“The Pursuit of Happiness: A Novel” by Alan Trustman— A Thriller

Trustman, Alan. “The Pursuit of Happiness: A Novel”, CreateSpace, 2017.

A Thriller

Amos Lassen

Author Alan Trustman has written the screenplays writer for such movies as “ The Thomas Crown Affair”, “Bullitt” and others and new he has written a novel that is a thriller. It begins in Boston and is written in the first person as a hit man shares his past with the reader. Burt Dixon (or Dick Burton) is a murderer with quite a history. We see him as anxious to leave his criminal history in Boston behind him but not before he kills ten men in a restaurant shooting there and beginning a gang war.

We see Burt as a man who loves women, weapons and alcohol and a desire for knowledge. Aside from Boston, the novel moves to Mexico and the Middle East and danger is always present.

Burt is recruited to work for the government. He is a man who is grounded in reality who becomes a dark operative for the CIA but this is never really clear. Trustman writes with great detail but there is something mysterious about Dixon and we really do not get to know him well. What we do know is that he is a tough guy from Brooklyn who is a ruthless and dangerous killer.

The novel is well paced and the dialogue is totally real and entertaining. I say that as a person who does not really read many mysteries or thrillers but this one pulled me on the first page. At first I thought that might be because it is set n Boston but I found myself just as interested when we changed locations. I later learned that author Trustman grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts not far from where I loved and this added to my enjoyment of the novel.

I really cannot say anymore about the plot without giving the story away so just take my recommendation and settle down with this book for a fascinating read.

“Three Drops of Blood and a Cloud of Cocaine” by Quentin Mouron— A Psychological Mystery

Mouron, Quentin. “Three Drops of Blood and a Cloud of Cocaine”, translated by Donald Wilson, Bitter Lemon, 2017.

A Psychological Mystery

Amos Lassen

Twenty-five-year-old Swiss novelist Quentin Mouron brings us the first English translation of his work with “Three Drops of Blood and a Cloud of Cocaine”, a dark psychological mystery set in the Boston suburb of Watertown that is still dealing with the consequences of the 2013 Wall Street crash and the scandals that came with it.

Sheriff Paul McCarthy takes charge of the investigation of the death of Jimmy Henderson who is found murdered in his Ford pick-up truck and before long McCarthy is joined by Franck, a young private detective visiting from New York, who has taken an interest in the case. The two investigators are opposites. McCarthy is religious and a man who tires to separate his job from the rest of his life while Franck lives a live of decadence and cocaine. Working with Franck is not easy for McCarthy and it certainly has an influence on him. Both men are n a race against time in their murder investigations that seems to be the work of a psychopath. We are taken into the underground of Boston’s society (for lack of a better word).

The murder of Jimmy Henderson, an acquaintance of McCarthy involved a throat slashing before which the murderer slashed the eyes and the cheeks of his victim and cut out his tongue. It seems to have no motive other than butchery. There is a suspect, a drug dealer by the name of Alexander Marshall, a man with a record who had been living with Henderson’s daughter and who sexually abused her child.

This is a novel propelled by its characters and Mouron gives us two unforgettable ones in McCarthy and Franck. Through the use of satire we see something about the world we live in and those who populate it. The world we have here is a seedy and seamy place and this stays with us throughout the read and even afterwards. Violence is one of the plot essentials and that violence is balanced by fascinating prose, spares as it might be. Mouron is a product of fine literature and we see that influence in the character of Franck and there is intellectual humor sprinkled across the plot. Franck sees himself as a literary man and he wants us to see him as such. Although a detective by profession, he leads a life of hedonism as he hopes to find a different world; one that is filled with people are real in their feelings and authentic in their characters. I became so invested in the character of Franck that the murder took second place to the investigator.

That is all that I can say about the plot aside from the fact that you will be kept guessing as you read. This is a brilliant start for Mouron and we can only hope that there are more mysteries to follow.

“The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Judaism” edited by David Biale and Jack Miles— An Intense Primer

Biale, David and Jack Miles (editors). “The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Judaism”, W.W Norton, 2015.

