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Jill I. Shtulman RSS Feed (Chicago, IL USA)

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Braven Mira Portable Wireless Speaker - Retail Packaging - Gray/Silver/White
Braven Mira Portable Wireless Speaker - Retail Packaging - Gray/Silver/White
Offered by Qwixbuy
Price: $89.93
10 used & new from $89.93

5.0 out of 5 stars Makes A Splash, September 18, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Bluetooth speakers seem to be a dime a dozen. There are plenty on the market so a new one really needs to stake out its own niche. The good news is, this Braven Mira small portable speaker really does!

It’s the smallest Bluetooth speaker I’ve used as yet, yet it’s powerful with crisp highs and very decent bass. When paired with my iPad, it filled my large rec room with glorious sound, far more than the larger, clunky Bluetooth speaker I was already using.

It claims to be water-resistant (as opposed to water-proof), so naturally, I had to put it to the test. I brought it into my bathroom with me, hooked it up on my shower head, and voila! The sound is great. I can definitely imagine using it in the rain, for example, or near a pool, which gives it that versatility edge.

Bold bezel-based buttons made it easy to pair with my iPhone, iPad and iBook – in just seconds -- and it’s simple to increase the volume with plus or minus buttons. Even at half-volume, the sound is fine (and when turned up to full blast, it is a force to be reckoned with!) As a nice added touch, Braven Mira comes with a zippered, water-resistant carrying bag, and there’s a 7” long nylon cord and a hook to hang the speaker.

Is there anything to nitpick? Well, the cover of the USB/audio connection seems a little flimsy. But at this price point? I really AM nitpicking. I think it’s just a wonderful speaker!

A Map of Betrayal: A Novel
A Map of Betrayal: A Novel
by Ha Jin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.11

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wanting It Both Ways, September 15, 2014
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About a third of the way through A Map of Betrayal, Ha Jin writes this about graduate students: “They mistook verbosity for eloquence and ambiguity for beauty, worshipping the evasive and fuzzy while looking down on lucidity and straightforwardness.”

Indeed, Ha Jin himself believes in lucidity and straightforwardness – arguably, to a fault. His latest book chronicles the story of post-war Chinese translator Gary Shang, reportedly based on the real-world Chinese spy, Larry Chin.

Gary Shang straddles two worlds. A loyal Chinese Communist, he is reasonably content in a newly-arranged marriage and in the presumably temporary position he has working for the Americans. When the Americans leave, they ask Gary to go with them – a boon for Gary’s Communist handlers. Gradually, he settles into a double life, married to the narrator (Lilian’s) Irish-American mother, and torn between his love for the country he lives in versus the country he left…and still loves.

It’s all fascinating stuff, but I couldn’t help but feel as if Ha Jin was torn between presenting his readers with a history lecture or focusing on the fictional world he creates. There are many insights into the 1950s and 1960s mileau (including John Foster Dulles’ desire to use a nuke on Red China). And there are many passages like this one on Vietnam: “Some Chinese army hospitals south of Kunming City has been treating wounded Vietcong soldiers. It looked like China was becoming the rear base of North Vienam. If the Chinese continued backing up the Vietcong on such a scale, there’d be no way the Americans could win the war.”

So I come back to my first paragraph: can straightforwardness embrace eloquence and ambiguity? It can, but not always here. In the end, I learned a lot but wasn’t quite able to immerse myself in a fictional world. Like Gary Shang, Ha Jin seemed to want it both ways.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2014 2:50 PM PDT

Diary of the Fall
Diary of the Fall
by Michel Laub
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.72
52 used & new from $4.42

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Guillt, Forgiveness and Redemption, September 12, 2014
This review is from: Diary of the Fall (Hardcover)
Is it possible to hate an Auschwitz survivor? Or worse, to feel indifferent to his sufferings? These are a couple of the questions that are posed in Brazilian writer Michael Laub’s spare and shimmering new book, Diary of the Fall.

