Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro

March 15th, 2021 — 6:18pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro

This book is written by a successful middle-aged author who has published several books both fiction and non-fiction books. This one is about a very personal experience, which occurred to her after she took a popular DNA ancestry test. She received results, which indicated that the man (now deceased as was her mother) who she always felt was her father was actually not her biological father. She shares with the reader a very personal and emotional journey where she tracks down and meets her biological father who turns out to have been a medical student who donated sperm to some pioneering and perhaps questionable in vitro fertilization program, which led to her parents being able to have their own child.

There are so many fascinating aspects to this very personal, persistent journey where the author eventually meets her biological father, now a retired physician and some of his family. She shares her childhood memories of how at times she was told by people despite being an Orthodox Jew that she did not look Jewish. She embarked upon an obsessive adventure to try to understand if her parents actually knew that she was conceived with donor sperm.

Not only is the author a talented writer, but she was able to explore many leads and spoke to many people as she reconstructed her story. This included rabbis that knew her father and various people who knew about the pioneering, if not questionable, program where her parents sought out a solution to their infertility. In fact, one big question that the author pondered was whether or not her parents actually knew that she was conceived by a donor, or in other words did they believe that the in vitro fertilization was actually just increasing the chance of a successful pregnancy or did they know that there was mixing of sperm with her father and the donor. There were these and many other questions related to the search for a self identify.

This obviously is fascinating story, which I have encountered in similar forms over the years. There are also some very interesting movies, which have addressed various aspects of this issue. Examples of some of the films that have addressed these issues are People Like Us, Stories We Tell, Mother And Child, Admission, The Kids Are All Right.

I have also written about this fascinating subject in some detail in my soon to be published book ShrinkTalk. When discussing this subject, I often challenge myself in my conversation partners with the following question, “What would you do and how would you feel if you receive a letter from the hospital where you were born, which stated that they were computerizing their hospital records and they determined that you were accidentally switched at birth?” An alternative question would be “that your child was accidentally switched at birth with another child.” Would you want to meet your actual biological parents? (or would you want to meet your biological now grown child if it was your child that was switched?) and how would you feel if it were your child that was switched at birth and that grown child now was very anxious to meet with his or her biological parent? My friends to whom that I posed this theoretical question had very strong reaction to it. I also find that many people have some true variation to this story that they know that has actually occurred in real life.

All this makes this book a well-written, thought provoking book by a very talented writer who shares a very personal and provocative tale.

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The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

March 9th, 2021 — 11:16pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical, FT- Fiction Thriller, HI - History

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

When I came across this outstanding book about the Holocaust, I was immediately reminded of all the excellent and meaningful books I have read about this subject. The first one probably being The Diary of Anne Frank and then so many other such interesting reads such as The Thief, The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See, Schindler’s List, as well as many others including many that I have not yet read.

This story is about a woman who has skills, which make her an excellent forger, which allows her to save the lives of many children and adults as they escape from the Nazis. In doing so, she puts her own life at great risk. This triggers a familiar question, “Could I have put my own life at such a great risk if faced with a similar situation.” Most of us will never know, but as we experience the bravery of this woman, we are challenged to consider this question.

The story highlights the complexities of the parent-child relationship in this difficult situation. Factor in a love and romance and the conflicts of such feelings when the woman has these feelings towards a non-Jewish man that she never imagined could take place.

The great value of this book is not only that it is a well written adventure story with romance, intrigue, and danger, most important, it reminds us that Nazi Germany existed in the lifetime of some of us or in the lifespan of our parents and cannot be allowed to be forgotten.

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Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

February 11th, 2021 — 10:47pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

What could be more fitting during this year of COVID-19 then to read a book that take places in the 17th century during the Black Plague and how it impacted a small isolated village in England. The story is mostly through the eyes of one woman, Anna Frith, a young widow who becomes very close to the local pastor and his wife. There is death spreading like wildfire throughout the village with burials seeming to occur on every page. The village under the leadership of the pastor decides that they will isolate themselves from other communities, so not to spread this deadly disease to nearby towns, which seemingly have not been impacted the plague. There are subplots, which deal with romance, affairs, jealousy, greed, murder, and revenge, etc. The major impact of the loss of spouses, children, and threat of death everywhere leads to major challenges for the various characters some of whom appear to rise to the occasion and others go off the deep end. As impactful as our modern plague is to our society today, it does not seem that we have deteriorated as have some of the characters in this story, at least not yet.

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The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

December 22nd, 2020 — 11:49pm

Category: FM - Fiction Mystery

The Other Americans By Laila Lalami

This is a mystery or a whodunnit, but it is also a slow reveal of family secrets and various prejudices that existed in a small town. Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant living with his wife in California is killed by a hit and run driver. It turns out that the driver knew the victim as they had businesses near each other and had previous minor conflicts. The driver also claimed that he hit a coyote and did not believe he had killed anyone. As family relationships are revealed as well as early friendships, there is insight into many of these relationships that go beyond the tragic incident.

