Monthly Archives: June 2014

Review: Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table
Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mr. Shaitana, a mysterious man who affects a sinister image, invites Hercule Poirot and three other crime-solvers to dinner, along with four other people. Unbeknownst to the other three sleuths, Shaitana has told Poirot that the other four invitees at the dinner has each committed a murder and gotten away with it. During a game of bridge after dinner, Shaitana is murdered with a small jeweled dagger from his own collection, and it’s up to the four detectives to figure out which of their dinner companions committed the crime.

Agatha Christie included a short foreword stating that this was one of Poirot’s favorite cases, but that Poirot’s friend and partner in sleuthing Captain Hastings found it boring. Cards on the Table is a variation on the locked-room mystery, and, just as Christie said, devotees of the action-free, deductive style of crime-solving will adore it while those who prefer car chases and fistfights in their mysteries will be disappointed. Highly recommended for its red herrings and satisfying conclusion.

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Review: Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood

Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood
Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood by Rick Najera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Never before have I felt so moved while reading a memoir. Rick Najera absolutely nails describing the experience of being a Latino in America–the conflict, the depression, the fierce love and joy and will to endure despite the odds. I almost couldn’t finish this book because it felt too true and too real in places.

Like Najera, I’ve had the experience of “passing,” of being “almost white” and hearing folks say things they never would have said if they’d known there was a Latina in the room. It’s a sobering experience. And also like Najera, I believe that those of us who are able to reach others with our words and our talent have a duty to tell not only our stories, but the stories of those around us. Although we make up a hefty percentage of Americans, we don’t have enough of our stories being told; we can’t turn on the TV or go to a film and see ourselves represented, and this needs to change.

If you are a Latino or have Latino friends or loved ones, I encourage you to read this book.

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Review: The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery

The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery
The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery by Wendy Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You’ve probably never heard of John Hunter, but if you’ve ever had (and survived!) surgery, if you’ve ever been to the dentist, or if you’ve ever taken your pet to the veterinarian, you owe him some thanks. (Full disclosure: I have a personal interest of sorts in this story because my children are related to John Hunter and his almost equally distinguished brother William on their father’s side.)

John Hunter started off as a penniless country lad from Scotland and ended up as a penniless, much-admired, much-reviled anatomist and surgeon; the story of his life and controversial opinions will fascinate anyone interested in books on the history of medicine or science. Hunter learned the art of dissection at his older brother William’s lab, his subjects illicitly stolen bodies from local gibbets and graveyards; he rose to prominence and was much-loved by his students, although not by the other surgeons at the hospital where he practiced.

In a time when little was known of the origins of life on earth or of the workings of the human body, John Hunter sought to bring light to these and many other subjects; unfortunately, some of his ideas were too far advanced for others to accept. I was amazed not only by how much knowledge Hunter developed and shared with his students (his disciples included Edward Jenner, who invented the smallpox vaccine), but by how his detractors, including his own brother-in-law, worked so diligently after Hunter’s death to try and erase every mention of him from history. Highly recommended.

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Review: The Books of Rachel

The Books of Rachel
The Books of Rachel by Joel Gross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A captivating story of a Jewish family that flourishes and prospers over 500 years despite the forces of persecution and assimilation.

The novel follows the Cuheno family, dealers in precious stones, and their heirloom, a magnificent sixty-carat diamond that is passed down through the male line to one daughter in each generation who is given the name Rachel. The brief wraparound segments concern Rachel Kane, who is presented with the gem, in accordance with family tradition, on her wedding day. As she touches the diamond, she is granted a vision of each of the previous Rachels who possessed it. Some Rachels lived happily, some did not; but each was called upon to risk everything for love, for honor, for family.

What I found most appealing about The Books of Rachel is the idea of tradition and continuity along a family line. The real treasure the Cuheno family possesses is not wealth or jewels, but Judaism, which manifests itself differently for each Rachel and for each era of history.

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