Monthly Archives: May 2014

Four In One Post

Every Picture Tells a Story, Volume One: Bereishis, and Volume Two: Shmos are vividly presented books.

The stories of Torah individuals are illuminated through creative and colorful pictures. Commentary on the Parshah (weekly Torah portion) is highly illuminated, not only through concise prose, but through the interpretation through the use of descriptive pictures.

The books are defining, and valuable resources for readers of any age. Children will be enthralled with the pictures, and glean a greater understanding of Torah. Adults will be pleased, as well.
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Soul Surfing, by Zlata Ehrenstein, is a very thought-provoking book regarding mysticism in Judaism.

Through self-examination of the soul, one can gain insight into our emotions, thoughts on life, and insights into religiosity, especially through meditative aspects. Meditation can clear the soul of negative connotations, and bring rejuvenation and illumination to one’s life.

From Aloneness to Loneliness (and there is a major difference), to teachings on Jewish marriage, along with the powers of intellect, one can garner a more heightened sense of Being and how they fit into the scheme of Jewish life.

The book clearly depicts the mindset necessary for a productive religious life, a Jewish life filled with love, caring, overcoming negativity and accepting the realities within our individual realm. The foundation for a harmonious Jewish life are told with vivid prose, prose for anyone searching for the meaning of life and the meaning of Judaism within their lives.

I highly recommend Soul Surfing, and personally gained much from reading the book, sometimes reading pages more than once or twice.
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What is there not to enjoy while reading and gaining new insight from Saturday Night, Full Moon: Intriguing Stories of Kabbala Sages, Chasidic Masters and Other Jewish Heroes!

I read each story with an open mind, and learned much from them. The Masters and Sages have a lot to tell us, and educate us in regards to Jewish life, mysticism, and Jewish study. The varied stories bring the reader a foundation from which to build upon in their own life. The stories also give us much to ponder and much to question, regarding our own theories and thoughts.

We can learn from the Masters and Sages of old, and learn from the more modern outlook regarding Judaism and religious practice. The book is filled with richness and depth. Within the pages one can read specific topics, read about specific individuals, and read specific verses. It is all there, concise and illuminating within the pages.

Safed, Israel, has long been known as a mystical outpost, with mystical outpourings, daily. Yerachmiel Michael Tillis brings life to the reader through his writing. He writes of mysticism in a way that those who have not read about it can learn the basic philosophies in a clear manner.

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Book Diva Review: Goliath’s Head

goliaths Goliath’s Head, by Alan Fleishman, is a novel that depicts the oppressing life of being Jewish in Russia during the late 19th century and early 20th century, specifically the pogroms of 1905.

Those pogroms were the precursor to the 1917 revolutions, which ended in Communist/Bolshevik control of the country. That the Revolution of 1905 became a defining force in the pogroms, and over 3,000 Jews were killed. They were not necessarily killed by government forces, but by individuals who banded together against them. Hatred was prevalent. Avi was coming of age during one of the most tumultuous times in Russian history.

Avi Schneider is the main character, and at nine-years of age becomes a hated boy, hated by Viktor Askinov. Viktor’s father is influential, and as the son, he constantly lets Avi know that there will not be repercussions for his tormenting and brutal behavior against Avi. He feels he can do, and get away with, anything he chooses to undertake. His father will take care of any situation for him.

Avi’s family and all Jews are constantly under surveillance, and forced to live in the Pale of Settlement. They are able to work, but unable to live within city/town limits. Their daily borders are within the Pale. And, to top it off, the riots and Antisemitism against the Jews were a part of daily life, the fear ever present.

Avi matures, marries, has family. Within that realm, he becomes part of a group who try to stop the stronghold of inhumane antisemites who are trying to overtake the village he lives in. A plan unfolds. Avi must decide what to do. He is basically left with two choices, save himself and his family, or fight for his beliefs, his people, his community.

Fleishman is brilliant with his word-imagery, creating scenes the reader can see before them. Goliath’s Head is a compelling and powerful read, and this reader read it straight through. Once I began it, I couldn’t put it down. The story is much more than historical fiction, history that Fleishman brings to life, masterfully. I highly recommend Goliath’s Head to everyone.

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Review: Lucky Us

luckyus picture Lucky Us, by Amy Bloom, is a thought-provoking novel in many aspects, even through the splashes of humor that created waves of laughter in this reader.

