Happy Any Day Now, by Toby Devens (New American Library, paper, $15). Raised by her single Korean mother in a poor section of town, Judith Soo Jin Raphael’s childhood was also shaped by her father’s Jewish relatives — the father who abandoned her when she was a toddler. Despite these setbacks, Judith becomes a professional cellist with a brilliant career, but less successful with romance. On the eve of her 50th birthday, two men re-enter her life, an old college flame and her father. With her world falling apart, Judith finds she is the only one who can reassemble the pieces in this highly entertaining novel, rich in two cultures.
The Secret of the Nightingale Palace, by Dana Sachs (Wm. Morrow, paper, $14.99). It’s not entirely clear why, but the 35-year-old widow Anna decides to drive her grandmother’s Rolls Royce, with grandmother in tow, from New York to California. Grandma Goldie is the antithetical Jewish grandmother, curt, crabby and critical, and the two have barely spoken since Anna’s husband’s death. Goldie’s behavior continuously threatens the trip, yet as the two widows get reacquainted, Anna learns about her grandmother’s youth and a valuable piece of art that needs to be returned to a Japanese family in San Francisco.
Zix Zexy Ztories, by Curt Leviant, (Texas Tech, cloth, $24.95). At the heart of these well-crafted stories — certainly sexy, and sometimes quirky — is a man who desires a woman. We find the usually Jewish protagonists in settings around the world: Italy, London, Israel, and “the vast goyland that stretched beyond his gerrymandered New York.” Desire here has nothing to do with love, only lust, often mixed with revenge, which gets Leviant’s characters into strange situations. Another journalist once called Leviant “one of the greatest novelists you’ve never heard of.”
The Chaff, by Joel Chafetz (self, cloth, $12.56 Amazon). This adventure novel by local author Chafetz takes place in three action-packed days in 1881 Russia. Usell is one of two survivors of a pogrom, thanks to her secular education and the help of an American gun smuggler, a princess, and a handful of revolutionaries. The plot is dense with action and characters, making it sometimes hard to follow, but the idea intrigues as the reader wonders if this could have really happened.
American Jews & America’s Game, by Larry Ruttman, (Nebraska, cloth, $34.95) This wonderful compendium of narratives encompasses personal, American and Jewish-American history within the framework of baseball. Ruttman — a lawyer by vocation — collected oral histories from players, family, team staff and memorabilia collectors. Organized by era, the 500-page book begins in the 1930s with recollections from Hank Greenberg’s family. It concludes in the 2010s with Texas Ranger Ian Kinsler.
The Philosophical Child, by Jana Mohr Lone, (Rowman & Littlefield, cloth) If you’ve ever had a child ask you why the sky is blue (or gray), or why water is wet, or how we know we’re not dreaming, University of Washington professor Lone hopes you have taken these questions seriously. In her very readable — but scholarly — book, she explores children’s natural and earnest philosophical nature and the best way adults can respond, often using popular children’s books as the source of discussion.
The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home, by Nick Zubin and Michael Zusman, (Andrews McMeel, cloth, $27.99). Stopsky’s Delicatessen on Mercer Island is one of the “temples of modern Jewish gastronomy” included in this cookbook and history, and the restaurant’s “Pastrami Benedict” and pretzel recipes are among the 100 deli-style recipes found here. The West Coast gets a nod with “Left Coast Gefilte Fish,” handed down to author Zusman from his paternal grandmother Edith, the daughter of Portland’s kosher butcher Harry Schnitzer and his wife Maritka. Mouth-watering photos, clear instructions, and heart-stopping photography are part of this review of traditional and contemporary Jewish fare.
Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts, by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple and Sima Elizabeth Shefrin (Crocodile, cloth, $25). For each Jewish folk tale in this book, retold by Yolen, author Stemple has provided a child-friendly recipe — simple enough to prepare with children or at least food that children generally enjoy. Illustrator Shefrin of Gabriola Island, BC, illustrates with charming cloth collages reminiscent of Eric Carle, but the pancakes here are latkes and blintzes of course!
17 Cents and a Dream, by Daniel Milstein (self/Amazon, paper, $13.33). When Milstein published “The ABC of Sales” last year, it was clear he had another story to tell — of how he arrived in the U.S. from Russia as a penniless teenager and became one of our country’s most successful mortgage brokers. Milstein has now written that fascinating story in this short book, including the trauma and anti-Semitism his family suffered in Kiev, and his return there as a free adult, finally able to visit his grandparents’ graves. Self-published, the book suffers a bit from lack of design and typos, but the story still holds.
Songs from the Territories, by Chaim Bezalel, (iUniverse, paper, $5 Amazon download or author website www.stanwoodhouse.com). Camano Island resident Bezalel combines poetry, photographs and an essay to create an interesting approach to memoir. The poems are very accessible and some of the most interesting concern his service in the IDF. The convoluted path that took him to Israel makes for thought-provoking reading. The black and white photographs, unfortunately, don’t translate well to the printed page, but clearer versions can be seen at the author’s website (above).
Unterzakhn, by Leela Corman (Schocken, cloth, $24.95). For fans of this art form, and for those interested in the darkest underbelly of life on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, comes this graphic novel whose title translates as “underthings.” Corman brings us the story of two sisters and their struggles in a world filled with poverty, sexism and anti-Semitism.