Posts Tagged ‘Jewish novels’

Worth waiting for

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

I feel like I’ve been looking forward to this one for a very long time, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

Cover of The Ruby Spy Ring71. The Ruby Spy Ring by Libi Astaire

We’re several months after the events of The Disappearing Dowry, and our narrator Rebecca Lyon’s elder sister Hannah is happily married and thus out of the parental home, leaving Rebecca with the burden of trying to be a role model for the younger siblings, while missing Harriet Franks, her best friend, whose family have moved from the vicinity of the Great Synagogue to the more expensive and fashionable Mayfair. Seeing the growing stress levels among his children, and Rebecca in particular, Mr Lyon suggests she goes to visit Harriet for a fortnight to lift her spirits. On the first night of the visit the Franks family take her with them to an exhibition, which is the start of some unfortunate events for the family, requiring the investigative talents of Mr Ezra Melamed, with Rebecca as an interested observer and would-be participant.

The history and culture seems accurate, with the narrative voice strong and plausible, and the characters distinct and consistent with the previous book. The Jewish references are clearly but largely unobtrusively explained, so I’d recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction (especially of Regency England), or mysteries, or tales of Jewish communities. As a pocket-size paperback it’s cheaper than most of the Jewish novels, but is very nicely produced nonetheless. Highly recommended. I hope there are more to come!

Rereading mysteries

Friday, 20 August 2010

NaBloPoMo August logoSo, how is rereading mysteries different from rereading anything else? I know some wouldn’t see the point, since you already know the denouement; others would go straight back (with a decent mystery) and reread to find the clues they had missed or the red herrings they didn’t. After the second time through, though, is it any different from rereading any other novel, even any other book?

You already know I’m a rereader, so can guess that I have no problem going back to a well-written mystery. I enjoy both picking up on things, and reminding myself of the story and sequence.

24. The Disappearing Dowry by Libi Astaire

As I’ve said here before, this is a well-written and well-researched historical mystery, set in early 19th century London among the Jewish community. It seems clear enough to be enjoyable both by those who know Jewish law and custom well, and those who don’t at all, and it uses the narrative voice of a sheltered teenage girl cozily but not cloyingly. I have been looking for the sequel since January (I emailed the publishers last Autumn to find out when it’d be out, and that’s what they said then), but the bookshops don’t have it listed or available yet, annoyingly, so perhaps I should try the publishers again…

It’s Erev Shabbat

Friday, 6 November 2009

It seems appropriate that I have a short selection of Jewish books to write about today, when I have to hurry and then get ready for Shabbat/Shabbos (and no, I amn’t entirely consistent about which of those I use).

48. With This Ring by Sarah Kisner

Hm, does my getting frustrated by the characters in a book perhaps say more for the book than I generally assume it does? When I get annoyed at them not taking the obvious step that would solve their problems (like family members actually talking to each other or (in the Jewish novels) asking their Rabbi for advice) is that just them behaving as real people do, much as we shouldn’t? Certainly (as I’m noticing again in Alice Adams, that I’m currently listening to (not this minute, as I couldn’t concentrate on both) by Booth Tarkington), it’s when the protagonists fall down in these basic areas, and/or in their care or attitude towards others, that I find myself disliking the main characters. And perhaps it is me. Perhaps the old adage is right, in that we see the faults in others that we struggle with ourselves (although I think I do see some faults that aren’t mine too).

So not a bad novel, just characters I was neither relating nor aspiring to. I was a bit put off by the title, as well, (as were others I spoke to about the book). It’s largely about a father in trouble in the diamond trade, and a daughter getting used to putting her marriage first, so I can see why they used the phrase, but it jars.

(Ooh look, I did tell you what the book is actually about! I’ve had several verbal comments that I should do that more often on the blog, rather than focussing so much on my own reactions to the book, which often have more to do with the themes than the content. Thoughts, please?)

49. The Disappearing Dowry by Libi Astaire

I really enjoyed this short historical mystery. Set in Regency England, it’s apparently the first in a series, and I’m looking forward to the rest. It seems well researched, without shoving the research down the reader’s throat (always a balance historical novels need to be wary of). I amn’t someone who seeks out mysteries as a genre, but I enjoy them sometimes, when well put together. The book is told in first person narrative by a likeable character (which as above is important to me).

