Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review of A ‘Horse Walks into a Bar’ by David Grossman




A man walks into a nightclub. The man has been invited to see the stand-up routine of a well-known, slightly past-his-prime comedian. Sitting down for the performance the man expects an evening of comedy, jokes, one-liners, humorous anecdotes about the comedian’s life. That is not what he gets.

In A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman (Jonathan Cape, November 2016), we meet Dovaleh Greenstein as he stands on stage to entertain a mixed audience typical for an Israeli nightclub – couples, soldiers, people out for an evening’s entertainment. At a table in the back is the story’s narrator, Avishai Lazar, a retired judge who knew Dovaleh as a boy. Avishai has since forgotten their childhood experiences and wonders why Dovaleh has invited him to the club.

Dovaleh’s monologue begins. He tells a few jokes but the audience’s response is mostly forced laughter. The jokes just aren’t funny and they’re mixed with personal stories which are hardly amusing. The comedian is far from being comedic. His tales become painful to hear. The audience gets restless; some people stand up to leave the club.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ionia Martin Reviews 'Valley of Thracians'




This review was posted on the Readful Things Blog in 2013. It was one of the very first reviews of the book!

When I first read the description for this book, I thought “Bulgaria?” That is certainly an unusual setting. It really is, and that, I believe is part of this book’s charm. I get tired of reading stories that are set in the same place over and over. I like it when the author not only uses a different setting than the norm, but also knows something about the setting they choose, and this author clearly does.

The descriptions are beautifully penned. You can see the colours before your eyes and feel the atmosphere as you read. There were actually a couple of passages in this book I went back and read again after finishing, simply because I enjoyed them so much.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Pilgrimage to Bulgaria’s Rila Monastery




Nestled in mountain forests an hour and a half south of Sofia, the Rila Monastery is Bulgaria’s most popular tourist destination. It is the country's largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery, attracting both the faithful and the curious. As a pilgrimage destination, it is known locally as the Jerusalem of Bulgaria.

Jodie and I visited the Rila Monastery on a number of occasions, driving down from Sofia with our visitors from overseas. The monastery made such an impression on me that I staged a pivotal scene from my novel there. Walk through the arched entrance and your eyes will open wide with amazement.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Review of What to Do About the Solomons by Bethany Ball




The first thing you’ll notice when opening the pages of What to Do About the Solomons by Bethany Ball (Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2017) is the Solomon family tree. You may end up referring to this tree frequently as one character after another is introduced. After all, this is a multi-generational family drama starring Yakov Solomon, his children and his grandchildren. It’s a bit confusing at first, until you get to know them all.

Yakov – “a real sabra, born in Israel seventy-five years ago. He’d gone to school with Rabin, supped with Barak, was the guest of the kings of Jordan and Morocco” – is the founding member of a Jordan Valley kibbutz who has built a very successful construction company. Yakov is married to the “beautiful and worldly” Algerian-born Vivienne. Heartbroken when her non-Jewish boyfriend fails to follow her to Palestine, she brazenly states, “I will never love you, Yakov Solomon!”

Yet the couple raise five children and the novel follows this second generation and their offspring. There is Marc, the Israeli naval commando who moved to Los Angeles only to find his asset management firm accused of a vast money laundering scheme. Marc’s sister Shira is a self-absorbed movie actress whose career is more important than caring for Joseph, the 11-year-old son she leaves to fend for himself in Jerusalem while she travels with her actor friend Ayelet.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Magnificent Bahá'í Gardens of Akko, Israel



On the slopes of Mt. Carmel, overlooking Haifa Bay, is a small, but very impressive golden dome. This is the Shrine of the Bab, a mausoleum that is the second holiest Bahá'í site. Looking down from the scenic viewpoint on Yafe Nof Street you see the eighteen monumental terraces, the domed shrine, the lower city, the port, and the Mediterranean coast all the way north to Rosh Hanikra.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Recent Reads April 2017 Edition

It’s early morning and the train pulls out of the station. I’m on my way to work, but first I make myself comfortable. I take my tablet out of my backpack and load the latest novel I’ve been reading. Within minutes I am lost in the plot. The train races along, passing through one station after another. And then it’s time for me to get off the train. I put away my tablet, eager to return to my book on the journey home.

I do most of my reading on the train. Here are some of the latest books I’ve been reading. Enjoy!

The Girl from the Sea by Shalini Boland (Adrenalin Books, June 2016) is another psychological thriller with “Girl” as part of its title, but this one stands out from the rest. A woman washes up on the beach and can't remember her name or who she is. Her supposed family and friends come forward to help her reclaim what appears to be a perfect life, but something doesn't seem right. Everyone appears to have ulterior motives; nothing is as it seems. Complete with a plausible, page-turning plot; believable characters; and an unexpected ending, this thriller will stay in your mind for some time.



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What a Typewriter Bar Mitzvah Gift and Devoted Creative Time Can Do for Your Writing

I had this conversation with author Lia Mack a number of years ago but she has just re-posted it on her new blog. In the interview, Lia stated that my "insight and inspiration for fellow writers is, as always, spot on!" Lia, thank you so much for that, and for re-posting the interview.

One of the questions Lia asks is: "If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?"

Find my answer and the rest of the interview on Lia's blog!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Day I Bumped into the Prime Minister of Bulgaria



During the two years we lived in Bulgaria, my wife and I regularly left our home in Sofia to drive into the countryside, exploring picturesque villages and visiting ethnographical museums. We were eager to learn everything we could about Bulgarian history and culture. I was constantly researching new places to visit.

On one extended December weekend, my wife and I traveled to Burgas, on the Black Sea coast. Despite the cold breezes and cloudy skies, we drove all the way south to the Turkish border and then back to Sozopol, an ancient seaside town that serves as a crowded resort in the summer months.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review of Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen




They clean. They clear tables. They wash dishes; they wash floors. They walk the streets, ride the buses. They are dark-skinned, indistinguishable, and most of them don’t speak our language. They are all around us, but we don’t acknowledge their existence. We see them in our peripheral vision, yet we never see them at all.

Eritrean refugees in Israel, who hardly ever feature in our concerns, take center stage in the novel Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Little, Brown and Company, February 2017). They make a very strong impact, one that starts late at night on a dark desert highway. Dr. Eitan Green, recently relocated to Beer Sheva with his family, slams into an Eritrean man and leaves him for dead.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How Bulgarians Welcome the Month of March




Walking the streets of Sofia during the month of February you come across stands selling an assortment of small items, all of them red and white in color. Looking closely, you see packets containing pieces of string, tassels, intermingled red and white yarn. Small woolen dolls – a male and a female. Souvenirs? Good luck trinkets?

Pedestrians quickly make their purchases and hurry on their way. Everything is in preparation for the month of March, and for the holiday that hopefully heralds the arrival of spring.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Romantic Weekend in Israel’s other Walled Old City



We lift our glasses of champagne to toast the setting sun. The Mediterranean is golden, nearly wave free as evening falls. Framing our view are white roofs topped with solar panels and satellite dishes. We hear vendors’ cries from the alleyway below and the muezzin’s call from a nearby mosque. We drink our champagne as the sun dips into the magnificent sea.


We are in Acre (Akko in Hebrew), a small city located across the bay from Haifa. Our sunset view is from the rooftop of two ancient houses beautifully preserved, restored, and merged into the boutique Efendi Hotel. We are at the start of a romantic weekend, a gift in honor of our special birthdays this year from our family. We are eager to explore the wonders of this colorful old city.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review of The Man Who Wanted to Know Everything



A middle-aged woman has been brutally murdered in her home and Inspector Avraham Avraham is called to the scene. Two clues present themselves to the inspector. The woman was the victim of a rape that he had investigated years before, and a policeman was seen leaving her building on the day of the murder.

We meet Inspector Avraham Avraham for the third time in The Man Who Wanted to Know Everything by D.A. Mishani, translated by Todd Hasak-Lowy (Harper Paperbacks, November 2016). We previously followed his investigations in The Missing File and A Possibility of Violence. Things are a bit different for the Holon Police officer this time around. He now serves as commander of investigations and this is his first murder case.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Valley of Thracians Now on Sale

Valley of Thracians - a suspenseful thriller set in modern day Bulgaria - is now at sale for just $0.99 / £0.99.


"Gripping, mysterious thriller with convincing characters, beautiful descriptions, ancient relics and modern quests"

Purchase your copy of Valley of Thracians at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk today!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Gripping, Mysterious Thriller



Reviewed by Alison Jack.

VALLEY OF THRACIANS begins with grandfather Simon Matthews travelling from Chicago to Bulgaria in order to search for his grandson, Scott. Scott had gone missing while working for the Peace Corps three years previously, during which time the Bulgarian police, the American embassy and even Scott’s father Daniel have all given up, presuming Scott to be dead. Despite this, Simon insists on continuing the search, especially when he receives mysterious hints that Scott is actually still alive.

Along the way, Simon encounters the good, the not so good and the truly evil. He is joined in his quest by ‘Sophia from Sofia’, an expert in Thracian (ancient Bulgarian) history, whose help proves invaluable, but whose motives for putting herself out to aid a stranger come increasingly into question. Is Sophia really the loyal friend she seems?

valley of thracians
From the very beginning VALLEY OF THRACIANS held me spellbound. This is a beautifully written thriller; every part of the story is completely absorbing, and it never feels as if the story is being dragged out unnecessarily. Such is Ellis Shuman’s skill with words that the reader feels part of the story. We share Simon’s unease as the mystery surrounding his grandson’s disappearance deepens. We share his fear when confronted by some wholly unsavory characters in an unfamiliar country.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review of The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts



Many readers – male readers that is – say that Shantaram is their favorite book ever. Who would not be captivated by the epic adventures of an Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escapes from prison and travels to India and the tumultuous struggles of life in the Bombay slums? Reading the saga of the swashbuckling protagonist - renamed Shantaram in the opening chapters - as he experiences the local culture and customs of India for over 900 pages, is almost a rite of passage. Although the book is a novel, it is somewhat an autobiography of its colorful author, Gregory David Roberts.

Like many, I waited for the book’s sequel with bated breath for twelve years. Once again, a weighty tome nearly 900 pages long. Yet, my waiting was not rewarded. The Mountain Shadow (Little, Brown Book Group, October 2015), fails to rekindle the excitement that gripped me when first meeting Shantaram.

What happens in the sequel? Shantaram gets on his motorcycle, gets into a fight, smokes a joint, pines for his soulmate, gets into another fight, gets on his motorcycle again, smokes another joint, pines some more for his soulmate. The plot meanders, if there is a plot at all. It all gets quite repetitious, and what’s more, none of it is particularly exciting.