MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Reviews by Betty Taylor

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What You Wish For
by Katherine Center
Thoroughly delightful (7/18/2020)
“…you can decide to do something joyful. …You can hug somebody. Or crank up the radio. Or watch a funny movie. Or tickle somebody. Or lip-synch your favorite song. Or buy the person behind you at Starbuck’s a coffee. Or wear a flower hat to work.”

I loved Center’s two previous books, “How to Walk Away” and “Things You Save in a Fire,” and was not disappointed with this one. (And I adore the covers of her books – so colorful!)

“What You Wish For” has awesome characters that drew me in and made me care about them as though they were my friends. Chuck Norris was the absolute best! I loved the positivity, so sorely needed right now. I loved the celebration of family, community, and friendship. After personal struggles, librarian Samantha Casey has learned to find the joy in life. But now the guy she had a major crush on will be the new principal at her school. But Duncan Carpenter isn’t the goofy, lovable, “never miss a chance to celebrate” man she used to know. He is now a heartless three-piece-suit bureaucrat. What happened to him? Can Samantha and Duncan overcome the fears that hold them both back?

The story was somewhat predictable. I suspected almost from the beginning what had happened to Duncan to turn him into such a different man. But I still found the story delightful. There were several laugh-out-loud moments. And I really needed a happily-ever-after story.
The Yellow Bird Sings: A Novel
by Jennifer Rosner
Poignant Mother-Daughter Story (7/14/2020)
The author’s combination of lyrical and descriptive power enabled me to feel the beauty and love that managed to exist in these most horrific of times. Her superb rendering of the power of music and a child’s imagination gave me hope that Shira, a musical prodigy, would somehow be shielded from the horrors that existed all around her.

Rosner’s poignant description of the mother-daughter bond was heartbreaking yet also somewhat optimistic. The conditions Shira and her mother endured made me ashamed to complain even one iota about being confined by this Co-vid virus. They hid in a barn loft in Poland unable to move about freely and always having to remain silent. How does a mother et a five-year-old child to remain silent 24-hours-a-day? When they eventually became separated, I was kept on the edge of my seat wondering if they would ever be reunited.

This book addresses the phenomena of hidden children. Many Jewish parents made the heart-rending decision to put their children in the hands of Christian neighbors they trusted, or sent them to Christian schools run by Catholic nuns, or put them on train transports to another country. All this done in an effort to save the children’s lives. Some of these children were never reunited with their parents.

An excellent book, very moving. I highly recommend it.
Darling Rose Gold
by Stephanie Wrobel
One Twisted Story (3/18/2020)
What a twisted story! Patty, the mother, is sentenced to five years in prison for deliberately poisoning her daughter throughout her childhood. Then when Patty is released from prison Rose Gold, her daughter, allows Patty to move in with her. That right there is a bit strange. But Rose Gold, now a mother herself, has been eagerly awaiting her mother’s release.

The writing is good, but I thought the story was predictable. Neither of these women are likeable, and the only emotion I felt was disgust. I shake my head and think “like mother, like daughter”. But I give the book four stars because the “breadcrumbs” are dropped sparingly along the way, allowing the suspense to slowly build. The pace is excruciating but timed perfectly.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for the advance copy to read and review. All opinions expressed here are my own.
He Started It
by Samantha Downing
One Screwed Up Family (3/7/2020)
This is a seriously twisted family story. I had to force myself to finish it as it did not hold my interest at all. I felt that none of the characters were likable. The pace is really slow until the end – then it goes really crazy. I think that people will either love this book or hate it.
Apeirogon
by Colum McCann
Extraordinary! (2/29/2020)
Truly masterful writing. This novel will probably be my favorite book of the entire year.

I am Jewish, have several Arab friends, and have spent a lot of time in Israel so this book captured my attention when I first heard about it. The novel is based on the true story of a friendship between an Israeli father and a Palestinian father; a friendship, between two men who were raised to hate each other, formed from the shared grief of two fathers. Rami Elhanan’s 13-year-old daughter was killed by a suicide bomber; Bassam Aramin’s 10-year-old daughter killed by a rubber bullet.

Apeirogon - a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. This so aptly describes the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

McCann presents the heartbreaking story of these two men with sensitivity and compassion and leaves us with a slight glimmer of hope. Written in fragments, instead of chapters, I got the sense of snapshots of the reality of life in Israel – a kaleidoscope of fragments coming together and shifting, morphing from one reality to another, constantly changing, yet remaining the same.

