August 30, 2021

4.5 star Review of "The Book of Lost Names" by Kristin Harmel

The Book of Lost NamesThe Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm giving The Book of Lost Names 4 and a half stars, and not because of the "Hollywood" ending; I love happy endings, especially when so much in the real world looks dark. I didn't like the mother character though. She seems almost a stereotype of the always complaining and kvetching, never satisfied Jewish mother. It seemed out of character for her to suddenly support her daughter to the point of dying to protect her. But otherwise, the book was excellent. The suspense kept building until the true traitor was finally revealed, leaving me surprised and not so surprised. It was great to learn about the French Resistance forgers and how they saved so many lives during WW2, a subject I knew nothing about until I read about them here. I enjoyed getting into details of how the forgeries were actually done. Kristin Harmel's descriptions of the fictional French town and its inhabitants were wonderfully drawn. I appreciated how our heroine talked to God, even if it was in a church; one would think more people risking their lives to save others would have some need to pray.

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Posted by maggie at 09:13 PM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2021

Covid testin debacle

I am definitely looking forward to some Shabbat shalom tomorrow. The last week has been like a bad dream; in other words, not quite as bad as a nightmare. Things started out great last Wednesday, when our grandson made the basketball team at his LAUSD high school, where he is a freshman. But then … we learned on Thursday morning that he was one of the students who had been exposed to a Covid-positive student on Monday. His parents were told to pick him up and get him tested at the LAUSD text site, which his father did. Despite being already fully vaccinated, he was instructed to quarantine for 10 days—even though the LA County Health Dept says a fully vaccinated person exposed to Covid does NOT need to quarantine unless they have symptoms, which he didn't. That day, his parents got tested at Kaiser.

To make matters worse, my son’s family of five was here visiting from Arizona, thankfully staying at a friend’s house who is out of town. All of us were exposed to my grandson on Wednesday when everyone got together for dinner, although that was mostly outdoors. By Friday, when we still hadn't received results from his LAUSD Covid test, I took him to be get the fast antigen Covid test at an outside test center. Bad decision, because he was POSITIVE! Now our three families—his, our son’s, and ours, had to quarantine. Our poor grandson had to isolate in his room, and he didn’t have any schoolbooks yet. See LA Times article

Panicked, I called a good friend who happens to be Director of Labs at LAC+USC, who told me to get my grandson retested by PCR, the gold standard, since the antigen test is not so reliable. As a precaution, my husband and I got tested at Kaiser, which only does PCR. But we all stayed home last Shabbat, a great disappointment since my son’s family was leaving on Sunday and we had all looked forward to enjoying Shabbat together. Things were looking up on Monday when everyone’s Covid test taken the week before came back negative, even the grandson. But to be sure, I took him to Kaiser for a test on Tuesday on the way to picking up his textbooks.

Thankfully, all’s well that ends well. My grandson’s PCR Covid test from Tuesday was negative and, because LAUSD changed their policy to match the County Health Dept and CDC’s recommendations, he was able to go back to school yesterday. But LAUSD will be testing students every week, so who knows when/if our grandkids, all but one too young to be vaccinated, will get the dreaded “exposed to Covid” phone call. Still, I learned one very important lesson from this debacle—Do not take the antigen test, only the PCR test.

Posted by maggie at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2021

My 4-star review of "The Hard Way Home"

The Hard Way Home (The Star and the Shamrock #3)The Hard Way Home by Jean Grainger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would have given The Hard Way Home five stars except the beginning was too long and filled with information I already knew from the two earlier books in the series. Having written a trilogy myself, I struggled between the need to inform new readers while not boring previous ones. My publisher insisted I do this though it seemed to me that few would read the third novel in a trilogy without having read volumes one and two. Now for my review.

I thought the previous volume, The Emerald Horizon was dark, with all the difficulties of a Jewish woman trying to hide, and survive, in Berlin during WW2. But this one, with its plot of a woman caught up in an emotional abusive relationship, was hard to read at times. I hope other readers recognized the coercive control Liesl's German boyfriend was applying, although it eventually becomes impossible to ignore. Thankfully, her family helps her see the signs and escape, though not without great cost. I confess that when our heroine gets to Berlin, I thought the author was being too easy on the Nazis. But then the villain is slowly exposed, along with his increasing evil anti-Semitism, and we see the true horror that Hitler wrought.

Yet readers do get the looked-for happy, or at least satisfying, ending. Our heroine finds true love as many of the Kindertransport children, now young adults, leave for new lives in Israel.

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Posted by maggie at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2021

My 5-star review of "Captain Blood" audio book

Captain BloodCaptain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I confess that I would never have read Captain Blood if I hadn't needed something exciting to listen to on my roundtrip drive between Los Angeles and Tucson. My daughter and son-in-law, with different tastes in literature, both recommended this excellent novel, and I enthusiastically agree. In 1685 our hero, Doctor Peter Blood, is caught up treating the injured in an English rebellion, found guilty of treason and sentenced to slavery on Barbados. A lucky turn of events allows him and his fellow convict slaves to escape and become pirates, despite his still-present sense of honor.