An Intense Primer

Amos Lassen

I have been as Jew my entire life and while this statement does not say much, I feel compelled to say that I never finish studying about my religion. When I saw that Norton had published this volume, I was anxious to see it.

“The Norton Anthology of Religion” is made up of six volumes about the six major, living, international world religions and are edited by scholars under the direction of Pulitzer Prize–winner Jack Miles.” They us a flexible library of more than 1,000 primary texts from the world’s major religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Taken together, the volumes unite foundational works of works such as the Bhagavad-Gita, the Daode jing, the Bible, the Torah and the Qur’an with the writings of scholars, seekers, believers, and skeptics “whose voices have kept these religions vital for centuries”. The selections are supported by the meticulously prepared apparatus including introductions, explanatory annotations, bibliographies, maps, and glossaries.

“The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Judaism” brings together over 300 texts from pre-Israelite Mesopotamia to post-Holocaust Israel and America. Jack Miles’s general introduction of “How the West Learned to Compare Religions” is illuminating as is David Biale’s “Israel among the Nations,” a fascinating primer on Jewish history and the core teachings of Judaism.

“WAITING FOR GIRAFFES”— A Zoo in Palestine

“WAITING FOR GIRAFFES”

A Zoo in Palestine

Amos Lassen

THE Qalqilya Zoo is the only municipal zoo in the Palestinian territories. It is a short distance from the Israeli-occupied West Bank at a location rife with conflict and while it seems impossible that a zoo should be established there, it acts as something of a beacon of hope to the Palestinian people who visit it.

‘Waiting For Giraffes’ follows Dr Sami Khader, the life force behind the Qalqilya Zoo. He’s raised many of the animals by hand, and has worked hard at bringing the zoo up to international standards. He dreams that it will one day become a member of international zoo association EAZA that would allow him to bring a new giraffe to Qalqilya.

Dr Sami is an inspiration and quite a character. He is officially the zoo’s vet but he is also a mentor to fellow workers, a persistent innovator, passionate animal caregiver, and Palestinian refugee. His hard work and dedication have done much to change his workplace.

Like Dr Sami himself, the film tries to avoid politics but it’s impossible to do anything in Palestine without getting political. Buying more Palestinian-owned land to expand the zoo requires the approval of the Israeli authorities, and traveling to the closest zoo in Israel requires extensive paperwork for visas. Everything is a complicated challenge in a situation that might fall apart if it were not for Dr Sami holding it together.

We see the evolution of the zoo as it undergoes the process of applying for EAZA and this is a challenging task that Dr Sami is determined to conquer. It’s made all the more difficult by those around him and problems appear endless.

Dr Sami brings some humor to any situation and his ability to is an important tool. At times, the challenges of Qalqilya Zoo seem like a metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Despite the hardship, Dr Sami and his team persevere with their goals, and we want them to succeed.

“I FEEL”— Therapy Gone Wrong”

“I Feel”

Therapy Gone Wrong

Amos Lassen

Steve Blackwood’s “I Feel” is a comedic look at couples therapy. Dr. Talbert (Marty Smith) is the marital counselor leading the session yet he seems poorly-equipped for the job. We see this in the way she speaks and wants her couples to interact. Because she is unqualified, the whole business seem really out-of-bounds. Nonetheless, she has quite a good reputation and her sessions are popular.

Jamie (Elle Matarazzo) and Paul (Jeremy Labrie) are new to therapy and have come to see the doctor based on the adice of a friend. The situation that they become involved in is so strange that it does not take long for it to become the basis for some really good laughs. This is mockumentary about how couple therapy can turn out if it is handled wrong and/or used on the wrong people). The characters might seem like caricatures but the actors inhabit their roles and provide us with good entertainment.

