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book reviews

Ape House – by Sara Gruen

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2458340Ape House is a very readable book for many reasons. It is based on a love of animals, and in particular, bonobos chimpanzees. It offers intrigue with the capture of  the bonobos who are very human-like. It is a tale of how science, business, and well-meaning fanatics can collide – to the detriment of both animals and humans. Characters in the book range from straight intellectuals, to hippies and computer geeks. We see ups and downs, esp with the lead character, Isabel Duncan, who has a family-like relationship with the chimps who can communicate with humans. She is a woman whose sole mission in life is to protect and learn from apes. This book is relevant to our times because it cares about life on the planet and how we treat our environment. The book is exciting, illuminating and engaging. Ape House is a fun read, a great story of love between man and animals and love between women and men. It is funny, sad and heart-warming.

The Japanese Lover – By Isabel Allende

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511ZF8U21HL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener and a tender love affair being to blossom.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichmei and his family – like thousands of other Japanese Americans – are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.

Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care workers struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly 70 years.

Sweeping through time and spanning generations and continents, The Japanese Lover explores questions of identity, abandonment, redemption, and the unknowable impact of fate on our lives. Written with the same attention to historical detail and keen understanding of her characters that Isabel Allende has been known for since her landmark first novel The House of he Spirits, The Japanese Lover is a profoundly moving tribute to the constancy of the human heart in a world full of unceasing change.”

Taken from an article on www.isabelallende.com
Submitted by Barbara Brown

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – by Garielle Zevin

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Lev Eisha Book ClubThis is very dear and sweet book for lovers of books.  A.J. Fikry is the quirky owner of a small, independent bookstore on the fictional Alice Island in New England. He is cynical, cranky, and depressed…and not without reason. The recent death of his beloved wife has torn his life apart. As the story develops, Fikry finds love and fatherhood gratifying. His choices in fiction change at the opening of each chapter where he quotes and comments on books he has read. The opening to each chapter becomes softer and less tutorial.

A.J.’s crankiness is balanced by Maya’s youthful intelligence and Amy’s light-hearted charm. The book contains a good cast of eccentric townsfolk in a small community. The various characters are well developed, and we come to love all of them. The young child named Maya is especially precious in her sense of awe and wonder. She grows up in the bookstore. It is a true delight to see the world from her point of view. Amelia is a very independent and devoted bookseller whose life is filled with kindness and eclecticism. The book has a couple of mysteries related to a book that is stolen from Fikry, and the parentage of the little child left in Fikry’s unlocked bookstore. The mixed race element is also present in this book. The child is born of a black mother and a white father. A.J. also has a white mother and an southeast Asian father (Indian).  The story speaks to embracing people of all backgrounds. Through the love of books, the community of Alice Island comes together. This is a very readable and a very endearing book. It also inspires us to want to see and support the return of our neighborhood bookstores.

This book was read and enjoyed by the Lev Eisha Book Club.

Submitted by Lillian Laskin

The Light Between Oceans

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The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans is a multi-layered, tragic story of a lighthouse keeper, his wife and the course of action they took upon discovering a 2-month old baby and a dead man in a rowboat which had washed up on the shore of the island where they lived. Tom and Isabel are decent people; he is a World War I veteran who served honorably and she is a local girl who is young and unworldly. They are very content with their isolated life on Janus Rock except that they are unable to have a child. This baby appears to be the chance they have been waiting for. They rationalize keeping the child as their own, unaware of the terrible consequences for the parent(s) who have lost their child.

The story is set in Australia immediately following World War I. The descriptions of the area, the people, and their lives are beautifully drawn. Stedman skillfully weaves a compelling tale which causes us to ponder the moral and ethical questions and each character’s position. Tom and Isabel, Hannah and her husband, the baby’s grandparents, and the townspeople each seem so real. The author’s use of language draws the reader into the story, making it come alive.

The Lev Eisha Book Club unanimously recommends The Light Between Oceans. It is a story with no easy or pat answers about what to do in difficult situations. As readers, we cared about each character and felt emotionally connected to them. We hope you will enjoy this read.

