September 17, 2021

Goodreads 5-star review of "Think of England" by K.J. Charles

Think of England (England World, #2)Think of England by K.J. Charles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the e-book so much that I'm buying the paperback so I can read the "good" parts whenever I want. A Christie-esque English country house party where everyone is not quite who they seem, with occasional espionage, treason, sabotage, blackmail, murder plus homophobia and antisemitism. Our two handsome heroes, one Jewish and the other disabled, are up to their necks in it as they struggle with increasing sexual attraction that erupts into some steamy M/M sex scenes.

What's not to love? Actually I didn't love how, just as the romance was finally fulfilled, the bookended with a cliffhanger. Even though the heroes got together in a happy ending, I so much didn't want the story to stop. But with one spy still uncovered, there will hopefully be a sequel.
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Posted by maggie at 02:13 PM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2021

The Evening and the MorningThe Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read Ken Follett's sequel, The Pillars of the Earth back in January 2016 and I have pretty much the same reaction. Excellent story and plot, but longer than it needed to be. The good guys are too good and the bad guys are over-the-top evil, so I eventually tired of the protagonists getting knocked down just as things are looking up and the villains getting away with it by arranging for others to be punished in their stead. Although I enjoyed how the author shows off his love of how things were built/created back in medieval times, I cringed at all the violence--especially that done to women and slaves.

I kept thinking that the world of this novel is perfectly described by Thomas Hobbs in 1681: "...continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man ... nasty, brutish, and short." Sorry, but I just couldn't take 923 pages of that. Even if the nice guys do win out in the end. So after about 700 pages I just skimmed it, only stopping to read the good parts.

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Posted by maggie at 05:44 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2021

Conspiracy theories

Today I read an interesting article in the BBC News about the conspiracy theories still with us 20 years after 9-11. Conspiracy theories have been around as long as humans could talk--think back to bubonic plague being caused by witches, Jews, Jewish witches. Jews have been front and center of conspiracies since Matthew held Jews responsible for killing Jesus, not the Romans. Blood libel accusations began in the 12th century, but modern anti-Semitic conspiracies went world-wide when the Russia put out "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in 1903.

Of course there's a Jewish conspiracy theory about 9-11, the claim that no Jewish people were killed in the attacks because 4,000 Jewish employees at the World Trade Center had received advance notice not to turn up for work. Believers concluded that the Israeli government mounted the attacks to goad the US into attacking its regional enemies or responsibility lay with powerful Jewish elites who control world events from the shadows. But of the 2,071 victims of 9/11 who worked at the World Trade Center, 119 were confirmed to be Jewish and at least a further 72 were thought to be Jewish, broadly in line with the 9.7% of New York's commuting population believed to be Jewish at the time.

Today we have Jewish space lasers and who knows what canards will be next.

Posted by maggie at 07:33 PM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2021

Goodreads 5-star review of “Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale (James Bond, #1)Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OK, so Casino Royale wasn't historical fiction when Ian Fleming wrote it, but the James Bond origin story feels like historical fiction now. I gave it 5 stars because I like it so much I bought a copy in order to be able to reread it occasionally. Somehow I finally got to see the excellent Daniel Craig film version recently, which reminded me that the book wasn't among my James Bond collection [I lent my original copy to somebody who obviously didn't return it]. It is now.

The novel is short, less than 200 pages, but it feels shorter because it moves so quickly. Although written in third person POV, Bond is the only head we're in, and his descriptions of people and places not only bring them to life, but gives insight into his character. The gambling scenes are great, and despite this being a spy novel, Bond slowly falling in love was surprisingly well written. Indeed, this book is a great example of "show, don't tell." Reading it again now, almost 70 years after it was written, I am impressed at how well the content has held up. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for many of the books I used to like when I was younger.

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Posted by maggie at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2021

Movie review of Shang-Chi

In celebration of our daughter’s birthday on Labor Day [yes, she really was born on Labor Day], our family followed a delicious brunch of homemade pancakes and matzah brei with our first in-person movie in almost two years. We saw, and thoroughly enjoyed, the new Disney/Marvel film, Shang-Chi. So instead of my usual book report, here’s my movie review. And one from the Chicago Tribune

First, I confess that I have been a devotee of martial arts dramas since I began watching the TV series Kung Fu in 1972. My attraction increased when I discovered Bruce Lee in 1973’s Enter the Dragon, then Jackie Chan’s 1978 breakthrough performance in Drunken Master, followed by Karate Kid in 1984. I even enjoyed the animated Mulan [1998]. Then came the premier of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000. I read the first review and knew that this was the movie for me. It was playing in a small theater in the San Gabriel Valley, where Chinese communities form a substantial portion of the population, and I couldn’t find anyone to come with me. Of course I was awestruck, and I insisted that my entire family must see it, in IMAX. They promptly became fans of the genre as well.

