The Golem of Paris By Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman P.G. Putnamís Sons, 497 pages

Warning: Reading this book may cause a severe case of literary whiplash.

On one page, we are in Prague, witnessing the frightening workings of a psychiatric hospital used by the communists as a political prison. Then, almost without warning the reader may be yanked into a police archive in Los Angeles, where a detective is going over unsolved murder cases, or a home of Holocaust survivors in Brooklyn, where the daughter of atheists (“God died in the camps”) is about to be introduced to Orthodox Judaism, or Paris, where a policeman is investigating a gruesome murder.

Nor is the reader on terra firma when it comes to time. With no warning, save the beginning of a new chapter, he or she is jerked from the 1950s to the ’60s, the ’80s or the new millennium and then suddenly back again.

Despite the herky-jerky nature of the plot’s flow, in retrospect I view “The Golem of Paris” as a beautifully woven tapestry, seamlessly tying together the various places and times.

It is a detective story in which police sleuth Jacob Lev displays intelligence, persistence and luck — the three most important elements of success in most endeavors. He tries to bring a serial murderer to justice. In the process, he gains a measure of revenge on the human monster who destroyed his motherís life.

The Devil in Jerusalem By Naomi Ragen St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages

111315_mish_bookReally, every season is book season — but autumn brings a blend of offerings just right for warming up with as the weather cools down.

Looking for the best one to keep you cozy on the couch, or that perfect Chanukah present for the avid readers in your life, check out this 10th novel by best-selling American-born Israeli author Naomi Ragen. It is a crime thriller based on real events from a well-known Jerusalem court case.

When two young brothers are brought to Hadassah Hospital with horrific injuries, an
Israeli detective finds herself navigating her way through the Old City streets and parsing Kabbalistic texts and cult rituals in pursuit of answers.

Although Ragen has often written about the Haredi realm — her early bestsellers were set in the Israeli Orthodox neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and B’nei B’rak — she has said in an interview with the Jewish Book Council that this novel “is about psychopaths who happen to be a part of the Jewish world.”

Eight Questions of Faith: Biblical Challenges That Guide and Ground Our Lives By Niles Elliot Goldstein University of Nebraska Press, 168 pages

Niles Elliot Goldstein set out on a heavy task when he wrote “Eight Questions of Faith.” The author, director of development at the Center for Interfaith Engagement and a lecturer at Loyola University Chicago, contemplates the great mysteries of life (and death) from our place and purpose in the world to what happens to us after life.

Goldstein expertly weaves in biblical passages, philosophy, psychology, poetry and more with his own personal experiences to answer life’s great questions in an accessible but thought-provoking manner.

The stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Exodus are presented with Goldstein’s insight as well as historic commentaries for application to the lives of the religious and the nonreligious equally. What the reader ends up with is a set of ideas that are grounding and uplifting and can guide one through life’s hard times, times
of uncertainty and the better times as well as contemplate the journey to the other side.

Jewish Noir Edited by Kenneth Wishnia PM Press, 448 pages

103015_MishMash_book“Jewish Noir,” an anthology of more than 30 tales, offers just as many interpretations and flavors of noir. And throughout them weaves the thread that editor Kenneth Wishnia tugs at in the introduction: fatalism and rootlessness — “a person who is at home nowhere,” — defines the characters as well as the characteristics of a nice juicy noir. What better match then, asks Wishnia, than Jews and noir?

One of the gems is “The Celebration,” written more than 100 years ago by Yiddish author Yente Serdatsky, who paints a vivid picture of an early 1900s social gathering and the comrades’ nostalgia as they swap stories, hopes and dreams. Translated by Wishnia, it draws the reader into the heart and mind of a radical Jewish woman’s bittersweet yearnings, ultimately cheated by disappointment in a newfound country.

“Doc’s Oscar” is about an ailing Jewish wheelchair-bound Hollywood has-been who depends upon the kindness of strangers, though he treats most others with contempt. The subtle twist at the story’s end sends a shiver up the spine.

Though some of the writing is uneven, there are enough stories to keep the pages turning. “Sucker’s Game” is told from the point of view of a young girl, who begins her day fending off Jewish slurs from schoolmates on the bus, but ends up hiding under her bed from a cold-blooded killer. No spoilers here; there is so much more to the story — including her father’s mysterious business trips to Argentina and a little Jewish grandma caretaker she’s not quite convinced is actually a relative.

“Jewish Noir” is an innovative concept, for which Wishnia delivers the smoking gun.

My Fat Dad By Dawn Lerman Penguin Random House, 318 pages

102315_Mishmash_bookDawn Lerman grew up on the North Side of Chicago in the 1960s in a large Jewish family that was intent on always making sure the best, homemade food was served. Lerman would spend weekends at her grandmother Beauty’s house nearby, where she learned the proper way to make every Jewish delicacy from borsht to kugel, and then some. Lerman was closer to her grandmother than her mother, who was less affectionate, and her father, who had a full-time job as a copywriter.

When Lerman’s dad takes an advertising job in New York, the family is uprooted and must adjust to their new life, which includes a public school with deplorable cafeteria food — unlike the fresh kosher food of her old school. In every chapter, Lerman uses food as a vehicle to illustrate her outlook on life and how each dish helps her relate to others in her family. A recipe concludes each chapter. Lerman alternates between lighter and more serious chapters dealing with her father’s obesity and the various diets he uses to lose weight. He eventually heads to Duke University for six months to go on the rice diet, which helps him significantly.

Now a health blogger at The New York Times, Lerman effectively conveys the constantly
changing emotions of a young girl through the use of food as a metaphor for love. The reader can almost empathize with all of the changes she goes through because of her detailed descriptions of how each meal tastes. It is clear Lerman’s life is centered around the kitchen table, and she gives the reader a seat at hers.

