Category Archives: Reader’s Reviews

Summer Book Review

This month’s review is by Richard Bellikoff

Motherless Brooklyn

by Jonathan Lethem

I’m from Queens, but Brooklyn is just a short ride away via the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. That thoroughfare and others are the locations of a long car chase scene that opens this novel, culminating in the murder of a small-time mobster who has recruited four young men from a local orphanage to work in his various shady businesses. One of the orphans, Lionel Essrog, sets out to find the murderer.

What separates this from any other whodunit is Lionel’s Tourette’s Syndrome. Lethem avoids the simplistic caricature of the Tourette’s sufferer as someone who just blurts out sexist and racist epithets. Lionel is far more interesting than that.

He bristles with odd tics and compulsions, engaging in ritualistic touching and counting of objects and people. In his mind and his mouth, words rearrange themselves in startling and sometimes amusing ways. Dubbed Freakshow by his fellow orphans, he’s a one-man Greek chorus to his own thoughts and actions. Unexpectedly, Lionel’s struggle to control his Tourettic impulses helps him concentrate on the clues he needs to solve the murder mystery.

All this could be tedious in the hands of a lesser writer, but Lethem has pulled off a literary high-wire act. He simultaneously pays homage to the detective story and subverts it. Hard-boiled crime fiction has never seen the likes of Lionel Essrog, and neither have you. There’s no better reason to read this engrossing and entertaining novel.

CALL # STATUS:  FIC LETHEM

May Book Review

This month’s review is by Richard Bellikoff The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine By Michael Lewis “In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $724,000.” This excerpt from the book describes an all-too-common situation in theContinue Reading

June Book Review

This month’s review is by Tom Tomlinson Alan Furst’s Spy Novels Wondering what to read on Summer vacation? How about one or all ten of Alan Furst’s spy novels? Furst’s works are set throughout Europe between January 1933 and May 1945, years that framed the beginning and end of Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich. Bad timesContinue Reading

April Book Review

This month’s review is by Tom Tomlinson The Swerve: How the World Became Modern By Stephen Greenblatt If you like the idea that an idea can reshape how we think about the world, then this is your kind of read: indeed, The Swerve is a book about a book, its unlikely discovery after nearly 1000Continue Reading

March Book Review

This month’s review is by Catherine Adde A Charmed Life—Growing up in Macbeth’s Castle By Liza Campbell My husband and I have spent vacations at our cottage in the hills in Wales. This humble abode in a pastoral setting is surrounded by land that is part of the ‘mysterious’ Cawdor Estate – owned by a British familyContinue Reading

February Book Review

This month’s review is by Richard Bellikoff My Lunches with Orson Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles Edited by Peter Biskind Last October marked the centennial of Orson Welles’ birth. Too bad the guest of honor couldn’t attend the celebration, having died in 1985. Fortunately, he left behind more than the movies he wrote,Continue Reading

January Book Review

This month’s review is by Tom Tomlinson Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II By Richard Reeves FDR’s famous declaration that the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor was a day that would live in infamy anticipated a less-well remembered, but powerfully consequential act aimed at JapaneseContinue Reading

December Book Review

This month’s review is by Catherine Adde Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal By Greg Renoff Recently I attended a book signing at Vroman’s in Pasadena, in a standing room only crowd of my contemporaries, many of them Pasadena High School classmates. Greg Renoff, along with legendary rock andContinue Reading

November Book Review

This month’s review is by Richard Bellikoff Think Like a Billionaire: Everything You Need to Know About Success, Real Estate, and Life By Donald J. Trump Unless you’ve been marooned on a remote island, this author needs no introduction. He claims that “if you absorb only ten percent of the wisdom in this book, you’llContinue Reading

October Book Review

This month’s review is by Tom Tomlinson The Geography of Bliss By Eric Weiner Had it with Southern California living? Searching for a happy place to be? Don’t leave home in search of a happier place without first reading Weiner’s book. Billing himself as a “Grump”—this former NPR journalist is skeptical about notions of happiness.Continue Reading