Letters To A Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash

letters  A book by any other name would still be a must read….   *****

This book could as easily have been titled, with a few adjustments, “Letters To A Young Christian”, or even “Letters To A Young Person”.  While the focus is on what it means to be a Muslim, the advice given is advice all of us should listen to.

Ghobash documents his coming of age, and how he began to question the things around him. Rather than succumbing to what he was hearing from “the establishment”, he opened himself to other ideas and took on a larger world view of not only Islam, but of life.

The letters help to correct the misconceptions many have of the Muslim community.  The stereotypical Muslim is no more accurate than fundamentalist Christians representing Christianity. Ghobash’s discussion on the role of women in society is a good example of this. His thoughts on how Muslims view the divisions within their community, and how they view the West, are eye opening.

While promoting education, discussion, sharing ideas, listening to others, respecting others, questioning, as ideals for a young Muslim, these are the things all of us could aspire to. I did find it interesting that Ghobash states the reason Muslims do not honor the Bible is because of the inaccuracies in it. For him, the Quran is the sacred, infallible text. Scholarship  questions that bias.

This book was a surprise in that it contains so much great advice on life, not just religion. I am going to reread it, more slowly the second time, and ruminate over the thoughts presented.

This one gets five stars, and is a must read.


Audacity by Jonathan Chait

audacityRegardless of one’s political views, this is a must read….     ****

Yes, Jonathan Chait writes about the Obama presidency and his successes. But he also writes about Obama’s failures. Whether the successes are failures may be a matter of debate, but Chait gives a balanced account for his reasoning. Setting politics aside, for me, there are two reasons everyone should read this book.

The first is admittedly about exactly what Obama accomplished in eight years as President. Even I, as a fan, was not aware of all the things Obama was able to do, some of which, as Chait states, will prevail. I do disagree with the author in that some of what he feels will last, may not under the current political state.

The second reason is more important, in my mind at least. Chait pulls back the curtain on just how bogged down our political system is and how party lines have made progress virtually impossible.  I know Democrats and Republicans are at odds but to see just how bad it has become is truly sad. Chait shows how division is not new but how wide the gap has become. It wasn’t that long ago that if a proposal was good for the country, a compromise could be reached between parties to see it implemented. Now, regardless of the benefit of an idea, if it is put forward by one party, the other is automatically against it. This applies to both sides. The Republicans acted this way under Obama, and now the Democrats are doing the same thing.

This is a book that hopefully will make people think, discuss, and act.

This one gets four stars.




Born A Crime by Trevor Noah


Hoping for a sequel…..  ****

Trevor Noah has been a great replacement for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. He is intelligent, quick, funny, and talented. This book gives a look into the incredible story of Noah growing up in South Africa.

The stories are an eye opener as to what it was like living under Apartheid, having a black mother and a white father, and having one amazing mother.  Using humor, Trevor documents the hardships, struggles, and prejudice that forged him into who he is today.

Some of the stories are described in lengthy detail, some are too long, and some details are repeated unnecessarily. My only objection is that I was hoping to read more of how he became the comedian he is today. Maybe that will be in the next book.

At a time when this nation is facing a resurgence of racism, bigotry, and hatred, this story is even more important for everyone to read. It shows just what can happen when those attitudes are carried to the extreme.

This one gets four stars, and is a must read.

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer



Seriously not funny…..  ***


We each have a life story, how we tell it or how much we tell is up to us. Amy Schumer reveals a great deal about her life, her mistakes, her flaws, and her struggles in this compelling autobiography.

This book will make you cry, maybe even shock some, and maybe make you smile. Smile, maybe, laugh, no.  Knowing Schumer is a standup comic, I was expecting, and had heard in other reviews, that parts of this book would be funny. Not really.

Her exploits with men are more sad than funny, and her admitting to being in an abusive relationship is a wake-up call for women, not a laughing matter. She is very candid about her childhood and the choices she has made in her life. Her honesty is refreshing and makes this a story worth reading.

Her insights are interesting to read, and she does not hold back on what and why she believes in the things she does. It is sad that she has been maligned for some of her statements, and especially for her body type. She has a personal stake in gun control and when you read why, you can’t help but agree with her.

I am giving this one three stars. It is a good read, worth one’s time, just don’t expect to laugh a lot.

A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and The Life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz


A better title: The Soul of A Man…..    ****

In the introduction Leibovitz states that this is not a biography. Interesting that Philip Weinstein said the same thing in his book about Jonathan Franzen. The difference being, Weinstein was right in that his was simply a book report on the works of Franzen, while Leibovitz digs deep into the soul of Leonard Cohen.

Using bits and pieces of Cohen’s life, Leibovitz gives great insight into the words found in Cohen’s poetry and songs. He shows how this artist developed over the years and what led him to become such an icon. Beginning with the remarkable incident at the Isle of Wright, where Cohen calmed a riotous crowd, chronicling Cohen’s early struggles, and ending with a discussion of the song, “Going Home”, Leibovitz gives a remarkable account of Leonard Cohen, the man.

Liel Leibovitz has a vast knowledge of the music industry and he lets it show in this biography. His short dissertation on the Doors was very interesting. WARNING: Doors fans might get a little miffed at some of his comments.

My only issue with the book was that it is too short.  There are songs and poems I would have loved to hear Leibovitz’s thoughts and insight. Other than that, this is a must read for any Leonard Cohen fan.

This one gets four stars.

Ned Kelly by Peter Fitzsimons




Makes American Outlaws seem tame……   *****

This is an amazing story. Not only is it well written and well documented, Fitzsimons narrates in a way that makes you feel you are living and seeing this true saga as it is happening.

The story of Ned Kelly and what happened to his family shows how some things have not changed. Impoverished, Kelly turns to horse stealing to augment his family’s needs. He is falsely accused of shooting a constable who had made advances to his sister. His mother, who did hit the constable is incarcerated. This leads to Kelly commiting further crimes and is considered an outlaw.  When a small posse is sent after him, he shoots one of them in self defense. Because of crooked lawmen, bad judges, and a poor defense lawyer he is convicted of cold blooded murder and hung for a crime he did not commit. His trial is an uncanny parallel to what happened recently to Steve Avery,  documented in The Making of A Murderer.

The characters are compelling, evoking emotions from sympathy to disgust. The epilogue gives an excellent wrap up of what happened to each person in this story after Kelly’s hanging. Ironically, the two concerns Ned Kelly had while alive, the corrupt police and the rich land grabbers, are both addressed by the government because of his case. Just too late to have saved him.

This is a page turner, and while lengthy, I didn’t notice the length, and it kept me engrossed until the end.

This one gets five stars.

Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons



Mutiny On the Bounty meets Lord of the Flies…..   *****


This is an incredible account of how depraved the human race can be. Had this been a novel, it would be unbelievable, but it is a true story.

Peter Fitzsimons is an amazing writer, who can take facts and write them in a narrative style that is as much a page turner as any good thriller. In the preface, Fitzsimons admits that he wants to accurately “convey the unprecedented drama of the Batavia wreck”, and that his approach may invoke criticism. He was right on both counts. For this reader, however, I enjoyed his method and compliment him on bringing this tragedy to life.

Meticulously researched and with the creativity of a poet, Fitzsimons tells the story of how a group of men can be influenced by a charismatic leader, and be convinced to do deeds completely barbaric. It is hard to imagine the hardships suffered and endurance that the men and women in this story required to survive. The brutality is unimaginable, the stamina mind boggling, and the fact that there were survivors is nothing short of miraculous.

This would make a great film. Maybe Ron Howard should have done this instead of In The Heart of the Sea, the story of Moby Dick.

This one gets five stars.