Reviews by Betty Taylor

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How to Walk Away
by Katherine Center
Very Relatable Relationships (5/17/2018)
I will admit that this was a book that I did not want to like. Yes, that is right – I did not want to like it. It seemed to be pure romance – no mysteries, no murders, no other story line than pure romance. But it hooked me! That, to me, a sign of good writing. The characters drew me in. They entertained me. They made me feel such a variety of emotions. I pretty much knew how most of the story was going to go, but I still enjoyed the ride.

Life had been so perfect for Margaret. She was beautiful and had a handsome charming boyfriend who was soon to propose to her. She had landed her dream job. But then her life changed, and nothing would ever be the same again. Margaret now faces obstacles she has no idea how to contend with.
Beyond the romance, this book is about not giving up on yourself, or others. It is about your loved ones not letting you give up on yourself. It is about finding the strength in yourself to carry on. There is a quote I am sure will be popular from this book – it is quoted several times. “When you don’t know what to do for yourself, do something for somebody else.” Great advice when you are consumed with self-pity and/or overwhelmed. Get outside yourself and look at others. Sometimes this will help you forget – even if only for a moment- that others suffer too. Others also feel isolated and helpless. And sometimes when you aren’t looking Love finds you.

The dynamics of the relationships are very relatable. There’s the boyfriend who wallows in self-pity himself and can’t “man up”. It can’t be complete without the domineering mother who steamrolls her way through her daughters’ lives.

My favorite part of the book was the bond between Margaret and her sister Kitty. There had been a rift in the family and Kitty had had no contact with any of her family for the last three years. But she returns to be at Margaret’s side. Kitty is the kind of sister you want, you need, when you are at your lowest. No matter how dark things got Kitty could make Margaret laugh.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy of the book.
A Place for Us
by Fatima Farheen Mirza
You will long remember this family (5/9/2018)
I am amazed that this is Ms. Mirza's first book. It is beautifully written, describing the family dynamics of a Muslim Indian-American family and their desire to remain devout to their religion and continue their cultural traditions here in the US. Just like any family, anywhere, of any faith, the children strive to live up to their parents' expectations of them, often feeling frustration at the constraints they feel their parents have unfairly put upon them.

The story opens with the wedding of the oldest daughter Hadia to Tariq, a modern marriage of love rather than the traditional arranged marriage. On her daughter's wedding day, mother Layla thinks back to the early days of her arranged marriage with husband Rafiq who was an orphan who moved to America on his own, got a job, and established a good life for himself and his new immigrant wife Layla. They had three children - Hadia, Huda, and Amar. While all three of the children struggle with the decision to follow their parents' religious and cultural practices or not, Amar finds it especially difficult. He spends his entire life trying to find where he fits in and never truly feels that he belongs anywhere. Throughout the remainder of the book, Layla reflects back upon the lives of her children as they grew into adults and upon the stages of her own marriage.

Hadia has asked her beloved brother to attend her wedding even though Amar has been estranged from the family for three years. The relationship between Amar and his father has always been especially strained.

I enjoyed reading about the religious and cultural practices of the family. As I read I could see many similarities between the Muslim practices and my own Jewish practices. This book is a gives us the gift of looking into another culture with the utmost sensitivity and genuineness. The conflicts encountered, the family conflicts, the feeling of isolation, the heartbreak – all are portrayed with such compassion for the characters. This is a family you will not soon forget.
After Anna
by Lisa Scottoline
“After Anna” may well be her best book yet (4/22/2018)
Have you ever made a mistake in your life and desperately wished for a do-over? For 17 years Maggie Alderman has lived with regret over losing custody of her infant daughter Anna. But Anna’s father has died in a plane crash leaving her in a boarding school, and Anna now wants to come to live with Maggie, her husband Dr. Noah Alderman, and stepson Caleb.

The days of what was once a loving happy family are over…after Anna came to live with them.

It quickly becomes apparent that Anna is quite the manipulator. She wants her stepfather out of the picture, and what Anna wants, Anna gets. I found it impossible to like Anna as she cunningly destroys the lives of Maggie and Noah, who out of love opened their home to her and completely accepted her.

