December 30, 2021

My 3-star review of "The Fated Sky" by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut Universe, #2)The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not so enthusiastic about The Fated Sky as I was with Mary Robinette Kowal's first book of the trilogy. Any Star Trek fan knows that a watching or reading about a long space flight can be pretty boring unless 1] a disaster happens or 2] there's an alien encounter. Since we weren't going to get #2 in this book, we got several disasters, including [in order of severity] a toilet clogged by a discarded condom, a ship full of diarrhea cases [in zero gravity], two deaths in space and a terrorist sabotage of power systems on Earth. Perhaps the descriptions of our intrepid heroine cleaning up a ship load of free floating diarrhea were suppose to be comic relief, but it didn't advance the plot.

Not that there seemed to be much plot; just page after page of day-to-day life on the space bus going to Mars. Including the cooking and laundry details, plus yaw/pitch/roll coordinates every other chapter. Elma and Nathan’s euphemisms were silly and repetitive in the first book, but they continue here even though the couple hardly ever see each other. Ultimately, since I didn't get to know the other characters well enough to care about them, their problems and deaths didn't affect me much. But the grand finale landing on Mars was rather uplifting. I'm undecided about reading the final novel in the trilogy, but I have a few other books I'd like to read first so I don't need to decide yet.
View all my reviews

Posted by maggie at 05:28 PM | Comments (0)

December 28, 2021

Maggie presenting at Seattle Limmud on Jan 16

At the end of November, I was surprised and honored to receive the following email: “Happy Hannukah from Limmud Seattle." We want to invite you, as a seasoned Limmud Presenter, to join us in January 2022 for our fifth annual Limmud Seattle eFestival. We begin Saturday evening, January 15, for a musical Havdalah and a session or two of learning. Then on Sunday, January 16, we have a full day of Limmud planned. Because of Covid, we are planning to hold this event virtually. We would love for you to be one of our invited Presenters. You could teach on something new, update an older lesson, or simply bring your A-game to one of your tried-and-true presentations. Whatever the choice, we want you!”

For those who haven’t heard of Limmud, it is a global movement of independent, volunteer-run Jewish learning events. Started in the UK in 1980, there are now over 90 Limmud groups in 42 countries! While each Limmud group is independent, they are all connected by common values, training and community, shared across the globe. Attendees enjoy leading educators, thought-leaders, and change-makers teaching about the most interesting Jewish ideas today.

Starting in 2016, I have presented at Limmuds in NY, SF Bay Area, San Diego, Los Angeles. Then, in 2018, at the granddaddy of them all, the week-long Limmud UK at a conference center just outside London attended by 4000 Jews of every religious persuasion from all over the world. They didn’t pay me to present, but did cover travel expenses. What an amazing experience. Then Covid-19 hit. In-person Limmuds were cancelled, and only this year are some returning as online alternatives. So I am thrilled to announce that I will be presenting as part of Limmud Seattle eFestival on Sunday, Jan 16 at 1 pm Pacific Time. Register now; it’s free for one attendee.

Posted by maggie at 05:27 AM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2021

The WhipThe Whip by Karen Kondazian
My rating:
4 of 5 stars

I'm not normally a fan of Westerns, but this one is different. The Whip is inspired by the true story of a woman, Charlotte "Charley" Parkhurst (1812-1879), a renowned stagecoach driver who lived most of her extraordinary life as a man in the Old West. My legal/married name is Margaret Parkhurst. Because genealogists say that 95% of Parkhursts in the US are descended from Englishman George Parkhurst who immigrated to Massachusetts in 1624 [more on that in a later post], my husband and children are surely related to this novel’s protagonist.

The book is divided into two parts; the first where Charlotte grows from a wayward orphan girl with an affinity for horses into a lonely woman who sees her Negro lover lynched and their child murdered. Desperate to escape and take revenge on the killer, she disguises herself as a man and heads for California. Part Two begins as she embraces her new life as a Wells Fargo whip [stagecoach driver] named Charley. The author does a great job bringing Gold Rush Northern California—the miners, the whores, the gamblers—to life. But she truly excels in describing the day-to-day world of the hard drinking, cigar smoking, constantly cursing whips. She even throws in a few stagecoach robberies. The chapters are short, some only a couple of pages, which regularly seduced me into reading “just one more chapter.”

Warning to reader: the action and language are far grittier, and surely more realistic, than the Old West movies and TV shows I grew up with.
View all my reviews

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

December 22, 2021

Does social media sell books?

Last week I came across an interesting article in the New York Times about how the big publishers decide which books to acquire and how much of an advance to pay to an author for them. Unlike the good old days, when editors read promising manuscripts and bought the ones they liked [and thought would sell], today the big advances go to authors with large social media followers—who may, or may not, be good writers. Apparently lots of followers doesn’t guarantee lots of sales, especially if many of those followers are bots or paid for. Or “followers” who were fans years ago but don’t actually follow the potential author now.

So what does this mean for an indie-published author like me? I have over 2500 Facebook friends, but rarely do more than a few hundred of them comment on my newsfeed. I have almost a thousand friends on Goodreads, but who knows if they read my updates? My Rashi’s Daughters trilogy has sold over 100,000 copies, but generated less than 500 reviews on Amazon. I have websites for Maggie Anton and each of my books with a great deal of content on them, I blog 2-3 times a week, and review other authors’ books on Amazon and Goodreads. yet as the NY Times article concludes, “it isn’t accurate to say that social media doesn’t matter for book sales. But the truth is that the industry doesn’t really know what it will do for any given book.”

