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My Mistake
My Mistake
by Daniel Menaker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.67
63 used & new from $7.91

5.0 out of 5 stars "All things fall and are built again.", April 17, 2014
This review is from: My Mistake (Hardcover)
Seventy-two year-old Daniel Menaker's "My Mistake" is a series of vignettes in which the author recounts, with mixed feelings, his experiences from childhood until the present. Regret and guilt are partially offset by satisfaction and gratitude for the good things that have come his way. Menaker, whose forebears on his father's side were Orthodox Jewish scholars, was raised by atheists who embraced socialism and empathized with the plight of working men and women.

What distinguishes Menaker's account are his intriguing anecdotes, concise but striking character studies, and cogent analysis of the changes that have transformed the publishing industry. Menaker regales us with stories about his offbeat family; relives the shock and grief that brought him low after a tragic accident culminated in tragedy; and describes his years as a fact checker and editor at of the New Yorker. In addition, Menaker has endured physical and psychological hardships that he believes have made him patient, stronger, and more appreciative of his many blessings--a loving wife, two wonderful children, and a fulfilling profession.

Although Dan Menaker may not be a household name, he has written six books and edited the works of such luminaries as Elizabeth Strout, Michael Cunningham, Alice Munro, and Michael Chabon. Liberally laced with sentence fragments and phrases, "My Mistake" is informal, rambling at times, clever, candid, and humorous. Menaker often refers to a person or incident, drops it, then at a later point reveals its significance. He offers gossipy tidbits that readers will relish. Menaker is a student of the art of written expression and also of human nature. In addition, he is his own harshest critic, and has worked hard to forgive himself for what he considers his many missteps. He implies that thinking about the past has helped him attain a deeper understanding of himself and others and has given him a greater tolerance for life's imperfections.


RedDevil 4
RedDevil 4
by Eric C. Leuthardt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.70
67 used & new from $8.33

5.0 out of 5 stars "Crimes just aren't the same anymore.", April 13, 2014
This review is from: RedDevil 4 (Hardcover)
The year is 2053. In St. Louis, Missouri, a neurosurgeon and scientist, Dr. Hagan Maerici, is trying to design "neuromorphic artificial intelligence." If he succeeds, his creation will have the ability to think abstractly and independently. The doctor is so obsessed with his project that he neglects his wife, Anna, who is fed up with her husband's lengthy absences. Thirty years earlier, neuroprosthetics forever changed how people interact. Now, ninety percent of the human population communicates and obtains information without cell phones or computers, thanks to the implantation of electronic devices in people's brains. In this brave new world, man's control over his destiny appears limitless.

However, Eric Leuthardt, in his dystopian thriller, "Reddevil 4," reveals the other side of the equation. What happens when we unwittingly unleash destructive forces that we cannot contain? The author raises this frightening question with the help of his varied and colorful cast of characters, including an evangelist whose arrogance and weakness lead him astray; a smug and venal drug dealer; and a billionaire whose vast wealth cannot buy him the love of his tormented, disfigured, and isolated son. A series of brutal murders brings Maerici together with a pair of detectives, a veteran cop named Edwin Krantz, and his younger partner, Tara Dezner, a tough and tenacious former Navy Seal.

We are horrified when Dr. Maerici, Krantz, and Dezner confront a powerful and seemingly invulnerable adversary. This is a violent and gruesome story that is loaded with scientific and medical jargon as well as passages of dark humor. However, even if we do not comprehend every nuance of the complex plot, it is entertaining to watch the good guys trying to work out what they are up against and how to counteract it. Fortunately, the doctor's invention is also his secret weapon: a virtual "boy" named Omid, whom Maerici hopes will become self-aware and attain "synthetic consciousness." The bottom line of this highly original and imaginative tale is that when we tamper with Mother Nature and put too much faith in technology, we do so at our peril.


Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir
Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir
by Penelope Lively
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.97
59 used & new from $14.47

4.0 out of 5 stars "Old age is the new demographic.", April 10, 2014
Penelope Lively tells us, "Today, people in their sixties seem--not young, just nicely mature." In "Dancing Fish and Ammonites," the eighty-year-old novelist discusses not just old age, but also her childhood in Egypt; her late husband, Jack, to whom she was married for forty-one years; her passion for nature; the ways in which time expands and contracts; how society treats its elderly men and women; and the power of certain authors and objects to evoke powerful feelings. Lively describes some of the interesting people she has met, places she has visited, and works of fiction and non-fiction that made an indelible impression on her. She also addresses memory, history, politics, feminism, and the art of writing.

