Top Ten Reads of 2020

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne

As 2020 is quickly coming to a close (and not a moment too soon, am I right?!), I compiled a list of my top ten reads from the year. In no particular order, whether particularly poignant, impactful, or purely for good entertainment, these are the best of the best from my reading list this year. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

What were your top ten reads this year? I hope you’ll add your suggestions in the comments.

As this is one of my last posts before the close of 2020, I would like to take a moment to thank each and every one of you for supporting my blog and my writing. My site has grown in ways I never imagined when the year began. To my subscribers, to those who share my posts, to those who have purchased my books and left a review, even to those who simply stumbled upon my site thanks to a random search, I appreciate you and look forward to continuing the conversation with new book reviews, interviews, and more of my own writing to come in 2021. Happy New Year!


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Caledonia by Sherry V. Ostroff

Anna Isaac is a fifteen year old Jewess living in 17th century Scotland. Her father is determined to see her settled before his poor health becomes worse so he tasks her angry and vindictive brother with choosing her groom. Faced with an impossible choice, Anna seeks the help of a visiting Highlander. A choice that will changer her fate and send her on an incredible journey. Enter Hanna, a modern day young woman, living in Pennsylvania. Her family followed traditions she never quite understood until an inheritance sends her on her own journey of self-discovery.

This is my first work by Sherry Ostroff and I can’t wait to read more. I was completely engrossed within the first twenty pages and couldn’t put it down. The story transitions seamlessly between past and present. There are clear and interesting parallels between Anna and Hanna. Each of these women is wonderfully complex. The connection of their stories is expertly crafted. And without any spoilers, there was a scene near the end that was so beautifully written, it moved me to tears. I highly recommend this book!

Jerusalem Stone by Susan Sofayov

Julie Wasserman’s world has been turned upside down. She’s lost a job she enjoyed, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Then her twin brother is taken from her, in a car crash. She’s faced with returning to her hometown, of Pittsburgh, and her grief-stricken father, to start over in her new normal. But with a gap of time before her new job begins, Julie finds herself impulsively flying to Thailand, a place her brother dreamed of visiting one day with a woman he fell in love with on a birthright trip, to Israel. It’s a trip that will change Julie’s life in more ways than one, after she meets her own Israeli prince charming.

Susan Sofayov has crafted an intriguing story in this book. Julie Wasserman is a complex and emotionally raw character who becomes incredibly conflicted with the introduction of her love interest, Avi. He seems to bring her back to life. But having a chance at happiness only exacerbates her survivor’s guilt and creates a deep inner conflict for her. Which is compounded even further when Avi convinces Julie to travel to Israel with him. A place her brother loved and she never wanted to visit.

Safoyov’s vivid description of Israel transported me right back to the streets of Jerusalem. I especially related to the description of Julie’s experience visiting the Kotel for the first time. The portion of the book set in Israel was my favorite. I wasn’t able to put this book down from the second Julie and Avi’s plane touched down. The unexpected twist at the end (no spoilers) was well-timed and very moving. This one belongs on your book club’s reading list!

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Hannah’s War by Jan Eliasberg

Dr. Hannah Weiss is a Jewish scientist, working in Berlin, in 1938, working on one of the most important scientific discoveries of the time. Splitting the atom. Already fighting an uphill battle of being a woman in a man’s world, she faces even greater challenges as a Jewish scientist living under the Third Reich. She finds her work often ignored, discredited and even stolen by her male, Aryan colleagues. She eventually escapes and finds herself working at Los Alamos, in New Mexico, where she meets Major Jack Delaney.

Major Delaney has returned from to the States after fighting to liberate Paris with an important mission. Information about experiments being carried out at Los Alamos is being leaked back to the Germans and Major Delaney has been tasked with finding the spy. Her German background makes Dr. Weiss a prime suspect in his investigation.

Hannah’s War is a compelling work of fiction based on the Manhattan Project and the work of Jewish physicist, Dr. Lise Meitner, who with a team of scientists, was responsible for discovering nuclear fission. The story flashes between Dr. Weiss’s time working in Germany, in the late 30s and her time in New Mexico, in the mid 40s, near the end of WWII. This is a well-crafted spy thriller with a beautifully emotional side.

Hannah is a deeply developed, mysterious character. Major Delaney’s interrogation of her peels back the layers in a compelling way that drives the reader. The romantic interest between the two weaves an added layer of tension to the story in a compelling way. The story takes an interesting twist when Hannah discovers that Major Delaney is harboring a few secrets of his own. This story is fast paced and will grip you from beginning to end.

Hiding in Plain Sight by Betty Lauer

Hiding in Plain Sight is the true story of one young woman’s survival in Nazi-occupied Poland. While waiting for their visas to America, in order to rejoin her father, Betty, along with her mother and sister, were rounded up and expelled from Germany, to Poland. This began a six-year ordeal of living in constant fear of discovery. But time and again, fate stepped in to provide a way forward.