What has worked for me, and hopefully will work for my upcoming novel, is putting myself in front of as many potential readers as possible—either in person or on zoom. Next best is getting my book reviewed in a magazine, newspaper or other media that my potential buyers are likely to see; or at least placing an ad there. Last, but not least, is reaching out by email to the over 4000 Gmail contacts who have contacted me over the years and letting them know I have a new novel coming out soon.

Posted by maggie at 07:59 PM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2021

3.5 star review of "The Calculating Stars" by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut Universe #1)The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More like a 3.5 star review. The writing wasn't great; I could tell that Mary Robinette Kowal had stitched this novel together from the several short stories and novelette she'd already written about the characters and their dire situation, none of which I read earlier. Scenes lacked smooth transitions and there were many redundancies. Also, we learn suddenly, at the very end of a Chapter Twenty-Three, that Elma had a breakdown in college and is still haunted by "the memory of the year that I tried to hang myself." Yet the next chapter starts and continues as if that previous line hadn't been there. No follow-up, no explanation.

But the idea behind the alternative history plot was great and having grown up in the 1950s-1960s, I recognized and flinched at the patriarchy, racism and antisemitism that was so accepted in white society. As a straight-A science major who couldn't get into Caltech because they didn't accept female students back then, and who was often the only girl in my advanced chemist and math classes at UCLA, I identified with Elma's situation. I applaud the author shining a light on an area that most SciFi novels ignore, even those not set in the mid-twentieth century. Also I appreciated the climate science that proved Earth would soon be too hot for humans to survive, yet so many people wouldn't believe it; JUST LIKE TODAY.

This is a fast, easy read, especially if you skim the equations and rocket science that keep interrupting the story. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.
View all my reviews

Posted by maggie at 11:53 AM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2021

Why women and progressive Jews should study Talmud

I recently read an article in Moment Magazine about what the word "Talmudic" can mean in English. Of course I was inspired to comment, which I quote below.

“I completely agree with Adam Kirsch that Talmud study is "anything but a waste of time." Especially for women and progressive Jews, the former excluded from the text by misogynist Halachic rulings and the latter by the barrier of translating Aramaic. But now, in the 21st century, those are empty excuses. Sefaria provides an excellent English translation. Anyone can study Talmud online, where nobody knows a student's gender. There are many places where women can study Talmud in the traditional fashion, in person with a study partner; there are even yeshivot for women.

Both women and progressive Jews should especially study Talmud. Women because it's a matter of power. If women don’t know how halacha was formulated and established, then they can’t challenge it or change it. For progressive Jews, it's learning that not all Talmudic arguments end with one winner whose ruling, often the strictest, defines Halacha. Very often they end with "teiku," which means that both views have merit and a person/community can follow either one.”

Posted by maggie at 11:18 AM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2021

5-star review of "Dave at Night" by Gail Carson Levine

Dave at NightDave at Night by Gail Carson Levine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was torn between 4 and 5 stars, but I bumped it up after learning that Dave at Night was based on the author's father's [David Carson] actual childhood. I further appreciated that the novel was set in the Hebrew Home for Boys [HHB], based on the real Hebrew Orphan Asylum, which was also the setting for another novel I read recently, The Hidden Palace.

My sister, a big fan of YA literature, recommended this book to me years ago, and I'm so glad she did. I enjoyed how our rascal orphan hero found his way into the lively Harlem Renaissance scene to escape the awfulness at the HHB. The characters--buddies, allrightniks, nogoodniks--are so well drawn I never doubted that such people actually existed. I particularly liked Solly, the kindhearted gonif who takes Dave under his crooked wing. I also appreciated how, despite a publishing date of 1999, the black characters are individuals and not stereotypes.

Only people of a certain age will remember the Little Rascals and Our Gang movie shorts, which ran in 1922-1944. That's how I imagine the elevens of HHB to look and behave. No matter how much mischief they engaged in, everything always turned out well in the end. Same happy result in this book as well. View all my reviews

Posted by maggie at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2021

Five star review of Caroline Leavitt's "With or Without You"

With or Without YouWith or Without You by Caroline Leavitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read enough of Caroline Leavitt's novels to recognize, and appreciate, her modus operandi: sympathetic but flawed characters pulled into an inadvertent disaster, relationships forced to change--mostly for the better, mysteries explained, and an enigmatic, but hopeful, ending. All done with excellent writing, well-drawn descriptions of people and places, plus plot twists and turns that eventually resolve beautifully. With or Without You has all of these, put together in a three-character story set in New York that was difficult to put down. The scenes of Stella during, awakening from, and coping with the aftereffects of her coma were extraordinary. Some people may be disappointed that the novel stops short of a complete resolution, but, novelist that I am, I love how it leaves me free to imagine the happy ending I would have liked for the characters.
View all my reviews

Posted by maggie at 02:53 PM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2021

Two-star review of "Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family"

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
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was unable to finish this book because the e-version I downloaded from my library expired yesterday. But I doubt my rating would have changed unless the final chapters differed significantly from the rest of them.

I loved the "All of a Kind Family" series, so I really wanted to like this interminable book. But I found it less and less interesting the more I read. I wasn't that interested in how Taylor [it bothered me that everyone else is called by their first names, or by both first and last, but not our protagonist] danced with Martha Graham or studied acting with Lee Strasbourg. Yes, she was a leftie, but I didn't need to know all the activities she did with her Socialist groups. The large amount of info about Jewish summer camps in NYC area was okay, but didn't tell me much about Taylor herself. I constantly wished I'd been reading a print book so I could just flip through to the subjects I wanted to read about. Final opinion: a dull, disappointing, overly academic book that should have focused more on Taylor and her sisters, and less on social activities she participated in. View all my reviews

Posted by maggie at 02:05 PM | Comments (0)