Books On My Reading List This Week – January 18, 2022

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I chose an incredibly ambitious reading list this week but there were just too many good choices! The first book on my list was submitted for review by the author, Asylum: A Memoir of Family Secrets. Judy Bolton-Fasman details her quest to uncover secrets long hidden by her father. Next on my list is a book I discovered when reading People Love Dead Jews. The book is called From the Heart of Hell by Zalmen Gradowski. Gradowski (may his memory be a blessing) was a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz. With the help of fellow prisoners, he kept detailed records of the atrocities being carried out in the infamous camp. I’ve toured the camp twice but had not heard of this manuscript before. The English translation is available on Amazon and ships from the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum in Poland.

Also on my list this week is a two book series by Maggie Anton, Apprentice and Enchantress. As a student of her father, a Rabbi and renowned Talmud scholar, the lead character offers a female perspective of the sacred text.

Finally, I’m looking forward to some classic mysteries from the desks of two great ladies of the genre, Mary Higgins Clark and Agatha Christie.

Join the conversation! Tell me your thoughts on any of your favorites on this week’s list in the comments.


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Books This Week

Apprentice by Maggie Anton
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Hisdadukh, blessed to be beautiful and learned, is the youngest child of Talmudic sage Rav Hisda. The world around her is full of conflict. Rome, fast becoming Christian, battles Zoroastrian Persia for dominance while Rav Hisda and his colleagues struggle to establish new Jewish traditions after the destruction of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple. Against this backdrop Hisdadukh embarks on the tortuous path to become an enchantress in the very land where the word ‘magic’ originated.

But the conflict affecting Hisdadukh most intimately arises when her father brings his two best students before her, a mere child, and asks her which one she will marry.

Astonishingly, the girl replies, “Both of them.” Soon she marries the older student, although it becomes clear that the younger one has not lost interest in her. When her new-found happiness is derailed by a series of tragedies, a grieving Hisdadukh must decide if she does, indeed, wish to become a sorceress. Based on actual Talmud texts and populated with its rabbis and their families, Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Book I – Apprentice brings the world of the Talmud to life—from a woman’s perspective.

Enchantress by Maggie Anton

One of the most powerful practitioner of these mysterious arts is Rav Hisda’s daughter, whose innate awareness allows her to possess the skills men lack. With her husband, Rava—whose arcane knowledge of the secret Torah enables him to create a “man” out of earth and to resurrect another rabbi from death—the two brave an evil sorceress, Ashmedai the Demon King, and even the Angel of Death in their quest to safeguard their people, even while putting their romance at risk.

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The author of the acclaimed Rashi’s Daughters series and the award-winning Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Apprentice has conjured literary magic in the land where “abracadabra” originated. Based on five years of research and populated with characters from the Talmud, Enchantress brings a pivotal era of Jewish and Christian history to life from the perspective of a courageous and passionate woman.

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From the Heart of Hell by Zalmen Gradowski
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A shattering first hand testimony from the very heart of the Holocaust. In December 1942 Zalmen Gradowski, a young man with literary talent, was deported by the Germans from the Grodno ghetto to Auschwitz, along with his whole family. His closest relatives, including his parents and wife, perished in the gas chambers immediately after arrival at the camp. He himself was sent to the very heart of hell – to the Sonderkommando, a special group of prisoners forced to burn the bodies of those murdered in Auschwitz. Wanting to preserve the memory of his nearest relatives, and to inform the world about the extermination, the young man made notes in Auschwitz. Those texts turned out to be an extraordinarily shocking literary record of the tragedy that befell the Jewish people during Second World War. They are written in highly emotional, at times thoroughly poetical, language.

Paradoxically, in the hell of Auschwitz a writer was born – Zalmen Gradowski. Sadly, Gradowski too died in Auschwitz, probably on 7 October 1944, during the revolt of the Sonderkommando. But his dream came true: the manuscripts which he buried in the vicinity of the crematoria have survived. They were found shortly after the war in the grounds of the Birkenau camp. The present publication, which contains all of Zalmen Gradowski’s writings, is above all the priceless testimony of an eye witness to extermination. But it is also a successful attempt to portray the unimaginable and inexplicable – the Shoah, one of the blackest chapters in the history of the 20th century.

