Book Review-Radical Equations by Robert Spiller

When I got a notification from Robert Spiller introducing himself and asking me to read and review his book, I was flattered. It never occurred to me that anybody would want me to write about them or their books. Of course I said yes.

Even though his book is not set in Hawaii, nor does it have anything to do with being Jewish, I found a few connections. The main character is a teacher. I used to be a teacher. Even though she might have been a math teacher and I an English teacher, my father was a math teacher in the last years of his life. Connection enough for me. I also really like the title.

I knew I was busy, so I said that I would write the review some time in June.  I had no idea how busy I would be. Due to the advent of summer and my children not being in school which translates to them being in constant need to be driven somewhere, I did not do a whole lot of reading. It is hard to read in the car.

True to my word, I did finish the book and am writing the review. I’m sorry it took so long.

I enjoyed reading Radical Equations by Robert Spiller, when I finally had the time. It has an upbeat, kind of punchy tone and I like the fast pace of the prose.

It is set in Colorado Springs and I wonder if readers from that area feel as connected to his references to the natural beauty of the area as I do when I read books that are set in Hawaii. It certainly made me want to go there and visit.

What I learned while reading this book is that I am not really a big fan of mysteries. That does not mean I didn’t enjoy reading the book, but I found myself more engaged by the characters, than the plot.

I really like Bonnie Pinkwater, the main character. Her impetuous nature moves the action forward as her self-proclaimed “imp of the perverse” leads her to push the envelope as she interacts with the other characters.

What I like best about Ms. Pinkwater is that she is a great teacher. My favorite segments, by far, are set in the classroom. I like her teaching style!

The end of the book is action packed and very exciting. All the dangling pieces of the plot and subtle clues add up very nicely. I thought I had it all figured out and I was definitely surprised that I had missed a few hints and the solution turned out to be much different from what I expected.

Mahalo to Robert Spiller for sharing his book with me.

P.S. I just made the connection that this book is set in Colorado Springs and they are literally under fire right now. I don’t know if that is where Robert Spiller lives, but I will be thinking of him and others and maybe Bonnie as we pray for their relief and safety.

Book Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

Please forgive my absence and interruption of the new weekly blog features so soon after they began. I was away for two wonderful weeks of vacation with my family and embraced the art of relaxation.

We had a great time and I am happy to be back and blogging ahead.

Perhaps it was coincidence when I started a weekly book review that  at the same time my sister was co-hosting a book event in the Kansas City Jewish Community  in memory of my mother Gloria P. Gershun who started the Jewish Book Fair in that area many years ago. But I think not.

Divine intervention? intention? Or maybe it is my mother’s influence ever in our hearts and spirits.

I certainly did not see a connection on the timing when I began, but I do now. Among other things, my mom was a librarian, a children’s librarian. My sisters and I grew up with books as an integral part of our daily lives. All three of us love to read. We had a mini library in our house when we were growing up–these days they call them book shelves!

No wonder my sister and I were doing book stuff at the same time.

Hers was more directly related to my mom, of course. Thus I have decided to share the book that they featured at the event last month: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer.

While it does not have  a Hawaii connection, the author is Jewish (which I did not know until recently) and I LOVED this book as a child. I still have my copy from way back when that my younger girl enjoyed reading a few years ago.

And now I have a copy signed by the author thanks to my sister (and the author). Mahalo.

This is less of a review and more of a recommend. Perhaps my favorite places that the characters Milo and Tock visit are the Doldrums and Dictionopolis, especially the Doldrums. To this day I can feel the images and mood that Juster creates just by the mention of the word Doldrums.

You are never too old to read The Phantom Tollbooth. Perhaps on the 50th anniversary of its debut is a perfect time. And if you want to borrow a copy, if you promise to be very careful with it, I might lend you one of mine.

The blessing of a good book (or two)

A few months ago, Rabbi Schaktman recommended a book to me. Actually, I think he recommended an author and mentioned the title of one of her parenting books. He had recently returned from the Union of Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Biennial Convention where he heard her speak. He said that she was incredibly dynamic.

Always up for some good advice on parenting, I was intrigued and went home to look her up. Her name is Wendy Mogel and after reading about her on the URJ Biennial’s and Amazon’s websites I immediately downloaded both of her books onto my iPad: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus. I then proceeded to devour each of them. I am still savoring the wonderful framework that she presents for raising my Jewish kids.

If I had to choose between the two books as to which is my favorite, I’d  pick: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children. Maybe it is because I read this one first. It introduced me to the concept of raising my kids  from a Jewish perspective and I immediately connected. I teach them about being Jewish, but this is different. It is more about being Jewish in the choices that I make in regards to parenting.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book in which Mogel tells the story of how she embraced her Jewish self and chose to study more about Judaism. I’ve been talking to my husband lately about the idea that we don’t have to wait to go to Temple to be Jewish. We can enjoy our religion and culture in our everyday lives at home. I was thinking that we’d celebrate Shabbat and Havdalah and talk more at the dinner table.Reading this book reaffirmed a lot of choices that I make by instinct and encouraged me to understand my children in new ways.

I had no idea how often I embrace what she calls the “Three cornerstone principles of Jewish living….moderation, celebration and sanctification.” Now that she has named it for me, I am able to practice it even more.

Most of the reviews on Amazon are much better than I could write here. They also affirm that it is good parenting advice whether you are Jewish or not. I will simply close by saying that they are the two best parenting books I have ever read. They have made a huge impact on my choices. They make me feel better about being a parent and being Jewish. I wish I had read them sooner. I’d love to meet Wendy Mogel and it would be totally awesome if she came to Hawaii to speak.

Thanks, Rabbi Schaktman, for the suggestion.

Book of the week: Almost Paradise by Laurie Hanan

I would like to introduce a new feature to this blog: Book of the Week. Every week I will share a book with you that I have enjoyed……or not!

Once an English teacher, always an English teacher.

For my debut post in this category I am choosing Almost Paradise written by my friend and neighbor and local member of the Jewish community (and Kapolei SJS Carpool driver), Laurie Hanan.

It you didn’t get an autographed copy from me for Chanukkah or Christmas or because I had lunch with you recently, then you should order a copy from Amazon and read it right away. If you want an autograph, let me know…I have a few connections.

While the book does not have a lot of Jewish content, it has a few Israeli characters and some references to Hebrew. But that’s not why I like the book. Besides the good story, I like the book because of the local setting. The author (my friend Laurie) captures what it feels like to live in Hawaii without overdoing it. The local flavor is delicious! I guess you could say that the book is not about Hawaii, it is set in Hawaii.

My two favorite parts are the beginning and the end. I liked getting to know the characters. It was hard at first to separate the heroine: Louise Golden from Laurie Hanan. I kept wanting them to be the same person. She uses details from her life to color her characters, but they are not her or her family, just minor reflections of each. Once I was able to separate myself from that, I settled into the story. You probably won’t have that problem unless you know Laurie.

I usually hate the end of books and movies and TV shows.  Mostly I am  disappointed that the story is over and I have to put the characters away. It’s hard to just end, life doesn’t work that way. That did not happen with this book. It was the opposite. The ending was beautiful. I felt like I was there, not reading about it.

Laurie wove  a wonderful portrayal of local lifestyle into a good old-fashioned murder mystery. I keep thinking I might run into Louise Golden one of these days.

I hear Laurie has a new book coming out soon, another Louise Golden mystery. Perfect, now I know what to give people for Chanukkah next year.

You can read more about her characters and her books all on her blog: West of the Equator.