Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Hitler: Downfall, 1939-1945 by Volker Ulrich— The Final Years

Ulrich, Volker. “Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945”, translated by Jefferson Chase, Knopf, 2021.

The Final Years

Amos Lassen

Ulrich Volker’s “Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945” is the story of Hitler’sfinal years, when he got the war he wanted but his leadership led to run for his nation and catastrophe for the world and himself. 

In the summer of 1939 Hitler was at the top of his power. The Nazis had consolidated political control in Germany and a series of foreign-policy coups had brought Germany back to a major world power. Hitler began his journey of the realization of his lifelong ambition: to provide the German people with the resources they needed to flourish and to exterminate those who stood in the way. However, even with his initial triumphs, Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union in 1941 changed everything.

We learn a great deal about Hitler’s character and personality and see his insecurity, obsession with small details and narcissism that caused him to go over the heads of his subordinates and then blame them for his failures. Realizing that the war was could not be won, he began the annihilation of Germany itself to punish the people who he believed had failed to make him victorious. 

The impulsiveness and grandiosity, the bullying and vulgarity were seen early on and they were part of Hitler’s anti-establishment appeal. Ullrich says that these both raised him up and caused his downfall.  This is a study of the abuse of power and gives a lesson to all of us. Here is the Hitler that we have not known before.

This is the second volume of Volker Ullrich’s two volume Hitler biography. It is well written,  beautifully researched and gives us a great deal to think about.

“A Quilt for David” by Steven Reigns— Revisiting David Acer

Reigns, Steven. “A Quilt for David”, City Lights, 2021.

Revisiting David Acer

Amos Lassen

In the early 1990s, eight people who were living in a small conservative Florida town alleged that Dr. David Acer, their dentist, had infected them with HIV. Because David was gay and appeared to be sickly because of his own AIDS-related illness, he was the ideal scapegoat and victim. It was a time during the early years of AIDS when not much was understood, and homophobia was everywhere. Accuser Kimberly Bergalis managed to get an interview and cover story in “People” and others appeared on talk shows and on the front page of newspapers.

In “A Quilt for David”, poet, Steven Reigns examines the life and death of Acer and the society that used stigma against those who are vulnerable. We see how the present Covid 19 pandemic is also being looked at through medical misinformation and cultural bias. Reigns looks at an American history in a different light by questioning Acer’s accusers and reconstructing the life of a gay man that has been depicted with secrecy and shame.

Those of us who have been around for a while remember all too how we have had to live lives of secrecy and discrimination simply based on our sexuality. We have had to deal with discrimination and questions about who we are and how we live and love. Even though things are so much better now, the past history has left an indelible mark on us and we have been scarred. Reigns takes this very serious as he returns honor to those who died of AIDS and looks at Acer’s life and death as representative of the way we lived. As I read, I was moved to tears and uplifted by hope. This is not only Acer’s story but our story as well. Now, some thirty years after his death, Acer becomes the symbol of hate and lies that have hurt our community for way too long and Reigns’ words bring this home to a new generation.

Poetry is based on emotion and it is impossible not to be emotionally moved by what we read here. We do not often get a look at what happened during AIDS in the way we do here and while it is heartbreaking, it is also liberating. I have long been a fan of Reigns as a writer and as a person and he has surpassed himself with “A Quilt for David”. Each word is important and shows his devotion to his subject. I find it hard to write about this book as I am so deeply affected by what I read here. I am quite sure I will never forget it.

“Sweat: A History of Exercise” by Bill Hayes— Exercise

Hayes, Bill. “Sweat: A History of Exercise”, Bloomsbury, 2022.

Exercise

Amos Lassen

Bill Hayes’ “Sweat” is a cultural, scientific, literary, and personal history of exercise. Exercise is a form of physical activity that is different from sports, play, or athletics and was an ancient obsession that has been largely overlooked. “Bill Hayes runs, jogs, swims, spins, walks, bikes, boxes, lifts, sweats, and downward-dogs his way through the origins of different forms of exercise, chronicling how they have evolved over time, dissecting the dynamics of human movement.” 