People in their "golden years" will relate to Lively's remarks about the physical infirmities that make aging, at the very least, inconvenient--thanks to "various indignities and disabilities" that often afflict seniors. Ms. Lively may have her share of physical problems, but her mental faculties and ability to express herself remain sharp. She appreciates everything: the beautiful sight of plants in bloom; a baby's smile; the familiarity of a favorite writer's words; conversations with cherished friends; and fond thoughts of Jack, her children, and grandchildren. All of these become more precious with each passing year.

We treasure Penelope Lively's wisdom all the more because she is so eloquent and lyrical; she quotes prose and poetry that add depth and weight to her ideas. "Dancing Fish" is witty, gently humorous, and intimate (yet never overly so). Lively retains her voracious appetite for reading, which, she says, "frees me from the closet of my own mind." From books, she has drawn inspiration as well as a wide-ranging knowledge of the many subjects that interest her. Alas, "Dancing Fish and Ammonites" is not without its flaws. At times, Ms. Lively repeats herself and she occasionally goes off on tangents that add little to the narrative. Overall, however, Lively's devoted fans will be heartened to know that this talented woman remains sharp, observant, and extremely skilled at turning a phrase.


The Good Doctor: A Father, a Son, and the Evolution of Medical Ethics
The Good Doctor: A Father, a Son, and the Evolution of Medical Ethics
by Barron H. Lerner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.41

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Prior to the era of bioethics, physicians had often overstepped their power....", April 7, 2014
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Barron H. Lerner's "The Good Doctor" is the author's account of his ambivalent relationship with his father, Phillip, a dedicated physician, teacher, and infectious disease specialist. In this poignant and candid memoir, Lerner traces his family's roots to Poland. Most of Barron's ancestors came to America before the Holocaust, and once here, they found jobs, established homes, raised families, and worked hard so that their children could succeed in life. Phillip, who was born in Cleveland in 1932, became a brilliant and dedicated physician. He spent countless hours on call, and was usually available whenever a patient or ciolleague sought his advice.

Dr. Phillip Lerner even provided treatment to his sick relatives. Barron, a highly respected doctor himself, as well as a medical historian and ethicist, insists that it is a conflict of interest for a practitioner to treat his loved ones. Nevertheless, Barron's dad thought that he knew best. He was a proponent of "paternalistic" medicine, asserting that it is acceptable for doctors to care for their grandparents, aunts, and cousins. Under certain circumstances, he withheld information from patients about their prognosis and, furthermore, he considered it his duty to help terminally ill patients pass away peacefully.

This is a colorful portrait of an extended family and a close look at the career of a healer who enjoyed what he did until "cookbook medicine," high-tech tests, managed care, and advance medical directives became common. Barron and his father differed on a number of issues. For example, the younger Dr. Lerner is a champion of informed consent and insists that, whenever possible, physicians should confer with their patients and/or next of kin about their medical options.

"The Good Doctor" is a thought-provoking and moving work of non-fiction. Although Dr. Lerner is sometimes critical of his father, he acknowledges his dad's many strong points. Phillip was compassionate and a talented diagnostician. In addition, he showed foresight in recognizing the importance of administering the right antibiotics in carefully managed doses. Another point in the senior doctor's favor was his emotional connection with the men and women who depended on him. Barron knows that Phillip did whatever he could to help his patients, many of whom credit him with saving their lives. For Dr. Phillip Lerner,, the practice of medicine was personal. When he and other like-minded physicians passed away, something very precious died with them.


Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World
Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World
by Mark Miodownik
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.26

5.0 out of 5 stars "The material world is not just a display of our technology and culture; it is part of us.", April 6, 2014
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In 1985, a stranger stabbed a schoolboy named Mark Miodownik in the back with a razor blade, inflicting a stab wound measuring thirteen centimeters. What the victim took away from this experience, besides the pain and an unsightly scar, was a feeling of awe that such a small weapon, "not much bigger than a postage stamp," could penetrate five layers of clothing. "The birth of my obsession with materials," Miodownik states, began that day. Mark started to ask questions about what makes substances behave the way they do and he has never stopped looking for answers. He studied at Oxford, became an engineer, and is now a professor of materials science at University College London.