Zahav Press appear to be trying to take small paperbacks into the Jewish market, and if they’re going to be this good I’m all for it! (This book was one I kept to travel with, so I’m pretty sure it’s misplaced on the list chronologically, but nevermind that. It didn’t last long, but was easy to fit into hand luggage.)

50. The Secret of Jewish Femininity by Tehilla Abramov

Well written, clear in its guidance and not-overly cloying in its encouragement. It was highly recommended to me, and I can see why. Definitely a topic to learn with a qualified teacher, however, with this as a textbook, rather than only from the book (and the book says the same).

Repeating the question from above: Would blog readers prefer I say more about the content of the book as a regular thing, rather than focussing on my reaction(s) to it? (Not promising to change, but I’d be interested.)

Inspirations

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

I very specifically didn’t make a fuss over doing (or trying to do) NaBloPoMo yesterday or the day before, and I wasn’t going to today, either, but it is inspiring me, and I want to keep that. Basically, I do want to get all the few books I have read this year referred to, and if it encourages me to read and crochet more as well, then that’s all to the good. Actually, I wanted to do a second post yesterday, but thought I’d leave it for today.

35. Reb Shlomo: The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld by Rabbi Yisroel Besser

This book, of course, was a real inspiration. I was recommended to it by a good friend and mentor who had had regular opportunities to be inspired by R’ Freifeld in person, and we both had the pleasure of finding the book as well written and interesting as one would hope any biography might be (but too few, unfortunately, are). As another reviewer has written, beyond his all round greatness in the Jewish context, it was his care and understanding for and of the people of his time and place that made him stand out. Someone we could all try to emulate, in our own spheres.

36. The Lost Daughter by Esther Heller

A Jewish novel with a vaguely plausible storyline, reasonable-ish reactions. Sorry – I don’t think I disliked it, but not one I’d be racing to reread. Good for once through, if you like the Jewish light mysteries.

And now I should go read more of the Jewish books I’m currently in. Haven’t done any of that yet today.

Book Update

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

I know that at the moment people are probably more interested in a crochet update, but some of these books were read literally weeks ago, and I’m actually enthusiastic about discussing the more recent ones, so on we go:

12. Eldest by Christopher Paolini

In this book both the story and Paolini’s writing skills widen and improve. He brings in several additional points of view and threads to the story, which add interest and excitement during Eragon and Saphira’s long training period. That is important for the ongoing tale, but Paolini was wise enough to recognise that he wouldn’t have been able to spend so long on it, or to go into so much depth with it, if that’s all that had been happening in a large portion of what is supposed to be an adventure story.

I amn’t going to claim that Paolini has matured into a a brilliant author in either this or Brisingr (see below, presuming I catch up that far tonight), but the steady improvement gives me a lot more hope for the promise he shows than Eragon did alone.

13. Explaining Cerebral Palsy by Sarah Levete
14. Explaining Asthma by Angela Royston
15. Explaining Autism by Robert Snedden
16. Explaining Diabetes by Anita Loughrey

This is a fabulous new series for teenagers on a relatively common selection of medical conditions and disabilities. It is intelligent, with accurate information (where I or my co-readers had expertise enough to tell, which was enough to assume similarly for the rest) about the medical impacts, and positive honesty about the social impacts. Unlike some other series on these issues that I have come across, it is aimed just as much at the young person directly or indirectly affected by the condition in question and his or her friends and siblings, as at their young researcher doing a science project.

Many an underinformed adult could do with reading these clear and comprehensive non-othering volumes.

17. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Mostly as above, but I think Paolini could still work on his consciousness of his less major but important characters, and where they’re coming from as people. Too often they are ciphers, and motivation for others rather than the motivated themselves. (Plus one poor woman seems to have been heavily pregnant for two or more solid books, while another is visibly pregnant (to herself and her husband at least) within about a week. So maybe it’s the timings he needs to work on…)

18. Explaining Blindness by Lionel Bender

This covers a variety of visual impairments. I’ll have to find out have they made it – or even better the others – available in any more accessible formats (e.g. large print, Braille, or electronically).

19. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Hm, I assumed I’d reread this last year as well, but apparently not. It’s a comfortable but still intriguing go-back-to, and I think I was in the mood for that at the time (yes, it was weeks ago). It retains the capability to be very thought-provoking even after several readings, as much about the craft of the writing as about the chronologically mixed up lives of Henry and Clare. I thought about going through it sometime, in strict chronological order for either one of the pair, but Niffenegger has obviously put so care into how things are presented to us that I didn’t do that this time.

