Jerusalem Maiden, by Talia Carner, (Harper, paper, $14.99). Carner’s real skill in this, her third novel, is in her vivid descriptions of settings. She brings Jerusalem’s pre-World War I Mea Shearim neighborhood alive in this story of Esther Kaminsky, oldest daughter of an ultra-Orthodox immigrant family. Esther struggles to balance her religious and family obligations and her love of drawing, which she studies in school. Married off to a less religious man in Jaffa (as a punishment), she follows him to Europe and gets stuck in Paris alone during the war, another place Carner captures so well. Conflicts between religious and secular life, and strong statements about women’s independence dominate this historical novel, based loosely on the author’s grandmother’s life.
The Blood of Lorraine, by Barbara Corrado Pope (Pegasus, cloth, $25). On the eve of the Dreyfus trial, French magistrate Bernard Martin and his pregnant wife have just moved to Nancy in Lorraine, where Martin is asked to investigate a series of troubling crimes. A baby is murdered and mutilated and the parents insist it is the act of a wandering Jew. Then two prominent members of the local Jewish community are killed. During the investigation Martin, a non-Jew and steadfast believer in republican ideals, becomes aware of the dark undercurrent of anti-Semitism that grips his town and his nation all while coping with personal tragedy. The author is a University of Oregon professor. This is her second historical mystery featuring Martin’s character.
Song Yet Sung, by James McBride (Riverhead, cloth, $25.95). The bi-racial author, whose mother was born Jewish, is best known for his memoir, The Color of Water. This novel of slavery in northern, coastal Maryland in the mid-1800s brings historical and mystical elements together as the lives of free, captive and escaped slaves blend with white slave hunters, abolitionists and hard-working fisher folk in a tense drama. The story focuses on Liz, an escaped slave whose head injury has given her seemingly prophetic dreams. She is hunted by a vicious band of bounty hunters and by a more sympathetic oysterman. With the “Promised Land” of the north only 80 miles away, and the Underground Railway operating nearby, Liz desperately tries to make her way to freedom.
Roll Over Hitler, by Daniel Bruce Brown (Inkwater, paper, $25.95). This political farce finds Ron Goldberg, a liberal U.S. Senator, elected the first Jewish president of these 51 United States (Israel has been added to the roster). It’s a rollicking White House adventure with an angry first lady (living in a hotel while the White House is renovated), old flames and dead fathers resurfacing, all while the prez has to contend with political infighting and international disdain. The solution, well, it might be out of this world if it works. A first novel and a good first effort.
The Inquisitor’s Apprentice, by Chris Moriarity (Harcourt, cloth, $16.99). Harry Potter meets One of A Kind Family in this early 20th-century magical crime novel. Thirteen-year-old Sacha is from a poor but happily eccentric Lower East Side family. When the police learn he can see magic they send him to work for the department’s top “inquisitor,” where he is paired for training with snobbish Upper East Sider Lily Astral. The working poor of the city want to keep their old-country magic, used mainly for chores and work, but wealthy industrialists like “James Pierrepont Morgaunt” seek to control it all.
While our heroes hunt a murderous dybbuk, we learn about immigrant life in old New York. Young readers might not get the jokes, but adults will be amused at Moriarity’s historical satire. The IWW is now the International Witches of the World and Sacha’s “Uncle Mordechai had been kicked out of Russia for being a Bavatskyan Occulto-Syndicalist,” but “he was actually a Trotskyite Anarcho-Wiccanist.”
Israel for Beginners: A Field Guide for Encountering the Israelis in Their Natural Habitat, by Angelo Colorni (Gefen, paper, $16.95). A very funny look at Israel and Israelis by an Italian with an American wife who has made his home there for 30 years. Designed to serve as a guide either for tourists or new residents, Colorni covers learning the language, the people, their lifestyles and popular tourist destinations. In addition to his sardonic observations, the author begins each subject section with a biblical quote, usually taken out of context in hilarious manner. The epigram for fashion: “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons;” and for politics: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office” (Psalms). In “real” life the author is an authority on diseases of aquatic organisms at the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Center.
The Ablest Navigator, by J. Wandres (Naval Institute Press, cloth, $32.95). Even civilians can enjoy this dense but relatively short biography of a little-explored piece of Israeli history. In 1944 Paul Shulman was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and one of 50 Jewish midshipmen commissioned in his class. His mother was an executive with Hadassah and after the war he helped buy supplies for the Haganah. In 1948, Ben-Gurion called Shulman to Israel to establish a naval training academy. Starting with almost no assets he took the Israeli squadron into action against enemy ships in less than three months. After the war of independence Shulman settled in Israel.
Out of the Depths, by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau (Sterling, cloth, $24.95). This is the memoir of Israel’s former chief rabbi, who served in that position from 1993 to 2003. At age 8, Lau was liberated from Buchenwald, and he lost most of his family in that tragedy. He chronicles his time in a French orphan camp and his arrival in the newly formed state of Israel. The book is filled with interesting stories of early Israel and its leaders, the author’s education, and how he came to be a public figure who has met with popes, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, U.S. presidents and many other global leaders. Shimon Peres wrote the forward.