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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Deadly Ties by Aaron Ben-Shahar

June 23rd, 2020 — 1:53pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery, FT- Fiction Thriller, Uncategorized

Deadly Ties By Aaron Ben-Shahar

The author of this novel, Aaron Ben-Shahar is an Israeli attorney-at-law who has served in highly sensitive positions in the Israeli Secret Service. When I read his first novel, A Minister in a Box (see review), I could not help but believe that his description of mystery, intrigue, murder, secret agents, etc., must have been based on his own real experiences. Now once again, he has produced another novel which takes the reader behind the scenes of the Mossad, the Israeli highly secret intelligence agency as well as an Iranian comparable secret agency. It has an unbelievable plot, which is actually believable because it rings true.

The story features Bonnie, a prominent minister in the Israeli government who after the death of his mother finds a letter for him in his mother’s desk. Early in the story, we have learned that his mother had a onetime sexual fling many years ago. Now the letter tells him that the man he always thought was his father was not actually his biological dad. This leads Bonnie on an adventure to find this man who turns out be an equally high placed Iranian minister. Needless to say, this novel, as was the first one, is filled with mystery, intrigue, and twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It was hard to put down this book; I highly recommend it.

In addition to the entertaining value of this excellent well-written novel, it also deals with an area, which as a psychiatrist and student of human behavior I have pondered over the years; that is the occasion where a person becomes obsessed with the desire to know the nature of their biological identity when it has previously been unknown or in question.

There have been several movies which have dealt with this subject one way or the other. The names of some these films were( see links to reviews): Philomena, The Kids Are All Right, People Like Us, and Stories We Tell. I have also written about this subject on my blog(see link) Psychiatrytalk.com.

At times in conversation, I have asked an acquaintance what they might do if they received communication from the hospital where they were born was computerizing their records and they found out that the person was actually accidentally “switched at birth.” Would you want to meet your biological parent?

What if the situation were that the hospital was notifying you that a child born to you was accidentally switched at birth? Would you want to meet that long lost child? Suppose you were told that the family with your biological child would like to meet you, would you agree to this meeting? Would you tell your child that they were switched at birth? How would you feel if your child was anxious to meet the biological parent? Different people respond differently to these questions. The urgency of meeting the biological parent varies from person to person. Some people feel it would not make a difference in their life. I actually have known people who have discovered a biological parent unknown to them previously and then become very close to them.

These issues are part of the central theme of this intriguing book. Whether or not you would have the same feelings of the main character, I am sure you will find this an interesting and fascinating book well worth reading.

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The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

June 8th, 2020 — 4:52pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

The Weight Of Ink By Rachel Kadish

This is an unusual and very interesting storyline. The narrative toggles back and forth between modern day London and Amsterdam during the 17th century. A removable panel in a wall behind the stairs in a lovely home in modern day London is discovered to have a trove of documents written in the 1600s. Helen Watts, a woman professor and a graduate student, Aaron Levy, begin to extract and translate these documents, which are mostly in Portuguese, Hebrew, and English. The majority of these old papers were written by a well-known, blind rabbi’s personal scribe. The scribe allowed the rabbi to carry on correspondence with some of the great intellectuals of that time in various parts of the world. The modern day professor and her graduate student make an amazing discovery that the scribe was actually a young woman by the name of Ester. Of course, it was unheard of that a woman at that time would be well-educated and able to carry on such a high level of intellectual writing and reading. The story gets more complicated as a competing high-powered intellectual team also gains access to the documents and realizes the significance of them. The reader follows the unfolding of the story as each chapter moves back and forth more than 300 years. The modern day translators realize that the young woman scribe had on her own taken up a correspondence with some of the intellectual giants of her time including Spinoza while signing her name with a pseudonym. As the reader is whipped back and forth with alternating chapters being in the past or present, there is an opportunity to learn the details of the private lives of not only Ester and the people around her, but also about the private lives of Helen, the professor and Aaron the graduate student. One aspect of the distant time period is that there was a deadly plague sweeping London and the rest of the world. (Sound familiar?).

This book develops into a page turner, which includes intrigue, romance, death and dying, and a lot more. At times, the language was felt by this reviewer to be somewhat obtuse and even a little difficult to follow. However in the end, we appreciated that we have been taken through an original fantasy, which not only highlighted the intellectual trials and tribulations of a particular time period but also provided insight into the human psyche.

This book not only reflected themes of power and freedom of expression, something that Ester could not do as a woman, but also towards the end of the book Ester struggles whether or not she would want her words to live on, even if not attributed to herself herself but known by the content. This raises an interesting question about how any author looks to the future and how important is their own personal posterity as compared to the creativity they bring to their pages.

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