The book alternates between Maggie’s chapters and Noah’s chapters. As the story opens Noah has been charged with first degree murder and awaits the jury’s verdict. Maggie’s storyline begins with the phone call from Anna wanting to reconnect with her mother.

The characters felt very real, the situation very credible. It tore at my heart watching Maggie and Noah being torn apart by this evil teenager. Yet in the midst of this, both Maggie and Noah sought to protect ten-year-old Caleb from the emotional upheaval the adults were dealing with.

Ms. Scottoline writes a couple of series, but her standalone books are my favorite. “After Anna” may well be her best book yet. With building suspense and unseen twists this book may result in sleep deprivation.
The Kurdish Bike: A Novel
by Alesa Lightbourne
The Land "Older than the flood" (4/6/2018)
I loved this book. Books having to do with the Middle East always interest me. This is a region that the author says is “older than the flood.” It is a land that has been ruled at one time or another by the Assyrians, the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Islamic Arabs, Mongols, and Ottomans. I was really enthralled with this part of the book.

The protagonist Theresa is an American teacher working in Iraqi Kurdistan. Unlike the other expat teachers assigned to the school, Theresa yearns to get out and see the landscape and meet the people. Her purchase of a bicycle gives her the freedom to explore. She meets a Kurdish family that becomes her “village family.”

I also enjoyed the portions of the book that addresses some of the differences between the Arab and Kurdish cultures. The story addresses some traditions that have been banned in most of the world. However, some the rural tribal groups still follow their traditional teachings.

I felt like I had met the characters through Ms. Lightbourne’s thorough character development. Most of the story is based on the author’s actual experiences in the region. I can envision Theresa riding along on her bike; Ara and Theresa dancing and laughing; Theresa’s frustration with the love-smitten Bezma. I wanted to remain right there among these people with such open hearts. They knew how to appreciate the small things in life.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
by Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil
Searches for her own value (3/12/2018)
I cannot even begin to imagine what life was like in Rwanda during the time of the massacre there. I remember watching the movie "Hotel Rwanda" and thinking what a horror story this was, yet it wasn't a story – it was real life. I remember hearing hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina speak of his experience. How could all this horror really happen! And now Clementine Wamariya tells us of her personal experience.

As I read this powerful story I couldn't help comparing it to the Holocaust. Imagine how it would be to grow up in a middle class family among others just like yourself. Then suddenly life changes. She was only four years old when her world started shrinking. She could no longer go to kindergarten. She was forbidden to play with her oldest friend. No one goes to the market anymore. There is no running water in the house; electricity is on and off.

Then came the time that Clementine (age 15) and Claire (now six years old) had to escape. Imagine a young child having to walk for hours. She sees people sleeping in water – sleeping and sleeping – bodies floating. The next six years they move from one country to another, from one refugee camp to another. Along with the atrocities they encounter, they also experience kindness in unlikely places. They eventually end up in the US, not knowing the fate of their parents.

Clementine writes of their emotional reaction to all this – how Claire shuts down and how they learn to not trust anyone. Clementine draws on her inner strength to determine who she is as an individual and explore who she wants to be. After being treated as something less than human, she now searches for her own value.

From this book we can learn the impact of war on humans. We can reach out to other refugees while recognizing that, for the children, their innocence is forever shattered. Clementine teaches us that some parts of the person can be repaired, some parts cannot be. While others saw her as "broken", that is not how she saw herself.