This reader never quite got into the story. Each chapter was interesting on its own, but never was a page turner for me. It may have been that there were long periods of time between reads for me. However, I cannot recommend this book.

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Last Days of NIght by Graham Moore

November 18th, 2020 — 11:20pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical

Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

To New Yorkers Cravath may bring up the name of a very well healed prestigious law firm. Apparently, one of the founders of this law firm when he was just starting out is one of the main characters of this book. Circumstances brought Paul Cravath to represent George Westinghouse, a pioneer inventor who is being sued by another prestigious inventor, Thomas Edison, who had invented direct current electricity and the light bulb and who would eventually be credited with inventing motion pictures and playing a major role in the invention of the telephone. This is a book of historical friction, which examined the fascinating conflicts between these two men along with the role played by another genius inventor, Nikola Tesla.

As we sit comfortably in our well-lit home and read this book, we may not appreciate the differences between direct current and alternating current and the nuances of various electrical bulbs. While much of the dialogues and events in this book are fabricated they are based on true conflicts and events. There is also a fascinating description about the first electrocution by electric chair, which was quite messy and witnessed by the press. The insight into these characters while done with some poetic license is never the less quite fascinating. There was even a cameo by Alexander Graham Bell, another inventor of the telephone.

A couple of years ago, there was a movie based on these electric characters called “The Current War” but this book provides more depth and holding power than the film in our opinion. In other words, it was a page turner. In between the chapters, there were various quotes from famous inventors over the years. While they were interesting on their own, they did not relate to the content of the previous or the next chapter and therefore this writer felt they were an unwelcome diversion.

I do not know if there was a major conflict between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs about the invention and development of the computer, but it would not surprise me if it has not been written already that there will be a fascinating story about that relationship as there was this look at about an electrical story of the past (2020).

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

October 18th, 2020 — 5:55pm

Category: Uncategorized

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

While a good part of the focus of this book is an unusually large luxurious house, it is really about a family and closely related peoople, including some servants, who have been occupants of this house. It is also about a situation where a mother of two young children abandons them by leaving the husband and the children who have no idea what happened to her. It is a story about the relatioship between a sister and brother who once abandoned by their mother found that they could not tolerate the mean unfair treatment by the women who came into their lives as their stepmother along with her two daughters.

The plot of ths book has some interesting twists and turns as when brother and sister are grown adults, their true mother reappears and attempts to reestablish a relationship with them. Among the uniqueness of the characters is the fact that the young boy becomes a non-practicing physician who prefers to invest in real estate and spends lots of times personally fixing up his properties.

Certainly, the story is fairly unique and has surprising twists and turns. However, I didn’t feel that it fully explained or gave enough clues for us to understand or even speculate on the psychodynamics of the characters. In other words, I did not find the long ride of reading this book to be enlightening or satisfying enough for me to recommend it. Obviously, I am in the minority as the book was a NY Times Best Seller and was on Time Magazine’s 100 Must Read Books and was named on the The Best Books of the Year by NPR.

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Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Trump by Michael Cohen

September 18th, 2020 — 5:00pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, P - Political

Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Trump by Michael Cohen

Early in this book, the author describes how his boss, Donald Trump, long before becoming president, would stiff contractors and other people out of payments promised to them. Cohen, who was so pleased when he got the job working with Trump, was gleeful and overjoyed and he became Trump’s go-to man or fixer. He also would deceive other people and withhold funds due to them and work closely with Donald Trump when he was running his real estate business. Cohen described how his boss was a “cheat, liar, a predator, and a con man” (and a lot more). Cohen agreed that he himself had many of these characteristics when interacting with other people especially in his role as Trump’s special personal attorney. He was also very blunt about how exciting and energizing this kind of behavior was for him.

Initially, Cohen thought that he would be continuing this role when Trump entered the White House. However, he soon found himself as the target of federal prosecutors for things that he had done in the past, many of them for Trump. At this time, Cohen admitted that he manipulated and deceived in regard to paying federal taxes as well as other illegal activity. He gave the reader the impression that he felt that the charges against him were obviously based on truth. He believed he was forced to agree to lesser charges and accept a guilty plea; otherwise, not only would he be charged with more severe crimes but his wife, who had nothing to do with illegal activities according to Cohen, would also be charged. Cohen ended up in a low security prison sentenced to 36 months, most of it being spent at a prison for nonviolent offenders and eventually on home arrest. Cohen related how Trump distanced himself from Cohen once he was in the White House and Trump and his attorneys actually tried to prevent Cohen from writing this book and therefore illegally taking away his freedom of speech. Obviously, they failed as the book is now published.