Submitted by Barbara Brown

The Boys in the Boat – by Daniel James Brown

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boys in the boat This is the true and quite amazing story of the 1936 Olympic crew made up of nine young men from Washington State who beat all comers and won the gold medal in rowing during the summer Olympics in Germany on the even of World War II.  The author recounts the individual and collective stories of the University of Washington young men through first-hand accounts by family members, first-hand observers and the men themselves.  Brown has written a gripping, sometimes unbelievable and always interesting story of their trials and tribulations, their failures and successes.  It is easy to imagine yourself in the boat as they struggle to become a team which will bring pride and prestige to themselves, their school and their country.

Submitted by Barbara Brown

Boston Girl – by Anita Diamant

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Boston-GirlA great question for a woman of any age is “How did you get to be the woman you are today?”  When 85-year-old Addie Baum answers this question posed by her 22-year-old granddaughter, the fascinating response becomes a novel, The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant ( author of the now-classic The Red Tent).

Addie, born in 1900 to Eastern European Jewish immigrants, is a bright and inquisitive teenager when the book begins.  Since she is a bit adventurous and willing to challenge the status quo, Addie’s life takes many turns that her old-world parents do not understand – but that she is sure that her granddaughter will.  Addie’s story is quintessentially that of a first-generation American; it would probably resemble that of many young women whose families emigrated to the U.S. from Asia, Latin America, or just about anywhere else in the last 100 years.

The Boston Girl is a quick read and I recommend it highly.

Submitted by Robin Winston

The Orphan Train – by Cristina Baker Kline

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 Orphan TrainThe Orphan Train by Cristina Baker Kline, speaks to a program led by various Christian church groups at the turn of the twentieth century to place orphaned immigrants in homes as domestic and farm workers. Most of the orphaned children land in New York and are put on trains to the Mid West. The book describes situations which were harsh and exploitative, but focuses in a positive way on two main female characters who are parallels of one another. The lives of 91-year-old Vivian Daly, who was part of the Orphan Train, and 17-year-old Molly Ayer who is a modern kind of orphan, become intertwined and the two women find they have a lot in common. While this is a fictionalized version of what happened in American history, it informs us of a part of our history that is not found in your average American history book. It is well written and the characters are well developed. This book was read and enjoyed by the Lev Eisha Book Club.

Submitted by Lillian Laskin

The Storyteller – by Jodi Picoult

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the-storyteller-395Sage Singer is a baker, a loner, until she befriends an old man who’s particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone’s favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses—and then he confesses his darkest secret – he deserves to die because he had been a Nazi SS guard. And Sage’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. How do you react to evil living next door? Can someone who’s committed truly heinous acts ever atone with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And, if Sage even considers the request, is it revenge…or justice? – From the Jodi Picoult web site.

This book was read and enjoyed by the Lev Eisha Book Club.

The Signature of All Things – by Elizabeth Gilbert

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sig-of-all-thingsFrom the New York Times Book Review  “Gilbert has established herself as a straight-up storyteller who dares us into adventures of worldly discovery, and this novel stands as a winning next act. The Signature of All Things is a bracing homage to the many natures of genius and the inevitable progress of ideas, in a world that reveals its best truths to uncommonly patient minds.”

As a Driven Leaf – by Chaim Potok

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asadrivenleafSet in Roman Palestine, As a Driven Leaf draws readers into the dramatic era of Rabbinic Judaism. Watch the great Talmudic sages at work in the Sanhedrin, eavesdrop on their arguments about theology and Torah, and agonize with them as they contemplate rebellion against an oppressive Roman rule. But Steinberg’s classic novel also transcends its historical setting with its depiction of a timeless, perennial feature of the Jewish experience: the inevitable conflict between the call of tradition and the glamour of the surrounding culture. In his illuminating foreword, specially commissioned for this edition, Chaim Potok stresses the contemporary relevance of As a Driven Leaf: “This novel of ideas and passions. . . retains its ability to enter the heart of pious and seeking Jew alike.”

This book was read and enjoyed by the Lev Eisha Book Club.