The main historical figures is Girolamo Mercuriale, a Renaissance-era Italian physician who tried to revive the ancient Greek “art of exercising” through his 1569 book “De arte gymnastica”. Hayes ties his own personal experience as well as ours-to the cultural and scientific history of exercise, from ancient times to the present day and we gain a new of understanding its place in the 21st century.

“The Postmistress of Paris” by Meg Waite Clayton— Love and Danger

Clayton, Meg Waite. “The Postmistress of Paris: A Novel”Harper, 2021.

Love and Danger

Amos Lassen

Set in the dark early days of the German occupation in France, Meg Waite Clayton brings us a love story and a tale of danger and courageabout a young American heiress who helps artists hunted by the Nazis escape from Europe.

Naneé was born in the Midwest with a spirit of adventure. When German tanks enter Paris, she joins the resistance. Known as the Postmistress because she delivers information to those in hiding, she uses her charms and skill to find the hunted and get them to safety. The story is based on the real life Chicago heiress Mary Jayne Gold. She worked with American journalist Varian Fry to smuggle artists and intellectuals out of France.

Naneé moves from social butterfly into artistic circles as she participates in a resistance network dedicated to smuggling people out of Occupied France and into Spain to Portugal and, eventually, America. After meeting Jewish German photographer, Edouard Moss, Naneé and he are drawn to one another; and even as they are pulled apart by situation and circumstance, their futures are meant to come together.  Fine writing, complex characters, and an exciting plot make this quite an enjoyable read. This is a book about loss, love and trust  that will have you turning pages quickly.

 

“The Falling Girls” by Hayley Krischer— Relationships

Krischer, Hayley. “The Falling Girls”, Razorbill, 2021.

Relationships

Amos Lassen

Shade and Jadis are the best of friends. They share everything from clothes, toothbrushes to matching stick-and-poke tattoos. But when Shade unexpectedly joins the cheerleading team, Jadis has trouble understanding what is happening to her best friend. Shade loves being in a group of girls and she loves being disciplined to push her body to the limits. She is drawn to The Three Chloes—the three girls that rule the team.
 
Jadis is not ready to give up on Shade and the pull between her old best friend and her new teammates influences Shade as she tries to find her own way. When one of the cheerleaders dies under mysterious circumstances, Shade sets out to get to the bottom of her death.

This is an exploration of the relationships between teen girls and a story of loss and betrayal, and the effects on at a friendship. While these relationships can be healthy, there’s a thin line between close friendship and obsession. We see what can happen when that line is crossed. I was both mesmerized and disturbed by what I read yet I could not stop reading.

“THE SNAKE GIRL AND THE SILVER HAIRED WITCH”— Twisted Terror

 

“THE SNAKE GIRL AND THE SILVER HAIRED WITCH”

Twisted Terror

Amos Lassen

Director Noriaki Yuasa’s “The Snake Girl and the Silver Haired Witch” is a monochrome film adaptation of the works of horror manga pioneer Kazuo Umezu. It is a fantastically phantasmagorical slice of twisted terror.

A young girl named Sayuri is reunited with her estranged family after years in an orphanage – but trouble lurks in the large family home. Her mother is an amnesiac after a car accident six months earlier, her sister is confined to the attic and a young housemaid dies of a heart attack just before Sayuri arrives. Is this all connected to her father’s work studying venomous snakes? Is the serpentine figure that haunts Sayuri’s dreams the same one spying on her through holes in the wall?

 In the prologue, we see a maid go down into the basement of a big house where there are lots of snakes and scorpions in glass tanks. Someone hiding in the shadows takes out a snake and throws it at the maid. Its bite kills her instantly. Someone hears her scream, but the murderer is nowhere to be seen. It looks like an accident… 

Sayuri returns to her family home but the nun who was looking after her seems to be unhappy about the reunion. Things get off to a bad start as Sayori arrives home, the dead maid is just being carted off to the morgue! Her new found family consists of Mum, Dad and the senior maid, Shige. Their house is large, almost a stone mansion. Inside the house, the mother seems a little odd, the father is never around, and someone is peeping at Sayori through a hole in her bedroom ceiling. Then, someone drops a live snake on her while she’s sleeping and a snake-faced girl appears in her bedroom. 