It is amazing that despite the fact that Cohen himself was always willing to do anything for his boss and obviously did a lot more than he acknowledged in the book, Trump nevertheless totally abandoned him. Michael Cohen, while admitting his own crimes, made it absolutely clear that President Trump has been a liar, a cheat, and a criminal. As of this writing, it appears that Cohen will serve out his sentence probably at home arrest or in a low security prison

It remains to be seen if Trump will figure out how to be elected to a second term and what criminal charges will be made against him should he become a private citizen, Of course the question is whether Trump, if he loses the election will himself have to go to jail? (2020)

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FIrst Case by James Patterson and Chris Tebbeets

August 31st, 2020 — 2:04pm

Category: FM - Fiction Mystery

First Case by James Patterson and Chris Tebbets

I wanted to pick up a light mystery, so I thought I would try a novel by James Patterson, a very popular writer who has sold 325,000,000 copies of his books. His main character in this novel Angela Hoot, is a young woman who is a computer genius. She dropped out of MIT and thanks to the recommendation of her former teacher she gets an internship as a computer analyst with the FBI. Her first case takes her to a Boston suburb where a family of three has been murdered. Little did she dream that in a short time she would find herself on the verge of being another victim of the two brothers who were serial killers.

I must admit that at times I got lost in for what was for me high-tech computer lingo. I could imagine the use of cell phones, tracking devices with secret cameras and I tried to roll with the punches with the description of other technology.

Overall, I found the plot, relationships, a touch of romance, and even the attempt to get into the mind of a killer to be fairly routine. I respect that Mr. Patterson has found a formula that is very successful and although I am making a very small contribution to his royalities, I cannot recommend that you add to it by choosing this novel.

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Apeirogon by Colum McCann

August 26th, 2020 — 9:43pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical, HI - History

Apeirogon By Colum McCann

The title of this book means “a shape with a countable infinite number of sides.”

The book is divided into a thousand different sections and they are not exactly in order. This personally made it somewhat difficult for me since every time I picked up the book, I was not quite sure where I left off (it did not help that my iPad did not always open exactly where I shut it down).

The essence of this book is that we are learning about the story of two men, an Israeli and a Palestinian, each of whom has lost his daughter as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Elhanan’s 13-year-old daughter Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber. Aramin’s 10-year-old daughter died by a rubber bullet shot by an Israeli soldier. The two bereaved fathers meet through an organization called The Parents Circle – Families Forum. They connect and have made it their life’s work to travel around the world sharing their experiences of losing their children and the pain and healing with which they are struggling.

The book is filled with flashbacks, which include everything from analysis of the migration of birds to the Crucifixion of Christ with homage to Albert Einstein and the Stern Gang included. The net result is an emotional experience which will intensify any hope, desire, and prayer that there could be peace in the Middle East (2020).

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Set The Night on Fire: L.A.In The Sixties by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener

July 27th, 2020 — 2:29pm

Category: HI - History, P - Political, Uncategorized

Set The Night On Fire: L.A. In The Sixties by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener

Although I have lived in Los Angeles for more than 10 years, I did not grow up in California nor was I familiar with most of the memorable events which occurred out here in the 1960s. As I have traveled through the various streets and sections of Los Angeles, their names do not resonate and have such familiarity with me is if I were driving through various sections of Brooklyn or Manhattan. Also, although I have been involved and supportive of many civil rights movements during my lifetime, I certainly am not familiar with the many particular groups and their leaders which have been so important in Los Angeles and were depicted in this book. I give this preamble because I have to admit that I have found this book overly long with much detailed facts, names, and events, most of which were not meaningful to me. I can imagine that if you lived through these times or heard about them from your families, it could be more interesting, especially finding out about the behind the scenes facts and stories about people, many of whom have been your heroes. Of course, I remember vividly the incident with Rodney King and the Watts fire and I could appreciate the behind-the-scenes descriptions of these events and the cast of characters.

This book not only covered in great detail the Civil Rights Movement from the early days of NAACP forward to the modern-day black lives matter movement, but it also described in great detail the various smaller groups, which coalesced during this time. There were also detailed descriptions with personal stories, which included the civil rights movements in Los Angeles of women, LGBTQ, as well as those of Hispanics, Mexicans, and various Asian groups. I was also fascinated to learn about the role that students in high schools and even junior high schools played in the past and in recent demonstrations. Apparently, strong vocal groups were also born in the local Community Colleges, which was not widely remembered

I am not sure it is worth trudging through the entire very detailed description of people and events that “set the night on fire.” However, the book may be worthwhile owning if you have occasion to refer to specific events, groups and people who lived through this period of time and participated in the events covered in the book, as there is an excellent index at the end of the book which will allow you to bring up people, dates, groups, and events.

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