Monday, December 24, 2018

Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

In the opening pages of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Zaffre, January 2018), Lale Sokolov is standing in a crowded cattle train on his way to an unknown destination. While his fellow travelers are traumatized by the journey, Lale has adopted a “wait and see” attitude, which doesn’t change even when he marches under a gate with the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ wrought from the metal.

“Just do as you’re told, you’ll be fine,” Lale says to a newfound friend. As fate would have it, Lale’s experiences at the camp are not as horrendous as those of his fellow Jews.

In April 1942, the rate of transports arriving in Auschwitz is accelerating. At the gates of the camp, Jews and gypsies from all over Europe are listed in the Nazi records and their arms are tattooed in green ink. Lale has been appointed to be one of the camp’s tattooists. Even as he defiles the arms of terrified men and women, Lale shows compassion for his fellow prisoners. Perhaps the relative freedom he enjoys as a tattooist will allow him to use his position to help them.

This widely acclaimed novel is based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, how he not only survived his years at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but also found love in the camp. When he inks the serial number into the arm of a young woman, she steals his heart at first glance. This is Gita, his future wife, and their hidden romance in the most difficult of conditions proves that love conquers all. Not for the vast majority of prisoners, of course, but in this specific case.

Misrepresenting history for the sake of fiction

In recent weeks, several reviewers and researchers have charged that while The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story, the truth was bent in its portrayal of what actually happened in the Holocaust. Mentioned as an example is the novel’s mention of the use of penicillin in the camp when the drug was not yet readily available during the war. Another challenge to the book’s authenticity is that the number Lale tattooed on Gita’s arm, 34902, could not possibly be accurate.

"It should be ruled out that a prisoner who arrived at the camp on 13 April 1942 could receive such a high number,” states Wanda Witek-Malicka of the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre. “It is however a fact that on 13 April 1942 a female transport from Slovakia arrived at Auschwitz - but they were given numbers from 4761 to 5203. Therefore, Gita Furman was either brought to the camp on a different date or received a different number than that indicated in the book.”

Writing in The New York Times, Christine Kennedy says that this "seemingly pointless error [about the Auschwitz number system] ... undermines the credibility of other stories [in the novel].”

How much leeway do authors have when they create fiction based on true stories? How far can you misdescribe the facts, or misstate the details, and still present an accurate depiction of historical events?

It’s important to tell the story

Very soon, there will be no remaining Holocaust survivors. There will be no further firsthand accounts of what it was like to be imprisoned in the camps. More troubling, to me, is the danger that future generations may not find it important to learn what this tragic period in our history was all about. It is important, therefore, to tell the story, even if it is embellished somewhat in fiction.

I personally don’t think that mentioning an inaccurate serial number detracts from the important message this book is giving to its readers. While the truth may have been bent for dramatic purposes, the novel is reaching a large audience that would never have otherwise been exposed to the horrors of the Holocaust.

What bothers me more about The Tattooist of Auschwitz is that while it is a quick, compelling read, the book is not well written. The dialogue sounds false, almost as if someone from the modern era has been transported back in time to speak to the camp’s inmates. The narrative that glosses over the harsh conditions of the camp to focus on a love affair seems over romanticized. Most readers will probably overlook the simple prose and the characters’ lack of depth to see the bigger picture.

Every survivor of the Holocaust has a story to tell. This story, of how Lale and Gita survived the camps, is one that will remain in the reader’s memory for a long time.

Heather Morris, a native of New Zealand, now lives in Australia. In 2003, she was introduced to an elderly gentleman, Lale Sokolov, who ‘might just have a story worth telling’. Morris originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay – which ranked high in international competitions – before reshaping it into her debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Buy The Tattooist of Auschwitz and read it now!

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Review of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Right from the start I will tell you that I don’t usually read this genre—the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl caught up in her parents’ stormy relationship—but there is one reason that I couldn’t put down The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, February 2018). To say it in a word – Alaska.

