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Technically, Males Are Dummies and Other Stories
Technically, Males Are Dummies and Other Stories
Price: $0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever tales with some O'Henry-type endings, July 13, 2014
Robert J. Sullivan writes very well and offers his readers clever stories, different than one might expect, and with subtle wit. This is his third novel and I read them all. His first, published in 2010, is “In the Blood.” Sam Dane, a famed Earth crime solver, is summoned to the planet Procrustes to help the planets’ part human and part Zherghi population solve a series of serial murders committed with a lance-type weapon. I found it fascinating to see him learn about the strange Zherghi customs during the wildly passionate mating season and how he uses his police skills in this strange culture where he is unable to distinguish emotional expressions in Zherghi faces.

His second novel, published in 2012, was “This Honest Man,” a second sci-fi detective novel. Like the first, it is about Detective Sam Dane and is engaging and easy to read. The detective aspects of the story are suspenseful. The sci-fi parts do not overwhelm the tale; they are clever and will delight both readers who like sci-fi stories and those who do not. Additionally all of the contacts between the detective and the several women in the tale have an enjoyable humor to them; and there is a surprise ending. Detective Sam Dane is hired by a somewhat ugly but very rich widow. She wants Dane to find out who murdered her handsome husband.

This book contains a dozen short stories, seven of which were previously published in various magazines and on-line sites. The stories are unusual and have almost O’Henry-type endings. “Technically,” for example, focuses on a brilliant man who discovers an application that can change people’s clothes. It is somewhat magical; the clothes are changed as if by a snap of the finger. The man makes a fortune, but he has a fatal flaw. “Trust Me” is about a man who takes part in an experiment where he is notified by notes how to act. The notes float down before his face and give him advice that is based to some extent on what will occur in the future. The man decides to use the power to his own advantage. In “Sherlock Holmes,” we read about how the famed detective was able to solve murders committed by a werewolf, and Sullivan raises an interesting legal and moral question about the murders.


Have a Nice Guilt Trip
Have a Nice Guilt Trip
by Lisa Scottoline
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.80
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5.0 out of 5 stars These are really funny vignettes, July 13, 2014
This review is from: Have a Nice Guilt Trip (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I heard Lisa Scottoline speak about one of her novels about two decades ago before she became a best-selling novelist. In answer to my question about what she wanted to produce, she explained to me that while she was writing crime thrillers, she wanted them to be good literature. I read some of her books after that time and found that she had done what she wanted. Her crime novels had good development of characters along with suspenseful interest-catching plots.

This book is part of a four book series. She and her daughter Francesca offer us short – often just two or three pages – self-deprecating vignettes about daily life usually, but not always about problems that women have, such as clothes and hair. But others are difficulties that each sex has, such as bill paying, dealing with creditors, dating, pets, and mothers. The essays are very funny and reflect a sharp well-focused look at life. They show her excellent writing skill and are delightful.


Bishul Shabbat: Cooking and Warming Food on Shabbat (The Riets Practical Halakhah)
Bishul Shabbat: Cooking and Warming Food on Shabbat (The Riets Practical Halakhah)
by Mordechai Willig
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.46
22 used & new from $25.46

4.0 out of 5 stars A source book for the various opinions on cooking and warming food on Shabbat, July 11, 2014
This book is part of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) series of books designed to extend “the teaching of Torah at the level that is both deep and wide,” accessible to all. The books are written by teachers of RIETS to “present the fundamentals of Jewish Law together with their conceptual underpinnings. The goal is to convey the halakhic rulings together with the exploration of the process that brought about the conclusions.”

The laws of cooking and warming foods on Shabbat are not explicit in the Torah. These are rabbinical rules. However, saying this does not in any way minimize their importance for Judaism today, as I point out in my book “Mysteries of Judaism,” is not Torah Judaism, but Rabbinic Judaism. The process of changing biblical law began with Moses himself as we see when we compare the book of Deuteronomy with the prior biblical books.

