July 30, 2021

Goodreads review of The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre

The GodmotherThe Godmother by Hannelore Cayre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Meet Patience Portefeux, a fifty-three-year-old, underpaid Franco-Arab interpreter for the Ministry of Justice who specializes in phone tapping. Widowed after the sudden death of her husband, Patience is now wedged between university fees for her grown-up daughters and nursing home costs for her aging mother.Happening upon an especially revealing set of police wiretaps ahead of all other authorities, Patience makes a life-altering decision that sees her intervening in — and infiltrating — the machinations of a massive drug deal. She thus embarks on an entirely new career path: Patience becomes The Godmother.

What an excellent novel! I know it's a cliche but I couldn't put it down. I read it so fast that I had to read it again, more slowly, to savor it. The protagonist has a unique and engaging voice, the plot is clever and exciting, and [spoiler alert] the ending is quite satisfying. You don't often read a crime novel where the successful/admirable underworld figures are women. An unexpected bonus was its Jewish content. An expected bonus is the movie, “Mama Weed,” that they made based on this book, just came out. I can’t wait to see it.

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Posted by maggie at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2021

Jewish history in Kurdistan

I just read a fascinating article in The Forward about Levi Meir Clancy, a Los Angeles native who has spent the last several years in Erbil, Kurdistan.

He has devoted himself to resurfacing its Jewish story and showcasing the region’s ethnic diversity. To that end, he has spent years collecting Jewish artifacts — he now has more than 700 — from the region and elsewhere in Iraq for an exhibition titled, the “Museum of Ours.” It’s a project of the “Foundation of Ours,” which Clancy, who was raised in a Reform synagogue, founded to preserve Jewish life and promote tolerance. The foundation also serves as a synagogue, hosting services for Jews who visit the area.
After a few years in the region, Clancy decided to give tours of Erbil’s old town and history museum. “The turnout was insane, I made one little post, and dozens of people came,” he said of the tours, which he offered free of charge. “You would expect them to all be foreigners, but at least a plurality of them were Kurds.” Surprised that so many locals were coming to him, an outsider, to learn about their own history, Clancy at first figured the enthusiasm was a fluke, but he continued to offer tours and people continued to show up in droves. One of his walking tours of the city drew 60 people from all walks of life. “It was Kurds, and it was Arabs, Iraqis, Syrians, Yazidis, Assyrians, Christian Chaldeans. It was incredible.”

To read the entire article, which I recommend, click on the link above.

Posted by maggie at 02:54 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2021

Goodreads review of The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

The Lost Girls of ParisThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had mixed feelings about this book. The idea of a historical novel about the women in the SEO [Special Operations Executive], who had so courageously infiltrated occupied France during WWII to resist and sabotage the Germans, greatly appealed to me. The majority of war novels are written by and for men, but not this one. Though the plot and story line were worthy, unfortunately, the execution [pardon the pun] was disappointing. I have already detailed the anachronisms, but I found it difficult to connect with the three main characters. There regularly seemed to be no good reasons, neither logical or emotional, for their behaviors. These were women trained to follow a very strict procedure, yet when they violated it, I couldn't understand why. A bit more explanation or inner dialogue might have made me care about them more. Still a good read, but it could have been better.
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Posted by maggie at 08:36 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2021

Errors in historical fiction

I had just started another comp, "The Lost Girls of Paris" by Pam Jenoff, when I was astonished to see, in the first sentence, that the main character is named Grace Healy. Which is the name of the girl who lives downstairs and becomes Ella's friend in "All of a Kind Family Uptown". Was the author a Sydney Taylor fan? It couldn’t have been a coincidence.

As long as I’ve mentioned Pam Jenoff’s novel set New York and Europe between 1944-1946, I’m going to digress to the subject of accuracy in historical fiction. Because the characters in my novels are real people, and because I’m trying to teach my readers about the medieval and Talmudic times in which these women lived, I research like crazy to ensure that my writing is free of anachronisms and other errors. I don’t expect my editors to be experts in those olden days.

But apparently Jenoff’s editors weren’t up to the task, because the following errors were noticed on Goodreads: 1] In 1946, a character goes into the Willard Hotel lobby "the ceiling was elaborately painted with the seals of all fifty states." But this takes place in 1946. Hawaii and Alaska don't obtain statehood until 1959. 2] Characters planned a cruise on the QEII after the war. But the QEII wasn't built until the late 1960s. 3] A Frenchwoman’s nylons are mentioned but nylon was restricted to military use back then. 4] A character is in a café in 1946 watching the news on a TV set. TV was so new, it is very unlikely there was one in a café. 5] Other anachronisms include rental cars, duct tape, Single Parent.

This is the bane of historical novelists; that eagle-eyed readers will pounce on any such error and attack mercilessly. While a copy editor is supposed to catch these, the author should have known or learned enough to not make these kinds of mistakes. Btw – I just got the copy edits back for my upcoming novel set in 1955-1957. So while I hope I didn’t have many inaccuracies for her to uncover, I also hope that she found the ones I missed.