Hannah’s vivid descriptions make America’s last frontier come alive. “It was otherworldly somehow, magical in its vast expanse, an incomparable landscape of soaring glacier-filled white mountains that ran the length of the horizon, knife-tip points pressed high into a cloudless cornflower-blue sky.”

In Hannah’s writing, all your senses are drawn into Alaska’s allure. “The air smelled briny, deeply of the sea. Shorebirds floated on the wind, dipped and rose effortlessly.”

This is Alaska, in all of its beauty and all the perils of living there. The extreme cold, the snowstorms, the brown bears and the packs of wolves, the king salmon and the bald eagles, and more than anything else, the isolation.

Thirteen-year-old Leni’s family has always been on the move, but never like this. Her father Ernt, a Vietnam vet, has a volatile personality. His spur-of-the-moment decision to move to Alaska with Leni and her mother, Cora, suggests not only a new beginning, but that Ernt has put his troublesome past behind. They set up a homestead on a remote coastland, joining a small-knit community of long term Alaskan residents. Most newcomers to the state don’t survive their first harsh winter, but Ernt pushes Cora and Leni to prepare. Still, the extremely severe conditions are nothing they have ever experienced.

Daylight in the winter months is limited to a few hours a day. The family’s isolation results in Ernt’s recurring nightmares. He becomes paranoid, jealous, violent. Leni is spared her father’s anger, but his abusive treatment of her mother comes in waves of madness.

The only comforting part of Leni’s life is her classmate Matthew, a neighbor who becomes her closest friend. When Ernt suspects Matthew’s father of flirting with Cora, he forbids Leni from seeing him. Like any Romeo-and-Juliet romance, this one, too, seems bound for a tragic ending.

If it were not for its setting, I would consider The Great Alone to be nothing more than well-written women’s fiction. Surely there have been other novels like this one, telling the story of a teenager struggling to survive her father’s rage and her mother’s silent acquiescence of her husband’s inability to change. But, The Great Alone transcends that genre.

“This state, this place, is like no other. It is beauty and horror; savior and destroyer. Here, where survival is a choice that must be made over and over in the wildest place in America, on the edge of civilization, where water in all its forms can kill you, you learn who you are... You learn what you will do to survive.”

The Great Alone sweeps you into a vast, untamed wilderness. There is no middle ground in Alaska, no safe place. You’ll find yourself captivated not only by the state’s unique beauty, but also by the author’s compelling narrative and her eloquent writing. Highly recommended!

Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale. A former-lawyer-turned writer, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Traveling in Southern Bulgaria: Rhodope Cuisine and Culture

An exploration of the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria would not be complete without taking advantage of the opportunity of tasting the region’s unique, and tasty cuisine.

During our stay at Villa Gela we are spoiled with the food. The owners’ family owns the Terra Tangra Winery located on Sakar Mountain, 200 kilometers to the east. We are served Yatrus Syrah and the white Tamyanka. We start our meal with homemade rakia – the national, very strong fruit brandy of Bulgaria. In the mornings we drink a mixture of vinegar and honey that cleans one’s digestive system.

Friday, November 9, 2018

November Sale: The Burgas Affair on Sale at $0.99

For a limited time, The Burgas Affair is on sale at $0.99!

What readers are saying about The Burgas Affair:

"Each scene is packed with suspense"

"A real page turner from start to finish"

"Fast paced, action packed"

"The action is relentless, spilling across Bulgaria and Israel 
to great effect"

Get your copy of The Burgas Affair today!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review of The Astronaut’s Son by Tom Seigel

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, a historic event that I remember watching on television as a boy. Eleven other astronauts would follow in Armstrong’s footsteps until the Apollo program was abandoned at the end of 1972. We have not returned to the moon since.