The narrator is two generations removed from Auschwitz, a privileged boy who is attending a nearly all-Jewish school. His grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, kept multiple notebooks filled with the most banal and Pollyanna-ish descriptions of his life after leaving the concentration camp…only to end his life while the narrator’s father was at a tender young age. The narrator’s father – in struggling to make sense of this tragedy – inundates his son with persecution tales that shape his thinking.

And then there’s the fall: literally and figuratively. The narrator spearheads a cruel practical joke, severely injuring his non-Jewish classmate Joao who is tossed into the air 13 times during his manhood year and deliberately dropped on the final count.. The narrator reflects, “My father – with his stories about the Holocaust and the Jewish renaissance and the obligation of every Jew in the world to defend himself using whatever means he had – was in some way responsible for Joao, making him the enemy that will always be there before you…”

The narrator, like his grandfather (and his father) writes his own text through this book, which consists of numbered paragraphs and frequent repetition of key events. The questions raised in this book are highly introspective: what role does memory serve, what do we recall and forget, and how do we deal with guilt, forgiveness and redemption.

Translated beautifully by Margaret Jull Costa (and through time, I’ve learned that translation is so important in the appreciation of international literature), this book focuses on three generations affected by the long shadow of Auschwitz: the grandfather, whose memoir is about “how the world should be”, the father, whose own memoir is about “how things really were” and the son, who is struggling with the question, “is human experience really viable.” It’s a fine book. 4.5 stars.

The Children Act
The Children Act
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.00
62 used & new from $10.79

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative And Tightly-Written, September 9, 2014
This review is from: The Children Act (Hardcover)
It is rare that I revisit a review I have already written. Yet a couple of weeks after finishing it, The Children Act has remained in my mind and my initial enthusiasm has been replaced by some lingering doubts. The novel is short, spare and yet rich -- Enduring Love and On Chesil Beach come to mind. It centers on England's 1989 Children Act, which placed the welfare of children as the court's paramount consideration.

Judge Fiona Maye - "My Lady" - has reason to come head-to-head with the Children Act. Near 60, highly regarded in her career, she has had her share of difficult cases and is given one more: a teenager named Adam, who is three months away from the age of consent, has chosen (along with his parents) to forego life-saving blood transfusions because he is a Jehovah's Witness. Ian McEwan explores broader themes than whether blind adherence to a cultish religion is acceptable. The overriding themes are these: if welfare equates to well-being and interests, how is welfare best served in a case like this? Should there be protection against religion? When a judge steps into the grown-up role and makes life-altering decisions, how responsible is she for the aftermath? What accountability does she share? Or, in Ian McEwan's own words, "Without faith, how open and beautiful and terrifying the world must have seemed..."

All of this is fascinating reading. Yet there is a subplot that is explored as well -- and cannot be ignored. Fiona has recently shut down emotionally and physically from her husband of many years after deciding on a case of co-joined twins. He announces that after seven weeks and one day of no sex, he wants to embark on an affair. The case (as most reasonable people would agree) could logically only be decided one way (at stake was whether one twin was sacrificed for the other or whether both should die by leaving it up to a higher power). Yet Fiona is unable to sufficiently rebound. The whole thing seemed contrived...unless there were other underlying issues, that are only alluded to. Moreover, Fiona begins to deplore her childlessness, which sparks a protectiveness with Adam. I know many women who are childless -- some by choice, some by circumstance -- and the vast majority have worked it out by the time they enter middle-age years. Fiona-as-breeder seemed a bit paternalistic. In short, the exploration of Fiona's personal life was not as arresting as the exploration of her professional life.

