Reviews by Betty Taylor

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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.
The Farm
by Joanne Ramos
Baby Farm (5/5/2019)
Enter the world of the “haves” vs the “have-nots”. When the wealthy want children but vanity or convenience is more important, they can hire surrogates. The concept behind “The Farm” is to provide high-end luxury services to their Clients. The Farm pays Scouts to recruit young healthy women (Hosts) who are then impregnated with fertilized eggs from the Clients. Many of these Hosts are very poor, coming from impoverished conditions. The Farm provides housing and full medical care for the Hosts. Give The Farm your body (and life) for nine months and walk away with a healthy paycheck.

The facility is run by Mae Yu, a Chinese-American Harvard Business School graduate with questionable morality and unlimited ambition. One of the Hosts is Jane (aka #84), Filipina, who has a six-month daughter of her own and is desperate for a job. She soon becomes friends with her roommate Reagan who is not the typical Host – she comes from a life of privilege, is white, and a Duke graduate. She is looking for purpose in her life and is determined to escape her controlling father. Jane and Reagan are both first time Hosts. Lisa, the “bad girl” back for her third time as a Host, seems to be the only one who sees through the manipulations going on around her. She is the one you love to hate. There are moments in the story that are truly chilling – forced abortions, manipulation, “stand-in” clients. But there is one Host who cannot be bought. The characters are believable and some are engaging.

I didn’t particularly like the premise and the first part of the book was especially slow and, in my opinion, boring. And the ending just did not work at all for me. Too ‘hurry up and tie up the loose ends and give us a happily-ever-after”. I had no problem laying the book aside and not picking it up again for a couple of days.

My thanks to Random House for the finished copy. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.
A Good Enough Mother
by Bev Thomas
Crossing of Boundaries (4/23/2019)
This is the story of Ruth Hartland, a psychotherapist, who is grieving the loss of one of her twins. Carolyn and Tom were born 28 minutes apart. Tom always seemed fragile and had difficulty “fitting in”. Eighteen months prior to the start of this story Tom has disappeared. Now Ruth lives each day awaiting his return. Then one day she encounters a new patient, Dan, who looks just like Tom. She knows she should assign him to another therapist as she has such a strong personal reaction upon the sight of him. However, she impulsively decides to keep him as one of her cases. The complicated relationship that develops between this therapist and this patient soon gets out of control.

I just could not get into this book. Having trained as a therapist myself it was difficult for me to accept the many boundaries Ruth crosses. I know it makes for good reading but it disturbed me.

The book is well written and provides a truly emotional impact. It is obvious the writer did a lot of research. It also realistically portrays the human side of therapists. They are not perfect, and they too have emotional issues that can be triggered by their patients. I am sure many will love this book, but I can’t say I do.
Never Have I Ever
by Joshilyn Jackson
Even More of a Joshilyn Jackson Fan Now (4/22/2019)
Amy has a comfortable life with her loving husband, stepdaughter Maddie, and baby Oliver. Then one night at the monthly neighborhood book club meeting a stranger threatens her life as she knows it. Amy has a secret that she has kept hidden…until now. Roux knows what she did and wants retribution. But Amy has too much to lose so she fights back. But as it says on the cover of the book, "In this game, even winning can be deadly."

This book is a departure from Joshilyn Jackson's usual Southern women fiction. However, Jackson brings to her debut thriller aspects of her previous novels that her fans love – the strong female friendships, the witty bantering, and the characters you love to hate. She brings us two equally strong women who are ready to do battle – a battle of wits. Both with secrets they will do anything to keep hidden. Her mastery of this genre-flip may well attract readers not familiar with her previous works.