“WHEN EDITH’S BELLS TOLL”— A Drag Holiday Comedy

 

“When Edith’s Bells Tolls”

A Drag Holiday Comedy

Amos Lassen

I must start off by saying that I was prepared to hate this movie from the description that I read but by ten minutes in, I was hooked. It all starts a couple of days before Christmas in the Berlin district of Neukölln. Brigitte “Biggy” Wittke (Biggy van Blond), Edith Schröder (Ades Zabel who also wrote and directed the film) and Jutta Hartmann (Bob Schneider) meet up with a pre-Christmas chat in Biggie’s boutique. Our three ladies are discussing Biggy suggests that this year they should celebrate together. Edith them to her home for a classic Christmas feast, and preparations begin. 

That feast includes a roast goose from the gas station, a cheap sour red wine, a red cabbage in a most beautiful white color and an unidentifiable brown sauce and as we might imagine, the dinner is a disaster. Edith tries to remain positive even after Jutta decides to replace her small Christmas tree with her big “artsy” white tree. Biggy, a blonde dressed in fake leopard gets a surprise visit from her mother and daughter and ends up being forced to have her daughter spend Christmas Eve with her.

 Christmas Eve doesn’t seem to have a chance for being cozy and relaxed and the friends manage the chaotic circumstances and wind up celebrating a slightly different Christmas. This is an adaptation of a play that has been produced for the last thirteen years in Germany. We attempt to answer the question as to whether friends can give a Christmas gift of a vibrator? Biggy and Edith go to a highly popular department store to get one for Jutta. Because it is so expensive, the two steal one and are promptly caught by the in-house detective Mr. Grabschbach (Stefan Kuschner) who threatens the girls with a lifetime ban from the store if they do not agree deliver a hot show of them having sex with each other.

When the ladies arrive Edith’s, so does Ilonka (also Stefan Kuschner), Biggy’s daughter ho has come to spend Christmas with her mother (who has not seen her for years). What follows are fights and disappointments over gifts, and what was meant to be a celebration the love becomes quite the opposite.

The film is characterized by men in drag playing awful representations of women (but in fun) with lots of puns and one-liners. Director Zabel manages to present quite a Christmas menagerie that is fun to watch. It is something like is reunion of old acquaintances. There is madness with hints of oral sex, a tipped-up Christmas tree and tastelessness. There is also a good deal of fun to be had.

“SOLUTIONS”— Dirty Politics

“Solutions”

Dirty Politics

Amos Lassen

James Cross (Timothy J. Cox) is a very wealthy businessman who wants to run for mayor of his city. However, his opponent is very popular and Cross has a very low approval rating. He looks to Derek Price (David P.B. Stephens), a fixer to permanently fix this election.

Derek also thinks that this is a good time to begin training his son Damon (Oise Ohiwerei) who is interested in his father’s job and is now old enough to get involved. Derek decides to see if his son sinks or swims by throwing him headfirst into the world in which he lives. As long as Damon can manage the job, all will work out.

An older and wiser Damon narrates the film as he looks back on life with a bit of nostalgia and not necessarily the healthy kind. We see the younger Damon’s early remarks as well as what he has learned. Derek is tough but he is a father who tries to help his son get a foot-up in life. It just so happens that he is not totally legit. We see a great father/son relationship as we get a look at the side of politics that we should not see (even though we know it is there).

 

I wish that the relationship had been based on honesty but this 20-minute short film heads in a different direction. It also makes us think about that which is called an unfortunate accident. Timothy J. Cox once again shows his amazing versatility as an actor and he is supported well by the rest of the cast . “Solutions” was  written and directed by Zachary Halfter. This is the first of his films that I have seen but will be watching for them from now.

 

“Santa’s Husband” by Daniel Kimmelsmith and A.P. Quach— A New Twist on Santa Claus

Kibblesmith, Daniel and A.P. Quach (illustrator). “Santa’s Husband”, Harper, 2017.

A New Twist on Santa Claus

Amos Lassen

“Santa’s Husband” offers a new twist on an old story and there are sure to be those who will be offended by this. Written by Daniel Kibblesmith, a gay Jew, we meet Santa who happens to be black and his white husband at their home at the North Pole.