The story line is wonderfully depicted through the two half-sisters, Eva and Iris. They eventually begin a journey across America, from Ohio to California and then to New York City during the 1940s. The somewhat of a farcical story starts at that point in time. Iris is the older of the two, and has visions of becoming a movie star. She is quite efficient at presenting herself to the movie industry world. Eva is more quiet, the type who is along for the ride in the realm of her half-sister’s journey.

I enjoyed the dynamics between the two half-sisters, and how their awkward relationship began, to how it eventually developed. I felt the family dynamics were illuminated quite vividly. Identity is an underlying tone between the sisters, and between some of the other characters.

A man named Francisco befriends Iris during her forays into auditioning and into acting in small roles. He is reliable and becomes attached to the sisters. He becomes a strong force in a familial way.

World War II also becomes part of the story, in Lucky Us, within pages of the last half of the novel. One of the characters is of German descent and is looked upon as less than desirable to the American authorities. He is dealt with in a manner that reflected a basic mode of authoritative hysteria (in my opinion).

America during the 1940s is portrayed quite vividly, from small town America to the big cities in California and New York. The differences in lifestyle between one coast and the other is well-defined. Cultural diversity, morality and social mores are studied within the story.

I enjoyed the novel’s reference to family, and how blood bonds are not necessarily the strong ones that define a family. A family can consist of those we choose to call family members. Often, those bonds can be more of a foundation than the individuals we inherit through ancestral lineage. Those interactions and strengths can last indefinitely and be unconditional in expectations.

The novel jumps back and forth between individuals, correspondence both sent and received, and twists and turns in the lives of the sisters. It vividly depicts the 1940s era of time, and the varied expressions of daily living, including social mores and stigmas.

The book cover is very symbolic. The zebra is an animal representative of balance, strength and individuality. It sees things without filters or flaws, in other words, black and white. The lion is representative of royalty (“king of beasts”), power, courage, authority and so much more. Symbolism is strong within the pages, and the animals depicted on the cover accurately define varied characters.

Amy Bloom’s writing is beautiful, brilliant and often breathtaking. She articulates with precision, yet the precision does not overrule the stunning prose.


Lucky Us
will be released July 29, 2014. I received Lucky Us as a complimentary Advanced Review Copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program, and from Random House. Thank you very much.

I enjoyed this novel! I recommend Lucky Us.

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Review: Falling Out of Time

fallingFalling Out of Time, by David Grossman, is a novel that had me engrossed from the first page to the last, and then back again, throughout some of the pages.

It is written in a unique format, part poetry, part theater play and part independent prose. This works, because the individual formats vividly illuminates the characters, their thoughts and their feelings regarding death. Oh, the sorrow, the sadness and excruciating pain of it all, so many individuals banding together to journey towards their children, children who have died. The anguish, the need to reunite, the after-effects and affects of death are portrayed with insight, empathy and the continual mourning process of not letting go.

The expressions of grief and mourning are compelling, profound and caused this reader to reread specific pages. The writing is incredibly overpowering and intense, yet filled with beautiful prose that connects each poetic articulation so brilliantly. I can not say enough.

The never-ending/eternal fragments left behind to those who remain are depicted with masterful word-imagery. The poetic prose is absolutely stunning, poignant, heart-wrenching. As a parent, I can not imagine one of my children leaving this earth before me. It is an unspeakable thought. And, that is what the title implies: The word “death” is too agonizing to utter, as if saying the word finalizes the death, making the reality a starkness. The main character, formerly known as “Man”, now, “Walking Man”, chooses to define death as a person who has “fallen out of time

He, known as “Man”, and his wife are trying to begin to communicate about their son’s death, five years after the fact. Their relationship since then has been one of non-communicative status. His death has determined how they have reacted, or not verbally reacted, over these past few years…years that seem like an eternity.

They try to bring him back to life through memories, and that proves to be more painful than if they remained silent. He becomes “Walking Man” and decides to leave the house and go “there”. He wants to see his son again. His wife reminds him that there is no “there”, but only a “here”. He does not agree. He walks, walks and walks some more, circling around the town, and along the way he gathers more people who have lost children, and they band together in commitment to find a way to go “there” to reunite with their lost loved ones.

From the “Town Crier”, the “Centaur”, the “Cobbler”, the “Midwife” and others, they are all on a mission, seeking their departed child. They all verbalize their loss, remembering moments past, remembering the good with the bad. Some regret their actions while their child was living, some linger in a block wall state, unable to move forward. And, they all are trying to find the wall in which they can somehow cross through to see their children. Their journey and struggle is heart-wrenching. Their sorrow reverberates throughout the pages, like an unending funeral march, an unending and silent howl streaming through the time continuum.

