Saturday, January 25, 2014

Knishing Through "Knish"

Always an admirer of Jewish faith and culture, I knew a knish was some type of Jewish food.   Most cultures share similar types of food - noodles, dumplings, turnovers, etc.   Knish: In Search of Jewish Soul Food by Laura Silver finally gives the homely knish its due.  I'm about half-way through the book (previewing it for Edelweiss) and one of the things I like the most is how the author shows the ways in which communities thrive around certain types of food.  At one time, knish shops were common, this one favored more than that one and vice versa, depending on your family or location.  Not so anymore.  As with the Yiddish language, time and changing demographics have chipped away at this Jewish comfort food, but Laura Silver is doing her best to keep it alive.

A nice companion read would be Outwitting History:  the Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky.

Coming Soon ... Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod

One of the best books I read last year, Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod will be published February 4. After that, I'll post my review.  This book was a pure delight to read - lots of life experiences with just the right amount of longing for something different.  MacLeod writes and mails out real, genuine letters to people who subscribe to them.  Last December, I subscribed to them for a retired friend and they have given my friend a giant ray of sunshine each month!  Visit her website to learn more.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cathedral of the Wild by Boyd Varty

Boyd Varty’s richly descriptive narrative about life on the South African game reserve where he and his family live is indicative of the rich descriptions of his spiritual journey.  

Unlike most memoirs where the author goes off to another land to find their true home, Varty is already there.  Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to stay.   Having realized at different times in my life that even though I thought I wanted to leave, what I needed to do was stay.  I could identify with his awakening/realization that "I'm already where I am supposed to be."

His personal and spiritual growth is mirrored by his family’s struggles and growth.  His devotion to his family and how he always writes respectfully of them was refreshing.

This book will appeal to readers on their own spiritual journeys as well as readers of travelogues and South African literature.

(This book was previewed through  It will be published March 4, 2014.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Late Starters Orchestra by Ari Goldman

This book made me smile.  All while reading it, I found myself smiling. This memoir is more than a feel-good book, though.  It’s an important reminder to honor one’s inner artist, in whatever form that might be.  It's also a reminder that it's never to late to do something you love or try something new.

Ari Goldman returns to the music instrument of his early adulthood, the cello.  Nearing 60, he picks up the cello again after watching his youngest son develop into a first-class cellist.  Never competitive with his son, Goldman honors himself and Judah with admiration and respect - first for the instrument, secondly for the student.

This memoir is at times funny, poignant and wistful.  Goldman shows his journalistic chops by writing a smooth narrative that flows seamlessly between past and present.  He channels Sholem Aleichem's "Fiddler on the Roof," his mentor Mr. J, his family and struggling musicians everywhere.   His devotion is evident in this love letter to the cello.  Highly recommended!

(This book was previewed through It is scheduled for publication June 10, 2014.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Author Naomi Ragen

Naomi Ragen's books fly on and off the shelves at the library where I work like you wouldn't believe.   Here's one that I was going to put on my 12 Books of Christmas list, but I had too many books.  I list it here so I won't forget it!

The Ghost of Hannah Mendes by Naomi Ragen.  

Israeli/American Ragen is a prolific writer based in Israel.  I follow her blog occasionally - she’s smart and courageous.  A library patron recommended this book and the story is fascinating – the Crusades, Jewish history, contemporary Manhattan … all rolled into one novel.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Joys of Letter Writing

Letter writing is making a comeback.  Thank goodness, though for me, letter writing has always been a fun priority.   Currently, I have two nieces in college in Illinois and try write to each of them a couple of times per week and a new year's resolution is to write to a 95 year old friend who lives in an assisted living facility near where I work.

I stumbled onto the link below via author Simon Garfield's Twitter feed.   Massachusetts librarian Jenny Arch writes a great blog and a recent post highlighted Garfield's new book To the Letter: a Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing.  She also writes about how she created a special booklet using Lewis Carroll's "Eight or Nine Wise Words on Letter-Writing" (1890).  Here's a link:  What a great idea!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Few More Titles for Next Year

Never a newspaper known for great book reviews (not since they obliterated the book department), today's Atlanta Journal Constitution listed a few interesting titles to be published in 2014.  I list them here as simply "notes to myself" to keep an eye out for their arrival.

Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes
Mr. Owita's Guide to Gardening .... by Carol Wall

First Book Review for Amazon

After years of purchasing books - and enjoying them! - from, I finally posted my first book review there.  I expounded on my notes from The Twelve Books of Christmas post below.  In an attempt to sharpen my reviewing skills, I hope to go back and review more of my favorites from last year.   Here's the first book review of many (I hope!).

Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others by Stacy Horn (Paperback)

This is an intimate look at what it's like to sing in a chorus. For musicians like me who love playing an instrument and listening to music (just not singing it), this was a real treat. Stacy Horn shares her knowledge and experiences as a member of the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York City. She seamlessly weaves personal and professional stories together in a charming memoir that more than once sent me to the internet to look up a piece of music. I learned so much about the dynamics of choral singing, the arrangement of vocalists - the intricate grouping and pairing of the vocals mesmerized me - and it helps me hear music in a whole new way. Not only did I buy a copy for myself, but I've given this book as a gift to friends and family members who love to sing. Part music memoir and part music lesson, this book will enthrall music lovers of all kinds.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Here's a link to a Wall Street Journal article about the joys of playing Scrabble, The Secrets to a Happy Marriage.  I like Scrabble just fine, but I'm not a die hard player.  This essay by author/Rabbi Ari Goldman is a love letter to Scrabble and makes me want to brush up my word skills.  WSJ charges for most articles, but this one looks like it's free.

Harper Lee

I just finished reading a preview copy of The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills.  It details the friendship that developed between Mills and Harper Lee and her sister, Alice.  I loved it!  It paints an intimate portrait of an author who delights in being elusive, reclusive, whatever.  That said, there are articles on the web stating that the author may not have had full cooperation from the Lee sisters.  Does that matter?  If someone writes a novel that becomes a bestseller and modern classic, is that author entitled to the same anonymity of the average citizen?  Hmmmmm.