Reviews by Betty Taylor

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The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding
by Jennifer Robson
Fit for a Princess (12/17/2018)
If you like books about strong female friendships and/or British royalty (especially an interest in the wedding gowns worn by Diana, Kate, and Meghan) this is the book for you.

It is 1947 and Princess Elizabeth is to marry Prince Philip. Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin are embroiderers for Norman Hartnell, designer for the royal family. Ann is alone after her brother is killed in the war and her sister-in-law moves to Canada. Ann becomes friends with Miriam, the mysterious new French girl at work and invites her to be her roommate. Miriam Dassin eventually reveals that she is Jewish and was imprisoned at Ravensbruck.

Toronto, 2016 – Heather Mackenzie is saddened over the death of her grandmother “Nan”. While going through her grandmother’s effects a box marked “To Heather” is found. Inside are three lovely embroidered pieces and a photo of some women gathered around a sewing frame. Heather realizes that neither she nor her mother know anything about Nan’s life before she came to Canada. They uncover a few more photos that reveal that Nan had apparently been friends with the well-known embroiderer Miriam Dassin. Thus begins Heather’s quest to learn about Nan and her secretive past.

I thoroughly loved this book. The characters emerged from the written page and came to life as I read. While being eager to get to each new chapter I also was compelled to set aside the book to look up elements from the story – close up photos of the actual wedding gown, other dresses designed by Norman Hartnell, the Chulily sculpture mentioned in the book. I could envision myself there in Hartnell’s workroom with the drawings and sketches pinned to the walls and fabric everywhere. The book has romance, it has villainy and glamour, but above all it has an amazing bond between two women. The premise of the book is well stated in a paraphrase from Heather: The story is about the gown and what it was like to create a wedding gown for a princess – and how it felt to receive no acknowledgement of their work.

This book filled me with a warmth and a sense of completion – a feeling of “this is how it should be”. There is so much more I would love to write about this book but I don’t want to give away too much of a story that you just must read for yourself.
The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington
by Brad Meltzer, Josh Mensch
An Untold Story about George Washington (12/13/2018)
An interesting piece of untold history. Get to know George Washington – the man, the leader. Courageous, humble. Elite soldiers were selected to serve as Washington’s bodyguards. But traitors are among them. Working with New York’s Governor and Mayor, they plotted to kill Washington.

This was an easy, quick read with lots of historical facts. Read how the plot came about and how it was busted. It reveals the true character of Washington and his devotion to his country.

Taking place during the most critical period of our nation’s birth, The First Conspiracy tells a remarkable and previously untold piece of American history that not only reveals George Washington’s character, but also illuminates the origins of America’s counterintelligence movement that led to the modern day CIA.

The writing seemed a bit awkward – a nonfiction book being written in the style of a fictional novel. That did not work for me.
The Kinship of Secrets
by Eugenia Kim
The Power of Sisters (11/6/2018)
This beautifully written book is the story of two sisters, only ten months apart in age, separated as toddlers. In 1948 daughter Inja is left in South Korea with her Uncle and Aunt and her grandparents, as her parents Calvin and Najin Cho, along with daughter Miran, move to the United States in search of better opportunities for their family. Their plan to return for Inja is crushed by the outbreak of the Korean War. Thus, Miran grows up under the shadow of a sister she barely remembers, while Inja receives "care packages" from a family she knows little about.

Told through alternating perspectives of the sisters, the story takes the family from 1950 to 1973, thus allowing the reader to observe the growth of Miran and Inja, the impact of the separation on the sisters, and the hardships experienced by the family in South Korea. We also read of the efforts of the Korean community in the United States to ease the burdens of their loved ones in South Korea. While most of the story focuses on the sisters, Ms. Kim also writes of the mother's efforts to acclimate to her new home and the guilt she feels over leaving a daughter behind. In the Author's Note I learned that this story was inspired by the author's life.

The contrast between Inya's and Miran's lives was heart-breaking. One sister had so much, the other struggled. One knew immense love, the other lacked emotional support. Subtle differences between belonging and not belonging – having a mother but not having a mother, having a daughter but not having a daughter, being Korean yet not being Korean. My favorite "take-away" from Ms. Kim's book is the phrase "the charity of secrets". What a beautiful phrase!

I felt the pace was appropriate for a story that covers this range of years taking the sisters from their toddler years to their mid-20's. It was interesting observing the development of their personalities, each reflecting a blend of their culture and their environment. Also as the sisters mature, family secrets are revealed. I loved reading about the beauty of the Korean culture and its emphasis on family. I also learned a bit about the Korean War and now understand why it is called "The Forgotten War".