This book will grab you from the first and leave you unable to put it down. Ms Lauer’s story is incredibly detailed, which makes this book such a compelling read. She’s faced with seemingly impossible circumstances, living in constant fear of discovery. Ms Lauer’s story is one of resilience and hope.

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Judenrein by Harold Benjamin

From the Back Cover: At Columbia University, Thomas “Babe” Levy, a postgrad history student and aspiring marathon runner, is working to clear his late father’s name after the scandal of his suicide, triggered by the McCarthy hearings and accusations of Communist affiliations.

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.

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.

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Nine Tenths of the Law by Claudia Hagadus Long

A trip to the Jewish Studies Museum, in New York, triggers a memory of a long lost family heirloom. Aurora, a survivor of the Shoah, recognizes an ornate menorah in an exhibit that bears a remarkable resemblance to family ring, worn by her daughter, Zara.

Fast forward a few decades and Zara finds herself revisiting the exhibit, while living in New York, during her husband’s sabbatical. When she and her sister, Lilly determine the menorah once belonged to their family, they decide to pursue recovering the looted keepsake. But neither could have imagined what would happen next.

Long does an expert job of building a captivating thriller while exploring the complex mother-daughter bond, sisterhood, and survivor’s guilt. The story is brilliantly crafted and fast-paced with a wide range of emotions. I appreciated Long’s use of humor. It was a nice way to occasionally break the tension in the story.

This one definitely belongs on your TBR list!

The Kosher Butcher: A Lincoln/Lachler Mystery by Melvyn Westreich

When a rabbi goes missing from an Ultra-Orthodox community in lower Michigan, the Rebbi asks Simon Lincoln to take the case. A former police officer and private detective, Lincoln reluctantly accepts the assistance of his fiancé, computer wiz, Dafna Lachler. When the case takes a turn, creating fear of a serial killer, the two step up their efforts to find this maniac before their pending nuptials.

This is the second installment in the Lincoln/Lachler mysteries. I did not read the first but did not feel I needed to in order to enjoy this book. The references to the first story were easy to understand. Westreich presents a well-paced mystery with well-developed red herring, keeping the reader guessing as to the identity of the killer until the very end. The evolution of the relationship between Lincoln and his fiancé, Dafna, is well developed. I appreciated the uses of humor and the occasional moments where Lincoln speaks directly to the reader as he’s exploring his own thoughts.

By about the halfway point, I found myself wondering why the book was titled The Kosher Butcher. There is an explanation in the story but it might have been made clear a little sooner.

I really enjoyed this story and have already recommended it to friends. If you like a good murder mystery, add this one to your reading list.

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The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Dawn Edelstein life changes in a moment when an announcement on her flight is made to brace for impact. She survives the crash, and after being checked out by medical staff, is offered a flight to wherever she’d like to go. Home to Boston is the obvious choice. But her last thoughts in the moments before impact were not of her husband, waiting at home. But of a man she hasn’t seen in fifteen years.

Dawn’s life was interrupted when her mother becomes terminally ill. In another world, she is studying for her doctorate in Egyptology. But, as they say, life happens and her path changes completely. Dawn finds herself working as a death doula.

This one was difficult to put down. The story is brilliantly researched with fascinating details into the world of archeological research and dig sights. I also found Dawn’s career path as a death doula really interesting. What an incredible gift to give someone at the end of life. Providing care, support, and peace of mind is such a selfless act.

The title of the book alludes to Egyptian hieroglyphics that adored tombs in ancient times to provide souls paths to the afterlife. I found the exploration of how one choice can change a person’s path and the course of their life really interesting.

I found this a thoroughly engrossing story. An absolute pleasure.

The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross

Imagine, if you will, a village so remote that time has seemingly passed it by. In his book, The Lost Shtetl, Max Gross transports us to a village, home to an Orthodox Jewish community, in a remote part of Poland that has been untouched by history. That is until a young woman, newly married, vanishes in the middle of the night. Suddenly, the village time forgot is rediscovered by the outside world.

Gross brings a very interesting approach in this story that asks the question, what if? The story is set post-Shoah but for this Jewish community, the Holocaust never happened. They were untouched by the Nazis, unaffected by the Cold War that followed. Unaccustomed to modern conveniences like electricity and running water. Living lives uncomplicated by modern technology.

The story takes some unexpected turns and is brilliantly paced. Gross’s writing invokes a wide range of emotions. The story is at times dryly witty and at others incredibly moving and emotional. I was rapt from start to finish and, without giving spoilers, the last line gave me chills.

I look forward to reading more from Gross.

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