Posted by maggie at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2021

Review of "The Orphan Collector" by Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Orphan CollectorThe Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This historical novel, set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic starting in 1918, is also a dual-POV crime novel where the protagonist heroine Pia seeks to solve the mystery of her infant twin brothers’ disappearance after their mother’s death forces Pia to leave them alone while searching for food. But the reader knows what happened, because the second POV is that of the antagonist kidnapper. The plot revolves around Pia’s efforts to find her brothers as the kidnapper attempts to thwart discovery. But it is also a Cinderella story, with our orphaned heroine toiling in misery until a kind couple intervene and save the day.

[spoiler alert] The beginning was extremely intense, what with the rapid onset of disease in Pia’s tenement neighborhood. But it continued with over 100 seemingly endless pages of gruesome, and redundant, descriptions of the symptoms that quickly ended in people’s deaths. I ended up skimming most of it. That was followed by another 100+ pages of Pia’s confinement in a stereotypically horrific orphanage/workhouse run by evil nuns. Eventually she is sent to work for an impossibly nice and well-to-do doctor’s family. With only 40 pages left, it is suddenly 5 years later when who appears at the doctor’s door but a young man was Pia’s childhood friend before the flu came. He quickly helps her solve the mystery, just in time to find the kidnapper whose dying words leads them to the couple who adopted the twins.

As an author who works hard to keep a good pace in my novels, I was more than annoyed at how the first 90% of his book wallows in misery and despair, only to have the hero suddenly show up at the end to save the day. I don’t know about the editors, but I would have cut out, or severely condensed the first half, and given us a longer, suspenseful second half as we get the hero’s backstory while he and Pia methodically track down the villain.

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Posted by maggie at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2021

Tisha b'Av discovery in Jerusalem

In a timely article in the Jerusalem Post, readers learn that a section of Jerusalem’s city wall built some 2,700 years ago and mostly destroyed by the Babylonian army in 586 BCE was uncovered by archaeologists in the City of David National Park. Yet I can’t help but think that the Wednesday announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) was suspiciously coincidental.

The article says “The massive structure–some 5 m. wide–was built on the steep eastern slope leading to the city, just a few dozen meters away from the Temple Mount. Probably the steepness of the area preserved the structure from destruction during the Babylonian conquest–a vivid account of which is offered in the Bible [see below]–since the invading army likely accessed the city from an easier path.” The last chapter of the Book of Kings II reads, “By the ninth day [of the fourth month] the famine had become acute in the city; there was no food left for the common people. Then [the wall of] the city was breached.... On the seventh day of the fifth month–that was the 19th year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon – Nebuzaradan, the chief of the guards, an officer of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the House of the Lord, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem; he burned down the house of every notable person.”

I have mixed feelings about Tisha b’Av. One part of me tends to agree with Prof. Larry Hoffman that modern Jews should be celebrating, not mourning. For we wouldn’t have today’s Judaism, as innovated by the Talmudic rabbis, if the Temple hadn’t been destroyed. Let’s face it, I can’t imagine sacrificing animals, giving tithes to male hereditary priests, living under a system when one’s purity/impurity regulates my life, etc. And I expect most Jews these days would agree.
Yet, it is appropriate to mourn destruction caused by sinat chinam, needless/baseless hatred. Especially in the US, where it seems our daily political discourse is filled with it.

Here's the link if you want to read the Jerusalem Post article

Posted by maggie at 01:34 PM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2021

review of "Badger's Moon" by Peter Tremayne

Badger's Moon (Sister Fidelma, #13)Badger's Moon by Peter Tremayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First the summary: In October of 667 A.D., Fidelma of Cashel - sister to the one of kings of Ireland, a religieuse of the Celtic Church, and an advocate of the Brehon courts - is struggling with her most challenging role yet, that of mother to her infant son Alchu. So it is with mixed feelings that she receives the summons from Abbot Brogan. There have been a series of shocking murders that have terrorized the villagers near the Abbey of Finbarr; three young girls have been violently slaughtered - one per month of the night of the full moon, the most recent only days before during the badger's moon, October's full moon. The villagers are angrily demanding answers from the abbey, who are housing three visitors from faraway--strangers who the villagers believe are behind the gruesome murders. But time is running out so Fidelma and her husband Eadulf must act quickly, uncovering the complicated truth before the next full moon comes and the lunatic killer strikes again.

This time readers get to spend more time in Fidelma and Eadulf's heads, as she suffers from postpartum depression and he worries about her changed disposition. Again I was bothered by the gap between that this novel and the previous one, as this one begins when the baby is a month old so we don't get to experience the pregnancy and birth along with her. The mystery is a good one, and for a change the killer was not the obvious arrogant male. As usual, I reread the denouement to make sure I understood who did what to whom and to appreciate how all the ends got tied up. I noticed that the author is getting a bit redundant in his plot points: a gold/silver mine, a secret underground passage, mysterious strangers, and Fidelma using her martial arts expertise to thwart an attacker. And a cliff hanger to ensure that I'll want to read the next book in the series.

