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Summer Reading!

Summer is the perfect time to take a relaxing break from the great big (sometimes burdensome) world and lose yourself in a good book.

What to read? We checked out the Jewish Book Council at – and came away with an enticing list of books with Jewish content or Jewish themes that were published in 2018/2019. So, pull up a beach chair, pop open the beach umbrella…and start reading.


The Girl from Berlin
By Ronald H. Balson
Fiction (2019)
2018 National Jewish Book Awards Winner 

Seventy-eight-year-old Gabrielle Vincenzo has been given 60 days to vacate her villa in the Tuscan hills. Her 70-acre property is surrounded by vineyards owned by one of Italy’s largest wine producers. VinCo claims it has legal title to Villa Vincenzo and the Italian court has granted it possession. Into this story come Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart, a Chicago lawyer and private investigator team hired to assist her in fighting to keep her home. The key to resolving the mystery of Gabrielle’s attachment to the property, and her rightful ownership of the villa and land, lies in the memoir of Ada Baumgarten, a young virtuoso violinist who comes of age in Berlin in the 1930s. Ada’s tale and the story of Gabrielle’s legal battle are woven into a suspenseful novel that illuminates the cruelty and horror of Nazi Germany and the heroism of ordinary people.


The Book of Dirt
By Bram Presser
Historical fiction (2018)
2018 National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction

The Book of Dirt is the memoir that could never be written because ​“everyone you care about in this book is dead.” This type of direct prose permeates the novel and is so beautifully executed that it authenticates the voices Presser seeks to awaken. The story is the mystery of Jakub Rand, the chronicler of Jewish books for the Nazis’ planned Museum of the Extinct Race. It is the story of Frantiska Roubickova, who watches her mischlinge (mixed) daughters taken away by the Nazis. And it is the story of two courageous sisters who embraced life in the face of intolerable challenges. 


The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
By Michael David Lukas
Fiction (2018)
National Jewish Book Awards Winner
2018 Sami Rohr Prize Winner 2019

From the moment Joseph, a graduate student in literature and the son of a Jewish mother and Muslim father, receives a gift from his late father, the adventure to uncover the past begins. Part family quest, part detective story, Lukas’s novel toggles between Cairo in the 11th and 19th centuries and the present day, to create a captivating story detailing the history of Cairo’s Ibn Ezra Synagogue, its treasures, and the divisions among people in its midst. 


The Talmud: A Biography
By Barry Scott Wimpfheimer
Non-fiction (2018)
National Jewish Book Award 201

A portrayal of the multiple aspects of what is at least the second most important work in the Jewish canon. Wimpfheimer subjects the Talmud to careful academic critical analysis. His work examines the technical legal arguments that underpin some of the work, puts its stories (“Agadata”) in perspective, and describes the sociological and historic impact of the Talmud. Although part of the discussion is somewhat technical, the work demonstrates the evolution of Talmudic analysis from the original text to subsequent commentaries by repeatedly examining one particular section that deals with property damaged by fire. 


The Falconer
By Dana Czapnik
Fiction (2019)

New York, 1993. Seventeen-year-old Lucy Adler, a street-smart, trash-talking baller, is often the only girl on the public courts. Insecure and self-possessed, she is in unrequited love with her best friend Percy, scion of a prominent New York family. As Lucy navigates this complex relationship in all its youthful heartache and prepares for life in the broader world, she begins to question accepted notions of success, bristling against her own hunger for male approval and searching for an authentic way to live and love. A snapshot of the city’s youth as they grapple with privilege and the fading of radical hopes and paints a captivating portrait of a young woman in the first flush of freedom.


Color Me In
By Natasha Diza
Fiction (2019)

Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, 16-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time. Meanwhile, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. Even with the push and pull of her two cultures, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent. It’s only when she stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces that she begins to realize she has a voice. 


Memento Park: A Novel
By Mark Sarvas
Fiction (2018)
Sami Rohr Prize Fellow 2019

After receiving an unexpected call from the Australian consulate, Matt Santos becomes aware of a painting that he believes was looted from his family in Hungary during the Second World War. To recover the painting, he must repair his strained relationship with his harshly judgmental father, uncover his family history, and restore his connection to his own Judaism. Along the way to illuminating the mysteries of his past, Matt is torn between his doting girlfriend, Tracy, and his alluring attorney, Rachel, with whom he travels to Budapest to unearth the truth about the painting and, in turn, his family. By the time Memento Park reaches its conclusion, Matt’s narrative is as much about family history and father-son dynamics as it is about the nature of art itself, and the infinite ways we come to understand ourselves through it.

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