Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rabbi Aviva Cohen is Solving Murders Again!

Unleavened Dead by Rabbi Ilene Schneider


Those of you who have read Ilene Schneider’s first book – Chanukah Guilt – will remember our beloved Rabbi Aviva Cohen. She’s the unruly-haired, rotund rabbi of the small, Walford New Jersey synagogue 'Mishkan Or,' who has been divorced twice, and has a lesbian niece Trudy, who now has two children with her partner Sherry. What’s more, mysterious deaths have been coming to her attention, and she just can’t keep from trying to solve them – much to the chagrin of her ex-husband Steve who’s been working in Walford as the interim Police Commissioner.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Name, Rank and 8200

Spies, Inc.: Business Innovation from Israel's Masters of Espionage by Stacy Perman


Whatever you may think about Israel, you have to admit that from its inception, the odds were against it. You also must give it credit for surviving while being outnumbered by over 100 to 1 from the onset. Under those conditions, the only way to keep afloat is to outsmart your enemy, and that's what this book is about. The major focus here is on the technological side - that being things like computers, electronics and advanced weaponry - and how one division in particular had a large hand in it all. That unit is called 8200 which is part of the Intelligence Division of the IDF.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The REAL Chocolate Wars

The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars by Joël Glenn Brenner


A friend gave me this book to read since she knows my deep devotion to chocolate. She was reading it for its marketing and business information. Well, anything about chocolate must be interesting, but business and marketing...? Honestly, despite the topic, I didn’t expect myself to get through more than a page or two. However, much to my surprise, after reading the first few pages, I suddenly found that I couldn’t put this book down. Now, I never had this type of an experience with a non-fiction book before. And what’s more, almost everyone who reads this book will find something out that they didn’t know before - whether it's about chocolate or business or industry.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Women who Orbited Fame

Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman.



In the notes at the end of this book, author Megan Mayhew Bergman informs us that, "The stories in this collection are born of fascination with real women whose remarkable lives were reduced to footnotes." She also says that she's "fascinated by risk taking and the way people orbit fame." Bergman herself has taken a risk by writing a collection of short stories, but I think she pulled it off without a hitch.

Reading just these two little snippets, you might already realize just how nicely Bergman writes, and that's not even her fiction. In this collection of short stories, Bergman brings us into the lives and minds of women we've probably never heard of, although some of them have surnames that will ring more than one bell. For example, we have a Wilde and a Byron (direct relations), the Hilton twins (no relation, that I can tell) and a Millay (which only poetry lovers will recognize). However, all of the other names here have faded across the decades, and only aficionados of their various pursuits will find them the least bit familiar. This is part of what makes them all so fascinating, since any one of them would be an excellent subject for a full historical fiction novel on their own.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Science of Love

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion


Don Tillman may be a genius when it comes to science and genetics, or anything else he decides to study, but he's clueless about two things: women and his Asperger's Syndrome. Despite this, he's determined to find himself a wife in the only way he knows how to do anything - like a scientist. However, there's no scientific way to chart the course of true love, but that's not going to stop Don from trying.

Touted as the "feel good" book of 2013, this book intrigued me even before it hit the shelves. Unfortunately, the publishers decided I wasn't the best type of reviewer to send an advance copy to, so I had to wait until after its publication, so I could buy it for myself. The question is, was it worth it?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Empty Nest and/or Wishful Thinking

Second Honeymoon by Joanna Trollope


Edie is an actor, but raising her three children Matthew, Rosa and Ben, made her put most of her career on hold. After the last of her children finally moved out, that nest seemed suddenly very, very empty. This doesn't bother her husband Russell; he's thrilled he'll finally have Edie to himself. Well, as much to him as her career will allow, that is. Of course, Edie's sister Vivian isn't going to help much, since she's been clingy since her divorce from Max.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Fry-ed Life

The Fry Chronicles: an Autobiography by Stephen Fry


This is Stephen Fry's second installment of his autobiography. The meat of this book takes place during his most formative years – those being while he was at Cambridge and the years afterwards as he was making his name in print, radio, television and on the stage. Once the world started to sit up and take notice, his talents as a comedian and an actor and a writer brought him fame and fortune.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Scent for Infatuation


