The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern – Book Review

The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman

The Karps are not a particularly religious family, nor are they particularly interested in their Jewish heritage. Influence and money are really bigger motivators in their lives. That is why it is a bit surprising when their son Bernie discovers an old man in their meat locker and learns that he is a rabbi who was overcome by an ice storm while praying and has been protected by the family for years. Not long after that, the power goes out and the rabbi is suddenly thawed. From here the story splits into a dual time period narrative, following Bernie’s ancestors from the time they took possession of the icy holy man up nearly through the present day, and examining the antics of the newly released rabbi, who gets himself into quite a lot of trouble.

I am very much of two minds about “The Frozen Rabbi.” The premise, certainly, is fascinating. I also loved most of the historical timeline. By following the lives and trials of the family sheltering their frozen mystic, readers got a good glimpse of the lives of Jews in small European towns over the last 150 years or so. The family was forced to move from place to place due to pogroms and general hatred, eventually leaving for America before the horrors of World War II.

On the other hand, I simply could not connect with the modern storyline. Initially the idea that the rabbi turned worldly and very much like Bernie’s father, while Bernie was inspired by the rabbi’s existence to learn about his heritage and become very spiritual was intriguing. However, the constant repetition of Bernie’s spirit floating away from his body and the rabbi being SHOCKING! got old quickly, and it felt that, for a long time, not much plot was advanced.

“The Frozen Rabbi” is quirky and funny and interesting, but really just wasn’t for me – as evidenced by the fact I had no problem putting it down for 2 weeks with only 80 pages left. Still, it was well-written and if the premise intrigues you, it might just be worth a read.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Original Sins by Peg Kingman – Book Review

Original Sins: A Novel of Slavery and Freedom by Peg Kingman
Published by W.W. Norton & Co

After an unconventional childhood – leaving Scotland at a young age for India and the Far East – Grace is not quite at east in the quite conventional society of Philadelphia in the mid-19th century, surely her mother-in-law does not approve of her at all. Life becomes even more complicated when her old friend Anibaddh, a former slave, returns to Grace with a secret, one that will require Grace to travel south, into the heart of that institution which she most despises: slavery.

I did not realize when I first picked up “Original Sins” that it was actually the second in a series or, at least, it is connected to a book set earlier with the same main character. Luckily Kingman balances the series/stand-alone book divide well. There are enough references to past events to tip the reader off to the existence of an earlier book, but the necessary backstory is sufficiently explained, without giving away the entirety of Kingman’s first book, “Not Yet Drown’d.”

I found “Original Sins” to be absolutely captivating. Grace is certainly not the typical mid-19th century American woman, she is feminist and abolitionist in a time when all American women still gave the majority of their rights over to their husbands automatically upon marriage and slavery was still very much a given. Some will complain that Kingman’s work is more about thoughts and beliefs than about story and I would not necessarily disagree, but I also do not think that is necessarily a bad thing. Yes, Grace, and other characters, expound on their beliefs in long discourses, but it is all supported by the characterization Kingman provides and, most importantly, it was fascinating and thought-provoking.

Although “Original Sins” is certainly not for everyone, people who are intrigued by the exchange of ideas about religion, freedom, and human rights will certainly find themselves engrossed. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells
.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

C Street by Jeff Sharlet – Audiobook Review

C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy by Jeff Sharlet, narrated by Jeremy Guskin
Published by Hachette Audio/Little, Brown and Company, both imprints of Hachette

Synopsis:

If you think the religious fundamentalists who most threaten American values live in the Middle East, Jeff Sharlet has some news for you: there is an elite religious-political organization who is a much greater threat to the essence of America than any foreign fundamentalists wielding bombs and aircraft. Perhaps you assume that Sharlet is referring to the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin and her ilk, but no. Instead, Sharlet is writing about an organization thoroughly entrenched in establishment power called The Family, about whom he has previously written a book (titled, appropriately enough, “The Family”). The same organization that began the National Prayer Breakfast, which most politicians in Washington fail to attend at their own peril. The Family takes much of its mission from Acts 9:15:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. (NIV)

Which it strangely interprets to mean that it ONLY needs to minister to and attempt to convert ‘the kings,’ which in the United States evidently means governors, senators, presidents, and congressmen. So, they do their best to convert and ‘help’ those in power, with the idea that someone is in power not because of any of his or her own deeds but solely because God put him or her there. This, of course, means that the ends justify the means in any situation and power should be gained and maintained at all costs, since clearly God ordained this power structure. It probably gives you a good enough idea of their mindset to tell you that they idolize Hitler and Lenin for the power that those men had, although they of course say they want to use this power for Jesus.