Once at sea, the now-named Captain Blood undertakes a variety of daring, thrilling adventures, becoming deeply involved in the fortunes of the Caribbean as the English, French, and Spanish all vie for supremacy. There are battles at sea, raids of cities, plus politics and intrigue, not to mention matters of honor, justice, vengeance, and romance. Although Blood is a fictional character, much of the historical background of the novel is loosely based on fact. So I couldn't help but suspect that Disney's original "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride was heavily based on a pirate attack on Port Royal as presented in this classic novel.

I listened to Captain Blood on Audible as read by Robert Whitfield, who does a wonderful job of bringing this swashbuckling tale to life. He crafts excellent voices and accents for Blood and each of the large cast of international characters. The Irish, English, French, Spanish, and Dutch characters all have appropriate accents, but Whitfield keeps each distinct and memorable, so that I never had to guess who's speaking. Now I am really looking forward to watching the movie staring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Basil Rathbone.

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Posted by maggie at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2021

Goodreads 3-star review of “The Emerald Horizon” by Jean Grainger

The Emerald Horizon (The Star and the Shamrock #2)The Emerald Horizon by Jean Grainger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I highly recommend reading The Star and the Shamrock, the first book of this series about two Jewish children who escape Germany on the Kindertransport, before this one. I couldn't decide between 3 and 4 stars because this novel is really two stories intertwined. The one I really liked involved Ariella, the mother left behind in Berlin whose trials and tribulations are detailed as she manages to survive until the Allies liberate the city. Most Holocaust novels seem to focus on the death camps, so I appreciated how this one gave me a different perspective. Not that it wasn't dark and disturbing.

The other POV comes from Elizabeth, the Irish woman who takes in the children and cares for them from 1939-1945, a continuation of Book 1. Unfortunately, the Ireland scenes, where everyone is safe while they wait for the war to end, can't compare to the riveting German ones filled with danger and suspense. We expect that Ariella will likely survive and be reunited with her children, but how she does is so much more compelling than reading how the Kindertransport children worry about the families they left behind, whom we know were unlikely to survive. I would have given this book 5 stars if it had primarily told Ariella's story, with only an occasional scene set in Ireland.

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Posted by maggie at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2021

Trials and Tribulations with the IRS

[August 10] A tale of trials and tribulations that has nothing to do with books. Part of being an author/publisher is having a variable income stream, which means that some years I owe the IRS money and some years I get a refund. I set up an account at so I can pay online during the years I know I’ll owe money. It’s safer and more convenient than mailing checks, plus I get a prompt verification.

When my CPA did our [married, filing jointly] 2020 tax returns in May, it turned out that we owed money. Being especially leery of mailing a check after all I’d heard about postal service delays, I logged onto my IRS account and made the payment online. The amount was withdrawn from our checking account a few days later and I figured that we were done for 2020. But no.

In early July we got one of those dreaded fat letters from the IRS. I was astounded to read that they were billing us for the exact amount I had paid online, plus interest. Figuring this was an easy thing to fix, I mailed back the payment form with a copy of my bank statement showing the tax had been paid. In addition, my CPA also sent a letter with that information. Did this solve the problem? NO. Last week my husband and I got separate letters from the IRS, demanding payment with additional interest or they would put a lien on our bank account. This time the letter gave us an option of appealing the collection, and directed us to file form 9423 and call them at a specific number—which answered with a recording to call back another day. I immediately checked my online IRS account and, sure enough, the tax payment I made in May was listed there. So I did a google search and discovered that I was not alone in this problem.

You’d think in 2020 the IRS would have found a way to keep track of married couples’ tax info by linking both of their SS#’s. But NO. The letters referenced my husband’s SS#, but I paid online via my account, which is under my SS#. I’d had enough. I called my Congressmember, explained the problem to a staffer who answered the phone immediately and had me scan all the relevant documents and email them to their office. In addition I filled out Form 9423 and mailed it to the specified address with copies of the same documents.

Will this solve the problem? To be continued.

Posted by maggie at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2021

Goodreads 4-star review of “The Star and the Shamrock” by Jean Grainger

The Star and the ShamrockThe Star and the Shamrock by Jean Grainger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just because The Star and the Shamrock reads like YA fiction—no big words or horrific violence, just a straightforward WW2 love/spy story about resilience, overcoming prejudice, and making sacrifices—with a happy ending, doesn't mean old adults won't like it. Of course we know that the “hero” isn’t really a spy and that our nearly perfect heroine will sort out the mystery, but not every enjoyable historical novel has to be great literature. I confess I was so drawn in at one point that I stayed up until 2 am to see how things would turn out. So who needs complex character arcs or a complicated plot when the most important thing to readers is an intriguing story, and that the main characters are likeable and sympathetic.

