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review 2017-08-03 15:23
Review: Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index
Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index - Julie Israel

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This wasn’t necessarily a bad book, I certainly didn’t flat out hate it, it just did nothing for me. I wasn’t’ wowed by the storyline or the characters. The novel tells the story of teen Juniper who is trying to cope with the death of her older sister Camie. Juniper’s parents aren’t really coping well at all, her mom is in a state of zombie like shock, and her dad seems quite passive. All understandable given the circumstances. Juniper copes by writing down the positive things about her day on a series of index cards she keeps hidden.

 

I remember very little about the plot really, nothing about it stuck with me. It felt almost like this was something in some variation or another I have read before. Juniper wasn’t a bad character really. A reasonably nice girl though she did have some anger issues and was a bit sneaky in some respects even though she was trying to help others her actions wound up doing needless emotional damage to other people.

 

She finds a letter her sister wrote to someone addressed as You. No names. The bulk of the novel centers around Juniper trying to work out who You is and how to get the letter to them. As well as dealing with her own actions the night Camie died. The other storyline involves one of Juniper’s index cards going missing which sends her on a hunt to find it which involves going through the school dumpsters. She winds up connecting with a troubled bad boy with a snarky sense of humour who becomes more of a friend than she would have thought possible given the way they seem to antagonise each other at the start of the novel. She meets another cute boy in joining the school Booster club. She makes a few other friends. There’s a mean girl who keeps popping up being nasty.   The search for her index cards leads her to learning some things about other students’ secrets. She tries in her own way to help the more troubled students. Which of course goes wrong at some point.

 

The end was quite touching when she finally figures out how to do a tribute to her sister’s memory.  

 

Not bad, as I said, but just kind of okay. There was nothing remarkable about the story that stood out for me as a reader.  

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text 2017-04-02 08:35
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review 2017-02-05 02:05
The Oil of Israel: Prophecy Being Fulfilled - John Brown

So, I've had this book in a folder of Zion Oil info gathering dust in my room for several years (so many years, I don't remember why I have it) and I decided to finally read through it. It was really boring to me and I didn't understand why they're so convinced they will find oil in Israel. Once I read the other book that came in this folder, it made much more sense to me, so maybe if I read this one again now, my opinion would be different. I would still probably be bored, though, reading about drilling for oil.

I don't think this review is very helpful. Sorry about that. Haha. All I can say is that if you happen to have this same folder of information, read The Great Treasure Hunt first!

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review 2016-09-04 15:02
Family, nation, religion, identity and writing with an inimitable style
Here I Am: A Novel - Jonathan Safran Foer

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin Books UK Hamish Hamilton for offering me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I had not read any of Jonathan Safran Foer before, so I can’t really compare it to his previous work. I’ve checked comments about the novel, as I felt quite overwhelmed when I finished its reading and I wanted to check if I was the only one. The opinions by people who’d read his previous novels varied widely, although ‘ambitious’ is one of the words most often used in all the comment, positive and otherwise. Yes, the novel is ambitious. The story is about the disintegration of an upper-middle-class Jewish-American marriage. Jacob, the main character, writes a TV comedy, is married, with three children, a dog, and relatives both in the United States and in Israel. The story is told mostly from his point of view, although there are fragments also told from other characters’ viewpoint, like his grandfather, his wife, his oldest son… Later in the novel there are also inserts that purport to be news articles or news reports about an earthquake that affects most of the Middle-East and has terrible consequences for the region, resulting in what is referred to in the book as ‘the destruction of Israel’. The attempts at equating the family’s fortunes to that of Israel itself are clear when reading the book, although how successful they are it’s open to the individual reader (for me, the situation provides a good way to test the main character’s beliefs and is a good way of offering the reader a better understanding of him, but how literally we’re supposed to take it is a different matter).

This is not an easy book to read, for a variety of reasons. The quality of the writing is excellent, although I found it difficult sometimes not to get lost as to who is talking in very long dialogues with few tags (but I am aware that different readers feel differently about this). Although there is action in the novel, most of the time this is observed and described through the subjectivity of different characters, making it appear slower than in most books. All the characters are highly intellectual and articulate, even Sam, Jacob’s teenage son who does not want to have a Bar Mitzvah. Often, we see the same events from different points of view in different chapters and the actual time frame of the story might become confused. Towards the end of the novel we discover that the famous TV programme Jacob has been privately working on is, in reality, a retelling of his family’s story, so I wondered if this was a book, within a book… There are also many Yiddish terms used that although have been incorporated into English in the US might not be so familiar to readers in other places (although they might be known from TV, and if reading the electronic version there’s always the dictionary at hand).

The characters are easily identifiable but not necessarily that easy to empathise with and might not have much in common with a large part of the readership. They all try their best, but fail often, find excuses for themselves, give up, and are less than heroic. They also lie and feel sorry for themselves, but at times are truly amazing and insightful. Overall in the book there are funny and witty moments, there are sad moments, and there are moments that made me think. There are images and vignettes I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and reflections I’ll keep thinking about.

There are moments when reading this book that I was gripped by the power of the writing (and yes, at times it reminded me of other writers, like Philip Roth, but perhaps an older version of some of Roth’s earlier novels), and others when I wondered exactly where we were going, but I didn’t mind to be taken along for the ride.

This is not a novel for those who like functional writing that gets out of the way of the story and moves along at a good pace, rather than contemplating itself. But if you enjoy deeply subjective and introspective writing, and in-depth explorations of identity, relationship and what makes us human, I’d recommend it to you.

