August 30, 2022

4-star review of "Pawing Through the Past" by Rita Mae Brown

Pawing Through the Past (Mrs. Murphy, #8)Pawing Through the Past by Rita Mae Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed Pawing Through the Past and its twin high school reunions. I especially appreciated seeing that Blair Bainbridge, admittedly a minor character, was doing well after being shot at the end of the previous Mrs. Murphy mystery. I also liked the growing relationship between Harry and her ex-husband. I even admit that I had some sympathy for the killer after learning why these particular victims had been chosen, but I had absolutely no idea who done it until the very end. Several other reviewers objected to the [spoiler alert] killer being a trans woman who used her new identity to get revenge against the teenagers who gang-raped her/him in high school. Just because author Rita Mae Brown is an out lesbian doesn't mean she shouldn't write about a queer murderer. I can imagine how there might have been a few guys who taunted her in high school that she wouldn't mind seeing dead. The ending was thrilling, especially with the barn owl participating.
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Posted by maggie at 03:03 PM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2022

4-star of "J is for Judgement" by Sue Grafton

J is for Judgment (Kinsey Millhone #10)J is for Judgment by Sue Grafton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kinsey Millhone is back on another insurance fraud case, this time on the trail of Wendell Jaffe. He's supposed to have died five years earlier, except that somebody saw him in a bar in Baja California with an attractive woman, not long after his wife collected on his life insurance policy. Not only does the insurance company want to find him and get their money back, but so do a lot of folks who invested in his "too good to be true" Ponzi scheme. And I only have sympathy for his abandoned wife and sons, who had no idea that he'd absconded with the loot. So it didn't bother me at all when Kinsey uses some unethical/illegal methods to track him down. Funny how I was angry when the murderers in my most recently read Mrs Murphy mystery got away with their crime, but it didn't bother me that some of the criminals [I'm not saying who] in J is for Judgment escaped justice.

Posted by maggie at 08:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2022

Video for AJS

As a member of the AJS (Assn of Jewish Scholars), I'm entitled to have a book I've authored this year listed in it annual "AJS Honors Its Authors 2022" program. In addition to the usual information about "The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith and the Talmud," (title, description ISBN number, author bio and photo) they asked for a 30 second video . I'd already done a 2-minute video for the Jewish Book Council, but cutting that down 75% was much more difficult than I'd anticipated. I managed to hold this one to 32 seconds.

Here's my original text: Maggie Anton’s The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith and the Talmud is powerful love story with a purpose: to challenge Jewish customs and laws that have led to disadvantages and inequality for women in marriage, ritual observance and Torah study. The book is a wholly transformative novel that takes characters inspired by Chaim Potok and ages them into young adults in Brooklyn in the 1950s. When journalist Hannah Eisin interviews Rabbi Nathan Mandel, a controversial Talmud professor, she persuades him to teach her the mysteries of the text forbidden to women, though it might cost him his job. Secret meetings and lively discussions about what Talmud teaches concerning women’s inclusion in sacred space and communal life bring the two to the edge of a line neither dares to cross, testing their relationships with Judaism and each other. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of twelve books including Deborah, Golda, and Me and the upcoming Shanda, says, "The Choice is about the choices Jews make and the rules we break for reasons of conscience, consideration, logic, and love. In addition to the endearing romance at its core, there’s a feminist brief for women's inclusion in sacred space and communal life, plus twenty brilliant Talmud lessons. A surfeit of riches."

Here's what I ended up with: Maggie Anton’s The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith and the Talmud is a wholly transformative work that takes characters inspired by Chaim Potok and ages them into young adults in Brooklyn in the 1950s. When journalist Hannah Eisin interviews Rabbi Nathan Mandel, a controversial Talmud professor, she persuades him to teach her the mysteries of the text forbidden to women. Secret meetings and lively debates on what Talmud teaches about women’s disadvantages inequality bring the two to the edge of a line neither dares to cross, testing their relationships with Judaism and each other.

Posted by maggie at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2022

3-star review of "Cat on the Scent"

Cat on the Scent (Mrs. Murphy, #7)Cat on the Scent by Rita Mae Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cat on the Scent is one of my least favorite Mrs. Murphy mysteries. Roller coaster: the beginning is a long slow slog up the hill in preparation for the excitement to start, then comes the crazy fast downhill of murders, shootings, and unearthed dead bodies that ends the ride before you know it. I couldn’t figure out the motive for the murders; it seemed to me that there was plenty of money to go around so no need to kill anyone for more. And this being the eighth book in the series, you’d think they’d run out of people to kill in such a small town as Crozet, or that the residents would notice the high murder rate and want to do something about it.

