What I’ve Read This Month – February-April 2014

Books Bought:

  • The Turkish Gambit – Boris Akunin (Kindle)
  • מפגשים: חמשה סיפורים מיפן – אירית ויינברג, עורכת
  • The Racketeer – John Grisham
  • The Disappeared – Kristina Ohlsson
  • The Faithful Spy – Alex Berenson (Kindle)
  • מוסדות השלטון בישראל – דב בן-מאיר (Kindle)
  • Flexigidity – Gidi Grinstein
  • The Ghost War – Alex Berenson (Kindle)
  • Kosher Lust – Shmuel Boteach
  • Death in Venice – Thomas Mann (Kindle)
  • Dubliners – James Joyce (Kindle)
  • Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse (Kindle)
  • The Silent Man – Alex Berenson (Kindle)
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
  • The Honest Truth About Dishonesty – Dan Ariely
  • The English Assassin – Daniel Silva (Kindle)

Books Read:

  • The Turkish Gambit – Boris Akunin
  • סימנטוב – אסף אשרי
  • על דעת הקהל: ספר היובל לכבוד אביעזר רביצקי, כרך א’ – בנימין בראון
  • מפגשים: חמשה סיפורים מיפן – אירית ויינברג
  • Black Ice – Michael Connelly
  • סוף המירוץ – מישקה בן-דוד
  • על דעת הקהל: ספר היובל לכבוד אביעזר רביצקי, כרך ב’ – בנימין בראון
  • Flexigidity – Alex Berenson
  • חיים כהן, שופט עליון – שיחות עם מיכאל ששר
  • The Ghost War – Alex Berenson (Kindle)
  • ירושלים – גונסאלו טווארש
  • Siddharta – Hermann Hesse (Kindle)
  • Death in Venice – Thomas Mann (Kindle)
  • The Silent Man – Alex Berenson (Kindle)

February and March were slow reading months, but I made up for them in April. 14 books in all in these 3 months, besides the various periodicals and magazines that take up precious reading time. I guess the Passover holidays helped… 16 new books added to my library, of which 2 were sent to me for review. Had to install a new bookshelf in my basement last month.

I have not had the time to write a review to all the books I read. I procrastinated with the reviews for a long time, resulting in a pileup of books on my desk… So I’ve decided to publish what I wrote and “jump” to the current month (July), leaving quite a few books without a review. As the proverb goes: “What the heart craves time takes away”…

I so enjoyed reading the first book in the Fandorin series by Boris Akunin (Azazel, reviewed here), that I immediately downloaded the second book in the series, “The Turkish Gambit” to read on my Kindle. And I was positively surprised, as I was expecting “more of the same” and got something very different, yet not less entertaining.

The first book focused on the young detective Fandorin and his first big case – uncovering a global plot to overtake the world (no less!). Fandorin was the narrator of the story, so I expected to see him as the main character in this new book. Instead, “The Turkish Gambit” is more of a historical espionage novel where Fandorin is hardly the main character.

The story is narrated by Varvara Suvorova, a young Russian woman who travels to meet her fiancé, a cryptographer at the war front of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. The fiancé turns out to be busy, so Suvorova spends most of her time with the foreign journalists covering the war, and gets to meet Fandorin, becoming (unwillingly for both sides) his assistant.

In this novel, Akunin manages to make Fandorin a hidden hero. He is absent from most pages of the book, while the story focuses on the progress of the war and the Russian effort to take back a city held by the Turks. But Akunin astutely makes Fandorin appear occasionally to keep the reader wondering what he’s up to, all the while guessing that he’s working on the real story, away from the noisy proceedings of the war. And indeed Fandorin emerges as the astute observer behind the scenes, who manages to uncover and foil the “Turkish Gambit” to win the war. Another enjoyable book from Akunin.

I bought this book in one of those book sales where you buy the book by the kilogram… I picked it up because I got the author’s name – Assaf Asheri – confused with another, more popular, Israeli writer – Ehud Asheri. After finishing the book (with great effort) I regret this mistake.