Half of this book, 194 pages, is in English, while 285 pages are in Hebrew. The English discussion is divided between laws focusing on cooking and those involving warming dishes on Shabbat. This section contains thirty chapters, nine pages of sources cited, and nine pages of notes/thought by Rabbi Hershel Shachter. There is also an extensive index. The Hebrew section is made up of eleven chapters, a much larger discussion of sources, pages 127-179, as well as seven pages of notes/thought by Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger.

The book’s analysis of the development of the laws is interesting. The author cites the opinions of various sages showing how each viewed a particular law, some rabbis taking a lenient and some a stricter approach. The author generally explains why each did so.


Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living (Icons)
Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living (Icons)
by Paul Collins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.40

5.0 out of 5 stars A concise but very good biography, July 10, 2014
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Collins has succeeded in authoring a very good “brief biography” in 107 pages. The book is very readable and even people who know much about “Eddie,” as his wife and aunt called him, will learn much from Collins’s work.

If anyone had a dark cloud constantly dripping annoying rain on his head, as the Al Capp comic-book figure did, it was Poe. Abraham ibn Ezra, another poor genius, of twelfth century Spain, like Poe a peripatetic wonderer because of poverty, described his life: if he became an umbrella manufacturer, it would not rain, and if an undertaker, people would not die. But as far as we know, ibn Ezra did not cause his calamities as Poe did by his constant imbibing of alcohol. Twice all of his monetary problem would have been resolved by rich widows willing to marry him – and he wanted them – but he messed up by getting drunk. So too after producing a fine artistic poem or short story, he could not follow up because of drink. His middle name Allan was the name of his foster father, a rich man, who could also have given Poe wealth, but again Poe destroyed the chance by drink.

In his mid-twenties, Poe married his thirteen year-old cousin, a good loving marriage, which was probably not consummated for some years. Unfortunately his wife died of tuberculosis after less than a dozen years of marriage. He had no other close relationship other than his aunt who was also poor and depended on him for money. She stood by him until his death.

What was important to Poe was his poetry, but despite several wonderful poems, he is not remembered today primarily for his poetry but for his short stories and especially for developing the first detective novel. He also wrote reviews for various magazines – more than one magazine because he had to move from one to another due to his drinking – but he frequently criticized and even mocked the author; foolishness, because these people could have helped him. He chose one of these men to be the executor of his collective works. The man did a fine job of assembling his writings, but he disparaged Poe as a drunk in the biographical part of the book and more significantly rewrote Poe’s letters to praise himself and to further his own agenda. Despite this, after his death, Poe was recognized throughout the world as a genius and a writer of superb tales.

This is a very good well-written and engrossing biography and readers can learn much about one of America’s most famous writers.


Lionheart
Lionheart
DVD ~ Jean-Claude Van Damme
Price: $9.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars Predictable, but enjoyable and worth seeing, July 10, 2014
This review is from: Lionheart (DVD)
This two and a half decade-old film made when Van Damme was at his prime was predictable throughout; we could anticipate every scene as well as the ending. Furthermore, the acting and events were very similar to those in other Van Damme films. Yet, if you like this kind of film, the action and pathos, it is well-worth watching.

Van Damme's brother calls him for help, but he is in the French Foreign Legion and they do not want to release him. He escapes and is penniless, and discovers that his brother died and his wife and daughter are about to be evicted. His only chance of helping them is to allow a self-centered woman to use him in illegal fighting matches. Needless to say, uninterested in his welfare, she double-crosses him. Meanwhile, the French Foreign Legion is chasing after him.


Torah MiEtzion: Bemidbar
Torah MiEtzion: Bemidbar
by Yeshivat Har Etzion
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.94
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is part of an important series of five books, July 10, 2014
This splendid very enlightening series of five commentaries on the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, reveals the plain meaning of the Torah text rather than presenting synagogue-type sermons. The authors of the forty-six essays in this volume, as well as the essays in the other four volumes of this series, consider the Torah a sacred text revealed by God and feel that people should know what it actually says rather than sermons based rather loosely upon its wording. This series is important because, unfortunately, there are not many books on the Torah that disclose what the Torah is saying.