In addition to a description of the The Family itself, Sharlet also discusses their religious-political progeny in Uganda who are trying to enact legislation to criminalize homosexuality to the point where ‘aggravated’ homosexuality (repeat offense) will be punishable by death and ‘promotion’ of homosexuality will be punishable by imprisonment. The section on fundamentalism in the military – it is particularly well entrenched in the Airforce – was also particularly frightening for the degree to which it is part of the establishment and people of other religions are harassed.

Thoughts on the story:

I listened to this about a week before Halloween and boy, I cannot imagine anything scarier. You want to give me nightmares? Skip the zombies and vampires, give me men in the highest ranks of power in this country, and influencing those in the highest ranks of power in this country who emulate the power of Hitler and Lenin. That being said, I thought that Sharlet communicated this threat in a very clear manner, both in terms of organization and language. The one thing I thought odd was his re-imagining – twice – of speeches which Mark Sanford might have given, had his lies and infidelities not been discovered. In the midst of such a factual and well-researched book, these suppositions seemed out of place and perhaps even inappropriate. Other than that, though, it was all very well done, as well as compelling (and absolutely terrifying). I should note, that even as a Christian myself I was absolutely horrified by the confluence of political power and religion here.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I wasn’t entirely sure about Jeremy Guskin at the beginning of “C Street,” but I grew accustomed to his style after about 5 minutes and actually really appreciated his narration. He did include vocal variations for emotion and expression, but primarily kept his voice steady, without becoming monotone. I thought it served Sharlet’s journalistic background and style very well.

Overall:

I definitely recommend this book if you are interested in the intersection of power and religion in America. Whether the audio or print is preferable probably depends on how in-depth you wish to go into Sharlet’s account. I was happy just letting everything wash over me – I was horrified enough as it was – but other have said they would have preferred this in print so they could take time with the details. Your call.

Buy this book from:
Audible
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Print*
Amazon: Audio/Print*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran – Book Review

Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran

Auda’s birth is a difficult one. Eventually the midwife is faced with the choice of either saving Elena (possibly), or her baby. In a somewhat graphic middle ages c-section, Auda is born and Elena dies. Not everyone is sure that the choice was the right one, however, as Auda is albino. A superstitious midwife’s assistant grabs baby Auda and runs to the river with her, slicing out her tongue and throwing it into the waters so she can no longer tell the devil’s lies.

Luckily for Auda, her father and older sister accept her for who she is. By the time she is reaching adulthood, though, things are becoming dangerous in southern France as the Inquisition is raging, hunting out the heretical Good Men. A father who is a papermaker in a time of parchment and a daughter who is a mute albino are bound to draw attention from the Inquisitors, so Auda’s father arranges for her the protection of the Vicomte’s household. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to protect someone considered so different.

Auda was a fantastic character. She had great depth and really came to life. I kept finding myself forgetting that she was mute and albino, not because Sankaran wrote anything that didn’t work with the continuity of the store, but because Auda was simply Auda, not her disabilities. Sure, when she walked through the market place or couldn’t communicate with people who couldn’t read her notes and didn’t understand her signing I would remember her lack of a tongue.

I loved the details about paper making and how controversial paper was, but I think that “Watermark” could have been a tighter novel if more about the Good Men was mentioned earlier in the book. They had so much to do with the climax of the action, but they seemed less than totally important during the first half of the novel. This resulted in the ending having a bit of a rushed feeling, because the Good Men swept into the plot and were central, then the book ended.

Despite having somewhat of a rushed ending, I think that “Watermark” is worth reading for the strength of Sankaran’s main character Auda, as well as for the details of paper making in France in the middle ages. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour.  Check out some of the other tour hosts for more reviews.  Links go to the host’s site, not to their specific review.

Monday, April 5th: Bibliofreak

Wednesday, April 7th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Thursday, April 8th: Serendipitous Reading

Monday, April 12th: Wordsmithonia

Tuesday, April 13th: Book Nerd Extraordinaire

Wednesday, April 14th: Rundpinne

Monday, April 19th: Raging Bibliomania

Wednesday, April 21st: Thoughts From an Evil Overlord

Thursday, April 22nd: Devourer of Books

Monday, April 26th: Café of Dreams

Tuesday, April 27th: Starting Fresh

Wednesday, April 28th: A Few More Pages

Thursday, April 29th: Reading, Writing, and Retirement

This review was done with a book received from the publisher for this TLC book tour.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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