The majority of the lines of poetic prose gripped me, left me with lumps in my throat. Here is a sample of Grossman’s prose..a few (of so many) lines that moved me to tears.

In August he died, and when that month was over, I wondered 

How can I move 

to September 
While he remains 

in August?

I have not lost a child, but lost my father when I was a teenager, and the last five words (in the example below) resonate with me, the void of loss still here, over five decades later.

He is dead,
he is dead. But
his death,

his death
is not
dead.

Such boldness in those last five words, such stark reality. And, that is the foundation of the novel. The book is a metaphor for death, death in the sense of all of the lingering aspects of loss and accepting the loss and journeying forward.

I won’t go into more detail regarding the story. You must read it yourself in order to gain the full understanding of the masterful and brilliant undertaking that Grossman has taken in, Falling Out of Time.

I could expound on my review so much more, but I feel the novel needs to be read for the full impact of its brilliance.

I want to applaud David Grossman, but the word “applaud” is too simplistic, so I will congratulate him, and especially thank him, give him a virtual handshake and hug for creating such a masterpiece. I can imagine countless others reading this and gaining a sense of hope and inspiration regarding loss, love, and moving towards finality and acceptance, acceptance with unending and loving memories.

Update: I am sorry for the update. I forgot to mention that Falling out of Time was first published in Israel, five years after David Grossman’s son, Uri, was killed during the Second Israel-Lebanon War. Does that matter in the scheme of things? I don’t really know, other than the fact that the intense emotional content must stem from some place deep within that many individuals have never accessed.

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Book Diva Review: The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

the impossible The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer is an interesting take on life and how it is lived throughout the realms of time.

Although the novel has the appearance of reincarnation or alternate lives, for me, it wasn’t the case, as the main character, Greta Wells, went back and forth in time, beginning in 1985. Time travel is prevalent within the pages. The current year of 1985 plays a significant role, as Greta is suffering from deep bouts of depression. She wants to fix her present life in order to make it more meaningful. Everything has been tried on her to correct the extreme depression situation. The last resort is electroshock therapy, which is to be given twice a week in several sessions.

These sessions find her waking up in two other eras in time…1918 and 1941. In each time frame she is given electroshock therapy, due to her depression. That factor does not disappear in each realm. Her depression is a way of life for her in every level of life.

When she awakes from her first round of the therapy she is in the same room as she was in 1985. But, all of the details have been changed to suit the era of 1918. All the important people in her life are still in her early 20th century life. Some of their circumstances have changed, but in reality, their emotional and physical context remains the same. Her twin brother, Felix, who died from AIDS in 1985, is engaged to be married in 1918. Engaged, yes, but still there are underlying feelings of homosexuality. Her lover, Nathan, from 1985, is her husband, and off to war. She realizes she no longer wants to be married.

When she wakes up to find herself in 1941, she is married with a child. She is a devoted mother, a mother who soon learns her husband is having an affair. Her brother, Felix is still dealing with issues of homosexuality. The time period does not accept this type of relationship, and so she tries to help him through it.

And, so it goes, on and on. Each moment in time is infused with the difficulties of daily living. Difficulties that are the norm for that age. There is no way to change those situations. There doesn’t seem to be a way to change her life from one lifetime to the next.

Within each era there is either a war, or a life-threatening disease to contend with. That hold true in today’s world, also. When Greta travels back in time, she does not do so in order to change the world, even though she knows what will occur in the future. She ends up time traveling for the sake of it, and to experience the variations of time.

Through that mode of thinking, she will be confronted with a major decision. Should she complete her therapy, begun in 1985, and return to that time period, or should she stay in another era.

Life isn’t always what we want out of it, and we often find ourselves in circumstances beyond our control. If we had the opportunity to change one fraction of those circumstances, would we? Would we opt to live in another realm, believing we could find happiness there (not knowing the final outcome of our decision)? And, what about acceptance, would we be as accepting in one world as we are in the present world? Would we be accepted in a different world?

Love and war, forgiveness and identity, are well articulated within the pages. Scenarios of daily life from the previous eras are well depicted, and the historical aspects are well- defined. If one attempted to change their personal position or circumstances, it would not change the world as a whole, or even their own perception of Self and identity. In the end, Greer illuminates that not much has changed from one era to the next as far as social mores and stigmas.

If you like to read about time travel, and if you like to suspend your belief in reality, then The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is a book you might enjoy.

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