Sayori soon discovers that there’s a second girl in the house, called Tamami, the rudest, nastiest little girl ever. It was Tamami who dropped the snake on Sayori  and soon the girls share the bedroom, but Sayori thinks there’s something wrong with Tamami’s face. She has a strange waxy appearance. As she lies down to go to sleep, her hair falls away and there is something else. Eventually, Sayori is all but imprisoned in the loft that is haunted by a white-haired crone with a skeletal face and murder in mind.

The blurring of Sayori’s imagination is what makes the film interesting. Much of the horror is in her dreams, but she also sees the snake-girl when she’s wide awake. The movie is fast-paced and interesting, even sub-textually. The characters s keep us guessing and the dream sequences are full of effects.

Sayuri (Yachie Matsui) still plays with and sleeps with her doll, so she may have been intended to be even younger. She is absolutely alone. By herself, she must battle snakes that drop from the ceiling, spiders that crawl up her bed, a supposed sister who wants to suck her blood, strange nightmares, a murderous witch, a wicked housekeeper who tries to throw her off the scaffolding of a skyscraper construction site, and being locked alone in the attic. No one believes her except the delivery boy at the orphanage.

Things are further confused by Tamami (Mayumi Takahashi) who she has been hidden in the house so the father thinks she is dead. Tamami is the Snake Girl and has scales on her back, which she keeps covered mostly, and on occasion she has fangs that suddenly appear and just as suddenly disappear. Her face itself has some kind of disfigurement that she keeps covered with a mask.

 SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation

  Original uncompressed mono audio

  Optional English subtitles

  Brand new commentary by film historian David Kalat

  This Charming Woman, a newly filmed interview with manga and folklore scholar Zack Davisson

  Theatrical trailer

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork by Mike Lee-Graham

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing by Raffael Coronelli

“Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich” by Peter Fritzsche— The Formation of the Third Reich and the Nazi Party

Fritzsche, Peter. “Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich”,  Basic Books, 2020.

The Formation of the Third Reich and the Nazi Party

Amos Lassen

Peter Fritzsche’s “Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich” shows how Germany’s fractured republic gave way to the Third Reich from the formation of the Nazi party to the rise of Hitler.

Amid the ravages of economic depression,  As a result of economic depression, Germans in the early 1930s looked to political extremes both left and right. In the spring of 1933, Germany moved from a deeply divided republic into a one-party dictatorship. Here are the pivotal moments when the majority of Germans seemed to join the Nazis to construct the Third Reich. Events included elections and mass arrests, bonfires and gunfire, patriotic rallies and anti-Jewish boycotts and through them we can understand the power the National Socialists exerted over ordinary Germans and the powerful appeal of the new era that they promised. This is the story of the beginning of the end, when one hundred days was to bring about a new thousand-year Reich. The Nazis took control with ease as Hitler grabbed power.

The shift from the Weimer Republic to the Third Reich  took place within several months. Fritzsche gives us an analysis of the political and social circumstances, the brutal struggles which took place and the turn of the society towards ideas offered by the Nazis and we see this through examples political, social and mental strata.

After the end of WWI, Germany did not accept defeat and was politically vulnerable. The Weimar Republic was floundering and Hindenburg was losing his ability to rule. Government was in a state of confusion. Hitler was then able to move from anonymity to dictatorship. It is stunning and amazing to see what was accomplished during his early days and it seemed that the Nazi Party had seemingly established sturdy foundations for the Third or Thousand Year Reich. Even though we know how that ended, it is incredible to read of the rise to power.

We read how Germany went from fragmented republic to a Nazi dictatorship. Anyone who cares about the rise of nationalism and preserving democracy will find this to be a very insightful read.

“Don’t Stand So Close” by Eric Red— Three Young Friends and a Teacher

Red, Eric. “Don’t Stand So Close”,Seidelman & Company, 2021.

Three Young Friends and a Teacher

Amos Lassen

In “Don’t Stand So Close”, Eric Red takes us back to 1998 and introduces us to Matthew Poe, Grace McCormack and Rusty Shaw, high school seniors in a small Iowa town who are about to graduate. They confused and carefree yet they shared their doubts as well as happiness as they try to find their places in the world. Their teacher Ms. Hayden helped make it all make sense for them; she had once been where they are. However, discovering everything for the first time, they come face-to-face with true evil and have to choose between growing up fast or not growing up all.