This is a witty and sweet illustrated Christmas tale, that introduces us to Mr. and Mr. Claus, and gives us a look at their lives together. We see them sitting by the fire at their cozy home, vacationing at the beach, having an occasional disagreement, celebrating their wedding day, and comforting each other when some people on television disagree with their appearance and lifestyle.

During the weeks before Christmas, Santa’s husband helps with all the pre-Christmas work (including, from double-checking lists and feeding the reindeer (organic gluten-free grains and negotiating labor disputes with the workshop elves). When things get really busy during the toy-making season, he even subs for his busy hubby at the mall to ensure every child can meet Santa and give him their wish list. We are reminded that Santa Claus can come in all shapes and colors and sizes—just like the children and families he visits all over the world each Christmas eve.

The book features beautiful watercolor pictures drawn by artist AP Quach and the book is a clever gift for readers of all ages. Truthfully, before I saw the book, I thought that it might be geared too much toward adults bit I saw that I was wrong here. It is a book for children with a very strong message about love and family. It is perfect to use with children that we want to see grow up into “a generous and inclusive world where love and magic reign over cynicism and exclusion.” It is understood that if we can use Santa “to sell cola and toys, why can’t he be used to sell family and caring?” The words of the text bring the humanity in the characters. Here “Santa is black and the overweight, white, bearded, jolly guy we all picture when we think of Santa is his husband” who helps Santa prepare for Christmas each year, in addition to other chores around the North Pole. When they are not at work, Santa and his husband play with their dog, go to the beach, garden and take naps like any couple does. The themes of acceptance and love make this a cute and important book. The one-liners are great as is the artwork. This is a wonderful look into the true meaning of the holidays that, after all, are about love and family.

 

“The Health Hazards of Homosexuality: What the Medical and Psychological Research Reveals”— REALLY??? REALLY???? REALLY????

MassResistance. “The Health Hazards of Homosexuality: What the Medical and Psychological Research Reveals”, MassResistance, 2017.

REALLY??? REALLY???? REALLY???? (TO BE POSTED UNDER GLBT FICTION)

Amos Lassen

I doubt that any of us would have ever known this book even existed had it not been par/t of the swag in the gift bag given out at the Value Voters Summit where the man who believes he is the president of the United States addressed the crowd made up largely by white supremacists, far right activists and zealous fundamentalists. Whatever his name is the famed p***y grabber became the first and only president to address a hate group. The authors (who are not named claim that this book answers the question: “Why should we be concerned about homosexuality?” It goes on to say that “the mainstreaming and normalization of homosexuality has created a public health crisis affecting us all. There is an astoundingly disproportionate incidence of medical and psychological pathologies among homosexual men, lesbians, and bisexuals. Yet the general public knows little about the baneful nature of homosexuality and its associated addictions and behaviors that invite disease.” (You might want to read that sentence again but without laughing because these people are serious about the garbage that they are trying to feed to other ignorant ***holes like themselves. They claim that this “ book brings together information from widely dispersed and hard-to-find sources, summarizing recent medical and psychological research in laymen’s terms. Sources include the Centers for Disease Control, medical professional groups, published medical research, media reports, plus LGBT medical and advocacy groups – all documented in 1,800 endnotes with up-to-date links.”

The “main topics include: • Why homosexuality is a public health issue, and not just a private issue • The politicized medical and mental health establishments • The “born gay” myth: homosexuality is not innate • How many identify as “gay”, lesbian, or bisexual • The mental health issues: depression, anxiety, suicidality (this seems to be a word), substance use, partner abuse, and BDSM (bondage/sexual sadomasochism) • The self-harming lifestyles and sexual practices of homosexual men and lesbians • The disproportionate disease incidence among “gays”, lesbians, and bisexuals • Why homosexuals have shortened lifespan, chronic conditions, lower quality of life • How HIV/AIDS is re-emerging as an epidemic among homosexual men • The “safer sex” lie and other mixed messages from the medical establishment • How the CDC is spreading false optimism on HIV drug treatments • Bisexuals have the highest incidence of pathologies • How lesbians and heterosexuals are imitating unsafe homosexual male practices • The psychological and medical issues of transgenderism • Child abuse: interventions supporting “transgender” identities in youth.” I have chosen to quote directly from the book because I am incapable of getting down to the levels of stupidity we have here and it is embarrassing form me to see that the book began here in Massachusetts, one of the most loving and liberal states in this country. But wait, it gets even sillier as we read on.

“When it comes to the topic of sexual health, our youth have the distinction of being among the most lied-to generation. For this reason alone, The Health Hazards of Homosexuality should be required reading for all health professionals, educators, legislators, graduate students, and parents.”

“MassResistance began in 1995 in Massachusetts as Parents’ Rights Coalition, focused on preserving parental rights over their children’s exposure to inappropriate “sex ed” in the schools. Later as Article 8 Alliance, the group made a valiant attempt to halt the unconstitutional Massachusetts “gay marriage” court ruling of 2003, and its illegal implementation by Governor Mitt Romney. The name MassResistance was adopted in 2005 in recognition of the perilous times we had entered, especially regarding the abrogation of parental rights, the LGBT curriculum in the schools, the broader silencing of free speech, and lawless governance. MassResistance now has activists and supporters in all 50 states and over a dozen foreign countries. The organization’s research staff compiled the book.”

Here is a sampling of reviews of the book. “This book is everything that is wrong with the United States right now. Disgusting example of intolerance and lack of diversity. The people who like this book and gave it a high review must be pretty mentally unwell themselves to believe these fabrication or they are just too dumb to realize they are being conned OR they hate anything that goes against their inbred belief system. The alt-right is going way too far with their lies and hypocrisy.”

“Absolutely disgusting, I have no words for how awful this is.”

Pseudoscience pedaled by hate groups who are at odds not only with the LGBTI community, but the larger medical, scientific, and psychiatric community. That Amazon would allow hate propaganda to be sold and made available on their platforms is regrettable. The arguments advanced in this book are those of Nazis.”

“Wish I could give less than one star. This book and the damaging rhetoric inside is absolute TRASH.”

“This is beyond disgusting that Amazon will even sell this. All the people involved in putting together this HATE SPEECH just may be the dumbest people on the planet and why are they so obsessed with gay sex?”

“Jewish New York: The Remarkable Story of a City and a People”— The Definitive History of Jews in New York and How They Transformed the City

Various. “Jewish New York: The Remarkable Story of a City and a People”, NYU Press, 2017.

The Definitive History of Jews in New York and How They Transformed the City

Amos Lassen

“Jewish New York” shows us the multifaceted world of the city. Jews have been in New York for some 300 years and have become one of one of the city’s most important ethnic and religious groups. We follow them from the earliest arrival of Jews in New Amsterdam to the recent immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union.                         

Jewish immigrants have transformed New York and they continue to do so. They built its clothing industry and constructed blocks of apartment buildings. New York Jews have helped to make the city the center of the nation’s publishing industry and shaped popular culture in music, theater, and the arts. Their strong sense of social justice, dedication to civil rights and civil liberties, and a belief in the duty of government to provide social welfare for all its citizens, shows how the city’s Jews have influenced the city, state, and nation with social activism. 

This works both ways and we see here that New York “transformed Judaism and stimulated religious pluralism, Jewish denominationalism, and contemporary feminism. The city’s neighborhoods hosted unbelievably diverse types of Jews, from Communists to Hasidim.”   

We not only get a description of the many positive influences on New York, but we also get a look at how the Jews struggled with poverty and anti-Semitism.  Because of these injustices, Jews “reinforced an exemplary commitment to remaking New York into a model multiethnic, multiracial, and multi-religious world city.” 

Jews have been, and remain, central to the life of New York City. The book covers topics such as religion, politics, popular culture and gender. And gives us a clear understanding of Jewish experiences and the history of New York as it explores the streets, synagogues, politics, and organizations of the city.