20. Explaining Down’s Syndrome by Angela Royston
21. Explaining Cystic Fibrosis by Jillian Powell
22. Explaining Deafness by Sarah Levete
23. Explaining Food Allergy by Carol Ballard

More good and useful books. I’m glad I read them all, but they’re easiest to describe as a series.

24. The Youngest Bride by Menucha Chana Levin

A well-written novel (slightly let down by the ending round-up for me, but not badly) set in the Jewish communities of 19th century Russian domains. The period is well explained, as are the emotions of the main character. It’s sweet, but in no way sickly.

25. Maggid Stories for Children: Holiday and Around the Year by Chaviva Krohn Pfeiffer

I started flicking through this, and stopped and read it from cover to cover. The stories are deftly retold from the author’s father’s anthologies for adults, and accompanied by lovely pictures. The layout and text font and size are well chosen for both reading to a young child or group of children, and for a newly confident reader to enjoy alone.

26. Chocolate Liqueur by Sarah Kisner

This was very obviously a magazine serial story, although the smoothing for the novel version has been well done. It isn’t bad, and actually didn’t fall exactly into what I anticipated being the fairytale ending from page 16. However I did wonder why that obvious possibility was never even considered. There are unaddressed class issues in this book. (The addressed ones are made much of, then skimmed over.)

27. A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

Another comfort reread (I couldn’t sleep at all a few nights ago) I’m surprised I didn’t return to last year. As well as not reading much at all so far this year (I was in the 80s, not the 20s, last March) I seem to be challenging myself less. I am reading more for my studies this year, but rarely a whole book through, so that stuff doesn’t show up here, of course…

Anyway, this isn’t a winter book for me, just a sweet one with lots of funny moments. It doesn’t shy away from giving characters very hard backgrounds, although we tend not to be told more of these than we need to understand the character.

28. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

There’s definite influence from the Harry Potter novels here, but instead of the downfall of magical, and thus world society, being threatened in England and Scotland, this time it’s in and around Dublin. I didn’t find it all that culturally Dublin or Ireland, but spotting places was fun. (And I would point out that the Wax Museum and the Municipal Gallery are literally around the corner from each other, if not on the same block. Apparently the Wax Museum is about to move, and thus presumably won’t be as downtrodden as in this book, but that’s how it was in 2007 and for much of the previous decade or two.)

Anyway, this was an enjoyable romp, and made internal sense. Stephanie is a likeable, self-confident (but not arrogant) twelve year old with a definite mind of her own. I would read the sequel if it came my way, I think.

And apparently I’ve caught up! Which is good, but I really should read more…

Inspired again

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

So, four more books for you brings the total for the year so far a little closer to respectability. (I am so far resisting checking where I was up to by this time last year.)

6. I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
Coriander lives between a fairy-tale and a world where fairy-tales seem to have been forbidden, and must find her own place, with the inconstant help of often helpless friends, and the threat of power-hungry authority figures. Coriander tells her own story in seven sections, but never seems to have everything explained to her. I enjoyed the book, but some questions never really got resolved, and there were a few cliches along the way.

7. Set Me Free by Estie Florans

And this one was full of cliches, unfortunately. The writing really wasn’t bad, nor was the story, but I can’t see any excuse for its being 684 pages long, especially since an authorised play-script of the book is advertised at the back, so there must be a shorter version. I really don’t want to be completely negative about the book, but this really needs some stuff cut out of it. And I like long books!

8. The Host by Stephenie Meyer

This is a very American post-Apocalypse novel, that addresses many of the same issues as the Twilight series (but better), and owes a lot to the Star Trek episodes about the symbiont species the Trill. Basically, it’s about accepting that one species is not inherently better than another, and one individual has no more right to life than another. It’s also about making difficult compromises when there is no ideal solution to the problems at hand.

What I found interesting is that we have by the end a similar but actually more severe problem that’s obsessed over in Meyer’s other series – ie where one in a couple is immortal and the other isn’t – but it’s ignored here where there’s no solution of making the mortal party immortal. I haven’t heard any suggestion that there will be a sequel to this, and I’ll be quite happy if there isn’t, as it stands alone well. It might even stand up to a reread, but that won’t be yet, as I have other books to catch up on.

9. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

So, I’m finally catching up with my podcasts, too, and got to the end of Julie’s reading of this Christie classic. I’d actually only ever come across Tommy & Tuppence in cameo roles in a television version of a Poirot story (no idea which one), so it was intriguing to meet them properly. I really should get around to reading more of Christie’s tales at some point, but like I said, there’s a long list to work my way through.

Anyway, as always Julie’s reading is great. As both she and Dr Gemma discussed on their podcasts, she isn’t trying to do the accents, but she gives a great sense of the personality behind each character, which I think is more important. She’s also got the sense of which random English names won’t be pronounced like they’re written, to check them out beforehand. (I actually like how the American character the first time pronounces it “Holey-head”, whereas the British ones always say “Holly-head” – I suppose I’ve been through Holyhead far too many times to even consider it could have been said any other way.)

As for the mystery itself – I really enjoyed it. I guessed who the villain might be reasonably early on, but got distracted away from him a couple of times. (We’re told near the beginning that a man is behind the troubles, so I amn’t giving anything away.) I don’t go for mysteries just because of the genre, but the good ones tend to be fun, even when they’re fantastical.

300!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Well, I’ve made it, and any more books I add to the list are now bonuses. Maybe we can aim for 365 (not a leap year) in 2009. Or perhaps I should just do a bit more work on the masters instead…

I haven’t even told you that Reginald and Holzmichel (the latest Travelling Teddies) have been here a week already, because I can’t show them to you. I’d be less frustrated by this if there were actually something wrong with the camera, and it wasn’t that I’ve still not found the charging cable…

Anyway, this is about the books:

296. Into the Fire by Miriam Walfish

In World War I East End London, a group of Orthodox Jewish boys about to be conscripted decide to join up together as a group of Pals, who could thus stay together and support each other religiously through their training and service. We are reminded that these are just boys by the other plot about an orphaned child in Salonika, who despite the war wants to make his way to England where his only surviving relatives live.

297. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

I was actually disappointed by this classic. One of my main childhood memories of the long car journies to and from my grandparents during the December school holidays is always stopping in the same village, and going to the same craft shop, where they always had a video of Disney’s film of Pinocchio playing, over and over again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it from start to finish, but I must have seen all of the scenes many times. So, I thought it would be good to read the original now. (To be fair, the original is in Italian, and this edition doesn’t even say who their translator was, so it’s possible the adaptation is responsible for some of the faults I’m about to describe. If I’d enjoyed it more, I might try reading one of the English translations on Project Gutenberg, but I amn’t inspired enough to do that now.)

I think the main thing that annoyed me is the lack of continuity. The first example of this I noted (and one of the slightest) is that near the beginning we’re told Pinocchio doesn’t have ears; a few pages later his smile is so wide it reaches his ears, and then a few chapters later he’s being pulled along by his ears. The timeframes mentioned don’t match up either. I suppose a lot of this has to do with Collodi having (according to the Wikipedia link about him above) originally published this as a newspaper serial, and honestly, it reads like an oral saga, where the individual tales all concern the same characters, and interrelate, but were never really meant to all be told together, or be held to each other’s details.

But this may be a rare case of the film being better than the original book, and I don’t plan on seeing the film to check does it live up to my memories!

298. The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars

This book, about the quiet indoor son of two very outdoorsy parents, who is sent to stay on his aunt and uncle’s farm while his parents go on a cycling holiday, and hates it until he comes across a rare black fox, made me think of another childhood memory, but this time a book I read over and over. A Family of Foxes, by Eilís Dillon, first taught me that foxes come in colours other than red and tells of some far more hardy island boys from a place where the phrase “cute as a fox” is only negative (meaning “cunning”, not “sweet”!). In both books the boys attempt to protect the unusual foxes from adult detection and thus slaughter, and have to overcome moral quandaries to do so. I think I still prefer my childhood read, but this one is good too.

299. A World of a Difference by Elisheva Mintzburg

This is a really well-written autobiography (although I believe the names have been changed for privacy), and a very interesting tale. The author describes her life, and how she came to convert to Judaism, with the steps along the way. She explains the steps and qualms along the way, and how this was right for her, with the help and the hindrances she received.

300. King of the Cloud Forests by Michael Morpurgo

And number 300. I had always thought of Morpurgo as a writer of realist fiction, but here he verges onto the fantastic, and perhaps because it isn’t what I had expected from him, I wasn’t as convinced as I might have been. The beginning made me expect one set of issues, but then that really wasn’t what the book ended up being about at all. So not my favourite of his canon, but it won’t put me off reading others.