The story quickly grabbed me and took me on an exhilarating ride. It kept me on the edge of my seat as their cat-and-mouse game was played out. I do hope she will write more books of this genre.
The Last Year of the War
by Susan Meissner
Forever Friendships and Family (3/17/2019)
Susan Meissner’s newest book is about a German American teen girl who meets her best friend in an internment camp during World War II. We meet present day Elise Sontag Dove as an elderly lady who is battling Alzheimer’s. She is determined to find her old friend Japanese American Mariko Inoue. The story then flashes back to 1943 when in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor Elise’s father is labeled a Nazi sympathizer and her whole family is forced into an internment camp in Texas. Elise is alone and bored until she meets Mariko. After 18 months in the camp, the girls are suddenly torn apart as their parents are repatriated. While Elise was born in the US and doesn’t even speak the German language, her parents were German immigrants. Elise and her family are shipped off to Germany in the last year of the war where they come face to face with the struggle to survive alongside other Germans who are continuing to face food shortages, bombings, destruction and death. Through all this turmoil, Elise hangs on to the dreams she and Mariko had as 18-year-olds to eventually move to New York City together to pursue careers.

But while Elise and Mariko’s friendship is a big part of the story, it is not the primary storyline. That honor belongs to Elise who narrates the book and took me along on her journey as she sadly lost everything, as she painfully matured, and as she decisively took control of her life in an effort to regain what had been taken from her. I loved Elise as she was strong, independent, adaptable, level headed, and loyal.

This beautifully written story is about forever friendships, family bonds, adaptability, bravery, determination and even a little romance. But it also contains great historical information about the internment camps and the families forced into them and about the repatriation program, exchanging interned families for POWs held in Germany and Japan.
Forget You Know Me
by Jessica Strawser
Disappointing (2/3/2019)
With Molly’s husband off on a business trip, this is the perfect opportunity to have a video chat with her best friend Liza. When Molly has to leave the room to check on her children Liza sees a man in a black mask enter the Molly’s room. Then the computer screen goes black. Then later Liza has a near miss of her own.

There are lots of secrets – plenty for everyone. The friendship between Liza and Molly will be tested, as will Molly and Daniel’s marriage. The characters learn there are serious consequences to their bad choices.

For some reason that I can’t put my finger on, I just could not connect with the story or the characters. While there are two incidents that would lead to you to believe this is a thriller, it isn’t. Both incidents just kind of sputtered out. This is more a story of people dealing with situations that got out of hand and then trying to find their way back to those they love.

Thank you to St. Martin’s for an advance copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street
by Yara Zgheib
Gut-wrenching, Captivating Look at Eating Disorders (1/30/2019)
Anna Roux, 26, was a professional dancer in Paris until her husband Matthias got a job in St. Louis. They have been married for three years and are madly in love. Life seems so perfect except for meal times. Anna, like many professional dancers, has had hammered into her head that she needs to lose weight. Each day is a battle with food. Now in an unfamiliar country, the inability to get a job as a dancer, and the low body image she spirals out of control. When Anna passes out on the bathroom floor because of abusing her body, Matthias insists she gets help. Thus, he takes her to 17 Swann Street where she meets other pale, fragile women who give each other the determination to beat their inner demons and to survive.

Yara Zgheib masterfully gets inside the head of Anna as she is now forced to eat six meals a day. Through flashbacks of Anna’s life we are witness to her gradual descent into an eating disorder. Anna knows she has much in her life that is worth getting better for, but is she strong enough to win out over the anorexia that calls to her every minute of every day?

THE GIRLS AT 17 SWANN STREET is a very gut-wrenching, captivating look at eating disorders and the devastation they wreak in the lives of their victims and their loved ones. It is a novel of despair, bravery, strength, and ultimately love. The writing is exquisite, tender, raw.

For anyone who has known someone with an eating disorder or someone who has loved someone with an eating disorder, this book is a must-read.
Holy Lands
by Amanda Sthers
A moving epistolary novel (1/30/2019)
At times comical, at other times heart-breaking, told through letters and emails, this is the story of a Jewish pig farmer in Israel. But it is more a story of a fractured family. Correspondence flows freely among Harry the farmer, his friend Rabbi Moshe who disapproves of Harry’s pigs, his adult children David and Annabelle, and his ex-wife Monique.

Through their writings we learn that Harry is getting a lot of heat over raising pigs in the Jewish homeland. David, a playwright, is struggling with his sexual identity. Annabelle is dealing with a romantic breakup. And Monique is dying. Like any family, they complain and argue, and occasionally express their love. But they are all very likeable characters.