(Note: The movie rights for this book have already been purchased by Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin.)

Heartfelt thanks to Random House for the Advance Reading Copy.
Remembrance
by Rita Woods
For Octavia Butler Fans (1/24/2020)
I struggled a bit with this story, trying to keep the three timelines straight. There were a lot of characters to keep track out. As a result, I never felt a connection to any of the characters, except perhaps a bit with Abigail because of the horrors she encountered and her role throughout the rest of the story. This book is a blend of historical fiction and the supernatural, which makes perfect sense with the Haiti and New Orleans settings. I thought the present-day portion of the book was the weakest part. I understand the purpose of that portion, but it was weakly developed, unlike the other two portions.

It isn’t until a little over 100 pages into the story when it is revealed that Remembrance is a place – a sanctuary for blacks who have escaped slavery. It was at this point that I really became interested in the story.

I look forward to reading more by Rita Woods. If you are a fan of Octavia Butler (I certainly am), I think you will enjoy this book.

I received an Advance Reading Copy of “Remembrance” from the Forge, the publisher (Forge). All opinions expressed here are solely mine.
The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II
by Katherine Sharp Landdeck
Courageous Young Women (1/13/2020)
This is a superbly researched and written book about the brave young women who were eager to serve their country during World War II by ferrying new aircraft from the factories to the military pick-up point. Having served in the USAF in the mid-70s I could relate to some of the skepticism they encountered not only from the military men but from society in general. As all able-bodied males were off fighting in the war, there was a serious shortage of pilots. These gutsy women rushed in to fill the void flying 77 different types of aircraft. Even though most of the women pilots were better qualified than the male pilots they were not recognized for their service to their country and designated as veterans until November 1977.

The book consists of numerous vignettes of the remarkable female pilots who became known as WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). The chapters are short and easy to read.

Thank you to BookBrowse and Crown Publishing for the advance copy. I am providing an unbiased review.
Father of Lions: One Man's Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo
by Louise Callaghan
Amazing True Story (1/11/2020)
This book is much more than a book about a zookeeper and his animals. Callaghan writes of the occupation of Mosul by Daesh, the new laws invoked that make daily life very difficult for the citizens of Mosul, the threat of constant attacks, the fear of leaving their homes in order to escape the notice of the jihadis, Iraqi history and culture.

As the fighting between the government forces and militants intensifies in Mosul, the animals in the zoo are starving. The lives of the Mosul residents are turned upside down as they now live with the constant fear of coming to the attention of the jihadis. Women who had worn western-style clothing now are required to wear the suffocating garb demanded by ISIS. A strict curfew was invoked. Food becomes scarce and very expensive. People live under the threat of constant attacks.

The story centers on Abu Laith who was always a lover of animals. He risks his life to keep the animals alive while having to make difficult decisions in order to keep his family safe. He has a special attachment to the little lion Zombie. Callaghan introduces us to Dr. Amir who is an international rescue vet that becomes aware of the dire situation of the animals in Iraq,

Callaghan performed extensive research to bring us the true story of Abu Laith and his bravery in protecting the animals of Mosul. She details the atrocities and cruelness of a country at war. But she also reveals the compassion and humaneness that can still be found among the ruins. While many thought Abu Laith should just kill the animals for meat, he refused. He truly loved and respected the animals and fought for their lives.

It was a difficult read for me. I ached for the animals who were at the mercy of humans and were fortunate to have Abu Laith fight for them. I also ached for the humans whose lives would never be normal again, people at the mercy of power-hungry, crazy people who hid under the cover of religious fanatics. It was especially painful for me as I worked with the Iraqi military and felt the aftermath of the assassination of a couple of them. Men who only wanted peace and security for their children and grandchildren.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel
by Kim Michele Richardson
One of the Best Books of 2019 (1/1/2020)
“The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”, the last book I read in 2019, is without a doubt one of the best books of 2019. The beautiful writing pulled me into the story and kept me entranced to the very end. I was fascinated with the story of the Kentucky Pack Horse library service which, in the 1930s, got books into remote and isolated areas of Kentucky. Rural Appalachia is known for its poverty, and reading of the struggles of the people was heartbreaking. These were proud people who had to fight each day just to survive. The coal mines often took the life of the men, and children died of starvation. Yet, with so little, they still anticipated the visit from the Book Woman as the books were often the only bright moments in their lives. Books gave them a glimmer of hope.

