January 16, 2022

Best Jewish Historical Fiction

If you're on Goodreads and a fan of Jewish historical fiction, check out this list and vote for your favorites. I'm pleased to see all five of my novels on the list, with "Rashi's Daughters: Joheved" at #5, "Rashi's Daughters: Miriam" at #11 and "Rashi's Daughters: Rachel' at #13. Many, including the Historical Novel Society, would say that "The Chosen" shouldn't count as historical fiction since it was written only 25 years after the events in the novel. Same for "Exodus," since their definition is fiction written 50 years afterwards. But others, including the creators of this list, don't care when the novel was written as long as it describes events that occurred over 50 years ago.

Posted by maggie at 10:21 PM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2022

My 5-star review of "The Sisters of the Winter Wood" by Rena Rossner

The Sisters of the Winter WoodThe Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was enchanted with The Sisters of the Winter Wood; I couldn't stop reading it. Stories that my bubbe told me when I was little; "bubbe maises" she called them, but now I realize they were Yiddish fairy tales, like this novel. It begins with a fascinating scene of a Jewish family with two daughters living in Dubossary, a small Ukrainian village around the turn of the 19th/20th century. But there's a magical twist: the father can turn into a bear and the mother into a swan. The chapters alternate between the two sisters' POV; Liba, the almost 18 yo elder, writes in prose and Laya, 15 yo, in poetry.

The parents must leave the girls alone to travel to the shetl where the father's father is on his deathbed. Almost immediately Liba begins a relationship with Jewish Dovid, the butcher's son, and Laya with non-Jewish Fedir, the handsome mysterious fruit seller. Rena Rossner does a wonderful job of describing the girls' confused and escalating feelings towards the men; attraction mixed with guilt at having disobeyed their father's rules to avoid being alone with men. Then some strange things begin to happen in town. Villagers disappear and are later found dead, drained of blood. Jews are accused, but the reader knows it's the work of the strange fruit sellers. Swans and bears are seen in the forest, one of the fruit sellers turns into a cat, and slowly family secrets are revealed. Secrets that readers are privy to before the sisters know themselves.

The ending, which I won't give away, is both climatic and satisfying, as the villagers fight off a pogrom and the evil fruit sellers' true identity is revealed. And of course, like in all fairy tales, the sisters find true love. One small complaint: the back matter includes a glossary divided into Hebrew, Yiddish and Ukrainian words, plus a section of Yiddish sayings. Which meant I had to check four different lists to find a word I didn't know. In my upcoming book The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith and The Talmud [pub date May 2022], I also needed a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew words, but I interspersed them in one alphabetical list. I was pleased to see that for the most part, our transliterations matched.

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Posted by maggie at 04:50 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2022

Goodreads 4.5-star review of “Street dreams” by Faye Kellerman

Street Dreams (Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus #15)Street Dreams by Faye Kellerman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I don't read many police procedural novels these days, but I'm glad I read this one. Like our heroine Cindy rescuing a newborn baby from inside a dumpster, I rescued Street Dreams from a pile of hardcover books discarded outside my local library. I enjoyed other mysteries by Faye Kellerman in her early career, so I picked it up. I give it 4.5 stars; it would have rated 5 stars except for the completely unnecessary, and boring, digression into Rina's grandmother's murder in Germany decades earlier.

There were so many parts I liked otherwise: the Jewish content, Cindy's need to put the stalker who terrorized her [in the previous novel] behind her, her dual relationships [daughter and protege] with her police detective father, her romance with Ethiopian-Israeli Koby, and how the three of them worked to solve the various intertwined mysteries. I particularly enjoyed how the author set so many scenes in and around my native Los Angeles, where I still live. I recognized many of her locations and it really brought the story to life. I also appreciated how Kellerman demonstrated the underlying racism and sexual harassment that was both prevalent and ignored 20 years ago when this book was published. I confess that I also enjoyed the pun in the novel’s title.

As for the convoluted mysteries, I admit that I had to read some of the chapters more than once to understand how all the pieces fit together. This is not a murder mystery where it's obvious who done it, but I found the ending highly satisfying. I am disappointed, however, that there are only two novels that feature Cindy Decker and apparently, I've read the better one.