Other readers complained about the heroic and unlikely way the animals save one of my favorite characters, Blair Bainbridge, but I thought that scene was a hoot. I hope Blair appears in a later book so I can find out what happens to him. However, I greatly disliked the ending (view spoiler) and was surprised that Rita Mae Brown would conclude with such an injustice.
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Posted by maggie at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2022

Characters Yiddish & English

Apparently there's a debate regarding the use of Yiddish and needing a glossary in fiction. I've read quite a few memoirs and novels that take place in Ultra-Orthodox communities and a complaint I have about many of them is that you'd never know that these characters are speaking Yiddish, not English (this was a frequent criticism of Chaim Potok's works). It's a tricky task for authors to write dialogue that is true to how the characters speak and still make it understandable for English readers. Nobody, authors especially, wants readers to interrupt the story to check a glossary, but in my opinion inserting a translation (in parentheses) after every Yiddish word is worse. I had this problem while writing my most recent book, The Choice:A Novel of Love, Faith and the Talmud. So I compromised by using enough Yiddish that I included a glossary, but I also put translations in parenthesis for lengthy expressions. It helped that we had a copy editor who grew up in Borough Park and was fluent in Yiddish.

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

August 15, 2022

My 3-star review of “A Deadly Education” by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1)A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Most SciFi-Fantasy novels do their world building in the first chapters, so readers become familiar with the environment quickly. But some, like A Deadly Education, just throw the reader right in to sink or swim. I admit I don't want to work hard to figure out and understand where my characters are and why, which is why I gave this book only 3 stars. I'm familiar with, and enjoy, magic and sorcery in fiction, particularly since the heroine of two of my historical novels, Apprentice: A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery and its sequel, Enchantress, is heavily into spells and amulets. But I made sure she had a clear backstory plus time and location in ancient Babylonia, none of which is explained for this novel's protagonist.

I struggled to get into this story for the first 150 pages. Was its plot a romance, hero's journey, comedy, tragedy, rags to riches, overcoming the evil/monster? Why would parents send their child to a school with such a high death rate? What kind of community would allow/encourage that? Even now that I've finished the book, I'm not 100% sure this is a "rebirth" story, one that follows a character with a tragic past that informs their current negative view of life, through a transformation from bad to good. Although El, our protagonist, does have some friends by the end, and maybe a love interest as well, it's not clear where the plot is going. But I'm interested enough to follow her into the second book of the trilogy, especially after that cliff hanger of a final sentence.
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Posted by maggie at 04:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2022

3-star review of "The Book and the Sword: A Life of Learning in the Throes of the Holocaust" by David Weiss Halivni

The Book and the Sword: A Life of Learning in the Throes of the HolocaustThe Book and the Sword: A Life of Learning in the Throes of the Holocaust by David Weiss Halivni
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was curious about Rabbi Weiss Halivni, the controversial Talmud professor whose critical text study of the Talmud outraged the traditional Orthodox world and led to his teaching Talmud at the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary. There was no doubt that he was Chaim Potok's model for Reuven Malter, protagonist of The Chosen and The Promise. What kind of man would stand up against the Orthodox movement that had guided him since childhood, at the potential cost of his own career? On the other hand, Halivni so vehemently objected to ordaining women rabbis that he left the Conservative seminary to teach at Columbia University and found his own movement, the Union for Traditional Judaism. Which, if you've never heard of it, explains a lot about his life.

While this was at times an interesting autobiography, I didn't think he did a good job of answering those questions. His early years, despite his time in Auschwitz, seem to lack emotion, especially in light of so many other powerful Holocaust memoirs. His rejection as a teacher also doesn't seem to bother him much; he just moves on to another institution. However much he tried to explain his Talmud text criticism method, he frustrated me by not giving any examples. In the end, I never learned the answers to my questions and found his "biography" disappointing.
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Posted by maggie at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2022

4-star review of "Zero Fail" by Dara Horn

Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret ServiceZero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service by Carol Leonnig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service is not a book you read for pleasure; rather for information and to be stirred up for action. I was in middle school when JFK was killed and I still remember the announcement coming over the PA. I was in college when RFK was killed, and was actually at the Ambassador Hotel celebrating when we got the news. So I knew about the obvious Secret Service failures when our leaders were shot, but not exactly how they failed until I read this book. All the other near-miss failures were a big eye-opener, as well as how certain presidents managed to sneak out for extramarital relations without hindrance.

I thought the worst, which got worse as time passed, was the frat-house behavior: so much drinking, carousing, and misogyny. Not to mention the old-boys network that kept promoting the unqualified. It made me sad and disgusted at how much money was wasted, how poorly the lower level staff are treated, and how incompetent and politicized the Secret Service has become. But maybe there's hope that this book will convince whosever in charge to clean things up.