I used the word "horror" to describe how I felt when seeing the movie and hearing the speaker. Now there are other words to describe what I felt while reading this book – powerful, raw, devastating, hopeful, determined, and very, very brave.
The Family Next Door
by Sally Hepworth
Know Your Neighbors (3/5/2018)
There sure is a lot of drama in the suburb of Pleasant Court. Fran, Ange, and Essie, all married with children, are all surface level friends. Everyone thinks the family next door is so perfect. Then Isabelle moves in – single, no children.
But behind closed doors, all have their secrets. Like Fran, who compulsively runs several times a day. She also is reluctant to leave baby Ava in the care of her husband Nigel. Ange must be in control of every part of her life, almost to the point of neurosis. The biggest secret is probably Essie’s when three years ago, she took her baby Mia to the park and returned without her. Fortunately nothing happened to Mia but after Essie’s psychotic break her mother Barbara moved next door to help look after Essie and Mia and now the new baby Polly.
Isabelle seems to be the catalyst that begins the unraveling of the carefully guarded secrets. As Essie and Isabelle develop an especially close bond, it becomes apparent that Isabelle had a specific reason for moving to Pleasant Court.
This book is a quick read and kept me turning the pages, eager to know what happens next. It was told from the viewpoints of all five ladies. It a story of female relationships, love, family, betrayal, and moving forward. But I was left with a sense of unfulfillment (is that a word?) I felt there were subplots thrown in to deliberately bring the women together but then that subplot went nowhere. I also felt that the ending was rushed and wrapped up a bit too neatly, although not as I had expected (surprise!). I still felt it was a quick, fun read. Good for an escape day. Relax on the lounge with some coffee/tea/wine and enjoy your visit to Pleasant Court.
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones
Reflects real life decisions & emotions (2/24/2018)
Tayari Jones does not sugar coat her stories. They are raw, they are real. In her latest book “An American Marriage” her characters deal with the realities of their place in this world.

The characters are well developed – all with flaws, all with positive qualities. There were times I wanted to embrace a character and then later I felt like asking the same character “What were you thinking?!!” No one was all good, nor all bad. They were real! I had no idea how I wanted the story to go. I kept changing my mind. And I was never sure how the author would end their story.

This is the story of Roy and Celestial Hamilton who met through her best friend Dre. Roy and Celestial married and were deeply in love when after only 18 months of marriage had their world turned upside down. Roy goes to prison for a crime he did not commit. While he is away Celestial turns to Dre for support. Then when he is released he returns to different life. Has his marriage survived? Love, race, trust, loyalty, honesty, family obligations are all explored. This is a heartfelt story, nothing flashy. Ms. Jones wrote in such a way that I could feel the pain the characters felt over the decisions they had to make. No one was going to escape untouched.

‘An American Marriage” is perfect for book clubs. It lends itself to an amazing discussion of the choices made, the consequences, the interactions, race inequality, feminism, family definition.

Mistakes are made, loved ones are betrayed, the term family is redefined, and emotions are laid bare. This is real life.
The Girls in the Picture
by Melanie Benjamin
A Test of Friendship (1/16/2018)
I thoroughly enjoyed “The Girls in the Picture” by Melanie Benjamin and learned a lot from it. That is why I have come to love the genre of historical fiction – I always learn something new. I knew very little about the early days of the movie industry and nothing really about Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. This book is the story of the intense friendship between Frances and Mary. In the era of silent films, Mary Pickford was loved and adored by everyone in America. Much of her popularity was due to the excellent screenwriting of Frances Marion, a true pioneer of her time.

Ms. Benjamin took me into the glitz and glamour of the time, and also the intense rivalries. From stage productions to silent films to “the talkies”, she brought it all to life. It was no secret that this was a man’s world, but Mary and Frances broke into that world and made it their own.
Mary had to work from a very early age to support her siblings and her mother. Thus she never had a childhood, and never had a friend - until she met Frances. They understood each other and, more so, Frances understood and shared Mary’s passion for the film world. Frances instinctively knew how to write for the character.

The book addresses the history of the film companies and the partnerships and mergers that took place. Many of the best known names appear in the story – Cecil B. DeMille, Adolph Zukor, Louis B. Mayer, Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and more.

The latter portion of the book addresses the tumultuous love affair and marriage of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Mary and Frances had promised each other that they would never let men come between them. (How often have we heard that one?) As Mary ages and finally is no longer able to maintain the persona of the little girl with the golden curls she loses her fans and her husband. Thus begins her downward spiral into alcohol and insanity.

In the meantime, Frances has maintained a more realistic view of life, especially after spending time in Europe filming the impact of the war on women. Frances has also been “struck anew by how universal my world was, how what we did on a soundstage in Hollywood could travel across the ocean to the battlefields of France.”

Frances soon recognizes that Mary is losing touch with reality and fights to save her lifelong friend. But can she after all the accusations of jealousy and blame Mary throws at her? This is a true test of friendship.
Anatomy of a Scandal
by Sarah Vaughan
Timely Story of Politics and Sexual Scandals (12/29/2017)
This book is definitely being released at the right time – when it seems that every day brings new headlines of the latest sexual harassment accusations against politicians. Years of sweeping it all under the rug are coming to an end.