Frustrated

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Now you see what happens when I get annoyed with myself for not doing stuff: I retreat and do even less! And then I feel worse.

I haven’t sorted out the camera issues, and my laptop’s power supply is out of action (and before anyone suggests getting a new one, it’s completely non-standard and basically hasn’t been made since I got the computer (brand new!)). I’m broke, haven’t been creative or studious or literary or active enough to prevent frustration and keep me happy, and I have to stop letting people (with me high on the list) down.

Should I tell you what I remember about the books? Perhaps achieving something will make me feel better. (I may have to stop suddenly, when the owner of the computer I’m on gets home.)

292. Why Eating Bogeys is Good For You by Mitchell Symons

Silly facts for those who enjoy being slightly disgusted. Where I had background knowledge, that presented seemed accurate.

293. A Dog Called Grk by Joshua Doder

This was quite good, really, and made me think of The Prisoner of Zenda and Graustark (especially since I’d just heard them shortly before), with the imaginary Eastern European country in political turmoil. I’m looking forward to finding the rest of the series sometime. Unfortunately, the more one learns of events around the world, the more one realises how much danger political and other upheaval can put children in. (Shades of The Garbage King here, although the genre is quite different. Grk is a great little dog!

294. Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay

The first in another well-established series it might be worth my while to continue with, although this leans more towards Scarlett in genre terms than Grk. Saffy grows up in an overly self-consciously eccentric artsy family, quite happy until she discovers her name isn’t on the paint chart with Cadmium, Indigo and Rose, then distancing herself once she learns the reason why. Her (rather self-imposed) isolation leads to her finally catching the eye of the girl down the road, who everyone’s been so careful not to stare at that they didn’t realise she wanted to make friends! Somewhat surprisingly (to me) this book ends up spanning several years, with some rather skimmed over for the sake of a realism that might not have been necessary.

295. A Rose Among Thorns by Rochel Schmidt

There’s a lot of good historical research behind this book, but there’s also a lot of reminding yourself that war stories, whether fact or fiction, tend to be the stories of survivors, because that’s how a story ends up being told. It’s gripping.

There are four more already (nearly at the 300 I set as my official goal for this year, if now unlikely to make the 366 I was hoping for), but I have to get off the computer. I’ll tidy up the links etc tomorrow.

Ridiculous Avoidance

Friday, 7 November 2008

Still no camera charger, so I can’t show you the handbag I’m making, or the matching corsage (both from Erika Knight’s Essential Crochet, seeing as my flatmate gave me the book and the yarn – both deep purple! – at the same time. to put on my coat when I go out with it. I’m really quite happy with both, although there is some finishing up to do. I’ve bought lining material for the bag, and a friend has offered to sew it all up, so I basically need to decide what to do about a handle for it, and attach a safety pin to the corsage. I did the large size of the pattern for the latter, with a chunky wook (instead of crochet cotton!) so it will perhaps make more of a statement than I meant it to, but I think the pair of items are going to use the two skeins I was given quite well.

There are no visiting teddies here just at the moment, which gives me a few days to sort out charging the camera…

In the meantime, I have been reading a decent amount, although I’m still a couple of weeks behind the book-per-day aim.

276. Foul Play by Tom Palmer

Football fan and wannabe detective who doesn’t mind skipping school for a good clue to the current mystery, Danny is basically a good kid who squabbles with his older sister but gets on well with his father. He gets a bit too personally involved with the strange events happening at the local football stadium one night, however…

This book is absolutely calculated to appeal to reluctant boy readers, but it’s not bad for all that!

277. Akiva by Rabbi Meir Marcus Lehmann

I said a bit about this book last week, in comparing it to And Rachel Was His Wife. I think the main thing I’d add is that the latter is character driven, while this has imparting information and a point of view as its objective. It’s very good for all that.

278. Artist Trading Cards by Leonie Pujol

Maybe when I finish the Masters I could take up ATCs…

279. Graphic Biographies: Martin Luther King Jr by Gary Jeffrey & Chris Forsey

Any other day [than Wednesday – the rest of this post has taken me awhile] I’d ignore the current Politics (with a big ‘P’ – I don’t think one ever can fully ignore small ‘p’ politics), and focus on the ones discussed in this and the following few books, but I think every (American, but not only) politician who mentions dreams in a speech knows their listeners will think of Martin Luther King Jr (and the ‘American Dream’ too), and I am pretty sure Barack Obama wouldn’t mind that today.