This is a book that will divide those who believe in blind yet sincerely-held faith and those who believe in the meaning that only free-thinking -- not the supernatural -- can give. It will further divide those who believe the secular court has gone too far in eroding religious rights and those who feel it hasn't gone nearly far enough. It will, however, unite readers who enjoy provocative topics.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 16, 2014 6:10 AM PDT

Accidents of Marriage: A Novel
Accidents of Marriage: A Novel
by Randy Susan Meyers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.81
45 used & new from $15.25

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Psychologically-Asute, Compellingly Readable Book, September 9, 2014
I expected Randy Susan Meyers’ latest book to be a run-of-the-bill novel about how an ordinary family is crippled by the father’s poor anger management control. In other words, a “lesson” book.

Yes, in the very loosest sense, that’s what Accidents of Marriage is about. But I’m pleased to say that it also includes the psychological acuity, beautifully-rendered insights and strong character development that causes it to soar to the top of its genre.

The characters are Maddy and Ben Illaca and their three children: Emma, who has just entered adolescence, her nine-year-old sister Grace, and her seven-year-old brother Caleb. Theirs, in many ways, is an ordinary family: Ben is a true Type A attorney who flairs up when the messiness of family life upends his carefully-plotted days, Maddy is a social worker who excels at her job, and the kids are…well, kids.

But then, during one pressure-packed day, everything changes in an unintended accident. Randy Sue Meyers carefully mines the perspectives of Ben, Maddy, and Emma in the aftermath and she hits every note. None of these characters are black-and-white: they are all authentically developed, people who could live next door to you. The dialogue is pitch-perfect and the arc of the story is organic and real. As a reader, I cared about this family – so much so that I yearned to return to the book when I was away from it. Even secondary characters come alive here. That says a lot about Ms. Meyers as a storyteller.

If there’s any flaw in the book, it’s that after the beginning, Ben is portrayed so empathetically that I couldn’t help wondering if Maddy was being too hard on him. I don’t think that was the author’s intention. Yet, at the same time, I understood Maddy’s feelings and reactions and wanted her to do what was right for her.

Accidents of Marriage will not win any literary awards. But not every book has to. There’s something that’s also valuable in books that tell a good story and make the reader want to turn pages well into the night. Accidents of Marriage is that kind of book.

Enitial Lab Lendon Square Coffee Table, White
Enitial Lab Lendon Square Coffee Table, White
Price: $219.59
3 used & new from $219.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clean Lines, Contemporary, Relatively Easy To Assemble, September 8, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Hip, hip, hooray for this stylish, modern-looking table with its sophisticated flair.

As someone who has ordered furniture from Amazon before, I know that no matter how great the furniture turns out, assembly can often be a nightmare. Not so here. The table was nicely packed with all the components organized well in two boxes. Once I got it out of the large Styrofoam box – which is really heavy – everything went really well.

I’m not all that great at assembling but with a little prompting and help from my husband, we got this put together in a little over half an hour. Part of the credit goes to the well-written instructions and meticulous labeling of each piece.

So how does it look? In a word, great! It’s a very contemporary look so it’s best when used with a sofa or chairs with clean lines. The body is made of a matte white fiber board construction with a top center glass insert, which is sturdy yet susceptible to scratching. The table is new so it’s hard to tell how durable it will be in the long run, but I’m guessing that with prudent usage, it will last.

The dual levels are rather cool; I can place decorative items on the top or even some cans of soda or some plates while watching TV. The bottom can be used for photo books, atlases, or many other items.

The table is great for urban living spaces (apartments, condos and lofts), great rooms, or dens, particularly homes with adults (since toddlers can be rough on a table). For the look and feel of it, the price point is fantastic.

A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention
A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention
by Matt Richtel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.33

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stone-Age Brains With Space-Age Technology, September 7, 2014
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Many of us are absolutely obsessed with staying connected – texting friends regularly throughout the day. Every single day, six billion texts are sent in the United States.

Reggie Shaw, a young clean-cut Mormon teenager, was one of those texters. He did not know that he was quite literally on a collision course with destiny. As he inadvertently wove in and out of the lane, his car smashed into another car containing two family men, rocket scientists on their way to work. They were instantly killed.

