Guest post by Shira Glassman
Hi, everyone! Corey thought it might be fun if I made a small guide to the paperback books you might buy your friends for Chanukah, which incidentally is earlyish this year — the first candle is lit during the first weekend in December. If there are trigger warnings for the books they will be in the linked reviews. Incidentally, one thing I am excited about sharing with you is Jewish historical settings that have nothing to do with the middle of the 20th century.
The first book on my list is Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, as in my review here. Set in the immigrant world of New York City in the early 1900’s, this wonderful, deep, wistful speculative drama tells the story of the ironically human connection between two paranormal creatures: one from the Syrian community and one from the Jewish community. I was riveted enough to read the entire nearly-500 page book in single day, reading from day into night.
Next, I give you Hamilton’s Battalion, review here. Don’t be fooled by the name; you don’t have to know anything about the Hamilton musical to read these because these three romances are actually a Jewish m/f romance, a Black f/f romance, and an interracial (Black/white) m/m romance involving ordinary people. The Jewish story is set during the American revolutionary war and is a second-chance romance between a spy and his estranged wife who faked her own death and ran off to join the army. It’s sexy and complicated and satisfying, and the other stories are really good, too! Plus, anything that’s an assortment makes a good gift because you have three chances to please your recipient instead of just one.
Got a mystery fan in your life? Libi Astaire’s The Vanisher Variations, review here, has an ensemble cast composed of members of Regency London’s Jewish community, ranging from a teenage girl to a community leader to a mischievous pickpocket. They end up responsible for protecting a mysterious gentile woman, without knowing from whom. A good chunk of the plot takes place in Brighton, so anyone who’s into Regency fiction such as Jane Austen will probably enjoy this. How validating for a Jewish P&P fan to be able to read something in those settings where we get to be present, as we were historically!
The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar (review) is a darkly funny, philosophical graphic novel that tells of a cat who gained the power of speech by eating a parrot. But when his owner the rabbi asks if he ate the parrot, he lies and says no. So the rabbi forbids him to be around his daughter because he’s a liar, and it just gets weirder from there. Set in the Jewish community of historical Algeria. I believe there were scenes in Paris as well. There’s a movie of this but from the brief pogrom scene I saw that wasn’t in the book, I don’t know how much overlap there is.
If your recipient prefers their graphic novels on the lighter side, I recommend Hereville (here’s my review of the third one) by Barry Deutsch, three volumes starring an Orthodox tween girl who battles monsters, or The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey by Steve Sheinkin (review), which takes a lot of traditional Ashkenazi folktales and translates them to an American West setting. The Hereville books would also make a good gift for a younger person, given the age of the main character. Please notice that I said younger person, not younger girl, because I think it’s important to show boys that it’s normal to enjoy things with main characters who are not boys.
These few don’t have anything to do with Judaism, but nobody said Chanukah presents can’t just be regular presents:
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (review) answers the question, What if a story had the same feel as Potterverse fiction set among the adults instead of the children, but it took place in Regency London and starred all PoC? The chief of magic adopts a young Black boy who then grows up to inherit his post when he dies, and winds up having to solve the problem of why England’s magic is suddenly disappearing as racists point fingers at him and dragons do scary threatening dragony things and etc. There’s a witch from Malaysia and a biracial (Indian/English) heroine and a good time all around.
If you have a friend who you know is into candy-coated erotic romance, the Sugar Baby trilogy by Rebekah Weatherspoon (So Sweet, So Right, and So For Real ) is wish fulfillment billionaire romance starring a chubby Black girl and a white silver fox. The heroine, Kayla, has an entertaining, fresh, genuine voice that makes you want to hang out with her in real life. These books are extremely sexy so please take that into consideration when making your recipient decisions! 😛
No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll (review) is a collection of fairy tales centered around the intersection of trans and/or nonbinary protagonists with “gendered prophecy”, i.e. the plot device wherein only the son of the king can blah blah, or no man or woman can harm blah blah — exactly what’s supposed to happen to a trans man in that first situation or a nonbinary person in the second? Ana shows us again and again in a bunch of positive, gender-affirming, happy-ending laden stories. This one is also available in audiobook, so keep that in mind if you have someone on your list looking specifically for that.
About the Author
Shira Glassman is a bi Jewish violinist from Florida. Whether it’s fairy tales like her Mangoverse fantasy series or contemporary romance like Knit One Girl Two, her books are fluffy comfort reads where good things happen to queer characters — mostly Jewish women. Cinnamon Blade happened as a result of needing a made-up superhero fandom for the characters from her contemporaries, but ended up being longer than either one of them!