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend. Pretty much everyone in my family is still a martial arts fan, including my eldest grandson, whom I recently introduced to the Ip Man movies on Netflix. They are also Marvel Universe aficionados. So naturally they had to see Shang-Chi on the big screen. And after I read the reviews and saw its 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I decided I would mask up, brave a crowded theater and join them. It was totally worth it. In many ways it seemed an homage to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: the tall bamboo forest, a fight fraught with sexual tension, one or maybe two warriors defeat a roomful of opponents, moving music heavy with cellos, and featuring its heroine—Michelle Yeoh.

The fighting was amazing, especially the opening set piece where Awkwafina channels Sandra Bullock by driving an out-of-control bus barreling through San Francisco’s Chinatown while our hero, played by Simu Liu, shows off unexpected martial arts skills by fighting off one attacker after another. Simply jaw-dropping. But the actors can do more than fight, as there are undercurrents of long-buried family secrets that will eventually be revealed, and if not healed, at least temporarily resolved. The great Chinese actor Tony Leung, the Asian Clark Gable, is outstanding in his first English-speaking role. I can’t leave out Awkwafina, who’s been one of my favorites since Oceans 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. Btw—Shang Chi is appropriate for older children. Our Labor Day matinee audience was mostly families, and my eight year old granddaughter loved it.
We can’t wait for the sequel.

Posted by maggie at 08:10 PM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2021

1.5 star review of “The Things We Cannot Say” by Kelly Rimmer

The Things We Cannot SayThe Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can’t decide between 1 and 2 stars for The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer. You can read about the plot summary elsewhere; I’ll give you my likes [one] and my dislikes [many]. Maybe it’s because I’ve read too many good WW2 novels recently with dual timelines that I didn’t like this one. But it’s not just the constant shifting between the present POV set mostly in Florida and the past POV in Poland, it’s also that both female protagonists, 2018 Alice and 1942 Alina are uninteresting, annoying and unbelievable. Not that any of the other characters, except maybe for Alina’s mother, are anyone I want to spend more time with. The story dragged for the first 300+ pages; lots of chapters where nothing changes. Too much telling and little showing.

I really disliked: 1. Alina is pregnant yet there is no scene where she and her fiancé actually have sexual relations. Wouldn’t that be an important event to show? And despite their great love for each other, both teenagers, there is no sexual tension at all.
2. When Alice travels to a Polish village to trace her grandmother’s family, she insists that her grandmother “Babcia” was born there despite there being no record of the birth. Of course not—Babcia means “grandmother” and is not anyone’s name. Even I knew that. But it does drag out the searching for records that should have been found immediately.
3. Scenes with the autistic son and genius daughter don’t add anything, except more pages, to the already bloated story.
4. Alina’s parents abruptly disappear East [Auschwitz or Birkenau], yet it doesn’t affect her much. Apparently the death camps are close enough that she can see and smell the malodorous smoke, but she just tries to ignore it. Also odd that Alice wouldn’t go see the camps after she’s traveled all that way, especially after learning that her great-grandparents were murdered there.
5. The sudden, last-chapter, happy ending that explains everything. After I’ve slogged through 400 pages with lots of talk and no action.
6. The cover—a lone woman casually walking a dog down a European street with WW2 bombers flying overhead. I read the bombing scenes; everyone hides out in their cellars. A normal dog would be going nuts fromthe noise, and I don’t recall the heroine even having a dog.

I liked the premise, unearthing the mystery of a Polish grandmother’s past, which only made the poor execution more frustrating and disappointing.

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Posted by maggie at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2021

The Case of the Missing Royalties

A strange and sorry mystery I’ll call “The Case of the Missing Royalties.” Every year I receive a check and a 1099 from the literary agency that originally sold my “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy to Penguin back in 2006. The royalties for Volume 1 – Joheved are rarely over $1000 a year, but I’m glad the novel is still selling. Since the IRS delayed the filing deadline for 2020 taxes because of Covid, I didn’t meet with my accountant until May 2021. Only then did I realize that I received neither a check nor a 1099 for 2020 royalties.

I called the accountant for the now-defunct literary agency, who told me they didn’t receive any royalty payment for me. Now this was odd because Penguin-Random House emails me quarterly statements and I saw that Rashi’s Daughters – Joheved had sold more copies than usual, possibly due to being featured as one of Moment Magazine’s “Top Five Jewish Romances”in late 2018. So there definitely should have been royalties. The accountant said she’d look into it, but nobody at PRH replied to her emails. Finally I gave her the phone number on the email accompanying my most recent PRH statement “for any questions regarding your royalty statement(s).”

That must have worked because she learned that in mid-2020, with all the uncertainty concerning the US Postal Service, PRH switched from snail mail to direct deposit for paying royalties. However, this information never reached the accountant, who assumed the agency’s clients who didn’t receive royalty checks hadn’t earned sufficient royalties. She was pleased to inform me that PRH owed me almost $1000 and if I provided my bank account number, the money would be deposited forthwith. She shared that I was but one of many clients who hadn’t received PRH royalties, ultimately worth over $13,000. Why hadn’t PRH contacted her?
Probably the letter got lost in the mail.

Posted by maggie at 09:45 PM | Comments (0)