This gripping book – one of the most important books I’ve read – highlights the journey of Reggie Shaw from collision to reckoning to redemption. By placing a face on the tragedy, Pulitzer Prize winner Matt Richtel drums home the human costs of texting while controlling a two thousand pound piece of machinery.

Yet A Deadly Wandering is far more than one man’s tale. It is a tale of our digital age gone awry. Our brain evolves at a glacial pace, with part of it operating unconsciously, automatically, driven by sensory stimulus and contextual cues” – a phone ringing or the sound of our name. Yet technology has exploded, overwhelming us with more information than we can handle. Much as we want to, we simply cannot focus 100% on two or more things at once. As a result, driving and texting is like driving impaired…not unlike drunk driving. We simly don’t have the brain capacity.

Matt Richtel writes very accessibly about science: “When the phone rings, it triggers a whole social reward network. And it triggers an orienting response that has been wired into us since hunger-gatherer times. You had to pay attention for survival. If you didn’t attend you got eaten by lions. We’re hardwired that way, no matter what we want to do.”

Each person in this sad and cautionary narrative is treated with empathy. Reggie Shaw is a good kid whose life is turned upside down by the tragedy. The victims, Jim Furaro and Keith O’Dell, were good men who died needlessly, leaving behind loving wives and daughters…and propulsive careers. Terryl Warner, the victim’s advocate, is a true survivor, relentless in her pursuit of justice. And Judge Thomas Willmore, who balances justice with fairness and orders his defendants to read Les Miserables, is surely one of the finest of his profession.

On a personal note: as someone whose business depends on fast response, my cell phone is right next to me when I drive. This is a behavior-changing book that persuasively shows the human cost of distracted driving. Reggie Shaw’s texting cost two lives; his mission to publicize that tragedy may save thousands. As Arthur Miller wrote in Death of a Salesman, “Attention must be paid.”
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 7, 2014 3:52 PM PDT

Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories
Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories
by Paul Theroux
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Make No Bones About It: This is GOOD!, September 3, 2014
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The first thing you should know is that many of these stories have already been published in The New Yorker, the Atlantic, and other esteemed magazine. The second thing is that they're good - deceptively simple, powerful, and in the end, unsettling. In ways, they reminded me of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Paul Theroux introduces an ordinary situation and then takes the reader right over the top with an unexpected darkness, leaving the reader with a moral-of-sorts.

Take the eponymous story, Mr. Bones, for example. On the surface, it's about a cowered husband and father - a shoe salesman - who has become nearly invisible to those around him. He puts on a mask and adapts an attitude for an old-fashioned minstrel show and suddenly becomes intimidating and untouchable. It's not a far stretch to say it's about how we all hide behind our inscrutable masks with hints of the racism and marital problems that pervade society.

Another, Minor Matt, questions what we value the most. In this one, an obscenely wealthy art collector bids on and then slash valuable art work from top artists. The art world complies, knowing that the destruction will jack up the prices of the remaining works. There's Siamese Nights about an American manufacturer who begins an intoxicating affair with a "ladyboy" and learns - to his horror - that the delicate creature he creates in his own mind is not the same as the person who truly possesses assurance, insistence, and certainty. And there's I'm the Meat, You're the Knife, where a writer verbally torments a former English teacher, now helpless and dying, with subtle reminders of his past abuse.

These are tales of revenge, self-recognition and sometimes, redemption --often rooted in the common situations (such as the war against raccoons). Two of the stories are composed of "short-shorts" and a few resort to a formula - the last line provides a stunning insight, leaving the reader slightly stunned. All in all, a very worthy collection and I give it a 4.5.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 9, 2014 8:30 PM PDT

The Furies: A Novel
The Furies: A Novel
by Natalie Haynes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.84
43 used & new from $4.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "If society doesn't punish the criminals, the gods do.", August 28, 2014
This review is from: The Furies: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Here's my conundrum: how do I rate a book that had me eagerly turning pages well into the evening...and yet left me feeling curiously flat by the time I finished?

