January 2021 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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The Ferret by Tom Minder

By: Tom Minder

Louise Kimble is an elder in the LDS church and appointed foreman at a luxury estate development near Los Vegas. Kimble’s life is turned upside down when he uncovers a money-laundering scheme and he finds himself testifying against church leaders. For his protection, Kimble is relocated to southern New Jersey with a new name and identity. But will he manage to keep his true identity secret?

Minder creates a well-paced crime thriller that will keep the reader engaged and entertained from beginning to end. The suspense element of the story builds nicely and the characters are well-developed. Kimble’s life is completely turned on it’s head by his involvement in the development in Los Vegas. He goes from a deeply faithful member of the LDS, living in Utah, to posing as a Catholic in south New Jersey. I felt that could have been explored a little further. The moment when Kimble reveals himself to someone very important to him (no spoilers) was also a little anti-climactic. However, these are minor points and did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the story.

In Kimble, Minder has created an interesting character with great potential for a series.

The Ferret is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. I’d like to thank the author for the opportunity to review an advanced copy of the book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Forgiving Stephen Redmond by A.J. Sidransky

By A.J. Sidransky

It’s a hot August day in New York when Detectives Tolya Kurchenko and Pete Gonzalvez are called to a Manhattan demolition site to investigate a strange discovery. Inside a wall on the third floor of a building, the construction crew has discovered a murder victim, fully dressed in a suit and hat. The discovery sends the detectives into an investigation of a decades old cold case.

Forgiving Stephen Redmond is the third installment in Sidransky’s Forgiving series and brings the series full circle. The story ties back to the first book in the series, Forgiving Maximo Rothman. Set in the 50s and 60s, the story explores the experience of Hungarian Jews who fled WWII Europe to the Dominican Republic, before immigrating to the United States. I found the cultural experience of this group, and the contrast in those who remained orthodox versus those who chose to become secular, very interesting.

The crime drama, at the heart of the plot, was well-developed and well-paced. It kept me guessing to the very end. The historical detail and various subplots interweave to create a compelling read. I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Turning Homeward: Restoring Hope and Nature in the Urban Wild by Adrienne Ross Scanlan

By: Adrienne Ross Scanlan

Tikkum Olam is a Hebrew phrase translated to ‘repair of the world’. Adrienne Ross Scanlan embodies this Jewish call to action when she moved across the country and immerses herself in repairing spawning habitat for salmon. In Turning Homeward, Ross weaves memoir with a discussion of environmental issues and Jewish thought in beautiful prose.

Ross’s writing is engrossing from beginning to end. Her insights into the issue of restoring urban habitat for salmon are informative and inspiring. She does an incredible job of balancing her personal experience with factual information about her work in environmental restoration. I also found this book motivational, a call to consider where the reader can make an impact in the world.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Meditations with the Hebrew Letters: A Guide for the Modern Seeker by Gilla Nissan

By: Gilla Nissan

In her book, Meditation with the Hebrew Letters, author and scholar, Gilla Nissan, examines the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, not as a means of communication or the language of the Torah, but as the building blocks of life. The book explores the letters as a means of meditation, within the construct of Kabbalah, to heighten one’s understanding of the mission of the soul.

Nissan presents her meditation guide in four parts, beginning with her own journey in the study of the Hebrew letters and Kabbalah. She then provides background information on the Hebrew language. This is followed by some instruction on how to use the Hebrew letters within your own meditation. And finally, she presents each of the letters, their unique characteristics, and how each can assist a seeker in their understanding of their soul’s individual mission.

The set is wonderfully presented and very visually appealing. I found the background information on Kabbalah and how the Hebrew letters fit within the mystic framework helpful when putting this system into context. Each letter is thoroughly explored within the book. The corresponding cards are beautifully illustrated along with cues to assist the user in their meditations on life’s great questions.

This box set would be a wonderful addition to the library of the Jewish seeker wanting to grow in their mindfulness, self-care, or spiritual well-being. I would like to thank author, Gilla Nissan for the free box set in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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The Writer’s Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives by Nancy Pearl & Jeff Schwager

By: Nancy Pearl & Jeff Schwager

The Writer’s Library is a collection of interviews with noteworthy and influential writers. Spanning a wide range of backgrounds, each author was asked what book(s) inspired you to take up the pen and join the literary world? Because before a writer becomes an author, they’re first a reader.

As a writer myself, I found it interesting how many of the authors in this collection were inspired and influenced by many of the same books I was, as a young reader. I was also intrigued by the types of books some of them chose to collect. The interviews asked thoughtful questions and flowed well. I also appreciate that at the end of each interview, there is a list with many of the authors and titles mentioned. I found this made it easy for me to jot down the interesting titles mentioned for my own to-be-read pile.

I enjoyed the relaxed flow to the conversations in this collection. The introductions, setting the scene for where each interview was taking place, allowed me to feel as though I was tagging along, sitting in the on the conversation, rather than feeling like I was reading a transcript.

If you are an aspiring writer, or just enjoy hearing what others are reading, this book is for you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Crate: A Story Of War, A Murder, And Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison

By Deborah Vadas Levison

A grisly discovery under her family’s Toronto cottage suddenly brings back author, Deborah Vadas Levison’s parents’, long set-aside memories of the horrors of the Shoah. As renovations are being completed on her family’s idyllic get-away spot, a crate containing human remains is found under the cottage. Vadas Levison’s memoir explores trauma and survivor’s guilt as she recounts the atrocity faced by her parents in the Holocaust and the present day shattering of their new-found peace.

Vadas Levison recounts her family story in remarkable detail as she explores her parents’ story of survival as well as the crime involving their family cottage. I found her own search for a Jewish identity very relatable. The parallel between her desire to shelter her children, especially the youngest, from the discovery of the body at their family cabin and her own parents’ desire to shelter her, as a child, from their experiences in the Shoah was interesting. The book is very well-written. As more and more survivors are lost, the preservation and retelling of their stories becomes all the more essential. So the world never forgets.

This was a compelling story. I would like to thank the author for a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. I look forward to reading more from her.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams

By L. Bordestsky

Anna is a second generation Russian-American Jew and a senior at UConn when she gets an opportunity to study in Moscow, in 1980. She finds herself navigating a Cold War culture she doesn’t fully understand. But an encounter with a young man at a Rosh Hashanah service leads to uncovering a lost piece of family history.

Bordetsky-Williams weaves a beautiful, multi-generational story contrasting the early days following the Russian revolution and the height of the Cold War era. Anna is an interesting character who returns to her ancestral homeland with optimism and an innocence that is quickly lost in a world where everyone has secrets. Her grandmother’s tragic story of being orphaned in a pogrom, immigrating to the United States only to return to Soviet Russia with her dreamer husband is artfully interwoven. I found the parallels between the generations very interesting.

This is an elegantly written story of romance, tragedy, and hope.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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