As for the blue-skinned people of Kentucky, at first I thought perhaps this was just a bit of science fiction thrown into the story. So, of course, I had to look it up. I was really surprised then to find that there really were blue-skinned people in Kentucky (caused by an enzyme deficiency). It was very painful to read of the prejudice and cruel treatment they often encountered.

The reader gets a glimpse into the life of the book women through blue-skinned Cussy Mary Carter who set out each week, with her stubborn mule Junia, on her route to deliver books to her patrons. I loved her! She was strong, determined, and compassionate. She loved books and, even more so, loved getting books into the hands of her patrons. She knew that books could be life changing. Some of her patrons were so appreciative of her service that they insisted on giving her the last morsel of food they had even though they were starving themselves.

While there are many heartbreaking moments in the book, this is still a story of family and perseverance. The book was hard to put down as I was emotionally invested in Cussy Mary’s life. There are numerous “supporting” characters – her patrons, her father, the other book women – and all elicited some emotional response in me. I highly recommend this book. This is a book you won’t be able to forget. Warning: You may need tissues.

Thank you to BookishFirst for the copy to review. Opinions expressed here are my own.
And They Called It Camelot: A Novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis
by Stephanie Marie Thornton
Portrait of the Real Jackie (12/22/2019)
Over the years, I have read a lot of books on Jackie Kennedy, this being my first historical fiction offering. But I am a fan of Stephanie Marie Thornton's books so was eager to read it. I have to say that I absolutely loved this book. The story is told as Jackie might have told it and covers the time of her meeting Jack to the dedication of Jack's presidential library. While most books I have read previously focused only on her relationship with the men in her life – her father and her husbands – this book also discusses Jackie's relationship with her mother and her sister. I thought Thornton captured Jackie's voice so well I felt like I was reading Jackie's own personal memoir. Jackie has always been viewed as a cold, unemotional woman so I loved the expression of her thoughts and feelings throughout this book. Her struggles, her character, and her strength are beautifully expressed.
Since it is told from Jackie's perspective there is a sense of intimacy throughout the book. I loved the magical moments between Jack and his children. My heart was torn as I read of how in spite of the affairs Jack came to understand the remarkable wife he had. I admired Jackie's determination to protect her children. An example of just one of many charming moments with the children: at a dedication ceremony at Runnymede - "and laughing until my sides ached when a uniformed Beefeater had to fish John from inside a cannon at the Tower of London."

I loved the sensitivity given to her relationship with Bobby after her husband's death. Bobby was her strength, always there when she needed him. He really seemed to understand her. And I loved her relationship with the indomitable Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the family.

I enjoyed reading of her interest in history and design through the retelling of her renovation of the White House and her fight to save New York City's Grand Central Station from demolition. And her love of books which seems to have never been addressed in any other book.

I was only in the second grade when President Kennedy was shot, but I remember the time vividly. This book took me back to that time and allowed me a glimpse into the adult world. I remember my concern for Caroline and John as Caroline was only a year younger than me. I remember how Jackie was praised for her grace and strength. But I also remember several years later when she was vilified for marrying Onassis. Through this book I got a better understanding of why Jackie made the decisions she did. I feel like I got to see the real Jackie - with her flaws, her doubts, her fears – and cheered her on as she managed to move on.

Thank you to Book Browse for an advance copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own.
I Want You to Know We're Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir
by Esther Safran Foer
The Safran Family is Still Here (11/16/2019)
This beautifully written book flowed so smoothly I felt was having coffee with Ms. Foer as she told her story. I have read countless stories of the Holocaust yet from each I learn something new. The biggest "take-away" for me from this book was that "life was all about moving forward" which may explain why many survivors did not talk about the past. The book is filled with many truly memorable and heartfelt statements. There are stories of heroism and stories of shame (such as how the survivors were so poorly treated in American DP camps that President Truman actually ordered an investigation of the problem). The Jewish people have many traditions of which many we do not know why the tradition exists. I loved Ms. Foer's take on why we leave stones on a grave instead of flowers, and the significance of a mezuzah on our doorposts.

One of the most poignant parts of the book, at least to me, is the statement "Jews are concerned more with memory than with history". We believe that a person never really dies as long as someone remembers her/his name. This is why Foer was so determined to learn the name of her half-sister that was murdered by the Nazis. Someone, somewhere must know her name. A little girl who had barely lived must be remembered.

"History is public. Memory is private." While Ms. Foer's parents chose to keep their memories private, fortunately for us she chose to share the memories she uncovered and to keep these stories alive.