In the novel The Astronaut's Son by Tom Seigel (Woodhall Press LLP, September 2018), Israeli astronaut Avi Stein was scheduled to fly on a later Apollo mission but died of a heart attack shortly before liftoff. “His dream of going to the moon lives on in all of us,” his son, Jonathan, says in tribute.

Speaking to an audience of his employees and members of the media, Jonathan—a multi-millionaire engineering and computer genius—announces his company’s private lunar venture. “We have been away far too many years,” he says. “From the surface of the Moon, we will take a giant leap forward into outer space for the benefit of ourselves and our posterity.” Jonathan is to be the mission’s commander.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Traveling in Southern Bulgaria: Rhodope Mountains

The Rhodopes are known for their unique geological formations. The mountains are set apart by river gorges; there are many deep caves cut into the karst landscape. In the winter months, the snow-covered peaks are perfect for skiing – Pamporovo is one of Bulgaria's most popular ski resorts. In the summer, the hillsides are painted bright green and covered with wild flowers. With snow seen on the surrounding mountain tops, one has a feeling of visiting a "Sound of Music" movie set.

There are many small, picturesque villages perched on the hillsides and in the valleys below. It is said that the region has the highest number of centenarians in the country. This is because the villagers lead simple, stress-free lives; eat homemade yogurt; enjoy healthy vegetables grown in the small plot outside their homes; and, of course, breathe the crisp mountain air.

Bulgarians as a whole are very hospitable, but residents of the Rhodopes are particularly friendly to visitors, especially to travelers from overseas. It’s a bit difficult to communicate with the older generation, but young Bulgarians are fluent in English as well as many other European languages.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Traveling in Southern Bulgaria: Bachkovo Monastery

The first thing one notices when walking into the Bachkovo Monastery – the second largest in Bulgaria – is a plaque posted in Bulgarian, English, and Hebrew.

"In this holy monastery lie Patriarch Kiril and Exarch Stefan who in a selfless display of courage and humanity played a decisive role in preventing the deportation of Bulgaria Jewry to the Nazi extermination camps in 1943."
"Were the world blessed with more individuals of such valor and nobility as that shown by Patriarch Kiril and Exarch Stefan, surely more Jews would have been spared their tragic end."

Here in the entranceway of one of the largest and oldest Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Europe is a sign of how the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – along with brave politicians and ordinary citizens – went out of its way to protect and save Bulgarian Jewry during World War 2. The country's Jewish population before the war was approximately 48,000. Not a single Jewish citizen was sent to the camps. Unfortunately this amazing story also has a tragic side. More than 11,000 Jewish residents of Macedonia, Serbia, and Thrace – areas under Bulgarian rule during the war years – were deported and died in the camps.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review of The Parting Gift by Evan Fallenberg

There’s a lot of sex in The Parting Gift by Evan Fallenberg (Other Press, September 4, 2018). Let’s start with that. Excessive, graphic, homoerotic sex which may turn off many readers. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let us consider where this vividly described sexuality leads its narrator-protagonist—an unnamed Jewish American currently camped on his friend Adam’s couch after returning from an extended stay in Israel.

In a book-length letter to Adam, the narrator offers a “long-overdue explanation of my mysterious appearance at your door these four months ago.”

The story the narrator tells starts at a Tel Aviv absorption center but veers in an unexpected direction after a visit to a nursery housing Israel’s most extensive collection of herbs and spices. There he meets Uzi, the spice guy.

“He was going about his business with no mind to me, while I was going about his business with no mind to myself,” the narrator explains. It is a case of lust at first sight. For the narrator, same-sex relations are nothing new but for Uzi, apparently, this greenhouse encounter is a first-time experience.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Visit to the Oldest Surviving Jewish Synagogue Building in Greece

On a narrow alleyway off the main pedestrian thoroughfare in the Old Town of Rhodes, a set of steps leads up to an unpretentious doorway opening to a historic building and a small shaded courtyard. This is Kahal Shalom, the sole remaining synagogue on a Greek island which was once home to 4,000 Jews. Now serving as a museum, and only very occasionally for services, Kahal Shalom offers a welcome respite from the touristy hustle and bustle in the nearby streets, as well as a fascinating immersion into the story of one Greek Jewish community, its history and culture.

