Booking ahead

Welcome to 2015!

As I write this, it's zero degrees in Chicago and my inbox is filled with emails about new books to look forward to reading in the year ahead. Seems like the second of these is urging me to make the best of the first.

Here are recommendations from knowledgeable insiders and reliable readers about upcoming Jewish books we should have on our reading lists.


The Last Flight of Poxl West is the first full-length novel by former Esquire editor Daniel Torday, whose novella The Sensualist won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for debut fiction. Selected among 2015's "Most Anticipated" by The Millions, it has been termed "a saga within a saga" that weaves together the voices of teenager Eli Goldstein with the first-person account of a young Czech Jew (his idealized uncle Poxl West) who flew missions for the RAF during World War II. Kirkus, in a starred review, says it "has two big things in common with Gone Girl - it's a story told in two voices, and it's almost impossible to discuss without revealing spoilers. A richly layered, beautifully told and somehow lovable story about war, revenge and loss." Due out March 17, 2015.

After Abel and Other Stories is a collection by Michal Lemberger, whose writing regularly appears in SlateSalon, and Tablet.  The nine stories are built around biblical women, leading to comparisons with Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. The collection is being praised for both for its creativity and its grounding, not surprising from an author who teaches Hebrew Bible as Literature at UCLA and the American Jewish University. A variety of early readers are saying it will be a great choice for book groups. Due out April 7, 2015.

The Book of Aron, by National Book Award finalist Jim Shepard, is another selection from The Millions "Most Anticipated" list. This child's-eye view of the Warsaw Ghetto is narrated by Aron, a quirky boy from the countryside. With other kids, Aron risks his life smuggling goods to Jews in more dire straits, all while hunted by blackmailers, the police, and the Gestapo.  Janusz Korczak, the real-life Jewish-Polish doctor and children's rights advocate also plays a role when he is put in charge of the ghetto orphanage. In an advance review, author John Irving says "The story of what happened to children in the Holocaust is not for the faint-hearted. And a heartbreaking historical novel that ends in Treblinka may not be what many readers are expecting from a novelist and short-story writer whose ironic touch is often comedic. But Jim Shepard has written a Holocaust novel that stands with the most powerful writing on that terrible subject." Due out May 12, 2015.


Among the books featured in the Jewish Book Council 2015 Preview is The Pinch by Steve Stern, who won a National Jewish Book Award for The Wedding Jester. Set in a  once-thriving Memphis Jewish community in the 1960s, the novel revolves around a lackluster character named Lenny Sklarew who works in a secondhand bookstore where he finds an old book that features him as a character. Advance reports suggest we can expect an imaginative and intricate ride through decades of American and European history, as well as through myth and folklore. Due out June 2, 2015. (If you aren't familiar with Stern's work, check out the serialized version of his novel The Frozen Rabbi, online at Tablet.)

Jami Attenberg, author of Chicago Jewish One Book 2013 selection The Middlesteins, has a new book on the way and it sounds great. Saint Mazie: A Novel begins in Jazz Age New York where Mazie Phillips is the party-loving, truth-telling proprietress of a famed movie theater. The book follows Mazie (and her diary) through the challenging years ahead, as she becomes ever more critical to life on the Lower East Side. If you've read any of Attenberg's earlier work, you know she creates characters who are fascinating, complicated, and very real. I suspect we're in for a wonderful journey in Mazie's company. Due out June 2, 2015.

Do you know of other books we should be watching and waiting for? Let me know in the comments section or at

Reviews, recommendations, and other reasons to read. By Spertus Institute's Betsy Gomberg.... Read More

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