Thank you to BookBrowse for an advance copy of this book. All opinions are my own. I highly recommend this book.
Nothing to See Here
by Kevin Wilson
Delightful story (11/1/2019)
This book took off slowly as the backstory of Lillian and Madison’s friendship is laid out. Madison grew up in the lap of luxury, while Lillian came from a low-income home, daughter of a single mother. Lillian received a scholarship to study at an exclusive school and had Madison as her roommate. Now years later Madison, the wife of Tennessee Senator Jasper Roberts, asks Lillian to be the governess for Jasper’s children by his second wife. But there is a big catch here – the children have a tendency to burst into flames when agitated. I almost gave up on the book because the premise of “fire children” began to seem really corny. But about a quarter of the way into the book the children took stage and everything changed. At that point I was sucked into the story as these children quickly wormed their way into my heart.

Lillian moves into the Roberts’ guesthouse with the 10-year-old twins Jasper and Bessie. Author Kevin Wilson made these unusual children distrustful of others, vulnerable and adorable. Lillian is sassy, as socially inept as the children, and not at all impressed with riches. She can relate to these children and is overwhelmed by the unexpected maternal feelings she develops for them.

I grew to like the character Carl, Senator Roberts’ gofer, and absolutely loved Mary, the Roberts’ housekeeper. Nothing fazed that lady. The power of politics is prominent in the story, but the power of love is stronger.

This is a heartbreaking, yet heartwarming and oftentimes humorous story. Thank you HarperCollins for the opportunity to read and review this delightful book.
On Division
by Goldie Goldbloom
A look inside an insular community (9/8/2019)
This book provided an in-depth look at life within the insular Chassidic community. However, the third person perspective left me feeling no connection to the characters. I think I would have preferred a first person perspective for this story.

Surie, at the age of 57, is pregnant with twins. She already has 32 grandchildren. She fears for her family’s reputation. None of her peers have been pregnant within the past decade. Ashamed, she begins lying to her husband for the first time in their marriage. She and her children will be shunned if others find out about her pregnancy. I couldn’t really connect with Surie’s feelings given the narrative was an observation.

This book is good for people who have an interest in learning about the lives of the Chassid. Goldblum presents their lives in a very respectful manner, revealing the positives of such a close-knit community along with its negatives.

Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the advance e-galley. Opinions expressed are my own.
Mother Knows Best: A Novel of Suspense
by Kira Peikoff
I was glued to it! (9/6/2019)
I really enjoyed this book. If you are a fan of Robin Cook you will love this book.

Claire Abrams has a genetic mutation that unfortunately killed her little boy. Claire’s husband wants her to try again but she is afraid. But she finds Robert Nash, a fertility doctor, who, with his associate Jillian Hendricks, is experimenting with genetic editing to prevent genetic mutations from being passed on. Working together they create the world’s first child that has three genetic parents. Now the drama – Jillian is out to make a name for herself but this illegal experiment blows up in her face. Robert and Claire go into hiding, while Jillian is sent to prison.

Ten years later, Jillian is back and determined to take what is hers. Nash was her man and Claire took him away. And she believes eleven-year-old Abigail should have been hers.

Fast-paced. Suspenseful. I was glued to it! The scientific portion easily understood, while the characters won my heart. I love how Peikoff superbly mixed science with human emotions.

Thank you to Crooked Lane Books for the advance copy. All opinions are mine.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo: A Novel
by Christy Lefteri
Compassionate Accounting of Refugee Trek (8/25/2019)
This is perhaps the most poignant book I have read thus far this year. Yet the book is filled with beauty and love.

Nuri is a beekeeper in Aleppo, Syria. His wife Afra is an artist. Amidst the Syrian Civil War Afra was left blind when she witnessed their young son killed by a bomb. Their nephew Mustafa fled Syria earlier and is now in England. Mustafa has bought some beehives and started his own business. He begs Nuri and Afra to join him, thus they set off, joining thousands of other refugees fleeing to what they hope is a better life, a safer life. It is a long and danger-filled trek to and through Turkey and then through Greece with no guarantee they will be granted asylum if and when they reach England.

Theirs is a journey of moving through their grief and rediscovering themselves, individually and as a couple. Along the way they meet people who will take advantage of them, some who will hurt them, and some who will give them the strength to continue their journey.