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Posted by maggie at 05:57 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2022

5-star review of "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant"

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was so involved in compiling my Rhine River trip memories, and finally getting them posted, that I just noticed that I hadn’t done a review of Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? even though it was one of the first books I read during that time. I’m a big fan of Roz Chast’s “New Yorker” cartoons, but knowing the subject matter, I was reluctant to read this book. Perhaps not writing a review was a Freudian slip-up because I found the graphic novel so difficult, owing to it bringing back memories of my parents’ old age and deaths. Particularly of my mother, who declined with Alzheimer’s for seven years before ultimately dying in a nursing home. So many of Chast’s cartoons and comments are spot-on descriptions of elderly Jewish life, and while many are funny, others are sad and frightening—especially for those of us contemplating our own eventual demise. As the Talmud teaches about unpleasant subjects, “This too is Torah and I must learn from it.” Although in this case, much of the learning is pleasurable too.
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Posted by maggie at 03:13 PM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2022

4-star review of "I is forInnocent" by Sue Grafton

As usual for Grafton's murder mysteries, there are lots of interesting characters/suspects/liars and great descriptions of people and places in “I is for Innocent.” Also that there are more suspicious deaths in addition to the murder that started the whole thing. Kinsey is hired by the victim’s ex-husband to find evidence to prove that the victim's current husband, who was found not guilty of her murder in court, did actually kill her. But Kinsey only turns up exonerating witnesses, so now she must find the real murder. True to form Grafton ends the final chapter with a showdown between Kinsey and the killer. I’m not going to spoil the surprise by naming the killer, but it’s a definitely a surprise. I found all the different characters, some of whom didn't seem to have a good motive and were needed to merely provide sufficient suspects, unwieldy. So only 4-stars.

Posted by maggie at 01:22 PM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2022

5-star review of "H is for Homicide" by Sue Grafton

H is for Homicide (Kinsey Millhone, #8)H is for Homicide by Sue Grafton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An even more thrilling Kinsey Millhone mystery than #7, "G is for Gumshoe". I was continually at the edge of my seat, worried that her cover would be blown, leaving her at the mercy of the goons she was tailing. But the tension only heightened as she infiltrated into the heart of their operations, where one false move and she'd be as dead as the cop whose murder, and her determination to catch his killers, got her into this sticky situation. Finally I couldn't stand the suspense and did something I'm ashamed to admit--I read the last page. Of course Kinsey was still among the living; after all, there were still I, J, K, etc novels for her to star in. But what an ending! That's why I gave H is for Homicide 5 stars. View all my reviews

Posted by maggie at 10:27 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2022

5-star review of "G is for Gumshoe" by Sue Grafton

G is for GumshoeG is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this 6th volume in Sue Grafton's Alphabet Mysteries as much or more than her early stories. Instead of working to solve some random murder, Kinsey Millhome suddenly needs to prevent her own. And to help protect her is a bodyguard who's just a tough as she is. I couldn't wait for the sparks to fly, and indeed they did (view spoiler). I thought the beginning was a little too slow, then things veered off into the bizarre, and the final chapters went by so fast I had to reread them to make sure I understood it all. The plot reminded me of the movie "Three Faces of Eve" and I appreciate how these books mainly addressed women's issues and lives.
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Posted by maggie at 05:02 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2022

4-star review of "Murder on the Prowl" by Rita Mae Brown

Murder on the Prowl (Mrs. Murphy, #6)Murder on the Prowl by Rita Mae Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Murder on the Prowl (Mrs. Murphy, #6) by Rita Mae Brown" is my favorite Mrs. Murphy mystery so far. I loved how the animals bantered with each other while trying to solve the crime. They were so much more hands-on this time and I enjoyed the efforts they went through to get the lowly humans to follow their leads. They were delightful and I think this has been their best role yet. The plot was well thought-out, Harry's first involving children, albeit high school students. But I was surprised by who did it and why. In retrospect it should have been obvious (view spoiler), but that's the point of a good murder mystery.
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Posted by maggie at 01:51 PM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2022

Day 15 - coming home

night canal2LR.jpg

Day 15. It was still raining when our taxi picked us up for the 30 minute ride to Schiphol Airport. We checked in for our flight without incident, and had breakfast in one of the many uninteresting places to eat there. Unlike our initial flight, which left at night and gave us 10 hours to sleep on the plane before our layover in London, this one left in the morning and arrived for our layover in Philadelphia after only five hours, one hour of which we were served lunch. No offense to Philly, but waiting in long lines to get our luggage, go through customs and then through security, was exhausting. I couldn’t wait to get on the plane to LA and sleep. But although our other flights were Premium Economy class, this last one was regular Economy. So of course, I couldn’t sleep, but at least they fed us. We finally got home at 8 pm, which would have been 5 am the next day in Amsterdam, and I slept for ten hours. The next time I’m going overseas, I’m going to make sure any long flights are scheduled for overnight. I leave you with two of my favorite photos.

Worms dragon statueLR.jpg

Posted by maggie at 03:07 PM | Comments (0)