My wife and I visited Kahal Shalom on our recent visit to Rhodes, a family trip which offered something suitable for all generations: beaches, a waterpark, shopping, a boat ride, an exploration of picturesque villages, good dining, nightclubs, and a fair amount of ouzo. On one day though, we left the children and grandchildren at the hotel pool and made an additional trip to the Old Town, with Kahal Shalom as the focus of our visit.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

"Vivid imagery made me want to wander the streets of Bulgaria"

The book starts off with a brutal terrorist attack, which is based on a real terrorist attack that took place in July of 2012 at Burgas Airport. A bomb was placed and detonated on a bus, and the blast subsequently killed five Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver. No one was ever held accountable for the attack or the deaths, which is unfortunately a tragic reality when it comes to terrorist attacks and also crimes in general. This means the loved ones who are left behind never get any closure let alone any kind of justice.

One of Shuman's strengths and indeed I would consider it a talent, is the way he describes the surroundings. The way he can evoke vivid imagery in the mind's eye of the reader. The reader sees and experiences Bulgaria through his words and emotional connection. It made me want to wander the streets and take in the history and architecture. Not every author can evoke that kind of response.

Read the rest of the review, as well as a Q&A session, on CherylM-M's Book Blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review of The Legacy by Melanie Phillips

When we first meet British television producer Russell Woolfe, he is on his way to his father’s funeral. Sitting in synagogue “for the first time in forty years [he feels] hatred in his heart.” Woolfe “hated the synagogue for its rigid complacency. He hated his fellow Jews for making him despise them. He hated himself for having exposed himself to this irritation. Most of all, he hated his father for dying.”

Yet, for Woolfe, there was no question about going to the synagogue to “perform his duty as the son and say the kaddish, the prayer for the dead.” And this despite the fact that he was estranged from a father who had renounced him for marrying a non-Jewish woman.

In the novel The Legacy by Melanie Phillips (Bombardier Books, April 2018), Woolfe’s antipathy for his religion and the history of his people plays a key role in the story. Yet a chance meeting with Joe Kuchinsky, a Polish Holocaust survivor, sets Woolfe on a path of self-reflection, one that will possibly result in a new outlook on Judaism.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Traveling to Rhodes with (Grand)children

When you think of traveling to the Greek islands you probably picture a sun-basked holiday of swimming in azure waters, lying on sunbeds for hours on end, and drinking ouzo at evening meals. While all that sun and all that ouzo might be the perfect vacation for adults, are there enough children-oriented options to keep the entire family satisfied?

Lindos Bay

The island of Rhodes is the fourth largest in Greece and located in the Aegean Sea, 363 kilometers (226 miles) southeast of the Greek mainland. The southern coast of Turkey is easily visible from island’s northwest shore. Rhodes has a population of 120,000 which explodes with some 2 million visitors a year. The island’s vibrant tourism industry is evident by the ubiquitous traditional Greek taverns situated on nearly every corner of the island’s 40 towns and villages.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review of "Less" by Andrew Sean Greer

In the last few weeks I read two Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. I struggled through The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, which won the coveted Fiction Prize in 2013, but I smiled my way through Less by Andrew Sean Greer (Abacus, April 2018) which won the same prize for 2018. Two novels that couldn’t be more different. Both were recognized for their literary merit.

I am not sure what the threshold is for Pulitzer Prize consideration or why one book wins while another remains on the shelf. I had chosen to read The Orphan Master’s Son because its setting is North Korea, and North Korea has been in the news lately. I chose to read Less because it’s the humorous tale of a failed novelist, about to turn fifty, who travels around the world to escape a failed relationship. That sounded just like the kind of book I would enjoy.