Saving Sophie Ronald H. Balson/St. Martin’s Griffin, 418 pages

101615_mishmash_bookAfter Jack Sommer’s wife, Alina, passes away, her father, Dr. Arif al-Zahani, attempts to take custody of Jack and Alina’s daughter, Sophie, out of spite for the man who convinced his daughter to leave Hebron for the U.S. After losing the court case, al-Zahani takes advantage of Sommer’s kindness by kidnapping his granddaughter during a visit.

In Ronald Balson’s “Saving Sophie” the international legal system fails to return Sophie to the U.S., which forces Jack to take matters into his own hands.

When CIA agents come knocking on the door of Sommer’s old employer, Jenkins & Fairchild, a case of embezzlement turns into a race to save thousands of Israeli lives. Catherine Lockhart and her partner, Liam Taggart, are hired to find Sommers before he makes an exchange the U.S government can’t afford.

The intricacies of “Saving Sophie” would have forced many writers into a corner from which they couldn’t escape without deus ex machina. But Balson’s research and careful planning of each twist and turn pay off, as the reader never feels cheated even in the most climactic moments of the novel. Every character has realistic motivations for what they do, and even the people Balson wants the reader to hate are, at times, sympathetic.

Balson keeps readers wanting to know more, as he ties up each loose end toward the conclusion of this action-adventure thriller.

Rywka’s Diary: The Writings of a Jewish Girl from the Lodz Ghetto Edited by Anita Friedman Harper, 240 pages

100215_mishmash_bookAdolescence is difficult enough. Try to imagine it as a girl in the Lodz ghetto with little food, no parents or grandparents and responsibility for three younger siblings.

We needn’t imagine, Rywka Lipszyc tells us. Her diary, found in 1945 by a Soviet doctor at the ruins of Auschwitz crematorium No. 3 and unpublished for 70 years, reveals the struggles, longings and loneliness of a 14-year-old girl (pronounced “Rivka Lipshitz”) amid deportations, disease and deprivation.

“Rywka sought comfort and salvation in writing her diary,” says Alexandra Zapruder, whose excellent first section, “A Polish Girl Comes of Age in a Jewish Ghetto,” provides context for the diary, which she says “testifies to the anguish of her doomed struggle.”

“I can’t find a place for myself,” Rywka says several times in her 112 pages, written between Oct. 3, 1943 and April 12, 1944. “What’s going to happen? What shall I do? Whom shall I ask, who’s going to help me? Oh, there are so many questions and no answers.”

Rywka’s mental lifeline was Sara Selver-Urbach, an older teen she calls Surcia. Rywka’s mentor, Surcia suggested the diary, into which Rywka poured out her heart.

The Koren Tehillim The Rohr Family Edition Koren Publishers Jerusalem, 831 pages

092515_mishmash_bookAs part of its new expansion of essential volumes of Jewish scripture, liturgy and law, Koren’s “Rohr Family Edition” of Tehillim is a welcome arrival to bookstores, especially for those who have the custom to recite the entire Book of Psalms on certain holidays — Hoshana Rabbah, for instance, begins Saturday night, Oct. 3 — and throughout the course of every month.

Featuring a new translation by the late Rabbi Eli Cashdan, whose family worked with Koren to see the work published, and commentaries by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union whose own Torah columns can be found in the JT, the hardcover volume is compact enough to fit in a prayer bag. At the same time, it’s sturdy enough to stand up to constant use.

Dedicated to the memories of philanthropic leaders Sami and Charlotte Rohr by their children, George and Pamela Rohr, Shmuel and Evelyn Katz, and Moshe and Lillian Tabacinic, the Hebrew-English edition features an English meditation as an introduction to each Psalm. This added source of inspiration “attempts to capture the predominant mood of the Psalm, the mood in which the person who turns to this Psalm finds himself,” writes Matthew Miller in the introduction.

In that vein, Koren is trying to do something not often seen in Jewish life — encourage people to live with the Psalms, instead of merely reciting them.

They Told Me Not to Take That Job By Reynold Levy PublicAffairs, 376 pages

091815_mishmash_bookAs head of the International Rescue Committee in the 1990s, Levy dealt daily with desperate refugees and rogue dictators of failed states — all of which barely prepared him to orchestrate his greatest rescue mission, as president of Lincoln Center.

When, against all advice, Levy took the helm in 2002, the country’s leading arts venue was a maelstrom of bitter rivalries, clashing egos and public embarrassments.

His memoir relates what happened over the next decade, as he led a $1.2-billion transformation of both Lincoln Center’s 16-acre campus and its global reputation. It’s a good read — not just for arts enthusiasts wanting to indulge in juicy gossip (Levy unreservedly names names) but for anyone seeking lessons in leadership.

The Girl from the Garden By Parnaz Foroutan Ecco, 271 pages

091115_mishmash_bookBeing born female in Persia a century ago did not portend an easy future, even if you could afford household help.

As depicted in Parnaz Foroutan’s novel, your parents could marry you to a man who could consider you his possession, beat you and take additional wives. Your purpose was to bear a son and to run the household when you were old enough.

The latter could take a while. Foroutan’s central character is sharp-witted, tart-tongued Rakhel, pitied and derided for being without child after three years of marriage. She’s 15. Arranged
marriages of girls barely into puberty — as seen in a public bath with a humiliating virginity check — is but one of this book’s shocks to our modern sensibilities.

“Girl” is immediately engaging and almost unremittingly sad, every member of its large family seeming to have some source of continuing unhappiness. Yet somehow, the book isn’t depressing, perhaps because the story and its depiction of life in that time and place are so interesting.