One amazing thing about the novel is that it appears to be self-published. The copyright page doesn’t list a publisher or any of the usual information you see in other novels—not even the ISBN number [which is at least found on the back cover’s barcode]. Unlike nearly every other modern book I’ve read, Jean Grainger doesn’t acknowledge any editors, cover or interior designers, or publicists. Yet her books are wildly successful; over 18 novels in print, 16 of them part of one of her four series. Each routinely gets thousands of 4-5 star reviews on Amazon, so she is obviously doing something right. Especially since I can’t wait to read the sequel—The Emerald Horizon.

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Posted by maggie at 09:49 PM | Comments (0)

August 06, 2021

Immersive Van Gogh

This time not a book review but my rave review of Immersive Van Gogh, a digital art show that encircles the audiences in ever-moving digital projections of the artist’s work accompanied by a music score. Images are projected onto the walls and, at times, on the floor. Some wall sections in the middle of the cavernous space were mirrored, so we—I went with my daughter and two friends—could see the show everywhere., even the floor. There were circles on the floor, socially distanced 6 feet apart, where viewers could sit on comfy cubes, small chairs, or just the floor [quite popular]. Even at our sold-out venue in Los Angeles, it never seemed crowded.

I preferred to walk around so I could take in the experience from as many vantage points as possible. The show took around 45 minutes, but it didn’t really matter at what point we came in. My daughter and I stayed to watch it for over two hours; it’s different from each viewpoint, which included an upstairs area with a view of the entire large room. “An all-encompassing experience of art, light, music, movement and imagination,” writes an Ottawa reviewer.

Though I could call the experience marvelous, amazing, dazzling and awesome, words can’t really describe it. Certainly the imagines you’ll see if you google “how many van gogh immersive experiences are there?” only give a taste of the actual show. Apparently each city’s version is a little different, but you can get an idea from this YouTube video

Posted by maggie at 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2021

Review of "The Boy on the Wooden Box" - a Memoir by Leon Leyson

The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible...on Schindler's ListThe Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible . . . on Schindler's List by Leon Leyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I confess that this is the first "Holocaust" book I've read in over thirty years. I first learned about what the Nazis had wrought by reading Exodus in 1961 when I was eleven, and was terrified to realize that I would have been killed merely for being a Jew if I'd lived in Europe back then. I devoured every book on the subject I could find, each one seemingly more horrific than the last, and eventually I had enough.

But my sister-in-law recently gave Leon Leyson's memoir to my husband, and both praised it so highly that I read it. And it is indeed praiseworthy. The POV and voice is that of Leon, a Jewish boy whose 6 years from age 10-15 describe how his insular world is devastated by the Germans' arrival in his Polish town. Through his eyes we experience the ugly [Plaszow concentration camp], the bad [near constant hunger and fear in the Krakow ghetto], and the good [Schindler saving him and his family]. Yet his descriptions, while harrowing, are not lurid. It really felt like a boy that age was telling the story.

The first three chapters give us a glimpse of his innocent and playful childhood, followed by four chapters of progressively worse Jewish persecution after the Germans arrive. During the last three chapters, Schindler takes Leon's family under his wing to work in his factory, which saves them until the war ends and they emigrate to America. Finally there is an epilogue, written from Leon's adult POV in Los Angeles, about what happened to everyone and how he came to write this story.

Nineteen states, home to the vast majority of Americans, require Holocaust education--usually in middle school. My grandson read The Diary of Anne Frank, and apparently The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is also popular. But I think this memoir, with its boy's-eye-view, should replace those, or at least augment them.

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Posted by maggie at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2021

Review of "Oona Out of Order" by Margarita Montimore

Oona Out of OrderOona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s New Year’s Eve 1982, and Oona Lockhart will turn nineteen at midnight. But at that moment she faints and awakens thirty-two years in the future in her fifty-one-year-old body. Greeted by a friendly stranger in a beautiful house she’s told is her own, Oona learns that each January 1 she will leap to another age—some older and some younger—at random. Thus the novel jumps through nine various years between 1982 and 2017. With no explanation of how or why she acquired this bizarre time-traveling disorder. The reader will just have to suspend disbelief and accept the plot as is.

I never would have chosen to read this book except my sister had read it and desperately needed somebody to talk about it with. And I understand why she did, as this is one of the weirdest novels I’ve ever encountered.Some chapters were very good and a couple were so awful that I would have stopped there except for not wanting to let my sister down [hence the 3-star review]. Oona makes all sorts of bad decisions, like drug use and infidelity, that infuriated me—especially since her future/older self warns her in advance. But I kept reading, less for my sister’s sake and more because, as the story drew me in, I became invested in the characters and I wanted to know what was going to happen in the next leap. At the end, both my sister and I hope there’s going to be a sequel so we can find out what happened to Oona in all those other 35 years.

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Posted by maggie at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)