The Pulitzer Prize website describes Less as “a generous book, musical in its prose and expansive in its structure and range, about growing older and the essential nature of love.”

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Practical Tips for Visiting Sofia, Bulgaria

Regular visitors to my blog have heard me say time and time again why you should visit Bulgaria. But you might be wondering, how will you get around when you get there? If you plan to start your visit in Sofia, how will you get from the airport to the city center? If you rent a car, where should you park? If you want to plan a day trip out of the city, where should you go? Is Sofia a good destination if you're vegetarian or vegan? Is Sofia safe to visit?

Luckily all these answers and more are provided by Maria Stoyanova at her blog Travelling Buzz. If you're on your way to Sofia, I highly recommend her article:

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Satire of Alek Popov

In the opening chapters of Mission London by Alek Popov (Istros Books, November 2014, translated by Daniella and Charles Gill de Mayol de Lupe), the staff of the Bulgaria’s UK Embassy awaits the arrival of the newly appointed ambassador. “They sat fidgeting ... beneath the map of Bulgaria, with its cold pink and yellow colouring. Malicious tongues had it that the map had been put there not so much to arouse patriotic spasms in the employees but to serve as a reminder of where they came from and where they could be returning if they were not sufficiently careful."

Second Secretary Kishev, who had been in the UK for more than two years, “liked life on the island,” but Ambassador Varadin Dimitrov viewed his staff “as a gang of good-for-nothings, parasites living on the back of the state.” He felt he needed to "remind them that this job was not a winning lottery ticket.”

Monday, June 4, 2018

In Appreciation of Bulgarian Literature

Ever since my return from Bulgaria in 2011 I have looked for ways to retain a connection to the country. In addition to using Bulgaria as the setting for my two suspense novels and writing travel articles encouraging tourists to visit, I have kept my eyes open for books that would refresh my memories of the two years I lived in Sofia.

My connection with Bulgaria led to my participation in Bulgarian Literature Month, organized by the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, a website which “strives to raise the visibility of world literature for adults and children at the local, national and international levels.”

During the month of June, “readers will have the opportunity to get an overview regarding Bulgarian literature that is available in English translation.” International readers must take into consideration that very few books by Bulgarian authors have been translated into English. Bulgarian Literature Month, organized and curated by Thomas Hübner, enables English-speaking readers to at least get to “know ... the tip of the iceberg of Bulgarian literature.”

I chose as my topic the first two novels of Alek Popov, a Bulgarian novelist, dramatist, essayist, and short story writer. His novel Mission London was first published in 2001 while his second novel, The Black Box, was first published in 2007. Both books have been translated into English although Popov’s third novel, The Palaveevi Sisters (2013) has not yet been published in English translation. The common element of his first two novels is Popov’s wry, eastern European humor. Popov’s satirical writing gives comical insight into Bulgaria’s efforts to transition from a communist state to a modern democracy.

Read my article The Satire of Alek Popov on the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative website.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Latest Review of "The Burgas Affair"

The Burgas Affair offers a fascinating close-up of Balkan and Israeli politics, and the setting, largely in Bulgaria, was vividly evoked. From my perspective, the settings and the backdrop to the story were the strongest facets of the read, although the character of Stanchev is skillfully written and dislikeable to a degree that merits applause.

The underlying plot structure of the book is well-constructed and full of surprises. I did feel that the relative level of emphasis given to the romance detracted from the level of attention that the mystery itself deserved; tying all the stray elements of the attack and its circumstances together into a convincing storyline struck me as the most interesting part of the book. Certainly an enjoyable read for any readers of political thrillers.

Read the full review on By Rite of Word Reviews.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered by Sarah Tuttle-Singer

Walking through Jaffa Gate you probably pay little attention to the merchants hawking olive wood crucifixes or to the man squeezing fresh pomegranates. You barely notice the women hanging laundry from their balconies in the Jewish Quarter and you take for granted the presence of the vigilant Border Guards. None of this matters as you gravitate toward Jerusalem’s main attractions—its holy places of worship. But what lies behind the green metal doors on the sides of the narrow alleyways?