James Whitehead, a member of the British parliament and confidant of the Prime Minister, confesses to his wife of his affair. Just as it seems the media has tired of him, his ex-mistress accuses him of rape. His wife Sophie is, of course, embarrassed by it all but stands by her husband. He insists that all sex with Olivia, his ex-mistress, was consensual. Sophie is determined to keep her family together and protect their children from the negative publicity.

The story is what I would call a “slow burn”. It slowly builds, going back to James’ college days and chapter by chapter revealing who James Whitehouse really is. (Hmmm, interesting choice of surname – Whitehouse.) We are taken back to when James and Sophie first met at college and began dating. A young freshman named Holly Berry will unknowingly come to hold their fates in her hands.

Some readers will not care for the slow pace. I didn’t at first but then came to realize the strength of holding back and only revealing a bit at a time. The story does not depend upon a major twist at the end that no one saw coming. I love those and lots of books came out in 2017 with exactly that. “Anatomy of a Scandal” instead reveals its big secret to the reader before the story is even halfway through. The prosecutor has a secret that only the reader knows, and that secret becomes the driving force behind the entire story. Vaughan was masterful in how she manipulates her characters (and us) as she somewhat teases us – will the truth come out now? No, okay, how about now? One must always be mindful of long-held secrets – secrets that can bring down a “house of cards” when played right.
The Second Mrs. Hockaday
by Susan Rivers
Survival on the Cival War Homefront (12/13/2017)
Using the epistolary technique, this story is told through letters and diary entries. It worked well although I did have to frequently jump to the end of the letter to see who the letter was from. The time line also was a bit confusing at times – letters written between 1863 – 1865 jumping back and forth – then forward to 1892 interspersed with diary entries from 1864. But it really did not distract from the story.
As their husbands went off to war, wives were left behind to tend to the crops and livestock. But Union troops (and men dressed as troops) took food and livestock from them, not caring how the families were to survive. Slaves were leaving as the opportunity presented itself. Newly-wed Placidia barely knew her husband when he left her to tend their huge farm and his young son from his previous marriage. This was not a marriage of convenience as they seemed to truly love each other.
But two years later when Major Hockaday returns home, he finds that Placidia has been arrested for killing her newborn child, a child that definitely was not his. Can he forgive his love for whatever happened while he was away? And what did happen? Can she be honest with him? Can their love survive?
Placidia had to make many critical decisions on her own. Was she an irresponsible teenager? Or wise beyond her years? Did the Major return a cold, heartless man after the horrors of the war, or did his love for his wife cool the anger and shock?
Toward the end of the book I was totally engrossed wanting to know how life would treat these brave characters who had to do whatever it took to survive.
It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree
by A. J. Jacobs
Funny but Repetitive (11/10/2017)
I read his book “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.” I wasn’t crazy about it, nor am I for this book.

However, it does have its good points. His sense of humor is always welcome. I figure his wife Julie must have a LOT of patience. Can you imagine living with a man that comes up with these crazy ideas? In this book he tackles the World Family Tree. Never heard of it? It is a remarkable effort to unite seven billion people into one family. (Remember the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” thought?) Jacobs places emphasis on the idea that by proving we are all related perhaps we will be nicer to each other as we are all family. In the long term there is the idea that all the racial DNA mashups may reduce racism in the future.

He visits many family reunions (not his family), attends conferences, and interviews numerous people involved in genealogy and/or the World Family Tree project. He address the pros and cons of the endeavor. Early on in his project he decides to stage his own family reunion and invite all those distant “cousins” with the goal to beat the record for largest family reunion in the Guinness Book of World Records. This man does not do small projects!

I did find Chapter 15 quite interesting. He writes of how the meaning of families is changing as lifestyles change. Stepparents with step-siblings or half-siblings. Gay and trans parents. Sperm donors. Surrogate mothers. It keeps evolving. He makes the point that you can pretty much choose your own family.