I enjoyed Ms. Kim's writing so much I just ordered her previous book "The Calligrapher's Daughter". She wrote of the difficulty of everyday life during the time of war, family ties, humor in the darkest of times, and the love between sisters.
The Clockmaker's Daughter: A Novel
by Kate Morton
Tragic, Yet Magical (10/17/2018)
Kate Morton’s genius is revealed with her latest book THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER. Be forewarned – the book is a journey - a journey through time, a journey through lives, a journey through hearts. The story may be difficult to follow at first as it weaves in and out through the ages and numerous characters are revealed. But once you grasp the essence of the story it becomes almost magical.

Part One sets up the story in present day 2017 when archivist Elodie Winslow comes across an old leather satchel containing a journal and a framed photo. That statement is so mundane – Ms. Morton write it so much more beautifully. “The pinpricks of sudden light were a shock and the satchel, pressed deep inside the box, exhaled”. The satchel exhaled, she breathed life into that sentence! “Open me, the satchel urged Look inside”. Inside the satchel were a framed sepia photograph of a woman in Victorian-era clothing and an old monogrammed journal with numerous artist’s sketches. A sketch of a river scene and a twin-gabled house in the background filled her with a sense of déjà vu. She was overcome with the memory of a story her mother used to tell her, a children’s bedtime story.

Then with the remainder of the book we meander back and forth throughout the decades from 1862 back to present-day 2017. (I admit that I was confused until I realized that the Roman numeral labeled chapters were all narrated by the same woman, a woman whose real name no one remembers, the woman who ties all the time periods together.) We learn that on a summer evening in 1862 a group of artist friends gathered at Birchwood Manor. That eventful evening after which none of their lives would ever be the same. The events of that night would remain buried in the memory of the one person who held all the pieces to the puzzle. A stranger had appeared, a woman was killed, another woman has disappeared, and a family gem vanished. Theories developed but only one person knew the truth. Morton then masterfully guides us along as she reveals piece by piece what happened on that cataclysmic evening until the horrific truth is revealed.

“My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.”

To further demonstrate Morton’s genius, throughout this story of loss she also weaves a thread of peacefulness and love and belonging. In the end my heart ached at what was and what could have been.
The Little Shop of Found Things
by Paula Brackston
Magical! (10/5/2018)
"Every soul that once trod this brutal earth leaves their imprint upon the things that mattered to them. The things that they held, the things that once echoed to the beat of their hearts."

I love that quote from Paula Brackston’s new novel THE LITTLE SHOP OF FOUND THINGS. When I read it somehow I knew I was going to enjoy this book. However, I didn’t enjoy it …I LOVED it! For a few delightful hours Ms. Brackston took me into the life of Xanthe Westlake.

Xanthe and her mother have bought a small antique shop in the quaint little village of Marlborough. The shop is filled with items left by its previous owner who is now deceased. This is perfect for Xanthe, having the gift of a “connection” to objects, picks up images and messages from the objects’ former owners. Now at an antique auction Xanthe is drawn to a silver chatelaine from the 1600s. But she is not the only one interested in the chatelaine. Lingering in the shop is a ghost that recognizes Xanthe as the person who can save her daughter. Against her will, Xanthe finds herself tumbling back through the centuries to 1605 to the home of the chatelaine’s original owner.

This beautiful and magical story is a blend of time travel and romance. Unlike the last book I read in this genre, this one shows true mastery in allowing the reader to suspend reality for the moment. The pacing was perfect with its slow buildup that then took off “like a rocket” and never slowed down after that. Don’t forget that there is romance, but that is all I will say as I do not want to spoil anything. This is one of those books that I truly did not want to end, so I am excited that it is the first in a new series. Please, Paula Brackston, do not keep us waiting!
Sold on a Monday
by Kristina McMorris
Never underestimate the power of a photo… (8/30/2018)
A sign in a yard – 2 children for sale – caught the attention of struggling reporter Ellis Reed. It’s the Great Depression and people take desperate measures to survive. Ellis snapped an innocent enough photo of the sign and the children, never intending that the photo be published.

In 1931 many people lost everything - their jobs, their houses, and means of making a living. People are living with breadlines, rationing, and hard decisions each day. Every day children are being sold or dropped off at churches and orphanages. Too many mouths to feed.

But the sight of these children is a gut-punch to Ellis, who has a father he can never please and has lived with the belief that when his brother died very young it should have been him instead.

Lily Palmer is a secretary at the same newsroom where Ellis works. She guards her own secret, a secret that she believes could cost her the job and her rooming accommodations if revealed. It is Lily that recognizes the power of Ellis’ photo. Unknown to Ellis, Lily includes the photo with the other photos Ellis took on his assignment that day. Thus is sparked a chain of events that changes several lives – his and Lily’s included.