“Simantov” is the surname of police detective Mazal, whose unit focuses on the paranormal, with emphasis on Jewish mythology paranormal. Her mother and her have a problematic relationship, but she relies on her as she’s taught her everything she knows. The basic plot is that a group of “sons of God”, more commonly known as angels, kidnap seven women who are the “daughters of Lilith” (the first wife Adam had, before Eve, according to Jewish mythology). The police are scrambling to find the perpetrators of the kidnappings, a talk that proves to be quite difficult given that the kidnappers are, well, angels. In step Mazal, her mother Ruth, and a bunch of mystics, to help guide the police.

This book is a mess. It jumps from topic to topic, never dwelling long enough on any character (including Mazal) or any part of the plot. The author’s excessive use of metaphors is, frankly, quite tiring and in some places totally inadequate. The prose seems stuck at times, erratically jumping to unrelated thoughts by the undeveloped characters.

As mentioned, I had a difficult time finishing this book. It ends – how predictabley disappointing! – with a supernatural fights between the angels, the daughters of Lilith and heavenly intervention (in the form of, no less, the prophet Elijah). I could have given this book a miss and saved a few precious hours of reading displeasure.

This two-volume book is a collection of essays and academic papers put together in honour of Prof. Aviezer Ravitzky, a renowned scholar of Jewish Thought and winner of the Israel Prize. Ravitzky never fully recovered from the head injury after being hit by a bus in 2006, and the essay written by his children and opening this book highlights the life of the family before and after the accident.

As expected, this book was a joy to read. Israel’s most prominent scholars came together to discuss one of the topics studied and researched by Ravitzky: Religion and Politics in Jewish Thought. The book is divided into various sections: Philosophy in Antiquity and Middle Ages, Kabbalah, Contemporary Thought and Halacha. It is impossible to summarise the wealth of knowledge contained in this book. It is a fitting achievement in honour of a great man.

This book, “מפגשים” (“Encounters”) is an anthology of five stories, written by some of the most prominent Japanese writers, and translated into Hebrew by Irit Weinberg. It appeared only in digital format, in the budding Israeli e-book website Booxilla.

All stories were written around the Second World War in the 20th century (3 prior to the war; 2 after it). They have one thing in common: they are not “grand stories”. They tell the story of simple, everyday people, and their encounters with each other. In the background is the complex relationship between traditional Japanese culture and encroaching Western culture. The stories are typically Japanese in that they describe a slow-moving lifestyle, concentrating in seemingly mundane daily happenings, but slowly revealing a deep understanding of human nature.

Confession: I don’t like Michael Connelly much. My wife is a bigger fan than I am, so that’s why we have 16 of his novels at home. This is only the third one I’ve read.

“Black Ice” is a book in the Harry Bosch series (I believe the second one). Bosch, a homicide detective carrying baggage from his fighting days in Vietnam, is investigating the apparent suicide of another cop, from the narcotics division. Although he is warned by his boss to stay away from the case, he (of course) does not. His investigation ties in with other cases he is working on, and he ends up going to Mexico to track down the origins of the “Black Ice” drug that originates there.

I don’t know what bothers me about Connelly’s writing. These are the kind of books one finishes on a flight or during a lazy afternoon, but it took me more than two weeks to finish it! Something’s not clicking between me and Connelly, and I can’t put my finger on what it is.

I have read (almost) all of Mishka ben David’s books. A retired Mossad agent and a PhD in Hebrew Literature, ben David is an excellent writer. This book is different from his previous ones, proving his abilities go beyond spy novels.

“סוף המרוץ” (“End of the Race”) is a book infused with love for horses and horse racing. Ben David apparently owns a horse riding farm, and his passion for the subject is apparent on every page of this book.

After a long deliberation, Yotam, a successful IDF officer, decides to cut short his military career and spend more time with his family. Except he’s a bit late. His wife tells him she’s leaving right before he has the chance of telling her about his big decision. He decides to build a horse riding farm, something his wife always dreamed about, to try and win her heart back. In parallel, he grapples with his newly found fatherhood.

Enter Yotam’s younger brother. After spending years in the Far East adopting Zen Buddhism, he decides to compete for becoming the national champion in horse racing. He trains with his Bedouin friend and slowly plants the competitive bug also in Yotam. The brothers have conversations about the meaning of life and how to live it, enabling Yotam to define for himself what he really wants and his relationship with his estranged wife.

I enjoyed reading this book, so different from all other ben David books.

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