The Furies has a lot going for it. The first-person narrator, Alex Morris, flees from her former life as an up-and-coming theater director to take on the challenge of teaching dysfunctional kids in Edinburgh after the unfair death of her fiancée.

As a novice teacher, she gravitates toward her oldest class - two boys and three girls, all 15 years old. Her goal is to use drama therapy to help them "to find ways of talking about terrible emotions and difficulties, without focusing on their own lives all the time." And unexpectedly, she begins to succeed. The teens -Ricky, Jono, Carly, Annika, and particularly Mel, an astute and intelligent deaf girl whose diaries punctuate the book - are inspired by the ancient tales of guilt, vengeance and self-discovery.

Ms. Haynes shines with these classroom vignettes, which capture the self-conscious, insecure and often raw nature of troubled teens. The reader, along with the students, will enjoy reconnecting with the Greek tragedies, which take on new life here.

But here's my problem: Ms. Haynes seems to want it both ways. As readers, we know from the first pages that a crime has been committed and that Alex is giving input to her lawyer. Based on the deep seriousness of the study of the Greeks, the reader assumes that the tragedy is of epic proportions. Yet as the book progresses, we also realize that this is a contemplative side and the plot is veering somewhere else.

There are other issues as well: from the start, Alex is torn apart by her fiancée Luke's death, yet I knew next to nothing about Luke (other than his profession) nor did I get a sense of them as a couple. As a result, I never had a visceral sense of what she lost.I also had a hard time believing that Alex - merely 25 years old - had been a promising London theater director and then, woefully unqualified, is given responsibility for troubled kids.

As a result the takeaway lesson began to get a little murky. Was it that "if society doesn't punish the criminals, the gods do?" Or the difficulty of making choices when the only options are bad? Or perhaps, the enduring lessons of the Greek tragedies that hold sway over the years?

This is, indeed, a well-written, often psychologically astute book and I'm glad I read it, even with its perceived flaws.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 1, 2014 5:19 PM PDT

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.57
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Locked up inside the perfection of that circle", August 25, 2014
Haruki Murakami is a word magician. He can skillfully mine the levels of the subconscious and create images that will haunt your dreams. Just as easily, he can dive into the darkest of areas and sometimes create metaphorical conundrums that can provoke lively conversations among his readers.

This is my way of saying that I was prepared for yet another excavation into the surreal. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki does maintain many of Mr. Murakami’s signature flourishes but it is also the most accessible and even linear book he’s written in a long time – perhaps since Norwegian Wood. Once I began it, I couldn’t put it down.

The plot centers on five very intertwined childhood friends; all literally have names that translate to colors that connect to nature. Aka is red pine, Ao is blue sea, Shiro is white root and Kuro is black field. Only Tsukuru is colorless in every sense of the word, yet he is happy being “locked up inside the perfection of that circle.” Early on in the book, all four of his friends ostracize him without explanation, leading him to a profound depression. Now a man of 36, Tsukuru realizes that “you can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”

Tsukuru – which translates into “the builder” – is a builder of railroad stations whose life has derailed and who has become “a refugee from his own life.” Poised at last on the precipice of giving himself emotionally to a woman, he must first give to himself. Inspired by a musical composition by Liszt – the Years of Pilgrimage suite – he recognizes that “one heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds.”

How this all plays out is for the reader to discover. Mr. Murakami wisely – I think – leaves many of his threads unraveled, instead of sewing it all together and handing it to us in a neat little bow. Dispensing this time – at least, for the most part – from the suppressed fantasies, unconscious urges, and disconnects between the unreal and the real, this latest novel is beautifully written with a hypnotic simplicity and with a profundity and grace. Its key themes reminded me of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. It’s bound to appeal not only to diehard Murakami fans like me but also to those who have never had the fortune to read his work.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2014 9:37 AM PDT

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