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Posted by maggie at 02:50 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2021

Review of "The Haunted Abbot" by Peter Tremayne

The Haunted Abbot (Sister Fidelma, #12)The Haunted Abbot by Peter Tremayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First the Goodreads summary. In December of 666 A.D., Fidelma of Cashel and her companion Brother Eadulf, having completed their business with the Archbishop of Canterbury, make one final journey before returning to Ireland. At the insistence of Brother Botulf, a childhood friend of Eadulf, they detour from their trip to Eadulf's home village and make their way to Aldred's Abbey. Arriving at midnight on the night of the old pagan festival of Yule, as requested, they find Botulf's dead body - his head caved in by a blunt instrument. As Fidelma and Eadulf soon learn, however, murder isn't the only danger which faces those in the abbey. The ghost of a young woman haunts the cloister shadows, a ghost which closely resembles the Abbot's dead wife. Now it will require all of Fidelma's skill as an advocate of the Brehon Courts to unravel the mystery and uncover the truth behind these events before those secrets take yet another life.

Since I've been reading all the Fidelman mysteries in order, it was nice to see her now-husband Eadulf taking the lead while she is ill. But a big disappointment to me was that the author didn't give us the marriage proposal and acceptance, nor the wedding, which occurred between this book and the previous one in the series. A little flashback during this story would have been appreciated.

But the mystery was excellent, and the Abbot was indeed haunted, although not in the supernatural way. The misogyny and prejudice against women in 7th century Britain was described well, and an important comparison/contrast to Fidelma's acceptance in Ireland. No spoilers, but the ending was very nice.
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Posted by maggie at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2021

Review of "The Last Bathing Beauty" by Amy Sue Nathan

The Last Bathing BeautyThe Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book and appreciated the nostalgia even though I grew up in 1950s California. The main character, Betty, was well developed, but the others not so much. I could identify with her passionate first love feeling; I fell madly in love at age 19 to a non-Jewish guy I met at UCLA, he converted, and we married in a synagogue when I was 20. We are still married, and in love, over 50 years later. But I digress. I had problems with the plot. [spoiler alert]. Maybe things were different in the Midwest, but I can't imagine that Abe would have had difficulty converting, especially since his father was Jewish and he was raised that way. Of course that obvious solution would have ended the story before any conflict began. I also found it hard to believe that Betty and her resourceful friends couldn't have found some way to contact him, which would also have prevented the classic romance plot [girl meets boy, girl gets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy]. But then I'm an author and I think about those things. As a former lab tech, it also bothered me that Betty's doctor wanted to confirm her pregnancy with a blood test when those weren't invented until the 1970's; only urine tests were available in 1951. Still, I suspended disbelief and enjoyed the story and its sweet happy ending.

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Posted by maggie at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2021

Biography of "Sarah to Sydney"

From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind FamilyFrom Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family by June Cummins

I was so excited to see a New York Times article about the new Sydney Taylor biography, From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family

As many of my friends and fans know, I grew up in a secular home in a Los Angeles Jewish suburb. My family weren't shul goers so we didn't observe Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, only Hanukah and Pesach [the latter at a more religious friend's house]. I attribute my early knowledge of the first 3 holidays, and other Jewish traditions, to having read the All of a Kind Family series. All five of Sydney Taylor's novels are in my home library and I still reread them.

In 1995, I joined a women's Talmud class and learned that the great medieval commentator Rashi had no sons, only three daughters who were reputed to be learned. Curious about them, I started researching his family and community, and discovered so many astonishing things about the women that I decided to write about them. It would be a book I wanted to read—which meant a novel.

I immediately decided my template would be All of a Kind Family, where the reader could be immersed in Rashi's family's daily life in 11th-century France as the story unfolded. Except my novel would be for adults; the characters would have explicit sex, menstruate, use the privy and experience painful childbirth as women in real life do. My Rashi's Daughters trilogy has sold over 100,000 copies. And now there is an entire genre of Jewish women's historical fiction.

Here's the link to the New York Times article

Posted by maggie at 02:41 PM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2021

5-Star Goodreads review of Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner.

I came across a paperback copy of the book in my library’s discard rack, and after realizing it was Jennifer Weiner’s debut novel, I took it. I enjoyed her recent offering, "Big Summer", and thought it would be interesting to compare the two. The verdict is in: I like this one even more. The heroine’s voice in this first-person POV is so compelling I couldn’t put the book down. Despite all her trials and tribulations, which she obsesses over like a real person would, she perseveres and comes out ahead.

Actually the basic plot is a modern take on the Cinderella story: an overweight woman whose father and ex-boyfriend have abandoned her, with a job beneath her talents, is taken under the wing of a fairy-godmother movie actress who helps the heroine turn her life around and recognize that Prince Charming has been her friend for some time. The dialogue is by turns funny and sad; sometimes I wanted to shake the heroine, other times cheer her on, and mostly, just give her a big hug.

Posted by maggie at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)