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Posted by maggie at 06:53 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2022

Lack of women cartoonists

Last month the Los Angeles Times cancelled the long-running comic strip, 9 Chickweed Lane, for using a racial slur. Written and drawn by Brooke McEldowney for over 25 years, “9 Chickweed Lane” follows the women of three generations of the Burber family: Edna, Juliette, and Edda. In cancelling the strip, the Times asked readers to recommend replacements. Here’s the letter I wrote to them:

“Right now only one out of 25+ strips on your comics page is written by a woman cartoonist. Surely you can find some others, maybe even do a combination of cartoons by women from the past. We get the New Yorker, so Liza Donnelly comes to mind. I suggest that you check out her article about the lack of women cartoonists: The New Yorker’s Women Cartoonists, Then and Now. It’s not only informative, bus has some great cartoons.

Posted by maggie at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2022

An Observant WifeAn Observant Wife by Naomi Ragen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Naomi Ragen for over twenty-five years, and this is definitely one of my favorite books of hers. The characters are well-drawn and though Ragen breaks the novelist rules of limiting scenes to one POV [point-of-view], I had no trouble following whose head we were in. I found some of the soul-searching inner dialogues too long. But as a woman in her 8th decade, I loved the romance between the elderly Rav Alter [alter means old in Yiddish] and widowed Bubbe Esther. Why should the young have all the fun?

As some of you may know, I have a new book coming out in the Spring, The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith and The Talmud. As I read Ragen's novel, I was pleasantly astonished to notice the similarity between her subplots and mine. One, the prevalence of child sexual abuse by Haredi clergy and how to deal with it when the community both won't admit that such behavior exists and, once they can't deny it, refuses to file complaints with the secular authorities; both in the 1950s [my novel] and 2010s [hers]. In hers, the primary victim is our hero's daughter. In mine, my subplot's protagonist is the Hasidic child psychologist who treats the abused children and because of this, faces his community's hostility. Two, how to handle disillusionment with your religion's norms while retaining your faith.

But back to An Observant Wife. The most important comparison with my novel and Ragen's, is that we both leave our readers with a happy ending, something I appreciate more and more these days. View all my reviews

Posted by maggie at 04:48 PM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2022

Happy New Year

Happy New Year. If there’s anything I need more of in 2022, it’s serenity, equanimity, and quietude. By accident, while looking on the Huntington’s website to learn what days and hours they’ll be open next week, I stumbled upon this amazing virtual show by the American Viewing Stone Resource Center. In traditional Japanese culture, Seiseki are small naturally occurring uniquely shaped rocks which are appreciated for their aesthetic or decorative value. Suiseki are usually presented in two different ways:
• The stone is provided with a wooden base (daiza).
• The stone is placed in a waterproof tray or bowl of ceramic (suiban) or bronze (doban).
These stones are not just any stones which can be found in nature; they must be expressive stones and have a special shape, color and texture to be categorized as suiseki. There is a distinction between landscape and object stones. The former reflect landscapes such as mountains, lakes or rivers, while other stones have object shapes that resemble animals or sculptures. The stones are of natural origin and are found in rivers, oceans and karst areas. Popular types of suiseki suggest a mountain, a waterfall, an island, a thatched hut or an animal.

There are over 100 different stones in the three Huntington virtual shows. Watch them at whatever speed you prefer, stopping to admire one or another for seconds, minutes or any amount of time you want. Maybe listen to some soothing music as you take in one stone after another. Take screen shots of your favorites. Here are the links: By the Sea and California Aiseki

You can also see the National Bonsai Foundation’s viewing stone collection. Each stone is displayed to suggest an aspect of the natural landscape, such as a distant mountain or a waterfall. Thus, when these small-scale forms are viewed together in a complementary arrangement, the whole of nature can be imagined. The collection began with six Japanese viewing stones given by Japan on the occasion of the American Bicentennial in 1976. Today there are 105 stones from different countries: Japan, China, Indonesia, South Africa, Zaire, Namibia, Italy, Canada, and the United States.

Posted by maggie at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)