You cannot have a book on Israel that does not include some politics. But it wasn’t heavy on it. The issues with the pigs, some discussion about the wall – not enough to spoil the mood of the book.

I love the cover – can’t see it couldn’t put a smile on your face. There is also something about epistolary novels that I really enjoy. Maybe it is because they seem to be more direct.
The Wartime Sisters
by Lynda Cohen Loigman
Heart-warming (1/17/2019)
This was a beautiful heart-warming story of the relationship between sisters. But it also about the relationship between a mother and her daughters and relationships among women. Each character was very well-developed and relatable. I felt these could be women I know.

Ruth has always resented the attention beautiful Millie received. So when Ruth marries she is happy to move from Brooklyn to the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, seeing it as an opportunity to finally step out of her sister’s shadow. But a few years later circumstances result in Millie and her little boy moving in with Ruth and her husband. This time Ruth has the upper hand. She is married to an Army officer, has two children, and lives comfortably while Millie has lost her husband and struggles financially to support little Michael.

Two other ladies, Lillian and Arietta, enter the lives of the sisters and provoke moments of tenderness, compassion, and strength. Lillian is the wife of the commanding officer at the Armory. Arietta, the cook at the Armory cafeteria also has an amazing voice and often provides entertainment during the workers’ lunches.

But these women bear their own secrets - secrets that could destroy lives – secrets they wish could stay hidden but, in any good story, must be revealed. A mysterious man from the past appears and jeopardizes the lives these women have. I thought the pacing for the revealing of the secrets was handled masterfully. No sudden reveal at the end (that frequently does not work well).

I loved the entire story, as it evoked emotions within me. I could easily relate to Ruth’s resentment even though it often was underserved. I admired Millie’s ability handle the resentment directed at her throughout her life. The writing was beautiful and had me totally immersed in the story.
by Soniah Kamal
It is a truth universally acknowledged... (1/13/2019)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal.” – the opening sentence of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen

This delightful Pakistani re-telling of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE starts out with ninth-grade teacher Alys Binat asking her female students to rewrite the opening sentence of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Their writings nakedly reveal their societal status and how they have been taught that marriage is their ultimate goal.

Alys’ heart sinks each year as her students, with their brilliant minds, never consider exploring the world and paving their own ways through life instead of seeing “marrying young and well” as their only options. Yet each year she uses the reading of Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE to show how the mother and the protagonist start out with similar views and goals and where and why they begin to separate in those views.

Alys Binat says she will never marry but, like Elizabeth Bennett, life just did not turn out that way when Darsee entered her life. Kamal manipulated the characters’ names to somewhat match the name of the characters in the classic telling. Some of the nicknames were hilarious – Rum, Gin, Hammy, Dracula. I especially loved the characters of Sherry Looclus (Charlotte Lucas) and Farhat Kaleen (Mr. Collins). Sherry is the kind of friend you want by your side through good and bad. The story was utterly delightful and the writing impeccable.

Charming and funny with relatable characters, this unique re-telling of the classic story PRIDE AND PREJUDICE looks at love, sisterhood, class, and marriage with a fresh twist. Kamal provided awesome insight into human relationships, especially within the Binat family of five daughters and their parents. (“O’Connor, Austen, Alcott, Wharton. Characters’ emotions and situations are universally applicable across cultures, whether you’re wearing an empire dress, shalwar kurta, or kimono.”) Some conversations are pretty much universal, heard in families whatever the culture may be. Example: “Both of you, shut up,” Mrs. Binat said. “For God’s sake, is this why I went through your pregnancies and labor pains and nursed you both and gave myself stretch marks and saggy breasts? So that you can grow up and be bad sisters? How many times must I tell you: Be nice to each other, love each other, for at the end of the day, siblings are all you have.” Tell me you haven’t heard some version of that from your own mother.

I enjoyed the historical tidbits about the partitioning of Pakistan and India and the involvement of the English empire. I suspect she used much farce in her descriptions of modern-day Pakistani culture. A truly delightful story. I end with a quote from the book that I think should be highlighted: “We know that friends can be made anywhere and everywhere, regardless of race or religion.”.
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.

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