Those doors are opened for us in Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered by Sarah Tuttle-Singer (Skyhorse Publishing, May 8, 2018), an exploration of both the spiritual and the terrestrial aspects of the Old City. The book introduces us to the Armenians, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who live within its walls.

We join author and journalist Tuttle-Singer as she embarks “on a strange and wonderful adventure where [she is] actually living in Jerusalem’s Old City—a year of living as an insider-outsider, a visitor looking for community, but never really growing roots.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Answer Two Questions Correctly and You'll Win a Prize

Every morning on my way to the Aroma coffee shop where I sit and write for an hour before going to work I pass by the Reshet television studio. At that early hour there is a morning show and I can actually see into the studio as I pass by. One of the hosts of the morning show is media personality Avri Gilad.

On occasion, Avri goes out to the street and catches passersby for a quick quiz. He asks them three questions and if they answer two of them correctly, they win a prize.

I have been stopped twice before and asked to participate in the televised quiz but both times I was in a hurry to get to work. This time, I said OK.

Avri Gilad was certainly not ready for my "clever" spur-of-the-moment replies, as you can see in the video!

Thank you to my son who quickly starting filming when I messaged my family that I was going to be on television! The video was edited and subtitles were added by using the Kapwing Online Video Editor.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

What Inspired Me to Write 'The Burgas Affair'

"During the two years I lived in Sofia, I fell in love with Bulgaria and most of my writing these days, both fiction and non-fiction, is based on my experiences there. Having grown up in Israel where, unfortunately, suicide bombings and terrorist attacks are an ever-present security danger, I assumed Bulgaria to be a completely safe place to live. That is why the terrorist attack at Burgas Airport was so upsetting to me. I read every media report about the bombing and the investigation in its aftermath. As the terrorists were never caught, my creative mind came up with some possible explanations. I envisioned a joint Bulgarian-Israeli investigation and the end result was my novel, The Burgas Affair."

Read the full interview on Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews.

Monday, April 2, 2018

How It Came About that "The Burgas Affair" Was First Published in Bulgarian

The first blog article I published on The Huffington Post was entitled “10 Amazing Things You Don’t Know about Bulgaria.” The article went viral. It received more than 27,000 likes and was translated three times into Bulgarian (two of them without my permission). I gained a reputation as a Westerner who writes very positively about Bulgaria.

I love to read and I write many book reviews. I began specializing in writing reviews of books written by Bulgarian authors who have been translated into English. As a result, I established many connections with Bulgarian authors, publishers, and media.

My novel The Burgas Affair was published as Бургаската афера in May 2016 by Ciela, the leading publishing house in Bulgaria. It was strange, and exciting, to attend the book launch and a book signing for the novel in Sofia, when the book had yet to be published in English. The book was well received in Bulgaria, but it certainly didn’t become a bestseller.

Excerpt from an interview in the January-February issue of Doorway to Art.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"The plot is fast paced and intriguing at the same time"

Review of The Burgas Affair on Book Vue

"I have so many things to say about the book, I don’t know where to begin! Let me first say that I thoroughly enjoyed it! The prologue was intriguing enough for me to get started. Everything from the setting to the characters to the plot, was all weaved perfectly to create a story that has a lasting impression.  I’ve never had a fascination for Bulgaria but it was so beautifully described in the story that now I want to visit it! The plot is fast paced and intriguing at the same time, perfect for a thriller."

Read the full review on Book Vue.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

I Ran in the Jerusalem Marathon!

Please note: I said that I ran in the Jerusalem Marathon, and not that I ran the Jerusalem Marathon.

The Jerusalem Marathon event has a number of races and not everyone is capable of running the 42-kilometers of the marathon. There are races at shorter distances as well and some of them are actually runs, and not races.

