Neshama’s Choices for April 25th

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A Molecule Away From Madness

Subtitled Tales of a Highjacked Brain. I grew up with Burton Roueche’s medical detective articles in the New Yorker and this book provides much of the same pleasure I experienced way back then, with vivid anecdotes of bizarre yet in sometimes all-too-familiar cases of lives gone awry and their causes. The author, a neurologist, brings history and science into her case studies and offers some light on the horizon through breakthroughs in DNA research. She posts that the “dark days of dementia” may lift 25 years from now. Here’s hoping…

The Midnight Brigade

A kid’s book based in Pittsburgh, and I had no idea how beautiful and magical that city is with its many magnificent bridges. Carl’s father has staked their future on a food truck under one of these but he’s a terrible cook. Also, some of the bridges seem under attack. From a monster? Carl is a shy outsider but bands together with two other kids to find out what’s happening and try to do something about it. They befriend a surprising figure (I won’t give it away) and yes, finally save the day.  What I especially enjoyed here was the family dynamics—screwed up, but they really love each other—ahh!  

The Unsinkable Greta James

After a spate of unsatisfying psychological thrillers (they all started to sound the same) I was overjoyed to tumble into a refreshing read that worked.  The eponymous protagonist has been hit with a double whammy.  Her mother died suddenly of an aneurysm, and her career as a rock musician has tanked because she had a breakdown on stage. For their 40th wedding anniversary, her mother had planned an Alaska cruise with two other couples and Greta’s brother Asher, the “favorite,” exhorts her to go so their father won’t feel like a fifth wheel. A bad fit, especially because their relationship has been strained for years. She meets a professor/novelist, part of the ship’s talent, and that might lead to something but it’s the same old conflict, the peripatetic life of a performer versus settling down. Jack London, Herman Melville, and shrinking glaciers also play in. The beauty of the setting offers some healing but it’s not exactly smooth sailing which is of course what makes the story interesting. 

A House Without Windows

When Zeba is discovered in the courtyard, a hatchet buried in her husband’s head, it seems like an open and shut case. She’s locked up in a women’s prison, away from her four children. Jacob, a young lawyer from Brooklyn who’s returned to his native Afghanistan, takes the case. Zeba is mute on the circumstances of the killing and we eventually discover why.  She and her mother both practice a form of sorcery and Zeba is prized at prison where she helps fellow inmates with their problems. We learn a lot about the status of women, rigid hierarchies, and loyalties in this complex culture. Fascinating.