July Book Review Wrap Up

So many books, so little time! I am an avid reader and love to share recommendations with fellow readers. My choice in books tend to vary by my mood but some of my favorites are mystery, suspense, thriller, and humor. Get my reviews direct to your inbox every Wednesday and check back here for monthly features.

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A Tale of Two Shtetls

By: Elissa Allerhand

Meir is a child protege, growing up in a Ukrainian shtetl who will one day succeed his uncle as the Rebbe. A great scholar from a young age, he is also gifted with empathy and a natural leadership. As evidence when he convinces his ailing father to take in an elegantly dressed woman running from her past, seeking refuge from the Russian Royal Court. Meir faces challenges as he prepares for his future role, including jealousy from his cousin, Gershon, who is also a nephew to the great Rebbe.

This work of historical fiction paints an interesting picture of shtetl life and the culture of the Hasidic movement. Meir is faced with a future that has already been decided for him and involves a difficult path with great expectations. I found myself rooting for Meir’s cousin, Gershon, to see past his jealousy and find his own path. The love story between Meir and Rivka is really lovely.

A Tale of Two Shtetls gives a vivid and realistic picture of life of Jews living in Ukraine and Russia in the 18th Century. One gets an appreciation for the dangers of living in a highly antisemitic environment with frequent pogroms. The story is quickly paced and nicely written. The paperback edition has a few editing issues where paragraphs are repeated in a few places, which detracted from the story a little. But overall, this was an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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Shavlan

By: Eunice Blecker

Based on true stories past down to the author by her maternal grandmother, Shavlan tells the story of Sarah Taube against the backdrop of life in early 20th century Russia. The story follows Sarah Taube’s life of love, loss, faith, and hope.

Sarah Taube’s story is an important depiction of life for Eastern European Jews in this particular time period. This was not an easy time to be alive. The story portrays Sarah Taube’s evolution from innocent young girl to strong, resilient wife and mother. Her life has its share of tragedy and loss yet she does what is necessary for the survival of her family.

The love story between Sarah Taube and Charles is so sweetly written. Their enduring love, in spite of all the difficulties they face is truly beautiful. Sarah Taube’s independent spirit is passed down to the next generation, in her daughter Ruchel who insists on blazing her own trail in life.

This is a lovely story and an enjoyable read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Judenrein

By: Harold Benjamin

A white supremacist movement has taken over America. Jews have been rounded up, striped of their property and placed in ghettos. Zack Gurevitz is a former Green Beret with a difficult past who has turned his back on the faith that turned its back on him. Until his help is needed to stop a terror attack set to place his people at risk. He hesitantly agrees to help but finds himself caught up in something much worse than anyone originally suspected.

This dystopian thriller captured my attention from the first chapter and didn’t let go to the last page. The story is fast-paced and will keep you guessing at who can be trusted. The plot is incredibly timely, to the point of almost prophetic, and a reminder that those who “fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it” (Churchill). The writing is incredibly powerful and vividly descriptive. Zack Gurevitz is an interestingly complex protagonist struggling with addiction and a difficult relationship with his faith. He’s not your typical, clean cut, hero which only made me root for him more.

This one goes on my ‘must read’ list.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Uri Full of Light

By: Holly Sortland

Uri Geller is a high school junior, trying to adapt to life in South Dakota when his father chose to take a job in the local hospital, transferring his family from their Modern Orthodox community in Pennsylvania. It’s a challenging transition for him but all of that changed when he met Hannah Hagen at a football game, in 1996.

Hannah has her own challenges, coping with life with her terminally ill father and trying to get past a toxic relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Hannah becomes curious about Uri’s faith and cultural traditions. Eventually presenting her with a choice. Convert or lose her high school sweetheart.

Hannah completes her conversion, relocating to Uri’s hometown in Pennsylvania in order to assimilate into the Modern Orthodox community while Uri serves in the Israeli Defense Force. The two decide to begin their married life in Israeli during the terrorist bombings in the early 2000s.

This is Holly Sortland’s debut novel and I can’t wait to read more from her. Uri Full of Light is a moving and emotional story of love and loss. I appreciated the depiction of Uri’s life in South Dakota, trying to fit in in a secular school while still trying to maintain his observance of his faith. The relationship is between Uri and Hannah is truly heartwarming in its innocence.

I found the description of Hannah’s conversion experience very relatable. It’s a deeply personal journey that can be incredibly lonely as a person straddles two worlds, not feeling like she was really quite Jewish yet but not who she used to be either. I got goosebumps reading of Hannah’s mikvah experience.

Sortland creates an accurate image of the Jewish cultural experience in America while also tying in a difficult period in Israeli history.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Track your reading goals with my reading journal templates. Receive them free when you join my mailing list. As a bonus, you’ll also receive my Ultimate 100 Book Reading Challenge!

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