Last week I ran the Jerusalem Marathon's 5 kilometer run. I crossed the finish line in, well, I don't know the exact time. The goal was not to set a new record time but to finish the race, and I did!

I had been exercising and training for the run for some time. In the run-up to the run (excuse my pun), I was running 5 kilometers a day, but this was on a treadmill. The actual run, in the chilly Jerusalem morning, included a few ups and downs as the track circled the Hebrew University campus at Givat Ram.

As you can see, my competition was tough, but then again, this was not a competitive race. Thousands ran the 5 kilometer distance (they said a total of 35,000 runners participated in the Jerusalem Marathon runs). Runners included families, children, soldiers, tourists, and people like me, running for the first time.

Having completed the course, I feel like I have truly accomplished something. I proved that running is a mind-over-matter affair. If you will it, it is no dream. I set a goal for myself, and I succeeded.

Until next year!

Link: The Jerusalem Marathon website.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Get your copy of "The Burgas Affair" for FREE!

I am excited to share my writing with you, so excited in fact, that for a limited time I am offering my new novel to you for FREE.

Download your copy of The Burgas Affair now. Enjoy the read!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Carpets of Red Anemones

This past Saturday, Jodie and I did something we had wanted to do for years. We visited the northwestern Negev during February, in time to see desert in bloom.

Our first stop was the Be'eri Forest, "a rolling landscape of hills and fields" famous for "its carpets of red anemones."

While there were anemones in the forest, they were mostly surrounded by weeds. The forest is also a popular destination for families riding bicycles.

We had better luck seeing the flowers at Be'er Marva, across from Kibbutz Alumim. Just off the main road, this small nature preserve had less people and more flowers.

February's flower blossoming is marked by Darom Adom (The Red South), an annual festival that brings Israelis from other parts of the country into the northern Negev, some of them, like us, for the first time. It was a colorful, enjoyable experience and the perfect way to spend a sunny February day.

Official Darom Adom website (Hebrew)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review on "Books From Dusk Till Dawn"

"The story is as much about the relationship that develops between them as it is about finding the bombers before there were more deaths. Boyko had his own dodgy past to deal with which was slowly coming to light throughout the story. There are times that the story drops back to fill in how events went down. I really didn’t like Boyko to start with but he did grow on me. Ayalya feels she has a lot to prove about herself and how she is seen by other members of both these teams.

"There was plenty of action throughout the book, both surrounding the bombing and Boyko’s past. It is very much a tension builder with spikes of adrenaline fueled scenes to allow you to take a break before the next one, if you need to. They were a couple that I would want on my side. I really enjoyed this book, though it is sad that in real life the case was never solved. If you continue reading after this story ends  the author goes on to fill in facts about the real bombing."

Read the full review on "Books from Dusk Till Dawn".

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Burgas Affair - But What Are They Eating?

When Detective Boyko Stanchev of the Bulgarian State Agency for National Security sits down for lunch at a roadside cafe, he is furious that his partner is an inexperienced data analyst from Israel. Ayala Navon has just flown in from Tel Aviv to join the investigation of a bombing at Burgas Airport which took the lives of five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. Ayala has never previously been to Bulgaria and Boyko feels she will interfere with his work on the case.

The waiter brings their lunch.

There is the ubiquitous shopska salad—finely cut wedges of tomatoes and cucumbers topped with grated salty white cheese. Next to it were small ceramic bowls of potato salad and the so-called Russian salad, which was nearly the same, except for the addition of carrots and peas. A colorful tomato salad and one made from peppers were also quite appealing; they were served on traditional Bulgarian plates. Off to the side was a bowl of yogurt spotted with drops of green.

“Snezhanka salata,” Ayala said, dipping in her spoon to help herself.

“How do you know its name?

“It’s because,” she began, but then she shrugged, smiling to herself. She recalled the occasions during her childhood when her father had asked to include Bulgarian dishes in their meals, a request stated so frequently that her mother had given in to his tastes, despite their being so different from the cuisine with which she was familiar.