However, there is another side to the beloved teacher who finds herself dealing with a pupil who is smitten with her and who teaches him about sex only to realize that he has begun to fall in love with one of his classmates causing her to react in ways that are unexpected.

The plot moves quickly and Red’s prose pulls the reader in. It all begins when Matt and his mom, who also happens to be a teacher at his new school, move from California to Iowa and Matt is drawn to Ms. Hayden who takes an interest in helping him and helps him catch up on his schoolwork. As Matt’s relationship with this Hayden accelerates, he realizes she has much more in mind than teaching him only schoolwork. They begin a sexual affair that Matt eventually ends when Linda becomes  too kinky for him, and he understands that it is time to go. As a result, Hayden is intent to ruin Matt’s life and goes to extreme lengths to do just that.

Red is an excellent storyteller and has created characters that draw us into this story of trauma and sexual adventure. He has brought together an erotic thriller with a coming-of-age story that held me captive for the entire read.

 

 

“Cook It, Spill It, Throw It: The Not-So-Real Housewives Parody Cookbook” by Stuart O’Keefe and Amy Phillips— Making Cooking Fun

O’ Keefe, Stuart and Amy Phillips. “Cook It, Spill It, Throw It: The Not-So-Real Housewives Parody Cookbook”,  Dey Street, 2021.

Making Cooking Fun

Amos Lassen

Celebrity chef Stuart O’Keeffe and comedian Amy Phillips parody the Real Housewives in this cookbook filled with recipes that were inspired by iconic moments in the television series’ history. With a foreword by Andy Cohen.

Every week, season after season, fans watch the drama that includes backstabbing, gossip, screaming and scheming. 

The recipes here remind us of the chaos that we see on the small screen. Filled with beautiful photography and luscious recipes, this is a cookbook that is great fun. You may never fix or eat a meal in the same way again.

“Son of Svea: A Tale of the People’s Home” by Lena Anderson— A Family and the Industrial Welfare State

Anderson, Lena. “Son of Svea: A Tale of the People’s Home”, translated by Sarah Death, Other Press, 2022.

A Family and the Industrial Welfare State

Amos Lassen

The year,1932, when Ragnar Johansson was born was a transformative moment in Swedish history. Ragnar was convinced that social democracy took humankind out of the dark ages and into modernity. At times Ragnar hates his mother, Svea, whose daily work is representative of the poverty of the peasantry. He is excited about washing machines and prefab food. When he has children himself, he raises them in accordance with his values. While Svea is an example of the past, Ragnar’s daughter, Elsa represents hope for the future. He understands that the world is changing and wonders if his golden age coming to an end.
 
In “Son of Svea”, Lena Andersson gives us a moving family chronicle about the social transformations that bring us together and tear us apart and about finding the courage to be true to oneself.

The novel captures the essence and hypocrisies of Sweden’s twentieth century through the eyes Ragnar’s family. He has a great split running through him resembling the society he lived in and helped to shape. Even though his mother had to leave school after just five years to find work, Ragnar was able to attend vocational school that was paid for by the government, and get a job as a teacher. He meets Elisabet, and they marry and have two children, Erik and Elsa. The Johanssons join the government waitlist to move into the newly-built suburbs that were being built all over the country, and they eventually move into their new townhouse, which is exactly like everyone else’s. The kids become active in youth sports, go to school. The family shares mean together and visit their relatives. In short, life is good. 

Ragner believes that a person must contribute to the society in which they live, but also that it is important to earn the ordinary, comfortable life that the government offers, rather than try to change things for the better. Svea who rejects , modern conveniences and constantly cooks, cleans, and cans is what the past is all about and he sees Elsa as a sign for what will come. But it’s harder for Ragnar to keep up. 

We also have the themes of ambition, relationships, and how to adjust in a constantly evolving world that come out of the ideas of social class, family roles, and what it means to be ordinary in a world that demands innovation and brilliance.