December 2021 Wrap Up

Welcome to my December Wrap-Up! I’ve exceeded my 2021 Goodreads reading goal and discovered some wonderful new authors. If you’ve missed any of my weekly reading lists or reviews, here is your chance to catch up.

I’ve continued to make progress on my Goodreads ‘Want to Read’ list, although, a few new titles have been added. If you’ve missed any of my weekly updates with my reading lists, here is your chance to see all of the books that have been on my reading lists for the month of December.

Authors, are you interested in having your book reviewed? Interested in an interview about your work? Visit the Contact Me page and complete the form. Guest posts are also welcome. Visit the Contests page for submission guidelines. Requests receive a response within 48 hours.


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Book Reviews


Chicken Dreaming Corn by Roy Hoffman

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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.

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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Rebel Daughter by Lori Banov Kaufmann

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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.

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.

Cain v Abel by Rabbi Dan Orstein

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Rabbi Ornstein’s Cain v Abel places the reader in the role of juror in the first murder. Settle into the jury box as the case unfolds with expert witnesses evaluating Cain’s family history, emotional and spiritual influences, and psychological profile. Designed to provoke discussion, the book concludes with discussion questions.

Rabbi Ornstein crafts a new and interesting approach to a familiar story. Bringing in commentary from the Sages in the form of witness testimony puts midrash and proof texts in an approachable context. The discussion questions are thoughtful and encourage further critical thinking about the text.

This is a book that would bring a fresh approach to Torah study groups. It would also make for a fun introduction to the study of sacred text to Hebrew School and Confirmation classes. For those who work with Jewish conversion students, this would also make for an interesting way to introduce Torah study.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Making Meaning Out of Madness by Miranda Portnoy

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Portnoy’s memoir takes the reader through a traumatic childhood. When she finds herself the scapegoat of a murderer, Portnoy feels alone, with seemingly nowhere to turn this agnostic turns to faith. This is where her life takes an unexpected turn. She meets and marries a prestigious Orthodox man in Jerusalem.

In part two of her book, Portnoy seeks to assist others in their journey to finding faith by challenging agnostic assumptions in a series of essays.

Portnoy’s story is a harrowing tale of childhood traumas followed by years of self-seeking while coping with the added trauma of anti-Semetism. Her use of humor breaks up the tension for the reader and keeps the story moving.

The essays in the second portion of the book are thought provoking and make for an interesting exercise for any reader, regardless of their level of faith or observance.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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?

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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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History: Global Citizen, Remarkable Life by Kyra Kaptzan Robinov

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This is the second book in the RUSSIAN ROOTS: A Global Generational Saga. This is the story of the author’s father, Michael Kaptzan. He was born in Siberia. In his early childhood, his family’s remote village was overrun by the Bolsheviks, who murdered his father. Along with his mother and siblings, the family escaped to Japan. As a pre-teen, his home was flattened by an earthquake, burying him in the rubble. During WWII, while trapped in Shanghai, China, Kaptzan assisted fellow Jews escaping Nazi-occupied Europe.

This is an exceptionally captivating memoir. Robinov really allows her father’s personality to shine through in the writing. His story is remarkable with the number of tragic events he endured and the number of times circumstances necessitated that he start over, reinventing himself in a new location.

Robinov has a wonderfully conversational style to her storytelling and this book is no exception. The reader feels as though they are spending an afternoon listening to a friend the tales of their history. It is so enjoyable to read her writing.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

#ShalomBayis by Penina Shtauber

Shalom Bayis is the Jewish religious concept of peace and harmony between husband and wife in the home. #ShalomBayis is a collection of short stories about married couples trying to practice this concept with varying degrees of success and failure. This is the second book is Shtauber’s #ShidduchCrisis series.

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Shtauber is a fantastic short story writer. This collection provides a wide variety of perspectives and experiences; each voice is completely unique. Orthodox marriage customs are presented in a way that makes them relatable and approachable. Shtauber does an excellent job of presenting an emotional range. The stories in this collection are a nice mix of lighthearted humor, resentment, anxiety which keeps the reader moving from one story to the next.

This is a perfect book for a one-sitting read on a quiet afternoon.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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December’s Weekly Reading Lists

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