The Executor, by Jesse Kellerman (Putnam, cloth, $25.95). The author is the son of two famous novelists (Faye and Jonathan), so you may have fallen into the trap of dismissing his work. If so, climb out quickly: Kellerman fils proves a worthy heir. The prize-winning, New York Times bestselling author and playwright wins praise all around. He does not mimic the action-packed writing of his parents here, but uses most of this crime novel to paint an in-depth portrait of his main character, the failed philosophy student Joseph Geist. There’s not much Jewish content here, although Joseph’s ex-girlfriend is from an Iranian-Jewish family. No spoilers here for this enjoyable and suspenseful read.
The Last Ember, by Daniel Levin (Riverhead, paper, $16). A very good debut by Levin, a good-looking young lawyer with a classics background whose main character is…a good looking lawyer with a classics background. I assume the similarity ends there as that character, Jonathan Marcus, is unwittingly thrust into an archeological Rome-to-Jerusalem-and-back mystery that spans 2,000 years. It’s a formulaic thriller made more interesting by the ancient Jewish subject matter and intrigue involving a lot of bad guys who should be good. No spoilers here either, but here’s a general thriller take-away: if you think you’ve killed someone, make sure they’re really dead before you walk away.
Gilded Lily, Lily Safra: The Making of One of the World’s Wealthiest Widows, by Isabel Vincent (Harper, cloth, $25.99). Authored by a veteran investigative journalist, this is a book for those interested in the lives of the rich and famous, in true crime, and maybe just for the voyeur in us. Lily Safra is the widow of the wealthy Brazilian-Jewish banker Edmond Safra, found dead after an apartment fire in Monaco in 1999. An accident, or murder? Eleven years later it’s still unclear. Four times married to wealthy men, twice widowed, twice divorced, Lily still travels in wealth and style.
Louis D. Brandeis, by Melvin Urofsky (Pantheon, cloth, $40). In writing this very long (700-plus pages) biography, Professor Urofsky of the University of Virginia had access to personal and professional documents never before available. The book focuses on Brandeis’s adult life and career from graduation from Harvard law school before age 21, to his involvement in the American Zionist movement (he visited Palestine in 1919), to his appointment to the Supreme Court. Urofsky makes sure we know Brandeis tried to correct economic injustices he saw in this country, problems that included “manipulation of stocks and securities, the overweening power of big banks, irregular employment, and, of course, the curse of bigness.”
Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teaching and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar, by Alan Morinis (Trumpeter, paper, $17.95). The daily guidelines and teachings offered in this little book are taken from Mussar, a Jewish spiritual tradition that asks us to pay attention to our extreme traits — good and bad — and through study, bring them back to a balanced center. Developed in 19th-century Lithuania and almost obliterated during the Holocaust, Mussar is again becoming popular. Each page includes a reading from rabbinic, Talmudic and Torah sources, a key phrase, an instruction for each day, and a small area in which to make notes.
Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life, by Shmuley Boteach (Basic, cloth, $22). Cultures teach values, but the vastness, prosperity and diversity of America has created a cultureless society. Boteach, the popular TV rabbi, returns with more insight into what’s wrong with America today, offering spiritual and ethical guidelines for change. “We’re the wealthiest nation on earth,” he writes, “and consume three-quarters of its anti-depressants.” The reason? “Embracing the wrong values.” Our superficial desires are conflicting with our deepest needs for sacred time, enlightenment and gratitude.
Contemporary Jewish Writing in Brazil, edited by Nelson H. Vieira (Nebraska, cloth, $60). This intriguing collection illustrates similarities and differences between North and South American Jews of the early 20th century, who frequently came from the same parts of Europe, and the influence of local culture on the succeeding generations. Readers will find the exotic and the familiar both in these stories and book excerpts, plus a fascinating introduction to the history of Jewish writing in Brazil.
I Only Want to Get Married Once, by Chana Levitan (Gefen, paper, $12.95). A practical and accessible guide for those wishing to cut through the haze of infatuation that often begins romantic relationships and figure out if that guy or gal is right for you. The Jerusalem-based author and counselor hopes to give people the tools they need “to create a successful marriage…the first time around.” Her advice can also be used to help with problems in a current relationship or understand a past divorce.
A Baby at Last! The Couple’s Complete Guide to Getting Pregnant, by Zev Rosenwaks, M.D., and Marc Goldstein, M.D. (Simon & Schuster, paper, $15.99). This book, authored by two doctors from the “trailblazing” fertility program at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, offers a good starting point for couples who think they might be having problems conceiving. (Seattle doctors have blazed quite a few trails in the fertility field as well.) Covering causes, emotional responses and treatment, the book also includes a chapter on getting pregnant after cancer as well as alternative medicine.
First Aid for Jewish Marriages, by Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch (self published). At one time, Rabbi Schonbuch (Sweet Book?), a marriage and family counselor who works with Orthodox couples, might have photocopied his advice, put it in a binder and offered it to his clients as part of treatment. Now, thanks to the new world of self-publishing, he can take those same materials and make them into a book, which you can buy at www.jewishmarriagesupport.com. While the book suffers from some of the usual problems of self-publishing (poor layout, lack of proofreading), there is good basic advice here for couples with problems.