 

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review 2016-08-08 01:05
This is a book about one of Israel's unsung heroines!
Raquela: A Woman of Israel - Ruth Gruber

Beginning in1929, when Raquela Levy is five years old and the Arabs are rioting in the Old City, and continuing through the next five decades, the book takes the reader through the joys and tragedies of Raquela’s life. It follows her efforts to help her fellow Jews in their continuous struggle to establish their own safe haven, their own homeland, Israel, from which they would never be expelled by any enemy, near or far, again. Raquela is a sabra and a largely unsung heroine in Israel’s story. Sabra is a slang term describing a Jewish person born in Israel as opposed to a Jew from the Diaspora who emigrated there from another place of origin.

It seemed to me that Raquela lived more or less in the shadow of her more successful husbands, supporting their work, even as she did her own, as women did in those early days of the twentieth century, achieving success and advancement largely through their male counterpart’s good graces.  From an early age, she consistently remained dedicated to Jews and the Jewish homeland, putting the needs of the country and its people before her own, from the time before the birth of Israel and then continuing afterwards. That is not to say that she ignored her own feminine desires. She grew up with the same hopes and ideas that all young girls dream of and had many romances of her own. She adored her older first husband, a successful, brilliant doctor and when he died was lucky enough to find another man to love. She married an old friend and associate of theirs, another successful doctor who had recently lost his wife. They, too, had a very happy, compatible and successful marriage.

Raquela was an accomplished nurse and midwife, praised and honored by those with whom she came in contact. She became involved in the development of programs to aid women throughout her career and even continued her first husband’s work after his death, enabled in this effort by another scholar and doctor. As a young nurse, she volunteered to work as a midwife in the DP camps set up by the British for Jewish immigrants. These Jews were caught trying to sneak into what later became Israel. They were just looking for a place to feel safe. It was after WWII and the Holocaust. In Europe, they continued to be persecuted when they tried to return to the homes they had lived in before the time of Adolf Hitler. Other people had moved into their former lives and refused to relinquish what they had stolen.

Raquela described the conditions in the camps. When compared to the camps set up for the Arabs by the United Nations which looked like suburban communities, the set up for the Jews by the British were like slums. Keep in mind, these people had already suffered the indecencies, indignities and horrors of the Holocaust and were now basically back in prison with inadequate medical care or equipment, even for the women who were pregnant. Many died as did their offspring. Their mental health was also ignored and when separated from their husbands and families, their fears of being tortured and slaughtered were once again renewed. Raquela brought her skill and personality to their care and also to others who were ill since doctors were in short supply and often unavailable in these camps.

Although the British had been presented with The Balfour Declaration in a letter written in 1917, expressing support for a Jewish State, they did not honor it. Finally, in 1939, The White Paper was written, calling for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland within the Palestinian Territory. However, it curtailed the ability to establish the homeland with its very strict requirements favoring the Arabs, and it, too, was never formally approved. Arab approval was a requirement for its acceptance and to this day that has never truly come to pass. The Arabs still consistently call for the annihilation of all Jews and refuse to recognize the Jewish homeland.

Repeatedly attacked by Arabs who now refused to accept the 1948 United Nations decision to establish the State of Israel, Arabs who even refused to accept the idea of a partition which would have given them both a safe place to live, the Israelis found themselves ill equipped to fight back. Yet they did, and were successful, in spite of the odds that were hugely against them. Great Britain, America and other countries still harbor anti-Semitism, still covet the oil in the Arab countries, still fear Muslim uprisings, and are still largely unwilling to publicly and loudly acknowledge and provide the Jews with the safe haven they need or the weapons required to help them maintain their security until their backs are against the wall and they have suffered unnecessary casualties. They truly have to answer to a higher standard.

Through the decades, as the Jews have been attacked by Arabs bent on their total destruction, the UN has remained silent or has condemned Israel. When it was believed that the Arabs had the upper hand, the UN did not react or intercede. However, the UN never failed to call for a cease fire and/or a truce when it was proven that the Arabs were losing in their fight against Israel. It seems that little has changed today. If anything, it has gotten worse with the spread of the BDS movement (a movement to boycott Israeli products manufactured in the West Bank), and the abundance of misinformation that is consistently dispersed, even by those in power in the United States, by those in the liberal media and in liberal schools, and often, by some misguided Jews, as well. Israel is still the David to the Goliaths of the world. It is my hope that readers of this book will be inspired to discover the real facts about Jewish history and the establishment of the state of Israel so that they will recognize the negative influence of the Arab countries and Muslim societies toward that effort to find a peaceful solution to the problem.

At this moment, the remarkable author of this book is alive and well at 104 years old. Originally published in 1978, it is a biography that crosses age lines because there is nothing in this book that could be characterized as offensive to either young or older adults. There is no indiscriminate sex or foul language, although there are some descriptions of warfare and the Holocaust that are more explicit. The book is written with an easy to read prose, simply, almost in conversational style. Although billed as an award winning biography, it reads more like historic fiction, especially when the once congenial relationship that existed between the Arabs and the Jews was described briefly through the characters of Aisha, a Muslim woman, and Tova, a Jew, mother of Raquela. According to the book, they actually liked each other and shared their time, conversation and tea together. Wouldn’t it be nice if that situation were to be reconstructed today, everywhere in the Middle East.

 

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