In his fact-filled and entertaining book, "Stuff Matters," Miodownik tells us about the history, composition, and benefits of specific materials, some of which are commonly used but not fully understood by the average individual. Miodownik provides intriguing information that will propel readers to look at a drinking glass, stainless steel spoon, chocolate bar, book, plastic bag, concrete building, diamond ring, and even a pencil with new eyes. From the Stone Age to the present, materials have defined periods of human existence. During the Victorian era, steel was king. Silicon defined the twentieth century and helped create the information revolution that makes our high-tech lives possible. Miodownik also discusses how we interact with materials at a physical and emotional level. Are the things that we build, ingest, and wear merely practical or do they appeal to one or more of our five senses? Medically, we rely on materials more than ever before. Anyone who has recently had a hip replacement, undergone reconstructive plastic surgery, or been fitted with a prosthetic body part has profited from the amazing substances and procedures developed by creative and highly skilled scientists and physicians.

Miodownik's style is accessible, informal, and humorous; his curiosity and enthusiasm are infectious. He includes his own drawings, lending the narrative a more personal touch. Non-scientists may not grasp the passages dealing with atoms, electrons, carbon bonds, and quantum mechanics; nor will they necessarily comprehend why substances behave differently, depending on their composition, age, as well as their exposure to light, pressure, and high or low temperatures. Still, even people who flunked physics and chemistry will realize that some of the things we take for granted are truly incredible. Professor Miodownik urges us to appreciate the beauty, diversity, utility, and sophistication of the materials that make our world a more hospitable and habitable place. In addition, he introduces us to such exotic items as astrogel and graphene, each of which possesses unique properties. Let us hope that researchers' efforts and ingenuity will be devoted not just to making our everyday lives more enjoyable and convenient, but also to preserving our planet for future generations.


Ruin Falls: A Novel
Ruin Falls: A Novel
by Jenny Milchman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.45

4.0 out of 5 stars "Nothing really seems to add up here, does it?", April 4, 2014
This review is from: Ruin Falls: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Elizabeth (Liz) Daniels packs up her two kids, eight-year-old Reid and six-year-old Ally and, along with her husband, Paul, sets out to pay her in-laws a visit. For years, Paul and his parents have barely spoken to one another. Perhaps this trip to Junction Bridge, where Paul's mother and father live, will be the first step in healing their broken relationship. Unfortunately, what starts out as a normal family vacation turns into a waking nightmare.

"Ruin Falls," by Jenny Milchman, is a tale of domestic angst in which Liz takes center stage. Other men and women, whose connection to Liz is initially unclear, are also brought into the story: They include an unwed mother-to-be; a hot-tempered father who decides to become his son's sole caretaker; and a woman fleeing from her overbearing husband. When Liz's world falls apart, she desperately turns to old friends--Jill, her closest buddy, and Tim, the Chief of Police in the Daniels' rural town of Wedeskyull, New York. This is a tree-laden and rustic locale in the Adirondacks with areas of impenetrable wilderness. When a number of puzzling facts come to light, Liz decides to dig into the past, frantically searching for answers that prove elusive.

The opening chapters of "Ruin Falls" are extremely engrossing, thanks to Milchman's absorbing dialogue, intriguing plot, and evocative descriptive writing. We feel the oppressive heat and humidity that drain Liz and her family's energy and we empathize with the panic-stricken heroine when her life starts to implode. In addition, readers will identify with the novel's victims, who are lied to and belittled at every turn. The book's midsection is a bit sluggish, however, and some of the female characters are so gullible that we long to shake them out of their naiveté. Fortunately, "Ruin Falls" is redeemed by a thrill-packed ending, in which Liz belatedly learns how dangerous it is to surrender control of one's life to others, no matter how capable, authoritative, and charismatic they may be.


Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers, and Mysteries during the London Blitz
Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers, and Mysteries during the London Blitz
by Molly Lefebure
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.20
46 used & new from $4.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There are people who say corpses don't talk, but indeed they do.", April 2, 2014
Why would a young Englishwoman during the 1940s agree to become a forensic pathologist's private secretary? For Molly Lefebure, it was a gratifying and absorbing occupation. Molly had been a London newspaper reporter before she changed jobs. She craved excitement, was not afraid of morgues, and enjoyed traveling with her boss and taking notes for him. Her memoir, "Evidence for the Crown," was published in 1955. In it, she recounts her five years with Dr. Simpson, a respected professional who performed quite a few postmortem examinations during his stellar career. "Murder on the Home Front" is an edited re-release of Lefebure's earlier work of non-fiction.

Although the war years were harrowing for all Londoners--Hitler's pilots rained fearsome bombs and rockets on London--even under the most trying conditions, Molly comported herself in a calm and businesslike manner. She worked long hours and witnessed the most gruesome sights and smells imaginable, yet did what was required of her competently and conscientiously. Both Simpson and Lefebure had to be physically and mentally strong, since they were always on the run--to court, the Old Bailey, Scotland Yard, prisons, hospitals, asylums, and even the suburbs of London. Some of the bodies that Dr. Simpson autopsied were in a very bad way--burned, bludgeoned, stabbed, and/or decomposed beyond recognition. The detectives, with the pathologist's help, did their utmost to find out what happened to these unfortunate victims and, when possible, brought the perpetrators to justice.

"Murder on the Home Front" is a beautifully descriptive memoir that recounts some of Dr. Simpson's most memorable cases of "murders, suicides, manslaughters, infanticides, accidents, [and] criminal abortions." This extraordinary book is gritty, funny, and down-to-earth. Lefebure's prose is engaging, as if she were sitting on a couch chatting with us in our living rooms. In his foreword, Dr. Simpson praises his employee's "interest in people and things, in humor and pathos, in crime and its personalities...." Lefebure is a skilled and enthusiastic writer who captures the essence of everyone she meets. She received no special treatment because of her gender, bantered easily with her male colleagues, and rarely complained about the rough conditions she endured. Wherever she went--tenement or mansion, ditch or riverside, pub or squalid cottage--she dutifully put evidence samples in envelopes and whipped out her notepad or typewriter to create a record of the proceedings. This gifted writer's vivid prose invites us into her remarkable world. The author remains cheerful and chatty throughout, even though she was exposed to some of the worst injuries that human beings are capable of inflicting on themselves and others. This is an entertaining, informative, and fascinating account by a courageous and effervescent woman who made the most of every opportunity that came her way.


Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century
Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century
by Kevin Fong
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.13
67 used & new from $15.64

4.0 out of 5 stars "When you strike out into new territory, you rarely know what you're going to discover.", March 30, 2014
Dr. Kevin Fong is a British physician who also holds degrees in astrophysics and engineering. In "Extreme Medicine," he surveys how medical practitioners expanded the frontiers of survival under extreme conditions throughout the twentieth century. Fong provides riveting anecdotes about pioneering procedures, including artificial life support, that paved the way for breakthroughs that were once considered unattainable. Dr. Fong alludes to, but does not discuss extensively, the ethical considerations of using experimental procedures on patients and sustaining human life artificially.

This well-researched and technical work of non-fiction is divided into chapters: "Ice," "Fire," "Heart," "Trauma," "Intensive Care," "Water," "Orbit," "Mars," and "Final Frontiers." If you are not an outer space enthusiast, you may less than entranced by Fong's description of the physiological changes that occur when astronauts leave Earth's atmosphere. Certainly, the chapter on Mars, while interesting, is a too long and detailed. Much more relevant to those of us who are firmly tethered to terra firma are the sections that explore polio, SARS, disfiguring burns, heart failure, and other life-threatening conditions. Through trial and error, physicians learned from their early missteps and came up with new ways of solving old problems. They gradually developed techniques to save and/or extend lives when, in the past, there would have been little or no hope.