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Asylum: A Memoir of Family Secrets by Judy Bolton-Fasman
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How much do we really know about the lives of our parents and the secrets lodged in their past? Judy Bolton-Fasman’s fascinating saga, “Asylum: A Memoir of Family Secrets,” recounts the search for answers to the mysteries embedded in the lives of her Cuban-born mother, Matilde Alboukrek Bolton and her elusive, Yale-educated father, K. Harold Bolton. In the prefatory chapter, “Burn This,” Judy receives a thick letter from her father and conjectures that the contents will reveal the long hidden explanations, confessions, and secrets that will unlock her father’s cryptic past. Just as she is about to open the portal to her father’s “transtiendas,” his dark hidden secrets, Harold Bolton phones Judy and instructs her to burn the still unopened letter.

With the flick of a match, Judy ignites her father’s unread documents, effectively destroying the answers to long held questions that surround her parents’ improbable marriage and their even more secretive lives. Judy Bolton, girl detective, embarks on the life-long exploration of her bifurcated ancestry; Judy inherits a Sephardic, Spanish/Ladino-speaking culture from her mother and an Ashkenazi, English-only, old-fashioned American patriotism from her father. Amid the Bolton household’s cultural, political, and psychological confusion, Judy is mystified by her father’s impenetrable silence; and, similarly confounded by her mother’s fabrications, not the least of which involve rumors of a dowry pay-off and multiple wedding ceremonies for the oddly mismatched 40-year-old groom and the 24-year-old bride. Contacting former associates, relatives, and friends; accessing records through the Freedom of Information Act; traveling to Cuba to search for clues, and even reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish for a year to gain spiritual insight into her father; these decades-long endeavors do not always yield the answers Judy wanted and sometimes the answers themselves lead her to ask new questions. Among Asylum’s most astonishing, unsolved mysteries is Ana Hernandez’s appearance at the family home on Asylum Avenue in West Hartford, Connecticut. Ana is an exchange student from Guatemala whom Judy comes to presume to be her paternal half-sister. In seeking information about Ana, Judy’s investigations prove to be much like her entire enterprise–both enticing and frustrating. Was Ana just a misconstrued memory, or is she a still living piece of the puzzle that Judy has spent her adult life trying to solve? Readers will relish every step and stage of Judy’s investigations and will begin to share in her obsession to obtain answers to the mysteries that have haunted her life. The suspense, the clairvoyant prophecies, the discoveries, the new leads, the dead-ends, the paths not taken―all capture our attention in this absorbing and fascinating memoir. — Judy Bolton-Fasman ― Publisher

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry by Mary Higgins Clark

When investigative journalist Gina Kane receives an email from a “CRyan” describing her “terrible experience” while working at REL, a high-profile television news network, Gina knows she has to pursue the story. But when Ryan goes silent, Gina is shocked to discover the young woman has died tragically in a jet ski accident while on holiday.

Meanwhile, REL counsel Michael Carter finds himself in a tricky spot as several more female employees have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. Carter approaches the CEO, offering to

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persuade the victims to accept settlements in exchange for their silence. It’s a risky endeavor, but it could well make him rich.

As more allegations emerge, Carter’s attempts to keep the story from making headlines are matched only by Gina Kane’s determination to uncover the truth. Was Ryan’s death truly an accident? And when another accuser turns up dead, Gina realizes someone—or some people—will go to depraved lengths to keep the story from seeing the light.

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An urgent cry for help brings Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies face downwards in a shallow grave on a golf course.

But why is the dead man wearing his son’s overcoat? And who was the impassioned love letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse . . .

With twists and turns until the final, satisfying conclusion, The Murder on the Links once again does not disappoint the legion of Agatha Christie fans.

Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie

When a number of leading scientists disappear without a trace, concern grows within the international intelligence community. And the one woman who appears to hold the key to the mystery is dying from injuries sustained in a plane crash.

Meanwhile, in a Casablanca hotel room, Hilary Craven prepares to take her own life. But her suicide attempt is about to be interrupted by a man who will offer her an altogether more thrilling way to die. . . .

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