The book was often repetitive (too much so) and quite dry at times. There were several chapters that I felt were not needed. It seemed as though he had to deviate into side topics to have enough material for a book.
Fortunately there are several humorous portions. All in all, I would pass on this book.
Good Me Bad Me
by Ali Land
Our Inner Demons (9/4/2017)
Be prepared – the last half of this book will keep you reading all night.

I think there are times that we all struggle with our inner demons. This is only natural. There’s the part of us that wants to please everyone, and there’s the part that wants to rebel against parents and society.

But for Annie/Milly it is a bit more than that. Since the age of five Annie has been abused in her home. She has witnessed horrific acts done by her mother. Finally at the age of 15 she turns her mother in to the police. Upon investigation it is revealed that her mother has killed nine children. Now Annie is known as Milly and lives in a foster home. The home consists of Mike who is a therapist experienced in trauma cases, his wife Saskia, and teenage daughter Phoebe who is not at all happy with Milly being there.

Milly tries to please her foster family even though Phoebe makes her life hell, especially at school. But Milly is haunted by the voice of her mother. As is typical in child abuse cases, no matter how severe the abuse the child still wants to be loved by its parent. So Milly struggles with the knowledge that she will be the primary witness in court against her mother. She also knows just how manipulative her mother is.

I could see what direction the book was going it, but Ms. Land artfully doled out pieces of the chilling puzzle a few pieces at a time, building the suspense notch by notch. I definitely recommend this book to those who love a good thriller.
The Rules of Magic
by Alice Hoffman
Love and Teen Witches (8/13/2017)
I have read several of Alice Hoffman’s books but this one was certainly different for me. I have not read “Practical Magic” so did not really know what to expect. While this book is a prequel to “Practical Magic”, it also stands alone. Ms. Hoffman is certainly versatile – the story of Masada in “The Dovekeepers” and now witches.
In the 1600’s when the witches were being persecuted in Boston they sought safety in Manhattan. It is now late 1960’s and Susanna Owens lives in New York City with her three children. Franny can converse with birds, Jet can read people’s thoughts, and Vincent charms everyone that he meets. He was so charming at his birth a nurse attempted to kidnap him from the hospital. So no wonder that everyone shuns the family – unless they want a potion or a salve.
Susanna tries to protect her children by applying rules - no walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. But above all they are never to fall in love. For them, love is a curse. But teens are teens, witch or not. They are going to rebel and do exactly what they are told not to do.
Ms. Hoffman made the three siblings so real that I found myself caught up in their emotional struggles. They set out to discover who they are and their place in the world. And as hard as they try to avoid love, the teens could not deny the feelings of their human hearts. Thus they are forced to struggle with the consequences of their family curse, and perhaps the greatest lesson they learn is that in the Henry David Thoreau quote in the epigraph – “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”
Emma in the Night
by Wendy Walker
Mother of the Year -- NOT! (8/8/2017)
I read Wendy Walker’s book “All is Not Forgotten” so was looking forward to reading this one. I love psychological thrillers.
Sisters Emma and Cass Tanner mysteriously disappear one night. Then three years later, Cass just as mysteriously returns home – alone. Cass describes how she and Emma were kidnapped and held against their will on a remote island. Dr. Abby Winter, a forensic psychiatrist with the FBI, and Special Agent Leo Strauss return to the case that had gone cold on them a year earlier. Now the search is resumed but this time only for Emma. What happened the night the girls disappeared? Where have they been for three years? And where is Emma?
I must say that the Tanner family is the epitome of a dysfunctional family. Cass and Emma’s parents, Owen and Judy, are divorced. Owen has a son named Witt from his first marriage. (Witt is the only stable one in the bunch.) Judy then marries Jonathan Martin who has a teenage son named Hunter. Judy now insists that her own daughter call her “Mrs. Martin”. This mother is a real “piece of cake”. She has a narcissistic personality disorder. If you are not familiar with this disorder, it means that she has an inflated sense of her own importance, with a constant need to feel admired. Since she believes the world revolves around her, she is incapable of feeling empathy for others. But behind all this, she has a very fragile self-esteem and cannot handle the slightest criticism. Imagine having her for a mother…
I found the pace to be very slow. I almost gave up on it several times. I didn’t find any of the characters engaging, and the only one that drew any emotion from me was Witt. While the story is told from the perspectives of Cass and Dr. Winter, it is written in third person. Thus the reader is unable to get into the head of the characters and left me with a feeling of detachment (the same complaint I had with “All is Not Forgotten”). The only chapter I felt any visceral response to was the last one, written as a first person perspective from Cass.
It is suspenseful, and it does have a twist. If you are not familiar with the behavior of a narcissist and how the disorder impacts those close to the person, it may be worth the read.
The Breakdown
by B. A. Paris
Can't put down until the truth is revealed (7/18/2017)
I loved her first book (“Behind Closed Doors”) so had high expectations for this one. The story is truly suspenseful. During a severe storm Cass comes across a car parked at the side of the road. She stops and waits for some indication that the female driver needs assistance. None comes so Cass drives on to her home. The next morning Cass learns from her husband that her friend Jane had been murdered. She is devastated when she learns that it had been her friend Jane’s car on the side of the road.