This compassionate story reveals the heartache of a mother who is forced to give up her children. A mother who tried to ensure her children would have a better life than she could them, but was sorely betrayed. Ellis and Lily set out to right a wrong but find that it may cost them their lives.

The story was inspired by the sight of a photo the author came across online in a 1948 Indiana newspaper. The photo showed four children huddled together by a sign that read 4 CHILDREN FOR SALE. Also in the photo is the mother shielding her face from the camera. The characters in SOLD ON A MONDAY are memorable. They are flawed, but you still love them. They make mistakes, but they own up to them. They hurt, they cry, they love. These are people you can relate to.
Baby Teeth
by Zoje Stage
Another Bad Seed (7/21/2018)
If you are a fan of the old movie BAD SEED starring Patty McCormick, you will LOVE this book. This book would fit well in the horror genre, right up there with Stephen King and John Saul. I wasn’t crazy about the story itself, but I could not stop reading it. I had to see what happened next. The writing is intense.

Hanna is an intelligent, precocious seven-year-old. She has her daddy wrapped around her little finger. She has difficulty being understood as she does not talk. Hanna loves her daddy. Loves him so much she wants to marry him when she grows up and live with him forever. Come on, we have heard that before. Nothing unusual. However, Hanna wants her mother out of the way – permanently. This child wants to kill her mother.

Suzette, Hanna’s mother, loves her daughter – as well as she can. She didn’t grow up with a loving mother so struggles with the parenting role. But she finds Hanna exhausting. When her husband Alex isn’t around Hanna speaks to Suzette. As Hanna becomes more and more aggressive toward her mother while her father continues to see her as his little angel, Suzette suspects there is something seriously wrong with their daughter. Can her little girl really be so manipulative?

Through the masterful writing I could feel Suzette’s growing frustration and fear, Hanna’s hatred and determination, and Alex’s baffled reactions.

This is going to be a controversial book due to the subject matter. Can children be so evil? How far should parents go in defending their child? It definitely isn’t for everyone.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the advance reading copy. The opinion is purely my own.
America for Beginners
by Leah Franqui
A Life Changing Journey (7/18/2018)
If you enjoyed Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A PLACE FOR US, I highly recommend AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS.

Three misfits set out on a journey across America, a journey of evolution, and are changed forever.

Pival Sengupta, a newly widowed Indian woman, has booked a trip to America. Her servants are outraged! A woman just does not do this alone. But Pival is not going to see the sights of America. Instead, she is hoping to find her son whom her husband has told her is dead. After moving to America, Rahi revealed to his father Ram that he was gay and was immediately disowned. Then one night Ram took a call and told Pival it was from their son’s lover in America and that Rahi had died. On her trip to America she wants to see what Rahi had possibly seen in America, perhaps walk where he walked before he died. But did he die? She wonders if her husband lied to her. She has had her doubts since the death was so sudden and there was no body returned to India. She is determined to find out the truth.

The characters in this story are each unique and all are engaging. From Mrs. Sengupta who is naïve about so much but determined in her mission, to Mr. Munshi, the hard-working Bangladeshi tour company owner who tries to pass himself off as Indian. The description of him that quickly comes to mind is a “snake oil salesman”. One has to wonder how his business remains open given his naivety. Pival’s guide is Satya who has only been in the US for a year and never outside New York City. He is sweet, extremely naïve, and always ravenously hungry. For reasons of modesty, Pival needs a female companion so Mr. Munshi hires Rebecca, an aspiring actress. This two-week tour being a companion sounds like a working vacation to her so she is thrilled to get the job.

As Pival, Rebecca, and Satya make their way across the country they are challenged by their cultural and generational differences. But they begin to evolve in their own self-growth and learn to see the world through someone else’s eyes. They learn to appreciate the qualities the others have to offer. Barriers come down, animosities are forgotten, and true bonds are formed. There is humor, heartbreak, forgiveness, and acceptance. This story isn’t about where they travel but rather the voyage itself.
The Summer Wives
by Beatriz Williams
Fabulous! (7/16/2018)
Another fabulous book by Beatriz Williams. A great beach read.

This book is about the clash of two cultures here – the rich, privileged summer families and the immigrant working class local families who live on the island year round. The interaction of these cultures sets us up for intrigue, mystery, and romance.

Set on exclusive Winthrop Island off the New England Coast, the book alternates between the 1930s with the story of the love affair between a local year-round resident girl and her rich lover, and the 1950s and 60s with Miranda Schuyler’s story.

