European kingdom of Genovia.  But before she can put on the tiara, she has to meet her grandmother, Queen Clarisse (Julie Andrews) and learn how to be a princess.

Can she live up to the title that is her birthright or will she become a laughing stock?

Coming from the view of the intended audience, which are teenage girls, this movie is pretty good. Mia’s averageness, even under the extraordinary circumstances stands out. Casting Julie Andrews as Queen Clarisse was a boon for this movie. And truth be told, who wouldn’t want Mary Poppins as their grandmother? I know I would.

Three years later, Hathaway stepped again into the world of fairy tales with Ella Enchanted (2004).

Also based on a book by Gail Carson Levine, it is a pseudo Cinderella story with a feminist twist. Ella (Anne Hathaway) has been given the gift (if you want to call it that) of obedience by a fairy, Lucinda (Tyra Banks). Her mother is dead, her father is greedy and emotionally absent from his daughter’s life and her stepmother uses Ella’s “gift” to her advantage.

Ella falls in love with Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). Can Ella rescue herself, her prince and save the kingdom from the villainous Edgar (Cary Elwes)?

Again, if I were a teenage girl, I would enjoy the movie. It is a bit bland with some predictability in character and story, but I’ve seen worse.

Do I recommend them? Why not.

 

From The Dance Hall To Facebook Book Review

There is an old saying: the more things change, the more things stay the same.

On the surface, teenage girls seem like a very cohesive and predictable sub group within our society. Slightly innocent, obsessed with boys, clothes and everything that is proclaimed to be the latest and greatest, they seem so easy to label.

Shayla Thiel Stern’s new book, From The Dance Hall To Facebook: Teen Girls, Mass Media and Moral Panic in the United States 1905-2010 examines the lives of teenage girls over the last 100 years and the picture of teenage girls that the media has painted over the years.  She starts with the supposed dangers and unseemliness of young women who spent their free time in the dance halls in the years leading up to WWI. The book ends with our modern era, how the dangers of technology are luring young women into dangerous territory.

She made three points that made perfect sense. The first point is that many of the concerns were only for young Caucasian women who came from middle and upper class families, not for young women of color or  young Caucasian women who come from lower socioeconomic families. The second point was that being the parent of a teenage girl has not changed that much, it does not matter if you live in 1910 or 2010. The third point was that while parents, schools and the media go out of their way to put teenage girls in a tower similar to Rapunzel, they don’t do the same for teenage boys.

I liked this book. It was a bit dry at points, but overall, it was a great read. It reminded me that while women have won numerous small battles in the war for complete equality, the fight for equality is not over.

I recommend this book.

The Day That The Secret Annex Was Discovered

Today is the 70th anniversary of the discovery of secret annex. Anne Frank , an ordinary teenage girl was hiding in the annex with her family and several others. They were sent arrested and deported to concentration camps. Otto Frank, Anne’s father was only one to survive and live to old age.

This girl was a remarkable writer. Her thoughts and feelings documented in her diary are so ordinary in the life of a teenage girl. Yet her words are so extraordinary because they were in hiding. I keep imagining what kind of stories and characters she might have introduced the world to, had she survived. Some writers are lucky enough to have a gift for writing that is obvious at a young age. Anne was one of those writers. But we will never know what kind of writer she would have become as an adult.

RIP.

%d bloggers like this: