Saturday, April 9, 2011

Medical Student Shares Stories: "Short White Coat: Lessons from Patients on Becoming a Doctor" by James A. Feinstein, MD

"Short White Coat: Lessons from Patients on Becoming a Doctor" by James A. Feinstein MD

Publisher:  iUniverse
Copyright Date:  2009
ISBN:  978-1-4401-7513-8 (soft cover)
            978-1-4401-7514-5 (ebook)
Pages: 205

Book Summary:

"Most people will, at some point or another, either find themselves dressed in a tiny hospital gown or staring at someone else dressed in a tiny hospital gown. Whether from the perspective of a patient, a family member, or a medical professional, we all have a significant stake in the process of medical education. While numerous memoirs recount physicians' grueling experiences during residency, few focus on the even more formative portion of medical training: the third year of medical school: the clinical year. "Short White Coat..." is the disarmingly honest, yet endearing and sometimes funny account of a medical student's humbling initiation into the world of patient care. 

Written during his third year of medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, James Feinstein's Short White Coat uses a series of engaging narrative essays to illustrate the universal life lessons that his very first patients teach him...Along the way, he learns from his own mistakes before discovering the answer to the question that plagues every medical student: "Do I have what it takes to become a doctor?"

About Him:
"James A. Feinstein MD survived medical school and is thriving as a practicing pediatrician."

My Review:

Just two weeks ago, my mother called to say that she was upset. Her face had developed a horrible, sudden case of rosaceae which traveled up into her hair, causing it to fall out. This is a woman who has kept her flawless complexion looking like a 20 year old's, and her thick, wavy hair in the latest styles as long as I can remember. She's now 80 yrs. old and looks 60.

Off she went to a newly recommended doctor who came in, looked at her face (no eye contact), pronounced her problem rosaceae, plucked a few hair strands out of her crown and said, "Yep, that's what happens when you get old. You lose your hair." To which my mother replies, "I'm not really that old." [This she tells me in a choked voice, so I know it's hurt her spirit.] Then he writes her a `script, tosses it to her, and he's gone.

Mom called not to complain about the rosaceae, but to tell me she misses her old doctor, Dr. Marks, who used to look her in the eyes and ask her what was the matter. The one who held her hand and listened before he examined her, respectfully. Dr. Marks, who smiled kindly and told her she'd be fine, and who waved good-bye. He always made her feel nearly cured. He died two years ago.

Short White Coat..." is, in part the culmination of life lessons in story form of how the latter type of doctor learns and develops that which is inherent in his nature, his heart and his soul. While Dr. Feinstein suggests it's his patients who teach him lessons on doctoring, I would argue that it could only be possible if the student had a teachable heart. This young man does, and on each page of his book it glowingly comes in such an unassuming manner that one can only be humbled in the reading. This is not a braggart's self-congratulatory thesis.

James Feinstein's writing is crisp, clean and engaging. There is a joy and hopefulness to his author's voice. `though, when he is despondent, we feel it; and when he's learned an enduring truth; we do, too. This is the sign of a gifted communicator, a worthy author~one we can profit from reading. With each lesson enabled by patients, Dr. Feinstein invites us along his journey of epiphanies. Although some lessons seem at first to be ones we recognize, he sheds new light on them; a fresh perspective that causes us to reach deeper and look again.

The story of Jack and Hannah, a lower middle-class, elderly couple who lived humbly and kept a kitchen garden, is just such a story that touched me profoundly. When my young husband was dying of cancer, I often concerned myself with whether our house was neat and clean enough for visitors; whether I'd say and do the right things to make them comfortable. I always swore to and did keep my sweet husband informed to the letter about his condition and "what was going on." This story taught me a lesson about that and more. It taught me new lessons about dying and being the caretaker that I had missed.

James Feinstein tells of his teacher, Dr. Freedman, a private practitioner, and himself arriving at the couple's home only to be greeted like visiting royalty. Jack happily leads them through a hoarder's delight of a garage, down a foot-worn carpeted, cramped hallway to Hannah's and his bedroom. All the while, Jack is buoyantly offering homegrown veggies, other refreshments, and boisterous conversation. Hannah, on the other hand, is gray-skinned, deplete of energy and uncommunicative~dying.

Young Dr. Feinstein watches as Jack lightly touches Hannah's shoulder in an unexpectedly gentle and love-filled manner. She visibly melts into a peaceful restfulness. As the doctors go with Jack to his kitchen, attempting to tell him to make preparations since Hannah's days are few, Jack continuously cuts Dr. Freedman off with hearty tales of recipes. He refuses to listen or allow the doctor to speak. Rather, as he leads them back through the garage, Jack offers Dr. Freedman two gifts of such insurmountable value their impact causes James Feinstein to understand there was `nothng else he (I) wanted to do more' than to be a doctor. So simple a story, so profound a confirming message.

Dr. James A. Feinstein shares with us a beautiful collection of memories and life lessons. The pages seem to melt away as they are read. This will be one of the most memorable books you'll read in 2011. It's a book to gift your doctor with this year. It's a book your loved ones and friends will thank you for.

Winner of the Reader Views: "Reviewer's Choice Award of 2010"

I highly recommend this book to everyone of all ages.

*Note:  Do you have any doctor stories to share with us???  Comment below, and I'll post them on my blog.  Thanks!

PS: I hope someone tells Dr. Feinstein I wish him well, and wish he were my doctor.


Friday, April 8, 2011

"The Cypress House," by Michael Koryta ~ Amps Up the Suspense!

"The Cypress House" is one of the first novels I'm not sure I will do justice to in a review. It is a book so rich in good writing and suspense that it demands reading to really get a complete sense of how excellent it is. Frankly, Michael Koryta is at the top of authors in this genre, in my opinion, in today's literature.

I am simply exhausted. "The Cypress House" is not a book that allows you to go calmly about your daily business once you've opened it and read the first two paragraphs. I've been fitting it into my schedule, bit by bit, for the last three days, and wishing I could have read it in one sitting. Completely addictive novel...hands down.

Rumors about Michael Koryta's being "one of the best of the best" suspense writers, a quote from Michael Connelly (author of "The Poet," -- a personal favorite), are almost damning him with faint praise, as the saying goes. Koryta is in a league of his own.

He is an artist. His masterful hand, creating time and place, draws one into step with his characters moment by moment, relentlessly. The descriptions Koryta gives are his paintbrush of the reality and truth of things, lying in the minute details. As he mentions the creaky shutters slamming in the wind 'just like the screen door at his old home'...or someting squeaking 'like the swing on the porch' of his father's house, I know exactly what the sound is and where its origin lies. As a Southerner, I see the picture in my head, and I'm there with his characters...visually, in my hearing and viserally. This is only one example of many.

I was drawn into the hearts and minds of Koryta's characters, whether good or evil, and could understand the motives of each. What admirable people the "good guys" are; so worthy of respect, and teachers of morals and virtue. Arlen, the pivitol character, and Paul who are bonded in a sort of father/son companionship, are characters with depth of color, personality and symbolism. Their love interest, the central character, Rebecca, is a young woman caught up in personal struggles and circumstances that ask of her self-sufficiency and criminal wiles not common for women her age.

The reader becomes as entangled in the anxieties and complexities of the characters' problems as they do, even as they seem insurmountable. It is this common bonding under duress that Mr. Koryta so deftly channels that brings us into the situation without our knowing it, until we've become caught up in the horror, ourselves. We become the invisible accomplices with our characters, so that when all is done, our own hearts and minds are as striped to the bare bone as theirs. We are as exhausted as they are. Their triumphs are ours, and their losses, our losses.

Along with his "film noir" story setting in the storm tossed, hurricane season of Florida's Gulf Coast, Michael Koryta also throws us the tangy bit of extra-sensory perception. Arlen has the paranormal gift of seeing the impending, possible death of others. This gift lends another dimension to an already stirling suspense novel. Mr. Koryta has us totally amped-up for the ride...

I could say much more about his expertise as a writer. His use of vocabulary and dialog works to build his characters and their place in the story to perfect pitch. I learned a great deal about the veteran's work program, depression era during post WWI, and the Roosevelt administration. I also learned a bit about a soldier's post traumatic stress syndrome, and its pros and cons. There is so much meat in Koryta's writing.

He magically employs the anthropomorphic technique of natural setting to build suspense and over-hanging doom. A house made of cypress...the wood of coffins, nearly indestructible, and carrying a foreshadowing. The darkness of weather patterns and the damage they reek, as well as the frightening unknowns of the swamp, provide an additional picture of looming danger, as well as the unknown factor of an "act of God," which could turn any plan upside down. Because Koryta employs this powerful technique, we are always set on edge and waiting for the proverbial "shoe to drop." It's excruciatingly wonderful and reminiscent of Faulkner.

"The Cypress House" is a powerful and masterfully written suspense novel. Readers of this genre will, from now on, place Michael Koryta's books among those that they purchase simply on the basis that he wrote them. His first editions will become collectible because he is our next "The Postman Always Rings Twice," suspense author.

His other books include: "So Cold The River," a recent release and,

"Envy The Night," for which he won The LA Times Book Prize for best mystery thriller

Visit his website at:

*Please leave a comment if you've read this book, or want to...

Your Bookish Dame/Deborah

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Sing You Home" ~ Jodi Picoult The Review

Jodi Picoult is the voice of the everyday woman today. While one may not always agree with her, I believe that she attempts to give as complete a perspective of comtemporary issues as any social "observer" can. In "Sing You Home," Jodi has made no exception.

Like the message or not. Jodi is what used to be known in ancient times as a "scop." Scop means a bard or news-carrier from Anglo-Saxson England. It was a word practically obsolete by the 14th c., but revived again in the 18th c. It is a definition of those who carried news and stories from town to town in ancient cities before people could read or write. What I mean to say here is that Ms Picoult will be known, I believe, as an author who recorded our contemporary times and social struggles in such a way that the general population could understand a scop who stopped in villages and spoke around fire gatherings giving the latest news of the "world."

"Sing You Home," is a controversial novel. And, it is a good one. The characters are real; their feelings and personal struggles are heavy. Though you may not agree with every decision they make, you can understand why they make them, ultimately. My daughter who has experienced the personal pain and emotional upheavals associated with IVF, told me she had to put the book down. She was moved to tears, relating to the reality that Ms Picoult wrote into her characters. She was hit once again with the emotional passages she had walked. "How can she tell about something so intimate?" she wanted to know. That's the gift Jodi Picoult has. The gift of conveying the realities of emotional pain, horror, love and healing...the conditions of life.

In "Sing You Home," the story guides us through a marriage that disintegrates and then works its way around to something more interesting. We learn how innovative therapies such as music can reach an otherwise locked-up teenager. And, we find that a person of age doesn't mean they are unwilling to learn and be valuable contributors to other's lives. While it's unrealistic to expect everyone to agree with decisions made by Picoult's characters, we are given an opportunity to envision the situations that many encounter in our society with it's alternative choices.

Jodi Picoult is an author of significant writing skills. It is clear that she is capable of reaching a wide range of readers. Her goal is to do just that. I believe she is more than capable of narrowing her scope to a more specific following, even to her own personal perspectives alone...but she choses to reach more people with views that are as multi-faceted as possible. This is the gift of a true writer who is committed to giving herself to her readers for the good of all. A writer who sees her purpose as shedding light on the issues of the day, and allowing her readers to make their own, more informed decisions about them.

I highly recommend "Sing You Home." It's a novel that will make you cry, make you think outside the will make you angry, and it will expand your sense of what could be done to resolve what seems unresolvable. It's a novel of our times for good or for bad. It sheds a light on what different people and groups of people are thinking and living, and for the most part, I think Jodi does that in a way that's unsurpassed by other writers today. She knows her readers, and she writes for them.

I don't think the Christian perspective received a full and complete audit; but, nor do I think the teenager in her novel was fully developed, nor the reality of dealing with different relationships. There is much that could be written about these that was left unsaid in "Sing You Home," so I'm wondering if it's a segway into a second book, or if she meant to leave things open ended.

As a gift, Jodi has written some song lyrics which her friend has set to music and sings. She has added this as a CD and it is attached to her book. It is an accompaniment to every chapter. I'm not one to listen to music as I read, so I have listened to it separately. I appreciate the gift and the inner work it took for Jodi Picoult to share with us.

If you haven't already gotten this book, I hope you'll go now and buy it. It's an important and excellent read. Your book groups will have a fantastic time with it, too!


Monday, April 4, 2011

"The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither" YA Fiction ~ For Adults, too

Publisher: Simon & Schuster: Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-1-4424-0905-7
Pages: 368
Ages: 14 and up

Summary from Book Cover:

"In the not-too-distant future, because of genetic engineering, every human is a ticking time bomb--males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. To keep the population from dying out, girls are kidnapped and sold into polygamous marriages.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine is taken, she enters a world of wealth and privilege that both entices and terrifies her. She has everything she ever wanted--except freedom. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to escape Before It Is Too Late."

My Review:

With author Lauren DeStefano, there is hardly a moment's breather from the time you read the first to the last sentence of "Wither." This novel is fantastic. Her writing style is beautifully suited to a young adult audience, but I also found it mesmerizing as an adult, as well.

Ms DeStefano's storyline is well-conceived, and she deftly executes it without flaw, presenting a book that melts away so that time flys by. I simply could not tear myslef away from it, and I didn't want it to end when it did. This is a rarity for a reader who is used to mostly adult fiction.

Not since Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," have I read such a believeable dystopian novel. Lauren DeStefano brings us into a futuristic society whose population has been chemically altered with horrifying results. "Wives" and servant-workers are blackmarketed by slavetraders called "Gatherers," and discarded undesirables are eliminated. Young people of 2nd and 3rd generations of chemical/genetic altering have become victims of scientific efforts to extend life. Many become orphans and fodder for the Gatherers who supply 1st generations with human replacements.

Our own youth obsessed society is not so distant from this mindset when we consider our society's interest in plastic surgery and prolonging life, not to mention the attempts to find ways to put off old age all together. It was, obviously, this youth-centeredness that caused the mishap that set the chemical disaster into motion in DeStafan's novel... a warning to all of us.

Ms DeStafano is so adept at creating her characters that they live. Told from the perspective of Rhine, who is her narrator and primary female character, we feel as if we are actually living in the moment. The "sister wives" are individuals, not shadow people, but girls we come to know and cherish. And, Rhine's love interests illicit complex, mixed feelings that mirror her personal struggles, as well. Genius writing causes one to long for more in the Chemical Garden Trilogy.

My recommendation is to buy this book immediately. It's a fantastic read for the weekend, or for a couple of days when you need a good novel. Your daughter will love it and thank you, too.
 Personally, I'm anxious to find out when the second book in her series is coming out. Lauren DeStafano is an author who will capture a following. She has a bright future. Her trilogy is going to be a collection for your library.

And, by the way, isn't the cover design artistic and beautiful?
Your Bookish Dame/Deborah

"Being Polite to Hitler" ~ A Cautionary Tale

"Being Polite to Hitler"

By: Robb Forman Dew

Publisher: Little, Brown & Co.

January 2011

ppgs: 296

"After being a teacher and raising her family for most of her life, Agnes Scofield realizes she is truly weary of the routine her life has become. But how, at age fifty-four, can she establish an identity apart from what has so long defined her? Despite a newfound freedom, Agnes finds herself becoming even more entangled in the family web. In Being Polite to Hitler, one of our most cherished chroniclers of the intricacies of personal and family life in all its seasons brings us a sweeping portrayal of a much misunderstood American era."

My Review:

Absolutely stunning novel so full of meaning and history that you can bearly read each page without wanting to stop, think and take it in. This novel is absorbing to read, as well as being a voyeristic trek into one family's dynamics. Ms Dew's sense of plot and timing is seamless. You will be taken up and lifted through this book effortlessly.

Robb Forman Dew, a former National Book Award winner for her book "Dale Loves Sophie To Death," is an author whose ilk I've rarely had the pleasure of experiencing since college in classic American Literature. In fact, this book ought to be read as a requirement, it's that relavent today for understanding our social history in the post-WWII 1950's and early 1960's. Dew ranks with such authors as Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf and Carson McCullers in her abilities and significance.

Centered around the Scofield family in "small town" Ohio, Ms Dew renders the microcomic view of an ordinary set of people with their reactions to such critical transitions as civil rights, the Rosenbergs, the atomic bomb threat, post-war commercialism, JFK's assassination and other issues of the mid-century.

Her characterization is flawless with such women as Agnes, the matriarch. Just her saying this below made her a wonder in my mind:

"But what on earth possessed these people for whom she had been the best parent she could manage to be, for whom she had tried to pretend wisdom, to mime adulthood--oh, Lord! Those children! Why weren't they safe by now? What were they doing? They rushed along through their lives, discarding the days like so many pieces of bad fish. It amazed her that they hadn't absorbed the idea--through all the time they spent growing up--of taking care, of guardedly harbouring...Well! Why were they so careless of their own contentment? Why weren't they willing to be happy all the time?"

Which mother of us hasn't felt that way??

Interestingly enough, her grandchildren are the children raised on the cusp of ribald commerciaism and over-indulgence; as they search the skies for Sputnik, play in bomb shelters and learn how to hide under desks at school.

Ms Dew is a gifted writer whose work will make a difference and will become an edict for contemporary Americans, and our society which is caught up in our every day distractions and fatalism. It's easy, however, to be seduced into a false complacency by the numerous sources of media today. Like those who "saw" the threats around them in those early decades, we often believe that "being polite to Hitler" in polite company, and throwing money at a cause will suffice.

I would highly recommend this novel to everyone--women and men. You can find a video introduction on, and bookgroup questions at:


Let me know what you think, please!

Your Bookish Dame