The very title of this volume is revealing. Most rabbis, those more interested in imaginative Midrashim rather than exposing what the Torah is saying, accept what their teachers said. Their teachers mispronounced the name of this book as “Bamidbar” and Midrash as “medrish.” Despite the ubiquitous mispronunciations, the editors of this volume used the correct term, the actual word that begins this fourth book of the Torah.

The forty-six essays in this work are by fifteen knowledgeable scholars, who write in easily understandable English, including fourteen male rabbis, one female rabbanit, and one female PhD lecturer and author. Rather than focusing on the “lesson” that can be derived from a single words or even a single letter, the methodology of Midrashim, a methodology that overlooks the forest while focusing on a leaf of a tree, they base their examinations on an entire story, episode, or narrative, or in some cases on different books of the Bible, while they search for the meaning and significance of what is being said. They use literary tools to understand the Torah, for the “Torah is literature, divine literature, written not in a special divine language but in the language and style of man.”

Among much else in these essays, the authors discuss and explain the significance of the first-born, levites, and priests in Judaism; why the Torah tells the Israelite census more than once; rounding numbers in the Torah; Moses’s crisis of leadership; the mission of the spies; did Moses act improperly in sending spies to Canaan; what was the difference between Kalev and Joshua; what does the Torah mean when it states that the earth “opened its mouth”; a commentary on Balaam’s prophecies; what happened with the daughters of Tzlofhad; the meaning of the war with Midian; what are the boundaries of Israel; and much else.

In summary, this series of five books is important in that it will help introduce readers to what the Torah is actually saying and will show them how they can read the text.


Torah MiEtzion: Vayikra
Torah MiEtzion: Vayikra
by Har Etzion Yeshiva
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.16
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is an important series of books because they reveal what the Torah actually says, July 10, 2014
This is the third volume in the five volume set of “Torah MiEtzion.” This is a significant set of books that reveal what the Torah is actually stating. It is different than the books that frequently appear, books devoted to sermons, ideas that are not in the Torah itself. As I wrote in my review of the first volume, “Many Jews… have great respect and strong affection for the Torah. Yet, since the early 1800s, Yeshivot, Orthodox schools of Jewish learning, abandoned the teaching of the Torah. They taught only the Talmud and Orthodox rabbis delivered sermons based on imaginative Midrashim, rather than the Torah text itself. The abandonment of Torah study occurred when there were many attacks against the wording of the Torah and when there were allegations that the Tanach, the Bible, contained discrepancies. The rabbis of that time didn’t want to address these attacks. However, for the past forty years, Orthodox Yeshivot, like Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel, have resurrected and revolutionized the study of the Torah.”

Yeshivat Har Etzion is a hesder yeshiva in Israel. A yeshiva is a school dedicated to the study of Judaism. A hesder yeshiva is one that recognizes that its pupils should not only learn but practice Judaism by fulfilling the requirement that every Israeli citizen must serve in the military to defend Israel. Yeshivat Har Etzion is one of the leading institutions of advanced Torah study in the world. It is well-known for its teachers, its commitment to Torah study, love of the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and its ability to engage with and be enriched by the contemporary world.

This Har Etzion book contains forty-four essays by seventeen male rabbis and one female. The authors evaluate the Torah by examining the text, not midrashic interpretations of it, even though Midrashim have sermonic values. The authors’ reasoning is generally logical and based on the belief that the five books of Moses were divine revelations, and it is important to know what the books are saying not sermons based on what is in it.

Among the forty-four essays in this enlightening volume are an analysis of sacrifices and atonement, the mystery of the meal offerings, what actually happened to Aaron’s two sons, the meaning of “impurity,” why white garments were used by the priest on Yom Kippur, why was blood prohibited, why were certain unions prohibited, what is holiness, the laws of the blasphemer, the concluding covenant in Leviticus 26, the value of man, and much more.

In short, while the rabbis of former years chose to ignore biblical problems and ended in ignoring what is in the Torah, the rabbis of Yeshivat Har Etzion see the problems as opportunities to gain deeper and wider understandings of Judaism.