“Because?” he asked, waiting for an answer.

“I just know the name.”

Read the rest of this article on But What Are They Eating?

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Burgas Affair review - Me and My Books

Ellis has used real life events of the bombing of a bus at Burgas Airport in Bulgaria as the basis of his story.  He has used his unique knowledge and experiences to add extra dimensions to his story.

Overall a book that starts very dramatically, that then twists and turns its way through several themes.  It was a very insightful read with good attention to details, and a lot of little added extras that the author has used to create a dramatic, exciting edge of the seat read.  A real page turner from start to finish and one I would definitely recommend.  Ideal for readers of crime, thriller with good amount of action, adventure.  I also want to mention how after reading this book, that the cover is a perfect accompaniment.

Read the full review at Me and My Books

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Burgas Bombing: Where Fact and Fiction Meet

Two alleged Hezbollah terrorists went on trial in absentia in Sofia, Bulgaria, this week, for their role in the Burgas Airport bus bombing in July 2012, an attack in which five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver were killed.

Readers of my novel The Burgas Affair are well aware of the details of the bombing. The book is a fictional account of a joint Bulgarian-Israel investigation launched in the wake of the terror attack.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Why I Will Never Again Promote My Book with a Facebook Boost or Ad

I tried to promote my novel on Facebook, it was not successful. That was an experiment which I will not repeat and here’s why.
If I was to say to you, in the very first sentence of this article, that I just published a new novel and you can click here to buy it, your response would probably be one word: “Congratulations!” And that’s the only result I would get from my marketing pitch.

It’s quite an accomplishment to write, edit, format, and self-publish a book. It’s an even more daunting task to market a book.

If you’re expecting me to tell you the secret to marketing a book, you’re in for a disappointment. I have not yet been successful in my marketing endeavors, unfortunately, but I’m still working on it!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

I Had Never Considered Writing about Bulgaria until…

At the end of 2008 I was summoned into my boss’s office. I worked in online marketing at a mid-level management position and I thought I was handling the work pretty well. My boss informed me that the position was being relocated from Israel, where I live, to Bulgaria.

In January 2009, I arrived in Sofia with my wife to start a two-year relocation of the job. I had never previously been to Bulgaria and I had never lived before in Europe. I was born in the United States and Israel has been my home since I was as a teenager. Living in Bulgaria would not only be an exciting challenge to my career, but also an adventure.

I found working at a desk in a Bulgarian office to be very similar to working at a desk in Tel Aviv. I eagerly looked forward to the weekends, when my wife and I set forth to explore the country which had become our temporary home.

Read the rest of the article on Donna's Book Blog.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

10 Reasons to Visit Bulgaria in 2018

Bulgaria is not on the bucket list of most travellers and many would find it difficult to place the country on a map. This is a shame because Bulgaria is an amazing, underrated travel destination, one that is blessed with stunning natural beauty and an abundance of fascinating places to visit. Listed below are ten of the most compelling reasons to travel to Bulgaria this year.

Sofia. Many visitors start their exploration of Bulgaria in the country’s capital. Sofia has a very Eastern European ambience but everywhere there are signs of that it is quickly adapting to the modern era. Most of the main attractions are in the centre, where the Roman ruins of Serdika can be seen in the metro stations. It is hard to miss the gold-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built to honour Russia’s assistance to Bulgaria in its war of independence from the Ottomans in the 1870s.

Rila Monastery. The most popular tourist site in the entire country is located about an hour and half’s drive south from Sofia. In a serene mountain setting, the monastery is named for Ivan Rilski, Bulgaria’s patron saint who lived in a cave at the site. The main church is framed by black and white-striped pillars and its external walls are covered with Biblical-themed frescoes. The church’s interior is dark but welcoming for the many pilgrims who flock there to light candles.

Read the rest of the article on The Huffington Post.