The author worked as a volunteer at a refugee center in Athens, Greece. The stories she heard and the people she met led her to writing this compassionate account of their stories.
The Chelsea Girls
by Fiona Davis
Living during McCarthyism (7/21/2019)
I loved this book! Strong female friendships, history, intrigue, romance, conflicting loyalties – Davis covers it all. And if you have problem following the dual timelines, this book does not do that. While presented with the alternating perspectives of Hazel and Maxine, the superb character development makes all the characters very real to the reader.

Hazel and Maxine meet in 1945 while they are both on a USO tour and quickly become fast friends. When the war is over Hazel and Maxine go their separate ways. But then in 1950 they reunite when Maxine, now a Hollywood starlet, moves to NYC and joins playwright Hazel at the Chelsea Hotel. Both seem destined for success until McCarthyism and accusations of being a Communist shake up the entertainment industry. Davis perfectly captures the sense of fear and intimidation that existed at that time.

I highly recommend this excellent book. This book was given to me by the publisher but all opinions are my own.
Mistress of the Ritz
by Melanie Benjamin
Another previously unknown story from WWII (7/11/2019)
It seems that more and more previously unknown stories keep coming out revolving around WWII. MISTRESS OF THE RITZ is one of those stories. I had no idea when I began reading the book that it was based upon the lives of the real Claude and Blanche Auzello. They bravely participated in the Resistance right under the noses of the Nazi party. Suspenseful, inspiring, and heartbreaking, this is a story that will linger in your memory. I absolutely loved this book.
Whisper Network
by Chandler Baker
Time to Speak Up (6/25/2019)
The time for ignoring the whispers is over. Enough is enough. The women are closing ranks to speak up about the sexual harassment in their workplace. Part thriller and part murder mystery, Baker expertly delves into what it is like to be a woman in the corporate world.

Sloane, Ardie, and Grace are Truviv attorneys while Rosalita is a cleaning woman. The current CEO has died and it is rumored that Ames Garrett will fill the vacancy. But there have been whispers that Garrett has harassed and assaulted women in the workplace. People have covered for him for years. So the women finally speak up, and someone dies. Did they have anything to do with it? Interspersed throughout the book are portions of police interviews and depositions. Also interwoven are two lesser plotlines that will eventually play heavily in the outcome.

A real page turner. Suspenseful. Emotional. Portions of the book will definitely take you out of your comfort zone. Realistic characters with all their flaws, characters you can relate to. I was cheering on these women.

Thank you to Flatiron Books via NetGalley for the advance reading copy. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.
Mrs. Everything
by Jennifer Weiner
Realistic Family Saga (6/7/2019)
Jennifer Weiner is known for her stories of sibling relationships. With her newest book MRS. EVERYTHING she brings us siblings Jo and Bethie Kaufman. However, where this book differs from all her others is the time span of the story. She gives us three generations of women over a 60-year span. The Kaufmans are a Jewish Russian immigrant family who assimilate well into their community while maintaining their Jewish identity. So it was refreshing to have these characters be a “typical” Jewish family in America.

As the book opens in 1951 Jo is six years old and Bethie is four; the story ends in 2016. Jo is the sister that doesn’t care what other people think of her, while Bethie cares too much. Weiner’s description of the simple life for children in the fifties made me nostalgic for my childhood (although I was a decade later).

I enjoyed reading of the different directions life took them, but how sibling loyalty was still there. We travel with them through the sixties and the time of “free love” and drugs. We feel the conflict as their sexual identity is explored. I think there is something in this book that will strike home for everyone. While I cringed over drugs and “free love” portions it did remind me of hearing all this on the news. I was sheltered from that but knew it was out there. So to a degree I could relate. As the next two generations came along I could relate to the traits that carry on in the next generations and the frustration and dawning recognition of seeing yourself in your own children. (And blessing your parents for letting you live!)

While this is overall a more serious read that we are used to from Weiner she still gives us her special touches of humor. Example: Around page 40 she gives us a truly unique take on the Purimspiel. I dare you not to laugh!

This is a very realistic family saga that I highly recommend. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the advance reading copy. Opinions expressed are my own.
The Night Before
by Wendy Walker
Keeps you guessing to the end (5/6/2019)
Walker’s newest book will keep you guessing until the end. Like her previous books (EMMA IN THE NIGHT and ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN) Walker takes us into the dark side of human nature.

This psychological suspense novel is told in dual timelines – the night before and the day after. There are also some flashbacks to four months earlier. You quickly grasp that something here is just not right, but what is it? And who is it? You will be racing through the pages to find out what happens next. Who is the killer? It will keep you guessing as Walker masterfully leads us along, sometimes deliberately misdirecting us.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

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