Nectar: A Novel of Temptation by Lily Prior


This novel is almost pure fantasy, as opposed to this author's first work, which was mostly reality-based. While the story and people and events in "La Cucina" could actually have existed (despite some of the unusual bits), unless there's some amazingly missed documentation out there, it is doubtful that many of the characters and proceedings in this story could actually happen in real life. However, this isn't some type of Tolkien or Pratchett-like fantasy, nor something from outer space. No, this is more like a fairytale, complete with a moral!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Army for Enlightenment

The Brotherhood of Book Hunters by Raphaël Jerusalmy


Author Jerusalmy introduces this book as follows:

"Born at the end of the Middle Ages, François Villon is the first modern poet. He is the author of the famous Ballad of the Hanged and Ballad of Dead Ladies. But Villon was also a notorious brigand. In 1462, at the age of thirty-one, he was arrested, tortured, and sentenced “to be hanged and strangled.” On January 6, 1463, the Parliament quashed the sentence and banished him from Paris. Nobody knows what happened to him subsequently…"

Monday, December 15, 2014

A novel that will stick with you

We are all made of Glue by Marina Lewycka


Georgina is in a bit of a mess. Her husband has left her for another woman, her daughter hardly speaks to her, her son is going through a mid-teen crisis, she can’t seem to get anywhere with her steamy romance novel, and she’s stuck writing articles about adhesives for a trade magazine. Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse She meets Naomi Shapiro, a lonely widow living with lots of cats in a run-down and filthy mansion who needs her help. Despite her better judgment, Georgina does get involved, and that's when the trouble begins.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Connecting Two Lives Lived 50 Years Apart

The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell


Alexandra is stuck in rural England, living at home, sharing her bedroom with siblings again, after being sent down from university for going through the wrong door – an act for which she refuses to apologize. But it is the mid-1950s and she’s ready to make her mark on the world. So, she packs up and makes her way to Soho in London – with little more than the card a stranger gave her, and the new name he gave her – Lexie. Fast forward to the present and we find Ted has just weathered almost losing the woman he loves, Elina, while she was giving birth to their son. Although Elina is on the mend, something is happening to Ted that seems both strange and sinister. This is the story of how these very diverse stories, set 50 years apart, come together.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Up Close and Undivided Attention

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje


Here is a book for which it is almost impossible to write a plot synopsis. Like many of Ondaatje's other works, this doesn't have narrative that follows conventional literary patterns or rules. Although there is an overall linear aspect to the novel, the general feeling is more of a shifting spiral. I'm sorry if this doesn't make sense, but I can't help what I feel about a piece of art.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Tasty Reading

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg


For those of you who aren't familiar with either the movie or the book, this is the story of the events that happened to a group of people who lived in the town of Whistle Stop, Alabama in the 1930's. One of its female residents - Mrs. Threadgoode, tells these stories many years later, to Evelyn - a woman who makes friends with Mrs. Threadgoode while visiting her husband's relative in the same old-age home. These stories, filled as they are with love, sex, intrigue, mystery and conflict, so intrigue Evelyn, they actually end up affecting her life as well. We also see these stories told by other past residents - through snippets of newsletters and flashback vignettes.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Favorite Books of 2014 - the Year of the Curmudgeon

Looking back over this past year, it seems that many of the best-loved books that came out in 2014 featured protagonists who are, essentially, grumpy old men. While almost all of them hardly ever stop frowning, reading about them will certainly put a smile on your face (or bring a tear to your eye). Here is my countdown of the top five 2014 curmudgeons, plus some non-grumpy books with women I also gave five stars to in 2014 (links to my full reviews are in the titles). 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bringing Worlds Together

The Distance Between Us by Maggie O'Farrell


Jake's single mother gave birth to him, and raised him in Hong Kong. In 1993, Jake was caught in the Chinese New Year's crush, resulting in an almost fatal injury for the girl he was dating. In London, at the same time, Stella thinks she's just seen someone from her troubled past who could reveal her dark secret. Not long after these two events, both Stella and Jake find themselves in a fancy B&B in Kildoune, just outside Inverness, Scotland. There, Jake is looking to find answers about his mother's past as well as his father, but Stella only wants to hide away from hers. Their discovery of each other, along with their parallel journeys of self-discovery is the basis of Maggie O'Farrell's third novel.