Archive for April, 2014

The Enchanted

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

By Rene Denfeld

The Short Take:

My description of this book will not do it justice. It’s really hard to communicate the impact of a tale about brutal murderers on death row that somehow manages to be wonderfully lyrical and truly uplifting. Denfeld did it. The horror of the characters was balanced by one prisoner’s magical appreciation for books, life, everything.

Why?

Rene Denfeld is primarily a journalist. This is her first novel and it is about as far from dry-eyed journalism as you can get. She actually serves as a death penalty investigator: a person who researches the background of prisoners and their crimes to see if mitigating circumstances could justify commuting their sentences from death to life imprisonment. A woman, identified only as “the Lady,” fills that same role in this novel.

The setting for this novel could not be more brutal — a crumbling prison with corrupt guards, extreme conditions, and pervasive hopelessness. However, Denfeld’s  narrator finds it to be an enchanted place. By looking through his eyes we discover that even for the most depraved, in the worst conditions, the human spirit can take flight in surprising ways.

I loved this book.

A Little Plot:

In this decrepit prison, inmates on death row never leave their cells until that final walk, except for the rare occasions when “the lady” elects to look into their case. A serial killer named York is one of these, however, he doesn’t want her help. He wants to die.

She is watched by another death row inmate, unnamed for most of the book and the story’s narrator. Highly reclusive, he observes and he listens. He does not speak. It is through his “eyes” that we learn about the prison in reality and in his imagination.

The story relates the lady’s investigation, the stories of several inmate, the warden, and the disgraced priest. It is haunted, haunting, and very special.

For more about Rene Denfeld and her work, click here.

What Nora Knew

Monday, April 14th, 2014

By Linda Yellin

The Short Take:

This delightful romantic romp is like tasty glass of lemonade — sweet, tart, and totally refreshing. If you liked Nora Ephron’s movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” you’ll love this book for sure.

Why?

I admit to low expectations because I am not a big romcom fan, but this book is so witty and entertaining that — as the author herself points out — the journey is every bit as enjoyable as the destination.

Of course you pretty much know where the plot is going (just like Ephron’s famed movies). The fun is figuring out just how the heroine, Molly, is going to fumble her way there.

Multiple references to romantic movies (including my personal favorite: “The Thin Man”) and lots of sparkling dialogue make this a truly fun read. It is a book for the ages? Well, did people think Jane Austen’s books were going to be prized some 200 years? Who am I to say? But if you want a fun, diverting read set in modern times this book fills the bill. Even better, it should go down well whether you’re in a happy relationship or are still looking for “the one.”

A Little Plot:

On-line writer Molly is in a comfortable relationship with chiropractor Russell. However, when her boss asks Molly to write an article about romance, a la Nora Ephron, she realizes that this quality seems to be missing from her relationship, and maybe from her emotional make-up.

Then she encounters the wildly popular writer, Cameron Duncan. She considers him egotistical, a shameless ladies man, and totally insincere. So why is she thinking about him at all?

For more about Linda Yellin and her work, visit her (also) entertaining website here.

The Book of Jonah: A Novel

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

By Joshua Max Feldman

The Short Take:

This modern parable inspired by the Biblical Book of Jonah (sort of) was interesting but, ultimately, the two main characters were too hard to like for full enjoyment. It was hard to muster up the appropriate engagement.

Why?

Our two flawed protagonists are Jonah, an overly ambitious lawyer, and Judith,an intensly-driven student. Both live tightly circumscribed lives that separate them emotionally from others. Their perspectives on their existence are drastically changed by certain events — not necessarily changed for the better.

I had only a vague recollection of Jonah and the whale so I picked up the Bible and read the original Book of Jonah  — which is quite short. There’s a common theme of not being able to escape your fate (or what God wants) and some reflective symbolism. Other than that… I obviously was not enough of a Biblical scholar to grasp.

I did want to know what would happen as the story progressed but I never could work up much enthusiasm for either Jonah or Judith. They were both so self-centered that whether they were on top of the world or feeling its weight on their shoulders, it didn’t seem to make much difference. It was always all about themselves.

A Little Plot:

Jonah got handed a legal client that indicates he’ll be made a partner at his firm when a chance encounter with a Hasid turns his world upside-down. He starts having visions of Biblical proportions and his life fractures.

Judith is a gifted student and driven to always be the best at everything she does. She’s in college when tragedy strikes her parents. She decides that everything life seemed to promise her was a lie and begins to simply drift along.

It’s inevitable these two will meet. But, will it make a difference?

 

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