Miranda’s father has died in the war and in 1951 Miranda and her mother arrive on Winthrop Island. Her mother is marrying Hugh Fisher, part of the inner circle on the island. She also meets her new stepsister Isobel who educates her on the ins and outs of the high society summer families and the year-round local families. Miranda is immediately smitten when she sees Joseph Vargus, one of the locals. Joseph’s father the local lighthouse keeper and in the summers Joseph helps his father maintain their lobster boats. But when summer is over Joseph attends college, wanting to make something of himself. Joseph and Isobel have always had a close relationship and Miranda battles with her attraction for Joseph and her desire not to hurt her sister.

Then in 1969 Miranda returns to Winthrop Island. She is now a famous actress but is shunned on the island because of her association with Joseph who is in prison for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather. Miranda, healing from her own disastrous marriage, learns that Joseph has escaped from prison. She now becomes determined to prove Joseph is innocent.

Beatriz Williams is a master storyteller so you know her books are always beautifully written. The tightly held secrets of the Islanders will slowly unravel as outsiders probe into the mysteries. The characters are relatable and likeable. As I read I could feel myself going with the ebb and flow of the island life. I highly recommend this book.
Me, Myself and Them
by Dan Mooney
A Sensitive Look at Surviving Loss (6/21/2018)
It seems almost perverse to say that this book is delightful. Denis was once a normal 23-year-old fun-loving man who enjoyed evenings with his friends, a loving family, and his beautiful girlfriend Rebecca. But one night seven years ago he suffered a tragic loss, a loss that he feels responsible for, a loss that he can only endure by cutting himself off from people and feelings. His guilt leads him to believe that he has brought everyone pain so now he must cut himself off from them, assuring everyone that he is just fine. In order to maintain control, he now lives a VERY strict life of orderliness. His day is planned to the minute. "Walk into town – 40 minutes. Purchase a newspaper and select a coffee shop – 16 minutes. Spend some time with both of his friends – 120 minutes. Walk to the hospital – 50 minutes. Spend some time visiting Eddie – 20 minutes. Walk home – 90 minutes.' He cannot bear to be touched by anyone. He is in control – except for his four roommates, "four monsters", who create chaos in his home.

But then Rebecca walk back into his life. She is shocked to see the shell of his former life he has become and becomes determined to "fix" him. As he slowly begins to reconnect with his former self and begins to face his fears, his roommates feel threatened. They want to protect him, to help him maintain the orderliness and control he had before Rebecca returned. Now it is all out war for them. They are determined that Rebecca must go. Denis' life now spirals out of control.

Daniel Mooney has written a story of grief, loss, mental health, friendship, and love. He presents Denis' vulnerability while also delivering doses of humor.

This is a sensitively written book describing Daniel's fight to get his life back. One would expect a book on men's mental health would be somewhat depressing, but not this book. It is funny, heartbreaking, sincere, enlightening.

Thank you to the publisher and BookBrowse for the advance copy to read and review.
Bring Me Back
by B. A. Paris
Suspenseful but the twist didn't work for me (6/19/2018)
I loved B.A. Paris’ first book “Behind Closed Doors”. I thought “The Breakdown” was really good. So I was really eager to jump into this book. Twelve years ago Finn and Layla were in love. But returning from their vacation one night, Finn stops at what Americans know as a rest stop -- the story is set in England -- to use the restroom. When he returns Layla is gone. For twelve years there has been no sign of Layla so he moves on and is now engaged to Layla’s sister Ellen. What happened to Layla? Is she dead? If she is alive where has she been for twelve years? Did Finn have anything to do with her disappearance? Remember that the past always seems to come back to haunt you at the absolute worst time. Low and behold, once Finn and Ellen’s engagement is announced there is suddenly a sign that Layla may still be alive.

Once I started reading I quickly became lukewarm to it. Where was this going? After the initial “grab you” moment, it seemed to lag. But then probably two-thirds of the way through it grabbed me. I could not put it down. It was suspenseful. The short chapters kept me reading “just one more chapter”, just one more, just one more… I didn’t know who to love and who to hate. So many lies, so many secrets kept from those supposedly loved. Their emotions reached out from the printed page, one moment tugging at my heart, the next like hands wrapped around my throat choking me. I was along for the ride.

But then the ending – it just did not work for me. I love thrillers - especially those with a good twist. But that twist has to be plausible. It has to pull me along with it. Instead I dug in my heels, shook it off, and detached. I felt like throwing the book across the room.

Even with that emotional reaction I give it 4 stars. Why? Because it did elicit a strong emotional reaction. I cared about some of the characters. I wanted things to work out for them. I feel I have to rate the book on its entirety, not just on its ending. The writing was really good – character development strong. The author is unquestionably talented. I just hope for more believability with her next book.
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 Elizabeth Weil, Clemantine Wamariya
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.

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