280. Graphic Biographies: Harriet Tubman by Rob Shone & Anita Ganeri

It’s rather longer since Harriet Tubman escaped slavery, and helped others both in the journey and the life after slavery. America has had a long struggle towards full equality of all its communities, as has every country out there. I’d be interested to know of some that have really got there, even if only in law. While the explicit (and legal) inequalities Tubman (and King, and Mandela) fought against are now much diminished and more subtle, in many ways that makes them harder to fix.

281. Graphic Biographies: Nelson Mandela by Rob Shone & Neil Reed

So, after all the politics, the series of books is a good one! The graphic story is well told and drawn, and each book has a couple of standard non-fiction style pages before and after it, to give context. I haven’t read the ones on entertainers, many of whose stories, like Mandela’s, have not come to an end yet.

282. Who Was Mary Seacole? by Paul Harrison

Seacole was a visionary front line nurse. More front-line than Florence Nightingale, and well known in her day.

Still wading through all the books to be discussed in this post by Friday, and today’s Sheldon tickled me. (Although it’s now got me thinking that I have no good excuse for not having finished the Braille Primer yet…)

283. Natural Disasters: Forest Fires by Laura Purdie Salas
284. Blazing Bush and Forest Fires by Louise and Richard Spilsbury

Yes, these two are on the same topic. Both are good, and I can’t decide which one to recommend over the other. The first tends to briefly tell the story of a particular memorable fire in history, and from there give facts, whereas the second gives information and then shows example pictures and tales, so it really depends which approach suits your purpose, taste or child.

285. You Wouldn’t Want To Be A Victorian Miner! by John Malam

Quite true, you wouldn’t, especially as a child! This is a most informative, well done series. It’s also reminded me of a film I saw (on television) as a child, but that I can’t find on IMDB. It was about a small mining village in England (or possibly Wales) where the mine was to be modernised, or closed, or something, and the pit ponies were to be killed rather than bringing them back above ground, I think. The local children get very upset about this, and after their protests get them nowhere they go through one of the old unused mine shafts (?) and kidnap the ponies. Being a children’s film it all ends happily, of course, with the ponies allowed a field to retire into. I can’t remember the title or other details, so if anyone has any ideas, I’d appreciate it.

286. I Wonder Why Volcanoes Blow Their Tops and other questions about natural disasters by Rosie Greenwood

The focus here (which surprised me) is not volcanoes, but natural disasters, but all are interestingly described, with bright clear pictures.

287. Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo

My plan is to gradually read my way through Morpurgo’s canon, because he presents big historical (and other) issues in affecting and enthralling stories that children and adults like. This one is set in a French village on the Spanish border during WWII. The adult men went to fight and many are now prisoners of war, including Jo’s father, so the women, children and older or disabled men are getting on with looking after each other and the sheep without them. Apart from this absence the war has stayed away from the village for three years, until a unit of German soldiers is billeted upon them to guard the border, and Jo discovers there are more impacts than he realised.

288. Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy

So, Scarlett is a very troubled twelve-year old who has just been kicked out of her fifth school since her parents split up three years previously. People do seem to recognise that counselling might help, or have helped, but since they only ever threaten her with it (rather than offering it to her) that isn’t going to happen. After cycling through living with her mother, her grandmother, her uncle and her mother again, this city girl’s latest ‘last chance’ is to be sent to her father, his new wife and stepdaughter in a cottage in rural Ireland, and she doesn’t want to go.

289. My Special Brother by Rena Schiff

Far better than I thought it would be (I have to admit to letting the garish cover put me off over the years), this is the slightly fictionalised story of a 1960s Orthodox Jewish family in New York who buck the expectation that disabled babies will be left at the hospital to go straight into care, and bring their youngest son (who has Downs) home to be a beloved member of the family. Thankfully most of these explicit expectations have now been overcome, and there is ever more provision and support for children and adults with disabilities to receive extensive education and live as productive respected members of the community [although there is a lot more for us all to do] but this family worked their way through the prejudices and ignorance, and then allowed their story to be told to explain things to the rest of us. I’m making it sound very worthy – really it’s a good story too.