Much of what Fong tells us is not new, since most of us are aware that initiatives involving improved sanitation, vaccinations, blood transfusions, and the use of antibiotics to combat infections have led to greater longevity. In addition, specialists in cardiac care, intensive care, and transplant surgery now perform feats that, one hundred years ago, would have been unthinkable. What stand out most in "Extreme Medicine" are the true stories. One that you will not soon forget is Fong's account of Anna Bågenholm who, in 1999, was trapped beneath the ice while skiing. What happened to her subsequently is nothing short of astounding; the lessons that doctors learned from her experiences paved the way for new treatments using hypothermia. Furthermore, Fong poignantly tells us about early skin grafts that were designed to help disfigured soldiers who were nearly incinerated in their cockpits during the Second World War. This eye-opening book demonstrates time and again that "it is within the unanticipated fruits of exploration that our improved survival lies."


By its cover.
By its cover.
by Donna Leon
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "His whole life was a lie.", March 29, 2014
This review is from: By its cover. (Paperback)
In Donna Leon's "By its Cover," Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates the theft and mutilation of valuable books in a Venetian library. The chief librarian of the Biblioteca Merula, Dottoressa Patrizia Fabbiani, informs Brunetti that irreplaceable volumes from her library have vanished; in addition, someone sliced out illustrations and maps from rare travel books. The obvious suspect is a man who presented himself as an Assistant Professor from the University of Kansas, Joseph Nickerson. He had supposedly been conducting research in the Merula before he disappeared. A possible witness to the crimes is a former priest, Aldo Franchini, a regular patron of the Biblioteca Merula.

This is a languidly-paced and relatively brief novel in which Brunetti enjoys delicious meals in restaurants and at home; observes and comments on the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of Venice; enjoys the company of his beloved wife, Paola; and gets the chance to investigate a brutal murder. The characters are, for the most part, sketchily developed, so readers will find it difficult to care very much about what they say or do. Still, we get to spend a bit of time with the inimitable Signorina Elettra, Vice Questore Patta's secretary. (Patta is Bruentti's crusty boss.) Elettra is a whiz at finding out information for Brunetti; her wry and clever banter is lively and amusing. In addition, we learn a bit more about corruption in Venice, a place where crooked politicians and dishonest law enforcement officials appear to thrive.

Brunetti, with the help of his colleagues, Ispettore Vianello and Commissario Claudia Griffoni, interviews witnesses and looks for clues in the background and personal possessions of various suspects. What he uncovers is a sordid tale of avarice and ruthlessness. "By its Cover" demonstrates that, for some people, valuable and beautiful books are commodities to be bought and sold, not precious objects for the enjoyment of those who revere learning, history, and culture. Throughout his career, Brunetti has been repeatedly exposed to the seamier side of human nature. Yet, he remains a beloved character because of his intelligence, integrity, sensitivity, upbeat perspective, compassion, and lack of cynicism. "By its Cover" is a readable enough mystery, but it lacks the depth and emotional resonance that we have come to expect from Donna Leon's best work.


My Depression : A Picture Book
My Depression : A Picture Book
by Elizabeth Swados
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars "The road becomes a mountain that gets harder and harder to climb.", March 26, 2014
Elizabeth Swados is an accomplished and creative woman who has had her share of highs and lows. Tragically, two members of her immediate family took their own lives. Although she is an acclaimed author, musician, director, and composer, Swados has been battling depression since she was a teenager. Her book, "My Depression," is an unconventional memoir, in which she expresses herself through cartoons and commentary that are both hilarious and poignant.

Swados's drawings and words are clever and brutally honest. Even though she is justifiably proud of her professional success, when depression hits, the author crashes and can barely get through the day. Among her most haunting cartoons is one in which many hands extend from a black hole. This represents miserable men and women who are desperate to lift themselves out of their doldrums. Although "My Depression" is often lighthearted, in Swados's humor there is great pain. She wants us to understand that depressed people cannot "snap out of it"; they often lose their motivation to perform tasks that most of us take for granted. Their world can be difficult to navigate.

Fortunately, Swados has sought professional help and seems to be doing better. In fact, her decades-long battle with what Winston Churchill called his "black dog" has, in some ways, made her stronger. She appreciates everyday pleasures, is more compassionate and tolerant, and better understands the workings of her mind and emotions. This is a smart, witty, and courageous account that will bring smiles to readers' faces and give hope to those who have been brought low by this agonizing illness. Swados assures her fellow depressives that they are not the only ones who sometimes feel like crawling into bed with the shades drawn. Ms. Swados encourages them to foresee a time when the clouds will lift for good. Perhaps then, they will be able to look at life as "truly such a precious gift."


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