Besides all the guilt Cass feels wondering if she could have done something different and have saved Jane, Cass begins forgetting more and more things. Cass forgets appointments, she forgets ordering items from the shopping channels, etc. She is afraid that she may be showing signs of Early Onset Dementia, a disease her mother has. She receives silent phone calls several times a day. She sees things that later are not there. Her husband is losing his patience with her.

There are lots of suspenseful moments in the book. However, I did have it mostly figured out by 60 pages. But the writing was still good and kept me anxiously awaiting the reveal. The chapters are short so by the last several chapters I was telling myself “I have time for one more chapter – just one more – just one more.” I don’t think it is as good as the first book but it was definitely worth reading.

Suspenseful – Riveting – Can’t put down until the truth is revealed.
The Necklace
by Claire McMillan
Unique Story (6/26/2017)
This book was a really slow start but it was worth staying with it. The writing isn’t the best, but the story is really good.

The chapters alternate between the 1920’s and the present (2009). Brothers Ethan and Ambrose Quincy want the same girl – May. It is 1925 and Ambrose is driven to travel the world while his brother stays home to run the coal mines. While in India Ambrose buys an extravagant necklace for May whom he intended to marry. However, he learns that May has married Ethan. Upon his return, Ambrose still presents the necklace to May. Thus, the love triangle builds in intensity.

In the present young attorney Nell, always the outsider in the family, is called to the Quincy homestead upon the death of her great-aunt Lulu, the sister of Ambrose and Ethan. Nell has been designated the executor of Lulu’s will, and has been left a very unusual, and expensive, necklace. Cousins Pansy and Emerson want that necklace. Wanting to keep her inheritance, Nell researches the history of the necklace which leads to long buried family secrets being revealed.

I was disappointed with the ending. It seemed very contrived and quickly wrapped up. In my opinion, another couple of chapters to play out the ending would have been more satisfying.
The Story of Arthur Truluv: A Novel
by Elizabeth Berg
Totally Delightful (6/21/2017)
What a truly delightful read! It's like "A Man Called Ove" but without the crabbiness. Arthur Moses, 85, has lunch each day with his wife Nola – at the cemetery. Nola has been dead six months. Arthur is a truly sweet man and has a positive attitude toward pretty much everything.

Eighteen-year-old Maddy often visits the cemetery to get away from the other kids at school. It is here that Arthur and Maddy meet and develop an unusual friendship. Because of his devotion to Nola and his kindness Maddy gives Arthur the nickname "Truluv". Maddy's mother died in a car crash when Maddy was only two weeks old. She doesn't get along with her father and the kids at school pick on her. To ease her loneliness, Maddy escapes into her world of photography.

Also dealing with loneliness is Arthur's elderly neighbor Lucille. While quite nosy, their lives all change as the three of them form a compassionate bond creating their own version of a little family – oh, and mustn't forget Gordon, the cat – to deal with life's struggles and to find hope and a new purpose in life.