290. Just Between Friends by Sara Wiederblank

A definite relationships novel, this has four friends in their mid twenties dealing with how their expectations have either not been met, or have been met but still don’t entirely satisfy. One of those frustrating (but often frustratingly real) tales where the reader wants to just make the characters sit down and talk to their spouses or other loved ones!

291. Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age by Raymond Briggs

Fungus the Bogeyman remains my favourite Briggs protagonist, but this is amusing. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t know a bit about the Stone Age already, as most of the story revolves around the anachronisms within our understanding of it.

Booking Time

Friday, 17 October 2008

I don’t feel like I’m getting much actually done that I’m aiming for these days. I’m pottering along, doing bits and pieces, but nothing seems to get to measurable levels. Perhaps I’m being affected with the malaise I’ve been trying to help others through, of barely meeting already extended assignment due dates. I haven’t done so much for them, and now I’m waiting in fear for my own, rather than ensuring I won’t be late.

So perhaps it will help to remind myself that I have actually read some good books (even if they aren’t the ones my course requires!) from cover to cover. (We’ll forget that I’m two or three weeks behind my aim of one per day this year.)

The first three are all audiobooks (from Librivox) that I listened to while preparing for the Yomim Tovim, while the second three are Jewish books I read during those festivals.

265. High Adventure: A Narrative of Air Fighting in France by James Norman Hall

I would say this book lives up to the enthusiasm expressed by its Librivox reader. Hall was an American volunteer airman in the French forces in World War 1 (he went before the USA became involved) and is a most interesting raconteur of his experiences, from arriving in France without knowing any of the language, to his dodgem style pilot training, to the fears and exhilarations of flying and fighting. I was a little disturbed in the first chapter or two at the reader’s inaccurate pronunciations of the French words and place names that constantly crop up, but quickly realised that this is probably reasonably accurate to how the author would have pronounced them, as he never seems to have become fluent in French, even after a few years in the country. Knitters and crafters who make items for soldiers might like to listen to the first few minutes of chapter 12…

266. Stickeen by John Muir

This is quite a short tale (only three chapters) of the adventures of a dog (Stickeen) and a group of men exploring the far North, one of whom (the narrator) decides to go for a solitary walk on the glaciers one stormy day (no, he doesn’t give a good reason for doing so). Stickeen accompanies him, and they spend a frightening day bonding while leaping cracks in the glacier, trying to get back to the camp they shouldn’t have left! While I don’t think much of the sense of the narrator, he does tell an exciting tale well.

267. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

I read this for the first time as an adult, unlike Little Women and its sequels, or Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. While in some ways it is slightly more formulaic than either of those – the visiting Old-Fashioned Girl (Polly) makes a modern leaning family too interested in fashion and making money reassess and appreciate each other in the first half – in many ways she becomes more modern than they in the second half, with her interest in women’s rights and insistence on financial independence.

From all of these books I feel like Alcott’s ideal woman and girl synthesises the traditional feminine and home-building skills of cooking, crafting and caring with a strong mind and the full use of all of her individual talents both for her own expression and to support herself independently should she so desire and require.

268. Educating Our Daughters, Why? by B. C. Glaberson

The short introduction to this series of interviews with women educating girls in Yiddish in Israel states:

You may not agree with everything they say. In fact, you may disagree strongly with some of their opinions.

While I don’t disagree with their right to educate their daughters in this way (and it’s not Alcott’s way, as above, although it shares that synthesis of practical and academic), and share some of the values (I don’t speak Yiddish, for one) it’s not entirely the system I would be involved in. Definitely thought-provoking, well argued and well written, it does present a spectrum of opinion, showing one of the things I most appreciate in the Jewish education I have seen, that there isn’t just one way that will suit everyone, and that each child should be educated in the way that suits her or him.

269. A Touch of Warmth by Rabbi Yechiel Spero

Rabbi Spero is an inspiring raconteur, who can bring out a moral without drowning you in it.

270. The Winds of Change by Lena Spitzer

East End London of the 1930s, as at any other time, was a place of flux. It’s always been an area for immigrants, and in the 30s a great many of them were Jews escaping the poverty and persecution that was ever increasing in mainland Europe. In coming to a new country, often with nothing except the clothes on their backs, they had to meet the challenges of a new country and a changing world that included fascism not only in power in Germany and elsewhere, but in vocal minority in England, notably Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts. It’s an involving, well-written and researched book, and I heartily recommend it.