Torah MiEtzion: Shemot
Torah MiEtzion: Shemot
by Yeshivat Har Etzion
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.96
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is an important series that reveals what the Torah actually says, July 10, 2014
This review is from: Torah MiEtzion: Shemot (Hardcover)
This book is part of a significant enlightening five book series in which twenty-three contributors, all male rabbis and one female rabbanit, offer readers a fresh reading of the Torah’s plain meaning, its literal meaning. The editors state that although many think they cannot understand the Torah unless they read commentaries such as Rashi, they are mistaken. “That all modern readers need to stand on the shoulders of giants is a given; to believe that one can stand there without the ability to read the holy text itself is absurd.”

Torah MiEtzion is addressing a severe problem within Judaism as well as other religions, the failure to read what the Torah is actually stating and replacing it instead, in schools and synagogue sermons with imaginative midrashic tales that weren’t composed to elucidate the Torah text, but to teach lessons. Maimonides (1138-1204) wrote in Chelek that people who accept Midrashim as the literal truth are fools, those who reject it entirely because it is not true are also fools; the proper approach is to realize that Midrashim are not true but were composed to teach proper behavior; people need to mine Midrashim for these lessons, and not accept the details of the tales as true.

There is a Midrash, for example, that the biblical Esther was married to Mordecai. This is not stated in the book of Esther. The Midrash “reveals” that while she was a queen and married to the pagan king, she would sneak out of the palace, ritually immerse in a mikvah, and rush to her other husband Mordecai and have sexual relations with him. I heard a rabbi teaching this as a fact. I also heard a prominent rabbi teaching that the tale of Abraham smashing his father’s idols is told in the Torah. It isn’t. This is the problem that this series is addressing, improper misleading teachings. But its approach is positive not polemical. The contributors show what the Torah is actually saying; and what they reveal is far more fascinating than the Esther and Abraham Midrashim.

The authors use a broad methodology. Instead of focusing on midrashic lessons that can be “derived from” single words or isolated sentences, they base their examinations on an entire story, episode, or narrative, or in some cases on different books of the Bible, while they search for the meaning and significance of what is being said. They use literary tools to understand the Torah, for the “Torah is literature, divine literature, written not in a special divine language but in the language and style of man…. Different authors (in this book) use different literary tools, aside from the shared commitment to listening to every word.”

All of the contributors are well-versed in Torah study and what they write is enlightening. Readers will enjoy this series and learn much from it.


Odd Thomas
Odd Thomas
DVD ~ Anton Yelchin
Price: $11.68
57 used & new from $4.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful tale, true to the book, emotional, with "magic realism", July 8, 2014
This review is from: Odd Thomas (DVD)
This will be, I think, an enjoyable film even for people who have not read the seven Odd Thomas novels or who know nothing about “magical realism.” The main character, Odd Thomas, is a young man that people will like.

I read most of Dean Koontz’s books and all seven of his Odd Thomas books as well as his Odd Thomas graphic novels and enjoyed them all. I thought that the film would be disappointing even as the Edgar R. Burroughs film “Princess of Mars,” which I saw earlier this week, was a disappointment. It was not similar to the book and not enjoyable. It depicted both the main character and Mars very unlike what the famed writer Burroughs created. I thought the film was below a grade B film. But this did not happen with Odd Thomas. The film caught the spirit of Koontz’s creation and was true to its plot. Even the actors reflected the book’s character and although Koontz did not write the script the language was his.

Dean Koontz is a best-selling author of over sixty novels. He frequently writes tales with “magical realism,” as he does with Odd Thomas. This genre was used with perfection by many other writers, especially South Americans, and also by Nobel Prize Winners Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970, winner in 1966) and Gabriel Garcia Marques (1927-2014, winner in 1982).

“Magical realism” combines facts with fantasy. An example from one of Agnon’s stories is a man who was left behind accidently by his companions who were sailing on a ship; they saw him floating on a carpet on the ship’s side, not missing the trip and reaching their destination. Another example is seeing a man crossing a bridge; he begins by walking across, but soon he is seen elevated above the ground and floating to the bridge’s end. These fantastic descriptions add a dimension to the tale and can cause readers to think how they want to interpret the account. The events can be taken literally, symbolically, allegorically, the mind-set of the individual, or even as reality viewed from a different perspective for various reasons.