This book is a delightful escape from with these delightful people – and Gordon. Smile, laugh, cry – I love a book that taps into my emotions and makes me what the characters in the story feel. That is great writing.
My Last Lament
by James William Brown
Beautiful Writing (3/30/2017)
This book was a true joy to read. It was beautifully written, with interesting characters and some little known Greek history. Being Jewish I have heard about the decimation of the Jews in Thessalonica and Rhodes. While the main character Aliki is not Jewish, another major character Stelios is. The book address what happened to the Jews and life on the islands after the Nazis were defeated. Alik, is the last professional lamenter – one who expresses grief – in her village. Lamenters were like mediums through whom the deceased's life is expressed at wakes. Aliki was also frequently visited by the dead.

The story – of her own life - is told by Aliki via cassette tapes she is recording for a Greek-American scholar who is doing research on lament practices. Aliki tells of life in her little village under German occupation. When young Aliki is left orphaned she is taken in by Chrysoula, her friend Takis's mother. Chrysoula also provided shelter for a Jewish woman named Sophie and her son Stelios.

Aliki, 17 years old, is caught in a love triangle involving her friend Takis (10 years old) and Stelios (nearer Aliki's age). While young they all had to mature quickly, witnessing the execution of family members and other villagers. Like many countries in Europe, when WWII was over the survivors then had to deal with civil wars.

A form of entertainment at the time was the shadow theatre. I knew shadow puppetry was an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment in China, but I was not aware that it was used in Europe. A bit of the history of this art is given early on in the book. Stelios is quite proficient in it.

Aliki laments on the tragedies they lived through, the "what-if's" that could have resulted in a totally different outcome, the ironies that of life, and the tarnishing of her home country.

The book is slow reading but well worth it. I loved the characters and had an emotional investment in them. There was so much heartbreak, so many regrets, yet much courage.
Behind Her Eyes
by Sarah Pinborough
Nothing is as it seems (1/18/2017)
Wow! This book took me on a thrilling ride. I just finished it and am still trying to process that ending. Mind-blowing! If you loved “Gone Girl”, “The Girl on the Train”, and “Behind Closed Doors” you will love this one. I assure you that NOTHING is as it seems.

Louise, a single mother, meets gorgeous David in a bar one night. There is an immediate attraction and they kiss. Then a few days later Louise is stunned when she finds that her boss is “the man in the bar” – and from a brief glimpse and the photo on his desk Louise sees the wife is an equally gorgeous woman.

A few later Louise bumps into a lady at the coffee shop. She recognizes her as David’s wife. Adele, the wife, seems eager to befriend Louise. Louise does not reveal to Adele that she is David’s secretary. She thinks that Adele will tire of her soon. But Adele is determined. Louise now wonders how to tell David that she is becoming friends with his wife. Also how does she tell Adele that she works for her husband? So she keeps putting it off.

Just like the couple in Behind Closed Doors David and Adele appear to be perfect and to have it all. But remember – NOTHING is as it seems. Everyone is keeping secrets.

Life gets so much more complicated for Louise as she begins an affair with David. However she really likes Adele and feels guilty for betraying their friendship. It is through their friendship though that Louise learns how controlling David is. He calls Adele twice a day at specific times to check on her. And Adele seems scared of her own husband.

Louise is now trapped in drama of David and Adele’s marriage. Something is definitely not right about their marriage and Louise doesn’t know how to get out of the mess she is in. She is totally unaware of how she is being played and what the consequences will be for her.

Every time I thought I was on the right track of figuring it out the story went down a now track. I ABSOLUTELY did not see the ending coming. I had to reread those few pages several time to grasp it. I am still mulling it over. Where should I have picked up on it? Has anyone guessed the ending?
The Half Wives
by Stacia Pelletier
Two Women, One Man (12/27/2016)
"The Half Wives" describes a part of San Francisco's history that few people are aware of. San Francisco is actually a very small city. In the mid to late 1800s it was recognized that there wasn't enough room in San Francisco for the living and the dead. So the town of Colma was established and graves were exhumed and moved to Colma. "The Half Wives" addresses the politics behind that decision.
However this book is actually about one man who loved two women. When Henry's marriage falls apart after the death of their son, he turns to another woman, Lucy. Lucy bears him a daughter named Blue. It is a very believable story of heartache, hope, loss, passion, grief.

I did find it hard at times to grasp who was "speaking". Henry, Marilyn, Lucy, and Blue all have their chances to talk. But the way the dialog is structured is difficult to follow at times.

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