Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker


Author: Helene Wecker
TitleThe Golem and the Jinni
Narrator: George Guidall
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks (2014)
Summary/Review:

This engaging novel is set in the immigrant communities of lower Manhattan circa 1900. A woman made of clay – a golem named Chava – finds herself stranded alone in the Lower East Side after the man who would’ve been her master dies on the passage across the Atlantic.  A jinni named Ahmad is freed from a metal flask after 1000 years of captivity to fin himself at a tinsmith in Little Syria.  Both Chava and Ahmad have to find ways to fit in with their human society, but it’s interesting that Chava, created to be a slave, has trouble adjusting to having free will, while Ahmad, once a powerful king, has to adjust to his more humble circumstances.  That they meet and befriend one another is no surprise, and it’s a relationship that proves mutually beneficial.  In many ways this is an immigrant tale within a magical realism setting.  Eventually, an old antagonist arrives, and the golem and the jinni need to fight to save themselves, which I understand is necessary to create conflict and resolution, but ultimately I enjoy the earlier parts of the novel where they are establishing themselves and finding their place better. There is a host of endearing supporting characters including Rabbi Meyer who recognizes Chava as a golem and takes her under his wing and Boutros Arbeely who forms a partnership with Ahmad in tinsmithing.  Guidall does some incredible voicework bringing all the characters to life in the audiobook.

Recommended booksThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Rating: ****

Book Review: Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park


Author: Linda Sue Park
TitleKeeping Score
Publication Info: New York : Clarion Books, c2008.
Summary/Review: This brilliant children’s novel is set in Brooklyn in the 1950s, the golden age of New York City baseball. Young Maggie, a devoted Dodgers fans, listens to games with the firefighters at the local station, until one day a new guy is listening to a Giants game on the radio.  Despite their conflicting allegiance, Maggie and Jim become friends and he teaches her how to score a baseball game.  Then he is drafted into the ambulance service in the Korean War.  They keep in touch but then Jim suffers a trauma that prevents him from being able to communicate with anyone.

The novel depicts Maggie’s efforts and sacrifices to connect with her friend through baseball and doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war, or the futility of this particular war.  Along the way, Maggie also invents sabermetrics (okay, I’m kidding, but it’s not too far of a stretch).  This is a loving book about friendship and healing.

Recommended books: Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger and Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodw
Rating: *****

Photopost: Boston Harbor at Sunset


Last week, my daughter Kay was invited to go on a Pirate Cruise with her friends. My son Peter didn’t want to go on a pirate ship, but he did want to go on a boat, so we rode the ferry from Long Wharf to Charlestown and back. We even passed the pirate ship, and the surprisingly friendly crew just waved instead of board and pillaging the ferry.

Book Review: Blizzard of the Blue Moon by Mary Pope Osbourne


Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleBlizzard of the Blue Moon   
Publication Info: New York : Random House, c2006.
Summary/Review:

This may be my favorite Magic Tree House book yet.  Jack and Annie are sent to Depression-era New York City to find a unicorn (SPOILER: If you didn’t guess, it’s in the Cloisters museum, although there’s a great diversion where Jack & Annie try to go to the Bronx Zoo).  Jack & Annie take a subway and a cab on their quest as they have to fight against a blizzard and a pair of dark wizards en route to their goal.  What’s great about this book is that the fantasy and adventure elements are blended so well with an honest portrayal of the poverty and desperation of the Depression.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Becoming a Citizen Activist by Nick Licata


AuthorNick Licata
TitleBecoming a Citizen Activist
Publication Info: Seattle, WA : Sasquatch Books, [2016]
Summary/Review:  A Seattle city councilor provides ideas, strategies, and practical advice for how any citizen can effect positive political change in their communities. It includes tips on how to deal with elected officials as well as demonstrating a cause to the public at large.  I read a library copy, but this is such a practical manual it would be handy to have my own copy to refer to.
Favorite Passages:

“Politicians often know what the right thing to do is, but unless there is an organized constituency to put pressure on other public official, they may feel they don’t have enough support to get legislation passed.  The role of a citizen activist is to coax politicians to have the courage to pursue their own beliefs.” – p. 20

“Citizens often find that the biggest obstacle to change is government inertia.  It is difficult to wrestle with, because its reluctance is couched in soft general terms and processes.  But government hesitation will often melt away if opposing parties agree to a common course of action.  This is why it is important to talk to your opponents.  You need to think of how to work with them to overcome a common antagonist; often it is an unresponsive government.” – p. 31

“The lesson for all activists is that you need to have a dual-prong approach to changing the political landscape: being in the streets protesting arouses the public, but afterward quiet organized efforts are needed to get your supporters elected to office so that they can actually change the laws.”

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week for the week ending August 21


Fresh Air – “Creamed, Canned and Frozen

The interview with Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe, authors of A Square Meal, discusses culinary history of the Great Depression when food choices were informed by the science of nutrition and new food production technologies, but not by taste or cooking traditions.  A fascinating topic.

Science Talk – “Grand Canyon Rapids Ride for Evolution Education

Robin Lloyd and Steve Mirsky discuss their boat trip on the Colorado rapids through the Grand Canyon, and now I want to pack up and go to Arizona right now!

99% Invisible – “Photo Credit

So, 99% Invisible is basically a POTW recommendation every week.  This episode is about the photographer Lucia Moholy who documented the architecture and designs of the Bauhaus movement basically keeping the style alive when World War II and the Eastern Bloc prevented access to the original works, but she received little credit for her art and contributions.

Code Switch – “Struggling School, Or Sanctuary?

School closings disproportionately affect black children. This podcast documents the final year at a middle and high school in Wilkinsburg, PA.