Top Ten Reads of 2021

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 2021 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 2021, I would like to take a moment to thank each and every one of you for supporting my blog and my writing. 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 2022. Happy New Year!

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Celestial Persuasion by Mirta Ines Trupp

Abigail Issacs is a gifted astronomer. But the loss of her father places her in a perilious situation that requries help from her brother, who has been away at sea. When she receives a tragic reply, Abigail finds herself in the charge of Lieutenant Raphael Gabay and pursuing a different ambition altogether.

Trupp has done it again! She artfully blends beloved characters from Jane Austen’s original writings with her own inspired storyline, creating something truly wonderful. Abigail Issacs is developed beautifully in this emotional story. Trupp brings a refreshing representation of a Jewish heroine to Regency era literature. The imigary in her writing transports the reader into the story. I was engrossed from the first page and couldn’t put this book down.

I would like to thank the author for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. Celestial Persuasion is scheduled for release on June 30th.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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Mannahatta: A Sequel by Sherry V. Ostroff

A sequel to Caledonia, we rejoin Hanna Duncan three years after the original book, pursuing her doctorate in archeology. Her studies take her to Central America where she finds herself in danger at the hands of a gang. Meanwhile, her ancestor, Anna’s story continues in the new world. She encounters danger of her own at the hands of a cook from the ship, fixated on revenge.

I have been looking forward to this book for some time now. Ostroff, once again, brilliantly weaves past and present to create wonderful parallels between the two heroines of her story. The book is thoroughly researched and kept me engrossed from beginning to end. I found the references to the Jewish experience, post the Spanish Inquisition, while difficult to read, very interesting.

Ostroff has crafted a perfect sequel in Mannahatta. You won’t be able to put this one down. I would like to thank the author for an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

URGE to ROME: My Quest to Become Sexy, Sultry & Migraine-Free by Kyra Robinov

When her husband’s work in food opens up the opportunity for their family to spend a year living abroad, they make the decision to spend a year in Rome. Kyra Robinov’s latest memoir recounts their year of new experiences, challenges, and personal growth as she and her husband, along with their two teenaged children, navigate life in a new culture.

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Robinov brings a conversational style of writing to her latest work that feels like listening to a friend telling a story over afternoon tea. The experiences are very relatable with all of the ups and downs for each member of the family. Her descriptions of the cultural differences and trying to navigate language barriers were interesting, interjecting some humor in parts. The book is perfectly paced with a great balance between storytelling and personal reflection.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone considering a journey to gain perspective.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rebel Daughter by Lori Banov Kaufmann

Esther is the daughter of a priest in first century Jerusalem. Her beloved city is occupied by Romans and tensions are increasing. Tensions are increasing between Esther and her family, as she comes of age and enters the marriage market. Esther finds herself less than impressed with the silversmith her parents have chosen as her husband and wants to follow the desires of her heart. But her path takes an unexpected turn when Jerusalem becomes a violent battle ground.

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I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for some time now and it did not disappoint. I was hooked from the opening lines and could not put it down. Esther is an incredibly well-developed character who is worthy of her namesake, Queen Esther. Her independent spirit really shines throughout the story.

Kaufmann clearly pays careful attention to detail in crafting this story. It is very well researched. The story is well-paced with well-timed twists and turns. The writing is vividly descriptive.

If you enjoy Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent or Maggie Anton’s series, Rashi’s Daughters, this one is for you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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At the End of the World, Turn Left by Zhanna Slor

Masha and Anastasia are sisters who immigrated to the United States from the former USSR as children, in the 80s. The two spent their adolescents in the gritty counter-culture neighborhood, Riverwest, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In her early twenties, Masha makes a journey of self-discovery, immigrating to Israel but returns to Milwaukee, at the insistence of her father, when her sister, now 19, cuts off communication with her family.

This is Slor’s debut novel and I’m already excited to read more from her. The writing is raw and emotional, exploring a number of thought-provoking themes. Masha and Anastasia come of age in a different world from that of their parents and grandparents. The generational divide is well-explored throughout the story. Both sisters are intriguing and complex in their own way. Masha’s exploration of her Jewish identify creates an inner conflict for her as it takes her away from her family.

Slor does a masterful job of maintaining suspenseful tension as the story progresses with Masha hunting for her sister, while facing her own past. This one is a must read. The book is currently available for pre-order ahead of it’s release on April 20th, 2021. I’d like to thank the author for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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The Pomegranate by S. J. Schwaidelson

Batsheva Hagiz is the daughter of Jewish merchant in the 12th century. A spirited young woman, well educated and skilled in swordplay. Betrothed to a young man, named Akiva, living in the Holy Land, she is kidnapped from the caravan traveling to her wedding. Her captors make a gift of her to a sheik. Batsheva finds her way through the initial shock, fear, and grief, resolving to live her life on her own terms. And so begins an incredible story of determination and courage.

I was hooked within the first ten pages and could hardly put this book down. The story is well-paced and action-packed. Batsheva is a fascinating character, faced with repeated trauma, she maintains an inspiring resilience. I also admired her determination to maintain her Jewish observances and traditions, maintaining this core of herself.

Schwaidelson is a captivating storyteller, with a wonderfully careful attention to historical detail. This book is impeccably researched. I highly recommend this book. It is historical fiction at its best.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Less by Andrew Greer

Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

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QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.

A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” Less shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.

Chicken Dreaming Corn by Roy Hoffman

Set in turn of the century Mobile, Alabama, Morris Kleinman is a shop owner living among a tapestry of immigrants from across Europe and South America as well as people of color. Kleinman and his wife raise their family in the living quarters above their storefront while contending with war, the Great Depression, prejudice, antisemitism, and threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

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Hoffman paints a picture of the early Southern Jewish experience in beautiful prose. The use of language is as charming as the setting of this story. Be prepared for an intimate tour of the Mobile bay area. The varied cast of characters each bring a unique voice to the story blending into the melting pot that was Mobile in the time period.

This is a wonderful portrait of art depicting real life. The Kleinman family experiences joy and hardship, love and loss. If you are a fan of To Kill A Mockingbird, this book is for you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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The Crate: A Story Of War, A Murder, And Justice 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.
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Grounds for Divorce by Remy Maisel

Emily is coming off a rough day when she finds herself receiving communications from the State Department about an interview for work on a highly specialized, top-secret mission. There’s just one little problem. They have the wrong woman. What’s the mission? Representing Israel in a divorce settlement-style mediation with representatives from the Palestinian leadership. Rather than correct the record about her identity Emily, a law school dropout and Hebrew school participant, accepts the job. But is she in over her head?

Maisel employs humor and sarcasm to ease the tension in this very entertaining story. She provides the reader with a great deal of insight into Emily’s inner turmoil and very complicated feelings throughout this ordeal. The supporting cast of characters’ bureaucratic frustration along with a healthy dose of wit. Everything one would expect from this type of political drama. Think of a more Jewish West Wing.

I did, at times, find myself wondering how none of the highly skilled government officials working with Emily failed to pick up on the clear case of mistaken identity. But, on the balance, without spoiling the story, this is a minor issue. And I found myself empathizing with some of the deep, difficult, and complex feelings Emily wrestles with as she tries to prepare herself to do the seemingly impossible.

This was an incredibly enjoyable read. I’d like to thank Stuart Schnee for the free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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