Koontz uses it in his novels in two different ways. In some, the “magic realism” only occurs rarely, during certain episodes, although the fantastic element is important to the development of the plot and the meaning of the story. In others, as in the seven Odd Thomas novels, the fantastic occurs frequently, for the main character, Odd Thomas, has the ability to see dead people, sees them often, and is alerted by them to the many interesting events that occur in the tale.


The City: A Novel
The City: A Novel
by Dean Koontz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.90
80 used & new from $8.81

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful tale with engaging "magical realsim", July 8, 2014
This review is from: The City: A Novel (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Dean Koontz, best-selling author of over sixty novels, frequently writes tales with “magical realism,” as he does here. This genre was used with perfection by many other writers, especially South Americans, and also by Nobel Prize Winners Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970, winner in 1966) and Gabriel Garcia Marques (1927-2014, winner in 1982).

Magical realism combines facts with fantasy. An example from one of Agnon’s stories is a man who was left behind accidently by his companions who were sailing on a ship; they saw him floating on a carpet on the ship’s side, not missing the trip and reaching their destination. Another example is seeing a man crossing a bridge; he begins by walking across, but soon he is seen elevated above the ground and floating to the bridge’s end. These fantastic descriptions add a dimension to the tale and can cause readers to think how they want to interpret the account. The events can be taken literally, symbolically, allegorically, the mind-set of the individual, or even as reality viewed from a different perspective for various reasons.

Koontz uses it in his novels in two different ways. In some, as in this novel, the “magic realism” only occurs rarely, during certain episodes, although the fantastic element is important to the development of the plot and the meaning of the story. In others, as in the seven Odd Thomas novels, the fantastic occurs frequently, for the main character, Odd Thomas, has the ability to see dead people, sees them often, and is alerted by them to the many interesting events that occur in the tale.

In this novel, Jonah Kirk begins to explore his extraordinary musical talent at age eight and later during the 1960s, during the riots in America against the Vietnam War, when some crooked people used the distractions of the disturbances to steal. Jonah is part of a dysfunctional family, dysfunctional because his father is a lying drunk who abandons his family. His mother, her parents, and his neighbors are unusually nice, with one and possibly two exceptions, a beautiful woman who is living temporarily on the sixth floor, who threatens to kill him, and his landlord who said the apartment owners gave her the apartment rent-free to repair the apartment and who is acting suspiciously. Jonah has a strange friend who has many hang-ups and his sister, both of whom he loves as friends; the brother as a co-artist, a saxophonist, who plays with him as he plays the piano.

Jonah is also very friendly with an upstairs neighbor, a Japanese man, much older than he, who was imprisoned with other Japanese when the United States feared that Japanese-Americans may aid the US enemy Japan. This man lost his mother and sister in a fire during the internment. When suspicions arise that the beautiful woman and superintendent and others are involved in nefarious deeds, this man of Japanese descent is able to call on fellow prior internment Japanese who are now in various strategic positions to aid Jonah and later the FBI in discovering what is happening and why.

The magical realism starts at the beginning of the tale when a beautiful woman greets Jonah as he is sitting outside his apartment house. She knows all about him, although they never met. He calls her Pearl, but she tells him that she is “The City” which assumed human form. Jonah is sad because his father refuses to let him play on a piano and Pearl magically causes one to appear at the neighborhood center and Jonah finds that the woman there wants to teach him to play. Pearl reveals to Jonah about a man and a woman who will impact upon his life, both bad people. One is the beautiful woman from the sixth floor. This woman seems able magically to enter his apartment when it is locked and take his picture while he is asleep, as a warning that if he reveals anything about her, including the strange smell coming from her room, she will kill him. He does not tell his mom, but he does tell his Japanese friend, who organizes his Japanese posse.

The cast of characters in this drama are delightful people, people everyone would enjoy knowing and having in their homes, except, of course the few bad people. Readers will enjoy reading about them and see what they do in this engrossing tale.


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